Eucharist as a Way of Life

Bread and wine
Photograph by Tuvi from stockxpert

Every week I get an email newsletter from The Alban Institute. Each issue contains a leading article, usually about some area of church leadership, followed by a few book reviews and adverts about upcoming US-based seminars and workshops.

It’s really interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. I usually have a cursory read through the article and then delete the email. It’s usually about stuff that doesn’t really concern me now that I’m no longer in a position of parish leadership. But today’s email grabbed me; enough to blog about it.

It was entitled “Eucharist as a Way of Life”.

Eucharistic actions

If you’ve ever watched an Anglican or Roman Catholic priest setting up an altar before Eucharist (Mass) and clearing up afterwards you’ll know that he or she goes through a set routine involving a number of items:

  • Chalice (cup)
  • Paten (plate)
  • Ciborium (container for bread)
  • Corporal (like a cloth place mat)
  • Purificator (napkin)
  • Pall (card that sits over the chalice to protect anything from falling into the cup)

When setting up the altar the corporal is unfolded and lined up with the edge of the altar. Onto this is placed the chalice and ciborium (if used). At this point the paten, which is resting on top of the chalice is removed and placed on the corporal. The purificator is placed to the right side of the chalice on top of the purificator.

After the Eucharist everything is carefully cleared away. The remaining bread is consumed, crumbs are tapped into the chalice and any remaining wine is also consumed. Water is then poured (over the priests fingers to wash them) into the chalice (cup) and ciborium (bread container); some priests also pour water into the paten (plate) but I tend to just wipe it with the damp purificator after I’ve dried the chalice. That water is then also consumed and the vessels are dried with the purificator.

Then, without being too vulgar about it, the dishes are ‘stacked up’: the damp purificator is scrunched up and placed into the chalice, the paten is rested on top, then the pall and the corporal is folded up and placed on top of that. The lid is replaced on the ciborium and in modern ceremonies everything is then passed off the altar to a side table called a credence table.


Before I was ordained I always used to wonder what was going on here. The Eucharist is supposed to be about a meal, a family meal, with the family (the congregation) gathered around the table with Jesus. But this just seemed to be so removed from real life.

Until I visited Pluscarden Abbey in Moray, and then it all made perfect sense.

I had the priviledge (and being male certainly helped) of eating in the refrectory with the Benedictine Monks at Pluscarden during my pre-ordination retreat in 1999 and it was while watching them during the meal that made me understand for the first time that what we do at the altar as priests during the Eucharist made perfect sense.

I watched the monks receive their dishes at the table and unfolding their large napkins they placed it on the table, beneath their bowl, and the rest they tucked into their robe. It was similar to what I do with the corporal (the large, white ‘place mat’). Food was eaten, fingers washed into their bowls, the bowls were washed out with water and wiped dry with the napkin.

As I sat there I was able to finally make the connection between the Eucharist and an ordinary, everyday meal. Sure, most of us don’t eat our meals that way anymore, but many years ago we would have. We would have gone to church and watched the priest do what each of us would have done each and every day in preparing a meal which we all share in, except from one cup and plate rather than one each, and that would have shaped our view of meals and of our life.

Four gestures

In his article Paul Galbreath writes

The four basic gestures — taking, blessing, breaking, and giving — at the center of the eucharistic prayer provide a shape or outline for Christian life.

As we consider the pattern of prayer at Table, these gestures provide a basis for Christian action at the Lord’s Table and at the other tables around which we gather. The shape of the prayer at table builds on the shape of the gospel as it provides a pattern for our lives.

He concludes the article by saying “regularly gathering around the table to participate in communion provides a template for Christian virtues and practices: living with thankful hearts, forgiving our neighbours, depending on God’s provision, welcoming strangers, practicing hospitality, sharing our belongings, recognizing Christ’s presence, caring for all of God’s creation, and giving up power.” That sounds like a good pattern to live by.

You can read the full article: Eucharist as a Way of Life on The Alban Institute website.

Sacred space at Linne Bheag

Sacred space at Linne Bheag

One of the smaller Web projects that I’ve been working on over the last few months is a new website for my parents-in-law, Peter and Dorothy Neilson: Sacred space at Linne Bheag.


It’s built using Weebly, which is a really simple to use content management system.

Weebly is wonderfully easy to use, even easier to use than WordPress, can you believe it?!

Once we got the site structure sorted it took only a few hours to set up and populate with content. It’s well recommended if you’ve got a small site to create and populate.

You can create blog/news sections, it automatically includes an RSS feed so that people can subscribe to your latest news, and it will even manage your DNS so that you can tie your domain name to it, otherwise you’ll have

Linne Bheag

Anyway, the site is now live, and my mother-in-law Dorothy (whose 0x3Cth birthday it was on Sunday — Happy Birthday!!) is enjoying making site updates.

They offer all sorts of events, services and stuff, such as:

  • Mission Consultancy
  • Quiet Days
  • Enneagram
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Life Coaching

either out-and-about in sunny Scotland or from the comfort of their beautiful new home in Anstruther, Fife.

Check out the website:

Happy not-St Patrick’s Day

Google logo for St Patrick's Day
Google’s logo today, celebrating St Patrick’s Day … which isn’t today this year

Ordinarily today would be St Patrick’s Day, it being the seventeenth of March. However, as this is now Holy Week which kind of trumps all other lesser festivals, it isn’t.

The Roman Catholic Church moved his feast to Saturday 15 March this year, the Scottish Episcopal Church have moved celebration of his life and witness to the earliest opportunity following Holy Week and Easter Week, which is (I’m not kidding) Tuesday 1 April.

According to the Irish Independent newspaper:

In strict accordance with the rules, this year’s St Patrick’s Day should have been moved to the next available day in the Church calendar, Tuesday, April 1.

However, senior clerics were anxious to keep the date as close as possible to the international civic celebrations, which are often planned many years in advance.

After much deliberation, Rome gave Irish authorities the green light to shift the official religious celebrations two days back to March 15, which falls on a Saturday.


In the Scottish Episcopal Church calendar all festivals (also called “feast days”) are categorised with a number from 1 to 6, with 1 being highest.

Sundays in Advent are category 1, as is Christmas Day, The Epiphany, Sundays in Lent, every day in Holy Week, Easter Day and Pentecost.

Christmas Eve is a category 2, so are the Annunciation and Trinity Sunday. There don’t appear to be many category 2 festivals.

Most ordinary Sundays (i.e. those that are not major festivals) are given a category 3, and major saints a category 4, such as the Apostles, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and certain national saints (such as St Patrick).

Category 5 is reserved for the likes of Corpus Christi, the Birth of Mary, Mother of the Lord, Holy Cross Day and All Souls Day.

The rest of the saintly masses (lesser saints and commemorations) are bundled into category 6.


So according to the notes to the “Guide to the use of the Calendar and Lectionary during 2007-08”:

Patrick, Bishop (17 March) and Joseph of Nazareth (19 March) falling in Holy Week are transferred respectively to the Tuesday and Wednesday after the Second Sunday of Easter (1 April and 2 April).

But why not transfer these festivals to the Monday and Tuesday? Because the Annunciation of the Lord (a category 2 feast) already falls on that day!

Simple, huh!

Anyway, Happy not-St Patrick’s Day.

More tea vicar

Baptism party

Today Jane and I were in Edinburgh for the baptism of our nephew Aidan.

En route we managed to buy me a really nice dinner suit (for only £95) from Slater Menswear on George Street in preparation for the National Youth Choir of Great Britain‘s 25th anniversary concert at Birmingham Symphony Hall next month.

We also popped into John Lewis to get a couple of presents. Which is where I spotted this mug and teapot.

Teapot with More Tea Vicar on it, next to a mug saying God

That’s like the best tea party you could ever hope for!

On our way home we popped in to see my brother Eddie in South Queensferry … where we had our tea. More tea vicar?

A lovely, relaxed day with family and friends.

Writing and transformation


Tomorrow, I’m preaching once again at St Mary’s, Newport-on-Tay so having had a full and busy week I’m sitting at my PC on Saturday morning/afternoon pouring over the gospel reading (John 4: 5-42) searching for inspiration.

I already have a sermon that I’ve preached on this Sunday in the lectionary (Year A, Lent 3) but I’m keen to write something else, something new. Despite feeling quite exhausted, dizzy and in need of a long and welcome sleep.

One of the threads that is woven throughout the opening chapters of the Gospel according to St John is that of transformation, starting with Jesus’s changing of water into wine. I could do with some transformation this afternoon, starting with the changing of my blank word processor document into a sermon!