Lukewarm About Riches

Communion set

Communion plate in precious metals was once common not only in the Church of England but also in nonconformist churches, but now it seems in many places to have been abandoned in favour of little disposable plastic cups. I think irreverence and apathy are to blame: no rich person spends the money because no one cares, and no one can be bothered to make gestures of reverence. While outward signs are distinct from inward reality, the almost utter lack of outward signs is, to me, indicative of a general want of reverence concerning the things of God. I have no objections to the use of wood, but it should be something other than an atmosphere of apathy or false modesty that keeps Christians from using precious metals for Holy Communion. Ye said also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the LORD of hosts.

We go our way adorning our own bodies, yet sparing not a single thought for adorning the sign of Christ’s body. Some may, of course, object to the waste of money: why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? Afraid to spend too much on God, we sniff at the idea even of serving wine, telling ourselves that surely we in our modest circumstances can get away with grape juice. Yet I ask, how many who give these objections about money have actually clothed the poor instead? I can see no harm in aiding reverence: it would rather add to than detract from the Church’s sense of mission, since the donation of well-made vessels in gold or silver (if someone can afford them) would impress worshippers with a sense of what the divine majesty has promised and presented in the sacrament. To present gold and silver to God is just a tryfle, but the riches he offers us in a sip of wine exceed by far the weight of the golden goblet that the poorest Christian may drink from. What gold and silver can teach is that the gift of God is, if not a greater treasure than a silver chalice, at least not unequal to its dignity.

What John notes about Judas Iscariot’s harsh words against Mary’s costly gift may apply equally to some Christians today: this he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. How much wealth is in our hands and on our bodies while the Divine Service remains poor and the world deprived of compassion? How many iPhones must we cycle through before we think the sacrament worthy of our time and money? To those who are poor and meek one must, I know, be gentle; but to those who are blessed to be among the rich of the world, I have no qualms about speaking bluntly. The Church is in fact lukewarm, and the abandonment of communion plate is only a sign of the fact.

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2 responses to “Lukewarm About Riches

  1. I’ve never been under the impression that churches use grape juice over wine because it’s cheaper. I always thought they did so because some people abstain from wine. I’m also unconvinced that people switched to plastic cups for monetary reasons; I’m guessing there was a big hoo-ha about sanitation and that people wanted individual cups (which happen to come in plastic) instead of sipping from the same large silver chalice. I don’t think anyone’s that attached to plastic; if there were such things as tiny metal cups, I’m sure churches would love to use those … except perhaps for the fact that someone would have to wash all those little cups instead of simply throwing them away, and then you can ding them for laziness instead of greed.

    • Part of my idea is that laziness and greed often amount to (yes, amount to) the same thing. The wine thing, which arose from the accursed Temperance Movement, continues to be the most emotional smokescreen, but I actually have heard objections about the cost, along with objections about weekly communion being a waste of time. As for individual plastic cups, that too is a bad liturgical practice justified, as you say, by a big hoo-ha about sanitation. The net effect, though, is to cheapen the sacrament in the eyes of many Christians, even if the bad practices originally arose from elsewhere.

      Our Lord understands hardship and poverty, of course, so he even allows for communion without wine where wine cannot be had. This extraordinary provision, nevertheless, is an exception that proves the rule, and it certainly doesn’t give us licence to do with the sacrament as we wish.

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