The Eucharistic Liturgy 3

The Eucharistic Liturgy – Part 3

The Liturgy of the Sacrament.

If you look at the pages of your blue service folder you will find that the service we are following is divided into four sections, each section is announced by a heading printed in purple capitals placed on the right hand side of the page. We have already looked at the first two sections of the service – the Gathering, and the Ministry or Liturgy of the Word. Today I’m going to say something about the third section of the service which is called ‘The Liturgy of the Sacrament’.


In the previous section the focus was on the lectern and the pulpit, in this section the focus switches to the altar. The altar is both a symbol of sacrifice and the table from which we are fed. There are four crucial actions that make up this part of the service. The actions are:-

  1. Taking,  2) Blessing,  3) Breaking  4) Sharing.


When this sacrament was first celebrated there weren’t shops like there are today, the bread and the wine was not bought but made by the people who brought them to church and offered them to the priest. When they did this they were in fact not just offering bread and wine, they were also offering up their time, the skill and the effort that they had spent  producing them.  Although we no longer bake the bread and ferment the wine ourselves the offertory procession with which this part of the service begins still has the same symbolic significance. The bread and wine may be shop bought, but they have been bought with money we have earned and when we present the bread and wine at the altar we are also offering up the time, skill and effort that were expended in earning the money that enabled the bread and the wine to be purchased.


Along with the bread, wine and water that’s brought up to the altar, the money raised by the collection is also brought forward and offered up to God. This in a similar way represents our commitment to supporting the work of the church.  


The priest TAKES these gifts on behalf of the community, and says a prayer over them similar to the prayer that is used at the Jewish Passover meal. Having received the gifts of the people the priest prepares the table by placing the bread on the Altar and pouring out the wine and adding a drop of water to it. The addition of water to the wine dates back to earliest times and is symbolic of Christ being both divine and human


The priest is himself a member of the community that has gathered to celebrate the sacrament but he or she has a particular role to play in that he/she vicariously represents Christ. It’s the role that priests are ordained to perform and they do it by the grace of God not through any merit of their own. Symbolic of this are the Eucharistic robes that the priest wears. I stand before you not as myself but as a representation of Christ. I therefore cover myself with a white alb that represents Christ’s purity. I though unworthy to perform my sacramental duties do so by the grace of Christ who covers my sinfulness with his perfection. The Chasuble, with its colour and decoration speaks of Christ’s glory.

The purity and glory represented by these garments belong to Christ and not to the priest, who takes them off once the service is over.


The final act of in this first part of this section of the service sees the priest preparing to handle holy things by washing his hands just Jewish leaders did before a ritual meal. This further symbolised the priests need for cleansing before he stands before God and people.


The Eucharistic prayer begins with the priest inviting all members of the congregation to join with him in acknowledging the Lord’s presence and by joining him in the Eucharistic action. The Blessing, the second of the four Eucharistic acts now begins as the priest blesses God in words appropriate to the season and all respond by singing or saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, God of Power and Might ... ‘


The priest now goes on to give thanks to God for Christ and asks the Father to Send the Holy Spirit upon the gifts of bread and wine that they might become for us the body and blood of Christ. (This part of the Eucharistic prayer is known as the epiclesis.)  


The next part of the Eucharistic prayer recalls the words of Jesus, when at the Last Supper he took the bread and wine and instituted the service that we are now following. Then comes the acclamation of faith as members of the congregation, who are not passive but active participants in the process, declare that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.


The part of the Eucharistic prayer that remembers the saving acts of Jesus is called the anamnesis. Remembrance had a stronger meaning in the ancient world than it does today. At the time when this prayer was first used remembering meant entering into the event being remembered and bringing its power into the present. Remembrance in the Eucharistic prayer focuses on the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of the Lord.


In this part of the prayer we are drawn ever more into the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and through him as our mediator we approach the Father in the power of the Spirit. We enter into a deep and holy mystery that is celebrated on earth and in heaven and unites those present with those who have died in the faith of Christ in the song of everlasting praise.


How mindful and how moved we are by this will depend on how much we appreciate what is happening, and that in turn will depend on how well prepared we are to participate in these holy mysteries. Preparation aids us in this whilst distraction and conversation hinder us as we try to focus on the Lord and participate in this unique activity that Christ invites us to.


The Breaking of the Bread, the third great act of the Eucharist follows the saying together of the Lord’s Prayer. Just as a seed must fall into the ground and die in order to release the life-force within it, so must the body of Christ be broken so that we can  share the life he brings. We call this sacrament Holy Communion because by it Christ enters into us and we into him, and through it we are not only united with Him but with one another.


One more sign of unity is provided by the congregation moving forward together to the altar, a movement that is symbolic of our life’s journey towards God. Reverence and joy should be the mark of the time we spend at the altar and the moments afterwards as we reflect and give thanks in silent prayer or softly sing a hymn.  If for any reason we have not entered into the holy mystery it is very important that we don’t become a distraction at this point to those that have.


Receiving the sacrament is the high point of the service but it can only be appreciated by those who have participated in the journey that has led up to it. Two people can stand on a mountain top, one might see for miles, whilst the other can barely  see his hand in front of his face. The view is the same, to one it is revealed to the other concealed. Receiving the sacrament may be the high point of the service, but receiving the sacrament isn’t an end in itself, it leads on to something else. I’ll talk about that next time when we look at the 4th and final part of the service.