April 24, 2006

Experiencing an Episcopal Eucharist

I had the opportunity recently to partake in "an instructed Eucharist" with Dr. Watson, my classmates from Hero Quest and the Holy Grail, and Rev. Carol Petty, associate rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Longview. We have been studying the various versions of the legend of the Holy Grail throughout history, and almost all of them involve some sort of Eucharist in a central role. Naturally, Dr. Watson could not offer us a genuine Catholic Eucharist, because we aren't Catholics (with one exception), so he got as close as he could and arranged for us to attend our own service at Trinity Episcopal one Thursday night.

We arrived at the church that evening and were greeted by Rev. Petty, dressed in street clothing. She led us into the sanctuary (I think that's still the term that Episcopals use, but I'm probably going to get a lot of the terminology wrong) and explained various things to us, answered our questions, and prepared us to work our way through a service. We each got a bulletin from the Sunday before, so we could follow along and join in when necessary. Then, Dr. Watson and Rev. Petty went to put on the appropriate vestments so they could lead the service.

I found the service very personally meaningful, as I have when I attend St. Michael's. I enjoy the sense of tradition, the rituals, the heavy reliance on scriptural readings, recitation of the Nicene Creed, and sense of community throughout the service. I grew up attending churches of all kinds, but mostly those of a very informal tradition. I used to think that I liked it like that. Adherence to tradition smacked of legalism, and Christians are freed by grace to approach a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ in whatever manner they wish. The key here is basically freedom; not trying to pin anyone down, not saying that only one way is the right way to do a thing. But I've seen too many people take that and run too far with it, and eventually I got tired of watching.

My experience with the Episcopal Church has been the opposite of what I would have thought years ago. The ritual is not a factor of legalism, and the adherence to tradition is neither blind in its rigidity, nor particularly constraining. In fact, I have found that members of the denomination seem even more free than most of their Protestant brethren. It has given me a new perspective on the idea of "freedom in Christ."

But I digress . . .

The service included readings from the Old Testament, New Testament, Gospels, and Psalms. Dr. Watson preached an abridged version of his sermon from the Sunday before (involving baseball and his brief stint as a Little League umpire), and there was a prayer time. I volunteered to lead one of the responsive readings. All of this led up to the taking of communion. We all climbed up next to the altar and stood around it in a semi-circle while Episcopal communion was explained to us. Then we adjourned to the rail and partook of it together. Trinity uses wafers (St. Mike's uses actual bread) and watered-down wine as the elements, and they are administered by the priest to each individual in turn. I really like that.

Of course, the wine came from a very Grail-like cup, and it took very little imagination to picture what we were doing in the light of the stories we've been reading. I am reminded once again, as when I read de Troyes version of the Grail story, that this quest is really all about spiritual illumination, not the acquisition of a physical artifact. It's strange how often people miss that.

Posted by Jared at April 24, 2006 08:48 PM | TrackBack