The Holy Eucharist Explained
I. The Liturgy of the Word
The Processional Entrance
The priests, acolytes (members of the church who assist the priests during services) enter behind the Cross of Christ and the Gospel Book into the sanctuary as the congregation stands and sings a hymn. The procession reminds us that the People of God, through time and history are moving toward God's Kingdom — following the Cross of Christ and bringing the Light of the Gospel into all the world.
The celebrant opens with the Acclamation, which states the entire journey’s destination and expresses reverences for whom the people have gathered for—namely, God.
The Collect for Purity
The celebrant and the people then pray (hence, “collect-ive” prayer) asking for the Holy Spirit’s cleansing to enable proper worship as they examine their conscience before God.
The Summary of the Law
The celebrant then recites the Summary of the Law (Deut 6:4-5; Lev 19:18; Matt 5:18), recalling the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor.
Recognizing that we have all failed to obey our heavenly Father as we should, the celebrant and the people ask for His mercy by singing the Kyrie Eleison, ‘Lord have mercy upon us.’ The Kyrie Eleison has been said for over 1700 years as found in early Christian Writings (Apostolic Constitution.)
The Collect of the Day
The celebrant (the priest who consecrates the bread and wine at the Eucharist) now leads us in a special prayer. This short prayer is called a "Collect" because it collects our thoughts to prepare us for the lessons and Gospel. It is different each Sunday and fits with the Church season.
Two lessons from the Holy Bible are read, usually one from the Old Testament (also called Hebrew Scriptures) and one from the New Testament. A lay (a member of the church who is not ordained clergy) minister called a Lector usually reads the lessons.
Between the lessons and the Gospel reading a psalm will be either sung by the choir or read by a Lector, sometimes along with the congregation.
The Holy Gospel
Between the lessons and the reading from the Holy Gospel we sing a song while the Gospel Book is carried into the center part of the Church. The Gospel is read by a member of the clergy. Wherever we are in the church, we turn to face the gospel book and reader. The Gospel Procession teaches us that it is our responsibility to carry the Good news of Jesus Christ into all the world.
A sermon or homily follows the Gospel. It seeks to explain the Gospel and the lessons but also to invite and call the people to faithfully believe and carry out the teachings of Christ in their own lives.
After the sermon we stand and recite the Nicene Creed, which is an affirmation of our faith. The Nicene Creed states the Church's teaching of God, Father, Son and Holy spirit. The Creed expresses the faith of the whole Church.
The Prayers of the People
The prayers consist of two parts: the intercessions and the confession. The intercessions are how we ask for help and give thanks. Together, we pray for the Church, for world leaders, for ourselves, and for the departed.
Next we kneel or stand for the confession. We ask God's forgiveness for those things we have done and left undone. We all need God's forgiveness, and we know that he will forgive us when we come to him in faith and love and true repentance. After the confession, the Priest says the words of Absolution, or forgiveness, assuring us that God has forgiven all those who have made a sincere confession of their sins.
We greet one another joyfully in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation and in the love of God, exchanging the Peace with one another.
II. The Liturgy of Holy Communion
The bread and wine (a gift of the people) are brought to the altar in preparation for the Holy Communion. We sing a hymn as the collection plates are passed. The bread, wine and money offered at the Altar represent our lives, our work, our recreation, our families and our community. In other words, we offer to God all that we have and all that we do. This is called Stewardship.
The minister of the altar, a priest or a deacon, "sets the table" by laying first a corporal, a white linen cloth, on which are placed a chalice (a cup for the wine) and a paten (a plate for the bread). Next, wine is poured into the chalice and a little water is added. This reminds us of the blood and the water that appeared when Jesus' side was pierced by a spear at the crucifixion. Tradition says that the wine and water together represent both the humanity and the divinity of Jesus, that he is both Man and God, and that we are called to share with him in his risen life.
Before the Eucharist begins, an alter server pours a little water over the priest's fingers. This reminds us that we should all come to God's altar with clean hands and pure hearts.
The Holy Table or Altar having been prepared, the Eucharist continues with "Lift up your heart" - the "Sursum Corda." This is followed by the "Sanctus", the ancient hymn: "Holy, Holy, Holy," followed by the "Benedictus": "Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord…" reminding us that our Lord does come to us in the Holy Communion, and that he is made known to us in "the breaking of the bread."
The Great Thanksgiving or the Prayer of Consecration
This prayer reminds us of God's love for us, that we turned away from Him, and that He sent His son Jesus Christ to share our human nature and to live and die as one of us, so that we might be brought back to God. We are also told of Christ's death on the cross, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world, and we are reminded of the Last Supper and the words Jesus spoke over the bread and the wine. Finally, we ask for the gift of God's Holy Spirit and that we might faithfully receive the precious gift of Christ's Body and Blood in the form of Bread and Wine. This is followed by the Lord's Prayer.
The Breaking of The Bread
At the first Eucharist and in those of the early Church, it was necessary to break the loaves or cakes of bread so that they could be distributed for Communion. For many this breaking of bread (the Fraction) has a special meaning: it has become a reminder of the breaking of our Lord's body on the Cross, which is subsequently why there is a moment of silence after the breaking of the bread. To further symbolize this event, the celebrants breaks the bread saying "Alleluia, Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us." to which the people respond: "Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia."
The Communion of the People
The gifts we gave at the offertory, the bread and the wine, are now returned to us. But because God has accepted them and used them for His purpose, they are changed. They are now for us the Body and Blood of Christ—His Real Presence—His Life, Power, and Love.
Thus, we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion. All Christians baptized in water from Trinitarian traditions are welcome to share with us in this sacred meal. Our custom is to stand at the altar and receive bread in the hand and wine from a common cup.
If you are not baptized but wish to receive a blessing from the priest, please come forward and cross your arms over your chest.
The Post-communion Prayer
We say a prayer of thanks as we go out into 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!