Something we’ve touched upon here before is the subject of the service of Antecommunion. I figured it’s about time we revisit that idea with a more direct address of its identity, purpose, and execution.
What is ‘Antecommunion’?
The prefix ante- means ‘before’, so the service of Antecommunion is the Service of Holy Communion before, or leading up to and excluding, the actual celebration of Communion. Basically from the Introit to the Offertory, this is the non-sacramental part of the Communion liturgy. The only difference is that this is done on purpose, and ends with a few different prayers, making this specifically the Service of Antecommunion rather than the Service of Holy Communion Except We Stopped Short Just Before The Important Bit.
Why would anyone do this?
Antecommunion is a uniquely Anglican practice; I’m not sure if any other tradition has ever had a liturgy on the books like this. In the Prayer Book tradition, provision was made for the celebration of Holy Communion every Sunday and major Holy Day of the year, but, people were not used to such frequent reception of Communion, and despite the Reformers’ best efforts, the average English believer still only came to the Holy Table once a month at best. The priests, however, were still expected to fulfill the liturgical demands of the Prayer Book, and so provision had to be made for situations in which there was a Service of Holy Communion offered but no communicants prepared to receive Holy Communion.
The 1662 Prayer Book has, at the end of the Communion liturgy, a handful of collects, and a rubric or two, for that very situation. I’m not aware what, if any, subsequent Prayer Books contained similar instructions for that situation.
Now that Anglicans almost the world over are accustomed to weekly Communion, this “need” for Antecommunion is no longer common. If your parish priest is unexpectedly sick on a Sunday morning, then a Deacon or Lay Minister could lead an Antecommunion service instead, since it’s almost identical to the regular Communion service. This leads us to two possible scenarios in which the Antecommunion service may still be relevant for our needs and interests:
- A group of people, lacking a priest, want to participate in the eucharistic liturgy as much as they’re able.
- A priest, lacking a congregation, wants to participate in the eucharistic liturgy as much as he’s able.
The former situation is rare – normally when people want to worship together they should be saying the Daily Office. Antecommunion should always and only be an addition to the Office, not a substitute.
The latter situation is perhaps more common, especially among those clergymen with high church sensibilities. Roman priests, for example, were (if not still are) bound to celebrate Mass daily, much like how Anglican priests were (if not still are) bound to say the Office daily. If you’re a priest and you feel like you “ought to be” celebrating Holy Communion daily, or at least ought to be celebrating it more frequently than just Sunday mornings, then Antecommunion is the compromise. It is extremely rare to find, among Anglicans, anyone who approves of a priest saying Mass entirely alone – Prayer Book tradition requires at least two other people gathered with the celebrant, so only the most Romanized clergymen would ever opt for a ‘private’ mass. So if you are alone, Antecommunion is the closest you can get to the devotion of the so-called private mass.
How does the service of Antecommunion work?
The whole point of this liturgy is that it’s a stand-in for the full Communion service, so it’s essentially identical from the start until the Confession. After that, you say the Lord’s Prayer, and a few additional prayers, and then you’re done. For a bookmark-style guide using the 2019 Prayer Book, download this Antecommunion leaflet. Plus, if you want, you can check out this walk-through video.
As a bonus, I even provided a quick summary of how to do this with the 1928 Prayer Book, since I know some of you are users of that book, rather than the 2019.
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Ante-communion has been a Lutheran practice, too, and is provided for by the rubrics in various service books. Communion once a month with ante-communion the rest of the month was quite common until recent decades.