The Eucharist Is an Action: Its Meaning and Implications.
By Kenneth Terry, O.H.C.
West Park, New York: Holy Cross Park, 1958.
IF WE are to live out the meaning and implications of the Eucharist in our lives, we must begin by understanding the meaning of the Church—the Mystical Body of Christ. We must see the Church’s worship within the context in which alone it is intelligible.
There are many possible definitions of the word “Church” which throw light on its nature, but its primary meaning comes from the Greek “ecclesia.” The “ecclesia” is the “meeting together” of the people of God in its official capacity for one purpose—the worship of God in obedience to the command of our Lord—“Do this in remembrance of Me.”
There is an intimate connection between the Last Supper and the Church. On the night in which our Lord was betrayed He gathered His disciples into the upper room in Jerusalem. There He took bread and blessed it, and He took wine and gave thanks to God.
What our Lord and His disciples were doing was to share in a Jewish meal called the Chaburah. The Chaburah was a religious meal or supper which had certain characteristics about it that are important for us to remember. First, it was a private circle of friends. Not everyone was invited—only the disciples whom our Lord had trained for this moment. Secondly, it was organic. Thirdly, its purpose was liturgical and corporate. All three of these characteristics are found today in the Church’s worship. The Eucharist is a private circle of friends. Not everyone is invited to communicate—only those who have been trained to understand the faith and who are in love and charity with all men. Secondly, the Eucharist is a family affair. We are made members of that family by our Baptism. And thirdly, the Eucharist is a liturgical and corporate action in which everyone, priest and laity, has his part to play.
But the last Chaburah meal of our Lord’s was unique. Our Lord instituted a New Covenant between God and Man. The old Covenant was done away and a new Covenant was sealed in Christ’s Body and Blood—in His sacrifice. Our Lord also commanded them to “re-call” this night. “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The Last Supper was not to end here. He also promised to be with them. His death would not break up the little society of friends. “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” Lastly, the Apostles were commanded to enlarge the circle of Christ’s friends, to increase the family. “Go ye into all the world baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.” After Pentecost, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles were sent forth into the world to bring all men into the Body of Christ, the Church. This remains the Church’s prime missionary task—to bring all men into the family of God.
Our Lord did not introduce a new ceremony. What He did was to take this familiar Jewish meal and give it a new and particular meaning for His own friends. They were to do this “in remembrance”—for the “re-calling” of Him. “This is my Body . . . This is my Blood.”
Whenever devout Jews gathered together for fellowship they always did two things. 1: They took bread and wine. 2: They gave thanks to God for their fellowship and for all of God’s blessings. Our Lord told His disciples that whenever they did this they were to re-call His death and He promised to be with them.
In other words, the Eucharist is an action. It is something which is done. It is not a service to be “said” and to which the people of God come in order to be edified primarily. It is an action—”Do this”—with a particular meaning given to it by our Lord for the “re-calling of Me.” Our word “memorial” is a very weak word and has lost its significance by popular usage. What the Greek word means really is to make a past event present. Perhaps the best way of understanding this word in its rightful usage is to think of the word “re-call” when we speak of re-calling our Ambassador from a foreign country. We do not sit down and think about him! Rather, he is literally recalled—brought back. So in the Eucharist. It is not a barren memorial service, but our Lord’s presence is made real here and now. It becomes operative in us today.
This is the meaning of Christianity—to have the life of Christ in us. Our Lord is not just an example to us of how we are to live. An example alone is not enough. Our Lord is not just another great spiritual leader like the Buddha or Mohammed who tells His people how to live. He gives us the power to live as He lived. This power our Lord gives to us in His Body and Blood. The life of God which is given to us in our Baptism is nourished and strengthened by our Communion with Him.
There are some other notes about the Eucharist that we should remember. The Christian of the primitive Church thought of the Eucharist as a corporate action. Everyone—bishop, priest, deacon and laity—was to have his part in the worship of God. Also, the Eucharist was a private gathering. It was only for the members of the Body of Christ, and not for those outside this family of God. This note of exclusiveness may seem uncharitable to some of us today. But it is important for us to understand its reason. Today many persons belong to various secular clubs. And before new members can take part in their various activities, they must be instructed in the meaning of what the club is doing. They must be willing to accept the obligations and responsibilities of membership before they enjoy its privileges. This is precisely what the Church has always insisted upon. Before we can worship intelligently we must know what we are doing. (Hence, instruction before Baptism and Confirmation.) And we must also be willing to accept the obligations of being a Christian before we can enjoy the privileges of membership within the Church.
The Last Supper is recorded in three of the Gospels and in St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The New Testament is the historical source of the Eucharist, but it does not provide the model for the liturgical action of the Eucharist. In the New Testament records our Lord did these things in this order: He took bread—He gave thanks—He broke the bread—He distributed it to His disciples—He took the cup—He gave thanks —and gave the cup to His disciples. These seven steps have been reduced traditionally to four chief actions forming the liturgical tradition of the Eucharist. These four actions are: the Offertory (offering of the bread and wine), the Prayer of Thanksgiving or as we call it . . . (Consecration), the Fraction (breaking the bread) and Communion. This four-fold “shape of the Liturgy” is the invariable nucleus of every eucharistic rite known in the Universal Church.
Perhaps it will help us to understand the centrality of the Eucharist within the life of the primitive Church if we look at it during the time of the persecutions. In the early days of the Church, the Eucharist was concerned primarily with the fourfold action just noted. There was no elaborate music—no Bach chorale to distract the faithful! There were not even special ecclesiastical vestments, since what we now think of as being the ecclesiastical vestments worn at the Eucharist (alb, maniple, stole and chasuble) derive from the lay dress of the upper classes in the Imperial period of Rome of the 4th and 5th centuries. The Eucharist was simply an action of the people of God which concentrated on this offering of Christ to the glory of God. The Bishop was the chief celebrant whenever present and he was assisted by his priests and deacons and they, together with the laity, offered the Eucharist with great solemnity.
Perhaps it will be easier to understand the centrality of the Eucharist in Christian life if we place ourselves back in the days of the persecutions of the early Church. The Eucharist was offered early in the morning—about four or five o’clock—since it had to be done secretly for fear of arrest. Imagine yourself getting up at that hour (what a difference from the traditional and comfortable hour of eleven o’clock)—walking through the streets carrying with you a small piece of bread which was to represent your offering of yourself to God. You would make your way to the house of one of the members of the Church, knock on the door and be passed on by the deacon standing there. Remember, one had to be careful not to allow anyone but those who were members of the Church to enter since anyone might be a traitor! Here, in the living room, you would find the Church, the family of God, gathered together to worship God in obedience to our Lord’s words, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The Eucharist would begin when all had gathered with the traditional greeting, “The Lord be with you.” Sitting at a large chair behind a table would be the bishop of the little community, surrounded by his priests and deacons, and gathered in front of him, his people, the people of God. Then the Eucharist would begin. After the four-fold action had been done, the faithful would take some of the Consecrated Bread with them to make their communions during the week, and would hasten unobtrusively out the door and down the street hoping that no one would see them. If they were seen by some curious passerby and were suspected of being Christians there would be a shout and, unless one were lucky, they would be arrested and brought before the magistrate on charge of treason to the state. Found guilty of being Christians, they joined the rank of martyrs.
In the early Church the gathering together to offer the Eucharist as worship to God was understood to be the test of one’s faithfulness as a Christian. Even the State recognized this as a sign of one’s Christian profession. Our obligation to be present at the Eucharist each week comes out of the times of the persecutions when belief was not enough. One must act on the basis of his beliefs. After all, belief which does not result in action, in a way of life, is worthless. No one cares what you believe as long as you do nothing about your beliefs! We are reminded of our Lord’s words, “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father.” The early Christians were obedient to our Lord when obedience meant facing death for what many of us take as a matter of indifference or unconcern. To be present at the Eucharist Sunday after Sunday in obedience to our Lord’s command is the test of one’s discipleship. Of course, our discipleship must not end here. We must take Christ with us into the world and live Christian lives in all of our daily relationships. But our discipleship must start at the Altar or it is not likely to start anywhere.
Before we discuss the Eucharist in more detail, I think it would be helpful to mention the various names given to this service which our Lord instituted. No one word is rich enough to express all of the implications of this great act of worship. Many words have been used by the Church down through the centuries, and each word points up various aspects of that service. These are the most common ones: Liturgy (the work of the people of God), Eucharist (Thanksgiving), Holy Sacrifice (since this act of worship is the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary), the Last Supper (stressing the historical roots of the service in what happened on the night of our Lord’s betrayal), Holy Communion (with its emphasis upon just one aspect of the service—our communion with God and with each other), and the Mass (a word of indefinite meaning which has been popularly used in the Western Church as a convenient word to use when referring to the service as a whole without stressing some particular aspect of the service). We will use all of these various terms in the course of our discussion, since each of them describes in part the service which our Lord instituted.
Our present Eucharist is really two distinct services which were originally held at different times and for different classes of persons. Since the sixth century, however, they have become fused together. These two separate services were the Liturgy of the Catechumen and the Liturgy of the Faithful.
As the words suggest, the Liturgy, or Mass, of the Catechumen was for those who had not yet become members of the Body of Christ. It was for those who had not been baptized and confirmed, but who were still under instruction in preparation for being received into the Church. It began with a greeting and response—“The Lord be with you. And with thy spirit”—and continued with readings from the Old and New Testaments, the singing of part of the Psalms, a sermon by the bishop (if present) and ended with a dismissal. That was all. In the earliest days there were not even any prayers.
The Liturgy or Mass of the Faithful, of course, was for those who were members of the Body of Christ. It also began with the traditional greeting and response. Then followed the settling of differences, if any existed, among the various members of the family. This was no mere ceremonial action. Those who had quarrels must be reconciled before the Church in the presence of the bishop. To symbolize their reconciliation they gave each other the Christian “kiss of peace.” Only then could the family worship together as the friends of God when they were also friends with each other. Then followed the traditional four-fold action of the Offertory, the Prayer of Thanksgiving, the Fraction, and the Communion of the faithful.
Now let us take up the Eucharist as we have it today in our Book of Common Prayer. Remember, the Eucharist is an action—it is a drama. With this in mind let us go through the Eucharistic drama and try to understand some of its implications for us in our daily lives.
As with all drama, the action must take place somewhere. First of all, we think of that place as the Church. That is the common way of speaking, and it is quite all right, but only if we remember that the Church is not primarily a building but the people of God wherever they are gathered together. You are the Church! The drama may be re-enacted in a magnificent Cathedral, in one’s local parish, in some distant mission station, on a battlefield, in a summer camp or in one’s home. But wherever it is offered “the people of God” is the Church gathered together in obedience to our Lord’s command to “Do this” in remembrance of Him.
If we are to have a drama certain things are necessary. We have to have some essential “props.” The most essential, of course, is the Altar—that “high thing” raised up for all to see, reminding us of our Lord’s words, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” Today Christ draws all men unto Himself at the Altar where God and man meet in communion. We need also to have something to offer, the bread and the wine and water. There must be a chalice and paten on which to make the offering.
But if there is to be any drama there must also be a script. We have to know what is going to happen, who is to say what, how things are to be done, by whom, and in what order. All of this is necessary if we are to worship corporately as a family. This is why we have a Book of Common Prayer. We come to the Altar to worship God as a family, as members one of another, but we can only do that if each of us knows what his role in the drama is. So the Prayer Book (on the Altar and in the pew) tells us how we can worship with one mind, and that, the mind of Christ.
Every drama requires actors. The Eucharist is no exception. One of these actors is the celebrant, the bishop or priest. He has been ordained, set aside, for his particular role-sharing the ministerial priesthood of Christ. Christ is exercising His priesthood through His priests to whom He has given power and authority to act in His name. The priest is to stand at the Altar to offer the Sacrifice of Christ for the sins of the world on behalf of, and with, the people of God. But you, the members of the Body of Christ, are also actors in this drama. You have your own particular part to play, your role for which you too have been set apart by your baptism and confirmation. The Eucharist is the offering of the whole family of God. You have your words to say, your actions to perform. Do remember this when you are taking part in the Eucharist! Speak up in giving your responses! Learn what you have to say and do, and say and do it with conviction! There is nothing more distressing to the priest at the Altar than to turn around to his people with the joyous greeting of “The Lord be with you,” only to have the congregation mouth an inaudible and unintelligible response. Remember, you were confirmed just so you could do this—take your part in the offering of the Eucharist as your chief act of worship to God. Christian worship is a family worship. The congregation is not to sit passively as spectators watching something being done! The people of God are here to offer the Eucharist as their corporate act of worship, joining with all the family of God. We are “not to be a fortuitous concourse of spiritual atoms engaged in private devotions in a public place.” You are part of the drama—not a spectator!
I think it will be helpful if you follow this very brief commentary on the Eucharist with your Prayer Book.
THE LITURGY OF THE CATECHUMEN
The Eucharist begins with the Liturgy of the Catechumen. In many of our parishes, while a hymn is being sung, the priest and the server enter, reverence the Altar and begin with a private preparation at the foot of the Altar. It is a short preparation consisting of a Psalm, a form of confession and a few versicles and responses. The server represents you. He is making his confession of unworthiness (following that of the priest) for himself and for you. But this is not to excuse you from your own preparation for the Eucharist. One should prepare the night before to receive the Sacrament and to form some special intention in offering the Eucharist. And one should be in Church some time before the Eucharist begins in order to be in a right frame of mind for the worship of God. Our preparation reminds us of the Church’s season of Advent when we get ready for the coming of Christ.
WE SPEAK TO GOD
The Eucharist begins with the celebrant saying the COLLECT OF PURITY, an ancient prayer which comes from the 9th century Alcuin Sacramentary. This collect sets before us the ideal of true Christian worship. It gives us a devotional perspective for the Eucharist and tells us the purpose of our gathering together. We are coming into the presence of “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” Such is the intimacy of our relationship to God who is our Father. We ask Him to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts” (where all of our failures begin) “by the inspiration” of His Holy Spirit (the source of our strength), so that we “may perfectly love” Him “and worthily magnify” His holy Name. We ask God to give us His power to make us clean so that we can be worthy to offer ourselves in worship. We ask for the power to fulfill our purpose in life to know, to love and to serve Him.
(II) Immediately after the Collect of Purity, the priest adds the SUMMARY OF THE LAW, which came from the usage of the Non-Jurors’ Book of 1715. The Summary of the Law reminds us that before we can worship God we must be in a right relationship to Him, and also in a right relationship to each other. So the Church stops us, as it were, at the very beginning of the Eucharist to remind us of both relationships. Is there any barrier between me and God for which I have not asked forgiveness and for which I have not sought to amend my life? Am I in a right relationship with others?
(III) Because we know our many failures both toward God and toward others, the Church then has us join in saying “Lord have mercy upon us. Christ have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.” This is familiarly known as the “KYRIE” from the Greek words which were originally used in the early Eucharist. Here we make an act of humility and contrition for our sins. This ancient “versicle and response” was originally part of a long Litany used in the early Church. At the time of St. Gregory the Great, the Litany was dropped and the “Kyrie” retained and the words “Christe eleison” were added. We implore God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, to forgive us our many failures to keep His law—both toward Himself and toward His children.
(IV) Following the “Kyrie,” the priest moves to the Epistle side of the Altar and prays the COLLECT FOR THE DAY. Each Sunday and each Holy Day, the Prayer Book provides us with a special Collect—a short prayer usually addressed to God the Father, through the merits of the Son, in union with the Holy Spirit. We pray “through Jesus Christ our Lord” because it is only through Him that we can approach the Father. This prayer gathers together the common thought of the day and is linked to the teaching of the Epistle and Gospel.
(V) After the Collect, THE EPISTLE is read or sung. This too varies from Sunday to Sunday and on feast days. It is really an excerpt, usually of one of the spiritual letters taken from the New Testament—from St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John or one of the other New Testament writers. In it we are given some practical helps in living the Christian life, guidance in our relationship to God and to each other. We are still in that part of the Eucharist called the Mass of the Catechumen. The instruction of the Church is continued each week day as the Church confronts us with the Christian witness and challenge. But we must do more than listen. We must make this instruction part of our own lives. A good practice is to read the Epistle (and Gospel) over before coming to the Eucharist, and also to make them the substance of our week-day meditations.
GOD SPEAKS TO US
(VI) After the Epistle is read, the server takes the book to the other side of the Altar. The emphasis in the first part of the Eucharist changes. Up until now we have been speaking to God. The Collect of Purity, and the Collect for the day have been our prayers offered to God. Now God speaks to us in THE GOSPEL of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. This change may be done very simply, by the server moving the book to the Gospel side of the Altar, or in Sung Eucharists, it may be done with much more ceremonial. In both cases the Church is teaching us by outward actions the meaning of what we are doing. As Christians we worship God sacramentally. That is, God uses material things as channels of His grace. All of these material things are to be used to glorify God and to help us worship. They do not become barriers between us and God. Exactly the opposite. They help us visually as well as audibly to learn more about Him. In a Sung Eucharist the book is carried to the Gospel side of the Altar with several servers preceding the book with lighted candles—reminding us that Christ is the Light of the World. In some parishes, the Gospel is brought right down into the congregation,—reminding us of our Lord’s Incarnation—of the Son of God coming down from heaven to walk and to speak, to act and to live among men. Incense is burned reminding us that our prayers and thoughts are constantly to be ascending toward God. As the priest announces the Gospel, we sign our foreheads, our lips and our breasts with the sign of the Cross to remind us that Christ must be the center of our thoughts, that we must always speak in love and truth as members of Christ, and that our whole self is to be consecrated to His service. In the Gospel, God declares the Good News of His dealings with men. Here we listen to the words of Christ which are the words of God. In the Gospel we see God acting; in the Gospel we hear God speaking.
(VII) Immediately after the Gospel, we declare our acceptance of God’s revelation in Christ by reciting the NICENE CREED. In the primitive Eucharist there was no creed, but when the faith was attacked the Church saw the need of having her children declare their belief in the revelation of God. It was first used in Spain during the sixth century to combat the Arian heresy, and by the eleventh century it had become a common custom in the Western Church. Here we make our affirmation of the whole Revelation of God. We say it together, as members of a family, because there can be no common life without a common belief. In an age in which right belief is deemed unimportant, the Church reminds us that it does matter what we believe since we act, consciously or unconsciously, on the basis of our beliefs. But we must not be content merely to know the Creed and be able to recite it. We must also live the Creed in our daily lives as witnesses to the truth of God.
A. THE SERMON
Before we go on to discuss the Liturgy of the Faithful, I think it is enlightening to notice where THE SERMON comes in our diagram. It is ordered at the “low” point of the Eucharist! This certainly does not mean that it must necessarily be the “low point” as far as its value is concerned! The priest is to expound the faith, basing his sermons on the Epistle and Gospel of the day, to the people so that they may practice the faith in their lives. This is a weighty responsibility—a function of the ministerial priesthood for which he was ordained. But it does point up a difference between the Church’s worship and denominational services. We do not come to Church primarily to hear a sermon! We do not come to Church to listen to someone talk AT us! We come to Church primarily to worship God. We come to do something—to offer ourselves in an act of self-surrendered love to God. Worship of God, not edification for self, is the reason for our being at the Eucharist. We come to give. And it is only as we give of ourselves that we receive. What we receive is not primarily edification but the Body and Blood of Christ.
THE LITURGY OF THE FAITHFUL
WE GIVE TO GOD
After the Liturgy of the Catechumen those who were not received into the Body of Christ as yet by their Baptism and Confirmation were dismissed. Only members of the Church were allowed to be present at the Liturgy of the Faithful.
(I) The first great Action of the Mass of the Faithful is the OFFERTORY, the first of the four actions of the primitive Eucharist. One of the unfortunate things about present-day worship at the Eucharist is that the significance of the Offertory is so often missed by the congregation. On Sunday morning, at this point, the celebrant is trying—vainly sometimes—to attract the attention of the servers; the servers are trying to remember which of them is to bring the bread and which is to bring the cruets of wine and water; the congregation is lustily (?) singing a hymn while trying to extract some loose change or their envelopes from their pockets, and the ushers are trying to keep step as they march past their friends on the way to the Chancel steps. Once the alms are offered, the priest turns to the people to say, “Let us Pray for the Whole State of Christ’s Church.” And we rush on without quite knowing what has happened. And yet, this is perhaps one of the most important moments of your life!
In the early Church all of this action took place in silence so that the faithful could pay attention to what was happening, and so they could understand its implications for their lives. What we are doing at the Offertory is to give ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice to God under the outward forms of bread and wine which we offer. In the primitive Church the people brought their own bread and wine to be offered. They were keenly aware of all of their work in preparing that offering week by week. All of their relationships to others, the sweat of their brow, everything they were, was being symbolically presented to God as an offering of themselves. That is what St. Augustine meant in one of his sermons when he pointed to the prepared elements on the Altar and told his people: “There you are in the Chalice. There you are on the Altar.” Today we make our own offering in the money we put upon the alms basin. But in substance we mean the same thing. All of the work we have done during the week to earn that money, all of our relationships with our employers or employees, our hours of labour in whatever we have been doing, whether it is studying, typing, digging ditches, working on reports, pounding the streets, washing the dishes, whatever it may be, all of this—the very substance of our lives—is being offered to God. We offer him our failures, our sins repented of, our suffering of pain, our aspirations and plans, our work, our selves. Does this offering truly represent you? Is this offering of yours a sacrificial offering of love? Is your work in the world the sort of work you can bring to God Sunday after Sunday to be blessed and used?
(II) In the ancient Liturgy the Eucharist proceeded at once to the opening words of the “Sursum Corda,” (i.e. “Lift up your hearts”), but in our present Liturgy the people are bidden to PRAY FOR THE WHOLE STATE OF CHRIST’S CHURCH.
Again we are reminded of our fellowship with each other— the Church militant here on earth, and all of the faithful of God in the Church Expectant and the Church Triumphant. All of us are gathered together at the Altar of God, for in God there can never be any separation. We ask God’s blessings upon the State, the Church, and upon all of man’s relationships with each other in society, that all of us may be fellow-workers with Christ in building up His Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
(III) After the Prayer for the Church, there is another interruption so to speak in the movement of the Eucharist,—the INVITATORY. But it is a necessary interruption. The Priest turns from the Altar and reminds us that before we can come to God to receive our Communion we must truly and earnestly repent us of our sins, and be in love and charity with our neighbors and intend to lead a new life. Again, there is this twofold relationship for Christians to remember; their duty toward God and their duty toward their neighbor.
(IV) After this Invitation to communion, we join in the GENERAL CONFESSION in which we confess our corporate sinfulness to God and make an act of contrition for our sins. We know only too well that we have sinned against God in our thoughts, words and deeds, and so often by failing to do what we should have done. We have hurt others by our words and example.
(V) But if we are truly sorry, God does forgive. The priest then turns to the people to pronounce God’s ABSOLUTION, By the power which Christ left to His Church, we are forgiven our sins if we are truly sorry and intend to lead a new life. Our sins are forgiven by the merciful compassion of Christ who says in effect to each of us, “Go thy way. Thy sins are forgiven thee.”
(VI) Following the Absolution, the priest then reads us some words of Our Lord, St. Paul and St. John. They are known as the “COMFORTABLE WORDS,” but the word “comfort” in this sense has the meaning of strengthening us for our Christian vocation. Christian witness in the world requires courage and zeal. Christians not only find “comfort” in our popular meaning of this word, in the Gospel, but are to be strengthened for Chris tian warfare.
(VII) Now follows the oldest part of the Eucharist, the opening words of the SURSUM CORDA, i.e. Lift up your hearts. This is really the beginning of the Prayer of Thanksgiving, or Consecration. These words go back to the ancient blessing at the Chaburah meal used on the night in which our Lord was betrayed. The priest turns to the people and begins the prayer by saying:
V. The Lord be with you
R. And with thy Spirit
V. Lift up your hearts. (That is—rise up above self-centeredness to God-centeredness!)
R. We lift them up unto the Lord.
V. Let us give thanks unto our Lord God. (In the Latin the words are “facere eucharisticum,” that is, let us make eucharist, give thanksgiving.)
R. It is meet and right so to do.
V. It is very meet, right and our bounden duty etc.
(Note: offering the Eucharist is our “bounden duty” as Christians. And we are reminded of the words of our Catechism which tells us that our bounden duty is to worship God EVERY Sunday in His Church. We are to worship God in the way our Lord told us to worship Him ... by doing this in remembrance of Him!)
(VIII) The Sursum Corda ends with our joining with Angels and Archangels and with all the Company of heaven in saying, Holy, Holy, Holy. (This part of the Eucharist is known as the SANCTUS). Here and now we experience fellowship with all of the faithful, with the Apostles, the Prophets, the Martyrs, Bishops and Confessors, Virgins and Widows and all of the faithful departed in worshipping God. This is the reason for our creation. When everything else passes away, this, the worship of God, will be the one thing we are always to do. This is our act of complete self-giving in love to God which we make week after week in the Eucharist and will continue to make in heaven. Here in the Eucharist we are thrust into the eternal presence of God, united with all men of all ages in fulfilling our purpose of loving and worshipping God.
GOD GIVES TO US
(IX) After the Sanctus, the Prayer of Thanksgiving (or CONSECRATION) continues. Remembering before God the Father the Passion, Death, Resurrection and Glorious Ascension of His only-begotten Son for our sins and the sins of the whole world, we unite ourselves in soul and body with Christ and offer ourselves in turn to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice to God. God now takes our little offering of bread and wine, the substance of our lives which we have presented, and unites them to Himself. By the action and power of God the Holy Ghost, they become the Body and Blood of Christ. Our little offerings, cleansed, purified, made holy (i.e. whole) become the channels of the life of God. The Sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented to the Father on behalf of all men. And we are reminded, in a way, of the Feast of Christmas when the “Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,”—and the Feast of Epiphany when God manifested Himself through the humanity of Christ. Here, at the second great Action of the Eucharist, God manifests Himself, clothing Himself now in the Bread and Wine so that they become the Channels of His power: “Emmanuel—Christ with us.” Now the drama ceases to be merely a drama. We are face to face with Reality. Our Lord is truly present with us. This is My Body. This is My Blood.
(X) After the prayer of Consecration we say the LORD’S PRAYER. We are now at one with Christ because of our union with Him in His sacrifice. Because of our union with the Son of God we can call God OUR FATHER!
(XI) At this point in the Eucharist, the priest breaks the Consecrated Host. This is the Third great Action of the Eucharist,—the FRACTION. There are several implications which we can learn from this action. Originally, as the Eucharist was offered by the bishop in the early Church, the Host was broken and a particle carried to the local parishes and put into their chalices as a symbol of their unity with each other within the Church. But, added to this meaning, there is another deeper significance. The Fraction is the symbolic expression of the death of our Lord. As the particle of the Host is placed in the chalice at the Altar, the priest may say “The peace of the Lord be alway with you”—the words of joyous Easter greeting with which our Lord greeted His disciples. This is our joy now—that Christ is risen and is truly present with us in His glorified Humanity under the veils of bread and wine.
(XII-XIII) After singing an ancient hymn, the AGNUS DEI, (O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world. Have mercy upon us) and once again declaring their unworthiness to come to God’s altar in the prayer which the priest says, known as the PRAYER OF HUMBLE ACCESS, the priest and the people make their Communion—the Fourth great Action of the Eucharist.
(XIV) Receiving Christ into our souls and bodies, we receive all of the fullness of the power of God. Christ now abides in us and we in Him. That Life which we were given in our Baptism when we were plunged, as it were, into the very Life of God, is now nourished and strengthened by feeding upon the Source of Life. We are made at-one with God. But we must also remember that this is not just “my” Communion! It is OUR COMMUNION. It is our corporate act of sharing a common life—the life of Christ—with each other. At the Altar of God there is no division, no separation, no segregation. All of us are children of a common Father, at-one with Christ and therefore at-one with each other. All national barriers, all racial barriers are dissolved. We share one Life and that the Life of Christ. We who profess this faith in every Communion must make it also a visible reality in society. Unless we do, our profession of the faith of Christ is a mockery.
In the ancient Eucharist the vessels were immediately cleansed after the people’s Communion; then the faithful were dismissed. That seems rather abrupt to us, since we have become used to the prayers of thanksgiving and blessing following communion. But this practice did have a teaching point. Once the people had received God into their souls they were to take Him in their lives out into the world. There was no time to waste. There was only the compulsion of love to go out into an unredeemed society to take Christ to those who did not yet know him.
(XV-XVI) But in our present Eucharist the Church would have us first pause to THANK God for the blessing of receiving Christ. In the Prayer Book Liturgy this is followed now by the GLORIA IN EXCELSIS—as another hymn of praise to God. Originally this Hymn was sung immediately after the Kyries where it stressed the joy of Christians in receiving the Good news of the Son of God’s Incarnation.
(XVII) After the Gloria, the Priest turns to the people to give them GOD’S BLESSING. Now we are sent forth into the world to take Christ with us into all of our relationship, at home, in our work, in all of society. The Eucharist does not end here—it is only beginning again. We are sent forth to work for Christ in the world in the power of Christ. “As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you,” was not said only to the clergy. We leave the Altar to return to our world in order to prepare our offering again for another Eucharist. All life blends into an act of worship—in the world at our jobs, and at the Altar. For us as Christians there is no such thing as a separation between what is religious and what is secular. All that we do is to be an offering of love to God. Our work in the world and our worship at the Altar are one thing—the means by which we give ourselves to God. Having received Christ into our souls, we are to take Him out to others. He is to work with our hands, to love with our hearts, and to speak with our lips. We are to show Christ to His world. This is what each parish is to be—a center of worship at the Altar of God to which we come bringing our offering of ourselves and from which we are sent back into the world to prepare another offering as we seek to be fellow-workers with Christ in the building up of His Kingdom.
We come to God’s Altar to receive Him. Now we go out from the Altar with God to glorify Him by our God-centered lives. We are sent each to be “another Christ” in the world. Nothing else will do.