Sunday, 30 November 2008

Practical Liturgy – Worship and the Sacraments

Patrick Comerford

Our public worship and our Sacramental life are at the very heart of our understanding of both the Church and our ministry.

This understanding is underpinned and explicit in the Anglican formularies.

For examples, we can turn to the 39 Articles:

Article 19, “Of the Church,” tells us the Church is where the “Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments … duly administered.”

Article 24 – which, at first, looks as if it is about preaching in the common language of the people – also makes a clear, inseparable link between the ministry of word, or preaching, and sacramental ministry.

Article 25, “Of the Sacraments,” tells us that the Sacraments “are not only badges or tokens” of the Christian faith, but “sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace and God’s will.”

This article says there are “two Sacraments ordained of Christ” – “Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.”

But there are also “five commonly called Sacraments,” which are “Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction.”

Article 26 makes it clear that the reception and effectiveness of the Sacraments do not depend on the worthiness of the ministers of the sacrament; rather, they depend instead on Christ’s ordinance and institution.

Article 27, “Of Baptism,” tells us that it is by Baptism that we are “grafted into the Church,” adopted by God as his own children.

Article 28, “Of the Lord’s Supper,” says the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is a sign of the love of Christians among one another, a “Sacrament of our redemption by Christ’s death,” a “partaking of the Body of Christ,” and a “partaking of the Blood of Christ.”

Article 29, in a very mystical way, is accepting that the Church is the Real Body of Christ, the sacrament is the Mystical Body of Christ.

And Article 30 is also an encouragement to regular participation in the Holy Communion by all members of the Church.

So, of the 39 Articles, at least eight (19, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 30) are specifically concerned with setting out for us as Anglicans the Sacramental foundations for the life of the Church.

The centrality of the Sacrament of Communion:

As the first of the General Directions for Public Worship in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 75), and as Bishop Harold Miller says, “The Holy Communion is the central act of worship in the church.” Bishop Miller says it is the most normative and complete act of Sunday worship.

The directions under the Calendar in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 18) say that in the Church of Ireland on Sundays and Principal Holy Days “it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and in each parish church or in a church within a parochial union or group of parishes.” General Direction 1 also says: “Holy Communion is to be celebrated on the principal days as set out in the Calendar and regularly on Sundays and festivals for which provision is made …”


We use different words to describe this “central act of worship in the church”. These words include:

● The Sacrament;

● The Mass;

● The Lord’s Supper;

● The Holy Communion;

● The Eucharist;

● The Great Thanksgiving;

● The Liturgy.

But can any one of these terms alone serve adequately enough to describe the Great Mystery of the Heavenly Banquet to which we are being invited and to which the whole of creation is invited?

An insight into what worship should be like:

Bishop Miller is quite right when he says: “The Holy Communion gives us a window into all that is most vital in our regular worship.” As we have it, this is not simply the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. It is a combination of both a Liturgy of the Word, a Prayer Service, and a Liturgy of the Sacrament.

Bishop Colin Buchanan has summarised it as “a Bible study, followed by a prayer meeting, followed by a meal.”

In Acts 2: 42, we find the following basic elements in the worship of the early Apostolic Church:

● The Apostles’ Teaching;

● The fellowship;

● The breaking of bread;

● The prayers.

The basic structure has five elements:

● The Gathering of God’s People;

● Proclaiming and receiving the word;

● The Prayers of the People;

● Celebrating at the Lord’s Table;

● Going out as God’s People.

Of course, to identify those five basic elements in the structure is not to give them equal weight or importance. They are not, and they are not of equal length either.

The central sections are:

● Proclaiming and receiving the word (Element 2);

● Celebrating at the Lord’s Table. (Element 4).

The priority given today to the prayers of the people (Element 3) – including the intercessions and thanksgivings, the Lord’s Prayer and Penitence (if they are not used in other places), perhaps the Prayer of Humble Access, and the Peace – is due to the fresh insights we have gained from the modern liturgical movement.

The two other elements – the first (The Gathering of God’s People) and the last (Going out as God’s People) – lead us into the other three, and then lead us out of them.

The Gathering of God’s People:

The Greek work εκκλεσια (ekklesia), which we translate as “Church,” refers to the gathering of the people, the call out of the world and into the assembly.

We are there first and foremost as the gathered or assembled church, believers. Others may be guests, and welcomed guests, but it is not a secular gathering, on the one hand, nor, on the other hand, is it a meeting for evangelism. The presumption first and foremost is that those present will be baptised believers.

We meet in his name, and we do as he commanded us.

We meet together not as a collection of neighbours, or even as a collection of individual Christians, but as the One Body of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit.

As we are told: “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10: 24-25).

The liturgy is essentially what we do, what we do together – hence the description “Common Prayer”. It is not about common texts or common language, but what we do in common, what we do with one another.

When we gather, chattering and gossip are natural. But how do we move from that to being gathered as the worshipping assembly?

How you create this silence is important in gathering the assembly, in gathering the people together as the Church.

In the chapel in the Church Ireland Theological Institute, I have asked in the Chapel Handbook, that we should have silence once the candles are lit. In a parish setting, Bishop Miller, suggests, for example, giving out the notices five minutes before the liturgy begins so that people can then settle down and be prepared for being gathered together as the liturgical, celebrating, people.

The processional hymn too can have the same effect. If you use one it should not be announced as “We begin our worship with Hymn Number 857 …”

Once you have set out on that course of moving across the boundary from the secular to the sacred, from the temporal to the eternal, from the earthly to the heavenly, then you reverse it by not having a proper liturgical greeting.

The liturgical greetings can be: “The Lord be with you …,” but may vary: “Christ is Risen …” or “Grace, mercy and peace”, or even something else. But we chose one we then have to announce and explain first of all, so that the announcement and explanation become the call to worship, not the liturgical greeting.

Two points are worth emphasising:

1, The liturgical greeting is not the same as “Good Morning.”

2, The liturgical greeting establishes who is presiding, the presidency.

Perhaps the liturgical greeting can be followed by a sentence of scripture, reflecting the theme of the liturgy, the readings, or the season.

After the liturgical greeting, we can then have our welcome, which may include strangers and visitors (but with sensitivity), those who have come back. Then we can be confident who is being gathered; an introduction to the theme or topic lets us know as the gathered people what to expect.

This section of the liturgy also includes:

The Collect for Purity: this is of pre-Reformation origin, but was given prominence by Cranmer, and has become part of received and accepted Anglican tradition since 1549.

The Penitence: This is part of the tradition of Anglicanism, dating back to the 1552 Book of Common Prayer. But in earlier Holy Communion services in the Church of Ireland it came at a later point, as a response to the Word of God and as preparation for the Holy Communion. Its optional use at that point remains, after the Word has been proclaimed, at the point when the catechumens were dismissed. But today we see it as preparation for the whole event.

The Gloria: In Holy Communion I, the Gloria comes at the end. Here is its more usual place in historical understanding of liturgy, and this is also a return to its place in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. It is here as a reminder that we are here to praise God.

The Collect of the Day: the collect of the day sums up, collects us together at the end of this section, and links us into the next:

Proclaiming and receiving the word:

The proclaiming and receiving of the word is a two-way movement, and its normative components on Sundays are:

First Reading (usually Old Testament, but there are exceptions when it may be Acts);

1, Psalm

2, Second Reading (usually an Epistle reading, but there are exceptions when it may be Acts);

3, Canticle, Gradual hymn, Anthem, Alleluia, &c.

4, Gospel

5, Sermon

6, Creed

These provide us with some difficulties:

1, The reading of the Epistle and the Gospel are traditional, and deeply-etched in memories within the Church of Ireland. Why add an Old Testament reading? We forget that Cranmer’s model did not expect the Holy Communion service to be used without being preceded by Morning Prayer, which provided for an Old Testament reading.

2, People object to three readings and a Psalm and Gradual, complaining about length. But properly speaking, the liturgy must be both the full word and the full sacrament. Which part of the Bible is dispensable – the Old Testament, the Psalm? Which part of the Sacramental liturgy is dispensable – the taking, blessing, breaking or the giving?

Proclaiming the Word:

The readings are provided by the Lectionary, the Revised Common Lectionary, with a thee-year cycle. This morning, the First Sunday of Advent, sees the beginning of Year B, and Year C begins next year on 29 November.

The readings can be found in the Revised Common Lectionary, the Church of Ireland Directory, on the Church of Ireland website, and each week in the Church of Ireland Gazette.

When we are proclaiming the word, we should use the lectern, use the Bible itself, not lectionaries, and never print outs. We should note the differences in introductions, acclamations or proclamations, and we should take care about who should read, and how they read.

The place of the sermon is important too. We have a breaking of the word – just as we have a breaking of the bread, and we have receiving too. It is important to take account of this two-way movement of proclaiming and receiving. The Creed is not a prayer, but a response to the Word, an affirmation that we are the gathered people of faith. At the Eucharist, we do not use the Apostle’s Creed. And while we do not always use the Nicene Creed on weekdays, we always use it on Sundays.

The Prayers of the People:

The rubrics for the intercessions are on page 206 (but see also pp 237-239). We should always include the name of the bishop of the diocese in the Sunday intercessions, every week, and I have to ask why we so often forget to give thanks for those who have gone before us in the faith.

We should remember these are the Prayers of the People, not of the clergy!! And we should remember that if they are too long, and include too much, they spoil the climax that should come in the great prayer that is the Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharistic offering.

The prayer then links us with the next stage.

This is the only place in Holy Communion 2 in the Book of Common Prayer where provision is made for the Prayer if Humble Access, but only in a very few limited circumstances. The Prayer of Humble Access was written by Cranmer, and some see it as pure Anglicanism. But it comes from pre-liturgy prayers of preparation used by the priest before the liturgy in pre-Reformation days, and was a private prayer. Some may question its use here after confession and absolution, but it is not penitential, it is intended as an exhortation to regular Communion. Personally, I use it at the fraction and before the invitation.

The Peace comes next. There were objections from some people in the pews to its introduction in the Church of Ireland. I still hear people say they feel that it is not very Anglican. But it predates the liturgical reforms that came with Vatican II and was introduced into Anglican liturgies first in 1948 in India, where it was adapted from the Syrian Orthodox liturgy.

We are being reconciled with God and with one another, so this is not any old peace. It is not the “peace man” of 1968. It is the peace of Christ, it is peace between each and every one of us, before we come to the altar – and there is a very good Gospel injunction for that.

The Offertory: How important is the offertory? There was a move to abolish the prayer: “Lord, yours is the greatness …” but it was left in the Book of Common Prayer as optional, and where it is printed causes confusion about where and to use it (p. 208). But the offertory is not primarily about the collection, it is first and foremost about the offering of ourselves and our labour through the work of human hands and the fruit of the earth.

With the offertory comes the preparation of the table. This can be done by laity, especially by children. So often I find not only that the altar has been prepared and laid out, and sometimes that even the bread and wine are already on the table before we even start. It is better to do all this – the preparation of the altar and bringing up the bread and wine – together at this stage. And the offering is best brought up through the people, rather than from a side credence table, or, even worse, placed on the altar before we even start.

Celebrating at the Lord’s Table:

I want to keep on pointing out, time and again, that there are four actions of Jesus at the Last Supper that are crucial to our celebrating the Lord’s Supper:

1, The taking of the bread and wine;

2, The blessing or giving thanks (hence the word Eucharist);

3, The Breaking of the Bread

4, The giving or reception of the Communion.

This “four-fold” action has been accepted generally, through the writings of the Anglican liturgist and monk, Dom Gregory Dix.

One action leads to the other: taking, giving thanks; breaking; and giving or distributing.

Others talk of a seven-fold movement:

1, Taking bread;

2, Giving thanks;

3, Breaking the bread;

4, Distributing;

5, Taking the cup;

6, Giving thanks;

7, Distributing.

1, Taking:

Sometimes we get this wrong in our churches. I dread finding the bread and wine already placed on the table/altar, and I’m not even happy with our practice here of placing it on the credence table.

How do we symbolise taking?

It may be enough simply to take them in your hands if they are already placed there, or have just been brought to you. But show you are doing this – this is not about elevation, it is an essential action in the Eucharist.

Only the bishop or priest may then say: “Christ our Passover …” (p. 208); it is part of the president’s role, and cannot be delegated to a deacon, server or reader.

Like the opening greeting at the beginning of the liturgy, these words tell us what we are about to do. We are about to celebrate the feast, and this is no longer bread and wine for secular use.

2, The Great Thanksgiving:

The meaning of the word Eucharist is Thanksgiving.

In the Book of Common Prayer, there are three Thanksgiving Prayers: 1 (p. 209); 2 (p. 212); and 3 (p. 216). If you think that’s too many or too confusing, as I’ve heard some people complain, compare these with the eight in the Church of England’s Common Worship.

The spirit of the three prayers is thanksgiving and communal; it is not supposed to be quiet or penitential, and it is never singular.

The appropriate posture is standing. We are all celebrating, and we are all standing. Do not change that by asking people to kneel, or asking them to kneel for the Sanctus. The only rubric for posture at the Holy Communion is to stand. And the normal place for presiding is behind the altar or table, with hands out-stretched throughout the prayer (see Harold Millar, p. 137).

Basic structure of Prayers 1 and 2:

1, The opening dialogue (including Sursum Corda, “Lift up your hearts”): This is the opening dialogue between the presider and the people. It is an introduction that leads into the thanksgiving.

2, The Preface, which may include a Proper Preface: This is an address to God the Father, it is prayer and not just narrative. There may be a particular one for the day or season (see pp 224-235). We thank God for the story of salvation.

3, The Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy …) and Benedictus qui venit: This is an ancient Christian hymn, dating to the first century, but with its roots in Isaiah 6: 3. The Benedictus qui venit comes from Matthew 21: 9. Note that Prayer 3 has the Sanctus in a different place, so that it is a climax.

4, The Institution narrative (“On the night …”): Some priests often emphasise these particular words by adopting a slower pace in saying the words, by an affected tone of reverence, and with genuflections. But is this the moment of consecration? No, it is one whole event, and one whole movement, and we should not indicate that one moment is more sacred that the others.

5, Anamnesis (recalling past event and making present today): This is not simply mental remembrance or recollection, like looking at a holiday snapshot. For Jews celebrating Passover involved making the moment of liberation real for them that night … it is not just a past event, but becomes a living reality. The crucifixion and resurrection are real events for me today, and so too is the Lord’s Supper. I do not just remember those events, I am there. How would you answer the question posed in that old American spiritual: “Where you there when they crucified my Lord?”

6, Acclamations: there are three sets of acclamations, three each for Prayer 1, 2, and 3. In 1, we remember, we celebrate, and we look forward (p. 210); these are addressed to God. In 2, Christ has died …, is risen …, … and will come again (p. 215); these are not addressed to anyone, they are simply acclamations. In 3: Dying, you destroyed …, Rising.., come again … (p. 217); these are addressed to Christ.

7, The Epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is called down, but on whom or on what? On us? On the elements? Or on the event?

8, Doxology (praise) and Amen.

Prayer 3 calls for much more engagement, involvement and interaction, and demands that the celebrant should be more encouraging. But so often this falls flat at the Great Amen, which should be rising crescendo rather than a repetitious full stop. !!! rather than …

We then return to common prayer.

Rite 2 had a different place for Lord’s Prayer, if it has not been used already at the end of the intercessions.

Fraction: We now have the breaking of the bread, which is not merely a function in the distribution (See Acts 2: 42). The fraction takes place here and not at the words of institution, where we recall in words what Christ did before we actually repeat the actions ourselves. The bread that we break is a sharing in the Body of Christ and makes us one body (see I Corinthians 10: 16-17).

Action 4: The Communion:

Giving and receiving are important throughout. We proclaim and receive Christ in the word, and we give and receive Christ under the elements of bread and wine. All should receive, just as all should hear the word. There should be no Christian spectators at the Eucharist. We are all one body, and Christ’s body was broken enough on the cross; he is risen, and we should not be a broken body at the Eucharist. All should, indeed all must, receive.

The words we use at the distribution should be noted. There is choice, but that choice should be made by the presiding minister, and should be followed by anyone else involved in the distribution – they should never fall back on their own personal preferences. And whichever words are used, the response is always: Amen. In the chapel here I have actually heard both “Thanks” and (on one occasion, I jest not) “Cheers.”

Following the invitation, do you think that at the distribution people should stand or kneel? Our communion rails make it difficult for people to do anything other than kneel, and most people feel kneeling is a sign of reverence. We have a lot of teaching to do here. Standing is the appropriate posture for celebrating, and should be the appropriate posture here, as we are still in the act of celebration.

Going out as God’s People

The Great Silence should be silence. It should not be interrupted by the clatter and din of ablutions.

We should use the appropriate Post-Communion Prayer, just as we would never think of dispensing with the Collect of the Day.

The Blessing may be preceded or followed by a post-Communion or recessional hymn.

The Dismissal is the dismissal, the end. Let the people go. It is inappropriate to dismiss the people before the blessing, or after dismissing them to ask them to stay back for yet another hymn.

Summary and Conclusions:

The Sacramental life of the Church cannot be separated from the worshipping life of the Church. But the flipside of that is that the worshipping life of the Church should not be separated form its sacramental life. Worship and Sacraments are inseparable

The Church does not make the sacraments, the sacraments, more particularly the Eucharist, make the Church. The Church is the real body of Christ; the Sacrament is the mystical body of Christ. We cannot separate either. Nor should we separate the liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes for a lecture to Year I students on the NSM (Non-Stipendiary Ministry) course on Sunday 30 November 2008.