04 October 2016

The Eucharist: an introduction
for the Dearmer Society

‘... 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

Patrick Comerford,

The Dearmer Society,

4 October 2016

Opening Prayer

The Lord be with you
and also with you.

Today [4 October] is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, Friar, Deacon and Founder of the Friars Minor (1226). The Collect in Common Worship (the Church of England) prays in these words:

O God, you ever delight to reveal yourself
to the childlike and lowly of heart:
grant that, following the example of the blessed Francis,
we may count the wisdom of this world as foolishness
and know only Jesus Christ and him crucified,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


During our training, preparation and placements, many of us are filled with a natural human anxiety, worrying about the first time we stand at the Altar, before a congregation, about to celebrate or preside at the Eucharist. 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 it is to ask: ‘Will I get it all right when it comes to my turn?’

This evening, we have an opportunity, instead, to ask not about ourselves, but about the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper itself. This evening, we ask not ‘What am I doing?’

Rather, we ask: ‘What are we doing together?’

And we ask: ‘What is Christ doing with me, with us?’

But there are other questions and dialogues too.

At one level, there is the simple dialogue about the language and vocabulary we use. Do we call this [pointing] an altar or a table?

At the epiclesis, who re we invoking the Holy Spirit on: on the offering of bread and wine? On those present? On the Church? On all three?

These questions of language and vocabulary are often cultural rather than theological, delimiting or setting out our tribal boundaries and barriers rather than discussing central theological truths.

But there two other languages that we may want to discuss this evening too.

The first is body language.

Non-verbal communications include facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, gestures displayed through body language (kinesics) and the physical distance between the communicators (proxemics).

These non-verbal signals can give clues and additional information and meaning over and above the spoken or verbal communication.

Professor Albert Mehrabian of UCLA came up with the now famous – and famously misused – rule that verbal communication is only 7 per cent verbal and 93 per cent non-verbal. The non-verbal component was made up of body language (55 per cent) and tone of voice (38 per cent).

So how I process into a church, how I stand at the altar, how I stand at the Creed, how I use my hands, whether I lift up the bread and wine, whether I lift up my eyes … all those nonverbal forms of communication are important for the person who is celebrating or presiding at the Eucharist.

Part of this too is how I use space, how we use colour, where we sit, how we use the presidential space, how I treat the sacred elements and the sacred vessels, what we place or do not place on the altar, how we treat the remaining sacred elements and sacred vessels after all have received the Sacrament.

But none of this, of course, gets us away from how we use the words of the Liturgy too: the parts I delete, and the parts I interpolate or add in …

The second is a language that has come into play in recent years.

This is the discussion about form and content. In the debate about Fresh Expressions, Andrew Davison and Alison Milbank argue coherently that in losing the form of liturgy we are in danger of losing the vehicle by which we convey the tradition, that we are in danger of losing the content.

If we stop seeing the Church as being the Church of Word and Sacrament, and then reduce the Word to how we promote our own interpretation of what we decide is ‘the Gospel message,’ then we become one more discussion forum and stop being Church.

Simon Reynolds has also introduced a discussion about the way Liturgy is often reduced to what passes for worship, but the content of this worship is often determined by its entertainment value.

Language and vocabulary

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.

The Gathering of God’s People

So as we are gather the candles are lit, and the altar is prepared for our celebration. It is covered with a fair linen cloth (see The Book of Common Prayer, p 77). On this, in the centre, we place the corporal, a square white cloth. On this stand the chalices and the paten, covered by a burse and veil in the appropriate liturgical colour.

In addition, there are two purificators for the administration of the chalices. The pocket of the burse has the chalice corporal inside it, with the pocket facing where the presiding priest is going to stand for the Eucharistic Prayer. This chalice corporal is used to cover the communion vessels after we have all received.

The Greek work ἐκκλησία (ekklesía), 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 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 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.’

Green is the liturgical colour for ‘Ordinary Time’

The candles are lit, the lectern is dressed in the liturgical colours of the season: which is green in Ordinary Time, including this time from the day after Pentecost and the beginning of Advent.

In the vestry or sacristy, the priest may say 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 kneel.’ And then the priest 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 when we celebtate, 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 present at as spectators.

As the people gather, the many 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 gather 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, and 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 opening greeting is:

The Lord be with you
and also with you.

Although from Easter Day until the Day of Pentecost, for example, it varies from this.

A sentence of scripture may be read, and the presiding minister may introduce the liturgy of the day.

As The Book of Common Prayer reminds us (p. 18): ‘All Sundays celebrate the paschal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ … On these days it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and … church …’

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.

Almighty God,
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 been an integral 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.

We might then use the traditional words of confession, that begins with the words, ‘Almighty God, our heavenly Father …,’ or, use seasonal Penitential Kyries. The Kyrie responses are a Trinitarian 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.

We are then assured of God’s forgiveness as the priest pronounces the absolution:

Almighty God,
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.

The canticle Gloria in Excelsis may be omitted in Advent and Lent and on weekdays that are not holy days. In Holy Communion 1, the canticle Gloria comes after receiving Communion. Its present place restores Gloria to its place in 1549. We have been forgiven, then – like the angels and shepherds – we can give Glory to God who comes among us.

When we use Gloria, we should use it joyfully, it is full of images that children love. Resonances of its words can be found in some form in almost all Christmas carols, for example, and children 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 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 indispensable 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?

The doxology, ‘Glory to the Father ...’ may be omitted at the end of Psalm in the Eucharist, for the Psalms are valid Biblical prayers without having to be ‘Christianised,’ and on Sundays we have given our glory to God in singing Gloria. It is traditional to omit to doxology at the end of the Psalms during Lent and Advent.

After the New Testament reading, 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 the 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 Word is not just proclaimed but is received, and we must take it for granted that at every celebration of the Eucharist there is an exposition of the Word, 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 alone 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.

The Peace

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.

In him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

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 is not, at all. It is 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.

Once again, The Book of Common Prayer (p. 77) is very specific:

The bread to be used shall be the best and purest bread that can be obtained. Care is to be taken that the wine is fit for use.

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. Remember how over and over again, the Church uses water as a sign of purity and purification.

If children are preparing the altar, 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. It is 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 those who preside 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.

For example, Prayer 3 looks back to the past, looks to the present, and looks to the future. It is remembrance and anticipation of the beginning and the fulfilment of Creation. There is a true epiclesis or calling down of the Holy Spirit on us and on our gifts, it is fully Trinitarian, and its responses and refrains reminds us that Liturgy is the Work of the People, that 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 we are all 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 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 are 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.

Sieger Koder … ‘The breaking of the bread’

In this chapel, when two people stand beside the celebrant or presiding priest, they are not there primarily to assist him/her, but to symbolise that we are all gathered around together. It is not that they are assisting the priest, but that the priest is assisting us to celebrate. He/she 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 we use:

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 …

And so on.

Notice the four-fold movement of taking, blessing, breaking and giving. Earlier, we had the taking of the gifts of bread and wine. In the thanksgiving, in the invocation of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we have the blessing.

Taking, blessing … then we have 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:

Then 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.

At the reception, 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.

What happens to the sacred elements and the sacred vessels afterwards?

The Book of Common Prayer in the Church of Ireland is very directive and specific about what should happen. It says (p. 77):

Any of the consecrated bread and wine remaining after the administration of the communion is to be reverently consumed.


After the communion the vessels shall be carefully and thoroughly cleansed with water.

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

When we have been gathered, we have had our Bible study, we have had our prayer meeting, and we have 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. Then we think on what has happened in the past hour, and look forward to the coming week:

Almighty God,
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 then that’s it, Let’s go!

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
in the name of Christ. Amen.

And we go.

Material from The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland (2004) © RCB 2004.

Some reading:

Rosalind Brown, Christopher Cocksworth, On Being a Priest Today (Cambridge MA: Cowley, 2002).
Stephen Burns, Liturgy (London: SCM Press, 2006).
Andrew Davison, Why Sacraments (London: SPCK, 2013).
Andrew Davison, Alison Milbank, For the Parish, A Critique of Fresh Expression (London: SCM, 2010).
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).
Cyril E Pocknee, The Parson’s Handbook, the work of Percy Dearmer (London: Oxford University Press, 1965).
Simon Reynolds, able Manners, Liturgical Leadership for the Mission of the Church (London: SCM, 2014).
Benjamin Gordon-Taylor and Simon Jones, Celebrating the Eucharist, A Practical Guide (London: SPCK, 2011 edition, Alcuin Liturgy Guides 3).
Benjamin Gordon-Taylor and Simon Jones, Celebrating Christ’s Victory, Ash Wednesday to Trinity (London: SPCK, 2009, Alcuin Liturgy Guides 6).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy, and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and chaplain of the Dearmer Society Ireland. These notes were prepared for a discussion at the first meeting in the new academic year 2016-2017 of the Dearmer Society in the institute chapel on 4 October 2016.

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