Thursday 26 April 2018

Why a Priest Stands Quietly With Their Eyes Glazed While Setting up For Communion

It's that moment, before the "Communion" part of an Anglican service, just as the table is being set out (unless of the bread-roll variety of evangelicalism) when the priest stands quietly, with her/his eyes apparently glazed, and looks very serious.

You may think they're having an extra special prayer that the whole thing goes well. And you may well be right. There's a good chance that they're praying they don't knock anything over, or their knee doesn't lock during a genuflection. These things prey on priests' minds. Or will from now on if they're read this.

But the other thing they're doing is of some seriousness as well. They're working out how many wafers to consecrate.

They need to try and get it right. Sufficient to feed everyone and, if of a more Catholic tendency, to reserve some wafers. But not so many that, at the end of the service, somebody has a substantial number to consume so as not to leave dozens in the ciborium* for next time.

So what they are thinking is as follows:
Number of adults I can see 
Minus that person who comes up for a blessing 
Plus the number of children that have been confirmed, or their parents used to go to a Baptist church so they always used to receive there so I let them here. Even though I haven't actually baptised them. I wonder if they were baptised at their old church? Or before? I'll move on.
Minus roughly half of any visitors, as they may be Catholics or non-recipients or unaware what a Communion service is.
They all know I'm not really good enough to be a priest.
Add 7% for people I can't see because they are behind pillars, staggeringly late, sleeping on their pews or hiding.
Nearly forgot myself. Plus one.
Somebody helpful has just given me a tiny piece of paper on which is written "59". Or is it "65?"  
Minus 20 for the ones they brought up.
Minus for the priest's wafer.
Plus the number to reserve for the forthcoming week.
Plus 5% margin of error. 
Carry the 6...
And the problem, of course, is that most clergy, if they have degrees, have them in arts and humanities. This sum is very hard. So they have to do it three times.

And that's why they stand there so long, quietly, with their eyes glazed, apparently rapt in prayer.
* The little chalice-shaped vessel with a lid, in which wafers are reserved for the sick and/or adoration according to choice.

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  1. When considering arithmetical problems, don't forget the difficulty of figuring out the number of bulletins needed at a funeral. I have learned a method of doing that. A clergyman came up to me at a wake the other day, and asked if I was going to the service the next day. Rather startled, I mumbled something, and he explained that I didn't really need to tell him. He had to tell the funeral home how many bulletins to print, and the best way to do it is to count the number of names in the guest book. Some of them wouldn't show up at the funeral and some funeral-goers wouldn't be at the wake (or visitation, or reception, or whatever you call it) and it all averaged out.

    I'm still wondering why, in that case, he was so interested in whether or not I was attending the funeral.

  2. I once went to an Anglocatholic church where, as you came in, you were asked to pick a wafer out of the box and put it on a plate, if you were intending to take communion. That removed the need to count. It seemed foolproof, unless a large number of the congregation decided part way through that they were not in love and charity with their neighbours and hence were unworthy of receiving after all.

    1. I bet by now they've even got their ritual for putting the wafer on the plate.

    2. is there a ritual for taking it off again if you change your mind?

  3. We had the experience of too many wafers being consecrated for a Communion by Extension that I once led. Mid week, normal attendance 15-20 max. This time, only 10. I had to consume the balance. The Blood was gleefully shared by the Sacristan, who managed not to stagger on the procession on the way out. When asked if she was ok, she said Yesssh.

    We don't reserve the Sacrament, apart from these occasions. But having half a dozen on the Chancel helps to consume any surpluses.

    What I worry about is the Priest who has a multi-parish benefice and has 2/3/4 communion services on the go on a particular Sunday, surely they need a driver to get them between churches, otherwise they risk a breath test and driving bann.

    1. We were in the same situation and the priest, when offering me the cup, intoned 'The blood of Christ, and make it a big one!'

  4. ...and then you have to work out the difference between the number of wafers already in the ciborium (which the server who put them in might or might not tell you) and the number you think might want to receive. Then you have to divide the difference by the number of wafers in each little section of the wafer box so you can calculate how many bundles to add. In one group of parishes I served in, one church's wafer box fitted seven in each section and the other fitted eight. At this point most of us give up, grab a handful and hope for the best...

  5. Being a Methodist is much easier

  6. This has had me in hysterics. Much needed. Thanks y'all.

  7. Oh! I did enjoy that!
    it reminded me of many post communion vestry happenings, and really made me miss church.
    thank you.

  8. why are extra consecrated wafers not just crumbled up and spread in the garden? wine can be poured there too. nobody has to pork up or get drunk. unless you are fixated on transubstantiation? i thought that battle was fought a long time ago.

  9. A little clicker, like the ones they use to count visitors at NT properties works well. It is clicked by a greeter and appears on the offertory plate. I have coeliac disease( and my gluten free priest's host) so consuming a g other hosts is out for me.


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