Lord Jesus Christ, we thank thee that in this wonderful Sacrament
thou hast given us a memorial of thy Passion:
grant us so to reverence the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood
that we may know within ourselves
and show forth in our lives the fruits of thy redemption;
who livest and reignest with the Father
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
What is Holy Communion?
Holy Communion (also known as the Eucharist, and the Mass) is the Service of sharing the Sacrament of Christ’s Most Precious Body and Blood, given to mankind at the Last Supper in the form of Bread and Wine.
It is therefore the Church’s principal celebration and a time of great rejoicing. In token of our reverence, there is necessarily a time for Self-Reflection, Confession and Penitence (followed by Absolution from past sins) built into the service, as a preparation for drawing near to the Altar and receiving Christ.
The parts of the Service
The Service divides into two parts:
- the Liturgy of the Word (centred around the Lectern/Pulpit), where we listen to the Scriptures and receive instruction on the Word;
- and the Liturgy of the Eucharist (centred around the Altar), where we present our offerings to Christ, and then after our prayers, receiving the invitation to come to receive Him, we present ourselves, kneeling humbly at the foot of the Altar.
These two parts of the Service divide at the offering of the Peace, a necessary first-step offering of forgiveness and love among the congregation, for as St. John says:
“He who loves God should love his brother also”. (1 John 4:21)
Isn’t it always the same?
The service order is partly fixed Sunday by Sunday with its prayers (e.g. The Lord’s Prayer) and songs (the Kyrie, Gloria, Alleluia, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei), but also has elements which change with the seasons of the Church’s Year, to better celebrate a feast day or remember a season of penitence. So, for instance, the Gloria and Alleluia are omitted during Advent and Lent, to be sung afresh at Christmas and Easter. Think of the fixed elements as the best prayers of the Church through the ages – reflect on them each Sunday, and let them unfold new meaning in your life.
The changing elements find their counterpart not only in the Scripture readings (see below), but in the hymns of the Church. Hymnody began as a reflection on the Scriptures as part of the Offices of Daily Prayer, and worked its way into the Communion service in place of the wide range of chants which accompanied processions: the Introit, Gradual (before Gospel reading), Offertory, and Communion; and added to these the Recessional. In some churches, both the chants (sung by a cantor/choir) and hymnody (sung by the congregation) are pleasantly combined in the one service. Hymns are carefully chosen to reflect the Scripture readings that day, as well as the Season and part of the service.
Liturgy of the Word
♫ Opening Hymn
* General Confession
♫ Gloria in Excelsis (unless in Advent or Lent)
* Collect for the Day
* Readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, and the New Testament
♫ Gradual Hymn
* Gospel Reading, acclaimed with sung Alleluias (unless in Advent or Lent)
* Nicene Creed
* Prayers of Intercession
* The Peace
Liturgy of the Eucharist
♫ Offertory Hymn (with collection, and offering of bread and wine at the altar)
* Eucharistic Prayer, during which are sung the ‘Sanctus’, ‘Benedictus’, and the ‘Eucharistic Acclamation’
* The Lord’s Prayer
* Breaking of the Bread
♫ Agnus Dei
* Giving of Communion
* Prayer after Communion
* Blessing and Dismissal
♫ Concluding Hymn
The readings on a Sunday are chosen on a 3-year cycle (our Common Worship Lectionary is adapted from the Revised Common Lectionary, a reading scheme followed by Churches of a number of different denominations). The Gospels divide neatly: Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C; with John’s Gospel read as part of the special seasons of the church year. The Gospel reading is matched with a suitable reading from the Old Testament, which echoes the Gospel themes; the appointed Psalm complements the Old Testament reading; the New Testament readings work steadily through the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, again on a 3-year cycle. Thus in 3 years of Sundays, a large selection of the Scriptures may be read and taught as part of our collective worship.
Hymns are sung by Christians as the Psalms before them were also sung. In fact, many hymns are based on the psalms, and many of the psalms in turn reflect upon the laws and history of the Jewish people, as well as all sorts of joys and difficulties of daily life, and seeking God in them.
Hymnody is the people’s response to the Scriptures, and many of the hymns we sing today are the gift of the Victorian hymn-writers, bringing the people together in song. Proof of this may be seen in those two well-known, very English, services – Harvest Festival, and Nine Lessons and Carols – which seem as old as the hills, but in fact date from Victorian times, and in which singing hymns plays such an important and enjoyable part.
Hymns change throughout the year, and with different seasons. Most hymns have at least three or four verses, so if you do not know the tune for the first verse, you will certainly know it by the last verse. You might even find yourself humming it to yourself during the week!
I still feel unsure
Don’t worry, it soon becomes familiar. All the words you will need are clearly printed, even of the hymns. Come, recognising that it is (for the moment) new to you, but wanting to learn more. Very soon you will find that you know most of the responses and prayers, but are still finding new meaning in them, and this will be a moment of great joy. Take as your encouragement the words from the final verse of the hymn “Amazing Grace”:
When we’ve been there a thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
than when we’ve first begun.