I’m amused/perplexed/concerned by the thing that my old church did after communion. All heavily liturgical churches do this.
Anything that was consecrated had to be consumed, locked away, or specially disposed of. Drops of wine and specks of communion wafers had to be dealt with.
After everybody had taken communion, the chalice bearers would do a little pre-cleaning while still at the altar. At this church they did it with their backs to everybody, in part to not be in the way of the priest and the crucifer who took on a quasi-deacon role. Of course, it didn’t matter that their backs were to everybody. They were standing at least 20 feet away from the first pew, and nobody sits in the first pew anyway. So it wasn’t like what we were doing was secret, but in a way it was.
Yes. I said we. I was one of them. I became a chalice bearer in part because I wanted to know what was going on up there. I love ritual. I love symbolism. And I love being on the inside of things. For some things you have to be “in” to get all the layers of meaning.
Plus, they were chronically short on chalice bearers. I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn as much as I did so early in my membership. It was so big at my old church in Chattanooga that there was no way I could have made a place for myself up at the altar. They were full up on helpers.
But I should have thought about the fact that they had so few people who were able or willing to do that task at this church. I feel it speaks to a certain lack of activity, or a certain fear of it.
Plenty people don’t feel “worthy” to be a chalice bearer. Some don’t even feel worthy enough to touch the chalice to help the chalice bearer guide it to their lips so they don’t get wine spilled on them. Some don’t even feel worthy enough to take communion at all. This is worth a whole post on its own.
But some don’t even want to participate, not really. They want to show up and get a sticker for being there and go home. They’ve done their duty for the week.
Back to the clean up part. The chalice bearers drink whatever is left of the wine in their chalices. Then they pour a little water in the chalice and a little water on the paten (the plate for the wafers). They swish it around to catch any crumbs. Then they pour the water from the paten into the chalice, swirl it around, and drink it too. They will use their linen napkins (called purificators) to wipe up anything left and put them in the chalice.
There is a special order to how the whole assembly is put together to be put back on the shelf for the altar guild.
The next place it goes is to the piscina.
The piscina is a special place that the communion ware goes after the chalice bearers are done with their bit. It is a special sink that is not connected to the sewer system. The drain goes directly to the ground. This way no unintentional bits of consecrated elements go into the sewer system.
To me, this seems all a bit excessive. Even if a crumb is dropped, it has to be eaten or disposed of outside on the ground. It can’t be vacuumed up. It can’t be stepped on and ground into the carpet.
Funny how the ministers care so much about the crumbs and they miss the people who are leaving.
I’m still a bit angry about the fact that I’ve been gone from that church for almost a year now and it was as if I never went. I went almost every Sunday for three years. I was up front serving, as a chalice bearer, a lector, or an acolyte – or all three, for the majority of that time. I wasn’t just a pew warmer. I was up and working. I was visible. My name was in the order of service. Because I was part of the deacon discernment process I was even being prayed for by name as part of the Prayers of the People.
But none of that means anything. I left, and it is just like I went off the radar and nobody noticed. I’ve seen a few people from that church in the library or at the Y and they act like nothing has happened. It is all very weird. It makes me think that I made the right decision – that they were all asleep all along.
Sure, some are awake and present. Some asked what was going on. Some took the time to listen to my concerns. But not nearly the amount I would expect, given my activity level. Surely some of them would wonder if I was OK. Surely some of them would call or email to see if I was sick, or hurt. The fact that a handful of people cared enough to talk with me about why I left just lets me know I was in the wrong place all along.
I feel like I wasted three years of my life. And I’m wary of committing to another church organization, of any form. I’m wary of getting sucked in only to get spit out all over again.
I’m wary of finding out once again that the crumbs are more important than the people.