Invitations to the Table of the Lord

One of my struggles with Catholicism has to do with the question of who is invited to the Eucharist. Catholic teaching is that only those who are in “full communion with the Catholic Church” may receive Eucharist at a Catholic Mass.

I understand the words that explain the Catholic position – the belief that “the celebration of the Eucharist is a sign of the reality of the oneness of faith, life, and worship” – but it still makes me uncomfortable. I look at all the people Jesus shared bread with during his lifetime and I question whether Jesus would have adopted the same position.

Given that, I was moved by the Great Thanksgiving that was prayed immediately prior to the Sanctus at the Espicopal Mass I attended on Sunday morning. Here it is:

This is the table, not of the Church, but of God.
It is to be made ready for those who love God
and who want to love God more.

So, come, you who have much faith and you who have little,
you who have been here often and you who have not been for a long time,
you who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, not because I invite you: it is God, and it is God’s will
that you who want God should meet God here.

For me, this approach expresses the power of the Eucharist more than does an exclusionary approach. I am less interested in using the Eucharist as a sign that we are one than as a way for us to become one. Not a symbol of what is, but that which helps us to what can be. It is not an orthodox approach from a Catholic standpoint, but, it seems to me that it has a lot to recommend it.


15 thoughts on “Invitations to the Table of the Lord

  1. Thank you for posting this. The invitation that you quoted is a variation on this one from the ecumenical community on the Scottish Isle of Iona, which I have sometimes used at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Edina:

    “Come to this table,
    you who have much faith
    and you who would like to have more;
    you who have been here often
    and you who have not been here for a long time;
    you who have tried to follow Jesus
    and you who have failed. Come.
    It is Christ who invites us to meet him here.”

    At other times I have invited people in the name of Christ, simply noting that “this is the Lord’s Table and not our own.”

    • After I had been visiting churches I came to an Episcopal church and this prayer was what moved me to tears and was confirmation that I was in the right place. This is how I feel about the invitation to communion. Come. It is Christ who invites us to meet him here. Thank you for posting the prayer and thank you to Susan for her version as well.

  2. I love the prayer. It seems to capture much more authentically the message that Jesus came to teach us.

    We have so much to learn from each other. Thank you Susan, for your open eyes, ears and heart last Sunday morning, and for sharing with us this week.

  3. I’m concerned that you say you give spiritual direction, but don’t seem to have a direction yourself. You might want to get some spiritual direction from a good solid Priest/Theologian to help clear up your confusion on Communion.

    Being in Communion means you believe Church teaching and follow it; those who are Catholic must be in a state of Grace prior to receiving Communion, so merely being Catholic isn’t enough, you must also have confessed serious sins. Public statements that you struggle with Catholicism make it sound like you’re not a solid Catholic; spending time before the Blessed Sacrament could help that. There are many 24-hour Adoration chapels, so you should be able to find one nearby if your parish schedule doesn’t meet your needs.

    Remember what St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

    Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself (1Cor 11,27-29).

    • Nan, Your assumption that I am not in direction is incorrect. I regularly see a spiritual director.

      I think it is wonderful for you that there are no issues that you struggle with; many of us who are Catholic do have issues of one sort or another that we struggle with. Struggle is not a bad thing.

      • It seems contradictory to give spiritual direction and at the same time show that you don’t fully embrace church teaching. Does your spiritual director know that you’re blogging about your struggles? It doesn’t seem like it would be helpful to their resolution.

        I wasn’t raised to follow church teaching so of course I have struggles; however, I would never state those struggles publicly.

      • “I wasn’t raised to follow church teaching so of course I have struggles; however, I would never state those struggles publicly.”

        There are many people who were “raised to follow church teachings” who nonetheless struggle with them.

        I’m sure you have your reasons for being so firm in stating you would never state your struggles publicly. Personally, I don’t see any reason hide the fact that there are issues I struggle with. Some people think they are the only ones who struggle. It can be helpful for them to know others experience difficulties as well.

        As for spiritual direction, I have two reactions to your comment. First, spirtiual direction (which is different from spirtiual counseling or e.g., a pastor’s relationship to a parishioner) is not about giving theology lessons; it is about helping people deepen their experience of God. The method of spiritual direction I was trained in is an evocative approach that is more about listening and asking questions of a directee than about making affiramtive statements. My own views on issues are not relevant. I’ve at various times, offered direciton to Catholics, Protestants and Buddhists. Second, even if one believed the director’s theology to be relevent, as long as I am honest with my directees up front about where I’m coming from, I don’t see where there is any contradiction. A potential directee can then determine whether I am the appropriate person to direct them.

  4. Thanks for the beautiful prayer and the ideas that go hand in hand with it. One of my struggles with the Roman Catholic Church is that so often I hear the Gospel proclaimed and find that following what I hear in the readings, and maybe even the homilies, seems to put me in conflict with “official teaching.” The rules for participating in/receiving the Eucharist are some of those conflicts I sense.

    At risk of being labeled [once again] a heretic, I must admit that sometimes receiving communion is an act of asking for the strength to trust/draw closer/be healed. I hear the words that indicate that this is food for the journey — and yet we seem to want to make sure only our own are fed.

    Amen, sister.

  5. Here’s an interesting perspective on this matter that I always find challenging and thought-provoking. It’s a quote by Jürgen Moltmann, a German Protestant theologian, from his book The Church in the Power of the Spirit (Fortress Press, 1993):

    “The Lord’s supper takes place on the basis of an invitation which is as open as the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross. Because he died for the reconciliation of ‘the world,’ the world is invited to reconciliation in the supper. It is not the openness of this invitation, it is the restrictive measures of the churches which have to be justified before the face of the crucified Jesus. But which of us can justify them in his sight? The openness of the crucified Lord’s invitation to his supper and his fellowship reaches beyond the frontiers of the different denominations. It even reaches beyond the frontiers of Christianity; for it is addressed to ‘all nations’ and to ‘tax-collectors and sinners’ first of all. Consequently we understand Christ’s invitation as being open, not merely to the churches but to the whole world.”

  6. As a trained Spiritual Director in the Catholic tradition, I should first say that the action – “Spiritual Direction” is in fact a misnomer. True spiritual direction is not catechesis, is not setting the “directee” straight, or giving instruction. It’s true purpose is to walk along on the journey that particular person is walking. If the Spiritual Director is not a companion on the road, someone who you can explore ideas, questions, concerns, frustrations, yes, even doubts- then I would suggest you explore other options. You may be pleasantly surprised and hear the Lord’s voice in your life even more clearly.

  7. Mine might be the minority viewpoint on this thread–who wants to be described with the loaded term “exclusionary”?– but here goes:

    I too see that the Lord shared bread with all–as we should as well–but those to whom he gave his body and blood were a, shall we say, select group.

    The early church certainly did not share the Eucharistic mystery with every comer.

    I personally can’t justify mixing the belief in and partaking of the Real Presence, with an outreach program, however well-intentioned. It’s not just bread, nor just a “symbol”; and offering the Eucharist to those who think so–who value it only as fellowship (which is available in many other places) and not as a sacred mystery–somehow implies that it is not necessarily what we claim it is. The “outreach” is valuable and necessary, but should take place elsewhere.

    As a comparison: I have been present, and welcomed, at many Bar Mitzvahs and other Jewish celebrations, but many congregations do not allow non-Jews to stand on the bimah and approach the Torah. I understand this, and do not feel “excluded.”

    • I appreciate your point, Smitty, but to be clear, I wasn’t talking about distributing Eucharist to “every comer.” I was talking about other Christians. And there are many Protestants who believe in Real Presence and do not just value it as fellowship.

      • I am one of those Christians. I understand myself to be your brother in Christ and would, therefore, hope to meet Christ with both of you at the same Table.

        Of course, not everyone who is invited to the Table in the Roman Catholic Church and accepts that invitation also believes in the Real Presence. So I have more in common with both of you in those instances, which happen week after week, than you do with them in terms of what we believe about the Eucharist. The irony is that, officially, we can only celebrate that together in a non-Roman Catholic setting.

  8. Thank you for the post. I have had the blessing of attending a study for Lent, lead by Father Charles Browning, and was truly moved when I heard this in the invitation to take part in the Eucharist.

    I feel that we often forget what the Eucharist truly symbolizes. We are told by Christ to “Do this in remembrance of me.”, yet we lose sight of what we are to remember. The Eucharist is a symbol of his body being broken and his blood being poured out, and who was this done for? Paul warns against taking the Eucharist in an “unworthy manner”, and I’ve often heard this expressed as the idea that one should be right with the Lord to partake. But Christ died for the unworthy. The only people Christ speaks harshly toward in Scripture are the ones who thought they were worthy. Perhaps the “unworthy manner” isn’t those who have failed and are searching, but those who feel they are worthy. Christ did not died because we are worthy, we are worthy because he died. This is what struck me so deeply about the invitation. Those who are seeking are invited to meet Christ. After all, isn’t that the whole wonder of grace? Those who are lost, hurting, searching and alone are invited to meet the Christ who waits with open arms to embrace them.

    Grace and Peace,

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