The Great Thanksgiving
The prayers of the Eucharist service, which acknowledge that our Lord instituted this table for his people to commune with him together as his people. The Great Thanksgiving is the name for the cluster of prayers that surround the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. These prayers are based on ancient Christian prayers and the pattern of prayer from the earliest days of the Church. For example, compare the third century Prayer of Hyppolytus to a contemporary prayer:
|The Prayer of Hypolytus(215AD)The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Lift up your hearts.
We have them with the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord.
It is proper and just.
We give thanks to you God, through your beloved son Jesus Christ, whom you sent to us in former timesas Savior, Redeemer, and Messenger of your Will, who is your inseparable Word, through whom you made all, and in whom you were well-pleased, whom you sent from heaven into the womb of a virgin, who, being conceived within her, was made flesh, and appeared as your Son, born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin…
|The Church of South India, The Lord’s Supper (1954)The Lord be with you;
And with thy spirit.
Lift up your hearts;
We lift them up unto the Lord.
Let us give thanks unto our Lord God;
It is meet and right so to do.It is verily meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty and Everlasting God; Through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, through whom thou didst create the heavens and the earth and all that in them is, and didst make man in thine own image, and when he had fallen into sin didst redeem him to be the first fruits of a new creation.
The prayers are not identical, but they follow a pattern which includes a recitation of salvation history, an ‘oblation’ or declaration of the continuing power of Christ’s one time sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. The include ancient hymns and songs such the Sanctus or “Holy, Holy, Holy”. They always include the words of institution, that is, the words Jesus said when he instituted the Lord’s Supper:
Take eat, this is my body which is given for you, as often as you eat it, eat it in remembrance of me. Drink this, all of you, this is the blood of my new covenant, shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins, drink it in remembrance of me.
These are the words, but the action is a key as well. That is, almost all Christian ceremonies follow the basic pattern Christ followed in the Gospels. He took bread, he gave thanks, he broke it, and he gave it to his disciples. The Celebrant (a presbyter/priest who leads these prayers) takes bread by placing it on the table. He gives thanks along with the people. He breaks it, signifying both Christ’s body broken and the shared nature of communion. And then he gives it, administering the body and blood of Christ to the people of God.
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