Have you ever wondered what’s going on during a liturgical service of Holy Eucharist (also called Holy Communion or the Lord’s Supper)?
So many moving parts! And what’s the deal with shaking hands in the middle?
Our Holy Eucharist Service was composed by our early church fathers to be used as a pathway for all Christians to enter into the presence of God and to faithfully receive the precious gift of Christ’s Body and Blood through the bread and wine, the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
Thankfully, a relatively simple 5-step format unifies the many moving parts.
The five-step path of the Service
1. Come from the world into worship with fellow Christians,
2. Participate in community prayers,
3. Hear and read scripture,
4. Receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist
5. Return to the world again with a prayer and blessing.
This format of the Eucharist finds a biblical precedent in Jesus’s explanation of the Scriptures before making himself known to two disciples in the breaking of the bread at Emmaus (Luke 24:25-34).
Also, it follows the early Church’s example of devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
We hope this explanation will help you understand the structure and meaning of our liturgical service. In the early centuries of the church’s existence, the word liturgy came to mean: “the stuff God’s people all do when they gather to worship.” It refers to the words and actions, the rites and symbols that make up the worship of the whole people of God. If you worship on Sunday, and you aren’t just attending a show, what you are doing is the “liturgy.”
Our Eucharist Service was composed by early church fathers to be used as a pathway for all Christians to enter into the presence of God and to faithfully receive the precious gift of Christ’s Body and Blood through the bread and wine, the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist.
Holy Eucharist, or Communion, is the sacrament instituted at the last supper by Christ for the remembrance of the sacrifice of his atoning death, and is our central act of worship. The Service of Holy Eucharist has two parts:
the Liturgy of the Word of God and the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist.
I. LITURGY OF THE WORD OF GOD
Worship and Opening Music
Before the service begins everyone is invited to sing songs that are meant to assist us in preparing to worship Our Lord during the service.
The opening song begins the Service and all stand to sing. We are reminded that we are entering into God’s presence and that we are only approaching Him by virtue of the sufficient sacrifice of Christ.
Collect for Purity
This short opening prayer, called a Collect, helps gather our thoughts to ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse our hearts to enable proper worship.
On most Sundays, the Gloria is prayed. Part of the Church’s liturgy since 128 A.D., it is the hymn of praise the angels sang at Christ’s birth and that John heard in Heaven. It is a prayer expressing our great joy of God becoming man and revealing himself to us.
Next, another Collect is read to prepare us to hear the Scripture Lessons appointed for the day.
The Lessons and Psalm
Here, two lessons from the Bible are read by a church member, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. Between the Lessons, everyone reads the appointed Psalm aloud.
The Holy Gospel
Everyone stands to hear the Gospel. It is out of respect and reverence for the very word of Christ, the word himself, who speaks directly to us in his own words. The Gospel is center point of the Liturgy of the Word. It is the main course of nourishment for our ears, minds and hearts.
Sermon and Creed
After reading the Gospel, the priest delivers a sermon, usually expounding on how the Gospel lesson relates to our life situation. After the sermon we stand and recite the Nicene Creed, which is a summary of the Christian faith and expresses the central truths that all members of the Church believe.
Prayers of the People
During these prayers we pray as a community for the Church, elected officials, people in special need and for the departed.
Before the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, we heed St. Paul’s advice in 1 Cor 11:27-32, to examine ourselves before taking Communion. In the prayer of confession, we ask God’s forgiveness for the things we have done and left undone. We know that we are forgiven when we sincerely repent and come to him with true faith. The priest then prays, declaring God’s forgiveness and mercy for all those who have made a sincere confession of their sins.
Here we follow Christ’s teaching to reconcile with one another before coming to communion (Mat.5:23-24). We greet each other and exchange a blessing saying, “The Peace of the Lord be with you”.
II. THE LITURGY OF THE HOLY EUCHARIST
We acknowledge that all things come from God and we offer bread and wine in thanksgiving. The bread and wine symbolize the fruits of the earth offered by man and our spiritual offering of our lives to Christ.
We sing while a chalice for the wine and a plate for the bread are placed on the alter by the priest in preparation for the Eucharist.
Then wine is poured into the chalice and a little water is added. When the wine and water are mingled, they cannot be separated as Christ’s two natures, divine and human, are united in one person.
Next, a little water is poured over the priest’s fingers. This reminds us that we should all come to God’s altar with clean hands and pure hearts. The priest quietly recites Psalm 26:6-12.
The service continues with a dialogue between the priest and us, with the bid to “Lift up your hearts”. The dialogue is followed by the ancient hymn of the angels: “Holy, Holy, Holy,” followed by “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord”. We are drawn into God’s presence as we recall how wonderful God has been to us, reminding us that our Lord does come to us in the Holy Eucharist as he is made known to us in “the breaking of the bread.”
The Prayer of Consecration.
This prayer brings us to the spiritual center of the Service and the heart of the sacrament. We recall to mind all the wonderful saving acts God has done for us. We recall his passion, death and resurrection. We recall the central event in our history, Jesus Christ, and in particular the memorial he left us on the night before he died. We petition God to be spiritually present to us through the bread and wine and to fill us with the Holy Spirit: We pray that we may become one body, one spirit in Christ by faith in him.
This is followed by the Lord’s Prayer said aloud.
The Breaking of The Bread
The priest breaks a piece of bread, or wafer. We are reminded of the Last Supper when Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to the apostles. Later on the road to Emmaus apostles told of how Christ “was made known to them in the breaking of bread.” The priest then says “Alleluia, Christ our Passover Lamb is sacrificed for us.” to which we respond: “Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia.” We are then reminded of the sacrifice of Christ’s death which freed us from the bonds of sin.
The Eucharist of the People
We believe in the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, that is, Christ is truly spiritually present with us as we partake of the bread and wine. They do not change, they continue to be bread and wine, however we believe that Christ is present to us in the Communion in a heavenly and spiritual manner by faith.
All baptized Christians regardless of age are welcome to share with us in this sacred meal. Our custom is to come towards the altar and receive bread in our hand, placing it in our mouth, and sip wine from a common chalice. If you wish to receive the bread, please extend your hands. If you wish to receive the wine, please assist the chalice bearer by guiding the chalice to your lips.
If you are not baptized, or do not wish to receive Eucharist, but wish to receive a blessing from the priest, please come forward and cross your arms over your chest.
Final Prayer and Dismissal
We say a prayer of thanks as we go out in to the world to do the work that God has called us to do. We are sent on our way with God’s blessing today and always. Thanks be to God.