The bread and wine have been consecrated and broken, and we’ve just prayed the Prayer of Humble Access… now what?

The following or some other suitable anthem may be sun or said here

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world;
have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world;
have mercy upon us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world;
grant us your peace.

This is the Agnus Dei, or “Lamb of God”, a classic feature of Communion liturgy.  It takes the words of St. John the Baptist (in John 1:29) turns them into a prayer.  The classical prayer book tradition does not appoint this (or any) anthem here.  In fact, a strict reading of the 1662 Prayer Book makes it difficult to work out where any music can be inserted into the liturgy!  The 1928 Prayer Book, however, notes that a Hymn may be sung at this point.  A liturgical traditionalist probably would have had the Agnus Dei in mind, although the Anglican hymnody tradition has produced some truly marvelous communion hymns, and I miss them terribly whenever I’m away from my congregation!

Behind the scenes, this where things are getting busy.  In a large setting, it may take a while to pour consecrated wine from flagons into chalices, and to break the large communion host into smaller pieces.  This anthem is a good time for the priest and deacon to make such preparations without spending too much time in silence.  It’s similar to how the initial preparation of the altar is typically done during the Offertory Hymn.

Don’t get me wrong though, silence is a good thing; and as a general pattern I think most of our celebrations of the liturgy need more silence.  But if it takes a significant amount of time to accomplish a mundane task, then an anthem (be it spoken or sung) can help people remain meditative upon the spiritual realities – the Holy Communion of our Lord.

As a final encouragement, don’t be afraid of the repetitive nature of this and similar anthems.  I avoided using it for most of Trinitytide, probably out of an over-anxious concern for time, but when I did finally use it again one Sunday, I got a comment after that it was nice to have it back, and that we should keep saying it.  I was reminded that it’s not just a “filler”, but a meaningful prayer.  Sometimes our pithy one-liner Acclamations and Antiphons are simply too short and abrupt for people to take them.  When we repeat the same thing a couple times, it gives us more opportunity to process (or digest) what we’re saying and praying.  So, please, if you have a habit of utilizing the option of skipping the Agnus Dei, try bringing it back for a while.

One thought on “During the Anthem at the Communion

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