Holy Communion – Also Called Holy Eucharist, The Lords Supper, Or The Mass
The following is provided as an aid to help you understand and participate more fully in the Liturgy of Holy Communion.This is intended to be a simple introductory guide to the Episcopal Church and its chief service of worship, Holy Communion (also called Holy Eucharist, the Lords Supper, or the Mass). We hope it will be of help to both newcomers and longtime members of the Church.
The Opening Acclamation
In the Acclamation, which begins the service, we praise God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as Christians baptized in the Name of the Trinity. It has its roots in the beginning of the ancient Jewish prayer service. During the seasons of the Church Year different acclamations are used, setting forth the special themes of these seasons. The Acclamation underscores the truth that as Christians, what we do in our lives is done in Gods Name, and to his glory. We begin by praising God.
Collect For Purity
(Rite I p. 323 Rite II p. 355)
A Collect (accent on first syllable) is a prayer which collects the desires and requests of the people at worship. This collect, which we often use, is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the Church. It reminds us of our need to have a right intention for our worship so that we may truly love God, and asks God, to purify our thoughts and inspire our hearts.
Gloria In Excelsis Deo – Glory To God In The Highest
(Rite I p. 324 Rite II p. 356)
This hymn of praise is based on the song of the angels at our Saviors birth (Luke 2:14). Its author and age are unknown, but it first appeared in Christian worship about the 4th century. It is part of the preparation for what follows. Through this hymn we establish in our minds the relationship which exists between us and Almighty God. (During Lent and Advent it is not used.) The great antiquity of the hymn shows that our worship is done in the historic community of the saints in every age. During Advent (the 40 days before Christmas) and Lent (the 40 days before Easter), when the theme of the season is more penitential, we do not sing the Gloria. From time to time another hymn of praise may be sung or said in place of the Gloria.
The Liturgy Of The Word
(Rite I p. 325 Rite II p. 357)
Christian life is guided by Scripture, Gods Holy Word. The first reading is from the Old Testament. The second reading is from one of the epistles or letters of the New Testament. These letters contain the primary teachings of Christianity from the Apostles. The Gospel lesson and the Sermon are part of this section of the service. The Old Testament reading is chosen to amplify the theme of the Gospel reading. All of our Bible readings are on a three year cycle.
(Rite I p. 326 Rite II p. 357)
From the time of Jesus himself, the Good News has been proclaimed to the whole world. In every service of Holy Communion a Deacon or Priest proclaims the Good News by reading from the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. There is a prescribed reading for every celebration of Communion. The Deacon or Priest, led by the cross, carries the Gospel Book in procession into the midst of the people, symbolizing the taking of the Gospel to the world. It is a devout custom to make with the right thumb a small cross on the forehead, the lips and the heart to show we accept the Gospel with our mind, preach it with our mouth, and live it in our heart.
We say ‘Glory to You’ at the beginning, and ‘Praise to You’ at the end. The Sermon follows the Gospel. It is intended to be a teaching about the Good News of Jesus Christ in practical spiritual terms, relating to the daily life of the Believer, not a scholarly dissertation or a secular speech.
(Rite I p. 326 Rite II p. 358)
The Nicene Creed is the Churchs confession of faith. It grew out of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea in the 4th Century, and was the first universal summary of the Christian faith, enacted by a Council of the Bishops, to which, though the human mind cannot ever truly comprehend the totality of Gods mysterious greatness and plan, all of the faithful were expected give credence. Today, in an age in which faith is very individualistic, the Creed reminds us that it matters very much what we believe. The Creed expresses the basics of Christian conviction, and we recite the Creed as our profession of faith as the Body of Christ.
The Creed is divided into three major parts, each of which begin We believe . . . The first speaks of God, the Father, who is Creator; the second of God, the Son, The Redeemer; and the third of God the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier.
Christian Custom To Genuflect
Traditionally it has been the custom of Christians to genuflect or bow low at the waist at the recitation of the words, He became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. This is done to show our reverence and thanksgiving for the mystery of the incarnation, of God becoming one of us in Jesus Christ. It is also traditional to sign oneself with the sign of the cross at the end of the Creed as an acknowledgment of eternal life received through the cross of Christ.
Prayers Of The People
(Rite I p. 328 Rite II p. 383-393)
The Prayers of the People are our intercessions and petitions pleading before God on behalf of:
- The Universal Church -all Christians everywhere, the Bishops, Clergy and Gods people, and their love and service to Christ and their neighbors.
- Our country and world leaders, and those responsible for government.
- Welfare of the world and its people.
- Concerns of the local community.
- Those who are sick or suffering in body, mind, or spirit.
- Remembrance of those who have died, who rest in the Lord and await Christs coming in glory.
- Remembrance of the Saints and their holy lives as examples to us.
The Celebrant sums up all the petitions with a closing collect in Rite II, p. 394-395.
Confessions Of Sin
(Rite I p. 328 Rite II p. 359-360)
The Confession is our corporate admission of our falling short before God, despite being saved. All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23). This includes the Church. As a corporate body, we ask to be forgiven for that and to amend our lives. Then as a corporate body we receive the assurance of Gods forgiveness, pronounced by the Priest. As the Priest makes the sign of the cross, we make the same sign on ourselves. It is through the cross of Christ that we have received forgiveness and acceptance as Gods beloved children.
General Confession And Personal Confession
It must be remembered that this General confession does not take the place of the Christians own self-examination and regular personal accounting before to God, either privately or in the presence of another. It is absolutely essential that every Christian engage frequently in a self-examination and ask Gods forgiveness for the wrongs we have done. By doing so we constantly keep in mind our need to always rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and to keep in mind that each of us needs to walk with Christ in our lives one step at a time.
(Rite I p. 332 Rite II p 360)
From the earliest times in the Churchs history the exchange of Christs Peace has been a part of the Holy Communion service. Today it is still a part of the liturgies of many churches. It reminds us that if we would relate to God, we must also relate to other people. The First Letter of John say, how can you love the God you dont see if you do not love the person you do see? When you exchange the peace, offer your neighbor your love, and the peace of God you want that person to have and enjoy. Dont interrupt your godly devotion to talk about anything except the peace of God.
(Rite I p. 333 Rite II p. 361)
Contrary to popular opinion, the essence of this part of the service is not the giving of money (though, of course, every church treasurer would want you to remember that, too), but the offering of ourselves. As the bread and the wine, products of the earth and human labor, are offered to God, we offer ours lives as well. Saint Augustine of Hippo fifteen hundred years ago said during a sermon as he pointed to the wine and bread on the altar, There you are in the Chalice. There you are on the Altar. We are the gift offered to God to be sanctified. We are to be consecrated along with the bread and wine. Once again, keep in mind that we are participants and not observers.
The Great Thanksgiving
(Rite I pp. 333 Rite II p 361)
The Great Thanksgiving is the heart of the Communion service. Here the priest, by the authority received from Christ through his Apostles, recalls the saving acts of God in history, and recites the account of the Last Supper and the words of institution. The priest holds up the Host (the bread), and the in some services a bell rings. This is done so you remember that Jesus is truly and spiritually present for you in the Sacrament. Look up, make the sign of the cross, and pray, My Lord and My God! When the celebrant says, This is my Blood, he lifts up the Chalice, and the act of remembrance is repeated.
Do This In Memory Of Me
Some people think that when Jesus said do this in memory of me he meant merely remember. However, the Greek word for memory, or remembrance, is anamnesis, which means more like to make present than it does to mentally recall something which happened in the past. The ancient Church always taught, as does the Anglican Church today, that Christ is truly and objectively present in a spiritual way in the sacramental elements of bread and wine.
As we have already offered up bread, wine, and our gifts of money, which can be understood to be symbols of our lives, we offer up ourselves to God, sanctified and made holy by Gods sovereign Grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the ultimate act of worship. Nothing else we can give to God can be equated with this most sacred, solemn offering, as we approach the Lords own table.
The Breaking Of The Bread (The Fraction)
(Rite I p. 337 Rite II p. 364)
This is one of the most ancient ceremonies in Holy Communion. The breaking of the host or wafer signifies both the breaking of Christs body for us on the cross and our unity as all are broken from the one true bread, which is Christ. In the words of St. Paul, When we break the bread, is it not a means of sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we, as many as we are, are one body; for it is one bread of which we all partake. (I Corinthians 10:16-17)
Silence is kept during this time in order to give us an opportunity to contemplate these truths. This was such a central part of the Communion of the early church that the entire service was known as The Breaking of the Bread.
(Rite I p. 338 Rite II p. 365)
Christ comes to us in many ways at all times. But in the Holy Communion he comes to us in a special and unique way. His Body and Blood and His Reality comes to us. This is a reverent yet supremely joyful moment. We should be most reverent in our outward actions, but doleful solemnity is neither customary nor helpful. We should talk to no one unnecessarily when we leave our pew, genuflect or bow to venerate Christs presence in the Sacrament, and proceed to the altar rail.
Receive the Sacrament either kneeling or standing. Make the sign of the cross. Place your open right palm over your open left palm. When the priest gives you the Host say Amen. Bring the Host, unmoved, with both hands to your mouth, and consume it. To receive from the cup, place yourself so the Chalice bearer can put it to your lips with ease. Grasp the cup by the base and assist the Chalice bearer to put it to your lips. Take a sip and let go of the chalice, and again say Amen. To receive by intinction, leave the Host on your hand untouched. The Chalice bearer will take it, dip it into the chalice and place it on your tongue.
Communion From A Common Cup
From time to time people wonder if receiving Communion from a common cup is sanitary. Over the years many medical studies have been done on this subject. Every study has shown that red wine, drunk from a metal cup, is very sanitary. That is because the phenols and tannins in the wine kill almost all bacteria and viruses, and a metal cup does not retain contaminants when wiped. From New Testament times the Church has always administered Communion from a common cup in obedience to Christs example and the practice of the Apostles and their successors.
Children And Holy Communion
Some people feel uncomfortable about allowing their young children to receive Communion because children might not understand. However, if we think about this more carefully, no one really can comprehend the unfathomable depths of our union with Christ in Holy Communion. We are all ignorant children who are fed by the Lord. All we can do is approach his table with faith in his merciful love. God does wonders with an open, faithful heart.
All people who sincerely seek to know and follow Jesus Christ are most welcome to receive communion.
Thanksgiving And Dismissal
(Rite I p. 339 Rite II p. 366)
How can words express our gratitude at what God has given us in this sacrament new sanctified lives and the Body and Blood of our Lord as spiritual nourishment for our souls? We must remember that the most meaningful way to show our thanks is how we live our lives when we leave the church. One of the most fitting ways to serve Christ is to serve others out in the world. Will it be business as usual or will we seek to walk in the Holy Spirits light and become new in Christ? Will our Lord make a difference in the way we live? If not, weve missed the point and gained little.
Then, as we are sent out, we received Gods blessing from the priest and the service is ended. Once Gods people have received the sacrament of Communion with Christ receiving, they are to take Him out into the world to share with everyone. We dont hide the Christ that dwells within us, we share him, as lights to the World.
This is just a brief outline. There is much more that can be learned. If you have any questions, talk to the priest or a knowledgeable lay person. They will gladly be of whatever help they can. There have been innumerable books written on the subject, but the most important thing you can do to deepen your understanding is to receive Communion every Sunday.