Sacramental Theatre (part I)

In my lecture today on Ordination we were discussing whether ordination was an ontological change or a functional change. I want to reflect briefly on what stood out, for me, as an important point and then move onto something slightly related about ministry in a theatre setting.

We were discussing the nature of ontological change and what the church meant by it. We were given a short introduction on Platonic and Aquinas thought on ‘substance’ and ‘accident’. My lay-man’s understanding of it is this: Everything has an accident and a substance. Take, for example, bread and wine. It’s accident is bread and wine as it looks like bread and wine, it smells like bread and wine, etc. It’s substance is also bread and wine. During the Eucharistic prayer, however, the Catholic church believe that the substance changes into the body and blood of Christ. It’s accident is still bread and wine but it’s inner substance is body and blood; hence why it’s called ‘trans substantiation’ The same could be said about a person in baptism and in ordination. That we still look the same (our accident is the same) but our substance is changed.


I was.

Then a colleague offered the following thought. In baptism, our status before God doesn’t change, we are still loved fully and accepted by Him but we have gained responsibility. In baptism and, in the same way, ordination, we enter into a covenant with God. We make vows to do certain things. Baptism and ordination then become functional but also involve a different relationship with God. It makes baptism and ordination a big deal and something that shouldn’t be entered into lightly. The language being used reminded me of marriage. We are married when we make vows and sign a contract. As a husband I don’t always fulfil those vows and sometimes I do the opposite, that doesn’t stop me from being married. I am married because I’ve made the vows not because I fulfil them.

I hope some of that makes sense. I’m not sure I completely understand it yet. This is, however, not what I wanted to write about.

During the lecture the idea of sacraments kept coming up. Having grown up a Roman Catholic sacraments become an interesting topic as to what constitutes a sacrament and why. The understanding that to be ordained is to take on responsibility for ministering sacraments put into my mind the question; How could the theatre do sacraments.

I’ll start by defining what I understand as the sacraments. As an Anglican I would say, Baptism and Eucharist are sacraments. I’m slightly flexible, at the moment, on my personal opinion and I can see why matrimony, holy orders and others could be seen as sacraments, particularly if we use Augustine of Hippo’s definition

‘a visible sign of an invisible reality.’

Let’s not get bogged down in semantics right now!

Article 19 of the Articles of Faith says this:

‘The visible church of Christ is a congregation of believers in which the pure Word of God is preached and in which the sacraments are rightly administered according to Christ’s command in all those matters that are necessary for proper administration.’

If I am to explore how theatre can do church then the theatre community are going to have to engage with administering sacraments. Baptism is not, as yet, an issue for this hypothetical community. Eucharist, however, is. How often would Holy Communion need to be done? What needs to be said? How, in a workshop or rehearsal space, could this sacrament be given due reverence and holiness? (see ‘Sacred Space‘ post.) Could Holy Communion be a meal with some prayer said at the beginning? What counts as Eucharist and what is a meal with a community? What would this sacrament look like within the theatre context? Is there already some sacramental element in the theatre?

To answer one of the many questions, I’ve been thinking about the idea of the meal. The theatre community loves meals. We love sharing good food and wine, we love to chat over meals. This is not an alien concept to understand that meals are holy moments. The Communion liturgy is also about remembering a story. The presider tells the story and frames the moment by it. This would not feel out of place in a workshop setting. It just forces me into the understanding that if I am to think of this exploration as building a Fresh Expression of church then there needs to be an intent on all those present that this is an expression of faith.

During the lecture today the word intent was used. The church gathers with the intent to ordain someone. The Bishop comes with the intent to ordain someone. You’d hope, that the candidate comes with the intent to be ordained. Is this the same with worship and the sacraments? You come, with the intent to worship God. You come with the intent to share in the death and resurrection of Christ. I think there is an essential need to have intent. The theatre community needs to know that the service has the intent to administer the sacraments.

So one question still remains for me; how often is enough?