“... to preside in the very deed that so expands the life of creatures is a function of unquestionable beauty and dignity,” according to Robert Hovda
During our training, preparation and placements, many of us are filled with a natural human anxiety, worrying about the first time we stand before a congregation to celebrate or preside at the Eucharist or the Holy Communion. So much so, that we may be in danger of forgetting that we too are present among the congregation, to be enriched and fed spiritually as we meet Christ, present in word and sacrament.
We all know what is to ask: “Will I get it all right when it comes to my turn?”
This morning, we have an opportunity, instead, to ask not about ourselves, but about the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper itself. This morning, we ask not “What am I doing?”
Rather, we ask: “What are we doing together?”
And: “What is Christ doing with me, with us?”
The Eucharist is the great thanksgiving – eucharistia (εὐχαριστία) – for the great goodness of God. Whether we call this “The Eucharist,” “The Holy Communion,” “The Sacrament,” or “The Lord’s Supper,” this is the central act of Christian worship where Christ encounters and feeds his faithful ones.
As the first of the General Directions for Public Worship in the Book of Common Prayer, 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. He says: “The Holy Communion gives us a window into all that is most vital in our regular worship.”
As we have it, this service 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.
The President’s Role at the Eucharist is defined at six specific points:
1, The Opening Greeting;
2, The Collect of the Day;
3, The Absolution;
4, introducing the Peace;
5, praying the Eucharistic Prayer;
6, the Dismissal.
So let us watch for these six moments as we are gathered together.
The Greek work ekklesia, which we translate as “Church,” refers to the gathering of the people, the calling out of the world and into the assembly.
Before the arrival of the priest, the congregation gathers. We are here 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 are baptised believers.
We meet in his name, and we do as he commanded us. We meet not as a collection of neighbours, or as a collection of individual Christians, but as the One Body of Christ, and in the power of the Spirit. The liturgy is essentially what we do – it is truly our “Common Prayer.”
Already, the candles are lit and the lectern has been dressed in the liturgical colours of the season: White for Epiphany, for we are still rejoicing that Christ born among us is made known to us as God incarnate.
In the vestry or sacristy, the priest may be saying prayers such as the familiar third collect at Morning Prayer:
Go before us, Lord, in all our doings, with your most gracious favour,
and further us with your continual help;
that in all our works begun, continued and ended in you,
we may glorify your holy name,
and finally by your mercy attain everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The memory of the silent prayers said by the priest before presiding or celebrating is retained in Holy Communion 1 in the Book of Common Prayer, where it says “The priest stands at the Lord’s Table. The people knell.” And then he or she prays the Lord’s Prayer (without the doxology) alone.
We too should be silent as we gather our thoughts, our minds, ourselves as we prepare to celebrate.
In common language, we normally use the words “celebration,” “celebrating” and celebrant” for the person presiding at the Eucharist or the Holy Communion.
But we are all celebrating, celebrating together, we are all co-celebrants, and the person who presides is the one who seeks to bring it alive, to animate what is happening, to see that it truly is the liturgy, the work of the people, and not something we are spectators at.
The people have gathered, the many have come together to be one body.
We are social and sociable. We chat with one another.
But we are not collected individuals, and small groups of twos or threes.
We are about to be gathered together as one people.
The priest who is presiding is the last to enter, and we stand – in silence or singing a hymn – ready to be gathered together as one body.
The priest joins us before the altar or table
Our worship does not open or begin with the processional hymn. It opens or begins when we are gathered together as one body when the presiding priest stands at the president’s chair and calls us together in the opening liturgical greeting.
The liturgical greeting: is not the same as Good Morning. And it establishes who is presiding, the presidency, so it should not be left to a Reader or an assistant:
The Lord be with you
and also with you.
A sentence of scripture may be read, and the presiding minister may introduce the liturgy of the day …
And we know why we are celebrating this Eucharist together this morning.
Christ is present among us in so many ways: in word, in sacrament, and in the gathered Body of Christ. And so, in awe and reverence, we draw our hearts and minds together and prepare to enter fully into worship, praying the Collect for Purity.
This prayer comes to us as an inheritance of Sarum Use, and was so loved that it has survived in the Book of Common Prayer ever since 1549.
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden;
Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Penitence as part of the gathering of the people has part of Anglican liturgy since 1556.
The Confession is introduced with appropriate words, such as:
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins, to intercede for us in heaven, and to bring us to eternal life.
Let us then confess our sins in penitence and faith,
firmly resolved to keep God’s commandments
and to live in love and peace:
Then there is silence to think about this.
Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned in thought and word and deed,
and in what we have left undone.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us,
that we may walk in newness of life
to the glory of your name. Amen.
who forgives all who truly repent, have mercy on you,
pardon and deliver you from all your sins,
confirm and strengthen you in all goodness,
and keep you in eternal life,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Sometimes we use penitential sentences instead of the confession and absolution. The Kyrie responses are a Trnitarian acclamation and among the oldest prayers in the Church. In their Greek form they are the oldest surviving Greek prayers in the Western church:
Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison.
In Holy Communion 1, the canticle Gloria comes after receiving Communion. Its present place restores the canticle to the place it had in 1549. We have been forgiven, now – like the angels and shepherds – we can give Glory to God who comes among us.
The canticle Gloria in Excelsis may be omitted in Advent and Lent and on weekdays which are not holy days, and so we omit it today, but not for any excuse of brevity.
But when we use Gloria, we should use it joyfully, it is full of images that children love, and resonances of its words can be found in almost all Christmas carols, for example. Children love the story of this canticle. All Christmas carols, in some form, include words from it, and they delight in its images, its words and its pictures.
Then comes the Collect. Once the meaning of a collect has been explained, people rarely forget, because we all know what is to ask for our basic needs to be met. That is natural … I need, I need, I need, I feed, I feed, I feed … therefore I am? A collect is literally a collection of all the intentions and favours we seek, for the Church, for ourselves, for the world.
We are all asking for something … and we should give people time to think of what they need before praying the Collect of the Day:
in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In our worship, the Church of Ireland seeks a balance between Word and Sacrament. Both are important places for Christ being made present for us, for us presenting ourselves before Christ.
Colin Buchanan has summarised the Eucharist as “A Bible study, followed by a prayer meeting, followed by a meal.” And so, Proclaiming and Receiving the Word is not preliminary to, or preparation for the Eucharist. It is both proclaiming and receiving. It is an essential part, an indispensible element of every celebration.
Properly, the full Word of God should be proclaimed … Old Testament, Psalm or Biblical Canticle, New Testament and Gospel. Otherwise, we have to ask, are we saying the Old Testament has lost its validity or – even worse – suggesting the God of the Old Testament is not quite the same as the God of the New Testament?
Unfortunately, the Daily Lectionary of the Church of Ireland for today provides only for a New Testament reading, a portion of a psalm and a Gospel reading.
A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 5, beginning at verse 1:
Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,
‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’;
as he says also in another place,
‘You are a priest for ever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
This morning’s psalm is Psalm 110, verses 1-4.
The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’
May the Lord stretch forth the sceptre of your power;
rule from Zion in the midst of your enemies.
Noble are you on this day of your birth,
on the holy mountain, from the womb of the dawn,
the dew of your new birth is upon you.’
The Lord has sworn and will not retract:
‘You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.’
The doxology, ‘Glory to the Father ...’ may be omitted, for the Psalms are valid Biblical prayers without having to be ‘Christianised.’
We often sing a canticle, psalm, hymn, anthem or acclamation as a gradual before proclaiming and receiving the Gospel.
And that leaves us standing to receive the Word of God, facing the Gospel, which is best proclaimed and received, not from the table or altar but among the people.
If the Gospel reader marks three Crosses on the forehead, lips, and heart, all that is being said is simply: “Please help me to love your word with my mind, keep it on my lips, and hold it in my heart.”
The Gospel Reading
Hear the Gospel of our Saviour Christ, according to Saint Mark, chapter 18, beginning at verse 22.
Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, ‘Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ Jesus said to them, ‘The wedding-guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.
‘No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.’
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.
The word is not just proclaimed but is received, and we ought to take it for granted that at every celebration of the Eucharist there is an exposition of the World, so people can receive it, so we can own it, so we can integrate it into our faith.
And the Liturgy of the Word then naturally reaches its climax when we share in the common confession of the faith of the universal Church, the Nicene Creed.
We may use other creeds in other forms of worship, but the Book of Common Prayer insists on the Nicene Creed in the Eucharist, and on Sundays and Principal Holy Days.
The Prayers of the People
The intercessions normally include: prayers for: the universal Church; the nations of the world; the local community; those in need; and remembrance of, and thanksgiving for, the faithful departed.
But each petition should be brief, and we should avoid making intercessions appear like a series of collects. They should be addressed directly to God, and not to the people – this is not the place for another sermon.
But bear in mind firstly that these are the prayers of the people, not of the priest, and secondly, that you do not need to pray for all things at all services. Brevity and simplicity are important, corporate silence is important, and we should not hijack the prayers of others, the piety of others, and we should not displace the importance of the Great Thanksgiving, for the Eucharist itself is the Thanksgiving par excellence, and this should never be obscured by the content of the intercessions.
Lord, in your mercy:
hear our prayer.
We have been gathered together, we have heard God’s word together, we have found we share the same faith, we have prayed together. To draw on Colin Buchanan’s imagery, we have had our Bible study and our prayer meeting. Now, before we share the meal … are we at peace with one another?
The Peace is still objected to in some parishes. How it is introduced will shape whether it is acceptable and whether it is liturgical. In the Communion we are being reconciled with God and with one another, so this should not be any old peace.
Christ is our peace. He has reconciled us to God in one body by the cross. We meet in his name and share his peace.
The peace of the Lord be always with you
and also with you.
Let us offer one another a sign of peace.
Celebrating at the Lord’s Table
But we have more to offer. Most people think of the offertory as the collection. But it’s not, at all. It’s about offering God back what God has offered us … food and drink to nourish us, transformed by our labour, the fruits of our labour, our sweat and toil.
And we offer that as we prepare to eat together.
Now is the time to eat together, and so before the meal we prepare the table.
In families, children love preparing the family table, love the idea of gifts being given and received. There’s not much chance of that happening at this point in a parish church if they have been sent out to Sunday school beforehand.
If the priest washes his or her hands at Lavabo it is good table manners. But over and over again, the Church uses water as a sign of purity and purification.
If children are preparing the table, they would love to hear these appropriate words:
Wise and gracious God,
you spread a table before us;
nourish your people with the word of life,
and the bread of heaven. Amen.
Or when the gifts are brought forward – and the most important gifts are not money but food and drink that sustain us – we might also include gifts made by the children who have come in from the Sunday School. More likely we are going to hear traditional words such as: ‘Lord, yours is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty; for all things come from you and of your own we give you.’
The Eucharist is not just words. It comes alive in action. And so there are four identifiable movements or actions we should watch out: taking, blessing, breaking and giving.
First we have the Taking of the Bread and Wine.
The bread and wine are the gifts of God and the work of our hands has turned wheat and grapes and water into bread and wine ... we offer to God what God has offered to us
We sometimes get this so wrong. How often do we find the bread and wine are already on the table or altar, or on a credence table at the side where no-one can see them? If the bread is little bits of sliced pan already cut into tiny squares, how are we going to break the bread together?
And the person presiding should show they are taking this bread and wine – and this is not about elevation. Only the bishop or priest then may say: “Christ our Passover …” This is one of the roles of the president, and cannot be delegated.
Like the opening greeting, this too states clearly what we are about to do. This is no longer bread and wine for secular use. What God has given to us for our sustenance we now offer to God.
The Eucharist ... the word simply means thanksgiving
Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us
therefore let us celebrate the feast.
The word Eucharist simply means thanksgiving. In a sense we are all lifting that Bread and Wine and saying thanks you for God’s gifts of life and what sustains life.
The Great Thanksgiving
There are three Great Thanksgiving Prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. We are using Prayer 3 this morning because it looks back, looks to the present, and looks to the future, because it is remembrance and anticipation, because it is fully Trinitarian, and because its responses and refrains reminds us that Liturgy is the Work of the People, we are all celebrating together.
The spirit of each of these three prayers is thanksgiving. It is not supposed to be quiet, or penitential, or singular. The appropriate posture is that all are standing, for all are celebrating. But how many people when they are leading the liturgy change this by asking people to kneel, or by asking them to kneel for the Sanctus. The only rubric for posture in Holy Communion is Stand, and, as Bishop Harold Miller says, the normal place for presiding is behind the altar/table, with hands out-stretched throughout the prayer.
The whole prayer, and not merely the Biblical words recalling the Last Supper, is the Eucharistic Prayer. If after those words the bread and wine is raised up, it is in giving thanks. But it is the whole prayer that is what we may call the ‘consecration,’ it is all the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion.
“The Lord’s People at the Lord’s Table
John and Jim are standing beside Patrick, not to assist him, but to symbolise that we are all gathered around together. It is not that they are assisting Patrick, but that Patrick is assisting us to celebrate. He is the servant at the Table. This is Christ’s meal … and, as the Body of Christ, it is our meal. Notice the plural language that Patrick now uses:
The Lord is here.
His Spirit is with us.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
Father, Lord of all creation,
we praise you for your goodness and your love.
When we turned away you did not reject us.
You came to meet us in your Son,
welcomed us as your children
and prepared a table where we might feast with you.
In Christ you shared our life
that we might live in him and he in us.
He opened wide his arms upon the cross and,
with love stronger than death,
he made the perfect sacrifice for sin.
Lord Jesus Christ, our redeemer,
on the night before you died
you came to table with your friends.
Taking bread, you gave thanks, broke it
and gave it to them saying,
Take, eat: this is my body which is given for you;
do this in remembrance of me.
Lord Jesus, we bless you:
you are the bread of life.
At the end of supper
you took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and said,
Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant,
which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins;
do this in remembrance of me.
Lord Jesus, we bless you:
you are the true vine.
Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ:
dying, you destroyed our death,
rising, you restored our life;
Lord Jesus, come in glory.
Holy Spirit, giver of life,
come upon us now;
may this bread and wine be to us
the body and blood of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
As we eat and drink these holy gifts
make us, who know our need of grace,
one in Christ, our risen Lord.
Earlier, we had the taking of the gifts of bread and wine. Now in the thanksgiving, in the invocation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we have the blessing. And we repeat that blessing:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Blessed Trinity:
with your whole Church throughout the world
we offer you this sacrifice of thanks and praise
and lift our voice to join the song of heaven,
for ever praising you and saying:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!
Thanks be to you, our God, for your gift beyond words.
Amen. Amen. Amen.
Taking, blessing … now we are about to notice the breaking and the giving. And we prepare for this in the words of The Lord’s Prayer.
As our Saviour Christ has taught us, we are bold to say:
Our Father, who art in heaven:
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
for ever and ever. Amen.
And now we have The Breaking of the Bread, what is also called the Fraction.
The bread which we break
is a sharing in the body of Christ.
We being many are one body,
for we all share in the one bread.
We break, we share. There is no point in a meal where the food is not served. And so the fourth essential movement, after taking, blessing and breaking, is the giving … the giving and receiving. And at The Communion there is an invitation to each and every one of us, collectively and individually:
Draw near with faith.
Receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ which he gave for you,
and his blood which he shed for you.
Remember that he died for you,
and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.
Only when the invitation has been given, should the altar party receive Communion. It would be wrong for them to receive first and then invite others; this is work of the whole Church, and there are not two categories or classes of baptised and communicant members. The rubric states specifically: the presiding minister and people receive communion, and states this after the invitation.
And if you were at a meal, how appropriate it would be for us all to serve one another, to look after each other’s needs.
The body of Christ keep you in eternal life.
The blood of Christ keep you in eternal life.
Our ‘Amen’ is our Amen to Christ present to us and among us in so many ways this morning … in Word, in Sacrament, and in us collectively as the Body of Christ.
The Great Silence
When all have received Communion, all keep silence, not for some imposed act of piety, but for reflection on this awe-filled meeting with God. As the Bible reminds us constantly, the Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all Wisdom.
The Blessing and Dismissal
Now we have been gathered, had our Bible study, our prayer meeting, and our meal together, we are ready for Going out as God’s People. We are ready for a Blessing to send us out into the world in mission.
Firstly, we are prepared for that with an appropriate Post Communion Prayer:
God of glory,
you nourish us with bread from heaven.
Fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We think on what has happened in the past hour, and look forward to the coming week:
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the body and blood of your Son Jesus Christ.
Through him we offer you our souls and bodies
to be a living sacrifice.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory. Amen.
To do that we expect God’s blessing:
The peace of God,
which passes all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds
in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
And that’s it, Let’s go!
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
in the name of Christ. Amen.
And we go
Rosalind Brown, Christopher Cocksworth, On Being a Priest Today (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2002).
Stephen Burns, Liturgy (London: SCM Press, 2006).
Mark Earey, Liturgical Worship: a fresh look, how it works, why it matters (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
Howard E. Galley, The Ceremonies of the Eucharist, A Guide to Celebration (Cambridge MA: Cowley Publications, 1989).
Richard Giles, Creating Uncommon Worship: transforming the liturgy of the Eucharist (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
Robert Hovda, Strong, Loving and Wise: Presiding in Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1976).
Harold Miller: The Desire of our Soul: a user’s guide to the Book of Common Prayer (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Benjamin Gordon-Taylor and Simon Jones, Celebrating the Eucharist (London: SPCK, 2005, Alcuin Liturgy Guides 3).
Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This ‘Teaching Eucharist’ was celebrated at the beginning of the new semester on 17 January 2011 as part of module Spirituality on the Pastoral Formation course.
The words in red italics were read by a student-narrator.
Material in this service from the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (2004) © RCB 2004