Ever since reading Mac Stewart’s recent terrific post, “A pitch for memorization,” his pitch — not new to most readers — has been making its rounds through my own thoughts. I’m not entirely sure why. The idea isn’t new, and I’ve taught about it myself. But I found myself thinking a bit more about Mac’s concluding paragraph:
The good news is that if your life is already inundated with this language on a daily and weekly basis — by regular Mass attendance, keeping the Offices, singing hymns with your family, studying Scripture — then much of this “memorization work” will happen automatically. We may not be able to say the whole Psalter from memory every day, but we can at least aspire to be fluent enough in this language that God may, through it, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit.
The paragraph made me realize there’s another “pitch” (to use Mac’s title) that could be made here for something else that’s falling increasingly out of vogue: a pitch for daily Communion.
But before I make that pitch, two disclaimers.
First, I’ve got all the respect in the world for much of what is broadly considered “Anglo-Catholicism.” Many have placed me in that camp (although I think many in that camp probably wouldn’t have me!). My ecclesial location is another conversation altogether, but my point in mentioning it is this: This isn’t a pitch for Anglo-Catholicism, whatever that means. I’m not writing about lace or incense or whatever, as nice as those things can be. It’s simply a pitch for daily Communion, a practice I think would benefit a broader group than those who have already made it a practice. In other words, daily Communion is not just for Anglo-Catholic, smells-and-bells types.
Second, unlike saying the Offices, daily Communion is simply not possible for all faithful Christians. For many, if not most, it will be at best an opportunity suitable for a season of life, but also an opportunity that is likely to be seized. Is it something for folks with long commutes and young children? Possibly not. For those who live in exceptionally rural situations at great distances from the local parish? Again, probably not. But such impossibility for some doesn’t make the practice unhelpful for others.
My pitch for daily Communion consists of a discussion of three brief benefits and one final note.
First, assuming Mac’s argument about memorization is true — and it certainly is — I’ll build from it: daily Communion only increases one’s chance of memorizing the Scriptures. When practiced alongside Morning and Evening Prayer, a daily celebration of Holy Communion increases our soaking in the Scriptures. All of a sudden, the Office readings can be enhanced by further connection and comparison with additional passages of Scripture (a reality especially true on Feast days). Indeed, the prayers of the Eucharistic service itself — relying heavily on Scripture — become part of the rhythm of one’s own life.
Second, the faithful pray more in the Communion service than in the Offices. Despite all their benefits, the augment provided by the Eucharist means the Offices’ reliance on the prayers of the Psalter is expanded to include specific prayers for the whole of Christ’s Church and the world. If one uses the customary prayer “for the whole state” (which certainly has some benefits over other Prayers of the People options, given the small congregations for daily services), then the faithful find themselves praying for the Church, her leaders, the gathered faithful, the state’s leaders, the evangelization of the world, the troubled, the sorrowful, the needy, the sick, and the dead. (Obviously, the Offices can be augmented to include these prayers without adding the whole Eucharistic service, but that’s the point of this whole argument — the Communion service already makes a solid augment.)
Third, not only does the addition of the daily Communion service increase our reading of the Scriptures, as well as the volume of our prayers, but God meets us and provides for us in a particular way through the Eucharist. The intimacy of the reception of the Lord’s body and blood changes us. Obviously, mountains have been said or could be said about the benefits of Communion, but those benefits don’t decrease with their more frequent reception.
A final note about that: Memorization and other frequent acts of intimacy (such as daily Communion) don’t decrease in meaning just by doing them more often — just like nearly any act of intimacy with another human being. Going on a date with my wife doesn’t become less meaningful just by doing it weekly. Rather the intimacy that comes with repeated time together builds through that repetition, not in spite of it. It’s true, one may find it harder to treat holy things with the reverence they deserve, and one may find it harder to concentrate with more frequent interaction. But this is hardly an argument to avoid them, rather just an example of the demands they make upon us to grow.
Again, daily Communion is not necessarily for every Christian all the time. But it is a practicce that ought to receive greater consideration and wider reception as a tool towards the kind of discipleship Mac proposes.
The featured image is “Holy Communion, Ilfracombe” (2012), a photo by Steve Day of a stained glass window in Holy Trinity & St Peter’s Church, Ilfracombe, in Devon. It is licensed under Creative Commons.
I’m glad to see Kincaid nod to the Daily Offices here, but that nod really comes from across a yawning gulf in practice. My Episcopal 101 class just learned about the Prayer Book pattern of 15 public services of worship every week (BCP 13), and guess what? Fourteen of the 15 aren’t Eucharist. Even though I’m in favor of frequent reception, I’d love to see *any* parish gatherings for Morning or Evening Prayer added before *another* Eucharist, because I think one reason so few people pray the Offices is that they’ve never experienced them. Putting on my deacon’s stole here… Read more »
Rodger, Thankfully it doesn’t have to be either/or. In most parishes that offer daily mass (at least those I’m aware of), the Eucharist is preceded by MP or EP. I know that this is the case with Fr. Kincaid’s own church(es). But I agree that it would be wonderful if more churches said the Daily Office publicly. I think it would be even better if those churches also offered daily Eucharist. Also, I’m not sure what you meant by the “Prayer Book pattern of 15 public services of worship every week.” Are you referring to the first paragraph of p.… Read more »
Stewart: I use that paragraph on BCP 13 to highlight the gulf between what seems like a pretty clear minimum — offices twice a day, Eucharist once on Sunday (15) — and the common practices in parishes I’ve attended and served. My current parish has daily Eucharist, but I have never attended or served a parish that said Morning Prayer before Eucharist. I sometimes wonder whether the pendulum that swung toward weekly Eucharist has swung a little too far, such that Eucharist is the only thing we do when we get together in parishes. Why not have a Wednesday evening… Read more »
Long ago I had a discussion with my Lutheran pastor. I asked him why we didn’t celebrate Communion more often (there the issues was *weekly* Communion). His response was that it would lose it’s meaning/effectiveness.
At the time, I didn’t have a good answer, but now I’d want to ask (after having my own season of daily Eucharist), “does breathing, drinking, or eating lose their “meaning/effectiveness” when you do them all the time?
If the Episcopal Church in my town regularly celebrated Evening Prayer, I would likely become a regular at its celebration. Indeed, I’ve often wished that the Catholic Church would incorporate the Office more firmly in the life and worship of parishes. That certainly seems worth trying on, given the declining numbers of priests. Nevertheless, I don’t really think that should amount to an argument against daily communion. I agree strongly with Stewart’s point–why not both? Just how much Jesus is enough?