20 November 2010

An introduction to the Liturgy for lay ministry trainees

Baptism and Eucharist … celebrations of Creation and worship in communion with the Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland Theological Institute

20 November 2010.

An introduction to the liturgy

Year 2 Lay Ministry trainees

Programme for the Day:

10 a.m. Session 1:
Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer

Coffee break

11.30 a.m. Session 2: Service of the Word, Informal Services


1:30 p.m. Session 3:
The Eucharist/Holy Communion

Coffee break

3 p.m. Session 4:
Other services, including Baptisms, Confirmations, Marriages, Funerals


Some opening questions about fears and anxieties:

What if I am left on my own?

What can I do at a funeral?

What are the boundaries when it comes to what I can do?

Where do I found resources for prayer and prayers?

What do I do if I dry up?

What if I lose my place?

Does the rector have to do everything?

How do I relate all this to my own spiritual life and life of prayer?


Our basic resource and workbook for these workshops is: The Book of Common Prayer (The Church of Ireland, 2004).

10 a.m. Session 1: Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer

Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer (see the Book of Common Prayer (2004), pp 83-116) are the daily offices of the Church.

They derive from the monastic offices, especially the cycle of daily prayer in the Benedictine tradition, and were adapted by Cranmer and the Anglican reformers and their successors, bringing daily prayer out of the cloisters and into the daily life of parishes in the villages, towns and cities.

It was their intention not that these offices should be the main Sunday service in our parishes, but that they should be said daily throughout the year (see the Book of Common Prayer 2004, p. 84).

As prayer designed for the whole church, for the whole people, it is appropriate that it should be led by lay people. Historically, it is worth recalling that most of the monks in a Benedictine monastery were not priests.

There are some parts of the service that are reserved for ordained priests – namely, pronouncing the words of absolution (see pp 86, 102 ) and the blessing (see p 116).

But there is no provision for a blessing in the original form, (see p. 100), and in the new format a blessing is only an option (see p. 116).

How familiar are you with Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer?

Are these offices used daily in your parishes, as the Book of Common Prayer expects?


How is Morning Prayer used in your parish as the principal service on Sundays?


How do you set the tone of the day?


Become familiar with the options, notice the different places where the Psalm is used in Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer


How do you find the Psalms, the Readings and the Collects?


Are you familiar with how the Canticles are chosen?

Are you aware of the hymn versions of the Canticles in the Irish Church Hymnal?

How do you write intercessions?


Are their parts of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer you should memorise?


Are you familiar with the shortened forms of Daily Prayer for Weekdays (see pp 136-137), the simple structure for Daily Prayer (p. 138) and the Weekday intercessions for Monday to Saturday (pp 139-144)?

Have you ever drawn on the resources headed “Some Prayers and Thanksgivings” (pp 145-153)?

11.30 a.m. Session 2: Service of the Word, Informal Services

The one service that many of you will be asked to lead is the Service of the Word (p. 165, followed by notes running to three pages, pp 166-168).

At first, this looks like one of the simplest services to organise. But it is probably the most difficult.

Too often, we merely adapt the shape to the way we have always organised Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer, which defeats the purpose of introducing this service.

Too often we take the outline (p. 165) as a rigid structure, rather than as scaffolding, and then wonder why the edifice crumbles around us.

Too often we start off with the best of intentions, but fail to take heed of the advice and guidance offered in those three pages of notes.

Too often we want you a new service, a new approach to worship, but fail to do anything about the setting, including the seating and the part of the church we use.

Too often, we fail to see it as a Service of the Word, and give more emphasis to other sections than the Word itself.

Too often, we fail to set the tone, to think about why we are using this service rather than any other, and then wonder why it does not work, why it falls flat, or why it becomes stale through constant use in the same old familiar way.

In your parish, who structures a Service of the Word ... the rector, the person leading it, a group of people?

It is totally appropriate, for example, in a parish where a Service of the Word is fallback option every tie there is a fifth Sunday in tyhe month, for someone in lay ministry to take responsibility for organising that service, even though they do not have to lead it.

You could theme those Services of the Word: not just around children, which is the normal fallback position, but: around the elderly; around the beatitudes, affirming those who live out the beaitudes in your parish, who make peace, who mourn, whop hunger and thirst for righteousness, who demand mercy, &c; focus on unemployment or the current financial, economic and political crisis in our country; Lent or Advent; the five points of mission in the Anglican Communion; and so on.

In small groups, let us look at the notes on pp 166-168 and see what they say about what we can do?


Are there other ways to adapt and use this service?

Bishop Harold Miller, for example, suggests it can be used as the Liturgy of the Word before the Liturgy of the Sacrament at the Holy Communion or the Eucharist.


Other, short services you may consider using include Compline (pp 154-161), A Late Evening Office (pp 162-164) and the Litany (pp 170-178).

Could we discuss appropriate venues and appropriate occasions for using some of these services?


Go into small groups and discuss what is appropriate for using in one of the following situations:

● A school assembly
● A group of mourners gathered in hospital after the death of someone you have been visiting as a pastoral carer on behalf of the parish
● A prayer session with the Mothers’ Union after a speaker has failed to turn up.

Let me say a word about having everything prepared before hand and having everything in one file rather than a pile of books scattered around you feet and at the base of the prayer desk.

What image does this create for people trying to catch a glimpse of the holy?

Can you imagine how easy it is to forget which colour ribbon you used to mark a particular page or reading?

1:30 p.m. Session 3: The Eucharist/Holy Communion

The Eucharist ... does the rector have to do everything?

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).

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?


3 p.m. Session 4: 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 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 baptism 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]


Raymond Chapman, Hear Our Prayer: Gospel-based intercession 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, 195, 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).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral. These notes were used at a day of four workshops, ‘An introduction to the liturgy,’ with Year 2 Lay Ministry trainees in the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough on 20 November 2010.

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