Rev. Heather Blais
Again this week we are having an Instructed Eucharist, which simply means we will be pausing at a few different times in the service to talk about why we do what we do. Our tradition is rich with symbolism and meaning, and my hope is that this will enhance our worship experience. Let’s start with the beginning of the service.
Our service usually begins with a hymn, and when we are in the main sanctuary with a Processional. The processional gets the altar party to their designated places. The procession is formal, featuring a verger, crucifer, torchbearers, and the Gospel book held high. They process while the congregation sings a hymn. The processional stems from when Christianity was first legalized under Constantine in the fourth century. At that time, services became more formalized, which increased participation in the liturgy, and worship began to take place in larger buildings.
The Opening Acclamation is a greeting which marks the beginning of the liturgy, and serves as a reminder that the purpose of this gathering is to worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
You may have noticed, that in the season of Lent we begin our worship with a Penitential Order, moving the Confession and Absolution to the beginning of the service. In Lent we are preparing ourselves for the Passion, Jesus’ suffering and death, and so the opening acclamation fits the theme of beginning worship by acknowledging our need for God’s grace and forgiveness and by confessing our sins and hearing God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, pronounced by the priest.
When we are not in Lent, the opening acclamation is followed by the Collect for Purity – “Unto you all hearts are open and no secrets are hid…” It asks for God’s grace as part of our preparation for worship, and has been part of our liturgy since 1549.
We then move immediately into a hymn of praise to the Trinity. For most of the year we use the Gloria in Excelsis, which means, “Glory to God in the highest”, and begins with the song the angels sang to shepherds in Luke’s nativity story. Its use in worship dates from the fourth century. During Lent (and often in Advent as well,) we substitute another hymn such as the Kyrie, “Lord, have mercy”.
The central aspect in the first half of the service is the Liturgy of the Word, where we hear scripture lessons, listen to a reflection on God’s word, and respond with prayer.
Ordinarily there are four Lessons. They are assigned by the Revised Common Lectionary, which helps us get through most of the Bible in a three-year cycle, known as Years A, B, and C. Most mainline Churches use the lectionary. The first and third lesson are read by a reader from the congregation at a lectern. Lecterns are often in the shape of an eagle, to remind the congregation of John the Evangelist, who proclaimed Christ as ‘the Word of God’ at the beginning of his Gospel. The hope being the Word of God will reach the ends of the earth, when read from the eagle lectern.
The first lesson is usually from the Hebrew Scriptures, sometimes referred to as the Old Testament. These were the Scriptures that Jesus knew.
The second lesson is a Psalm from the Psalter, (which are really hymns intended to be sung, which is why we sometimes chant the psalm.) The Psalms are attributed to King David, but in reality they come from many different authors, during many different periods of Israel’s history.
The third lesson is from the New Testament, which consists of twenty-seven early Christian writings that the early Church agreed should be considered Holy Scripture. We typically hear a passage from one of the early church letters, many of which came from the Apostle Paul, Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, or The Revelation of John.
The fourth lesson is an excerpt from one of the four New Testament gospels and it is the climax of the liturgy of the word. The word gospel means “good news”, and the writings tell the good news of God’s saving act in Jesus Christ. By tradition, the Gospel is read from the center of the congregation, so the word of God will be proclaimed with the people, not at them. Worshippers customarily stand and face the Gospel book to signify our heightened attention to this most important reading. If you have ever been to Jewish worship, you may have observed how closely our Gospel procession resembles the Jewish tradition of bearing the Torah scroll into the midst of the congregation.
After the readings we hear the Sermon. The point of a sermon is to “break open” the Word of God. The preacher will give thoughtful prayer and consideration to the lessons, in particular the gospel, any theme that might be present, the liturgical occasion, the congregation gathered, and the pastoral needs of the situation. Sermons have been a part of worship since the early church.
Following the sermon is the Creed, which is a basic statement about our belief in God. We have used the Nicene Creed in its current form since the 4th century, when it was developed by early Church leaders to help articulate and ensure consistency within the Christian movement.
We then express our concerns to God in the Prayers of the People. There are many different versions approved by the Church for use. The prayers usually cover six categories: the church, the world, the nation, the community, the suffering, and the dead. General intercessions in worship are an ancient practice of the early church.
The Prayers are usually followed by the Confession and Absolution, moved, during Lent, to the opening of the service.
This part of the service concludes with the exchange of the Peace, an ancient Christian practice where we share a sign of reconciliation, love, and renewed relationships in the Christian community by greeting one another “with a Holy Kiss” as it says in scripture—or just a handshake and a smile. As Christians, we believe making peace with one another is necessary before receiving the Holy Eucharist.
The second half of the worship, known as the liturgy of the table, opens with the Offertory, in which we offer ourselves as well as our material gifts to God. After an invitation from the celebrant, representatives of the congregation carry forward the bread, wine, and water used in the Communion. We also offer our monetary gifts that will be used to glorify God through our mission and ministry, and, often, food that will be used to help those in need. During the offertory, the deacon or a priest prepare the table with the elements to be used in communion
The service then continues to the heart and center of liturgy, the Great Thanksgiving or Eucharistic Prayer. Our Prayer Book includes five different Eucharistic prayers, and many others are authorized for our use, some of which we use once a month at our 10AM service. While each of the prayers has a particular emphasis or style, they all share the same purpose to give thanks to God for the creation, redemption, and sanctification of the world.
Immediately following the Great Amen of the Eucharistic Prayer is the Lord’s Prayer and Fraction. The Lord’s Prayer is the prayer Jesus offered to the disciples, and we use it in every service. The Fraction is the moment when the bread is broken: it serves as both a reminder of when Jesus broke the bread at the Last Supper, and, metaphorically, of his sacrifice of his life for the redemption of the world.
Next is the Invitation, “The Gifts of God for the People of God.” Traditionally, and officially, this is the moment when all baptized members are invited to come forward and receive the bread and cup. Saints James and Andrew is part of a movement within the Episcopal Church that believes that radical hospitality matters more than whether one is a baptized member. The belief being that if all are welcomed at God’s table, and experience being spiritually fed by Christ, they will in turn want to commit their lives to Christ in baptism. Here at James and Andrew, all are welcome to partake in Holy Communion. When you consume the bread given at communion, you have received communion in full. Those who may not want to receive communion are invited to come forward for a blessing from the priest.
After the altar party finishes communion and the Table is cleared, we share in the Post Communion Prayer. This is a prayer of thanksgiving that dates back to the fourth century and seeks God’s help for a life in Christ. After experiencing the mystery of the sacrament, the community is transitioning to going forth to participate in mission and ministry to the world.
Next is the Blessing, said by a priest or bishop, pronouncing God’s love and favor upon the community. There are literally thousands of blessings!
The very last part of the service is the Dismissal. The Latin phrase that describes this portion of the service translates to, “Go, it is the sending.” At this point, the worship service has ended, but our service as ministers of Christ is just beginning. We are to go into the world in the name of Christ.
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