The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has officially released a supplement to the Eucharistic rite, approved for trial use beginning on Easter Sunday, 2017. The supplement allows for the addition of fish to the usual Eucharistic elements of bread and wine.
“Jesus clearly intended not only to break bread with his disciples, but also to give them fish,” says a representative of the Commission. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus reveals himself to two disciples in the breaking of the bread and then immediately confirms his bodily resurrection to all of his disciples by consuming some broiled fish.
In John’s gospel, the Biblical description of a fish breakfast with his disciples echoes the wording of our Eucharistic prayers: “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish” (John 21:13). Since most congregations celebrate the Sunday Eucharist in the morning, the Eucharist should recall not only the Last Supper but also this First Breakfast.
Congregations may wish to use fish during particular seasons of the church year, or on special feast days. The use of fish in Jesus’ post-resurrection meals makes fish an especially appropriate addition to the Eucharist during the Easter season.
In developing the precise words for the new additions to the Eucharistic prayer, members of the Commission relied on documents from the medieval and early church, where available. Scholars drew extensively on a complete eleventh-century Latin rite for blessing fish:
And after his resurrection, Jesus was seated with his disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and he took bread and fish, broke them, and gave them to his disciples, and he said, “This is my fish, consumed in the flesh. Do this in remembrance of me.”
The Commission has also released guidelines for dealing with the practical matters of introducing fish into the Eucharist. In trial liturgies, members of the Commission observed that tuna chunks held together more firmly than some other types of fish.
Locally-raised or -caught catfish are an ideal choice for some parts of the United States. In all cases, congregations will want to consider guidelines for purchasing sustainable seafood. The Episcopal Church hopes to develop a supply chain for liturgically-appropriate fish very soon.
Members of church altar guilds should be prepared to remove fish oil stains from the altar linens very quickly. Finally, the Commission strongly recommends censing the altar immediately after setting the table for the Eucharist in order to reduce any distracting fish odors.
Reported by Lora Walsh
Image: Archbishop’s Chapel, Ravenna, public domain