The Eucharist For Dummies

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Lord's SupperFor many of our church cultures the Eucharist is a liturgical term or observance we either have never heard of, won’t consider because we don’t understand it, view as something mystical or won’t consider because it seems too “Catholic.” The purpose of this post is to help us better understand the Eucharist and maybe even consider some Eucharistic elements as we gather at the Lord’s Supper Table.

A recent shift has occurred as congregations have become disillusioned with shallow attempts to create formulas for worship renewal, especially around the Lord’s Supper Table. The desire for a deeper understanding of what worship renewal truly is has bridged some of the previous ecumenical gaps. The longing for something more has challenged some congregations to consider worship elements not traditionally associated with their denominational tribe.

It is possible within the parameters of our doctrine, embedded theological understanding and history to observe the Lord’s Supper beyond our traditional approach as a memorial only. Expanding our understanding allows us not only to remember what Christ did for us, but also celebrate what He continues to do for us. Understanding and experiencing the Lord’s Table beyond a memorial does not minimize the remembrance, it enhances it. According to Robert Webber, “The idea is very simple: when we remember the death (Lord’s Supper), celebrate the resurrection (break bread), and eat a meal expressing covenantal relationship with God (communion), we need to give thanks (Eucharist).”[1]

The word Eucharist originated from the Greek word for thanksgiving or blessing. The early church celebrated the Lord’s Supper not just as a memorial of the crucifixion, but also as a celebration of the resurrection. It is recorded in the book of Acts, “And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

The Eucharist helps us understand that remembering is not just to live in the past through our sorrow, but also to remember in order to influence our present and future. It allows worshipers to move from symbolically wallowing in the sorrow that their sin caused Christ to die, to the realization that thanksgiving is found in the resurrection and His ultimate return. Experiencing joy at the Table does not diminish the sorrow of the cross and sinful nature of the world. In fact, just the opposite occurs as it reminds us that even in the midst of misery, a profound hope is available. With that understanding, how can we keep from offering our thanks?

Henri Nouwen wrote, “Jesus gave us the Eucharist to enable us to choose gratitude. It is a choice we, ourselves have to make. Nobody can make it for us. But the Eucharist prompts us to cry out to God for mercy, to listen to the words of Jesus, to invite him into our home, to enter into communion with him and proclaim good news to the world; it opens the possibility of gradually letting go of our many resentments and choosing to be grateful.”[2]

The challenge for those of us from church cultures that do not observe the Lord’s Table in this way is to not disregard this Eucharistic understanding because of traditionalism or out of fear that an expanded understanding will take our congregation to a doctrinal place it has never been before. Instead, we should prayerfully consider the attention that must be given to this ordinance each time it is observed so that worship renewal found at the Table is never a one-time event. It will encourage us not only to remember Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, but also remember how those events impacted and continually impact our lives. Expanding our understanding of the Eucharist does not change the physical characteristics of the elements…it changes us.

To offer an application of what The Eucharist looks like practically, I have included below a full Episcopal Eucharistic Liturgy taken from the Book of Common Prayer. The service elements change according to the seasons of the Church Year. This service is one I used in teaching intensives for graduate students at the Liberty University Center for Music and Worship. I have included a brief explanation of terminologies and service elements highlighted in red to offer additional understanding.

The Holy Eucharist

THE WORD OF THE LORD

There are 2 parts of the Eucharist – Service or Liturgy of the Word and Service or Liturgy of the Table. Service of the Table is also called Holy Communion or Lord’s Supper.

Service of the Word is sometimes called “Ante-Communion”  “ante” means before.

The Celebrant is the Clergy or leader that officiates the service.

The service of the Word originated even before the birth of Jesus. The Jewish people came together to hear God’s word, to sing songs and then to pray together.

The People standing, the Celebrant says

Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins;

People       His mercy endures forever.

The Celebrant and People pray together

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

The Collect of the Day

The Collect – This short prayer is called a Collect because it collects our thoughts for this time or also for a particular time or season of the year.

Celebrant   The Lord be with you.

People       And also with you.

Celebrant   Let us pray.

O God; who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of Him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son, Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

First Lesson – The People seated

A lesson from Isaiah 43:16-21

The Lessons or Scriptures for this particular Eucharist are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary for March 17th, or the 5th Sunday of Lent.

The liturgy gives suggestions for Standing, Sitting or Kneeling. The purpose of these postures are:

Standing to praise God

Sitting to listen or for instruction

Kneeling to express penitence or devotion or prayer.

A lay minister called a Lector sometimes reads lessons.

Between the Lessons most congregations sing hymns, praise and worship songs or anthems. These musical selections can vary widely according to the worship culture of each congregation.

Celebrant   The Word of the Lord.

People       Thanks be to God.       

 

Psalm 126 – The People standing – People and Celebrant read together

1      When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed.

2      Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

3      The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

4      Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev.

5      Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

6      He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

(Bowing)

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Bowing at the waist shows reverence for the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(Rising)

As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

The Psalm is sometimes sung in plainsong chant. Chant is a combination of singing and speaking. Most of the psalm is sung in a monotone and then at the end of a phrase the pitch changes giving it a musical quality. 

In a plainsong psalter, the text is marked (pointed) to give the participants direction for pitch or rhythmic change.  

Some also use plainsong chant for personal reading of the Psalms. You can set your own vocal range. If you normally sing in a monotone anyway, then plainsong chant is a great opportunity for you to sing right notes.

 

Second Lesson – The People seated

A lesson from Philippians 3:4b-14

Celebrant   The Word of the Lord.

People       Thanks be to God.

 

The People stand, the Celebrant reads the Gospel

Celebrant   The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to John.

People       Glory to you, Lord Christ.

The Gospel – John 12:1-8

Celebrant   The Gospel of the Lord.

People       Praise to You, Lord Christ.

Making the sign of the cross symbolically asks God’s blessing on minds, hearts and words.

 

THE SERMON

 

The People Stand - following the sermon for the reading of the Nicene Creed

The Nicene Creed

Council of Nicaea – 325 AD. It is one of the oldest texts of Christian Worship.

Considered the words of faith that most affirm the power and love of God as revealed to us in His mighty acts. The Nicene Creed is considered to most clearly state the Church’s teaching of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Creed – Beliefs

Notice the text: “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church”

This does not mean Catholic with an upper case C as in Catholic Church but catholic with a lower case c, which means the whole church or the church universal.

Apostolic – because the church teaches what the apostles taught.

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:  by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.

 

The Prayers of the People

After each petition a period of silence is kept.

The entire church prays together with the universal church. Symbolically the whole church, the church universal is united together in prayer. At the end of the directed prayer time the congregants are sometimes given an opportunity to speak out loud the names of those for whom they especially want to pray.

Celebrant   Lord in your mercy

People       Hear our prayer.

Celebrant   In peace, we pray to you, Lord God.  Silence

Celebrant   Let us pray for the church and for the world. Grant, Almighty God, that all who confess your Name may be united in your truth, live together in your love, and reveal your glory in the world.  Silence

Celebrant   Guide the people of this land, and of all the nations, in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good.  Silence

Celebrant   Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.  Silence

Celebrant   Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as he loves us.  Silence

Celebrant   Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them joy of your salvation.  Silence

Celebrant   We commend to your mercy all who have died, that your will for them may be fulfilled; and we pray that we may share with all your saints in your eternal kingdom.  Silence

Celebrant   We pray to you also for the forgiveness of our sins.  Silence

Celebrant and People

Have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; in your compassion forgive our sins, known and unknown, things done and left undone; and so uphold us by your Spirit that we may live and serve you in newness of life, to the honor and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

The Peace

The passing of the peace is an ancient way for people to greet one another. Jesus taught that we should love one another as brothers and sisters, especially before the celebration of communion. After the text below the congregants pass the peace with each other. This is like some of our Sunday morning greetings but instead of talking about the football game or commenting on the weather, they pass the peace of Christ.

Celebrant   The peace of the Lord be always with you.

People       And also with you.

 

THE TABLE OF THE LORD – THE HOLY COMMUNION

Sometimes the table will hold 2 candles – symbolically signifying that Christ is the light of the world. The two candles signify Jesus as both God and man, human and divine.

 

The Offertory

 

The Great Thanksgiving

Sursum Corda – Is the opening part of the Great Thanksgiving.  It means “Lifted Hearts” as you will see from the text below.

Celebrant   The Lord be with you.

People       And also with you.

Celebrant   Lift up your hearts.

People       We lift them to the Lord.

Celebrant   Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

People       It is right to give him thanks and praise.

Celebrant   It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.

Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever proclaim the glory of your Name:

Sanctus – Holy, Holy, Holy can be sung or spoken. It is followed by the Benedictus “Blessed Is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord.”

Celebrant and People

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

 

The Great Thanksgiving or Prayer of Consecration

The People stand or kneel

Celebrant   We give thanks to you, O God, for the goodness and love which you have made known to us in creation; in the calling of Israel to be your people; in your Word spoken through the prophets; and above all in the Word made flesh, Jesus, your Son. For in these last days you sent him to be incarnate from the Virgin Mary, to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world. In him, you have delivered us from evil, and made us worthy to stand before you. In him, you have brought us out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life.

On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

After supper he took the cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.”

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:

 

The Acclamation

Acclamation means a loud and enthusiastic show of approval. This attitude should be reflected as the Celebrant and People speak the text below.

Celebrant and People

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

Celebrant   And we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to you, O Lord of all; presenting to you, from your creation, this bread and this cup.

Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. In the fullness of time, put all things in subjection under your Christ, and bring us to that heavenly country where, with all your saints, we may enter the everlasting heritage of your sons and daughters; through Jesus Christ our Lord, the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.

By him, and with him and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all honor and glory is yours, Almighty Father, now and forever.  Amen.

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to say,

 

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father in Heaven (The Lord’s Prayer) – Eric Wyse

In this particular service we used an arrangement of “The Lord’s Prayer” by Eric Wyse. The Lord’s prayer can be sung or spoken at this time.

 

The Breaking of the Bread

The Celebrant breaks the bread

Celebrant   “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;

People       Therefore let us keep the feast.”

 

Fraction Anthem

Fraction is the action of breaking the bread in half. Taken from the word Confractorium. The Fraction Anthem is the song sung after the Fraction of the bread. Fraction means a small part.

Celebrant   The Gifts of God for the People of God. Take them in remembrance and thanksgiving that Christ died for you.

I added the bidding to the table below because of its beauty and appropriateness for this liturgy. It is taken from the Iona Community. The Iona Community is a dispersed Christian ecumenical community working for peace and social justice, rebuilding of community and the renewal of worship. It is based in the United Kingdom.

Celebrant   The feast of the bread and cup is now made ready. It is the table of the company of Jesus, and all who love him. It is the table of sharing with the poor of the world with whom Jesus identified. It is the table of communion with the entire earth, in which Christ became incarnate. So come to this table, You who have much faith and you who would like to have more; You who have been here often, and you who have not been for a long time; you who have tried to follow Jesus, and you who have failed. Come, it is Christ who invites us to meet Him here. Iona Community Bidding to the Table

 

The Communion of the People

Communion Music

Several congregational hymns or songs are selected as the Communion music. These musical selections can vary widely according to the worship culture of each congregation.

After Communion, the Celebrant says

Let us pray.

 

The Prayer of Discipleship

Celebrant and People

Eternal God, heavenly Father, you have graciously accepted us as living members of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, and you have fed us with the spiritual food in remembrance of his Body and Blood.

Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The People are dismissed with this charge

Celebrant   Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

People       Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

 


[1] Robert E. Webber, Encountering the Healing Power of God: A Study in the Sacred Actions of Worship (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998), 27.

[2] Henri J.M. Nouwen, With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1994), 124-125.

 

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4 Responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Understanding The Eucharist | Worship Links on 03.11.13 at 7:40 pm

    [...] church has never called it the Eucharist. That’s probably part of the reason that the post The Eucharist For Dummies by David Manner caught my eye. David [...]

  2. Posted by Andrew on 03.11.13 at 7:40 pm

    I am a big fan of this blog, but this was quite disappointing. Is there not a richness in the memorial approach to Communion? Isn’t Communion about proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes? Isn’t that the essence of the memorial approach? Isn’t there joy in the hope of His second coming?

    I will grant you that the “hurry-up-and-get-this-over-with” approach to Communion that is seen and felt in many Baptist and non-denominational evangelical churches is unsettling, but just because the pendulum has swung too far to the casual, doesn’t mean we have to drag it all the way over to the sacramentalists for a better understanding, does it?

    I am reminded of a wise man who was speaking (I regret that I do not remember his name), who made the point that the mind that doesn’t distinguish between finer points of Protestant docrtines, over several generations will nurture minds that cannot distinguish between Protestant and Roman Catholic doctrines. The will nurture minds that cannot distinguish between “Christian” (using that term broadly, as the speaker did) doctrines and doctrines of other faiths. There is nothing wrong with convictions that are rooted in Scripture!

    Why not call for a reverential, yet joyous, approach to the Lord’s Table? Why must we bring up liturgy from a tradition that teaches that the Eucharist is a means of grace? I’m sorry if I sound too divisive, I could go on – but I have probably said too much now.

  3. Posted by David Manner on 03.11.13 at 7:40 pm

    Andrew,

    Thanks for your comments and I am glad you are a fan of the blog. I am sorry you found this particular post disappointing but I feel like maybe you are reading something into the post I did not write. I am always up for a healthy debate but wanted to make sure you weren’t giving me credit for something I didn’t say or do not believe.

    I agree completely with you that there is a richness in the memorial understanding of the Table. The intent of my post is not to minimize our memorial understanding, just expand it. I am not advocating that we should ignore the memorial aspect of the Table but I do believe we are missing additional aspects such as a Eucharistic (Thanksgiving) understanding and also a Communion understanding. Some of our congregations call this ordinance “Communion” and yet not much communion occurs.

    In our memorial only understanding we are often very good at proclaiming the Lord’s death but we often forget the “Until He comes” part. The early Church also celebrated His return around the Table. Celebrating his resurrection and return can be a profound act of thanksgiving (Eucharist).

    There is nothing inherently sacramental about the word Eucharist. And if you will notice in my post, I never mentioned it as a sacrament or as a means of grace. It is a word of Greek origin that did not originate in the Catholic Church. In fact, several other non-sacramental denominations also use this word for their Lord’s Supper/Communion.

    I do understand that not every congregation would be comfortable using the term Eucharist. My challenge, however, is that some congregations can find worship renewal opportunities from other congregations and even denominations if they don’t let traditionalism get in the way. You stated it well in your second paragraph that the casual nature of the Table is unsettling. My challenge to you and others is…can we within the parameters of our own denominations and doctrines find value from others without compromising our own foundational tenets. I believe we can.

    I hope you will continue to follow the blog. I enjoy healthy, respectful conversations and will continue to look forward to your comments in the future.

  4. Posted by Aaron on 03.11.13 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks for expanding our understanding—and I pray our practice—of the Lord’s Supper, David. Your explanation of the term & practice of Eucharist was most helpful.

    We’ll be observing the Lord’s Supper during our church-wide Thanksgiving meal this year for some of these very reason.

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