Ascension Day – Antecommunion

For Ascension Day under the COVID-19 closure, I thought it would be nice to try something different.  Please forgive the box of kid’s toys in the background, and my hair’s a bit of a mess (I’m taking advantage of social distancing to regrow my hair into a ponytail while nobody has to look at it).  This is a reflection of the simple reality that worshiping at home can be difficult.  Nevertheless, whatever the challenges, the prayers of the Church never cease!

If you want a generic outline for Antecommunion, you can view or download one here: Antecommunion leaflet

The hymn I sang after the Peace (in the place of the Offertory) is See the conqueror mounts in triumph, #151 in the Book of Common Praise 2017.

Anglicanism’s ONE Manual Ritual

Liturgically speaking, Anglicanism is remarkably simple.  Sure, the Prayer Book requires something of a learning curve, especially modern Prayer Books with all their options and possibilities and multi-year lectionaries.  But when you compare the historic Prayer Book tradition to the other great liturgical traditions, particularly Rome and the East, ours is greatly simpler to follow, understand, and implement.  This is, I believe, part of the Reformation principle: paring down the extraneous developments that clogged up the system to unveil the Biblical and Patristic core of historic Christian worship.

This doesn’t mean Anglicanism cannot be complex and beautiful – many rituals and traditions, both ancient and medieval, have been re-appropriated in our context.  We can have incense and chasubles, altar candles and art, icons and organs… but when it comes down to it the “smells and bells” are optional.  These beautify worship but are not integral to it.

And yet, amidst our grand simplification of Western liturgical tradition, there is one rubric – only one – that has survived every Prayer Book revision, dealing with the gestures (or manual actions) of the Priest.  The 1549 Prayer Book had a couple other gestures directed which are often used today, but only one survived through the course of the Reformation and is fixed in every Prayer Book since the beginning.  Here it is, according to the wording of the 2019 Book:

At the following words concerning the bread, the Celebrant is to hold it, or lay a hand upon it, and here* may break the bread; and at the words concerning the cup, to hold or place a hand upon the cup and any other vessel containing the wine to be consecrated.

There are other rubrics, too, that deal with movement and location, standing and kneeling, but these are the only instructions left that deal with the manuals, the hands.  The celebrant MUST touch the bread or the vessel(s) containing it; the celebrant MUST touch the flagon or chalice or other vessel containing the wine.  These are the only requirements, amidst the many traditional gestures and symbols that prior tradition demanded.

Why is this so?  There may be different answers to this question.  Perhaps it’s as simple and practical as to indicate to all gathered what is to be consecrated.  Perhaps it’s part of a larger system of sacramental theology in which the celebrant has to indicate the intent to consecrate particular elements.  Perhaps there’s something incarnational in the celebrant’s imitation of Christ, or service in the place of Christ, in physically handling the elements in the same way our Lord did on the night that he was betrayed.  The explanation may be different according to whom you ask, but the rule or rubric is the same.

One of the important realizations that we must take from this, today, is the fact that we are NOT permitted to consecrated bread and wine via the internet.  There are a lot of simplifications and extraneous traditions that were removed during the Reformation, but physical contact between the minister and the elements is the one thing we’ve made a point of keeping.  Sadly, a number of priests, and even bishops, have advocated a sort of “remote consecration”, where the congregation has bread and wine in front of their TV or computer screen and the priest or bishop they’re watching live “consecrates” them for the recipients at home.  This is not permissible according to the Prayer Book tradition.  And, depending upon one’s theological explanation of this rubric, it’s probably also not possible or valid.

So I urge you, dear readers, not to hold or participate in such liturgies involving “remote consecration.”  These are, admittedly, extraordinary circumstances; but that does not mean we can abandon our beliefs and godly authorities.  Whether we like them or not, the Prayer Book already has resources for this sort of situation: pray the Daily Office, pray Antecommunion, ask the parish priest to deliver Communion house to house after celebrating with a small group.  Use the prayer of Spiritual Communion; it’s #106 in the 2019 Prayer Book.  True, none of these are quite replacements for the regular participation in the liturgy of Holy Communion, but these measures exist precisely to keep the people of God fed and nourished, even in times of infrequent reception of the Sacrament.

We can get through this.  We don’t need to violate our beliefs, practices, or rubrics.  We certainly don’t need to introduce strange, novel , and illicit inventions as “remote consecration.”  Honestly, to do so reveals a surrender to worldly conditions and a lack of appreciation (let alone understanding) of the beautiful and robust tradition we already have.

The Acclamation can be anything “appropriate”

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How does the service of Holy Communion begin?  Many churches have a processional hymn or an opening song to start things off.  The 2019 Prayer Book notes this option with a rubric on pages 105 and 123.  But after that comes the Acclamation, the textual beginning of the worship service in the modern liturgy.  It says:

The people standing, the Celebrant says this or a seasonal greeting (pages 145-146)

When you turn to page 145 you find eight different Acclamations for different seasons and holy days of the year.  But they are introduced with this rubric:

The opening Acclamation may be replaced by a greeting appropriate to the season or the occasion, such as the following

This means that you can create your own acclamation!  That means you could do something like this:

Celebrant Hey there, fam!
People  ‘Sup, preacher!

This assumes, of course, that the celebrant deems this “appropriate to the season or the occasion“.  One would hope that the priest has better taste than this, haha, but it’s technically possible.

Yes, it’s Weird Rubric Wednesday, this is my chance to be silly.

Anything helpful to suggest?

Okay, yes.  First of all, it should be noted that this openness links smoothly with the Additional Directions on page 139 that authorize the assembly of a Penitential Order at the beginning of the liturgy.  It may be that an appropriate greeting be an immediate call to confession of sin, or the proclamation of the gospel of repentance, as the Daily Offices do.  In times of grave trouble, this might actually be a good idea.  The use of the Great Litany as the preface to the Communion liturgy is also appropriate to this scenario, and is provided for in the rubric on page 96, and certain dates of the year to do this are urged on page 99.

It may be that a particular situation or occasion may invite the use of a canticle for the celebrant and congregation to say at the start of the liturgy.  This is, in effect, what the Burial Service does.

It may be that a particular situation or occasion may benefit from a special address by the celebrant to the congregation, as the Marriage liturgy begins.

Most of us are currently in a closed-church situation where few-to-none of us can attend worship in person.  The first Sunday back may call for a special address, a call to celebrate and rejoice, and a reminder of why we do gather together and what worship is all about.  Priests and pastors across the country will be thinking about what to say and how to handle our eventual reunions, and this rubric for the Acclamation gives us leeway – not simply to mess with the liturgy for our own purposes, but to hand us the freedom to give thoughtful consideration to how we might usher the flock into a time of worship, given the particular occasion or circumstance.

Create Your Own Prayers of the People

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On page 140 of the 2019 Prayer Book, the following Additional Direction is found:

In both the Anglican Standard and Renewed Ancient Texts, other forms of the Prayers of the People may be used, provided the following concerns are included:

   The universal Church, the clergy and people
   The mission of the Church
   The nation and all in authority
   The peoples of the world
   The local community
   Those who suffer and those in any need or trouble
   Thankful remembrance of the faithful departed and of all the blessings of our lives.

For the most part this is a clone of the rubric in the 1979 Prayer Book, which also authorized a create-your-own-adventure approach to the Prayers of the People, providing a similar structure of required topics.  I think the wording of ours is a bit more positively specific, but the freedom is basically the same.

Now, this is “Weird Rubric Wednesday”, a new series of posts that I’m running about weird, strange, or surprising things that the 2019 Prayer Book permits.  As the intentionally horrific and obnoxious banner picture at the top of the page indicates, I’m running this partly for the humour, and cautioning against abuse of the system.  But some of these will have serious and positive suggestions, too.  How you deal with the Prayers of the People is going to be one of those mixed entries.

Ideally…

The two Communion rites in our Prayer Book provide their own default Prayers of the People.  Ideally you should just use them as-is.  Tampering with them is permitted, but almost never necessary.  The special occasion once in a while may be well-highlighted by an edited set of Prayers here, but on the whole this is supposed to be a stable piece of the liturgy.  If you always keep the congregation guessing from week to week, then you’re only teaching them to rely on you, or to rely upon their own spontaneity, rather than provide the spiritual formation available in the mature historic prayers.

Try your hand at Puritanism

One of the great practices of the Free Church tradition is the “pastoral prayer”, in which the pastor prays at length for, well, anything and everything.  This can be a train wreck if he’s unprepared, but it can also be a beautiful moment of pastoral love and care for the flock.  The Puritans, in particular, had a thing for insanely long prayers, and this rubric offers them a victory in our 2019 liturgy.

Personally I don’t recommend opting for this, but it may be a positive idea to pray, as a pastor (priest, deacon, or otherwise) for your congregation at the end of the traditional set Prayers.

Shaken, not stirred

Another thing you could try here is to pull out the Occasional Prayers near the back of the Prayer Book and grab a collect or two for each of the required topics to create your own Prayers of the People.  This would result in a very piecemeal set of prayers, with little-to-no sense of flow to them, so I would not recommend that for ordinary Communion services.  But that might be a cool idea to try out in an Antecommunion service on your own!  It’s also worth noting that the list of topics in the rubric above also closely matches the organization of the Occasional Prayers, so this scheme would be easier to fulfill than you might think.

Outsourcing

This rubric also gives you the freedom to grab any other Prayer Book, official or proposed or supplementary, and use their Prayers of the People, assuming they meet the simple required topics.  This could mean the 1979, or England’s Common Worship, or the Kenyan Prayer Book, or another province.  Or, to channel that #broke/#woke/#bespoke meme, you could go all-out #bespoke and use the 1662 or 1928 Prayer Book’s Prayer for the Whole State of Christ’s Church.  How ’bout dat?

For ever and ever, Amen.

Pray the Great Litany as the Prayers of the People.  Pray some or all the Psalms.  Pray all the Occasional Prayers.  This liturgy could last all day, baby!  DON’T STAWP!

Preparing for Candlemas

Coming up in a couple weeks is one of those lovely opportunities to celebrate one of the Holy Days, or “red letter days” with the whole church on a Sunday: the feast of the Presentation of our Lord, or, the Purification of Mary.  It’s on February 2nd, which is about two Sundays away now.

First of all, if you need to freshen up your memory on the meaning and significance of this holiday, click here for my introduction from a previous year.  There you’ll get a run-down of several scripture readings, a collect, and a canticle that are associated with this celebration.

For many 1979-prayer-book-users, it is a hard adjustment realizing that we are “allowed” to celebrate holy days like this on Sundays.  It cannot be emphasized enough that before 1979 it was universal practice to observe holy days that land on Sundays outside of Lent/Easter/Pentecost, and Advent.  Be glad to reclaim another piece of our heritage!  Plus, holy days like these also help “break up” the predictability of the Sundays of the year somewhat, providing moments of something different.

Although in the case of this feast day, it’s not really that much of an interruption, because the Presentation of Christ in the Temple has strong connections to Christmas and Epiphany.  February 2nd is “the 40th day of Christmas“, matching the timing of the historical presentation in the Temple; and one of the key lines in the Gospel story of this holiday identifies Jesus as “a light to lighten the gentiles”, playing perfectly into one of the themes of Epiphanytide.  So it would really be a crying shame not to observe this day a couple Sundays from now.

One of the “extra things” that make this holiday stand out is the tradition of blessing candles for the church and the congregation.  There is a brief rite for this in A Manual for Priests in the American Church which I have adapted to our contemporary-language prayer book style, below.  Note that this is from a book that assumes a high churchmanship which many of you who read this may not be prepared (or even desirous) to implement.  But the ceremonial can always be simplified for your context, should you choose to do something like this at the beginning of the liturgy.

The Blessing and Distribution of Candles on February 2

 This ancient blessing, symbolic of Christ the True Light of the world, should take place immediately before the principle Mass on the Feast of the Purification of Mary (Presentation of Christ).  In many places it is customary to bless the year’s supply of candles together with the candles which are to be given to the people at this service.

The candles to be blessed and distributed are usually placed at the Epistle side of the Sanctuary, near the Altar.  The Altar should be vested in white.  The Priest who is to celebrate, vested in amice, alb, girdle, white stole and cope (if no cope is available the chasuble may be worn), having arrived at the Altar, goes to the Epistle side.  Without turning to the people, he begins the office of blessing, singing or saying:

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.
Let us pray.

Almighty and everlasting God, who as on this day did present your only-begotten Son in your holy temple to be received in the arms of blessed Simeon: We humbly entreat your mercy, that you would condescend to +bless, +hallow, and kindle with the light of your heavenly benediction these candles which we your servants desire to receive and to carry, lighted in honor of your holy Name.  By offering them to you, our Lord and God, may we be inflamed with the fire of your love, and made worthy to be presented in the holy temple of your glory; through the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, world without end.  Amen.

Then the Priest [after putting incense into the thurible and blessing it] will thrice sprinkle the candles with holy water, saying once only,

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

[Then he censes them thrice.]

If another Priest is present, he gives a candle to the celebrant, who does not kneel.

Other clergy and acolytes receive their candles kneeling at the footpace; the people kneel at the Altar Rail.

During the distribution it is customary to sing the Nunc Dimittis, in the following manner:

Antiphon: A light to lighten the Gentiles: and the glory of your people Israel.

Lord, now let your servant depart in peace * according to your word.

Antiphon.

For my eyes have seen * your salvation,

Antiphon.

Which you have prepared * before the face of all people;

Antiphon.

To be a light to lighten the Gentiles * and to be the glory of your people Israel.

Antiphon.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son * and to the Holy Spirit;

Antiphon.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be * world without end.

Antiphon.

When all have received their candles, and returned to their places, the candles which the people are carrying should be lighted.  The light may be given by acolytes or ushers.

 As soon as the anthem is finished, the Priest shall sing or say:  Let us pray.

We beseech you, O Lord, mercifully to hear the prayers of your people; and grant that by this service which year by year we offer to you, we may, in the light of your grace, attain to the hidden things of your glory; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Then the Procession is formed.  [And first the Priest puts incense in the censer and blesses it.]  Turning to the people, he sings,

Let us go forth in peace.
In the Name of Christ. Amen.

During the Procession, all carry lighted candles, and appropriate hymns and anthems should be sung.  The Procession ended, the Priest lays aside his cope, and puts on the chasuble for the Mass of the feast.  It is an ancient custom for all to hold lighted candles during the reading of the Gospel, and from the Consecration to the Communion.

Walk-through of the Communion liturgy (BCP 2019)

Over the past few months we’ve been walking through the Communion liturgy in the 2019 Prayer Book, step by step, and just finished last week.  Now it’s time to share the full index of this summary so you can go back, catch up on anything you missed, or revisit what you might want to revisit.

This is not, of course, a complete commentary on every portion of the liturgy.  But it does give you something to think about, or context to consider, for each section of the worship service.  Plus some advice along the way!

  1. The Trinitytide Acclamation or The Advent Acclamation
  2. The Collect for Purity
  3. The Penitential Rite (Decalogue or Summary of the Law)
  4. The Gloria in Excelsis
  5. The Number of Collects and Lessons
  6. The Nicene Creed (translation)
  7. The Order of the Sermon & Creed
  8. The Prayers of the People
  9. The Exhortation
  10. The Confession
  11. The Comfortable Words
  12. The Offertory Sentences
  13. The Sursum Corda
  14. The Proper Preface
  15. The two(ish) Prayers of Consecration
  16. The Epiclesis
  17. The Fraction
  18. The Prayer of Humble Access
  19. the Anthem
  20. What the Minister says to the Congregation at the Communion
  21. The two Post-Communion Prayers
  22. The Blessing
  23. The Dismissal

Dismissals

The very last act of worship in the Prayer Book’s Communion service (unless you have a hymn or other music after this, as the rubrics permit) is the Dismissal on page 122 and 138.  This is an import from the Roman Rite (and the 1979 Prayer Book); the classical Prayer Book tradition didn’t include a dismissal, but ended with the Blessing.  That being said, most (if not all) of the 1928 Prayer Book parishes that I’ve visited have tacked on a Dismissal to the end of the liturgy anyway!  I guess it really helps for the celebrant, or deacon, to tell people that the liturgy is over.

The rubrics state “The Deacon, or the Priest, may dismiss the People with these words“.  This indicates three things:

  1. If there is a deacon serving, he is the one should say this.  The priest only says it in the absence of a deacon.
  2. The Dismissal is optional, and may be left off, according to the historic Prayer Book pattern.
  3. The Dismissals provided are the complete list of approved dismissals; we’re not technically supposed to re-word them or make up different ones.  (Not that this is a massively critical piece of the worship service that will undermine the entire Christian Faith if we mess it up, but at the very least it avoids confusion if we don’t go “off-script” too far.)

The four dismissals all have the same response by the congregation: “Thanks be to God.” though “Alleluia, alleluia” is indicated to be added from the Easter Vigil through the Day of Pentecost.  “It may be added at other times, except during Lent and on other penitential occasions.”  This is a concession to popular practice, I suspect; traditionally, additional Alleluia’s are only found in that Easter-Ascension-Pentecost block of time.

Identifying the choices and when to use them

The four dismissals provided are not accompanied with any suggestions about times of year for use, allowing a parish or deacon to stick to one favorite all the time, use whichever one catches the deacon’s fancy at the time, or make a choice according to liturgical mood or tone.

Let us go forth in the Name of Christ.

This is perhaps the most straight-forward dismissal, and the one I find myself using the most often.  The word “Name” is capitalized here, as it often is in liturgical texts, because “the Name of Christ” or of God is of particular theological significance.  The Name, in ancient understanding, is representative of the power, authority, even presence, of the one named.  Regarding both the Tabernacle (or Tent of Meeting) and the Temple in Jerusalem, God said he would make his Name dwell there.  So when we depart in the Name of Christ, the implication is that we carry Christ with us, out from the church gathering and into the ordinary world around us.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

The second dismissal is more like a “mission statement reminder”, giving the people particular instructions on their way out.  The call to love and service may make this dismissal particularly appropriate in penitential seasons, when there are concrete spiritual disciplines being preached from the pulpit, or otherwise commended in the lessons.

Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is the longest and most specific dismissal.  It points us out into the world, like the first two, but, rather than emphasizing good works like the second, it suggests a continued life of worship like the first.  Rather than centering us on Christ, though, this dismissal centers us on the Holy Spirit.  This perhaps makes it particularly appropriate for the Day of Pentecost and other occasions that share that emphasis.  And, lest one misconstrue a Pentecostal excess, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Let us bless the Lord.

The appearance of this stark and brief dismissal in some of the Holy Week services in the 1979 Prayer Book suggested that this is an appropriate dismissal for that time of year, but I haven’t found it there in our new prayer book, which frees this dismissal to an “any time” status.  As it is found at the end of the Daily Offices too, this simplest of dismissals may find their natural home in brief weekday Communion services or the ordinary Sundays of Trinitytide.

The Dismissal historically

The most common nickname for the service of Holy Communion among the Papists is “the Mass”.  That name comes from the usual traditional Latin dismissal “ite, missa est.”  I have often heard it said that the word missa indicates “mission”, that we’re being sent into the world bring the Gospel to all nations.  While this is a fine sentiment, and perhaps even an implication of the idea of the dismissal, that’s not what the word really is.  There is some linguistic discussion on its precise etymology and origin, which you can read about on the Wikipedia page linked above, but basically the missa here refers either to the congregation which is being sent, or to the dismissal being said.  Mission is a fine and proper implication, but not the direct meaning of that dismissal.

This background insight translates pretty well into our four dismissals, in that some of ours indicate a “missional” character and others don’t.  Both are valid interpretations of the purpose and message of the dismissal.  In your own ministry context, be sure you don’t pigeon-hole the dismissal into an overly-narrow field of meaning.

The Blessing at Communion

The last part of the Communion service in the classical prayer books is the Blessing.  Specifically, this one (albeit with the 2019 wording)…

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.  Amen.

Once this blessing is pronounced, people can get up and go.

Except, in the modern order, we now have an extra Dismissal that follows, and usually music as well.  But until the 1970’s (or perhaps the arrival of something like the Anglican Missal?) the Blessing marked the end of the liturgy.

I have heard it argued that the priest offering a Blessing at this point is redundant – what greater blessing could be conferred than receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord?  But there are a couple different answers.

First of all, ending a worship service with a blessing is biblical.  It is the Old Testament pattern – even though the sacrifice of animals and their oblation in the Temple and the eating of the meat was the “high point” of the Old Covenant liturgy, the priest was still to bless the people after.  It is the New Testament pattern too, in a way: St. Paul ended each of his epistles with a blessing of some sort.  It is a little ironic, though, that the blessing we use is not explicitly used as a blessing by St. Paul (cf. Philippians 4:7 – it was actually the Epistle reading a couple Sundays ago).

Secondly, the specific content of this blessing is appropriate.  In a general sense, the argument against a blessing after receiving Holy Communion does sound logical, but this objection is undermined by what this blessing calls for: that the people would be kept in the knowledge and love of God.  It is a blessing of perseverance – may the people, who have just celebrated their unity with and in Christ, always remain so.

Third, and finally, it is analogous to the Prayer of Humble Access.  If you reduce the meaning of this blessing to some sort of generic blessing, then yeah it’s lame.  Same deal with the Prayer of Humble Access: if you reduce the meaning of that prayer to some sort of generic confession, then it’s redundant and silly too.  But both of these prayers, although bearing similarities to other prayers and “functions” within the service, bring new and different lights to the table (or, from the Table in this instance).

Now, all that having been said… the 2019 Prayer Book states that

The Bishop, when present, or the Priest, gives this or an alternative blessing

But what is an “alternative blessing”?  None is supplied.  In the classical prayer books this choice didn’t exist: that blessing was the blessing.  But there is another blessing in the old prayer book tradition – the Burial Office ends with a different blessing, also found at the end of the Committal in the 2019 Prayer Book:

The God of peace, who brought again the from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight…

Notice in both blessings that these are not (strictly-speaking) prayers.  “May God ___” is a prayer, but these are more like statements (or perhaps subjunctive verbs, if I remember my grammar correctly): “God… make you perfect” and “the peace of God… keep your hearts and minds.”  Blessings are “speech-acts”, like when a minister declares a man and a woman husband and wife, or baptizes somebody.  However sacerdotal you may or may not choose to view these “sacramental rites”, the reality is that these are special acts of the Church through her ordained ministers.  Pentecostalism, especially in its Prosperity Gospel extreme versions, has yielded an unhealthy practice that is creeping into evangelicalism: “declarations” in the name of Jesus for one or another sort of blessing.  This practice is essentially usurping the special role of the ordained clergy, popularizing it for all Christians, and reducing its gravity and import often to crass hopes and dreams for health and wealth.  Be very careful what you do, or permit, along these lines in your ministry context.

One last note about the option for different blessings at the end of the Communion service.  I strongly suspect that the main reason the 2019 rubric permits an “alternative blessing” is to authorize the Seasonal Blessings that have been provided in supplemental books such as Book of Occasional Services and Common Prayer (2000).  If you are so inclined, you can peruse those materials for a variety of blessings – probably finding a unique one for every Sunday of the year.  Although modern liturgy trends seem to prefer such variety, classic Prayer Book wisdom does not support this, so I would advise priests not to deviate from the standard Prayer Book blessing very often.  Maybe grab a “solemn blessing” for Christmas Day and Easter Day; maybe use another blessing from the Bible or pre-existing tradition on other special and rare occasions; otherwise, be sure to use the standard historic blessing virtually all year.

If it’s always changing, it’ll never stick in the people’s minds, and go in one ear and out the other.  And, given the fact that the standard blessing is for our hearts and minds to kept, that would be sadly ironic indeed.

Two Post-Communion Prayers

I can just hear the traditionalists gnashing their teeth at this title.  “Two post communion prayers?  What’s wrong with your new prayer book, couldn’t you just settle on one like the good old days?”  The funny thing, in this case, is that the 1662 Prayer Book actually did have two choices of prayer after the reception of Holy Communion.  The second option is essentially what we have to this day in American Prayer Books – the “post communion prayer.”  The first option might be called a Prayer of Oblation, and American prayer books have typically placed it as part of the Prayer of Consecration.  So where the 1662 Prayer Book has a one-or-the-other-prayer situation, books like the 1928 use both, having moved one to a different spot.

In the 2019 Prayer Book, though, with our two communion rites, we end up with two different versions of the post-communion prayer.  Before preparing this write-up, I’d not yet spent any time comparing the two prayers against one another, and was pleasantly surprised at what I discovered: they are essentially the same prayer.  Check it out:

post-com

Of course there are some differences, and even the slightest difference can imply a much larger shift in emphasis and focus.  So let’s take a look at some of the variations between these.  The Prayer on the left side is the Anglican Standard Text, and, minus a couple words and one phrase trimmed out, is the same as found in the 1662 Prayer Book.  If you’re interested in that “true standard”, you can find it at the end of this entry.

The first major streamlining in the Renewed Ancient Text (right column) is where the prayer makes an aside to further explicate the nature of the Church.  “The body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal Kingdom” is made to cover for twice as much material in the Anglican Standard Text.

The next noteworthy omission is in the petition.  The first prayer asks God to assist us with his grace, while the second prayer asks God to send us out.  Both involve doing the good works according to his calling, but the former leans first on a prayer for perserverance in faith and the latter leans more on mission.  Indeed, that reference to serving as faithful witnesses of Christ is the only element of the second prayer that is truly unique to it, rather than a reduction of the other.

In short, both Post Communion Prayers in the 2019 Prayer Book are based upon the historic Post Communion Prayer.  The Anglican Standard Text is slightly shortened from the original, and the Renewed Ancient Text is even more shortened, and given a “missional” flavor toward the end.  They still ultimately communicate the same thing to us, but they do send us in slightly different directions.

– – –

ALMIGHTY and everliving God
we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us,
who have duly received these holy mysteries,
with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood
of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ;
and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us;
and that we are very members
incorporate in the mystical Body of thy Son,
which is the blessed company of all faithful
people;
and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom,
by the merits of the most precious death and passion of thy dear Son.
And we most humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace,
that we may continue in that holy fellowship,
and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in,
through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost,
be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

What the Minister says to the Congregation at the Communion

Finally, after the Communion prayers have all been said, the celebrant addresses the congregation.  Apart from the quick bid to say the Lord’s Prayer, this is the first time the priest or bishop actually speaks to the congregation in this half of the liturgy.

It is common practice, I’ve noticed, for priests to look up at the congregation during the Words of Institution – “Take, eat, this is my body…” etc.  This is absolutely inappropriate.  Even if you’re a highchurchman who favors the theology of the priest serving in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), those words are still not for the priest to say to the people.  The Words of Institution are part of the prayers recited by the celebrant at the altar; to look up at the congregation is to defy the prayerfulness of the entire paragraph, and cause confusion for everyone involved.  If you, as a celebrant, have trouble with this, consider celebrating ad orientem instead of versus populum, as if you’re leading the congregation in prayer rather than bartending for them.  I have a brief explanation of the ad orientem posture in the “Looking East” section of this sermon from a few years ago.

Anyway, it is at the end of the prayers that the celebrant does speak to the congregation.  In our 2019 Prayer Book there are two such points: an invitation to the whole congregation, and the words spoken while actually administering the bread and wine to each communicant.  The content and history of these words is important for us to understand, especially we ministers who read them.

In the first prayer book, of 1549, the following words were to be spoken during the administration:

The body [blood] of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee; preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.

This suggested a strongly realist theology of the Sacrament, which the Swiss-influenced English Reformers were a little wary about, and so when the next prayer book came along in 1552, these words were changed to something more spiritualist.

Take and eat this, in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.

Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

It seems that this was a pendulum swing too far in the opposite direction, however, as this language could very easily indicate the absenteeist theology of the likes of Ulrich Zwingli.  (For a review of the terms realist and spiritualist and absenteeist in this context, see this summary I wrote a while back.)  So, in subsequent books, the high view of 1549 and low view of 1552 kind of got mashed together.  This is what the ministers say in the 1662 Prayer Book:

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for thee, and be thankful.

This is a jarring move for a lot of people.  Those of a Lutheran or other such high church persuasion regarding the Sacrament are going to favor the first half of the statement, and those of a Calvinist or other such low church persuasion are going to favor the second half.  But this is an instance where the Anglican Way is a via media between Wittenburg and Geneva.  That’s not always how things work for us,  but this is one of those areas where it does.

Nowadays, in the 2019 Prayer Book, there is a little variety in what the priests might say to the congregation at this point in the liturgy.  First we have a pair of invitations which we may say (but don’t have to).

The gifts of God for the people of God.  [Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.]

or

Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

The former is kind of a summary of the classic 1662 mash-up, with the longer 1552 part made optional.  The second invitation is a mash-up of John 1:29 and Revelation 19:9, which might favor a high-church theology in the way they’re used, but by bringing in the context of the eschatological wedding feast it takes some focus away from the question of what’s going on with the communion elements and shifts it to the act of participation.  And that, I think, is something that people of all churchmanships can get behind.  And in my localized experience, that line has put more smiles on the faces of my flock than the first invitation.

All that is optional, however.  It’s common practice in modern liturgy to use one of those invitations, and it’s especially helpful in a large congregation where the communion line can make people wait a while – hearing such words before they get up and again when they receive.

At the altar rail itself, or wherever the people receive the bread and wine, this what the ministers say:

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, [which was given for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving].

The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, [which was shed for you, preserve your body and soul unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ’s blood was shed for you, and be thankful].

That is the Anglican Standard Text (on page 120), and you’ll notice that it is identical to the 1662 Prayer Book except “thee” has become “you” and the second (low-church theology) half has been made optional.  Some may note that this is an unfair emphasis on the shorter, high-church first half.  Others may rebut that the low church phraseology is also in the first Invitation, and therefore the minister has two opportunities to say it.

Meanwhile, in the Renewed Ancient Text (page 136), the same Invitations are supplied, but the words at the administration are different:

The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.

The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.

This is a holdover from the 1979 Prayer Book where diversity of options and simplicity of statements were the rules of the day.  To my slight embarrassment, I admit this is what I still say when distributing Communion, despite my preference for the historic liturgy.  It’s shorter and easier to memorize, and I’m afraid that if I try to use the first, Standard, text, I’ll mess it up.  But I’m working on it.

Plus, to be fair, if you use the first Invitation in full, then you’ve provided the historic words of administration already.  So our tradition isn’t lost necessarily, just slightly rearranged, and that’s not the worst thing in the world!

It also should be noted that the Additional Directions on page 141 state that:

The words used when the Bread and Cup are given to the communicants may be taken from either Eucharistic Text.

This option to exchange elements from the Anglican Standard and the Renewed Ancient Texts applies to just about every element that diverge between them, which is helpful for those who are concerned about “doing it right” in the midst of learning a different rite, as well as for emphasizing the essential unity of these two rites, as I’ve argued before.

So, for those of you who have the charge of celebrating the Eucharist, take note of the words you say to the congregation, both when administering the bread and wine and when giving the general invitation forward.  Make sure that your words are not careless announcements, but the theologically rich words they’re meant to be.

And those of you who hear these words from the pew and/or when opening your hands and mouth for the Sacrament, make sure you open your ears as well.  These are not idle words to keep the ministers busy or just to fill space, but instructive statements of faith!