Bishop’s Pastoral Exception
In a Period of Global Pandemic
Administration of Holy Communion in Special Circumstances
Pursuant to Title I. Canon 1.17.2 (a) All members of this Church who have received Holy Communion in this Church at least three times during the preceding year are to be considered communicants of this Church. I was formed in a liturgical tradition that emphasized the requirement for all Christians to ensure they received the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the three principal feast days: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer under the Calendar of the Church Year expanded the Principal Feast Days as Easter Day, Ascension Day, The Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday, All Saints’ Day, Christmas Day and Epiphany (BCP 15). As we are acutely aware, the COVID-19 Pandemic has deprived the most faithful of the Diocese of Easton from receiving one of the principal sacraments of the Church re: Holy Communion – the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus. Over the past months I have been extremely concerned about this reality and have spent much time researching, praying, consulting with and listening to voices across the Church community including the Episcopal Church. I have come to realize that the answer lies within our own sacramental practice enshrined and widely used in the Book of Common Prayer. COVID-19 has gifted the Church with the spirit of adaptability, creatively and reverentially using the repertoire of sacramental and worship traditions available to us over the centuries.
I am authorizing the use of the Order of Service under Special Circumstances (BCP 397) with adaptations to accompany its practical implementation. Clergy are encouraged to be flexible and adaptable to their unique context and circumstances. The administration of Holy Communion to God’s beloved far exceeds our eucharistic sensibility. We know Jesus is tough enough to survive this period in church history. However, his people still long for and in all honesty need this sacramental rite as a tangible reminder of God’s grace. This sacramental connection will offer some the strength needed to navigate this unprecedented time and bear the tragedy posed by COVID.
As bishop, I am authorizing the following Pastoral Exception for parishes that feel inclined to use this exception. This isn’t mandatory but a voluntary decision by individual parishes and leadership, and shall be provisional. By employing this exception, I wish to reiterate, this is not Virtual Eucharist because there isn’t the consecration or blessing of the elements of bread and wine through the virtual platform. This authorization pertains to how we offer the Sacrament of Holy Communion at this Christmas and beyond, and will cease when life returns to some semblance of normalcy for unfettered in-person regathering for worship.
Let me reiterate, the principle undergirding of this Pastoral Exception is guided by the liturgical exception contained in the Book of Common Prayer (page 396) ‘Communion under Special Circumstances.’ Parish leaders are not forced to use this pastoral exception; however, this is my pastoral way of ensuring God’s people receive the sacrament at Christmas and over the upcoming weeks.
- Parishes should schedule times between now and Christmas when members may arrange to pick up consecrated elements from the church.
- The elements must be distributed from the Reserved Sacrament or the priest may consecrate elements at a special eucharist celebrated prior to the distribution day/time. For example, some clergy are identifying this Sunday’s morning eucharist for consecrating the elements and scheduling distribution in the afternoon or designated times prior to the Christmas Eve services.
- Parishes may send home a supply of consecrated elements sufficient to cover the period under suspension for in-person indoor worship, taking into account the number of family members, and with instructions as to the care/intentions for the sacrament. Alternately, members may come weekly to collect it from the reserved aumbry. Parishes that choose to use this pastoral exception are encouraged to develop their individual protocol.
- Parishes may design their Order of Service to reflect Rite II or the preferred Eucharist format used in the parish.
- Families are encouraged to set a table in their home (decorations and/or candles are welcome) and place the consecrated elements on a white cloth or paper towel. We wish to maintain sacramental reverence as much as possible. Families follow the service virtually and at the appropriate time in the Eucharist, at the priest’s invitation, the communicants administer the sacrament (to self or others if present) using the words of administration. I recommend using communion of one kind (just the bread) or conversely, see bullet below.
- You may investigate the use of prefilled communion wafer and wine sets from www.concordiasupply.com. I have been advised by one of our rectors that their parish will be using prefilled communion wafer and wine. You may order prefilled cups with either gluten free or regular wafers. I am told the 1-800-521-0751 desk is very helpful and may be able to ship in time for Christmas or the subsequent Sundays.
- If using the above option, I would recommend the lids to the bread and wine be removed by the families as the priest begins the virtual Eucharistic Prayer in preparation for the Breaking of the Bread, Invitation and Administration. This is to avoid fumbling with the sacrament when it becomes time for administration.
- Parishes may prepackage the communion sets in plastic bags for distribution. Clergy may develop their own protocols to be included in this package or share the protocol I am recommending.
- The principle in this protocol envisions both livestreamed and delayed broadcast of services.
- I am authorizing special dispensation for members in a family to be designated Lay Eucharistic Ministers pro tem (Latin word meaning – for the time being or temporarily).
- You may call the office on Monday for any further guidance.
I am acutely aware that this may be for some, a logistical nightmare. However, it is a pastoral initiative to address an unprecedented and extraordinary reality that the rubrics of this church never anticipated. Thank you for your continued creativity and openness to sacramental adaptability – as our churches have been doing all thorough the nine months of the pandemic.
In addition, for clergy considering taking Christmas Sunday off (Christmas I, often is noted for low attendance), churches may wish to rebroadcast their Christmas Eve service or point congregations to one of the churches in the diocese, the Episcopal Church, or across the Anglican Communion. The options are numerous! Support each other, inspire each other, check out the creativity, versatility, and repertoire of talent we have in this beautiful ‘little gem’ of a diocesan family God has blessed us with.
This “adventure” of receiving Jesus under special circumstances around the family table will hopefully be met with a spirit of anticipation – as a holy and exciting event. Every home will function as a mini-oratory, every dinner table an altar – “Laying God’s table in our Home” similar to what God did in the wilderness of Sin with the manna, and as the early church did in Mary Mark’s home in Jerusalem – Acts 2, and in Lydia’s home in Philippi – Act 16: 11, and in other scriptural references including the history of the persecuted church in some parts of the world.
How common is it for doctors to prescribe medication to take home? The Sacrament of Holy Communion is Jesus’ medication for weary and hurting souls needing renewal and grace.
My beloved, my hope and prayer is that you will receive this Pastoral Exception as a way of meeting our people in their internal struggle and their yearning to receive Christ in his Sacrament of Holy Communion, particularly at his birthday. We continue to pray for an elimination of this virus. In the meantime, let our waiting be one of holy encounter with Jesus and each other.
*Clergy are welcome to share this Pastoral Exception, if they choose to, with their lay people.