A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Instructed Eucharist Part 3

Instructed Eucharist 3

This week we will seek to cover the following:

  • The Sermon
  • The Nicene Creed
  • The Prayers of the People
  • The Confession and Absolution of Sin
  • The Comfortable Words
  • The Peace
  • The Offertory

Sermon

We begin with the sermon. Though it is important, the sermon is part of the larger movement of worship, focusing on the work of the Father through the Son by the power of the Spirit. The sermon has been required at the Eucharist since the publication of the 1549 prayer book. The sermon like the rest of the service is to point us back to Jesus. We typically use the lectionary readings as the basis of our sermons, but we do have some leeway during ordinary time to do a series on a book or a theme.

Thomas Cranmer was concerned with the lack of solid teaching in the churches, so he issued a book of Homilies, consisting of 12 thematic homilies that he or others wrote. In the opening of the 1552 he wrote, “After the Creed, if there be no Sermon, shall follow one of the Homilies already set forth or hereafter to be set forth by common authority.”[1] Sometimes these homilies were divided into at least two sermons. A second longer set of homilies appeared after Queen Elizabeth ascended to the throne. Together the First and Second Book of Homilies were meant to catechize the people. As Gerald Bray explains, “The Articles of Religion remind us that the Homilies were intended to provide a more extensive commentary on certain aspects of Christian doctrine than was possible within the constraints of a single paragraph, though there is no direct correlation between the two kinds of theological witness.”[2]

The Nicene Creed

The sermon is meant to strengthen our faith and devotion to the Lord. Following the sermon, we give voice to our faith in the Nicene Creed. As Leonel Mitchell explains, “The movement of the first part of the liturgy has been primarily from God to humankind through Christ. The Word is read in the Scripture and proclaimed in the sermon. “Faith,” says St. Paul, “comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ” (Romans 10:17). The response of faith is exemplified by the corporate recitation of the Nicene Creed.”[3]

The Nicene Creed gives voice to the faith of the universal or catholic church. It is the faith as confessed by most of the church across the ages. Thus, it is a confession of “we” as opposed to “I.” The Apostles Creed is a confession of my own faith as a I am baptized and during my daily prayers. The Nicene Creed gives voice to the gathered community in communion with other communities across the ages, thus it is a sign of unity within the church. It is also a reaffirmation of our baptismal faith as we prepare to receive the Eucharist.

You’ll notice that some people bow when the creed proclaims that “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” This is a way of honoring the wonder of Incarnation. Some people may continue bowing until the body confesses, “On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures.”

The Prayers of the People

The congregation also responds to the proclamation of the Word through prayer. At the start of “The Prayers of the People.” Our rubric instructs us as follows: The Deacon or other person appointed says these prayers, or the Prayers of the People in the Anglican Standard Text. The reader pauses after each bidding, and the people may add petitions, either silently or aloud.

This rubric indicates that prayers give voice to the people. Either a deacon of an appointed lay person leads the congregation in prayer. The congregation is invited to name people or issues or other prayers (either out loud or silently).

Both the Standard Liturgy and the Renewed Ancient Text offer forms for prayers of the people. But there is flexibility for using other texts or simply praying spontaneous prayers. Normally the intercession should include some form of the following:

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 the commemoration of a saint when appropriate)[4]

The Prayers of the People concludes with a collect that lifts all the prayers up to God. This collect is normally offered by the Celebrant.

The Confession and Absolution of Sin

We are invited to confess our sins to Almighty God and then the rubric indicates a time of silence. This pause opens a space for personal reflection and confession. It is helpful to spend time prior to the service examining our hearts and offering confession. The General Confession can be a help in personal reflection because it highlights how we may have sinned in thought, word, or deed. We offend by act in inappropriate ways or failing to act when we should. Finally, it calls to mind that our sin is a lack of love toward God and others. We might take time to pause over each of these areas, asking the Holy Spirit to convict.

The rubric also indicates that the people kneel as able. Both in the confession and in the words of absolution we are reminded that our hope is rooted in God’s mercy and grace. The priest speaks words of forgiveness on behalf of Christ. This is a common time when people will cross themselves.

The Comfortable Words

The priest reads one of four Scriptures that reinforce the Word of God’s forgiveness. This pattern was borrowed from the German Archbishop Hermann of Wied.

The Peace

The Priest proclaims God’s peace to the people and the people resound the peace back to the priest. This pattern is repeated throughout the congregation. In one sense, it is the body giving voice the words of Christ in John 20:19. Speaking the word of peace before we receive the Eucharist can help us to remember our responsibility to forgive any offenses. The peace is before the offertory and we might remember Matthew 5:23-24.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.[5]

The Offertory

We bring our tithes and offerings along with the wine and bread. This image of bringing the wine and bread forward is an image of God taking the work of human hands (bread and wine are both the work of human hands) and transforming them into a sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. This reminds us that all we bring all ourselves to the altar (finances, strengths, weaknesses, dreams, and even our spiritual experiences). We offer it all to the Lord and trust him to transform it for His glory.


[1] John Griffiths, “The Editor’s Preface,” in The Two Books of Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches, ed. John Griffiths (Oxford: Oxford at the University Press, 1859), xv.

[2] Bray, Gerald. The Books of Homilies: A Critical Edition . James Clarke & Co. Kindle Edition.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

[3] Leonel L. Mitchell, Praying Shapes Believing: A Theological Commentary on The Book of Common Prayer (New York; Harrisburg, PA; Denver: Morehouse Publishing, 1985), 136.

[4] The Episcopal Church, The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2007), 383.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 5:23–24.

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