Skip to content

Lay Presidency at the Eucharist? An Anglican Approach (Affirming Catholicism) – Nicholas Taylor

April 30, 2013

A thorough study of a pressing issue

 LPATEThis is probably the most thorough study of the issue ever written, though it is repetitive at times. The author surveys, thoroughly what can be leaned from the Bible and from the early fathers of the Church. There is some evidence that the householder, when early Christians gathered for worship at the home of a rich person, presided unless someone more important, like an itinerant apostle was present. This would have followed Roman etiquette. The earliest extant evidence of ordination being an Episcopal prerogative is not until the Fifth Century

The pressure to allow lay people to preside at the Eucharist is likely to increase for several reasons. Since the Eucharist has replaced Matins as the principal Sunday service in most parishes, people have come to expect weekly communion, despite the decline in clergy numbers. Now that much of the service is delegated to lay people, e.g. preaching, intercessions, administration of the elements, reading lessons, people are asking why we need a priest to say `one particular prayer’.

Much of what the author writes challenges my Anglo-catholic presumptions: that ordination in the early Church and in Anglican thought is about being given authority rather than indelible character and quasi-magical power; that presbyters were ordained by other presbyters rather than by bishops in some quarters (which John Wesley used to justify his ordaining men to serve in America); that the consent of the community, representing the whole Church, may be sufficient in the absence of a bishop; that Michael Ramsey taught that authorisation by the whole church was more significant that tactile succession; there have been Anglo Catholics who have argued that a lay president is valid if a bishop delegates such authority. I was surprised to discover that Tertullian believed that lay people could preside at the Eucharist in an emergency (1 Clement is the earliest written proscription of lay presidency). I was also surprised that diaconal presidency was authorised in 1985 in Kenya and that former archbishop George Carey had presided, in the army, before his ordination; that it wasn’t until the Council of Trent that the episcopate was seen as a separate order from the presbyterate.

Arguably, the functions of those in the three-fold ministry have changed so much that
insisting on a bishop being the minister of ordination is to overlook the fact that the role of bishop has changed from being pastor to a local church to that of manager and chief spokesperson (as in the past they functioned as military leaders, landowners, legislators, etc.) The function of a presbyter has also changed. Far from being a pastor in one parish, s/he is likely to have oversight of several churches and manages lay people who carry out pastoral duties. Logically, these people could preside. Maybe they should be ordained to do so. However, the problem arises that they may not be competent to preach and the ministry of word and sacrament should not be split off from one another.

In Cranmer’s private thought, a lay person who presided became a priest in the mere act of doing so. Though that was never accepted by those in authority, the diocese of Sydney claims to be bringing the Reformation to its conclusion by legislating for lay presidency (whereas it is more likely that it is doing so for reasons of church politics).

The Church of England has not always required Episcopal ordination for clergy of other denominations working within it, notably Danish and German Lutherans and in the Anglo-Prussian Jerusalem Bishopric.

It was good to be reminded that the 39 Articles and the Chicago-Lambeth quadrilateral do not call the Bible `the word of God’ nor follow the Lutheran belief in sola scriptura. For Hooker, reason is required when reading the bible.

One mistake: lay Readers are not permitted to baptise, as stated by the author, except insofar as any lay person can in an emergency.

See also

To return to the home page, click on the header at the top of this page.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: