Dix on the Holy Sacrament

About Holy Communion the 20th Century Anglican theologian Gregory Dix (OSB) wrote:

"At the heart of Christianity is the Eucharist, a thing of absolute simplicity - the taking, blessing, breaking, and giving of [bread and] a cup of wine and water as these were done with their new meaning by a young Jew before and after supper with His friends on the night before he died. He had told His friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning for the recalling of Him, and they have done it always since.

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century spreading slowly to every continent and country among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable need, from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugatives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of dogma or for a crop of good wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discovery America...

And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this..."

- Gregory Dix in The Shape of the Liturgy, London: Adam and Charles Black, 1945, pp 743-744.

I don't know about you, but that makes me eager for my next gathering at the Lord's Table. Of the elements that we include in Christian worship services, only a handful have direct Scriptural warrant - singing psalms hymns and spiritual songs; offering prayers for our leaders and for all the saints; hearing the teachings of the prophets and apostles, and things like these are mentioned in the epistles of the New Testament. The direct command of Jesus in the Gospels, however, gives us Holy Baptism and The Holy Supper. This is of course why the Church across the ages has historically elevated these practices.

One of my concerns about contemporary American evangelicalism is the great extent to which it is has de-prioritized the sacraments in favor of congregational singing and preaching. The danger is that under the influence of an entertainment-centric "i-culture", congregational singing may morph into a rock show and preaching the word may morph into a loosely Bible-based self-help peptalk. It seems to me that one of the benefits of a weekly sacramental celebration in our worship is that the use of the sacraments (and their accompanying liturgical prayers) inevitably keeps the shape and the content of our worship service theologically grounded and it guards our worship gatherings against a slide into something less true to the church's vocation.

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