The July Issue of Worship

The July 2018 issue of  Worship is out, and below is a summary of the contents. You can subscribe to Worship here.

AMEN CORNER:  There’s Always Room at the Table” by Margaret Daly-Denton

Stephen R. Shaver, “A Eucharistic Origins Story. Part 2: The Body and Blood of Christ”
In the first half of this essay I argued that certain first- and second-century Christian communities broke and shared morsels from a single loaf at their common meals, a practice that enacted and expressed church unity. Within their Greco-Roman and Jewish contexts, early Christian texts place a distinctive degree of emphasis on this loaf-breaking. While by no means a separate “rite,” this gesture served as a ritually significant moment within the eucharistic meal. While by no means universal, it was practiced as early as some of the earliest sources we have (Paul, the Didache). It was known to Ignatius and can be seen particularly clearly in the evening meal sections of the Apostolic Tradition. Over time—perhaps by the third century—this sharing of small morsels from a common loaf (and, in some places, sips from a common cup) as part of the meal provided a pathway by which token portions of food and drink could eventually be shared outside it. Such a trajectory is a good example of what Ronald Grimes calls “emerging ritual,” an idea that has been underexplored within the social-historical approach to eucharistic origins.

In this second half I trace a symbolic motif: the identification of eucharistic food and drink with the body and blood of Jesus. Like the breaking of the loaf, this tradition was not known everywhere, but it spread widely during the first and second centuries, undergoing various permutations along the way as different communities used it, ignored it, or applied it to their own circumstances.

Hillary Raining, “Revisiting the Rite of Reconciliation: All May, Some Should, None Must… But What if We Did?”
Confession?? We are not going to have to start doing that here, are we? That kind of stuff is why I left the Catholic Church!” This comment greeted me after a service where I had preached a sermon on the importance of reconciliation and confession. Though it was not exactly the kind of remark I had hoped to hear, it was not wholly unexpected. Ever since I had begun to talk in my parish setting about the Rite of Reconciliation of a Penitent— otherwise thought of as “private confession”—I had received a whole host of reactions ranging from mild interest to downright rebellious. That the topic of confession should elicit such strong emotions may not be surprising. However, astonishingly, most of these reactions came only after people learned that private confession even existed in the Episcopal Church. Episcopalians have an expression that applies to this Rite of Reconciliation: “All may, some should, none must.” While this statement makes it clear that confession is never mandatory, it also reflects the reality of how infrequently this rite is ever put into practice. For a “secret” as well kept as the Reconciliation of a Penitent in the Episcopalian tradition, everyone seemed to know precisely what he or she thought about it. Despite this apparent contradiction, this “secret” rite may hold a key to God’s grace and invitation to live as a people of a resurrected hope—if we would but answer the call. This paper uses research that I compiled from Episcopal Churches to examine why that call to reconciliation is rarely answered—and what would happen if it were.

Timothy Brunk, “Consumer Culture and Sacramental Reconciliation”
In his 1984 postsynodal apostolic exhortation Reconciliation and Penance, John Paul II observed that “the sacrament of penance is in crisis.” In remarks he offered to US bishops on their ad limina visit to Rome in 1988, John Paul sought to tamp down apprehension about the sacrament, saying that “these statements [about penance in crisis] are neither negative expressions of pessimism nor causes for alarm; they are rather expressions of a pastoral realism that requires positive pastoral reflection, planning and action.” While it might not be appropriate to panic at the steep drop in the number of Catholics seeking the sacrament of reconciliation, it is worthwhile to turn to those numbers briefly before addressing the central concern of this essay, namely, the ways in which a cultural context marked by consumerist individualism affects Catholics’ understanding and practice of the sacrament of reconciliation. Following the presentation of statistics, I will discuss possible reasons for the decline before zeroing in on the influence of consumer culture. After remarks on consumer culture, I will address the ways in which I think postconciliar theology of the sacrament can respond to consumer challenges. I will conclude with some remarks about the resituation of the sacrament in the early years of the twenty-first century.

George Wilson, SJ., “Confessional Blessing”
As even non-Catholics know, the Catholic Church teaches that only an ordained priest can absolve people of their sins in the sacrament of reconciliation. What is not generally known, though, is that over the years lay church members have practiced the penitential disclosure of their sins to another lay person, in the hope of finding a compassionate hearing, without the expectation of sacramental absolution.

I begin with that bare fact, not to promote the practice, much less to propose a change in canon law concerning the minister of absolution, but rather to indulge my imagination. In my mind’s eye I see two people, one taking the risk
of baring his or her soul, the other receiving that humble self-disclosure and being the equally humble vehicle of acceptance and liberation. Sacramentality—divine favor mediated through human activity—is revealed in its most elemental, precanonical sense. A human exchange between two members of the (merely!) baptized becomes the medium for embodying divine favor.

Monks have practiced the act of such same-to-same confession for centuries. It is the human heart of the experience of reconciliation, even when that happens to be exercised under canonically sacramental norms. In its essence, the sacred gift of painful self-revelation is offered, pilgrim to pilgrim, and in return the acceptance by the pilgrim recipient becomes the expression of divine liberation.

As a priest who has participated in the sacramental exchange for decades I have often wished that the laity who have faced me in sacramental confession might have the blessing of sitting in my seat: as one who is essentially a pilgrim who happens also to be ordained.

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