Experiencing the Holy Communion Service at the Cathedral
If you worship in the morning Service at the 8 and 11.15 am Services, you will be experiencing the Holy Communion Service every Sunday. This article can help you to appreciate better the shape of the Service.
The structure of worship most often used is these Services follows Scripture and Church tradition. From Acts 2:42, we can see the elements of teaching (Word), breaking of bread (Table) in the context of prayer and fellowship. Most churches today follow the four-fold pattern of Gathering, Word, Communion (Thanksgiving) and Dismissal. The Holy Communion (HC) Service in our Anglican Prayer Book captures this four-fold pattern.
The Holy Communion Service has a Gospel shape. The preaching of Christ was followed by his passion. What was taught was enacted. Without his teaching, his death on the cross will be mute. Without the cross, his teaching is not vindicated. The Service retains this pattern of the liturgy of the Word (reading and preaching), and then, the Communion. We first hear the word of Christ before we celebrate with Him in the communion. When we say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…”, at that point, we are referring to the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem to celebrate His Passover: when the time of preaching is over, and the time of passion begins.
The Table below gives a helpful overview:
|Preaching of Christ
|2. Liturgy of the Word
|The Lord is here!
|This is the Gospel of Christ
|Passion of Christ
|3. Liturgy of the Sacrament
|For He is your Living Word...
|Go in peace to serve...
1. The Gathering
The processional uses a "gathering hymn or song" which sets the mood of the season and the theme of Service. The significance of the procession of clergy, lay readers and choir is that of the ministers move amongst the congregation and gathering them for worship towards the sanctuary. It symbolises that the ministers, like the laity, are also from the congregation.
The President opens with the words of greeting, “The Lord be with you… ” This ancient greeting has been the opening greeting at the Eucharist from at least the 4th century. In the 1549 Book of Common Prayer (BCP) it was located before the collect. It was omitted in the 1552 BCP and all subsequent revisions until the 20th century.
It focuses the attention of the gathering on the worship of God
The Collect of Purity contains some sentiments from Psalm 51, to be said corporately.
The Prayer of Penitence involves confession, acknowledgment, forgiveness, humility and is done corporately. Note in BCP: “Although we ought at all times humbly to acknowledge our sins before God; yet ought we chiefly so to do, when we assemble and meet together.” While there is a focus on one's individual sins, the confession is also communal. In our Diocese of Singapore Service Book (DSB), this prayer is said at the start of the Service. In our Provincial Service Book (PSB), this prayer is said after and in response to the preaching of the Word. This Prayer has 4 parts : Invitation, Time of silence, Confession and Absolution by the Celebrant). The Celebrant proclaims the certainty of God's forgiveness for all who "truly repents." During Advent & Lent, the Ten Commandments can be used in place of the Summary of the Law.
The Gloria in Excelsis is used except for Advent and Lent. It can be sung. Other praise songs are sometimes be used in place of Gloria.
This “gathering” section ends with the Collect. It is a prayer by the leader to “collect’ the prayers of the congregation after a period of silence or bidding prayers. In Cathedral, this collect is often said corporately. Collects are appointed for all Sundays, Saints days and days of special celebration. It is a short prayer consisting of 5 components:
- Addressed usually to the Father: Almighty God
- Reference to an attribute of the Father: to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden:
- Petition: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit
- Purpose (motive) in asking: that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name;
- Conclusion: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
2. The Liturgy of the Word
The word “anamnesis” (to remember) is more than just a psychological re-collecting the past. It is the “re-presenting” (not a “re-doing”) of a past event in the present and made “alive” to us by the Holy Spirit. We recognize ourselves in the narrative and become aware of its benefits and grace. This means that we become the characters in the narratives of God’s story because it becomes our story as well. In this way God is present amongst us in his Word; we encounter him as he engages us.
The Cathedral uses two readings. The lay is often invited to read the Old Testament or Epistle reading.
The Gradual Hymn is sung after the reading. During that, in the Gospel Procession, the Bible is moved nearer to the congregation, symbolising the presence and Word of Christ in the midst of the people. The sermon is then preached.
After the sermon, as a response, The Nicene Creed is read as an affirmation of our faith. You can read Edmond Chua's reflection on the importance of ancient creeds. As it is a doctrinal statement rather than doxology and a duplication of the Eucharist preface, sometimes an alternate with the use of the Apostles’ Creed or other authorised affirmations of faith can be an informed option. A response hymn/song can also be used instead or just silence.
The Intercession is normally led by a lay person and generally follows this sequence: Church, World, Local Community, Sufferers, Communion of Saints. It can be prayed by the leader or with brief biddings. As those attending the Service include many non-Singaporeans, interceding for those affected by some troubles elsewhere or praying for the slavation of other naitonalities can be significant and signify our alingment wiht God's concern for the whole world.
The Welcome and Notices is a important communal experience after the intercession to be followed by the Peace which signifies the opening of ther third movement of the Service, the Communion.
3. The Liturgy of the Sacrament (Communion)
The Peace marks the transition from Word to sacrament. In relation to the Word, after sermon, making peace with God, and then with men. Before the Sacrament, it provides an opportunity of being reconciled with one another before bringing our gifts to the altar-table (Matthew 5; 23,24). The peace is often ‘passed" through a smile, handshake or hug.
Next comes the Offertory Hymn which serves 3 purposes. It transits the congregation from Word to sacrament for which is also prepares them. There is a gathering of gifts (bread, wine, money) to be presented at the table. And the Table is being prepared and allows for preparatory reflection.
The server also prepares the gifts of the bread and wine, which is originally placed on the credence table before presenting it to the celebrant to be placed on the Table, representing the action of the people presenting their gifts.
The Offertory Sentence is then said corporately. It can be used for both the offertory of our money or our lives with all the gifts we have. Thus, it can be said even if the offertory is not collected. The Offertory Sentence contains the beautiful prayer of King David from 1 Chronicles 29:14, " For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you."
The Celebrant will then lead in the Eucharistic prayers. They are rich in meaning and tradition and this article will not have the space to list out all of them.
The Eucharistic Prayer involves four actions of Jesus (Luke 24:30)
- He took the bread and wine
- He gave thanks over them (prayer of consecration)
- He broke the bread
- He gave the bread and wine to his friends
It begins with the Dialogue:
The Lord is here…His Spirit is with us | Lift up your hearts…We lift them to the Lord | Let us give thanks to the Lord our God…It is right to give him thanks and praise
Three versicles and responses date back to Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (215AD). It focuses our attention on God who is the subject and object of our worship of thanks and praise
The Preface gives dutiful and joyful thanks to God, through Jesus Christ, for:
- The creation of the world and our formation “in the image and likeness of God”
- Our redemption through the Incarnation, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus
- The sending of the Holy and “life-giving” Spirit through whom we are made a people for God’s own possession
The Proper Preface gives special thanks for God’s divine actions recalled during the various seasons of the Church calendar and from the lives and examples of the various Heroes of the Faith.
The Sanctus is taken from Isaiah 6:3b. The prayers of the Church on earth (Church Expectant) is joined with the prayers the Church in heaven (Church Triumphant). Historically, it dates back to 4th Century Rites in Antioch, Jerusalem, Egypt and Rome in the 6th Century
Benedictus qui venit: (Matt 21:9) (Ps 118:26)
In most Rites from this period, the Benedictus (Hosanna to the Son of David...) followed the Sanctus. As we gather around our Lord’s Table, his presence is with us and we welcome him just as the crowds welcomed him on the first Palm Sunday.
The Epiclesis is the Invocation of the Holy Spirit. God the Father is asked to grant that, by the power of his Holy Spirit, the gifts of bread and wine may be to us the body and blood of Christ
The Institution Narrative is an account of the Last Supper, including the words by which Jesus instituted this rite, commanding that it be done by the Church in memory of him. It serves two purposes:
- It provides the authority for what we are doing – being obedient, as a Church, to his command
- It brings to our attention and remembrance Christ’s redeeming work for which we make Eucharist (unite in thanksgiving)
The institution narrative is followed by the acclamation of our faith:
Christ has died – our salvation
Christ is risen – our new life in him
Christ will come again – our future hope
The Anamnesis (Remembrance): The word “anamnesis” is a unique word in that it means more than just a simple remembrance. As we remember the “once for all”, perfect offering of Jesus on the Cross the Holy Spirit makes this past event real for us now so that, as we remember it, our deliverance is not just a past event but a present reality. In our Anglican tradiiton, Jesus is NOT re-sacrificed in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is not the offering of his sacrifice but a “making real for us now” what he did for us on the cross.
The etymology of oblation is "offering, sacrifice," from Latin oblationem. As we celebrate with bread and wine the “once for all” perfect sacrifice of Christ and look forward to his coming in glory we respond by asking God to “accept our sacrifice of thanks and praise”
As the holy gifts are consumed in the presence of God’s divine majesty a prayer is made for him to:
- renew us by his Spirit
- inspire us with his love
- unite us as Church
Next is the doxology, a hymn of worship praise (doxology) directed to the Father, through the Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit. This hymn of praise unites us with the whole Church on earth and in heaven. It reiterates the theme of the Sanctus
The final “Amen” identifies the congregation with the presider and in this all are united as the assembly in giving thanks to God for his saving acts in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Only confirmed members of the Cathedral and visitors who are communicants in their own churches can receive the communion. You can still come to the rails and ask for prayers by clasping your hands. The Cathedral practises intinction (see photo on the right): where the bread is dipped into the wine before it is consumed. For hygiene purpose, you should only let the bread touch the wine, not the tips of your fingers. If you like to sip from the Cup, you can make a special request to the one serving. Either way, you can always ask for prayers at the rails. Wheelchair-bound or disabled communicants can ask for the elements to be brought to them.
4. The Dismissal
The Service closes with the Benediction and Blessing. Traditionally (& logically), the closing hymn comes before blessing & dismissal. In the Cathedral, the benediction is given and then the Recessional Hymn is announced and sung. The Celebrant will give another benediction to the choir after the prrocession before everyone is dismissed.
Declaring "going in peace to love and serve the Lord" is a reminder that we have a ministry and service in the world. We came to worship that we may be equipped for that purpose.
Grasping and understanding the shape and focus of the Holy Communion Service ensures that we will be able to worship in a meaningful way and "with understanding." In understanding, we will better appreciate it when other options are used. If changes are to be made, they are mostly done with thought and sensitivity to both the theological structure and flow of the Service. One should always bear in mind the 3-fold purpose of “common” worship – doctrinal, ecclesiological and spiritual – as changes are considered. Some parishes view worship as a continuum between services that are characterised by age or type of participants. Issues on the need for flexibility, ‘fresh expressions’ and spiritual life and growth of the church are always foremost in the minds of our clergy and Service Pastors.
Michael Perham’s New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy
Robert Webber’s Planning Blended Worship
Church of England’s Mission-Shaped Church, 2004. The pdf can be downloaded for free.