The Eucharistic Liturgy 1

The Eucharistic Liturgy – Part 1

The Gathering

Our Lay Assistants or Eucharistic Assistants as they are more properly called, are invited from time to time to join with the Eucharistic Assistants from other parishes in the Archdeaconry for a meeting with the Bishop and/ or the Archdeacon. For a long time now one of our lay assistants has been wanting me share with you some of the information that they have gained and found to be useful at those meetings. Today he gets his wish.

 

We are here in church today because we have accepted a special invitation.

Jesus on the night before he died invited his followers to join him in a Passover meal, a meal that we now call ‘The Last Supper’.  It was at that supper that Jesus instituted the service of Holy Communion. He told his disciples, and through them he tells us, that we should do as he had done in remembrance of him. He commanded that this be done in order that we might be spiritually fed, strengthened and supported in our faith.

 

At the last supper Jesus was preparing his followers for the time when he would no longer be physically with them. At the end of Matthew’s gospel as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, he said to his disciples ‘Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’. One of the ways in which Jesus remains present to us is in the elements of the sacrament that we receive during the Eucharist, the Mass or the Holy Communion service – what we choose to call it doesn’t matter. We have gathered together in church today at the Lord’s invitation to meet with him in this special way. No longer with us physically, he is with us in Spirit and he is present in the sacrament that we are to share.

 

If you look in your blue service folders you will see from the headings printed in purple capitals on the right hand side of the page, that the service we follow each Sunday is divided into four distinct parts:

              1) The Gathering,                                                         2) the Liturgy or Ministry of the Word,

              3) The liturgy or the Ministry of the Sacrament and     4) the Sending Out or Dismissal.

 

Each part of the service is necessary and each has its own importance. This morning I am going to start at the beginning and talk today about the first section of the service called ‘The Gathering’.

 

When you build a house you start with the foundations. If the foundations are not right, no matter how carefully and no matter how elaborately you build the rest of the house the structure will not be sound.

The section of the service called ‘The Gathering’ is the foundation on which the rest of the service stands.

If the Gathering is neglected what follows is weakened and our experience is impoverished.

 

The first thing to emphasise about the gathering is that although we are coming from our separate homes to gather together in this place, we are coming primarily not to meet each other, but to meet with the Lord. We are here at his invitation and it would be bad mannered for us to come and neglect our host. Of course it is right that we greet one another, but our focus should be on the Lord. In order that we don’t hinder or distract those who are seeking fellowship with the Lord, conversation with our neighbours should be enjoyed after the service.

 

The second thing to say about the Gathering is that it is a time not only for gathering together in the Lord’s presence, but also a time for gathering our thoughts.  The Gathering is a time for stillness and reflection; a time to call to mind who we are and who God is; it’s a time to reflect on the week just gone and for spiritually preparing for the challenges that  lie ahead.  

 

If we are to do anything other than pay lip service to these things we need to begin gathering ourselves together and reflecting in this way before the service starts. One of the most impressive things that I have seen on our thirteen winter holidays was the congregation in the church at Mihas Costa. Fifteen minutes before the service began they were silently sitting in the pews prayerfully preparing them-selves for the service.

 

The Bishop is the person appointed to vicariously represent Christ in his diocese. Since the bishop can only be in  one place at a time, other ministers are appointed to vicariously represents him in each parish church – hence the name Vicar. The Gathering - which each person present should already have begun privately - starts officially when the vicar greets those present in the name of the Lord.

 

If we are very thirsty, we crave for water; if we are not thirsty a glass of water is not attractive to us.

If we are famished we will be very eager to eat, but when our stomachs are full we don’t want food.

Our situation determines what we think is valuable and what we think unnecessary.

 

If we spend time before the service starts in sincere thought and reflect honestly on our situation we will have a deep awareness of our need of God. When we reflect on the days gone by since we last met in this place, we will if we are honest, be aware of our own weakness and unworthiness. If we contemplate God’s glory we might with the psalmist say ‘who am I that God should be mindful of me?’ If we have prepared ourselves properly we would not presume to come into his presence without first confessing our faults and seeking his forgiveness. 

 

In the section of the service known as the Gathering, we are greeted in the Lord’s name as those who have responded to his gracious invitation. We then say a prayer together in which we ask the Lord to cleanse us, and then we confess our sins in order than we might receive the Lord’s forgiveness..

 

If we have gathered ourselves together into the Lord’s presence prior to this we will receive the assurance of his forgiveness as a parched man receives a glass of water or as a person who has been starved of food receives a meal, and we will exult in the Lord as we sing the Gloria.

 

If we neglected to do what we were meant to do in the ‘Gathering’, we will not have as clear a grasp of our standing in relation to God, and having not recognised our need so fully, or felt its urgency so acutely, we will not feel so deeply our liberation when it is proclaimed. If we neglect the preparation, we will miss the lows and the highs, and the service may seem flat, repetitious and boring. If we have not prepared a proper foundation what follows later in the service may not be satisfying either.

 

To receive the Lord’s invitation to join him in this service that he has provided for us is a great privilege and if we respond to it with sincerity it opens up for us a great opportunity to receive great blessings. 


The Eucharistic Liturgy
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