Before there was a New Testament or creeds as we know them, Christians gathered together for worship very similar to today’s form that we know as Holy Eucharist. As we read in Acts, Christians gathered together for the ‘breaking of the bread and the prayers’. The drama of the Holy Eucharist has from the days of the early Church been the central event in Christian worship and provides a pattern for Christian living. It is designed to teach us, feed us, and inspire us.
But worship may not always be inspiring or meaningful. It may seem confusing, boring and repetitious. In our worship, there is much ritual and intentional pattern, but ritual without meaning becomes idol worship. If a pattern is not understood, it adds nothing. A narrated service helps make clearer and more obvious the drama which is taking place. With understanding we are better able to know and experience God’s presence in our worship.
The Eucharist is the only service Jesus himself instituted and commanded us to continue. Eucharist means “thanksgiving” — and we give thanks for God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ. The service is also called “Holy Communion” because it is a principle way of communing with and having fellowship with God. It is called the “Lord’s Supper” because its focus is the meal with Jesus Christ. It has origins in the meals the disciples had with Jesus, especially the Last Supper and Miracle Feeding of 5,000. Every Sunday is a “little Easter” because every Eucharist is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. We celebrate — because our worship should be joyful thanksgiving.
We call this our liturgy – which means “work of the people”. Everyone has a role in the service – you are people gathered for worship – a congregation, not an audience. We are a celebrant community – offering praise and thanksgiving. The priest cannot celebrate alone. Eucharist is always an event done in community, and at least two people must be present. But to take it further — God is the primary actor. When we are gathered — two or three or more in His name — God in the Holy Spirit is with us. God is working in us and through us.
The service is divided into two parts: the liturgy of the Word of God and liturgy of Sacrament. This balance reflects our understanding of how God communicates with us, both through Word and Action: in Scriptures, and in the Word made flesh; in the Word preached, and in the bread and wine.
Before the Processional, it is appropriate to spend the time in quiet preparation for worship. Many people say a prayer immediately upon entering their pew. Read the lessons or the words to the opening hymn. Or simply quiet the rush and noise from the world outside and make the transition to the “real world.” Silence is an integral part of worship. God spoke to Elijah in the still small voice — it takes silence to hear God sometimes. Silence is used throughout the service so people can reflect on what they’ve heard, offer silent prayers, and prepare for encountering the living God. Preparing for worship in silence, we can be ready to worship when the organ hits the first note of the processional.
At the entrance of the Ministers, with or without a processional hymn, it is customary for the people to stand. It is also customary to bow in respect to the Cross as it passes in procession. Music has the function of covering movement. But it has a much deeper meaning. Singing together is a means of involving and unifying the congregation.
Following the Processional:
The service begins with an acclamation. It states briefly what we are assembled to do. First, we are here to “bless God” – second, we are here to “bless his kingdom”. — Many people find it meaningful to make the sign of the cross at this point to affirm these blessings and accept the blessing personally.
The Collect for Purity follows the acclamation. In it we are reminded that God knows us through and through. We ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse and inspire us and make us worthy for entering into worship. This is preparation for entering the presence of God.
The “Gloria in Excelsis” (or Glory to God) is an ancient morning hymn which states the two-fold objective of the Christian liturgy – to glorify God and to communicate his peace to his people.
The celebrant then formally greets the assembled congregation with an ancient Jewish type of salutation, “The Lord be with you”. The congregation responds: “And also with you.” We say it so routinely – all the time. Yet, it is powerful language. “The Lord be with you.” — and we have called God into our presence. It is audacious — and yet, we know it is true because Jesus promised us he would be with us, when we meet in his name. So when you use that to gather attention – remember what you are doing — calling God into your presence.
Next is the Collect of the Day. This is a short prayer which collects the overall theme found in the readings of Holy Scripture for the day and focuses our attention.