Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Es lo mismo y es diferente.

One of the great sadnesses, I think, of modern Christianity is the way in which the sacrament of Holy Communion has become a signal of dividing lines rather than the sacrament which unites the Body of Christ.

In the tradition in which I was raised, Holy Communion was very important. The leaders of that tradition, at the beginning, were the very first protestant leaders to successfully institute weekly communion. Luther, Cranmer, Calvin... all of them tried with little success. But the Stone-Campbell movement, they pulled it off.

However, by the time I was growing up, it had become more of a dividing marker. First off, since only adults were allowed to be baptized (and be members of the church), only adults could take communion. Thus, my first memories of communion were that it was not for me. I wanted it... but I was not a part of the group, yet. Not fully. And, our insistence upon it was specifically in distinction to other protestant groups that did follow the pattern of the early church in celebrating communion weekly.

And though I exist now in a more open tradition, one in which all the baptized are welcome at the table, the language in the church still becomes a hurdle for some.

Roman Catholics call it Mass.

Low church protestants call it Holy Communion or just "The Lord's Supper."

The orthodox call it the Divine Liturgy (probably my favorite name for it).

We call it "Holy Eucharist"—probably not the most welcoming name for those who don't know what in the world that is.

[Full disclosure, when we redid the service times on the church sign at my parish, I changed the previous sign from "Worship" to "Holy Eucharist." I believed then—and still do, to some extent—that strange language is an important part of church life. If you disagree, I encourage you to go read Willimon's book Peculiar Speech and then come talk to me.]

And though the Episcopal Church's BCP is very clear that all these names are appropriate (see page 859), most Episcopalians prefer "Holy Eucharist." Some low-church Episcopalians prefer "Holy Communion." And high-church Episcopalians prefer "The Mass." Which you use becomes an indicator of your churchmanship, of how you are different than those around you.

Why is this on my mind in the Dominican Republic?

Porque aquí, en este país, es lo mismo y es diferente.

Because here, in this country, it is the same and it is different.

At 7:00am Morning Prayer, I discovered that not all Dominican liturgies start a little late. I got there at 7:03am and the seminarians were already gathered, all in their white cassocks (probably actually cassock-alb, but close enough) and their black band cinctures. They were in the midst of the Confession. ("Dios de misericordia, confesamos que hemos pecado contra ti...") I slid into a pew, feeling awkward in my shorts and t-shirt, and joined in with them. ("No te hemos amado con todo el corazón...")

They said the psalm in the traditional manner—with a pause at the asterisk. I almost fell out of this pew as this small direction in the third paragraph of page 583 is unknown to most Episcopalians.

At Holy Eucharist, the movements were clean but not fussy. There were clear genuflections at appropriate points. They sang hymns in the normal places—but with no musicians, they simply sang them a cappella.

As I went forward to receive, I noticed that the custom was for the minister to intinct the wafer and place it in the mouth. I have always found this method of receiving profoundly humbling, a physical representation of the truth that when I approach God's grace, the best I can offer is an open mouth—like a child—to receive what God has for me.

Es lo mismo y es diferente.

At Nuevo Amanecer last fall, I kind of got the idea that the only way Spanish language services were celebrated were rather low-church. Make no mistake, I don't think that's bad at all, I just kind of gathered that this was more the Latino culture.

But this morning, I saw something different. The language, the music, was definitely Latino... but the reverence... the style... the approach... was profound.

During the reception, I noticed none of the seminarians got up. I wondered at first if perhaps they didn't receive (maybe they are REALLY traditional?). But then I noticed, it was those who came for the breakfast, the poor and hungry, they went first. Each one, in the line, walked forward and opened his or her mouth to receive the sacrament. And while some probably did this because it is expected at the cathedral that those who come to breakfast first come to mass... it was clear that for others this was a profoundly important moment.

Only after all the poor, todos los pobres, had received did the seminarians get up and get into line to receive the sacrament.

The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

Los que ahora son los últimos, serán los primeros; y los que ahora son los primeros, serán los últimos.

It's likely that many of those who came to the service this morning were Roman Catholics who truly believed this was the Mass (la Misa). After the words of institution ("This is my body... this is my blood...") a handful cried out, "Señor mío, y Dios mío." This is what Thomas said when he encountered the risen Lord, "My Lord and my God." It is actually what I say when I bow after the words of institution and then again at the Great Amen.

Es lo mismo.

It was equally clear that some had a more Pentecostal background. I could see them raising their hands during the hymns. I could hear them, praying audibly during the prayers of the people.

Es lo mismo.

This morning, I saw how when a culture cares more about God than it does about the name on the door, all the wonderful variety of God's children can worship together. This was, after all, the true genius of Anglicanism, right? Let's come up with a book of prayers that all Christians can use, regardless of the "flavor" of their individual belief.

Es lo mismo y es diferente.

And when, at the peace, the nearly blind old man with dirty torn clothes (who also knew all the words of the liturgy by heart) reached out in the aisle to hug me ("¡La paz!"), it was as though Christ himself reached out.

Y yo abrazé le.

And I hugged him.

And was grateful that it is the same, even if it is different.

Y yo estaba agradecido de que es el lo mismo, aunque sea diferente.


  1. I recently went on an exploratory mission trip to the DR. My hope is that our parish will become involved there. I was moved, too, by the worship at the Cathedral and everywhere we worshiped. My Spanish is very, very poor but the openness to God is palpable. As an Episcopal priest, tackling the divides in our life and worship is important. Blessings to your time there. Vaya con Dios!

  2. Hello Fr. Jared!

    I saw you at the Eucharist last Sunday but we didn't have the chance to interact.

    Tuesdays are my favorite days on the Cathedral. I too feel amazed for how close are in that Eucharistic moment Jesus who becomes poor and simple and descends into our altar and the poor itself. Speechless.

    And yes. It's very punctual, actually this Tuesday I got caught by traffic and arrived too late to participate.

    The Cathedral for me, (born and raised Roman Catholic in the very traditional church of Cuba, with a sort of Anglican mindset taught by liberal Franciscan Friars, developed recently Episcopalian) is an oasis in the midst of the traditionally low approach to the faith in the Episcopal Church in DR.

    We can talk later about the sociological reasons of that low/Pentecostal like approach to the faith in the Latino culture, if you are interested.

    Great insights btw, congrats!

    See you at Church!