Category Archives: Sacraments

The Lazy Invitation

With General Convention coming up, I’m thinking about Communion Without Baptism again, prompted by occasional mentions of it I see around.

Clearly I’ve got strong opinions on this topic, but it’s occurred to me that I rarely express the real problem with it…

Bear with me here for a moment. My take on it is the traditional and the canonical one: that there is a theo-logical order to the sacraments. Baptism begins an individual’s covenant relationship with the Triune God through the church; the Eucharist nurtures that covenant relationship and helps one grow in intimacy towards a deeper connection with God and all of the other members of Christ. These are two major parts of the sacramental path to discipleship. Following Jesus starts on a whole new level with Baptism, then the rest of the sacraments help us follow that path more clearly and deeply into love of God and neighbor. That’s why I think this whole debate is important. Because it’s about follow-through: at the end of the day, it’s about discipleship.

The parish I currently attend  issues an open invitation to all to the altar. I’m not a fan of that. And, yes, my rector knows that full well. However, I don’t have quite as big of a problem with it at this parish because the clergy are very good at follow-up and emphasizing discipleship. I know that if an unbaptized person starts attending and starts communing, the clergy will begin a discussion with them about getting baptized and getting engaged in the community. No, they’re not doing it right and they’re not following the canons. But, at the end of the day, all of this connects into whether we are about forming communities of discipleship.

Ok—that having been said, the real problem that I have with Communion Without Baptism is the lazy invitation. I think that some clergy and/or congregations welcome anyone to the table because 1) they want to demonstrate to themselves how inclusive they are and 2) because it avoids the hard conversation. Let’s break these down…

1) The Thrill of Inclusivity

One of the complicating factors in this discussion is the question of post-schism Episcopal identity. So few of us are now Cradle Episcopalians. (I’m not.) As a result, we don’t always know what being “Episcopal” looks and feels like. However, a lot of us are refugees from churches that have done us spiritual damage; we may not know what “Episcopal” should feel like, but we sure do know what it shouldn’t feel like! And exclusivity is often a very big part of that, and a major source of past spiritual damage. As a result, there are many Episcopalians who will reflexively choose what appears to be the inclusive option whether it has theological integrity or not. Indeed, I’ve been in Episcopal parishes who will trumpet their inclusivity all day long but aren’t very friendly or welcoming or…inclusive…at all. What’s important to them is their ability to see themselves as inclusive and therefore better than the churches they left.

2) Avoiding the Hard Conversation

What happens if a policy is announced from the chancel that a visitor doesn’t understand? What happens if the priest says in part “…only baptized Christians should receive the Eucharist…” (I say in part because, as I’ve argued at length before, how we invite people is very important and just saying this in this way is not the way to do it) and in doing so offends an unbaptized visitor? The two most likely possibilities is that the offended person will leave to never darken the door of that church again or else they will come with the very simple question: “Why can’t I receive?”Then, that leads to a potentially uncomfortable conversation where the priest has to explain that we actually believe that the Eucharist is important and that the Church has historically maintained rules around who does and doesn’t receive and why. And that can lead to tricky questions about whether we actually believe all of this stuff and what does baptism actually do anyway and do we really believe that Jesus is there in that little cracker in a special way. Which can lead to the look that says, you guys really are crazy and I can’t believe I just wasted a Sunday morning like this…

It also means hitting that point where we have to explain that we actually do believe these things that we say about God and Jesus, but that we don’t believe all of the things that other Christians believe that you may have heard in the media, and, yes, we think you can believe in God and dinosaurs and science all at the same time.

But at the end of the day that conversation has to get to the point where it says that we believe that the little cracker and the sip of wine are life-changing things. That they mean enough that we need to rethink and reshape the way that we are in the world on account of them. That Eucharist and baptism are about discipleship and that means reorienting the way we live. And I think that’s the hard conversation that gets avoided; it’s so much easier to give a lazy invitation instead.

Because you don’t need to have the hard conversation if you can give the lazy invitation. If you get up in front and say “all are welcome, no questions asked,” well—then they won’t be. The questions won’t be asked, and the consequences of these sacraments won’t get discussed.  The follow-through won’t happen. The discipleship will be lost by the wayside. And that’s what worries me about this whole Communion Without Baptism thing.

It’s one thing for a parish to ignore the canon if the follow-through and the commitment to discipleship are there. It’s another thing entirely to try to get rid of the canon, to make a policy of not even asking the question. The sacraments are about discipleship. They’re about how we are converted into the Body of Christ and, from there, drawn into the mind of Christ. That’s why this matters. It’s not about inclusive vs. exclusive—that’s the wrong framing because that’s not a fight I’m even interested in having. It’s about discipleship and whether we are fostering and promoting it or if we’re more interested in taking the easy way out.

Talking Eucharist with The Collect Call

We just returned from the summer’s second major trip; M was doing the triathlon national championships in Wisconsin. I’d hoped to see some blog folks while we were up there, but between race preparations and managing children very little of that actually happened…

However, others were busy while I was gone and I returned to find that the new episode of The Collect Call is up—and I’m on it! I’m talking about the collect for the Holy Eucharist with Brendan and Holli, and stray off into other topics as well. Communion without Baptism, alien abduction, the usual… Check it out!

Rite III EP for the Young: A Modest Proposal


The ’79 Book of Common Prayer has two formal “rites.” “Rite I” uses traditional language and retains a direct connection with the classical Anglican liturgies of the earlier Books of Common Prayer; “Rite II” uses contemporary language and reflects the influence of the 20th century Liturgical Renewal Movement. In addition to these, though, sometimes the informal label of “Rite III” is given to the Eucharistic Prayer material under the heading “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” on pages 400-405. Not truly a separate rite, this collection of materials offers even more flexibility in the celebration of the Eucharist. The idea here is that this section gives a general framework and requires only certain given texts that nail down parts of the Eucharistic prayer. The presence of these elements is intended to ensure that even in its widely permissive flexibility there will be some core elements that align with our understanding of Episcopal common prayer.

Now—I’ve written quite a bit before about the Book of Common Prayer as a contract within the congregation. In a sense, the book protects the laity from the whims of the clergy. The text is the text and we’ve all agreed together that this is the material we’re going to use. Given that perspective, I’m not a huge fan of “Rite III” because it alters that balance of power; clergy, in their eagerness to be fresh and relevant, can do what they like without the input of the laity upon whom it is being inflicted.

The Rite III material has two brief rubrics directing its use on the top of page 400:

This rite requires careful preparation by the Priest and other participants.

It is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

One of the actions of General Convention that I watched with great trepidation was D050: Authorizing “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” as a Principal Service. In its original form, it would have essentially nullified the second rubric above and made the Rite III option equal with the other two. This was not to be, though, and the version passed by Convention was altered to include some ecclesiastical oversight. Here’s the current text that passed:

Resolved,  the House of Deputies concurring, That a bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority may authorize a congregation to use “An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist” (BCP pp. 400-405) at a principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist, if the Eucharistic Prayer is written and submitted in advance of its use to the Bishop; while the BCP states that the rite “is not intended for use at the principal Sunday or weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist,” the BCP does not forbid its use in such contexts.

If we were going to do this, this is a good way to do it. Its chief thrust is to ensure that a Sunday/principal Rite III prayer is a written text, not something ad libbed off the top of the priest’s head. (That can be done on weekdays and non-principal liturgies, though.)

As the saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” so—in that spirit—here’s my own Rite III liturgy. Bishops, feel free to give this your ecclesiastical blessing… In particular, I’m orienting this towards the young, defined generally in the Episcopal Church as any one below the age of 55.

The Rules

Rite III provides a general pattern, a “shape of the liturgy” if you will, then two forms (Form 1 or Form 2). You can either use the Eucharistic Prayers from Rite One or Rite Two or you can use one of these two forms both of which are a combination of set texts and flexible general directions for what sort of material ought to appear in what order.

I’ll also note the presence of  the permission on page 14 of the BCP permitting that “the contemporary idiom may be conformed to traditional language.” Too, I’ll also agree with the editors of the Anglican Service Book that conforming liturgies to traditional language involves more than swapping in “thees” and “thous.” Word order, syntax, and cadence are also important and need to be considered as well.

That having been said, here’s my version utilizing Form 2

The Prayer Itself

Celebrant: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with you all.
People: And with thy spirit.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up unto the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks unto our Lord God.
People: It is meet and right so to do.

Celebrant: It is very 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, everlasting God.

[Incorporates or adapts the Proper Preface of the Day.]

…Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying,

Celebrant and People
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts:
Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.
Glory be to thee, O Lord most High.
Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Almighty and everliving God, which by thy holy Apostle hast taught us to make prayers and supplications, and to give thanks for all men ; We humbly beseech thee most mercifully to receive
these our prayers, which we offer unto thy divine Majesty; beseeching thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: and grant, that all they that
do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love.Most merciful Father, we humbly pray thee, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, and we ask that thou accept and bless these gifts, these presents, these holy and unspoiled sacrifices. We offer them unto thee, first, for thy holy catholic Church: that thou vouchsafe to keep it in peace, to guard, unite, and govern it throughout the whole world; together with thy servant N., our Bishop and all the faithful guardians of the catholic and apostolic faith.Remember, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids [N. and N.] and all who here around us stand, whose faith is known unto thee and their steadfastness manifest, on whose behalf we offer unto thee, or who themselves offer unto thee, this sacrifice of praise; for themselves, and for all who are theirs; for the redemption of their souls, for the hope of their salvation and safety; and who offer their prayers unto thee, the eternal God, the living and the true.United in one communion, we venerate the memory, first of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, Mother of our God and Lord Jesus Christ; of Joseph her spouse; as also of the blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, James, John, Thomas, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon and Thaddaeus; Linus, Cletus, Clement, Xystus, Cornelius, Cyprian, Lawrence, Chrysogonus, John and Paul, Cosmas and Damian and of all thy Saints: grant that by their merits and prayers we may in all things be defended with the help of thy protection.

O God, heavenly Father, which of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world ; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to celebrate a perpetual memory of that
his precious Death, until his coming again:

We beseech thee then, O Father, graciously to accept this oblation from us thy servants, and from thy whole family: order thou our days in thy peace, and bid us to be delivered from eternal damnation, and to be numbered in the fold of thine elect through Christ our Lord.

On the night in which he was betrayed unto suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks unto thee, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

Likewise, after supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink ye all of this: For this is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it for the remembrance of me.”

Wherefore, O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ, we thy humble servants do celebrate and make here before thy divine Majesty, with these thy holy gifts, the memorial which thy Son hath commanded us to make: having in remembrance his blessed Passion, mighty Resurrection, and glorious Ascension, we await his coming in glory: rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumberable benefits procured unto us by the same; entirely desiring thy fatherly goodness mercifully to accept this our Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, this memorial of our redemption; most humbly beseeching thee to grant, that by the Merits and Death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his Blood, we and all thy whole Church may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his Passion.

Vouchsafe to look upon these gifts with a merciful and pleasant countenance; and to accept them, even as thou didst vouchsafe to accept the gifts of thy servant Abel the Righteous, and the sacrifice of our Patriarch Abraham; and the holy sacrifice, the immaculate victim, which thy high priest Melchisedech offered unto thee.

Vouchsafe, O God, we beseech thee, in all things to make this oblation blessed, approved and accepted, a perfect and worthy offering: Sanctify it by thy Holy Ghost that it may become for thy people the Body and Blood of thy dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him.

Remember also, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids, [N. and N.], who have gone before us sealed with the seal of faith, and who sleep the sleep of peace. To them, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, we beseech thee to grant the abode of refreshing, of light, and of peace through the same Christ our Lord.

To us sinners also, thy servants, who hope in the multitude of thy mercies, vouchsafe to grant some part and fellowship with thy holy Apostles and Martyrs; with John, Stephen, Matthias, Barnabas, Ignatius, Alexander, Marcellinus, Peter, Felicitas, Perpetua, Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia and with all thy Saints, within whose fellowship, we beseech thee, admit us, not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offenses; through Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom, O Lord, thou dost ever create all these good things; dost sanctify, quicken, bless, and bestow them upon us;

By whom, and with whom, and in whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. AMEN.

What is this?

It’s a proper Rite III prayer that follows the rules as I understand them. It’s a mash-up of the Tudor-era canon of the Mass attributed to Miles Coverdale (though likely not by him), the Eucharistic canon of the 1549 prayer book particularly as adapted in the current Rite I, and the required texts laid down in Form 2.

Is this some kind of a joke?

Well, maybe some kind… But for the most part—no.

Here’s the thing. Those who champion Rite III and its ilk assume that what the church needs is to become more informal. Take a look at the broader culture. Things are far more informal in our dress and in our speech than we were in prior decades. We watch Downton Abbey and marvel at the array of clothing for each meal, occasion, and time of day, the intricate codes of what was appropriate at one moment, season, or gathering but not for another. We’re not like that anymore. Only a few places exist in our everyday world where I can’t go in a t-shirt, jeans, and a pair of sandals.

But is the inherent corrollary of this movement that the liturgy of our churches should necessarily become more informal?

For one thing, I’m developing a suspicion of the notion of “liturgical evangelism”—that a (if not “the”) primary function of our liturgy ought to be not scare off newcomers. We must be welcoming and hospitable—absolutely—but what does that mean and what does it look like? Are we being hospitable, truly welcoming stangers and vistitors to something, if we suppress or jettison altogether our identity and integrity?

For another there’s a difference between informality at church and informality in the language of the liturgy. The language of this liturgy does not care if you are slumming it in flip-flops or rockin’ a three-piece. That has far more to do with, once again, practices of hospitality within the gathered community.

For yet another thing, I perceive among myself and my circle of friends a reaction against some of our current culture’s informality. In my house we call it the Mad Men effect.  There is, particularly on the part of younger Gen-X and Gen-Y folks a desire for some of the structure—and style—that we think we see in Mad Men, Downton Abbey, and other perceptions of the Time Before the Sixties. There was a clarity there in roles and responsibilities we find lacking in today’s world. I’m very sensitive that this is a nostalgia for something we never actually experienced. That’s a whole other topic that we’ll get into some other day. The point I’m making here is that those looking for depth and authenticity increasingly hard to find in a shallow consumer-centered culture may be looking for something else. Perhaps language redolent of long-lived experience that actually is in direct contact with over a thousand years of Christian tradition is what they’re hungering for.

The line I’ve heard most frequently since prayer book revision was announced is: I hope they keep Rite I. And it’s not been old people saying this either.

Our culture has informality—but it lacks transcendence. A liturgy of this sort has transcendence in spades.


One last observation before wrapping up. I’d argue that this Eucharistic Prayer actually does a better job of representing baptismal ecclesiology than some in the ’79 prayer book. Note the two lists of saints and the references to the local community, both living and dead, imaged in the prayer. This prayer sketches the Body of Christ more fully by naming specific people and categories with whom we gather when we pray not named in our current prayers.

Bottom Line

Prayer Book revision is coming. Rite 3 approval has occured. We will be entering into a time of experimenting with liturgy and liturgical patterns. I urge us to be broad and diverse in our experimentation. My fear is that we will only think about experimentation and diversity in narrow ways–things that are more informal and less structured. But that’s only one direction out of a host of others. Exploring the riches of our past has got to be a part of the picture as well.

Reflections on CWOB

I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking to groups around the church for a while on the topic of Communion Without Baptism (CWOB). With the persistence of the topic at this year’s General Convention, I’m gathering some of my key thoughts about it here in a concise form.

  • We’re not engaging the real question. First, there tend to be two rather starkly drawn positions: “You’re exclusive, but thank God I’m not” and “You’ve got bad theology, but thank God I don’t.” Neither is particuarly conducive for discussion as to the real issues on the table. The central position in favor of CWOB is actually built around identity—Is the Episcopal Church the welcoming, inclusive body that it claims to be?—that sometimes manifests as anxiety—If we don’t let visitors commune will they be offended, feel excluded, and not come back? The central position against CWOB is built around a traditional understanding of sacramental theology. It has impeccible grounding in Scripture and Tradition. However, it functions best as a system of thought; too often it seems incapable of wrestling with or satisfying questions that come from the perspective of human needs and hungers—and, very frequently, wounds from the hands of other church bodies. To complicate things further, I think we frequently try to address a host of different issues and concerns under one label and would do ourselves a favor if we separate them out a bit to have greater clarity about what we’re really struggling with. So—if these aren’t the real questions, what is it? Here’s my take on the bigger question that we’re all trying to answer as best we can: How can the Episcopal Church be a welcoming and inclusive community with clear practices of hospitality that enact a coherent and compelling sacramental theology?
  • We’re dealing with several different levels of engagement: we need to discuss like with like. We have a canon in place throughout the Episcopal Church that says that the reception of communion is only for the Baptized. The central point of argument especially for the pro-CWOB position narrows the focus to a signle moment: when a priest is distributing communion and comes to a visitor with their hands out. Thus, the question is usually constructed along these lines: Should the canon be overturned for the sake of the pastoral act? Again, this is the wrong question because its an imprecise question that skips over important considerations. It’s far better to break this into at least two big questions with attendent discussions beside. These are the two big questions: What are the practices of hospitality in our worship gatherings? and How does the church understand the relationship between the sacraments with regard to discipleship and the broader life of faith?
  • We are not clear on our practices of hospitality. I do not believe for an instant that anyone on either side of the discussion wants people to feel excluded, rejected, or inadequate. To assume, imply, or assert that this is the position of “the opposite side” is a poor rhetorical ploy. Typically, the argument for CWOB is directly connected to its “missional” character. That is, CWOB is understood by some as a means of sacramental evangelism. The logic is that properly welcoming a stranger into our midst means allowing them to participate in every activity that everyone else does. I’m not sure this is actually the case and gets into the broader question of our confusion and uncomfortability with boundaries—when they are appropriate and when they are not, where they are helpful and where they are harmful. As a community that—in theory—is willing and—hopefully—eager to welcome strangers in, how do we do that properly? And are we doing it consistently? Do we welcome all to the table in the chancel yet give guests the cold shoulder at coffee hour?
  • The role of host must be performed intentionally with regard for the guest. When it comes to hospitality and welcoming the stranger there are two fundamental roles here, guest and host. The stranger who comes in among us (known or not, invited or not, Episcopal or not, baptized or not) is the guest. We, the church community generally and the priest particularly as the leader of the liturgy, have an obligation to be a good host. The role of the host is to welcome the guest and, formally or not, lay down expectations for how things should proceed. (This is becoming especially important as there are more and more visitors who may have never been in a church before and have no clue what we do or why we do it and that specific actions have meanings.) The role of the guest—and yes, being a guest is a role with its own demands as well—is to be welcomed and to observe the expectations as possible and appropriate. There are “good” hosts and “good” guests; there are “bad” hosts and “bad” guests. The way that boundaries are constructed and negotiated relates directly to how these roles are played. For instance, when I go to a Roman Catholic Mass, I do not receive the Eucharist. Do I feel in my heart that I am able to receive that Eucharist? Absolutely! But to do so would be to transgress my role as guest. I (personally) don’t feel excluded because I know perfectly well going into it that my host—the Roman Catholic Church and the people who represent it—reserve the Eucharist for Roman Catholics. They are being a good host if they remind me of that, and I am being a good guest when I respect it irrespective of whether or not I believe they are correct in that practice. On the flip-side, they would be bad hosts if they don’t make it clear who is welcome and who is not; likewise, I would be a bad guest if I disregarded a clear direction and received anyway. Of course, they would be an even better host if they made it clear that I was welcome to come up and receive a blessing with clear directions around what I should do—because that gives me clarity as a guest and helps me join in with those around me even if I am not receiving the Eucharist. (The most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in a Roman church was when I joined the queue, came up to the priest with my arms crossed over my chest to indicate that I wanted a blessing, and he just stared at me in utter uncomprehension…) In our role as host, are we being clear with our guests?
  • Choosing to be a bad host is the wrong answer. My fear is that, in some places, we choose to be bad hosts because it is the easier option. If no announcement is made, if the practice of the church is simply skipped over, no-one has to feel excluded or uncomfortable. CWOB becomes the default because the host is not willing to speak up. The real problem here is that it sabotages the agency of the guest. Those who are baptized, who are the leaders in the church, are robbing the guest of even knowing that there is a choice to be made. They are imposing their own sense of propriety (and sometimes their own anxieties) upon a guest who may not share them at all. If a declaration is made along these lines: “All are welcome to come to the altar. Baptized Christians are welcome to receive the Eucharist—put out your hands as the priest comes by; If you wish to receive a blessing—cross your arms over your chest,” it fully fulfills the hostly role. The guest is presented with the choice—they are allowed to have their own agency. If you are baptized you have the choice to receive or not receive. If you are not baptized you have the same two choices. At this point, the host goes with whichever action the guest makes.
  • How much of this is really about us, how we perceive ourselves, and how we want to be perceived, rather than about the guest? Here’s a thought experiment for you… If you went to a service at a Hindu temple with a friend and, at one point, your friend turned to you and said, “This part here is only done by sworn devotees of this deity,” would you feel offended and excluded and insist that you had a right to participate? For myself, I wouldn’t because to do so would be to disrespect my friend’s culture and beliefs and sense of what is holy and sacred. Why do we assume that letting visitors know that Eucharist is for the baptized would make them feel offended and excluded? The bald fact of the matter is that we do not have hordes of unbaptized people clamoring at our doors for an opportunity to receive the Eucharist. Very often a “wide welcome” is put out for the benefit of the people already in the pews—to reassure us about what kind of people we are (welcoming and hospitable [whether we actually are, in truth, or not]) and about what kind of church we belong to (a welcoming and inclusive one [not like those other ones—perhaps especially the one we might have left]). A pro-CWOB stance helps us feel a certain way about our self and our church regardless of that feeling’s basis in fact.
  • Sacraments are part of a larger pattern of being and doing. When the discussion about CWOB is focused on and condensed around that single moment—the priest coming up to a stranger with outstreched hands—we lose sight of the larger scope of the issue. In some of the rhetoric in favor of CWOB, the Eucharist is presented as a generic sign of God’s love, affection, and grace. To withhold it, then, is seen as ecclesiastical control and therefore denial of God’s love, affection, and grace to the unbaptized. This is both false and a misconstrual of what the church teaches about both Baptism and Eucharist. I’ve already written at some length on this point so I’ll refer you to that discussion if you want to see the logic, but the prayer book clarifies that the grace channeled to us from God in the Eucharist is grace to better inhabit and more fully embody the covenant relationship created in Baptism. Apart from that relationship it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense! The sacraments were given to the church for a reason. Through them, we enter into the reconciliation offered to us by God through Christ mediated by the Holy Spirit. They are a means of helping us live more fully and share more deeply the life of God, which—on our end—looks like a life of discipleship chiefly oriented around following Jesus on the way of the cross. To offer the Eucharist apart from Baptism renders our sacramental theology incoherent. This relates directly to the issue of altering the canon. If we simply remove our church-wide canon against the unbaptized receiving the Eucharist, we will be establishing a policy of incoherency. This is fundamentally different from the pastoral question of whether an unbaptized stranger can or has been moved by a form of prevenient grace that has inspired them to broach the obligations of hospitality and receive the Eucharist. Can this form of extraordinary, prevenient grace occur? That seems to be the testimony of some, including the oft-cited Sara Miles. But it would be just that—an extraordinary operation of grace. Jesus is the victim, the food, and the host of the Eucharistic meal; however, the Church is the steward of the mysteries. The Eucharist didn’t just appear in the middle of a sidewalk somewhere; it was given by Christ to the Church to administer in keeping with the Gospel message. The ordinary channel and means of grace taught in Scripture, Tradition and—yes—centuries of Experience moves from Baptism to Eucharist. That’s not to deny that it doesn’t sometimes occasionally work the other way around, but that is not what has been handed over to us. CWOB as a policy undercuts the importance of Baptism and—in particular—undercuts the theological foundation of the ’79 Book of Common Prayer which places a particular importance on Baptism, the baptismal covenant, and the concept of a baptismal ecclesiology.
  • Don’t underestimate the Eucharist. When I said up there that we needed a coherent and compelling sacramental theology, I meant “compelling” in a quite literal sense. When I was doing a presentation on a variety of prayer book topics in the Atlanta area in the Spring, I met up with some friends. In the course of our discussion I mentioned that I would be talking about CWOB and one of them asked, rather urgently, what I was going to say about it. I responded that I didn’t think it was a good idea. “Good!” she said, “Because not being able to take communion was what made me a Christian!” My friend was Jewish and, on going to an Episcopal church with friends, became intrigued about what she was not allowed to do.  What was so special that it was reserved in such a way? Answering that question led her to Baptism. “If I had been allowed to take it, I probably wouldn’t have thought much of it,” she told me. Do we believe that the Eucharist is something special, something sacred? And if so, do our practices demonstrate that? There is a perception—often in the name of inclusion—that boundaries are exclusive by nature. I would suggest that the boundary around the Eucharist is not one put in place for the purpose of excluding but for the purpose of demarcation in order to preserve the logic and intention of the sacramental life of discipleship. What is exclusive, therefore, is not the fact of a boundary, but the practices of hospitality around it—do we indicate its reason and purpose in a way that invites the stranger to investigate and understand what we find so compelling about it, or are we simply refusing themmin a truly excluding way, or are we abdicating our hostly responsibility because it feels nicer, gratifies our self-image, and absolves us of the need to do the engagement of evangelism?
  • We need respect, solid theology, and good practices. As I said at the outset, I don’t think we’re actually wrestling with the right question. We need to do so. Doing that will help us frame our discussions in a far better way. We need to respect and listen to one another. A key component of this debate is that it frequently touches on places of deep woundedness. People have been deeply hurt by churches—often, usually, the churches in which they were raised. Sometimes it was because of ways that those churches deliberately excluded them because of their gender, sexual orientation, or marital status. Sometimes it was because of ways that they felt the church had betrayed them by altering their teachings. The first is more common than the second and, in my experience, many of the people who advocate for CWOB do so because of these wounds. On one hand, those arguing against CWOB—like me—need to be attentive to this fact and consider practices of hospitality that do not trigeer or replicate this pain in others. On the other hand, personal feelings do not absolve us as a church of the need to do solid theology and to enact it in good practices.

Sacramental Theology 101: Baptism and Eucharist

[Note: This is a piece I wrote and posted on the Episcopal Cafe in advance of the 77th General Convention in 2012 in relation to a resolution in favor of communing the unbaptized.]

The Episcopal Church is a big-tent organization when it comes to theology. This is often a good thing as it allows a whole bunch of us who don’t necessarily agree on everything to come together, worship, and proclaim Jesus together in the world. On the other hand, when we do need to sit down and sort something out theologically, we’re sometimes at a loss for how to do it because of a fundamental lack of agreement about terms. This has been my experience around the “Communion without Baptism” debate. I come to the table from a Prayer Book Catholic perspective; certain words, terms, and ideas mean certain things to me and those with whom I live and worship. But when I talk with other Episcopalians, I sometimes get the sense that we’re talking past one another due to a lack of shared conceptual framework.

The “big tent” brings us together despite our differences; but can it help us understand each other? Actually—I think it can…

The prime mechanism of the “big tent” is the Book of Common Prayer—this is what we use together and what does give us a set of shared expressions (even if we don’t always entirely agree on what those expressions mean!). Likewise, it contains a variety of materials that I think can assist us when we try to talk God with one another.

Towards the back of the prayer book is a catechism (pp. 845-62). It’s a brief little thing, just under twenty pages, but it provides a basic outline of the faith that is fundamental enough that all Episcopalians—no matter their party affiliation—can get behind it.

Working solely from the catechism, I’d like to explore what the prayer book says that Episcopalians believe about the sacraments—particularly Baptism and Eucharist—and see if these can help us get a better sense of the issues surrounding a church policy that programmatically ignores Baptism when it comes to eucharistic distribution.

First, a quick word about the catechism: we must note what it is, and what it isn’t. The brief introduction on p. 844 clarifies this for us: “It is a commentary on the creeds, but is not meant to be a complete statement of belief and practices; rather, it is a point of departure for the teacher…” It’s not intended to be comprehensive and there are important parts of Christian theology that it either glosses or skips over entirely. Nevertheless, being yoked to the creeds, it touches on essential points and gives us the best possible opportunity for broad buy-in.

We have to start at the very beginning and go from there:

Q. What are we by nature?

A. We are part of God’s creation, made in the image of God.

Q. What does it mean to be created in the image of God?

A. It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, to reason, and to live in harmony with creation and with God.

Q. Why then do we live apart from God and out of harmony with creation?

A. From the beginning, human beings have misused their freedom and made wrong choices. (p. 845)

So—all humanity is created in the image of God. God loves us all. Period. Full stop. Furthermore, God wants us to “live in harmony with creation and with God.” God is attempting to reconcile us all to himself and, through that reconciliation, to the whole created order. God calls to us in a variety of ways and through a variety of means. Despite this, we find through the pages of the Old Testament that there is one particular method that God continually chooses to use in the task of reconciling humanity back to himself: the covenant.

Q. What is meant by a covenant with God?

A. A covenant is a relationship initiated by God, to which a body of people responds in faith. (p. 846)

God calls us both individually and collectively, but in particular God likes to make covenants wherein a whole body of people respond in faith. There are a number of important covenants in Scripture: God’s covenant with Noah and all flesh, the covenant with Abraham and all his descendants, the covenant with Moses and all Israel, the covenant with David.

God’s ultimate act of covenant-making, however, was a covenant made in and through the blood of Jesus and his victory over the grave:

Q. How can we share in [Jesus’s] victory over sin, suffering, and death?

A. We share in his victory when we are baptized into the New Covenant and become living members of Christ.

Q. What is the New Covenant?

A. The New Covenant is the new relationship with God given by Jesus Christ, the Messiah, to the apostles; and, through them, to all who believe in him.

Q. What did the Messiah promise in the New Covenant?

A. Christ promised to bring us into the kingdom of God and give life in all its fullness.

Q. What response did Christ require?

A. Christ commanded us to believe in him and to keep his commandments. (pp. 850-1)

Many of the early covenant communities were something that you had to be born into; the New Covenant through Jesus is different. We enter into it through Baptism.

Now—stop for a second. Look back up the page. We said at the outset of our catechism crawl that God made us all in his image, that he loves us all, and that he is seeking our full reconciliation back to him. None of that has changed here. No one is saying that God only loves the baptized. What the catechism is saying is that Baptism ushers us into a particular covenant community. As such, it is a particular community who has chosen to acknowledge a certain kind of relationship with God that both claims a specific promise from God (“a new relationship”, “coming into the kingdom of God”, “life in all its fullness”)and that in response the community takes upon itself certain obligations (“believe in [Christ]”, “keep his commandments”). Baptism, therefore, is a deliberate and public change of our relationship with God by entering into a specific covenant community.

In case there’s any question we’ll pick up this one just to connect all the dots:

Q. What is the Church?

A. The Church is the community of the New Covenant. (p. 854)

No surprise there!

Since we’re getting pretty deep into Baptism, it’s time to focus on the sacraments themselves:

Q. What are the sacraments?

A. The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.

Q. What is grace?

A. Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.

Q. What are the two great sacraments of the Gospel?

A. The two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church are Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. (p. 858)

Ok, we need to be quite careful here about exactly what is and isn’t said—this is where some major confusion can come in. First, it’s worth repeating this line again: “Grace is God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” (The former Lutheran in me loves this line!) Second—and this is really important—note carefully this wording: “The sacraments are…given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” The key words are “sure and certain means.” What we never ever say here or intend here is that the sacraments are the only or the sole means by which God dispenses grace. To say that is truly to put God in a little box! God is free to dispense his free, unearned and undeserved gifts of grace in any way that he sees fit. It’s not our job to oversee this. What it is our job to do, however, is to “believe in him and to keep his commandments.”

What is particular about sacramental grace is that it is a “sure and certain means of grace.” We don’t know all of the ways and means and methods through which God dispenses grace—however we do know for sure that the sacraments are channels that God has given to us as a covenant community to convey his own grace. We don’t own it, but it has been promised to us, it has been given to the Church—the covenant community—that we might be stewards of it according to God’s commands.

Q. What is Holy Baptism?

A. Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children and makes us members of Christ’s Body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.

. . .

Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism?

A. The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. (p. 858)

Baptism’s grace brings us into a particular instantiation of God’s family, the Church, among other things. This family is not a generic group that includes all the created but is a specific grouping of the covenant community as made clear in the identification of the communion of the saints which shares with the previous point the terminology of God’s family:

Q. What is the communion of saints?

A. The communion of saints is the whole family of God, the living and the dead, those whom we love and those whom we hurt, bound together in Christ by sacrament, prayer, and praise. (p. 862)

What distinguishes this family is precisely the bond with Christ through “sacrament” (pre-eminently Baptism) as well as “prayer, and praise.”

The Eucharist, then, is described thusly:

Q. What is the Holy Eucharist?

A. The Holy Eucharist is the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again.

. . .

Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace given in the Eucharist?

A. The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.

Q. What are the benefits which we receive in the Lord’s Supper?

A. The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life. (pp. 859-60)

The language here is the language of building on something previous. The Eucharist is the gift to Christ’s people who are best understood not as “everybody” or “those whom Christ loves” (which is, again, “everybody”) but more specifically those “[united] with Christ in his death and resurrection, [born] into God’s family the Church” (p. 858)—i.e., the baptized. Following on the language of union in Baptism is the statement that the Eucharist is a “strengthening of our union with Christ and one another” (p. 860); what was begun in Baptism is nourished and nurtured in the Eucharist. The language here concerning the Eucharist assumes Baptism in both the identification of the community and the benefits of the specific Eucharistic graces.

I would be remiss if I did not include one more section on the Eucharist:

Q. What is required of us when we come to the Eucharist?

A. It is required that we should examine our lives, repent of our sins, and be in love and charity with all people. (p. 860)

On one hand, I know that some will point out that “being baptized” is not included in this list; that’s true. However, the items on this list are not a set of ecclesial pre-conditions, but rather a set of spiritual dispositions. (Indeed, they were pretty much taken directly from the Exhortation to confession on p. 330 which itself was taken directly from earlier prayer books that explicitly required Confirmation before receiving the Eucharist.) On the other hand, while Baptism is not mentioned explicitly, we must ask ourselves if the casual un-churched attendee has had the time and opportunity for the examination and repentance directed here. Repentance for sin in particular is largely a spiritual discipline of the Church.

This having been said, I believe that we can construct from the catechism a set of basic principles around our use and practice of the sacraments that all Anglicans can agree on. I’ll number them for ease of reference:

1. God loves all who were created in his image—period.

2. God calls us to reconciliation with himself and with creation.

3. Historically, God’s preeminent channels for calling humanity to reconciliation are covenants through which covenant communities are created.

4. A covenant community is a deliberate body that has taken upon itself obligations as part of recognizing a particular relationship with God has initiated and that the community has both recognized and accepted.

5. The Church generally and the Episcopal Church specifically is a covenant community the entrance into which is Baptism.

6. Baptism is not a sign that God loves the baptized more than other people, nor is it a denial that God loves those who are not baptized.

7. Baptism is both a sign and an agent of a changed relationship with God wherein the baptized community recognizes a particular relationship with the Triune God through Baptism into the death and resurrection of Jesus and takes on the obligations that Jesus laid upon us (preeminently, to love God and love our neighbor and to keep his commandments—see p. 851)

8. Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ that itself points back to the Body of Christ entered into through Baptism.

9. There are sacramental graces conferred through Baptism and Eucharist that aid us in living deeper into the covenant relationship established with the Triune God through Baptism into Jesus and the on-going reception of his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

10. Sacramental grace is not the only kind of grace there is, but is a sure and certain means of grace given to a particular covenant community for the strengthening of the bonds of that covenant.

11. Reception of the Eucharist occurs within the covenant community and within the context of the spiritual disciplines of the covenant community.

Now, as a self-professed Anglo-Catholic, there’s a whole lot more that I’d want to say and add in—but I won’t; I’m not trying to lay out an Anglo-Catholic theology of the Sacraments but a broadly Episcopal one which I can live with as can my Evangelical and Broad-Church friends.

That having been said, I can’t and won’t resist the temptation to throw out these few points:

A. The Church is the covenant community entered into through Baptism.

B. Apart from the covenant in Baptism, receiving the Eucharist just doesn’t make much sense! Why would anyone want to be strengthened in a very specific kind of relationship that they have not chosen to be a part of?

C. The call for Communion Without Baptism fundamentally confuses our understanding of both God’s love and God’s grace. People don’t need Baptism or the Eucharist to be loved by God—God already does that. Nor is the grace given in the Sacrament some kind of generic “divine good favor.” Rather, Sacramental grace is grace to better inhabit and more fully embody the covenant relationship created in Baptism.

D. I don’t control God’s grace distribution; he does that as he pleases. However the sure and certain grace in the sacrament is given to and embodied within a particular covenant community. We don’t possess it, per se, but we are stewards of it. We dispense it as we have received it—within the covenant community.

E. What we are called to do—one of those pesky commandments of Christ, in fact—is to invite people into the covenant community so that they can share in this particular relationship with God and be nurtured into reconciliation with God as we know and grasp the Triune God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20a).


Quick Thought on Eucharist, Communion, and A044

Joseph Jungmann’s The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development is an indisputable classic in the field of liturgy and is one of the great works that defines the thought of the Liturgical Renewal Movement which triumphed in the Roman Catholic liturgies that came forth from Vatican II as well as our own Episcopal 1979 Book of Common Prayer.  As readers know, one of my favorite times and places is the Early Medieval West. Suffice it to say, it wan’t one of Jungmann’s favorites. Indeed, it’s precisely the time and place where he sees the Mass losing part of its original character and converting into something contrary to the experience of the Last Supper. He writes in regard to the situation after the debates between Radbertus and Ratramnus:

Forgotten is the relationship between the sacramental Body—the “mystical” Body, as it was then often termed—and the Body of Christ which is the Church. The same is true if the connection between the Sacrament and the death of Christ. And so, too, the conscious participation of the community in the oblation of Christ is lost sight of, and with it that approach of the community towards God to which the Sacrament in its fulness is a summons or invitation. Instead, the Mass becomes all the more the mystery of God’s comin to man, a mystery one must adoringly wonder at and contemplate from afar. The approach to the Holy Table of the Lord in Communion is no longer the rule even on feast days; already the Eucharist had not been our daily bread for a long time. (Jungmann, Mass of the Roman Rite, 1.84)

For Jungmann the spectacle (in the most literal of terms…) of the early medieval Eucharist was a deformation of the rite because it placed the notion of the whole community’s corporate celebration in jeapordy. Instaed, the Eucharist became something that only a priest would do and receive by himself; the only job of the community was to observe and that wasn’t even necessary.

One of the items up before the Episcopal Church’s General Convention is A044. As it was originally proposed, it asked that provisions be made so that lay people can distribute preconcecrated bread in the absence of a priest on a continual and habitual basis. The resolution has since been altered by the House of Bishops (for which I am quite pleased) so this text is not up for a vote. However, I feel compelled to make the observation that the same thing is going on here that Jungmann complained about: one particualr portion of the Church’s Eucharist has been seized upon without reference to the meaning of the rite as a whole.

Just as the early medieval Eucharist devolved into a spectacle, an act of observation, the theology (whether formulated or not—probably not) informing the original text of A044 reduced it simply to an act of feeding.  It may be Communion, but what would be lost is precisely “Eucharist”: the communal celebration which joins us into Christ’s own self-offering to the Father.

Sacramental Ecclesiology

If you haven’t read this piece on Children and the Eucharist, you should.

The writer has accurately identified the next big theological crisis facing the Episcopal Church. All of the questions around communing children, the place of Confirmation, if/whether/how “First Communion” is “a thing,” and the communing of the unbaptized are simply different ways of entering a larger complicated inter-related question.

The 1979 American Book of Common Prayer placed recovery of a baptismal ecclesiology at its center. This was a good and correct move. The problem, however, is that a baptismal ecclesiology functions properly within a broader sacramental ecclesiology. What I mean by that is this:

Church is fundamentally about a sacramental path to discipleship.

Everything from how we comprehend the coherence between the local church and the mystical Church, how we enter the church, how the church frames and provides its rites and sacraments, how the church frames and understands its saints must proceed from an understanding of the church as a mystical vehicle for the grace of God given, received, and expressed normatively in her sacraments.

Baptismal ecclesiology is a very important piece of this complete vision—necessary but not sufficient!

What we need to do now is to flesh out the rest of our sacramental ecclesiology in a clear and coherent way that reflects deep continuity with the Scriptures and the Apostolic faith and is true to our current experience and context. Until this has occurred, we will find ourselves running around with incoherent band-aid fixes…

Anatomy of the Eucharist: Part 3

Ok—this is the final section. It began here with the Anatomy of the Eucharist, Part 1 and continued with Anatomy of the Eucharist, Part 2.

With this, I have finally concluded drafting my chapter on the Eucharist. I don’t know that it’s achieved its final form, though. I think I may juggle some pieces. I know some of you suggested moving around some parts of Part 1—I need to revisit that now that I have a more definite shape of where I’m going and what falls where.

God willing, this is the last installment of the Prayer Book Spirituality Project and it’ll shortly be packed up and sent off to the sharp knives of the editors.

Be warned: this is rather long. However, I’d rather make this section long than break up the inherent flow of this part of the service.

So—without further ado…


The Holy Communion

Rite One

Rite Two



Offertory Offertory Yes As desired
[hymn, psalm, or anthem] [hymn, psalm, or anthem] Optional Weekly
The Great Thanksgiving The Great Thanksgiving Yes By prayer
The Lord’s Prayer The Lord’s Prayer Yes None
The Breaking of the Bread/Fraction Anthem The Breaking of the Bread/Fraction Anthem Yes As desired; by season
Prayer of Humble Access Optional
Distribution Distribution Yes As desired
[hymn, psalm, or anthem] [hymn, psalm, or anthem] Optional Weekly
Post-Communion Prayer Post-Communion Prayer Yes By occasion
Blessing Blessing Optional As desired; by season
Dismissal Dismissal Yes As desired

Let me give you an initial perspective to frame our discussion as we move into the Holy Communion. Gregory Dix, an Anglican Benedictine monk, in his monumental work Shape of the Liturgy gives us a key entre into the spiritual heart of the Eucharist as a result of his study of countless Eucharistic prayers of the Eastern and Western Churches. No matter what else they might do or have, they all had these four fundamental actions in common: take, bless, break, give. On a basic structural level, it’s easy to line these up with the elements in the chart above. In the Offertory, the congregation brings offerings to the altar including the bread and wine. Then, the Eucharistic prayer itself is the blessing of these elements. The bread is broken at the Breaking of the Bread/Fraction Anthem, and then both elements—bread and wine—are given to the people at the Distribution.

The real genius and spiritual meat of Dix’s observation, though, only comes with reflection. It’s easy enough to match up his four actions with parts of the service. But to stop and to leave it at that is to miss the deeper opportunities for reflection and growth to which Dix can take us. You see, no one action exhausts any particular element of the Eucharist. If we stop at the structural level, we fail to notice that these four actions tend to be operative in each individual part of the Eucharistic act. There’s a continual flow of these actions around and through the various parties enacting the Eucharist: When the priest “gives” the consecrated bread, we—the congregants—are “taking” (receiving), and in our receiving is Christ’s own “blessing.” To just call this Distribution/”Give” is to limit ourselves to a clerical perspective. The priest is “giving,” but what are we doing, what is Christ doing, where is the Spirit moving?

Likewise, within the Eucharistic prayer when we together with the priest are “blessing,” we are also in the act of “giving”—our very souls and bodies! And in so doing, Christ is “taking” while the Spirit is also “blessing.” Now, I could try and step through each element for you and show you how they line up, but that’s not how this works. As you engage in the Eucharistic meal, the Eucharistic practice, you will see for yourself different aspects come to the fore as you are ready to see them and as you need to see them. What is required is a sense of the four fundamental actions in order to be attentive to them.

The Offertory

The Offertory is the point when the gathered community offers its material possessions for the good of itself and the world around itself. Despite what you might think based on the church’s preoccupations, the Scriptures—the New Testament in particular—has far more to say about possessions and what we do with them than it does about sex! Proper stewardship and the sharing of resources has been a hallmark of the Christian teaching from the beginning (the book of Acts in particular makes this quite evident). This element gives us an opportunity to literally put our money where our mouth is. In this act, the congregation’s gifts are received and are then brought forward to the altar to be dedicated to God.

The Offertory Sentences all explore the ideas of offering and sacrifice primarily through a lens of stewardship. What we have is what we have been given whether directly or indirectly by God in creation. Some priests may raise the elements and say a prayer over them at this point—this isn’t a pre-blessing but rather a prayer of thanks to God for giving us bread, wine, and sustenance that we then are privileged to offer back. It is a recognition of the inherent circularity in the act of giving a part of the creation as a gift to the Creator.

The Great Thanksgiving

We now come to the pinnacle of the second part of the service, the great Eucharistic prayer. One of the most common ways of breaking it down is dividing it into its constituent parts. That is, there are subsections within the various Eucharistic prayers that have certain roles that can help us understand what we’re hearing and doing. This is a very common way to break things down. This is what your priests learned about in seminary, and a lot of writings on the Eucharist spend a lot of time on these and on their historical development. As a result, when priests teach the Eucharist, this part often gets emphasized—maybe even over emphasized—because this is how they were taught. It’s easy to trace these parts and to see literary dependence between different kinds of Eucharistic prayers.

But—fundamentally—the Eucharist isn’t about literary dependencies.

It’s not about the history of the development of the text of the prayer, either.

The Eucharist is a whole-body multi-sensory experience where we remind ourselves who God is for us, we praise in awe and wonder, and—ultimately—we taste and see that the Lord is good. We receive Christ into ourselves so that we (all of us, together, the whole company of faithful people) may be received more deeply into him.

And that’s why we look at the parts of the prayer—so that we can more clearly perceive within ourselves the fruits of his redemption.

The chief parts of the prayer itself (sometimes called the anaphora or canon) are these:

  • The Opening Dialog
  • The Thanksgiving (Preface)
  • The Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) [stuck in the midst of the Thanksgiving]
  • The Words and Deeds of Jesus (Institution Narrative)
  • The Remembrance (Anamnesis)
  • The Offering (Oblation)
  • The Invocation of the Spirit (Epiclesis)
  • The Final Blessing (Doxology)

The Opening Dialogue

The Opening Dialogue is a brief interchange between the priest and the congregation. It is a ritual exchange where we acknowledge what we are about to do and make public profession of our unity in what follows. This dialogue begins with the standard exchange that is the normal liturgical greeting and response: “The Lord be with you”/”And also with you [And with thy spirit.]”

The call to “lift up your hearts” only appears in the Eucharist. There are a few different ways to understand this call. One is to see this phrase as a metaphor inviting us to be joyful. By lifting up our hearts, we are metaphorically lifting them from sadness and putting them into a more acceptable place proper for rejoicing. Another, favored by John Calvin among others, takes it in a spirito-spatial sense. He understood this to be a reference to lifting our hearts “upwards” into heaven and into the presence of the enthroned Christ.

The final exchange establishes an agreement about what we’re all about to do together: to “give thanks” is, in Greek, the verb eucharistein from which our word “Eucharist” comes. The response, whether it’s the Cranmerian “It is meet [fitting] and right so to do” or the modern paraphrase of the priest’s statement, “It is right to give him thanks and praise” is a word of agreement. In essence, the priest says, “Let’s eucharist now!” and our response is “Yes, let’s!” From the point on, the priest continues, but we are all committed to the words the priest says and are united in the priest’s prayer. The priest is praying on our behalf, and in consonance with our own silent prayers. We are not observers simply because we are not talking; we are full participants—or at least certainly should be! This is part of the agreement we’re making. So, another way to consider it is that, in the final exchange, we as the people of God are extending our permission for the priest to give thanks to God in midst of all of us on behalf of all of us.

The Thanksgiving

The Eucharist is an experience, but it’s not a strictly subjective one; we can’t make it into whatever we think it ought to be. Instead, the priest begins with an act of thanks that also reminds both God and us of the extent of our relationship up to this point. We are reminded of the intrinsic character of the God whom we are thanking.

Since we have just finished giving the priest permission to start thanking, the prayer logically proceeds in that vein. In most of our prayers, there is a Proper Preface that gets inserted at this point. Most seasons have their own Preface; on Sundays during green seasons there are three—Of God the Father, Of God the Son, and Of God the Holy Spirit—that may be used. Some occasions get their own prefaces—Baptisms, marriages, ordinations, a few classes of saints, the dead. Too, on regular weekdays the prayer is written so the preface can simply be dropped out. The proper prefaces thank God from a particular perspective and emphasize some special aspect of our relationship with God. The seasonal prefaces naturally emphasize something that pertains to the season, usually using images, biblical allusions, or referring to biblical events prominent in the season’s readings.

However the preface goes—or even if it’s left out altogether—it always concludes the same way. Our thanks turns to praise and we join our voices with the whole heavenly chorus.

The Sanctus

A joke was making the rounds a while ago when I was in seminary in the South that went something like this:

A Southern Baptist minister and an Episcopal priest ran into each other at the Post Office one Monday morning. The Baptist turned to the Episcopalian and said, “We had such a great day yesterday! We had over 300 people show up. A famous foreign missionary came and gave us the message. And that was just our Seeker Service!”

“Wow—congratulations,” his Episcopal colleague responded.

“So—how’d you do?” the minister prompted.

“Let me think…” said the priest. “We had the Maxwells, the Murphys and their kids, and Bill & Joe. Old Miss Wordward was there and so was her driver. And we had nine ranks of angels, 144,000 sealed out of the tribes of Israel, and then a great multitude that no one could number from every nation, tribe, people and language. Our Lord Jesus Christ came and gave us himself. And that was just our 8 AM Low Mass!”

In addition to poking gentle fun at denominational rivalries, I’ve always remembered this joke because it expresses something deeply true about our understanding of worship—especially sacramental worship.

The Gloria is the first angelic song of our service. The Sanctus is the second. Coming as it does right after the invitation to “lift up our hearts” it reinforces the notion that the Eucharist is occurring in a different spiritual space than our normal lives. We are now existing in a geography peopled by saints, angels, and the hosts of the blessed dead. Or—better yet—it reinforces that there is something richer and deeper going on all around us of which we are usually unaware…

The word Santus is Latin for “holy” and the text of this song comes from Isaiah’s great vision of God in the Temple recorded in Isaiah 6. In his vision, this was the song of the seraphim as they flew about the person of God: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isa 6:3). Significantly, St. John the Divine records a similar song from the four living creatures about the throne of God: “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come” (Rev 4:8). This second part of the song from Revelation conceptually leads into the second half of the Sanctus: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” A few things are potentially going on here.

First, it allows the liturgy to return the song heard in Isaiah and to amplify it with the song heard in Revelation. I hear the addition making an incarnational turn in that the coming of God in flesh (and sacrament) names for us specific ways in which God’s glory fills the creation.

Second, this addition is a direct quotation from Mark 11:9 and Matthew 21:9 that refers to Jesus. If Jesus hasn’t already been brought in to the picture by the Proper Preface, now he has. In our great act of communally blessing and thanking God as part of the greater chorus, our praise makes reference—if only indirectly, to the person of Jesus and, as it were, reminds the priest to say more about him. Sure enough, the prayer will usually take a more Christological turn after this point. We are blessing him who will shortly come and bless us in his sacramental presence.

Third, in the gospel contexts, these words are from the lips of the crowd at the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This provided an ideal point of connection for the patristic and medieval interpreters who allegorized the Eucharist according to the life of Christ; at this point Jesus enters the holy city to be sacrificed.

 And the Thanks Keep Coming…

Some liturgical scholars will speak of the “Post-Sanctus.” This is the part that we’re looking at now. The name makes sense because this is the part that literally comes after the Sanctus. However, I don’t like it because it causes confusion about what’s actually going on. Don’t get me wrong, the name works, and is useful, but it’s most useful when you’re looking at a list of literary elements.

Here’s the problem that I have with it: it creates the sense that we’re doing something different now than what we were before—and that’s not the case. The priest is still engaging in the same basic act of thanks that the prayer started with. Furthermore, when we start breaking things up into elements it looks like we have three separate things here: A Thanksgiving – the Sanctus – The Post-Sanctus. When we see these three as a conceptual unity (which they are), then we better understand that the Sanctus too is an inherent part of our complete act of thanksgiving!

As prompted by the congregational reminder in the second part of the Sanctus, the object of the thanks focuses on what God has done for us specifically in and through the person of Jesus. God’s work of Creation often appears here, but the real move is to the person of Christ.

The Words and Deeds of Jesus

At this point we shift from Jesus in general to a vignette of Jesus in particular. The previous section invoked the broader work of redemption, often centering on the cross. Here we focus on the pivotal moment at dinner the night before.

Say what you like about history and continuity, we know that this part goes back to the very beginning of what Christians do together. Of all of the writings that we have, the letters of Paul are the ones that are the earliest. While dating the writings of the New Testament is a fairly tricky business, we know that Paul was writing in and around the year 51. Indeed, as best as we can tell, his letters were committed to paper ten to twenty years before the gospels themselves were being circulated. As a result, the earliest still-surviving written testimony we have to Jesus Christ, who he was, what he did on this earth, is preserved for us in 1 Corinthians—and it’s this moment:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Cor 11:23-26)

This moment is central for who we are and for who we are together.

It’s easy for us to become numb to certain words and actions, and these are no exception. We become used to hearing them and lose sense of how radical they are. If I had to focus on a single word to try and rekindle the wonder that lives within it, it would be “covenant.” In Classical Hebrew, you don’t “make” a covenant. Instead, the proper turn of phrase is to “cut a covenant.” Genesis 15 shows Abraham cutting a covenant with God and it really does involve cutting animals in half as part of the ritual action! Covenant-cutting is part of what God does. God commits reconciliation with his creation by means of covenants, solemn promises between the divine and the human. Now—here—at dinner—Jesus commits to a new covenant cut in his blood, by means of his blood. The symbolic action will become literal in a few short hours. And yet the great movement to which all of this is driving is not fundamentally about blood and death but about consummating a reconciliation.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (Jer 31:33-34)

And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Rev 21:2-4)

As Christians, we stand as people, witnesses, of this new covenant. In these words we hear it proclaimed week over week. And yet our struggle is to hear it again and again, to take its call to heart again and again, to step into the world that it offers us at our fingertips, closer to us even than our hands and our feet.

The Remembrance

Having heard again the words of Christ, we are struck by the repetition of remembrance. After the bread, after the wine, he enjoins his disciples gathered with him—and that, too, is us—to do this, the act of blessing, breaking, sharing, in memory of him. Accordingly, in our prayer of thanksgiving having just heard this reminder we echo in return an act of remembrance. But what exactly are we remembering? Well—nothing exact if our prayers are anything to go by! That is, we’re not just remembering a poignant moment before he died; we’re not just remembering his death. Rather, our memory encompasses in a flash the whole sweep of our Great Three Days and includes not just his death, not just is descent among the dead and his redemptive work there, but also his resurrection, as well as his ascension, as well as his promise to come again, as well as the totality of who and what he was, is, and will be for us.

The Offering

Here we speak in prayer what we effected in action at the start of this particular movement. In a choreographed moment (the offertory) that we initially labelled as a “take,” the prayer reveals it to be a “give,” but—oddly—in the act of giving, we shall receive, and it will be a blessing…

In the offering, the priest prays the elements back to God. And, in doing so, lays bare what we’re really offering here: ourselves. At the end of the day, this isn’t about bread and wine. It’s about the greater transformation into the fullness of God. It’s about us being transformed. But not just us, either. It’s about the whole created order being transformed back towards the image and ideal in and through which it was created in the first place. It’s that reconciliation business yet again.

The Invocation of the Spirit

The invocation of the Holy Spirit should remind us of what we’ve found ourselves in the midst of. Remember, in a very real sense, we have been invited into the interior dialogue of the Holy Trinity. As members of the Body of Christ and incorporate within him, we are participants in his own self-offering to the Father through the Spirit. Sometimes—and here especially—I think that our invocation of the Spirit isn’t truly an invoking in the proper sense. To invoke is to call; we’re not actually calling the Spirit; the Spirit’s here—it’s been here! Rather, we’re being proper in acknowledging one in whose presence we stand. And again, because it’s proper, not because we control it or direct it, we request the Spirit to do what it does in sanctifying the gifts and also us.

The Final Blessing

Finally we conclude the prayer with a final note of thanks. Acknowledging what we are doing, we attempt to wrap words around the Triune confluence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within which we have been privileged to participate. We have some fun with prepositions as we struggle to adequate describe our perception of the glory of Christ towards the Father—by him, with him, in him…. And of course the Spirit of whom we have just spoken is unifying and binding the act into a worthy garland of praise.

The prayer comes to an end with a great “Amen.” This “Amen” is our collective assent to what the priest has just prayed. Just as the prayer begins with an act of agreement that it is by all, for all, though through the mouth of one, so the “Amen” confirms the unity of our collective prayer. If you notice—these “Amens” are the only ones in the prayer book printed in all caps. They remind us visually of their importance and the emphasis that they deserve.

On that “Ping” Moment

Ok—now that we’ve just finished up our run-through of the Eucharistic prayer, we have to pause for just a moment. We’ve got to talk about the “ping.”

This is something liturgists love to fight about.

When do the elements, the bread and wine, really become “Jesus”? Where’s the moment at which the sacramental presence becomes present in a way that it wasn’t before? A favorite professor of mine liked to call this the “ping” moment… So—where do we look?

There are three good options: 1) The words of institution when the priest recalls Jesus’ own words over the bread and wine, 2) the invocation of the Spirit, and 3) the final Amen. Naturally, different groups have lobbied for different options.

The Western Church, in particular, has typically tended to go with 1. The whole reason that the Host is elevated in the Roman Catholic Mass at the words of institution is so that the congregation can adore Christ who is then present in a way he wasn’t before. When Martin Luther reformed the Mass, he basically took out everything except the words of institution and for generations this was the only part of the classic prayer that Lutherans used. For Luther, it was all about the promise of Christ to be present when the Word of the Gospel is joined with the elements, that’s when the magic happens.

The Eastern Church tends to go with 2. The invocation of the Spirit is what accomplishes the change, they’ll tell you. The priest doesn’t “make” anything, God does; therefore, it’s the action of the Spirit that effects the fundamental transition into the fullness of the Eucharistic presence.

A classic Anglican position likes 3. If we didn’t need the whole prayer, why would we have the whole prayer? Besides, consecration is a function of celebration; this isn’t a mechanical action. As a result, the whole prayer should be seen as a collective and coherent act of consecrating the elements.

Thankfully, although faced with an array of three possible options, all with good reasons to back them up, I can give you the single correct answer—it fundamentally and truly…doesn’t matter.

Well, let me clarify: it doesn’t matter when it happens; it matters that it happens.

Honestly—we don’t know and it’s not worth fighting over. What’s much more important is that we locate a movement of the greater presence of Christ in our midst at some point within this action. If it helps you to see it at a particular point—by all means, go with that! If it doesn’t matter to you, leave it at that. For me, I’ll always be a number 1 kind of guy. A good friend of mine who was raised Pentecostal will always be a number 2. And that’s fine. Neither of us can prove our point and for the sake of our own devotion and the sake of growing more deeply into the mystery of Christ we don’t need to. The “when” is not as important as the connection itself.

The Lord’s Prayer

As a fitting conclusion to our great prayer of the service, we then pray together the Lord’s Prayer. A standard element in most Christian services, we shouldn’t at all be surprised to find it in the Eucharist. The question, though, is why here? Why now? In one sense we’re continuing the theme of Christ’s conversation with the Father. We, as the Body of Christ are praying his own prayer. But I think there’s something more particular going on with its placement. When we pray this prayer at this moment in the service—after the prayer but before the distribution—it changes the way we hear the line at its center: “Give us this day our daily bread.” An obvious association is made between the petition for bread and the Eucharist, the bread from heaven.

The question is, how long afterward this meaning will linger? Does receiving the prayer at this point and experiencing this particular interpretation of what the text means alter it for us after that and become our instinctive understanding of the line? It’s hard to say. Perhaps its better to say it this way: this placement certainly recommends a meaning. While not closing off other interpretations of the line, it certainly does invite us to see it being fulfilled within the Eucharist.

The Breaking of the Bread/Fraction Anthem

Now we come to the worst-kept moment of silence in the Episcopal Church…

After the heading “The Breaking of the Bread”, the prayer book gives two short sentences as directions: “The celebrant breaks the consecrated Bread. A period of silence is kept.” After 15 years of attendance at Episcopal Eucharists, I can’t recall more than a few where the time between the breaking of the bread and the start of the Fraction anthem could justifiably be referred to as “a period.” Most of the time there is no pause at all—one runs right in to the other. And that’s a shame. This is a good point for reflection.

At this point we have the Fraction Anthem which are the words said or sung around the breaking of the bread. It’s quite common to have a double anthem here. The priest’s “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” and our response “Therefore for let us keep the feast” is an anthem; however, it’s common to immediately thereafter have either a choral or a congregational “Lamb of God”—also a fraction anthem. From a technical perspective, this is redundant. On the other hand, two different things are being expressed and both can use the expression! Indeed, the Rite I service  includes both texts—the Christ our Passover and the Lamb of God—even though the Rite II text only contains the Christ our Passover.

The Christ our Passover anthem holds together the notion of the sacrificial meal. That is, it underscores the notion of sacrifice—as controversial as that still remains in protestant circles—but precedes immediately to the meal. The fact of the sacrificial death does not end the sacrificial act; hearking back to the Homeric, the meal has got to follow!

The Lamb of God anthem, on the other hand, contains the sacrifice concept but rather than the meal makes the turn towards the expiation of sin. It’s a more introspective response but one that deserves to be heard in relation to the other.

The prayer book doesn’t contain any other fractions although it gives permission for others; the hymnal, on the other hand, has quite a few more. In addition to the two already mentioned, it also has:

  • The disciples knew the Lord Jesus (S167)
  • My flesh is food indeed (S168-9)
  • Whoever eats this bread (S170)
  • Be known to us (S171)
  • Blessed are those who are called (S172)

All adaptations of New Testament readings, these additions give us more perspectives into the meal which we are about to receive

Prayer of Humble Access

Rite I offers the Prayer of Humble Access as an option; Rite II does not mention it at all. In a very real sense, this prayer has become something between a Rorschach test and a litmus test for those who either champion or decry the liturgical shifts away from the 1928 status quo.  For fans of the new approach, the Prayer of Humble Access seems overly penitential. With its bald assertion that “we are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table” (BCP, p. 337) it seems to dismiss the real consequences of grace, redemption, and reconciliation. Others, conversely, see its absence as a sign of spiritual arrogance and as the Church’s capitulation to a culture of entitlement that believes it deserves anything it wants. The proper question focuses around the “we”—who’s this “we”? Is this the “we” before, after, or apart from God’s grace?

Two things here.

First, I must say, reading the troublesome line in context helps… The sentence right before it—the one with which the prayer opens, actually—is this: “We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies.” (ibid.) The first line, therefore, draws a contrast between humanity’s own efforts towards righteousness, and the abundant mercies of God. The next sentence is logically read to mean that by our own efforts and merits we just don’t measure up. As Archbishop Cranmer penned this in the 16th century I’m sure he heard echoing in his ears Martin Luther’s teaching on Original Sin: that it consists of the basic inability to love, fear, and trust God as we should. Therefore, Luther taught, even if we outwardly act in accordance with all of the commandments we will still fail to satisfy them if we are not loving, fearing, and trusting with our whole hearts. That’s the intention here and the ground of our unworthiness apart from the grace of God.

Remember, though, the first sentence ends with the reminder that we don’t have to measure up! We don’t come to the table on our own nor do we have to earn our spot. Rather, we are called by the “manifold and great mercies” of God. The first sentence has a balance to it that starts with our efforts and moves to God. Classically, our next two sentences were one sentence connected together which echoed the structure of the first moving, again, from us (“We are not worthy…”) to God (“Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy”).

Thus, pulling the line out of context is a perfect recipe for misunderstanding it and the theology behind it.

Second, I want to remind us again of Rudolf Otto’s discussion about the human experience of the Holy. An inevitable part of that experience is the impact caused by the recognition of the gulf between Creator and creature. As I read it, this language of unworthiness is part and parcel of trying to wrap human language around the experience of finding oneself in the presence of the Holy. Like all attempts at this kind of language, it falls short. When this linguistic inadequacy is coupled with an atrophied sense of the Holy, than the prayer’s language can feel unnaturally or improperly penitential. Our greatest remedy, then, to overcoming the obstacle here is not to chuck the prayer, but to recognize and embrace its diagnostic function as a guide back to cultivating our own sense of the Holy.

Yes, I do understand that this 16th century wording does trip into the whole late 20th century conversation about the psychological importance of self-worth. I’m all for healthy self-confidence. But—again—as with Confession—it eventually comes back around to the reality of the human condition especially when it is put in perspective with the reality of God. We have sinned. We do sin. We hurt ourselves and the people whom we love. We have not lived up to our covenant promises to God. And yet the God who reveals himself at the table and in the breaking of the bread is revealed to be a God of manifold and great mercies who will not stop calling us back to himself and will not rest until we evermore dwell in him, and he in us.


At this point, the priests and the congregation receive the consecrated elements. There are some various words that can be used, all of which emphasize a special sacramental presence of Christ in the moment. Really—the words aren’t the main thing here. The main thing is receiving the Sacrament.

Thanks to the opening title sequences of the TV show “Iron Chef”, my family is well acquainted with the crowning quotation from French lawyer, politician, epicure, and early theorist of a low-carb diet, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

It’s that moment.

If ever that phrase had a deep, philosophical, existential reference—it’s this point.

Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.


So—what should you feel when you receive Communion?

My mother sometimes told me as a child that if you didn’t feel anything that means that you hadn’t spiritually prepared yourself properly. Now that I’m a grown-up and have lived with this for quite some years, I don’t think that’s quite right. (Sorry, Mom!)

It’s not a question of “should.” We get into danger when we start placing emotional requirements onto religious experiences. Because when we do that, we start creating expectations. If these expectations somehow aren’t met—or worse, if we are led to question whether they were met enough—then we can spiral into some unhealthy territory while we attempt to sort through what we did wrong to make God not like us to the degree that he didn’t let us feel what we were supposed to feel. Please—don’t go there…

Conversely, holding specific emotional expectations of the experience leads to the creation of tactics to either meet them or to exploit them.  We can fall into this trap ourselves, but it gets even worse when worship leaders decide that they need to take matters into their own hands to make sure everybody feels the appropriate feeling. Because then we get into various forms of emotional and spiritual manipulation. And you know that doesn’t end well!

The better question isn’t “what should you feel” but “what do you feel?”

For me, the time after receiving Eucharist is a moment for awareness and for—literally—communion. What am I feeling? What am I thinking? How is God speaking to me in the midst of this very intimate experience?  These are very real questions. I’m a thinking-oriented person by nature so I generally have to take some time with that first one since it’s not something I focus on a lot. But this is precisely the time to do that!

The prayer book allows “hymns, psalms, or anthems” during the ministration of Communion, and I’ve heard some people say that this sung element should be the whole congregation’s sung prayer upon receiving and is preferable to an individualistic act of prayer by yourself. Forget that! This is your time of communion with him whom you have taken into yourself. If you’re moved to sing along with a congregational hymn do that—but because you want to and because it’s expressing where you are, not because you have to. If you feel called to stay in prayer, do it.

My practice is usually to “kneel & feel” for a bit, then to pray the prayer appointed “After Receiving Communion”:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP, p. 834)

You’ll note that this prayer isn’t about what we feel… Instead, it asks that God would give us the grace to properly venerate the Sacrament. Venerate here means to hold it in honor, to respect it in all its forms, and to give it the full attentiveness it deserves as a central mystery of our faith. The result of this veneration is so that we might be enabled to perceive the fruits of Christ’s redemptive work within ourselves. Notice here what we’re saying. We’re not asking for grace to be redeemed. Nor are we asking for grace to feel redeemed. Instead, we’re asked for a grace of perception. The prayer acknowledges that whether we feel it or not, whether we perceive its fruits or not, Christ’s redemption is already at work in us! We don’t get a choice here! We’re only asking to be allowed to see the products of the work of inner transformation that Christ is working in us.

Brillat-Savarin’s quote I mentioned above was paraphrased in the 1920’s by nutritionist and salesman Victor Lindlahr into its more common current form: “You are what you eat.” There’s a subtle difference between the original and this form, and I rather think this one works better here.

Between the Bread of Life, the Cup of Salvation, and the fruits of redemption, it’s shaping up to be quite a meal.

Post-Communion Prayer

There are two forms of the Post-Communion Prayer in Rite II, one of them being a direct descendent of the prayer used in Rite I. Depending which one you’re praying, they weave together many of the themes that we’ve touched on (and will talk about again in the next chapter). The key here is that each of prayers has two main components. First, it gives thanks for what we have received. We give thanks for the gift of the sacrament and for what that means corporately—that we are part of the household of God. Second, it acknowledges that we have to go out and act like it. God has given us work to do—his own work of reconciliation—and in this meal we are strengthened to go forth and accomplish it. In doing so, we demonstrate with our lives our connection with the household of God, that we are board-mates with Christ. Showing up on Sunday and coming to the table isn’t the point; doing the will of the one who sends us is the point.


The blessing either by the priest or bishop moves this thought along. If our initial acclamation at the beginning of the service was the priest’s liturgical hello, this is the priest’s liturgical goodbye. Properly and appropriately it comes in a Trinitarian formula, and there are seasonal variations available in the Book of Occasional Services and elsewhere.


Not to be out done, the deacon—in places where there is one—also has an official liturgical goodbye and that’s this element. Like the priest’s blessing, like the post-communion prayer, it has two key aspects: we are God’s, and he’s got some work for us to do…

Our response, “Thanks be to God,” then, is our liturgical goodbye. Too, it stands as an act of thanks, an act of praise, and an acknowledgement of the charges that we have been given.

Anatomy of the Eucharist: Part 2

This is the second part of the Eucharist chapter that started here.


The Word of God

Rite One

Rite Two



[hymn, psalm, or anthem] [hymn, psalm, or anthem] Optional Weekly
Opening Greeting/Response Opening Greeting/Response Optional Seasonal
Collect for Purity Collect for Purity Rite I: Yes, Rite II: No
[Ten Commandments]/Summary of the Law Optional
Kyrie/Trisagion/Glory be to God on High Glory to God in the Highest/Kyrie/Trisagion At least one Seasonal
Collect of the Day Collect of the Day Yes Weekly
The Lessons The Lessons At least one Weekly
[psalm, hymn, or anthem] [psalm, hymn, or anthem] Optional
The Gospel The Gospel Yes Weekly
The Sermon The Sermon Yes
The Nicene Creed The Nicene Creed On Sundays and Major Feasts
The Prayers of the People [The Prayers of the People] Yes
Confession of Sin Confession of Sin May be omitted occasionally
The Peace The Peace

This section entitled “The Word of God” is the first half of the Holy Eucharist. It’s sometimes called the “ante-communion” where the Latin “ante” designations the portion “before” the communion. I’m not a fan of this term because it implies that these elements are merely the warm-up and are not integral elements of the Communion as a whole. But they are!

As we established before, this first half of the service offers us a direct encounter with the person of Jesus Christ who is the true Word of God. The highlight of this half is the exposition of the Gospel. By using the word “exposition,” I’m hedging my bets a little… This term can refer either to the sermon and its interpretation of the Word of God for a given congregation or, more narrowly, can refer to the act of reading the Gospel lesson aloud in a language understood by the people. Indeed—sometimes it’s necessary to go with the more narrow definition. Even when the preacher delivers a dud, the Gospel is still heard in its proclamation—in spite of the preacher’s potentially counterproductive attempts!

As the Gospel is the high point, the other elements are structured around it in order to help us hear it and respond to it most fully. The collect should help to set the scene liturgically as would various seasonal additions or deletions. The readings before the Gospel help give us a better context for its message within the scope of God’s prior relationship with humanity and in the Early Church’s own understanding of Jesus. After the Gospel we recite the Creed and once again remind ourselves of the Church’s guide for the proper interpretation of the Scriptures. Lastly, the intercessory prayers come out of our sense of the world’s need and the divine capacity to meet that need.

An introductory hymn usually opens the service and gives a liturgical space for an entrance procession.                                        It’s not required, but is quite common. Of course—as is the case with all hymns and anthems appointed—it does help if the hymn is somehow connected to the readings or the season, but this isn’t always possible or feasible.

The prayer book offers three opening greetings at the start of the Eucharist, an ordinary use opening, then special options for Easter and for Lent/penitential occasions. It’s well to remember, though, that it hides another away an additional bit for specific circumstances: when Baptisms occur, the opening is increased with an expanded dialogue (on page 299). This opening is the liturgical equivalent of saying “hello.” As a result, there’s no additional need for the clergy to begin with a literal “hello” or an introductory greeting of some other sort.

The Collect for Purity is a gem of Anglican devotion. An open admission to the God who knows our faults and shortcomings better than we do ourselves, we ask for the cleansing presence of the Holy Spirit that we might love and worship God rightly. It is rightly one of our most beloved prayers. Originally a private prayer of the priest as part of his preparation for Mass in the Sarum missals, Cranmer made an excellent choice in sharing it with the whole congregation. If you only memorize one collect in your life, this would be the one to pick! Rite One requires its use; Rite Two leaves it optional.

Following the Collect for Purity is the space provided in Rite One for either the Decalogue or Jesus’ Summary of the Law. Rite Two does not technically offer this same option unless the Penitential Order is being used.

The first principal element of the service is the song that appears at this point: the Kyrie, the Trisagion, or the Gloria in Excelsis. These are all hymns of praise sung or said corporately. Particularly when the Gloria is sung—but even when an alternative is used—this moment can be seen as the point where the gathered congregation purposely joins its voice to the great unceasing universal chorus of praise to God and to the Lamb. In this hymn, we stand alongside the angels who proclaimed “Gloria” at the birth of the Savior in Bethlehem and the saints and martyrs whose prayers have been received before the throne of God. Some of the great choral settings of the Gloria directly evoke the experience of standing in the midst of celestial choirs and contribute to the solemnity of this moment.

The Kyrie is a simple cry to God for mercy that acknowledges our dependence upon divine grace. In its simplest form it is the repetition of three brief sentences: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord have mercy.” We have the option of using either English or Greek (Kyrie, eleison). This is a thoroughly biblical phrase. Suppliants ask for Jesus’ help in the Gospels with these words, and the psalmists and prophets alike cry for help with them in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that was the Church’s first Bible.

The Kyrie can be used as written, a simple alternation between priest and people, or it can be more elaborate: the Additional Directions allow its “threefold, sixfold, or ninefold form” (p. 406). The basic alternation written in the prayer book is the threefold form; in the sixfold, the priest or cantor sings and line and the congregation repeats it; in the ninefold, each line is said three times either in alternation or together before moving on to the next line. While this may sound complicated, it’s not—the hymnal gives examples of the sixfold version in S85, S88, S94 and S95; the other settings represent the ninefold form.

The Trisagion means “three-times holy” because this Eastern acclamation names God as holy in three different ways. Like the Kyrie, it can be used alone or repeated three times. Unlike the Kyrie, when it is repeated, the whole unit is repeated three times rather than each line. Again, the hymnal contains settings for both: S102 gives it once; the other settings (S99-S101) use the threefold repetition.

The Gloria we already touched on when it appeared as a canticle in the Daily Office. Beginning with the words of the angels from Luke, it flows into the words of the Church and serves as the preeminent vehicle for joining us musically with the full heavenly host. Permission is given to substitute another “song of praise” for it, but this should be used sparingly if at all. The best options here would either be a hymn paraphrase (like 421, “All glory be to God on high”) or a canticle like the Te Deum or the Benedictus es.

The rubric with the Gloria indicates that it should be used “when appointed” but it doesn’t give any clues as to where that might be found… It’s tucked away in the Additional Directions on page 406. As usual, the directions are fairly permissive and leave a lot open to local interpretation or practice. Here are the directions in tabular form alongside the historic use:


Prayer Book

Historical Use

Advent Omitted during this season Omitted during this season
Christmas Every day in this season Every day in this season
Epiphany “as desired” Sundays/feast days only
Lent Omitted during this season Omitted during this season
Holy Week Omitted during this season Omitted during this season
Easter All Sundays, every day of Easter Week; other weekdays “as desired” Every day in this season
Post-Pentecost “as desired” Sundays/feast days only

Simply put, the Gloria is for our big celebrations. Thus, we use it throughout our festal seasons, we omit it during our more solemn seasons, and we use it for feast days in the seasons in between.

When the Gloria is omitted, either of the other two songs will take its place in Rite Two. Rite One gives the option of using the Kyrie consistently (or the Trisagion) and adding the Gloria when appropriate, following traditional Anglican use.

At this point, the Collect of the Day is prayed. As discussed in the Collect chapter, this is one of the great unifying moments that connects this particular Eucharist to the larger superstructure of Episcopal devotion. Sometimes the collect may have a strong enough emphasis to establish a theme for the day’s liturgy. However, between the reshuffling of collects in this prayer book and the introduction of the Revised Common Lectionary, themes in the collects rarely align neatly with the Scriptural texts anymore.

Following the Collect comes the Lessons. There is quite a lot of variety and potential possibilities at this point. At the most basic, at least one non-Gospel lesson is needed, there may be a psalm or music, and a Gospel lesson is read. Earlier prayer books had only one non-Gospel reading, almost always from a New Testament Epistle, and some Rite One services will use one Epistle reading in continuity with this practice. However, ever since the introduction of this prayer book with its Eucharistic Lectionary and especially since the adoption of the Revised Common Lectionary, most Eucharists will include an Old Testament reading, a selection from a psalm, a New Testament reading and a Gospel reading. Some parishes may choose to include a hymn between the New Testament reading and the Gospel, but an Alleluia verse is also common, frequently serving as music for a procession if the Gospel-book is read from the midst of the congregation.

Just as we spent some time talking about the pattern of the Daily Office readings, it’s worth spending some time talking about the pattern of the Eucharistic readings and about the thought process behind them as well.

In the Daily Office, we encounter biblical texts in the form of “pericopes” (pronounced “per-I-ko-pees”) or short sections. Nevertheless, the basic unit of encounter is on the level of a book. That is, the Daily Office moves through entire books piece by piece—or at least hits the major representative points of the book—in sequential order. In the Eucharist, the basic level of encounter has classically been the pericope rather than the book. In the superseded One Year lectionary of the historic Western liturgy more-or-less shared by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and some Lutherans, the Gospel and Epistle readings were selected based on how appropriate they were to a given liturgical occasion, the Gospels being selecting without regard from all four gospels. The orienting pattern was the liturgical year, not the narrative sequence of the book.

Consider a moment what this means… A Eucharistic liturgy that picks small sections out of Scripture on the basis of appropriateness is not a tool suited for basic education in the scope of the Scriptures; its primary purpose is not teaching the breadth of Scripture. This is compounded by the fact that there were only two readings—an Epistle and a Gospel. There was a serious lack of the Old Testament in the Eucharist under the former way of doing things! Frequently there was a thematic correspondence within the two readings. The Epistle would serve in some way to illuminate something within the Gospel.

The reason for this difference in structure comes down to purpose. The purpose of the Daily Office lectionary that engages at the level of the book is catechetical—it serves to teach the breadth of Scripture and to give worshippers a familiarity with Scripture on a basic level. The purpose of the Eucharistic lectionary is mystagogical—it serves to delve deeply into one particular aspect of the mystery of Christ, usually one singled out or at least suggested by the liturgical year. The two lectionaries were originally designed to work in intentional combination with one another. The Daily Office taught the broad scope of Scripture, while the Eucharist focused on particular moments of encounter with Christ assuming a prior familiarity with Scripture gained from the Office.

The reformers of the liturgy in the mid-Twentieth century chose to overhaul the Eucharistic lectionary in a fairly substantial way. Instead of a one year cycle that repeated year after year, they moved to a three year cycle. Instead of the Gospel readings being pulled from all four gospels, they focused each year of the cycle upon a single primary gospel—either Matthew, Mark, or Luke—and reading them in sequence whenever possible, interweaving John across the three for festivals. Instead of a single non-gospel reading, two were selected, one (usually) from the Old Testament, the other from the New Testament epistles. In order to convey the scope, the Old Testament readings in the Season after Pentecost moved sequentially through a particular type of Old Testament book, a type that complimented the character of the year’s selected gospel. Anglicans and Roman Catholics eschewed an entirely sequential approach to the Old Testament, though, and another set of readings provides Old Testament lessons related to the Gospel pericope. Hence, we now speak of “two tracks” for the Season after Pentecost: a sequential set of Old Testament readings and a complementary set keyed to the Gospel.

Consider what’s going on here—it’s an attempt to do both, to be catechetical and to be mystagogical, at the same time. Whether it’s actually possible to achieve both at the same time is an open question! If we criticize the two-year Daily Office lectionary for missing quite a lot of Scripture, it’s mathematically obvious that a three-year Eucharistic lectionary is going to miss a whole lot more. Too, the attempt to structure the Gospel pericopes sequentially for the main part of the year obscures the liturgical principles for selecting them in other parts of it.

On the other hand, this form of three-year lectionary does recognize the reality that most people in our congregations are not praying through the Scriptures in the Daily Office. It does give the average person in the pew a broader familiarity with the Old Testament, and hits some of the classic Bible stories that are disappearing from the vernacular of Western culture.

The Revised Common Lectionary is anchored around the Gospel reading. The three year cycle appoints a primary gospel for each year: Year A uses Matthew, Year B uses Mark, and Year C uses Luke. The Gospel of John appears on significant feasts and fills out a section of the summer of Year B to compensate for the shortness of Mark’s Gospel. The First Reading is usually an Old Testament lesson. Matthew, often considered the most Jewish of the gospels and the one that partakes of a rabbinic spirit is paired with readings from the Old Testament Law—Genesis and Exodus. Mark is paired with readings from the Historical books of Samuel and Kings. Luke, with its emphasis on social justice, is paired with the prophets, particularly Jeremiah. The chief exception to the “First Lesson is Old Testament” rule is Easter time; we hear from the book of Acts in this season and the events that happened to the Early Church after the time of the Ascension of Christ. The Second Lesson is always from a New Testament non-gospel text—usually an epistle, but Acts gets mixed in at points as well.

When the Early Church realized that it needed to formally expand its canon beyond the Old Testament, it addressed the issue by means of this question: what books do we read publicly in worship? This was the guiding criterion by which the dispersed Church communities assessed the books that would be gathered into our New Testament and into our Scriptures. This criterion underscores that, for Christians, our paradigmatic encounter with Scripture is hearing it in the liturgy. Don’t get me wrong—I think we need to read it, and that we have to read it outside of worship in order to truly learn it and gain the most from it. But our most important encounter with it is hearing it proclaimed in the midst of the worshipping community. We hear it most completely for what it is in this context.

The sermon, then, should flow naturally from the presence of the Scriptures within the liturgy. There are as many different approaches to preaching as there are preachers. However, a few basic principles should remain consistent across them. First, the sermon is a part of the liturgy, not a distinct and separate event apart from it. The sermon is located within a liturgical setting. The sermon and liturgy should inform one another or—at the least—not contradict one another! It follows from this that the sermon usually has some direct continuity with its liturgical surrounding. Typically, Episcopal sermons comment on the Scriptures appointed for the day, especially the Gospel.  Second, if the sermon is part of the liturgy, than it should be trying to accomplish the same basic thing that the rest of the liturgy is. Whether it emphasizes interpretation of the Scriptures, or teaching, or something else, its underlying aim should be mystagogical. That is, it should seek to open our eyes and hearts to some aspect of the mystery of Christ. It should show us the work and person of Christ—for us, with us, in us, and through us.

In some traditions, the sermon is the service—or at least the greater part of it. That’s not our tradition. The “success” of the service does not stand or fall on the sermon. The sermon is but one element within the whole scope of the liturgy. That’s no excuse for poor preaching, of course, but stands as a recognition that even if the sermon is a flop, the worship of God still goes on!

The next element in this portion of the service is the Nicene Creed. As we’ve said before, the creeds (whether the Nicene or the Apostles) belong in relation to the Scriptural readings and their interpretation because they are guides for the Church’s interpretation. Not only that, at this point—no matter how well or poorly the sermon was preached—we are reminded of the basic framework of our faith: the identity of the Triune God, Christ who took on our nature that all creation might be reconciled with God, and the ongoing work of the Spirit in the Church.

There are always a few who look askance at the presence of the Creed because it was not part of the 4th century Eucharist and was a later introduction to the service, and I know some clergy who omit it even when the prayer book requires it (all Sundays and other feast days), but I think that’s a mistake. When I read through the missionary preaching that swayed Europe and brought it into the Christian fold, one of the fundamental patterns of proclamation was a rehearsal of the Creed. In my corporate job, executives like to talk about the importance of an “elevator pitch”: a succinct summary of a product or a position. This is ours; the Creed is, in essence, a Christian elevator pitch. It’s not designed to persuade—that’s simply not its function—but it conveys the heart of the Christian belief in a quick, easy to memorize framework. In an increasingly secular culture, the Creed stands as a great tool for thinking through how we answer questions about what Christians really believe. Hearing it weekly in the Eucharist establishes in us the fundamental framework of the faith.

The Prayers of the People are a response to the Gospel call that we have heard in the readings, the sermon, and the Creed. Furthermore, they also enact one of the central roles of the gathered community. As Christ both interceded for and directly intervened to address the ills of his people and the world, his gathered Body continues to raise these same concerns and to identify the broken and hurting places of God’s world that cry for attention.

In order to ensure that our span is properly comprehensive, the prayer book establishes six areas of concern that must be addressed:

  • The Universal Church, its members, and its mission
  • The Nation and all in authority
  • The welfare of the world
  • The concerns of the local community
  • Those who suffer and those in any trouble
  • The departed (with commemoration of a saint when appropriate) (BCP, p. 359)

Rite One provides a prayer in continuity with those of past prayer books that covers all of these areas. It feels more communal to me when, following the direction at the bottom of page 328, the leader ends each paragraph with “Lord in your mercy,” allowing for a congregational “Hear our prayer.”

The six forms given between pages 383 and 393 all incorporate these concerns as well and may be used in either rite, adapting the language for Rite One should they be used there. These forms are examples, and they can be freely adapted—if necessary—to reflect the situations of local communities or to more closely connect them to the liturgical situation.

Local adaptations should be done with care. I’ve heard some that were preachy—it seemed the priest was trying to fit extra material that didn’t make it into the sermon into the prayers. Others turn to the gossipy, especially when the “concerns of the local community” are amplified with excessive detail. Still others can come across as consciousness-raising exercises where particular causes seem to dominate. The root problem with all of these is that the worship of God has taken a second place; the prayers have become speech to the gathered community rather than the community’s speech to God.

The invitation to Confession in Rite One serves as a great introduction to the next elements of the service: Confession, Absolution and the Passing of the Peace.  The invitation calls for those people to join in who are committing to making three changes in their lives:

  • “who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins,”
  • “are in love and charity with your neighbors,”
  • “intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God and walking from henceforth in his holy ways” (p. 330)

Under the earlier prayer books, the greater part of the congregation could leave at this point, and only those who desired to receive Communion would remain for the confession and the Eucharist that followed. Thus, this call was formerly extend to a self-selected set of the congregation. In its current location it invites the whole congregation to these three disciplines which are put into practice with what follows.

The Confession of Sin is a response to the Gospel proclamation no less than the Prayers. The classic human response to an experience of the holy is to draw near with wonder. An inherent secondary response is to draw back in recognition of our own limitation and sin—signs of our difference from the holy. The Confession gives voice to this experience. Too often penitence has been structured or explained as the religious process of feeling bad about ourselves. This is not the point of the exercise at all! Instead, the Confession gives voice to a realistic appraisal of who we are in the face of the Holy God. The Confession of Rite Two (which also has a Rite One version) is structured in a very specific way. The confession at its center is an exact reversal of the Summary of the Law. In the Summary, we hear the words of Jesus exhorting us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (BCP, p. 351). In the Confession, we acknowledge that we have not done this; we are acknowledging the reality of our human situation. We then ask not only for forgiveness, but for the grace to do better. But note how we phrase this hope of “doing better”: it’s not an intellectual change—it’s not about knowing—instead it’s about embracing God’s will with joy and then “walking” in his ways. This is a long-term full-body response. It’s not just thinking or doing, it’s the whole body responding in faith in words that recall to us the vision of the faithful laid out in Psalm 15 and Psalm 26.

The Absolution is the Church’s response to our congregational confession. There is a difference in wording between Rites One and Two here that is worth exploring. The Rite Two Absolution is characterized by its certainty. There is nothing conditional here; it is a straight-forward assurance of pardon: “Almighty God have mercy on you . . . forgive you . . . strengthen you . . . keep you . . .” (p. 360). The Rite One Absolution begins differently: “Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him, have mercy upon you . . . pardon and deliver you . . . confirm and strengthen you . . . bring you to everlasting life” (p. 332). That relative clause that identifies God names a promise with certain requirements, namely that forgiveness is given to “all those who with hearty repentance and true faith turn unto him.” We hear this absolution best when both versions are kept in mind. As we hear the Rite One version, we need to remember the assurance of pardon. As we hear the unconditional pardon of Rite Two, we need to remember our duty to conform to the Confession we have just said and enact the pardon we have received.

The difference between the Rites continues here. Rite One follows the absolution with one or more lines from Scripture, referred to as the Comfortable Words. These New Testament passages emphasize Christ’s victory over sin on behalf of the whole world. They explicitly name the promises alluded to earlier.

The final element in this half of the service is the sharing of the Peace. There is a significance to this action much deeper than just shaking the hands of the people around you; rather, we enact being “in love and charity with [our] neighbors.” If the Confession and Absolution have reconciled us with God—which they have—then we need to share active signs of our own reconciliation with our neighbors. Two gospel passages should be floating through our heads at this point. The first is a direct reflection of what has just occurred. In Matthew’s parable of the forgiven debtor (Matt 18:23-35), a king forgives a servant who owes him ten thousand talents (a ridiculous amount of money, like saying “a billion dollars” today), but the servant turns around and demands from a fellow servant a hundred denarii (a much more reasonable sum, a couple of hundred bucks). The king then throws the first servant back in jail and demands the full amount because he has failed to learn the lesson of mercy. In the same way, our recognition of the forgiveness given to us by God demands a similar action on our part. The classic summary of this concept comes from the Lord’s Prayer: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”

The second passage that should be running through our heads leads us towards the next major portion of the service. Near the beginning of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23-24). Well—we’re at that point! We’re about to offer our gifts at the altar. Jesus is reminding us that reconciliation with God is not a personal endeavor; it’s social, it’s communal. Our reconciliation with God is incomplete if we aren’t actively advancing reconciliation with those around us.

To be honest, we don’t tend to emphasize this union between the Confession and the Peace very much, and there’s a good reason for that—it’s hard work! As much as I wish the hyperbolic overstatement in Psalm 51 were true (“Against you [God] only I have sinned and done what is evil in your sight” [Ps 51:4, BCP, p. 656]), it’s not. An honest confession of our sin reveals that we have sinned—in what we have done and in what we have left undone—against those around us, and particularly against those to whom we are the closest.  The sign of peace, whether it’s an actual kiss, a hug, or the token shaking of a hand, ought to be a sign of our deeper commitment to set things right and to honor, value, and love those closest to us. John’s First Epistle neatly—and uncomfortably—concludes this for us: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:20-21).

Anatomy of the Eucharist: Part 1

Ok—here begins the drive-by of the Eucharistic rites in the Book of Common Prayer…


The Shape of the Eucharist

Despite the variety of options available, any prayer book Eucharist still has a fundamental shape and character that defines it. Every Eucharist has two complementary halves, each of which celebrates the mystery of the presence of Christ. First, there is a celebration of Christ as the living Word of God who has been breathed by the Father and communicated through the Spirit. Second, there is the celebration of Christ as Incarnate Savior who offers himself in love to the Father through the Spirit. The highlight of the first half is the manifestation of Christ in the proclamation of the Gospel; the highlight of the second half is the manifestation of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharistic meal. These two highlights should be seen as parallel with one another.

It’s easy for Episcopalians (and others) to see the Eucharistic meal as the Main Event of the morning and to regard everything else as prelude to it. To do this, though, is to misunderstand the fullness of the revelation that we are receiving. We say that we are a people of the book and in a sense that’s true. However, Jesus is not a book—he’s a person. Like all people we are able to learn him by encountering in a variety of ways. Scripture gives us one angle of access into who Jesus is. But it’s incomplete if we don’t flesh that knowledge out with the Christ whom we meet in the sacraments. By the same token, we are in danger of misunderstanding the Living Jesus of our sacramental experience if our grasp of his identity and character is not deeply grounded in the words of Scripture. The two major parts of the service both show us Christ—but it helps quite a lot if we’re actively looking!

The Services

The Eucharistic liturgies are collected together towards the middle of the prayer book.

  • [Traditional Language Preliminary Material]
      • An Exhortation
      • The Decalogue: Traditional
    • A Penitential Order: Rite One
  •  [The Traditional Language Service]
      • Concerning the Celebration
    • The Holy Eucharist: Rite One
      • The Word of God
      • The Holy Communion
        • Eucharistic Prayer I
        • Alternative Form of the Great Thanksgiving
          • Eucharistic Prayer II
      • Offertory Sentences
      • Proper Prefaces
  • [Contemporary Language Preliminary Material]
      • The Decalogue: Contemporary
    • A Penitential Order: Rite Two
  • [The Contemporary Language Service]
      • Concerning the Celebration
    • The Holy Eucharist: Rite Two
      • Word of God
      • The Holy Communion
        • Eucharistic Prayer A
        • Alternative Forms of the Great Thanksgiving
          • Eucharistic Prayer B
          • Eucharistic Prayer C
          • Eucharistic Prayer D
      • Offertory Sentences
      • Proper Prefaces
      • Prayers of the People
        • Forms I-VI
      • The Collect at the Prayers
  • Communion under Special Circumstances
  • An Order for Celebrating the Holy Eucharist
    • The People and Priest
    • At the Great Thanksgiving
      • Form 1
      • Form 2
  • Additional Directions

First, there are—broadly speaking—four different ways of doing the Eucharist within this section. The first two (Rites One and Two) are the normal means provided for Sundays and Holy Days. The third is reserved for those persons who cannot attend regular services, usually due to hospitalization, sickness or some other infirmity. The fourth is for explicitly irregular situations; the prayer book notes that it is not intended to serve as a principal service for a worshiping community.

Second, note that the organization of the Rite One and Two Eucharists are not strictly linear—especially the Rite Two version. The Rite Two Eucharist provides an outline of the service giving much of the material but, afterward, adds on five supplemental sections that may be used to fill in the service. To say it the other way, if you try to read through the Rite Two service starting on page 355, you’ll find yourself needing to flip to several other sections to read along with the whole thing. So, what texts exactly are we missing here? Here’s a chart of the Rite Two service:

Reading through the Service

Jumping to Another Place

Entrance rite (pp. 355-6)  
Collect of the Day (p. 357) Collects: Contemporary (pp. 211-61)
Lessons (pp. 357-8) The [Eucharistic] Lectionary (pp. 888-931)
Sermon (p. 358)  
The Nicene Creed (pp. 358-9)  
The Prayers of the People The Prayers of the People (pp. 383-93);

The Collect at the Prayers (pp. 394-5)

Confession of Sin (pp. 359-60)  
The Peace (p. 360)  
The Holy Communion Offertory Sentences (pp. 376-7)
The Great Thanksgiving: Eucharistic Prayer A (pp. 361-5) Alternate Forms: Eucharistic Prayer B (pp. 367-9); Eucharistic Prayer C (pp. 369-72); Eucharistic Prayer D (pp. 372-6)
The Great Thanksgiving [start] Proper Prefaces (pp. 377-82)
The Breaking of the Bread (pp. 364-5)  
[Post-Communion Prayer and Dismissal] (pp.364-6)  


On the surface, this way of arranging things looks crazy! Why do this? The collects and the Eucharistic lessons had always been a separate section; the real change here is the addition of all the material from the Creed on. We’ll look at the “why” of it in a second, I just need to observe an important point first before we go there.

Just because the service or the prayer makes a jump doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to follow it!

This may seem odd, but it’s not that odd once you spend some time with the material that we’re jumping to. The Offertory Sentence is just that—it’s a sentence. And it’s not something we say anything to respond to, either; the priest says it, and our liturgical response is to dig out our wallet. We don’t need to read it to get a sense of what’s going on. Same with the collect at the end of the prayers—the priest picks one and we say “Amen.” The priest definitely needs to know where to find the Proper Preface—and we should read them over and be familiar with them—but it’s a sentence fragment! By the time you’ve found it, it’s probably done and you’ve spent more time trying to locate it than you have actually listening to what it’s saying.

You should be seeing a theme here by this point… One of the great strengths of the Book of Common Prayer from its first beginnings is that it has all of the words: everything the priest says, everything the people say. There are no secret parts. Yes, some priests might have some devotional prayers that they say to themselves that may only be heard by God and the altar party, but the whole content of the “common prayer” is printed out in black and white. As lay people we have access to all of these as is our right as members of the Body of Christ. We should read them and learn them and know them—but we don’t always have to read along with them in the book at the time of the service; we can just listen to some of them! Priests tend to have one technological advantage over laity when it comes to these things: ribbons. It’s a lot easier to flip back and forth between these various parts if they’re all marked out before-hand with properly set ribbons attached to the spine of the book. Pew editions rarely have them; altar books always do.

The jumps that we need to be able to follow are the ones 1) where there’s more than a sentence or two of content and 2) where we need to provide responses. There are two of these: the Prayers of the People and the Eucharistic Prayers. (I’ve bolded them in the chart above.) If you hang around the Church long enough, you’ll probably memorize the forms that get used the most—and I’d encourage that whole-heartedly—but until that happens, these are the two jumps that make sense. It might not even hurt to check your bulletin when you first receive it and to mark where you’ll need to jump to before the service begins so that you’re prepared at the appropriate time. Who knows—you might even want to get yourself a couple of ribbons…

Ok—now that we’ve spoken about the logistics of these jumps, let’s take about the whys and wherefores.

First, one of the guiding principles of the revision that gave us our current prayer book is that diversity of form does not hinder unity in prayer. That is, we can pray using different forms and different words for the same service and still be accomplishing the same thing and expressing the same theology liturgically. Whereas in the past, a single service was given—actually, in the original English situation imposed by means of the State with the full weight of law behind it—this revision multiplied options and enshrined diversity as a theological principle. Hence, Rite Two gives us six different written forms for the Prayers of the People and four different Eucharistic prayers.

Second, different prayers use different parts. Specifically, the Proper Preface changes according to the season or occasion in most of the Eucharistic prayers, but not in Prayer C or Prayer D. They have their own fixed Proper Prefaces that are not meant to be swapped out.

Third, while Rite Ones and Two are basically comparable in the Daily Office, the differences are larger in the Eucharist. As with the Daily Office, Rite One retains a higher degree of continuity with the classical Anglican rites. To generalize, Rite One prayers tend to have a higher degree of penitential language—a greater acknowledgement of human sin and our need for grace—and also tend to draw closer connections between the Eucharist and the Passion of Christ than Rite Two prayers. Conversely, Rite Two prayers tend to emphasize the celebratory aspect of the Eucharist, and to speak more broadly of the redemptive work of Jesus—they don’t just focus on the Passion but include a greater sense of his other words and works as well.

Fourth, the six different Eucharistic prayers should be seen as more or less complementary to one another. There are not great theological differences between them. Rather they should be seen as differing in emphasis. We’ll talk a bit about what these emphases are when we turn to the various prayers. On the whole, though, they should be seen as being in continuity with one another.

Introductory Material

Rite One

Rite Two



[Exhortation →]   Optional None
Decalogue: Traditional Decalogue: Contemporary Optional None
A Penitential Order: Rite One A Penitential Order: Rite Two Optional None


All of the Introductory material is technically optional. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t perfectly good reasons and times to use it.

The Exhortation is placed at the head of the Eucharistic material and, in a sense, serves an introduction to all of it. While it is structurally placed alongside the Rite One material, it’s not actually Rite One in language. The introductory material doesn’t give a very good sense of where it would be used, but a note within the services themselves clarifies that it is used in place of the invitation to Confession.

The Exhortation exhorts the congregation to several different things, primarily the reception of the Eucharist, and is well worth hearing or reviewing several times a year. After offering a brief reminder of the nature and purpose of the Eucharist, we are reminded of the dignity of the Sacrament and of the need for spiritual preparation for its reception. This is something we need to hear more rather than less; one of the great concerns expressed in the move towards weekly Communion was the concern that the Sacrament would become less precious if it were experienced more often. The Exhortation is a useful reminder of the need to view the Eucharist within the whole context of our lives and faith—and to remind us that the pattern of our lives ought to be worthy of the Sacrament’s grace.

The Decalogue is another term for the Ten Commandments. The Rite One Eucharist recommends either the Ten Commandments or the Summary of the Law at its start. This is a particularly Anglican feature—the Decalogue isn’t used this way in the Historic Western Liturgy. The original reason for its inclusion was to make sure that it got used liturgically. From the earliest days of the Church, a minimum standard of knowledge about the Faith was reckoned as the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. Even throughout the medieval period when the services were in Latin, Church councils reminded clergy that they were required to teach these three things to the congregation in their mother tongue. Now, of these, the first two appear at both Morning and Evening Prayer. If you’re following the prayer book’s rule of life, you’ll be saying these quite a lot—but the Decalogue has no equivalent liturgical rehearsal. As a result, it was introduced (likely following other Reformation liturgies) in the 1552 revision as a means of making sure that congregations heard it and learned it from regular use. Its use in the American prayer books has become more optional over the successive revisions, and yet it still deserves a place within our liturgical memory.

The Penitential Orders are a means for transferring the Confession of Sin and related material from the middle of the service and placing it at the start. If anything, the title of this section makes this material sound more penitential than it is in actual fact; indeed, if you take a good hard look at these, you’ll note that we’re not really adding much additional penitential material! The opening dialogue is the same as the regular Eucharistic opening; the text of the confession is the same as what ordinarily follows the Prayers of the People. The only true addition is the option to include the Decalogue and/or the Summary of the Law or another scriptural sentence. So while this element may sound penitential, it’s simply a means of reordering what’s already in the service and adding in one or more Scriptural pieces. The key thing here is that this is the only rubrically-approved method for including the Decalogue within the Rite Two service.