Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting to grips with Anglican eucharistic liturgy

Tonight I speak with a group of worship leaders in a parish. I have experienced their regular Sunday worship and feel there are no particular problems to address - far from it, they do everything well. It is tempting to say "You do not need me; I won't come."

So what might one say in such a meeting? First, I am going to ask questions of the group as to whether they have anything they want to raise with me. If there are problems they wish to tackle it would be better if we do before the meeting is over. Secondly, I am going to talk a little about the "inner structure" of our most used Anglican eucharistic liturgy, "page 404." (In doing so I will acknowledge the fact that some of my greatest development in learning about liturgy has been through my conversations with Bosco Peters over the years.)

What is important to me about the inner structure of page 404?

First, the service is not a shopping list to get through, each item ticked on the way. Rather, it is a service with an object, to worship God, and two main parts to it, each designed to draw us closer to God and to enable us to receive blessing from God. Part One is the ministry of the Word, and part two is the ministry of the Sacrament. In the first part we hear the Word of God proclaimed. In the second part we receive the Word of God made visible in the Sacrament of the bread and the wine.

I want to concentrate on the first part tonight, the ministry of the Word. This part has quite a few items so, again, the temptation might be to think that the aim is to get through the series of items, like ticking off items on a shopping list. I am going to propose that we think of this part of the Holy Communion as being about the proclamation of the Word so that we then think about the "items" in it as all related to that proclamation.

The initial items - Greeting, Collect of Purity, Gloria, Commandments, Confession, Absolution prepare us to hear the proclamation and (later) to receive the Sacrament. A few further items, Sentence and Collect draw us closer to hearing God's Word (for instance, by focusing our minds on the theme present in the readings and (hopefully!) in the sermon). Subsequent items of Creed and Intercessions are responses to hearing that Word.

I will also make the point that there is a lovely turning point between the preparation for hearing the Word and the proclamation of the Word when the worship leader and the congregation say,

"The peace of Christ rule in our hearts.
The word of Christ dwell in us richly."

In short, Having confessed our sins, let us hear the Word.

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