Last Sunday, the pastor of Freedom Plains Presbyterian Church asked for help cleaning the tiny cups used for Communion. They’d switched to glass, or back to glass, from disposable plastic. I was pleased: Glass cups were all I’d known when I was younger, last century.
I’ve helped prepare for Communion and clean up afterward. I’ve filled quarter-ounce glasses with Welch’s grape juice. I’ve collected the empties and not-so-empties from the backs of the pews after the service. I’ve washed the cups. It’s one of the things you do as the preacher’s kid.
Perhaps because I grew up a preacher’s kid in the Presbyterian Church, I’m curious about worship practices among Christians and across cultures. I am not anthropologist enough, or daring enough, to visit other ceremonies uninvited, but I have attended within my comfort zone: mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic.
The service of the Eucharist differs in the details. Some traditions break freshly baked bread; some, wafers. Some use wine; some, grape juice. Some go to the altar rail. Some form lines. Some pass a plate hand to hand. Some sip wine from a chalice; some, from little cups. Some plastic. Some glass. The way the liturgy is structured emphasizes or elides different aspects of the practice of life.
I love the ritual of the Catholic mass: The washing of the hands, the presentation of the gifts, the setting of the table, and then… the cleaning up. No crumbs are dropped. Dishes and utensils are cleaned–and put away–every time. The congregation silently, patiently, waits.
It’s part of the ceremony to set the table. It’s part of the ceremony to wash the dishes. This menial labor is not insignificant.
At some of the services I’ve attended, there’s a rush to leave, immediately, before “the Mass has ended; go in peace.” Parishioners receive communion and walk out the door rather than return to their pew. They jostle in the parking lot, impatient to get on with their day. Did they receive anything other than a stale cracker? I’ve seen this less recently, perhaps because of where or when I’ve attended, or perhaps because I’m older. Or perhaps because attendance has dwindled: those who are there want to be there. Church is not an irritant.
At Reformed, Congregational, and Presbyterian meetings, where the plate is passed, there’s no easy escape. In the Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran traditions, where the congregants rise and move forward to receive, the return is easily abbreviated.
But if you stay, see how the meal ends with the washing and the putting away.
Last week, a couple about my age collected the soiled dishes on a hand cart and wheeled them off to the commercial washer in the social hall’s kitchen.
Who prepares your meals? Who cleans?