• Holy Communion Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Holy Communion: A Rookie Anglican Guide to the Eucharist

By |2018-08-27T10:35:38+00:00August 27th, 2018|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: |15 Comments

This post originally appeared on February 09, 2017. Updated August 27, 2018.

Have you ever wondered what’s going on during a liturgical service of Holy Communion (AKA Eucharist, AKA Lord’s Supper, AKA, Lord’s Table)?

So many moving parts! And what’s the deal with shaking hands in the middle?

You’re not alone.

Thankfully, a relatively simple overall structure unifies the many moving parts.


The Overall Structure:

Most services of Holy Communion – including those throughout the Anglican tradition – depict a fourfold journey of the Church

  1. from the world, into the eternal presence of God through
  2. Word and
  3. Sacrament, and
  4. back into the world again

This macro-structure of the Eucharist finds a biblical precedent in Jesus’s exposition of the Scriptures (Word) before making himself known to two disciples in the breaking of the bread (Sacrament) at Emmaus (Luke 24:13-34).

Also, it follows the early Church’s example of devoting themselves “to the apostles’ teaching [Word] and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread [Sacrament] and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).


The Moving Parts of Holy Eucharist: Rite Two (1979 BCP)

1. Entrance

Opening Acclamation

The opening Acclamation states the entire journey’s destination: the Kingdom of the Triune God (Schmemann, For the Life of the World, 29).

Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.

Processional

The Processional, though not mandated in the 1979BCP, begins the enactment of the journey: following Christ, represented by the processional cross, God’s people enter God’s presence. They are only able to approach the altar by virtue of the sufficient sacrifice of Christ himself. On their own, they are impure and unfit for worship (Rom. 3:23).

Collect for Purity

Through the Collect for Purity, then, the people ask for the Holy Spirit’s cleansing to enable proper worship.

2. The Liturgy of the Word

Praise, Prayer, Lessons, and Sermon

After singing praises to a holy and merciful God (Ps 5:11), and being gathered together in prayer (Matt 18:20) by the Collect of the Day, the people are ready to hear the Word of God, first read aloud in the Lessons, and then proclaimed and exposited in the Sermon (1 Tim 4:13).

Creed

The Church then responds to God’s Word by confessing the Nicene Creed as a summary of its faith in both God and His Word.

Prayers of the People

If heard correctly, God’s Word should bring concern for God’s world, for which the community then intercedes in the Prayers of the People (1 Tim 2:1).

Confession and Absolution

Before the Liturgy of the Word of God leads to the Liturgy of the Holy Communion, the people must heed two warnings.

First, they heed Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32, to examine themselves before partaking of the Eucharist, through the Confession of Sin and the priest’s declaration of Absolution.

[People:] Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

[Priest:] Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins
through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all
goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in
eternal life. Amen.

Peace

Second, they heed Christ’s warning in Matthew 5:23-24, to reconcile with one another before coming to worship, by exchanging the Peace – for Christ’s peace is both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others).

The peace of the Lord be always with you.
And also with you.

3. The Liturgy of the Sacrament

Offertory

The transition now complete, the Liturgy of Holy Communion begins with the Offertory, in which God’s people offer Him their very selves, symbolized by the bread, wine, and money as the fruits of human labor.

Great Thanksgiving

Then comes the Great Thanksgiving to God, in which, at the phrase “lift up your hears” (sursum corda), the anaphora takes place as the Church itself is lifted up, as an offering, into the heavenly sanctuary (Chan, Liturgical Theology, 142).

Sanctus and Benedictus qui venit

Along with the angels in heaven, the Church praises God for His holiness in the Sanctus (“Holy”; Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8), and welcomes Christ’s presence in the Eucharist through the Benedictus qui venit (“Blessed is he who comes”; Ps 118:26; Matt 21:9; 23:39).

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.

Prayer of Consecration and Words of Institution

The redemptive acts of God, which enable the anaphora, are remembered (anamnesis) throughout the following Prayer of Consecration, culminating in the Words of Institution, in which the celebrant remembers and re-presents Christ’s words at the Last Supper (Matt 26:26-28 parr.).

On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, 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 of wine; 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.”

The Church then proclaims the great mystery which it is in the process of enacting: a celebration of Christ’s resurrection after his death and before his second coming.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

Oblation, Epiclesis, and Lord’s Prayer

The celebrant then offers (oblation) the gifts of bread and wine to God, and invokes (epiclesis) the Holy Spirit to sanctify both the gifts and the people – that they may rightfully receive the Sacrament in anticipation of God’s eschatological kingdom – a kingdom which is the focus of the subsequent Lord’s Prayer (Matt 6:9-13).

Fraction (Breaking of the Bread)

The celebrant then breaks the bread, declares Christ’s redemptive role as the Church’s Passover (Exod 12; 1 Cor 5:7b), and invites the people to partake of his Body and Blood.

[Alleluia.] Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore let us keep the feast. [Alleluia.]

The Gifts of God for the People of God.

4. Exit

Post-Communion Prayer, Benediction, and Dismissal

In the Post-Communion Prayer, the people thank God for his provision and ask for His blessing as they are sent back out into the world – a blessing which they then receive in the celebrant’s benediction (Luke 24:50; John 14:12), before being sent out into the world to serve Christ (Matt 28:16-20).

Almighty and everliving God,
we thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food
of the most precious Body and Blood
of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ;
and for assuring us in these holy mysteries
that we are living members of the Body of your Son,
and heirs of your eternal kingdom.
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
To him, to you, and to the Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Let us go forth in the name of Christ.
Thanks be to God.


Would You Like to Learn More?

Check out the following posts:

Do you have further questions about Holy Communion?

Ask them in the comments below!


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As Managing Editor, Joshua is in charge of the day-to-day operations at Anglican Pastor. He is a Transitional Deacon in the Anglican Church in North America, serving at Church of the Savior in Wheaton, IL. He is also a Ph.D. student in theology at Wheaton College.

15 Comments

  1. Lanier+ February 9, 2017 at 11:29 am - Reply

    I think it is important to note that while this certainly is the standard “shape” for Anglicans in North America, it is by no means the standard eucharistic liturgy for the majority of Anglicans in the world or Anglicans throughout history. The Order for Holy Communion in the Book of Common Prayer (1662) does not contain an opening acclamation, an exchange of the peace, the Benedictus qui venit, the “great mystery”, or most significantly, an epiclesis!
    In addition, the traditional BCP has the fraction occur during the words of institution, rather than after, and the oblation occurs during the post-communion prayer (an oblation of ourselves, souls and bodies, not of bread and wine) rather than before communion. All this makes for a very different theology of Holy Communion!
    I’m not trying to critique the post, which does a fine job of summarizing the 1979 rite, but to offer a gentle reminder to our Anglican novices (rookies – I was one not so long ago) that the Anglican Heritage is not defined by the ’79 book, but by the Common Prayer tradition of the Church of England.

    • Greg Goebel February 13, 2017 at 10:17 am - Reply

      I respectfully disagree. We aren’t “Cranmerians”. We are attempting to be both catholic and reformed. If so, then early Christian liturgies are just as relevant as reformation ones. The 1979 book is not perfect but it does incorporate both historic and reformed patterns well.

      • Lanier Nail February 16, 2017 at 11:21 am - Reply

        So I was probably unclear, Greg, but I think you’ve read into my post a critique of the ’79 book that isn’t there. My post was meant to be a historical clarification for anyone coming to this post looking for an explanation of Holy Communion in the Anglican Tradition. While the post does a fine job of introducing the elements a worshiper in North America is likely to experience, and that is a worthy and important task, my concern is to remind us that this is not the only way faithful Anglicans worldwide or historically have understood or practiced Holy Communion. Those who are exploring Anglicanism and how we have received it need to know this and deserve to be able to look at all the sources, especially those which formed the Communion and are still recognized as authoritative (see the Jerusalem Declaration article 6).

        As to your point that the early Christian liturgies are relevant, I would not argue against that. However, (and this is where a critique of the ’79 book does come in), I would argue that while the traditional English rite (BCP 1662) is a development (or reform) of the Western Catholic tradition, the ’79 rites are 20th-century artificial reconstructions of a pre-Nicene liturgy whose influence (before the 20th Century) is highly debatable. In other words, the classic Anglican liturgy has, in my view, a greater claim to catholicity than the ’79 rites, and regardless of where one may stand on the relevance of Hippolytus’ liturgy or the scholarship of Gregory Dix, it is indisputable that the 1662 English rite has pride-of-place historically in forming and creating what we now call the Anglican communion.

        Also, I am sorry for this long response. I hope everyone can see that I am IN NO WAY critiquing what Josh has done or the quality of his post.

        I’m just the crazy uncle who keeps insisting you guys come up to the attic with me to see the treasures we’ve discarded or forgotten about – but which are our rightful inheritance.

        Peace.

        • Joshua Steele February 17, 2017 at 3:01 pm - Reply

          Can we please call you “Crazy Uncle Lanier” from now on?! 🙂
          Thanks for these clarifying thoughts.

      • Joshua Bovis February 26, 2017 at 2:35 am - Reply

        Lanier, Greg, Josh

        “We are attempting to be both catholic and reformed”. This I think would be quite difficult to achieve, especially in light of the fact that the founding documents of the Anglican church—the Book of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Ordinal—expresses a theology that is Protestant and Reformed.
        Anglicans theologians like Hooker were adamant in their Protestantism. What he (and others) were arguing about was which variety of Protestantism they would endorse and to what extent. The Via media is not an attempt to be somewhere between catholic and reformed, but an attempt to be someone where between Martin Luther’s Wittenberg and John Calvin’s Geneva.

        • Greg Goebel February 26, 2017 at 9:50 pm - Reply

          Yes that project was what many of the English reformers were doing. But our church is not descended exclusively from them. Our entire history, in summary, is catholic and reformed. There is no need to define us only by studying the reformers alone. That’s my approach to Anglicanism.

          • Joshua Bovis February 28, 2017 at 5:40 am

            I think Cranmer, the BCP, the 39 Articles, the ordinal don’t support your approach. The Thirty-nine Articles are most definitely a Reformed confession (as opposed to a Catholic, Lutheran or Anabaptist confession). This is confirmed by a study of the homilies. Despite John Henry Newman’s attempt in Tract 90 to suggest the Articles should be read in a Catholic fashion, a proper contextual reading does not permit the conclusions which he wished to reach. He eventually gave up and joined Rome.
            The reason I thought to respond to the original post was not only due to the rather Anglo-Catholic take on the Sacrament but it is framed as if this Anglicanism. Yet it fails to acknowledge that the notion that Tractarianism, Puseyism or the Oxford Movement is a 19th century invention, and is a departure from the original theology of the English Reformers, found in the 39 Articles, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Book of Homilies.

          • Joshua Steele February 28, 2017 at 5:46 pm

            Hi Joshua. First, thanks for taking the time to comment on Rookie Anglican content. I sincerely appreciate the feedback!

            However, based upon your comments, you surely know enough about our shared Anglican heritage to realize that this is a debated and debatable issue. Of course, “catholic” does not equal “Roman Catholic.” And an argument can be made that Anglicanism has been a distinct “via media” at least since the arrival of St. Augustine and other evangelists on behalf of Pope Gregory the Great in Kent in 597. In fact, I have made just that argument here.

            If you’re interested in writing an accessible piece to give a more *Reformed* overview of the structure and parts of Holy Communion, please submit it!

          • Joshua Bovis March 3, 2017 at 12:58 am

            Joshua,

            There is no need to thank me for taking the time to write. It is my pleasure.
            The reason I responded to your OP is that you present a theology as if to say “this is what Anglicans believe” when the theology of your OP is not consistent with the Anglican formularies – The BCP, the 39 Articles, the Ordinal and the Homilies.

            It is not my place to suggest that you change your theology, but it would be remiss of me as an Anglican Priest not to point out the inconsistency.

            Joshua
            P.S
            As for the term ‘catholic’, I am not saying that ‘catholic’ means Roman Catholic, but what I am saying is that the ‘via media’ is not halfway between Rome and Geneva, but is between Calvin’s Geneva and Luther’s Wittenburg. The Anglican Church is not reformed catholicism, but is protestant and reformed. In my view to conclude other wise is to read history and the Anglican formularies through a 19th century grid.

            Joshua
            p.s
            Thankyou for the invitation to write a piece to give a more ‘Reformed’ overview, however I am not certain that this would be appropriate on this website?

  2. zacharydewey February 10, 2017 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    Thank you, Josh. This is a great resource that I will be sure to share with others along the way!

  3. barrybruce February 15, 2017 at 3:28 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Josh.

  4. Joshua Bovis February 26, 2017 at 6:22 am - Reply

    Josh,

    Here is a vid that I think may offer some clarity

    Grace & Peace
    Joshua+

  5. Carol Roberts July 17, 2018 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    I’m afraid I’ve come into this discussion over a year late, but I’ve very much appreciated the video. The previous conversation was not exactly for a rookie, but the vimeo helped. Thanks.

  6. Jerry Gasché August 15, 2018 at 7:29 am - Reply

    This is a truly excellent set of comments and understandings. We are enhanced by such clear and elegant explanations of Anglicanism.

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