A Four-Act Play
Our principal act of worship as a community of Christians is the weekly Liturgy, which includes four parts, which are like four acts of a play:
ACT 1 is our gathering and preparation
ACT 2 is the liturgy of the word
ACT 3 is the liturgy of the sacrament
ACT 4 is the dismissal
According to different customs in different churches, the name for the weekly liturgy varies. Names include Holy Communion, Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Sacred Supper, or the Mass. Whatever we call it, the purpose is the same, to offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God, to remember Christ’s death that we might have life, and to renew our covenant bond with our Father by receiving His Son with bread and wine.
Christians have different views on the Eucharist and conduct it in different ways, but virtually all agree that it is commanded by our Lord and is important for the fullness of Christian life and discipleship.
For two thousand years Christians have gathered weekly to listen to the words of Jesus and of the apostles and prophets of Biblical days, to remember Christ’s death and resurrection, and to be nourished by His divine life in bread and wine.
Entering the Church
When you first arrive at Saint Matthew’s, you will enter the NARTHEX, which is simply the foyer or lobby of the church. Here you will be greeted and given a copy of the “The Weekly” Bulletin, which includes a step-by-step order of the liturgy, as well as news of upcoming events in our church family.
If you need an Assisted Listening Device, they are available by the centre doors leading into the main seating area for the congregation.
If you have little children who might benefit from an Activity Bag, they are hanging under the bulletin board at the opposite end of the narthex from which you entered. There is also a Family Room with a full view of the service.
Parts of the Sanctuary
As you enter the sanctuary, you come into the main seating area, sometimes called the NAVE from the Latin word for “ship.” In Christian art, the Church is sometimes pictured as a ship sailing for the kingdom of God. The passengers of the ship are the parishioners sitting in the main part of the church.
From your seat, you can see the other parts of the church. At the front is the CHANCEL, raised by a step above the level of the nave. It is from here that the liturgy will be led.
Within the sanctuary, there are several things to notice. To the left is a LECTERN (from the Latin “to read”). The Bible readings appointed for the week are read from here. Sometimes, the sermon is preached from the lectern. At other times, the preacher simply stands at the front.
In the centre of the sanctuary is the ALTAR. The altar is where the bread and wine of Holy Communion are consecrated and administered. It is the Lord’s Table.
“The altar occupies the holiest spot in the church. The church has itself been set apart from the world of human work, and the altar is elevated above the rest of the church in a spot as remote and separate as the sanctuary of the soul. The solid base it is set on is like the human will that knows that God has instituted man for his worship and is determined to perform that worship faithfully. The visible altar at the heart of the church is but the external representation of the altar at the centre of the human breast, which is God’s temple, of which the church with its walls and arches is but the expression and figure.” (from Sacred Signs by Romano Guardini)
Preparing To Worship
A Community Act
You may sit anywhere you like in the nave. Prepare your heart and mind for what is about to happen by quietly praying. The word LITURGY means “work of the people,” which means that all of us are players in the great drama that is about to unfold.
In fact, the communal nature of our worship is such that the Anglican tradition prohibits priests from celebrating the Eucharist alone. The Eucharist (from the Greek for “thanksgiving”) is a communal act. We are not only in communion with God, but also with each other. Bishops, priests, deacons, and appointed laity will lead the service, but all of us are offering worship to God. The members of the congregation are not passive observers, but active worshippers. The only person in the audience is God.
If a priest occupies a special place in the Liturgy, it is only because they represent the role of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, which is a re-enactment of the Last Supper presided over by Jesus. It is the Lord’ Supper because He is the host, and very much present when we gather in His name.
The priests and deacons at Saint Matthew’s normally wear a white garment called an ALB (from the Latin for “white”). It is ankle length and often tied at the waste with a rope called a cincture. Sometimes instead of an alb, they will wear a black cassock, a floor length garment with a Roman collar, a tighter waist, and a full skirt. When a cassock is worn, a surplice is worn over it. It is white and extends to the knees and is generally quite loose with large sleeves. Anyone participating in the liturgy may wear an alb or cassock. Priests and deacons, however, will also wear a stole as a sign of their ordination. The stole is a long piece of fabric matching the colour of the season (white, green, red, or purple) and usually decorated with symbols of spiritual significance. Deacons wear their stole over the left shoulder and tied on the right side. Priests and bishops wear it over both shoulders. The priest who is leading the service is called the celebrant and they will also wear a chasuble (from the Latin for “little house”). The chasuble is worn over the other vestments. It is oval in shape, sleeveless, and has an opening for the head in the centre. The celebrant might put on the chasuble immediately before celebrating Holy Communion, or they might wear it for the entire liturgy.
“Lay aside, they say, all that cramps and narrows,
all that sinks the mind.
Open your heart, lift up your eyes.
Let your soul be free, for this is God’s temple.
It is likewise the representation of you, yourself.
For you, your soul and your body,
are the living temple of God.
Open up that temple,
Make it spacious, give it height.”
(Romano Guardini in Sacred Signs)
News of our life together
Just before the Liturgy begins, one of our priests, sometimes accompanied by others from our parish family, shares news of upcoming events in the life of Saint Matthew’s.
Then it is time for the Liturgy to begin. At Saint Matthew’s, there are some differences between the 8:30 Liturgy and the 10:15 Liturgy. The earlier Liturgy is usually based on the Book of Common Prayer, which uses traditional language, and features classical hymns for singing. The 10:15 Liturgy is from the Book of Alternative Services (or from Common Worship from the Church of England) and most of the music is more contemporary led by a variety of worship groups.
Although the style and structure of two liturgies differ, they both reflect the four-fold order we mentioned earlier.
ACT 1 | gathering and preparation
ACT 2 | liturgy of the word
ACT 3 | liturgy of the sacrament
ACT 4 | the dismissal
ACT 1 – Our Gathering and Preparation
The Liturgy begins with a parade! As we begin to sing our first song, the priests, deacons, and others who will assist in leading the service enter the nave from the narthex. Leading them is the CRUCIFER or CROSS-BEARER carrying the cross, an important symbol to Christians. Sometimes the crucifer is accompanied by ACOLYTES (from the Greek “one who follows”). The acolytes, if used, carry candles to be placed on either side the altar.
The procession is the sign that we are about to enter a heavenly world of worship. In the book of Revelation Jesus stands at the door of the Church knocking (Revelation 3). He says that if we open the door, He will come in and eat with us. This is an invitation to communion. Then John sees an open door (Revelation 4) and is ushered into the worship of heaven. His vision is of what happens when we gather at the Lord’s Table and commune with Him there. His vision is of what happens when we respond to His knocking and open the door. When we sit with Christ in communion, we momentarily become participants in the worship of heaven where angels and saints are gathered around God’s throne singing, “Holy, holy, holy.” This is a most scared moment.
After the procession, we are greeted and we pray. One of the prayers we pray is called the COLLECT FOR PURITY. This is a prayer of preparation for worship. We ask God to help us worship Him.
A COLLECT (pronounced CALL-LECT) is a short prayer comprised of a single sentence. It usually has five parts:
(1) an address in which we invoke our God,
(2) an acknowledgement of an Divine attribute related to our request,
(3) a request,
(4) a desire for some benefit resulting from the granting of the request, and
(5) a conclusion in which we invoke the name of Christ or of the Holy Trinity.
Here is the Collect for Purity according to this five-fold pattern:
(1) ADDRESS – Almighty God
(2) ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – to whom all hearts are open and all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid,
(3) REQUEST – cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
(4) DESIRE – that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name,
(5) CONCLUSION – through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Review of the Commandments
The next thing that occurs in the 8.30 Liturgy is that the priest reads the Ten Commandments, or a summary of the commandments. This is to remind us of God’s holy character, and that we are called to reflect His life and holiness.
Kyrie (“Lord have mercy”)
Following the review of the commandments we say or sing the Kyrie Eleison (from the Greek for “Lord have mercy” and pronounced keer-ee-ey e-ley-uh-sawn). In light of hearing the law, we lift our hearts to God with all of our failings and short-comings to receive his mercy.
Glory to God
The Kyrie is followed by the ancient hymn Glory to God. The cry for mercy is followed by exultant praise. This reflects our confidence that the Lord does indeed have mercy!
The 10:15 Liturgy does not include a review of the commandments, and the Kyrie and Glory to God are optional. In their place, we sing a selection of contemporary praise songs.
ACT 2 – Liturgy of the Word
The next act in this great unfolding drama is the Liturgy of the Word. Here we listen to readings from Scripture, hear a sermon from one of our priests, deacons or a member of the congregation. We also confess our faith by reciting the Apostle’s or Nicene Creed, and respond to God in prayer.
Saint Matthew’s follows a lectionary, which is a schedule of readings that balances two aims. One aim of the lectionary is to help the church systematically read most of the Bible every three years. A second aim is that the weekly readings would reflect themes related to the particular time in the Church year. The lectionary provides for four readings (or lessons) each Sunday: an Old Testament lesson, a Psalm, an Epistle lesson, and a reading from the gospels. Currently, the practice of Saint Matthew’s is to have two readings, of which for half of the year the first reading is taken from the Old Testament lessons and the other half of the year from the Epistles. The second reading is always from the gospels.
After the first reading, the children are dismissed to their Children’s Ministry Groups. They usually come forward for a story and a blessing, and then go with their leaders. They return in time to receive Holy Communion with their families. Children’s ministry is only offered at the 10:15 Liturgy.
The gospel reading is handled differently than the other readings.
- Whereas members of the parish read the first lesson, the gospel is read by a deacon in accordance with ancient tradition.
- Whereas we sit for the other readings, we always stand for the gospel. Whereas the other readings are announced and read, before and after the gospel reading we say words of praise, “Glory to you, Lord Jesus Christ!” and “Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Whereas the other readings are always from the lectern, the gospel may be read from the centre of the church, where it is brought with a singing and a procession. This is to remind us that the gospel is meant to stand at the centre of our lives, and should be openly proclaimed and announced in our world.
- Whereas the other readings are not accompanied by any special acts of devotion, the reading of the gospel is often accompanied by making the sign of the cross. When the reading is announced, you may make a full sign of the cross (touching your forehead, your heart, your right shoulder, your left shoulder, and then bringing your hand back to your heart) or you can make three small crosses using your thumb over your forehead, lips, and heart to indicate your openness to the gospel to touch your thinking, your speaking, and your heart.
The sermon is usually based on one of the readings, but could be based on another text or topic at the discretion of the preacher. After the sermon, there is some reflective music during which you can quietly pray in response to the proclamation of God’s word.
This is where we declare our common faith, not only with each other, but with the universal Church. Sometimes we use the Apostle’s Creed, which is shorter and is the creed we affirm at our baptism. The Nicene Creed is longer and a wonderful outline of our faith. It tells God’s story and summarizes the important things God has revealed to us about the Divine Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and about God’s work in the world, primarily through the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Whereas the 8.30 Liturgy says the creed before the sermon, the 10:30 Liturgy places it after the sermon.
The Prayers of the People
The Liturgy continues with prayer led by a deacon or a member of the congregation. We pray for the Church, for the world, for the ministries in our local parish, for the needs of the sick and troubled, for those who need to come to the light of faith, and for those who have reposed in the Lord.
Confession & Absolution
Our prayers continue with a prayer of confession. This is where we acknowledge the ways we have closed ourselves off from God’s life in us. Then, in response to our prayer, the celebrant, in the name of Christ speaks words of absolution. This is a pronouncement of God’s forgiveness based on God’s promise.
Assured of God’s forgiveness, we now greet one another with ancient words, “The peace of the Lord be with you.” We are at peace with God and with one another.
ACT 3 – Liturgy of the Sacrament
With Act 3 our focus shifts from Word to Sacrament, from the pulpit to the altar, from Christ’s words to us to Christ’s sacramental presence in our midst.
The liturgy of the sacrament begins with bringing our offerings to the Lord. Three offerings are included.
- First, there is an offering of bread and wine offered by members who volunteer to do this. There is a sign-up sheet in the narthex.
- Second, there is an offering for the poor. At Saint Matthew’s this takes the form of food for the Food Bank. Baskets for donations are in the narthex and are brought forward to the altar at this time in the service and offered to our Lord of the poor.
- Third, there is a financial offering where we bring our tithes and offerings for the work of Christ’s Church.
The Eucharistic Prayer
“Eucharist” is from the Greek “to bless” or “give thanks.” At Jesus’ last supper with his friends, our Lord gave thanks at the start of the meal by saying a prayer of blessing over the bread. After the supper, he gave thanks for the wine. These prayers of thanksgiving had their roots in traditional Jewish table prayers. What made the last supper unique was that not only did Jesus give thanks for bread and wine, but he identified himself with the elements, saying, “This is my Body. This is my Blood.” He also commanded that that his followers continued to replicate this friendship meal.
The Eucharistic Prayer (sometimes called the prayer of consecration) has several parts:
- First, there is the Sursum Corda (Latin for “lift up your hearts”). This part of the prayer is a call to lift our hearts to the Lord, to which the congregation responds, “We lift them to the Lord.” Orthodox priest Alexander Schmemann says of this part of the prayer: “It is the ascension of the Church to heaven” (from For The Life of the World, p37). The Eucharist is the means by which the Church becomes what it already is, seated with Christ in heavenly places. Next the celebrant says, “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” to which we respond, “It is right to give our thanks and praise.” The name Eucharist comes from the Greek word to give thanks, and that is what we are about to do.
- The second part of the prayer, sometimes called the preface, is the fulfillment of what we have just been invited to do. This part of the prayer rehearses God’s acts of creation and redemption and thanks him for them.
- Next is the Sanctus hymn (Latin for “holy” and pronounced sank-toos). This is the song that Isaiah (Isaiah 61) and John (Revelation 5) heard sung around God’s throne. When we sing it, we participate with them, not sentimentally, but actually. That is why the Sanctus is usually introduced with the acknowledgement that we are singing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who have served our Lord in every age. They are with the Lord now, and in the Eucharist we are lifted up to participate in the worship of heaven.
- The prayer of consecration continues and includes an important moment when the celebrant repeats Jesus’ original words of institution: “This is my body. This is my blood.” Until now, the focus has been on our being lifted up to the Lord. But in these words we are struck with the mystery of the Incarnation, that Christ has come down to us, offering us his very life, his body and blood.
- The final part of the prayer includes something called the epiclesis (Greek for “invocation”) when the celebrant invokes the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the congregation and upon the offering of bread and wine. According to Jesus’ own words, it would be the Spirit who would make Christ known and actualize his presence in the Church and the world (John 14-16).
As Anglicans, we believe that Holy Communion is a memorial when we remember our Lord’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension on our behalf.
But we do not believe that Communion is merely an act of remembering past events. Indeed, we affirm with the universal church that bread and wine “be not only badges or tokens [symbols]…but rather they be…effectual signs” (Article 25). In other words, bread and wine are symbols of the body and blood of Christ, but they are not only symbols: they “be not only badges or tokens.” They are symbols that communicate what they symbolize. Therefore, to those who “rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ” whereby “the Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper, is Faith” (Article 28).
Administration of Communion
All baptized believers in Christ (Anglican or otherwise) are welcome to receive Holy Communion.
At Saint Matthew’s we go forward and kneel at the altar rail to receive communion. Someone will direct pew-by-pew for people to go ahead to receive the bread and wine. After you have knelt, form a cup with your two hands to receive the bread, and then eat it in remembrance that Christ died for you. When the person with the chalice comes to you use your hand on the base of the chalice to guide the wine to your lips. Drink in thanksgiving that God is in covenant with you and that Christ gives his life to you. If you are not able take wine, you may simply touch the chalice.
If you have not been baptized, you are welcome to come to the altar to receive a prayer of blessing. Simply cross your arms in front you, with your right hand on your left shoulder and your left hand on your right shoulder. This is a posture that lets us know you would like a prayer of blessing.
After we have received Christ’s Body and Blood we give thanks to God with prayer and singing. We give Glory to God and worship his faithfulness. The celebrant then gives us God’s blessing after which we sing again as those who have led the service parade back down the aisle in the same way that they came in. they do not, however, completely leave the nave. They stop short of a complete exit because there is still one very important act in the great Eucharistic drama.
ACT 4 – The Dismissal
We have celebrated the drama of God’s mighty acts by hearing his Word; we have received the Body and Blood of his Son under the forms of Bread and Wine; we have been taken to heaven in a liturgy shared with the communion of saints.
Now we are dismissed to the world to take up our lives in the power of the Spirit and refreshed with the life of Christ. A deacon calls out the dismissal from the middle of the Church, a dismissal which in fact is a re-commissioning to a life of ministry and service, and we all respond, “Thanks be to God!”