The Eucharist

 


The Eucharist - Common Worship 2000

 

The present form of the Eucharist is the result of a slow and careful process of study and reflection down the centuries.

 

Nevertheless, this generation has seen the most radical make-over of the Eucharist in the last 350 years.

 

While the central practices now mirror the earliest known accounts of the meal and the worship that surrounded it, a variety of expression is available - from the unhurried cadences of traditional language and the musical settings they inspired, to the crisp and direct words of newer text.

 

Sadly, in a celebration intended to unite Jesus’ disciples in their devotion to Him, major diagreements have led to division but it is heartwarming to see that there are now bridges of common text and familiar structure between the mainstream Christian denominations.

 

Such commonality provides a basis, and offers hope, for a form of unity between us and our sister denominations wherein so many reach out with increasing affection. Remaining differences of interpretation and emphasis must be worked through in mutual love and understanding.

 

The Structure

 

The Eucharistic meal itself is usually preceded by the Liturgy of the Word, following the Jewish practice of reading the scriptures in the synagogue.

 

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is based on Jesus’ distinct actions in ‘taking’, ‘blessing’, ‘breaking’ and ‘sharing’ bread and wine.

 

In Common Worship the service is divided into these main sections:

 

The Gathering

We greet each other in the Lord’s name and confess our

sins.

 

The Liturgy of the Word

We proclaim, and respond to, the Word of God.

 

The Liturgy of the Sacrament

We proclaim the Lord’s death and receive communion together.

 

The Dismissal

We depart with God’s blessing.

 

The Gathering

 

President, Vicar and Deacons, with attendants, in procession, approach the gathered assembly during the singing of a hymn.

 

The whole company - everybody - now gathered in the church for worship, take their place, as someone described -

 

‘along the arc of a notional circle around the Holy Table; each individual, each group, having a particular role in the celebration, and none nearer the centre than the other’.

 


Kyrie Eleison   Lord, have mercy ……..Christ have Mercy ……

 

Confessing our sins, we plead for mercy. It is all we can do. Because of sin we cannot demand mercy. Indeed, mercy ‘droppeth as a gentle rain from heaven’.

 

Mercy is one of the great themes of the Bible, and the mercy of God the greatest truth, poignantly apparent in Jesus’ encounters with men and women who came to him for help.

 

But it is not cheap. Telling are the implications in the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive our sins as we forgive….’

 

The words Kyrie Eleison are Greek, that being the language of Christian worship until the third century AD.

 

The repeated phrases of the petition indicate antiphony: statement and response. The first is sung by Cantors, and the assembly responds in kind.

 

The final Lord, have mercy concludes gently, then a moment for reflection before the Gloria bursts forth.

 

Gloria in Excelsis Deo    Glory to God in the highest …………

 

The Gloria is essentially a hymn with three verses. The opening words are the song of the angels to the Shepherds of Bethlehem (Luke 2, 14). The central stanza, a petition, is reflective. A slight easing of the tempo is called for, the words unhurried. Praise gathers momentum once more towards the climax of the hymn in the last verse.

 

The Gloria is usually omitted during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent.

 

Easter Day

 

On this special day a triumphant shout of confidence erupts in response to the President’s greeting.

 

‘Alleluia. Christ is risen’. ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia.’

 

The Paschal Candle, symbolising Christ, is carried through the church, its presence intoned three times:

 

‘The Light of Christ’. ‘Thanks be to God’.

 

During the following words of the Easter Proclamation, the assembly responds in song with outbursts of full-hearted joy:

 

‘Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia’.

 

 


The Liturgy of the Word

         

Based on the liturgy of the synagogue. Whenever possible, readings from the Old Testament prophets, the Psalms and the Epistles of the New Testament precede the Gospel.

 

The psalms are important because they hold the spirituality of Jesus; He feasted on them in the temple throughout His life, and quoted them in His teaching.

 

 

The Gospel

 

Gospel Acclamation

 

The Gospel reading occupies a central place in the Liturgy of the Word. It has its own procession and form of celebration.

 

Restoring a Christian tradition, the approach of the Book of the Gospels in procession from the altar is heralded with cascades of joyful Alleluias, and the chanting of a topical Verse.

 

Gospel Announcement

 

Outbursts of praise bracket the Gospel reading itself:

 

‘Glory to you, O Lord!’ ….… ‘Praise to you, O Christ!’

 

The Gospel is read, and music heightens the words by accompanying the retro procession to its conclusion when the Book of the Gospels is returned to the altar and the processional Cross is replaced on its stand.

 


The Sermon

 

The sermon contemporises the Bible readings, applying the Word to modern life.

 

Sometimes the homily is followed by a short, reflective hymn or anthem on the theme of the address.

 

The Creed

 

This is the Nicene Creed, formulated by the Council of Nicea in the year 451 as a universal affirmation of Christian faith. In particular it emphasises that Jesus was both Man and God: human yet divine.

 

While it begins personally ‘I believe…’ it is nevertheless a statement of the faith of the whole church – in whose fellowship we may approach hard-to-understand issues that may lie unresolved in our own minds. The Creed is therefore sometimes written in the collective - ‘We believe….’.

 

To sing the Creed – in fact, to sing anything - is an aid to remembering. On occasions the Nicene Creed is sung to the traditional setting by Merbecke, used in St Peter’s for over 100 years - up until 1976.

 

The Intercessions

 

To intercede is to ‘carry between’.

 

As Christ died for the whole created world, it is right that we bring before God the needs of the whole created world.

 

Prayers are sometimes offered upon a backcloth of music or gentle singing.

The Liturgy of the Sacrament

 

We move towards the central point of the service.

 

The Peace

 

‘Exchanging the Peace’ is a ritual of deep significance. An expression of more than warm goodwill, the exchange symbolises reconciliation: a necessary step before communion. ‘First, make peace with thy brother, then bring thy gift to the altar’ Matt 5, 24.

 

The Offertory

 

Bread and wine, symbols of the body and blood - the life -  of Christ, are carried in solemn procession to the altar during the singing of the Offertory hymn, which continues until the altar is prepared.

 

A Jewish meal began only when the father or presiding member of the community

 

*                     took bread

*                     broke the bread

*                     blessed it with words of thanksgiving

 

‘Blessed be you, LORD, our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth’

 

*                     and then distributed the bread

 

…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.’ - 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

 

The Eucharistic Prayer

 

The Eucharistic Prayer is a thanksgiving for what God has done for us, and continues to do for us, in the life and death of Jesus Christ, His Son, as partaken in bread and wine.

 

The Preface

 

Sursum Corda   The Lord be with you………

 

This opening dialogue between the President (the one who presides) and the assembly is drawn from the 3rd century.

 

Hippolytus, writing in his book, Apostolic Traditions, 225 AD notes this exchange –

 

           Bishop: The Lord be with you.

All: And with your spirit.

Bishop: Up with your hearts.

All: We have [them] with the Lord.

Bishop: Let us give thanks to the Lord.

All: It is fitting and right.

 

This isn’t a courteous greeting. It is, rather, a profound plea that God will assist each of us in what are about to engage.

 

The President first praises God for His mighty acts – for they are the means through which God communicates His glory.

 

At this point in the service the words ‘Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your glorious name, ever praising you…..’ remind us of something very special. The Church Triumphant (in heaven) and the Church Militant (on earth) are joined together in worship; the Communion of Saints is real.

 

Our response is from Isaiah 6, 3:

 

Sanctus      Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory…….

 

Isaiah was overwhelmed by his vision of God, and this suggests that the words of the Sanctus be sung in ‘hushed amazement’ – an attitude of wonder.

 

There follows -

 

Hosanna in the highest.

 

Benedictus   Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

 

Taken from Psalm 118, verse 26 ‘Blessed be he who cometh in the name of the Lord’. ‘Hosanna’ is the joyful shout of the crowd, upon recognising Jesus at His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Luke 19, 38.

 


The Institution

 

The President recalls Jesus’ words and actions at the Last Supper, and the assembly acclaims them in towering affirmations of faith:

 

Acclamations

 

Great is the mystery of faith: ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’

 

Christ is the bread of life: ‘When we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.’

 

Jesus Christ is Lord: ‘Lord, by your cross and resurrection you have set us free. You are the Saviour of the world.’

 

The Eucharistic Prayer concludes with either a

 

Doxology     Blessing and honour and glory and power be yours for ever and ever. Amen. 

 

- a joyful response, its source in Revelation 5, 13,

 

or, simply, with a robust and heartfelt Amen.

 

The Lord’s Prayer

 

The Lord’s Prayer is recited.

 

The Fraction

 

During the breaking of the bread a Litany is sung:

 

Agnus Dei Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us………..

 

The Agnus Dei, introduced in the 7th century, has scriptural resonances in the declaration of John the Baptist: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (John 1, 29), and in the cry of the two blind men to Jesus: ‘Have, mercy upon us, Son of David’ (Matthew 9, 27).

 

Often sung, music gives in this, as in the other Eucharistic texts, ‘a more graceful expression to prayer’.

 

The Litany is repeated until sufficient bread is broken.

 

The Communion

 

We arrive at the moment when the whole assembly, responding to the invitation of Christ Himself, demonstrates its unity with Christ and with each other, by accepting the offered bread and wine – sometimes breaking from the same loaf and drinking from the same cup.

 

Why good wine? Because this is a feast with the King of Kings – a foretaste of the ‘royal wine of heaven’.

 

This time is deeply and quietly joyful, the communion almost tangible. Reflective hymns and contemplative music frame the silence.

 

The choir strives to furnish a peaceful space for all to make communion, often withdrawing to sing from the Formby Chapel or, on festive occasions, from the Singers’ Gallery at the West End of the Nave – the historic site of the choir.

 

When all have partaken, a prolonged silence is kept.

 

 

The Dismissal

 

Go in peace …… Thanks be to God.

 

Refreshed, we carry with us the promise of peace and joy.

 

 

With thanks to The Revd. Paul Ormrod and The Revd. Dr. Derek Tinsley for their encouragement, comments and welcome additions and corrections.

 

 

Graham Jones

November 2008

 

[1]. Tokens of Trust. Rowan Williams.

[2]. John Coventry. SJ.   

[3]. Plainsong. Mary Berry.




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