One of the realities of modern church life is that the vast majority of us only open our doors for public worship on Sunday mornings. A lot of churches have mid-week programs, sometimes even worship services, but it takes a great deal of searching, nation-wide, to find a church that actually offers the full pattern of Prayer Book worship: daily Morning and Evening Prayer, and Holy Communion every Sunday and major feast day listed in the Prayer Book. It would take a radical, serious, and long-term effort to restore the ancient rhythm of Christian worship to the public space of our church buildings.
Instead, the Daily Office is commonly perceived and treated as a family or private devotion. Indeed, the Office can work that way – the English Reformers intentionally simplified precisely so anyone literate could pray it! And although the Office is grossly underused today, it is at least available wherever a Prayer Book is to be found.
What is less accessible is the service of Holy Communion. You need a priest or bishop to preside and celebrate the sacrament. Oh, actually, you could just have a Deacon lead the service and distribute pre-consecrated bread and wine. Wait, no, even a licensed lay minister can do that. Ah, but even that requires planning, resources, and trickiest of all, an open place to gather and people to gather. The majority of us simply do not have access to a Communion service on most major feast days throughout the year. What to do?
Consider taking a page from historical Anglican practice: Antecommunion. First of all, make sure you don’t pronounce it so it sounds like “anti-communion.” This ante-Communion, that is, the Service of Holy Communion before the actual celebration of Communion. If you don’t have a church to go to, offering the primary liturgy of the holy day, you can read the first “half” of it yourself! Let’s look at how to do that:
First, grab one of the Communion services from the ACNA website. The Collects for the Christian Year and the Sunday, Holy Day, Commemorations Lectionary are further down the page. Today is the feast of St. James of Jerusalem, so find his Collect & lessons. Grab a Bible, and you’ve got everything you need. The order of service will look basically like this:
- Acclamation: “Worthy is the Lord our God…”
- The Collect for Purity
- The Summary of the Law & The Kyrie
- The Gloria in excelsis
- The Collect of the Day
- The Lessons (Acts 15:12-22a, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Matthew 13:54-58)
- Instead of a sermon, perhaps you can spend a minute in quiet reflection on the lessons… maybe look at some study notes if your Bible has them.
- The Nicene Creed
- The Prayers of the People
- Confession of Sin
- If you’re not a priest you shouldn’t declare the Absolution, and if you are a priest but praying this on your own, it might seem inappropriate to absolve a non-existent gathering, so perhaps use the Prayer for Forgiveness from the Daily Office.
- Wrap up with a blessing from the Office and/or a Dismissal from the end of the Communion service.
Side note: if you’re using a classical Prayer Book, this works almost the same way. Conclude with the Words of Comfort after the Confession, and either add a Blessing from the end of the Daily Office, or, if you’ve got the 1662 in hand, there are a few Collects provided at the end of the Communion service to say in place of the Communion prayers for this very scenario.
If you’re a priest, this is an excellent way to deepen your Eucharistic devotion at the altar even when you’re unable to celebrate Communion on a given day.
But for anyone, this is a marvelous devotional opportunity, one of the best ways to strengthen your roots in our common life of worship if your church isn’t open that day, and also a really good Bible Study opportunity, as a feast day’s readings usually speak together with one voice more clearly than the average Sunday morning’s lessons.