A SACRILEGIOUS decision by the National Cathedral of the Episcopal Church (the even woker, if t’were possible, estranged American child of the C of E) in Washington to charge $7 per person for attendance at their Christmas Eve Eucharist has provoked a rightful furore in Christian circles.
Payment for church services or to obtain ecclesiastical office is the sin of Simony (see Acts 8:9-23), in which the Grace of God is blasphemously treated as a commercial asset. To many, this criticism might seem unnecessary. Despite the Episcopal Church’s plunging overall attendance rates, the Cathedral Church of Sts Peter and Paul (or the ‘National Cathedral’) is the closest thing America has to Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s. The United States has a secular constitution, but the cathedral is the de facto presidential church, by tradition ‘anointing’ presidents the day after their swearing-in.
Given the throng who will surely crowd the nave for an annual expression of piety, minimising numbers via a token fee can appear to be a pragmatic necessity. The argument could equally be made that seven dollars (approximately £5.52) is hardly an unaffordable sum for even the most cash-strapped festive Star-Spangler.
But affordability is not the point! The point is that Jesus calls everyone, especially the homeless and the hedge-dwellers (cf Luke 14:23) to come to His Heavenly banquet. Along with Baptism, Holy Communion is one of the primary Sacraments of the Christian faith without which we can ‘have no life in [us]’ (John 6:53).
The event in question is not an organ recital, chamber concert or art display for which a small donation would not be inappropriate. No, it is the service of the Eucharist, the Mass, the Lord’s Supper where Jesus manifests Himself in His Body and Blood for salvation of the world. Even to consider charging admission fees to this great feast in which all distinctions of social class, sex, nation, tribe or colour pale into nothingness in the light of the universe-shattering, arras-rending love of Jesus stems from gross spiritual deformity. In Christ all division is obliterated and in His presence we stand naked of all artifice and affectation. To make Jesus accessible only through debit cards and QR codes is to fail to understand who it is we adore in His crib, nestled in Mary’s bosom, the colicky King of Creation. Jesus calls all Christians to commune of Him in this mystery of our redemption and ‘draw[s] all people unto [Him]self’ (John 12:32) irrespective of economic facility.
Part of the underlying spiritual diagnosis here is one of the bourgeoisification of the Church. Mainstream Anglicanism has so long attempted to appease the chattering classes (of which I must slightly awkwardly confess membership) whence its senior clergy are mostly drawn, in part by appealing to woke orthodoxies on issues such as climate change, LGBT+ marriage, women’s ordination etc in some misguided attempt at closet evangelism. In so doing, Anglicanism has forgotten those to whom the Gospel was first proclaimed: the poor. On Christmas Eve, the Church must be as open to smack addicts seeking Christ in the grip of an angry fix as it is to bishops vesting in the sacristy. The Church is not permitted to turn anybody away if they come in good faith, and in an age of empty pews void of emptier souls, Christmas is a unique opportunity to evangelise those tired of frenetic consumerism and the plastic idols of Hedonia. It should be a time when the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ Emmanuel (‘God-with-us’) for those who believe in Him is boldly and lovingly preached, and downloading a ticket to be scanned by some spotty teenager smacks more of the cheap mysteries of some latter-day, lab-grown tech deity or the doors of second-rate theatre production than the eternal God ‘made flesh for us within that grace forth shining’.
I encourage those of you who are disconcerted by the Oval Altar’s mercenary decision, and who feel an aching compulsion to worship the Incarnate Lord this Christmas, not to be perturbed by the errors so prevalent in much of the Church at this low tide in our culture. All these transitory vapours will pass away, but the eternal Word and Son of God will never pass away and gives new life to all who come to Him. Find a solid, Bible-believing Church, whatever its denomination. One where the Gospel is preached, the Sacraments administered and the Christian life of repentance and selfless service are pursued.
No heretical bishops can stand in the way of Christ . . . worship thou Him.