Have you ever wondered what’s going on during a liturgical service of Holy Communion (AKA Eucharist, AKA Lord’s Supper, AKA, Lord’s Table)?
So many moving parts! And what’s the deal with shaking hands in the middle?
You’re not alone.
Thankfully, a relatively simple overall structure unifies the many moving parts.
The Overall Structure:
Most services of Holy Communion – including those throughout the Anglican tradition – depict a fourfold journey of the Church
- from the world, into the eternal presence of God through
- Word and
- Sacrament, and
- back into the world again
This macro-structure of the Eucharist finds a biblical precedent in Jesus’s exposition of the Scriptures (Word) before making himself known to two disciples in the breaking of the bread (Sacrament) at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34).
Also, it follows the early Church’s example of devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching [Word] and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread [Sacrament] and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The Moving Parts of Holy Eucharist: Rite Two (1979 BCP)
The opening Acclamation states the entire journey’s destination: the Kingdom of the Triune God (Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 29).
Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.
The Processional, though not mandated in the 1979BCP, begins the enactment of the journey: following Christ, represented by the processional cross, God’s people enter God’s presence. They are only able to approach the altar by virtue of the sufficient sacrifice of Christ himself. On their own, they are impure and unfit for worship (Rom. 3:23).
Collect for Purity
Through the Collect for Purity, then, the people ask for the Holy Spirit’s cleansing to enable proper worship.
2. The Liturgy of the Word
Praise, Prayer, Lessons, and Sermon
After singing praises to a holy and merciful God (Ps 5:11), and being gathered together in prayer (Matt 18:20) by the Collect of the Day, the people are ready to hear the Word of God, first read aloud in the Lessons, and then proclaimed and exposited in the Sermon (1 Tim 4:13).
The Church then responds to God’s Word by confessing the Nicene Creed as a summary of its faith in both God and His Word.
Prayers of the People
If heard correctly, God’s Word should bring concern for God’s world, for which the community then intercedes in the Prayers of the People (1 Tim 2:1).
Confession and Absolution
Before the Liturgy of the Word of God leads to the Liturgy of the Holy Communion, the people must heed two warnings.
[People:] Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
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 delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.
[Priest:] Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in
eternal life. Amen.
Second, they heed Christ’s warning in Matthew 5:23-24, to reconcile with one another before coming to worship, by exchanging the Peace – for Christ’s peace is both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others).
The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.
3. The Liturgy of the Sacrament
The transition now complete, the Liturgy of Holy Communion begins with the Offertory, in which God’s people offer Him their very selves, symbolized by the bread, wine, and money as the fruits of human labor.
Then comes the Great Thanksgiving to God, in which, at the phrase “lift up your hearts” (sursum corda), the anaphora takes place as the Church itself is lifted up, as an offering, into the heavenly sanctuary (Chan, Liturgical Theology, 142).
Sanctus and Benedictus qui venit
Along with the angels in heaven, the Church praises God for His holiness in the Sanctus (“Holy”; Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8), and welcomes Christ’s presence in the Eucharist through the Benedictus qui venit (“Blessed is he who comes”; Ps 118:26; Matt 21:9; 23:39).
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.
Prayer of Consecration and Words of Institution
The redemptive acts of God, which enable the anaphora, are remembered (anamnesis) throughout the following Prayer of Consecration, culminating in the Words of Institution, in which the celebrant remembers and re-presents Christ’s words at the Last Supper (Matt 26:26-28 parr.).
On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”
After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, 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. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”
The Church then proclaims the great mystery which it is in the process of enacting: a celebration of Christ’s resurrection after his death and before his second coming.
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.
Oblation, Epiclesis, and Lord’s Prayer
The celebrant then offers (oblation) the gifts of bread and wine to God, and invokes (epiclesis) the Holy Spirit to sanctify both the gifts and the people – that they may rightfully receive the Sacrament in anticipation of God’s eschatological kingdom – a kingdom which is the focus of the subsequent Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13).
Fraction (Breaking of the Bread)
The celebrant then breaks the bread, declares Christ’s redemptive role as the Church’s Passover (Exod 12; 1 Cor 5:7b), and invites the people to partake of his Body and Blood.
[Alleluia.] Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore let us keep the feast. [Alleluia.]
The Gifts of God for the People of God.
Post-Communion Prayer, Benediction, and Dismissal
In the Post-Communion Prayer, the people thank God for his provision and ask for His blessing as they are sent back out into the world – a blessing which they then receive in the celebrant’s benediction (Luke 24:50; John 14:12), before being sent out into the world to serve Christ (Matt 28:16-20).
Almighty and everliving God,
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the most precious Body and Blood
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ;
and for assuring us in these holy mysteries
that we are living members of the Body of your Son,
and heirs of your eternal kingdom.
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Let us go forth in the name of Christ.
Thanks be to God.
Would You Like to Learn More?
Check out the following posts:
- An Anglican Sunday Worship Service, by Greg Goebel
- Holy Communion, by Greg Goebel
- Why Every Church Should Have Weekly Sunday Communion Like the Anglicans Do, by Greg Goebel
- How to Receive Communion, Pt. 1, by Greg Goebel
- How to Receive Communion, Pt. 2, by Greg Goebel
Do you have further questions about Holy Communion?
Ask them in the comments below!
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As Managing Editor, Josh is in charge of the day-to-day operations at Anglican Pastor. He is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, serving at Church of the Savior in Wheaton, IL (Diocese of C4SO). Josh is also a Ph.D. student in theology at Wheaton College. You can follow Josh on micro.blog, or learn more at joshuapsteele.com.