The Eucharist ... does the rector have to do everything?
The Church of Ireland Theological Institute
4 July 2015,
An Introduction to the Liturgy,
Lay Ministry trainees Dublin and Glendalough.
11.30 a.m. Session 2: The Eucharist/Holy Communion; other services, including Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, Funerals
Part 1: The Eucharist/Holy Communion
In most of our parishes, the rector usually does almost everything at the Eucharist. The choir may lead the signing, there may be a rota for the readings and for the intercessions – although they too are often written for people by the rector – and the churchwardens present the collection.
But the rector does not have to do everything. On the contrary, the people should be doing almost everything. Indeed the word liturgy means the work of the people: the work comes from the Greek λειτουργία or λῃτουργία, which in turn comes from the Greek words λαός (the people) and ἔργο (to do or to work). The word liturgy means the work of the people ... even the work on behalf of the masses, the riff-raff, the beggars
Why does the priest as the President at the liturgy, so often do all the work of the people?
What does the President do at the Eucharist?
The President presides at the whole event. But how is that shown? The Presidency is related to the whole event, and is not merely about or restricted to saying “sacred words” at one “sacred moment.”
The opening greeting, “The Lord be with you …” gathers together the Assembly. Beforehand, we are scattered people, who are coming together. And so it is essentially a Christian greeting that gathers us together as a congregation, and this is not the same as and should not be reduced to a mere “Good Morning.”
But the liturgical greeting also establishes the dialogue, between God and the people, and between the president at the liturgy and the people, it establishes the horizontal dimension to our worship and our liturgy.
It establishes who is presiding, who is responsible for the worship of the church. It tells us that this is the person who is going to:
● Guide the community
● Release the gifts of the community
● Oversee what is happening.
That presidency is expressed, audibly and visibly, by the President conducting the following parts of the service:
1, The Greeting.
2, The Collect of the Day
3, The Absolution
4, The Peace
5, The Eucharistic Prayer
6, The Blessing.
But this leaves plenty of scope, plenty of room for others to participate. And not just to play bit parts but to show that we are co-celebrants (not concelebrants), and the Liturgy is truly the work of the people.
For example, the Old Testament and Epistle readings ought to be read by lay people, the intercessions are supposed to be the prayers of the people, the offering is supposed to be the offering of the people.
Why, so often, do the clergy insist on assuming all these roles?
The readings may be the only message people hear on a Sunday morning. And so reading them is an important, vital ministry of the laity. It is not good enough to be handed them on a scrap of paper five minutes before we begin on a Sunday morning.
How would your parish organist react to receiving the hymn numbers a few minutes beforehand?
You need time to think, time to rehearse, time to read out loud, time to cope with difficult pronunciations and to get a feeling for emphases, time to reflect and pray.
If you do not know what the reading is about, how can those present hear what it is about?
Who writes the intercessions? The rector? Or the people leading the intercessions? Who listens to the prayers the people want to pray and need to pray?
When it comes to the Offertory, the offering is not about the collection of money being brought up to the rector for a blessing. The Offertory first and foremost symbolises that we, the people, offer ourselves, our bodies, our lives, our whole being, to God, as a royal sacrifice.
Bread and wine symbolise this in a very profound way. They are gifts of food and drink that God has given us, but only become food and drink because of the work of human hands. What God offers to us, we now offer to God, and in return God becomes present among in Christ, in word and sacrament.
The bread and wine ought to be placed on the altar, already prepared, before the Liturgy begins. The altar could be prepared at the offertory by lay people, even children, especially children. The gifts ought to be brought up by lay people, from among the body of the people. That is an authentic and visible sacramental expression of lay ministry.
Do the gifts have to be restricted to bread and wine alone?
The gifts of God for the people of God!
When it comes to the distribution of the sacrament, it may be very appropriate for the presiding priest to (a) be ministered to by someone else and/or (b) sit in the president’s chair.
It is wholly appropriate for lay people present to assist at or to take responsibility for the ablutions
After the blessing, it is once again appropriate for a lay person who has been involved in the ministry at the liturgy to pronounce the dismissal.
How much preparation do you need for this aspects to or dimensions of lay ministry in the Liturgy?
How much can you take part in?
Part 2: Other services, including Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, Funerals.
Parish clergy often talk dismissively of our role at Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals as a role of “Hatch match and dispatch.”
But I think that is too dismissive, and too unfair to people who seldom come to church except on these occasions.
These are moments of crisis for these people, sacred moments for God, and, moments of mission for the Church.
Always remember, never forget, that people will always remember and never forget when you behave inappropriately, lazily or without preparation on these occasions. If you do it right, they may never remember what you say or do, just simply that you were there. But get it wrong, and they will remember for ever.
And so, on these occasions, make sure you are prepared, over and over again. You may get plenty of time to prepare a couple for a baptism of their child or for their marriage. Unlike having perhaps a week or two, maybe more, to prepare for a parish service or a sermon, you may have no time at all to prepare for the death of a parishioner. You may get no time at all to prepare for a funeral.
So, always have the preparation in mind if these are tasks being committed to you in your parish.
Be mentally prepared in your memory – down to the point of remembering how to dress properly.
You may have to prepare a couple for the baptism of their child, or for their marriage.
You will be surprised by the relationships you come across.
You will have to put aside your personal views about single parenthood, remarriage after divorce, and your propensity to rush to judgment not only about the people who are being buried, but the family circumstances of those who mourn.
It is for good reason that these are called pastoral offices.
You may have to take responsibility for receiving a coffin into your parish church on the evening before a funeral, or for doing a committal at a graveside or in a crematorium.
Hopefully you will be involved in assisting at many, many baptisms. But they are not always cute and comfortable occasions. There are baptisms of adults, there are baptisms of children with real medical problems that are causing true anxiety for the parents. There are difficult relationships that cause problems at baptisms ... and at marriages and at funerals too.
Hospital visits may also be your responsibility. Consider then that you may be asked to be, you may want to be, involved in the consequent baptism, marriage or funeral.
● Baptisms: p. 345 ff (especially p. 357 ff).
● Confirmation, p. 382 ff.
● Renewal of Baptismal vows, p. 398 ff.
● Marriage (especially pp. 416 ff).
● Ministry to those who are sick (pp 440 ff; Anointing with Oil, pp 448-449; Prayers, pp 450-453; preparation for death, pp 454-456; A celebration of wholeness and healing, pp 457-464).
● Funeral Services (pp 466 ff, especially pp 480 ff; see the notes on p. 480; A Form for the Burial of Ashes after Cremation, p. 501; The Funeral Service for a Child, p. 504; Prayers, p. 510; and a Form of use in the Home, Funeral Home or Mortuary, p. 514).
[Concluding questions and discussion]
Yesterday [3 July 2015] was the Feast Day of Saint Thomas the Apostle. To get to this stage, many of you will recognise how you have gone through stages of faith and of doubt. So let us pray in the words in The Book of Common Prayer for the Collect of the Feast of Saint Thomas:
Almighty and eternal God,
who, for the firmer foundation of our faith,
allowed your holy apostle Thomas
to doubt the resurrection of your Son
till word and sight convinced him:
Grant to us, who have not seen, that we also may believe
and so confess Christ as our Lord and our God;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Raymond Chapman, Hear Our Prayer: Gospel-based intercessions for Sundays, Holy Days and Festivals, Years A, B, & C (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2003).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1967, 2005 ed).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), Contemporary Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2005 ed).
Frank Colquhoun (ed), New Parish Prayers (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982, 2005 ed).
Common Worship: Times and Seasons (London: Church House Publishing, 2006).
Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Liturgies for Daily Life (London: SPCK, 2004).
Dorothy McRae-McMahon, Liturgies for High Days (London: SPCK, 2006).
Brian Mayne (ed), Celebrating the Word: Complete Services of the Word for use with Common Worship and the Church of Ireland Book of Common Prayer (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2004).
Harold Miller, The Desire of our Soul (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Janet Morley, All Desires Known (London: SPCK, 1988/1992).
Janet Morley (ed), Bread for Tomorrow, Praying with the world’s poor (London: SPCK/Christian Aid, 1992).
New Patterns for Worship (London: Church House Publishing, 2002).
Opening Prayers: Scripture-related collects for Years A, B and C from the Sacramentary (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1992).
Lisa Withrow, Occasions of Prayers (London: SPCK, 1999).
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were used at a half-day workshop, ‘An introduction to the liturgy,’ with Lay Ministry trainees in the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough on 4 July 2015.