Eucharistic Liturgy

Anglican and Roman Eucharistic liturgy are very similar in shape as a result of liturgical scholarship in the mid C20th which returned the western church towards the practices of the early centuries. The liturgy of the Eucharist divides into two distinct sections: of Word and of Sacrament with an introduction and a conclusion.

The liturgy begins with a gathering rite that prepares the assembly with a greeting, an introduction and a penitential section, [use of the Gloria in excelsis on Sundays, except in Advent and Lent, and on feast days dates from the C9th] concluding with a collect. The early church would have spent much time reading and expounding the scriptures reflected in our Sunday norm of hearing readings from the first testament, the psalms, the letters [the Apocalypse] and the Gospels each week with the Acts of the Apostles in Eastertide followed by an exposition of these in a sermon. The profession of faith on Sundays and the great feasts, usually the Nicene creed, dates from c1000. The intercessions, better called the prayers of the faithful, allow the people of God to bring the needs of the church and the world to God in the light of, and in response to, the Word. The liturgy of the word concludes with the kiss of peace which also begins the liturgy of the Sacrament. [Roman practice moved it to just before communion]

Liturgical scholarship owes much to Dom Gregory Dix but is moving away from his belief that liturgy was standardised from very early on and that it had a universal shape of take, bless, break and share. Much debate goes on about what happened before Christianity became a public cult in the mid C4th but after then it began to take on some of the visible signs of other religions such as a place of worship, altars, a visible priesthood and developments continued which gave us some of the practice seen in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, the basis of liturgical reform in the 1960s. The great prayer took a long time to develop from what was probably a collection of much shorter prayers but various elements came together and can still be seen. There is a thanksgiving for creation and redemption which usually includes the Sanctus; the words of Christ at the Last Supper [seen as exclusively consecratory for many centuries]; the anamnesis or recalling of saving acts; the epiclesis or invocation of the Spirit on gifts and us [seen as consecratory by other traditions]; some form of intercession in union with the saints for the living and the dead; and a final doxology. The Lord's prayer came to follow immediately on to the Eucharistic prayer and so did breaking of the bread and an invitation to communion. It was an early custom for a small fraction of bread to be mixed in the chalice to symbolise the unity of the church from the one Mass celebrated by the bishop. Communion was received and that was the end of the celebration. The concluding rite of a brief prayer after communion came into being and the tradition of a blessing and dismissal developed in the west.

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