Holy Communion: A Rookie Anglican Guide to the Eucharist

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This article was originally written in 2018 using the 1979 BCP. It was updated for the 2019 BCP in 2023.


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)?

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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

  1. from the world, into the eternal presence of God through
  2. Word and
  3. Sacrament, and
  4. 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

1. Entrance

Opening Acclamation

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: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

Processional

The Processional, though not mandated in the BCP2019, 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).

Creed

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.

First, they heed Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, to examine themselves before partaking of the Eucharist, through the Confession of Sin and the priest’s declaration of Absolution.

[People:]
Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
maker and judge of us all:
We acknowledge and lament our many sins and offenses,
which we have committed by thought, word, and deed
against your divine majesty,
provoking most justly your righteous anger against us.
We are deeply sorry for these our transgressions;
the burden of them is more than we can bear.
Have mercy upon us,
Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father;
for your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may evermore serve and please you in
newness of life,
to the honor and glory of your Name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

[Priest:]
Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who in his great mercy has promised forgiveness of sins to all those who sincerely repent and with true faith turn to him, have mercy upon you, pardon and deliver you from all your sins, confirm and strengthen you in all goodness, and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Peace

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 with your spirit.

3. The Liturgy of the Sacrament

Offertory

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.

Great Thanksgiving

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.).

For on the night that he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it,* and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat; this is my Body, which is given for you: Do this in remembrance of me.”

Likewise, after supper, Jesus took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink this, all of you; for 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 in remembrance of me.”

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. [Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.]

4. Exit

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, in these holy mysteries,
with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ;
and for assuring us, through this Sacrament, of your favor and
goodness towards us:
that we are true members of the mystical body of your Son, the blessed company of all faithful people;
and are also heirs, through hope,
of your everlasting kingdom.
And we humbly ask you, heavenly Father,
to assist us with your grace,
that we may continue in that holy fellowship,
and do all the good works that you have prepared for us to walk in;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit,
be all 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:

Do you have further questions about Holy Communion?

Ask them in the comments below!


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Author

Joshua Steele

Josh Steele was the first Managing Editor of Anglican Compass. Learn more about him at joshuapsteele.com.

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