The democracy of the altar

Daily Reading for October 10 • Vida Dutton Scudder, Educator and Witness for Peace, 1954

All the careful worship through which the Church leads her children to the Altar, all the emotion into which, cleansed and fed, they return, is saturate with social earnestness. But the Sacrament is greater than the worship which enshrines it; and meditation on the Holy Mystery Itself gives best guidance to our minds.

The simple and outstanding fact is plain; this is the Sacrament of Unity, this is the Feast of Brotherhood, this is the sure communion no less of man with man than of man with God. It is to the Christian the earnest and the pledge of that Holy Fellowship and Perpetual Feast in the Kingdom of Heaven where all separateness shall be done away. Alas, that down through history the Sacrament of Unity has so often been a Sacrament of division; alas that still we rear our separate Altars, and defy brotherhood where we should most and first assert it. None the less, despite the perplexities and blunders of Christ’s stupid though loving fold, the great Rite stands forever as witness to the abiding truth of fellowship. The Holiest Gift is not given to us in solitude; Christian wisdom forbids a solitary approach to the Altar. Only at the common meal, where two or three are gathered together, do we touch Infinity most intimately, and find ourselves most fully one with Creative Love. . . .

Theories about the Sacrament may vex the mind of Christendom; but no Christian carries them to the Altar. The sacramental life, as it quickens at the touch of faith, is the same in every heart. The Eucharist is the final rebuke to the instinct for spiritual aristocracy. Saint, ascetic, administrator, theologian, priest, has no higher privilege than the least of repentant sinners. No esoteric grace, conditioned on wisdom or even on spiritual attainment, awaits the Christian initiate. All is open to the child just confirmed, to the most ignorant of loving hearts; at the first cry of faith, the Gift is ready. It unites us with the whole Church militant here below; and no less, with the Church expectant and triumphant. “Angels and living saints and dead / But one communion make,” in the democracy of the Altar.

From “The Eucharist” in Social Teachings of the Christian Year: Lectures Delivered at the Cambridge Conference, 1918 by Vida D. Scudder (E.P. Dutton & Company, 1921).

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