Inculturation: The Bread and Wine at the Eucharist
On Sunday mornings when I preside at the Eucharist I keep an eye out for one of the people in the congregation. If she is there I put a square wafer in the ciborium at the preparation of the table. She has celiac disease, and under the guise of pastoral sensitivity it has become the norm to add the special wafer. I do not even think about the wine, which is usually fortified to stop it going bad.
Questions of inculturation are complex because we are so immersed in our own culture that we often cannot see the wood for the trees. Culture is like that: in it we live and move and have our being. Finding that something does not quite fit our expectations becomes a critical incident for us.1 It is often easier to see what is being done wrong than to reflect upon our own actions; motes and beams come to mind.
I want to look at the material for the Eucharist, bread and wine, partially because this is the key act of worship of Christians, partially because it has been an issue for me in my ministry, and partially because it is causing some concern in Anglican circles at present. Thus it represents for me work in progress, a development of the comments in my earlier work.2
Church of England Rubrics and Canons
The Church of England uses bread and wine. The 1604 canons talked of the churchwardens providing “fine white bread” and “good and wholesome wine” (Canon 20). The 1662 Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England says that to avoid dissention or superstition it shall “suffice that the Bread such as is usual to be eaten: but the best and purest Wheat Bread that conveniently may be gotten.” This followed the change in 1552; in 1549 the directions were that the bread be “unleavened and round, as it was before, but without all manner of print, and something more larger and thicker than it was, so that it may be aptly divided in divers pieces” (spelling modernized). Elizabeth tried to insist on unleavened bread in 1559 but this met with much opposition and was unenforceable. Anglicans have from time to time argued for or against wafers and bread.
The canons of the Church of England now say: “The bread, whether leavened or unleavened, shall be of the best and purest wheat flower that conveniently may be gotten, and the wine the fermented juice of the grape, good and wholesome.”3 The present canon clearly reflects a number of historical discussions:
- firstly, conceding the push of the catholic revival to use unleavened bread; achieving what Elizabeth was unable to do;
- secondly, fending off the push of the Free Churches to use grape juice instead of wine.
This may seem to draw the issue to a close but there is one context where more rules apply. Local Ecumenical Partnerships (LEPs) are designated areas of ecumenical cooperation where more than one denomination work together. I worked in one on a new housing estate where five denominations shared one building. There was a Roman Catholic congregation, a congregation of Brethren, and a “Shared Congregation” of Anglicans, Methodists, and Reformed, where I was the Anglican priest and I shared in ministry to the congregation with a Reformed minister. Anglicans have quite complex rules for such situations, including one on the eucharistic elements: “Where a priest of the Church of England is presiding at a service of Holy Communion according to the rite of another Church…and there are conscientious objections from members of other Churches to alcoholic wine, at least real grape juice should be used, and fermented wine from which the alcohol has been removed is to be preferred.”4 This has been a contentious issue in some LEPs, and this tries to provide a sliding scale of priorities:
- real wine;
- if there is objection, dealcoholized wine, or
- grape juice.
This scale brings me to another experience in my ministry, in the Church of Uganda.
Church of Uganda. From 1983–1985 I was the chaplain of Archbishop Janani Luwum Theological College in Northern Uganda. This was the post-Amin period, and the economy was devastated. It was clear that Uganda was once a prosperous country, but all that had now disappeared, ravaged by war. Part of my job was to purchase elements for the chapel. Bread was available, but it was a luxury item, and from a Ugandan perspective not a staple “daily bread” but something produced for an honored guest. A further problem with bread was that in the tropical climate it did not last very long. The Roman Catholic Church had plenty of wafers, which were sold at a reasonable price, and this was what we used in chapel. They were easy to get and lasted in the climate. On the few occasions when this was not possible biscuits were used.
Wine however was a big problem. Most of the time it was not available. Grapes do not grow in Uganda, and there is no tradition of drinking wine in the local culture. The only things in the shops were whiskey and ribena (concentrated blackcurrant juice). Wine when available was super-expensivee.g., one bottle of wine cost the equivalent of three months’ collections in my local church. Most of the time we used ribena, but sometimes whiskey. Thus I was left with a different sliding scale to the Church of England. Do I select:
- whiskey, alcoholic, but pale in color, or
- ribena, non-alcoholic, but red in color?
Neither of them is related to the grape. History in Uganda showed that this was a problem for the church during most of its existence.
The peoples of Uganda do not grow grapes or wheat. Neither of these crops is native to the country, bananas being the staple in the south and millet in the north. These staples are eaten with a variety of vegetables. It is technically possible to grow both cropsyou can, after all, ski on the equator in Ugandabut the reality is that they have to be imported.
The first missionaries walked across what is now Tanzania and were then paddled across Lake Victoria. They had all their provisions carried for them. In 1877 CMS missionaries arrived in Buganda. In 1895 Bishop Tucker arrived.5 He soon realized that the provision of communion wine was an issue. By January 1896 he had “provisionally” sanctioned the use of native wine from the juice of bananas. It would appear that this continued off and on until the coming of the railway, and thus a reliable supply route. This was taken into account again in the Amin years, and with the economic collapse of the country banana wine was used by the church alongside other materials. Indeed, the Church of Uganda has a canon that says: “In absence of grape wine well-boiled banana juice wine or pineapple or passion fruit wine may be used, in consultation with the bishop” (2.13.3). Here is another sliding scale: if no grape wine, use fruit wines from local fruits.
International Anglican Agreement. A further dimension to the whole issue is the international statements that Anglicans have made. The Lambeth conference of 1888 resolved that one basis for reunion was “The Supper of the Lordministered with unfailing use of Christ’s words of institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.” This became a part of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, which gained sufficient authority for the Episcopal Church to include it in “Historical Documents” of The Book of Common Prayer (1979). It begs the question of the elements ordained by Christ, which we will come to later.
While the international Lambeth conferences kept agreeing on bread and wine as Christ instituted, we have already seen that local variations had begun to occur. Eventually this was acknowledged. The 1989 Inter Anglican Liturgical Consultation raised some questions: “Sacramental elements: here there are special problems, needing more work. Should wafer bread be as dominant as it needs to beeven to the point of being imported? Should local staple food and drink supervene? How far can variations be allowed?”6
The questions were raised but no answers were forthcoming. This was repeated in the Kanamai Statement of 1993, a regional meeting of African Anglicans: “We wish to encourage local people to produce the eucharistic bread and to ask the provinces to consider whether they should permit the use of local staple foods and drinks for the eucharistic elements, also carefully considering this alongside the biblical tradition.”7 The 1995 Dublin Report was more cautious. Commenting directly on the above statement this Conference said: “This should be seen as a decision to be considered at the Provincial level rather than by individual congregations. Because the use of a different eucharistic species has implications for the worldwide Anglican Communion, before implementing such a decision Provinces are encouraged to consult the worldwide Communion through such bodies as the IALC, The Anglican Consultative Council, and the Lambeth Conference.”8
A preliminary report on this9 shows much more variation than had been realized, and so the IALC was asked in 2002 to do further work on the eucharistic elements by ACC 12 which said that it “awaits a survey by the Inter Anglican Liturgical Consultation of practice in relation to the elements of Holy Communion in the churches of the Anglican Communion, and of the reasons given for any departure from dominical command” (resolution 16.1). The last phrase, “departure from dominical command,” sounds rather heavy but still begs the question. This is work in progress and the potential tensions are hinted at in the text.
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