Introducing the Liturgy 1
The Name of the Service
The first Book of Common Prayer (1549) called the service The Supper of the Lord and the Holy Communion commonly called the Mass. Common Worship (2010) calls it The Celebration of Holy Communion also called The Eucharist and The Lord’s Supper.
The Eucharist is probably the usual name today, although Liturgy is increasingly popular particularly in academic discussion. Eucharist means thanksgiving. Liturgy means public duty or service.
President and People – a shared ministry
The Liturgy is the work of the whole people of God gathered for worship.
The ministry of the members of the congregation is expressed through their active participation together in the words and actions of the service, but also by some of them reading the Scripture passages, leading the prayers of intercession, and, if authorized, assisting with the distribution of communion.
The unity of the liturgy is served by the ministry of the president, who in presiding over the whole service holds word and sacrament together and draws the congregation into a worshipping community.
Common Worship General Notes p 384/158
The Nature of the Assembly
When we come together to celebrate the Liturgy we are doing something which resembles, but is in reality very different from any other human activity. The Liturgy is not a meeting, or a performance like a concert or play; it is a sacred rite in which human and divine come together. It exists, as it were, in a different dimension: sacred time and sacred space. At every Eucharist we return to the Upper Room where Jesus broke bread and shared the cup with his disciples. At every Eucharist we anticipate the worship of heaven, the celestial banquet to which all the faithful are called.
The special character of the Eucharistic assembly is expressed in the layout of the church, in the positions and gestures of the participants, in the dress of the ministers, and in the words and structure of the Liturgy itself.
We should prepare carefully to participate in the Liturgy. Common Worship provides a Form of Preparation for public or personal use (p 387).
It is customary to observe silence in Church before the Liturgy begin.
The Liturgy opens with a procession of the ministers and choir – and sometimes the whole congregation (as a sign of their active role in the celebration – the ‘priesthood of all believers’) - during which a hymn is sung.
The president kisses and then censes the altar marking it out as the focus of the action of the Liturgy. The use of incense - perhaps more than anything else - distinguishes the Liturgy from secular gatherings. It appears to have been used in worship since New Testament times. Originally a sign of welcome and honour, incense later came to be associated with the prayers of the faithful rising to the heavenly throne.
The President invokes the Blessed Trinity with the words In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It is appropriate for all to make the sign of the cross with him as a symbol of their active participation in all that is to follow. Every time we sign ourselves we recall how we were first signed at our baptism.
The president greets the people with outstretched arms and the words The Lord be with you; to which all reply and also with you.
Although this is called The Greeting, it is also a prayer that the Holy Spirit will be with president and people as they share celebration of the Liturgy. The traditional language reply “and with thy Spirit” made this rather clearer.
At this point the President might say a few words of introduction for example on a feast day or other particular occasion.
The Prayers of Penitence
He then invites the assembly to continue their preparation by confessing their sins. This is not, of course, an individual confession – for which provision is made elsewhere – but a prayer that together we may be worthy to proceed with the sacred rite. In the words of absolution the President repeats the constant promise that forgiveness is indeed made available and we may continue. It is appropriate – but not compulsory - for all to make the sign of the cross with him during the absolution as a kind of non-verbal and also with you.
Gloria in Excelsis
The Gloria in Excelsis changes the mood to one of celebration. This is an ancient hymn that begins with the words sung by the angels when the birth of Christ was announced to shepherds (Luke 2.14). The Gloria was sung at Christmas in the second century and has been part of the Sunday Eucharist since at least the fourth century.
By tradition simple bows of the head are made at the words we worship you and receive our prayer and also at the name of Jesus. It is customary to bow at the name of Jesus throughout the liturgy - except during prayers when one’s head is of course already bowed.
The Gathering is completed with the Collect or opening prayer said by the President on behalf of all (Let us pray). The Collect is a short but highly structured prayer expressing the theme of the day and requesting a corresponding blessing.
The Collect has concluded the first part of the Liturgy since at least the eighth century. Most of the Collects used in Common Worship derive from those prepared by Thomas Cranmer for the first Prayer Book of 1549 – many themselves translations of much earlier Latin versions.
THE LITURGY OF THE WORD
The word ‘liturgy’ now makes the first of two appearances. The components of the Liturgy of the Word are: the readings from scripture, the sermon, the creed and the intercessions. The liturgical action now moves from the president’s chair to the ambo (from the Greek ‘to go up’) where Christ becomes ‘sacramentally’ present in his Word - as later he will be present in the bread and wine of the altar.
On Sundays there are three readings: from the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Gospel. Sometimes the OT reading is replaced by another from the NT to commemorate a particular event in Jesus or the early church.
A ‘gradual’ psalm or canticle may be sung or said between the first two readings. Following the lead of the New Testament authors themselves, the Church has traditionally read the psalms as speaking about Christ and being fulfilled in him. The word ‘gradual’ comes from the Latin word for ‘step’ (gradus), and probably simply refers to it being sung as the Deacon or reader was mounting the steps of the ambo. Theologically, though, it represents the Christian belief that the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New.
The Gospel reading is more than just a ‘reading’ because its words are those that God spoke when He became man and walked on this earth; because it is the story of our salvation; because it is the promise of everlasting life; because it is the testimony of God’s love for us. The Gospels embody and uniquely witness to ‘the Gospel’ - the good news of Jesus Christ.
At the Liturgy the Gospel is proclaimed rather than merely read. The distinctive Gospel Book has been carried in the entrance procession and placed on the altar. Its reading is (as Common Worship suggests)‘heralded’ with an ‘acclamation’ – usually ‘Alleluia’ combined with a seasonal verse – as it is carried to the ambo. The reader (the deacon or licensed Reader) asks for the President’s blessing (that ”the lord may be in your heart and on your lips to you may faithfully proclaim the Holy Gospel”). All stand and face the ambo. The reader repeats the prayer for the presence of the Holy Spirit before censing the book and making (together with the congregation) the threefold cross over the forehead, lips and chest (heart). At the conclusion the book is held up and kissed. At St Jude’s the acclamation is repeated, linking the proclamation of the Gospel with its application in the sermon that follows.
The sermon is recorded as being delivered at this point in the Liturgy in the second century.
According to Canon B18 “the sermon shall be preached by a minister, deaconess, reader or lay worker duly authorized in accordance with Canon Law”. The logic of this ancient rule is that the sermon is part of the proclamation of the Word and was originally directed only to ‘insiders’, many of whom might have been new converts who needed authoritative guidance on applying the teachings of scripture to their lives.
Sermons are sometimes called ‘homilies’, but what distinction there once was has largely disappeared. The Church of England issued two Books of Homilies during the reigns of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. These were authorized sermons setting out the doctrine of the reformed church (for the instruction of the clergy as well as laity).
The title ‘Address’ is sometimes used nowadays.
On Sundays and holy days the Nicene Creed follows. On occasions – such as when there is a baptism - it might be replaced by a responsorial affirmation of faith.
Actually, the use of the creed was originally associated primarily with baptismal liturgies and did not become part of the mass in the west until the eleventh century. In the east it was recited from the early sixth century in response to certain heretical teachings. The words of the Nicene Creed originate with the Council of Nicea in 325, but were actually formally approved by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.
The Creed is not, it should be observed, a full statement of Christian doctrine, but may be seen as an expression of the active assent of the whole gathered community to the proclamation (and explication) of the Word.
The Prayers of Intercessions
The idea behind the Intercessions is that the local Christian community has ‘gathered’ or ‘assembled’ to celebrate the Liturgy on Sunday morning or on a principal feast of the Church. They do so as part of the universal ‘catholic’ church, and of a wider a national community, and they remember those who are unable to be present. This is expressed in the basic structure of the Intercessions, which should always include prayer for the Church (focused in prayer for the bishop by name); the nation (focused in prayer for the sovereign by name); the local community; those in need (and absent); and the departed. The intercessions are to be specific petitions expressing genuine and immediate needs rather than general prayers or exhortations.
Canon B12 “ . . . the Prayer of Intercession may at the invitation of the minister be read by a lay person at the celebration of the Holy Communion.” Again, the logic here is that the president is to ensure that the intercessions express the prayer of the whole community.
Common Worship does not specify a bodily position for the prayers. In the early church standing seems to have been the customary position for public prayer, though kneeling was common for penitential prayers by the sixth century. Kneeling became more usual as the doctrine of the real presence in the Eucharist developed in the Middle Ages. Sitting for prayer originated as a concession to the weak and infirm. At St Jude’s the President and those in the sanctuary stand for prayer.