My Training Incumbent used to say that he loved the fact that at the heart of our faith and worship the church has a service called 'Go on, get out of here!' By this he meant that one of the names for the Eucharist is 'Mass', and mass is Latin for 'Go, she is sent,' meaning the Church is sent out into the world.
We have reached the moment in the Eucharist where we break the bread, so that it may be shared - a symbol of the broken body of Christ on the cross. As we sing the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), we are reminded of the Passover sacrifice of the lamb, a text that connects the breaking of the bread with Christ's brokenness on the cross - Christ the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. It becomes for us the healing of our own brokenness. We are then invited to receive both bread and wine. This is an invitation to all who are baptized - not just those who have been confirmed. This has recently been recognised once again in the Anglican Church, that baptism is entry to communion.
To those of us who go to church, saying The Lord's Prayer is so familiar we miss its extraordinariness. In the early church of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, it was considered such a radical prayer the catechumens (those preparing to be baptized) were not taught it until after baptism, because it was so subversive. They were afraid if the wrong people got hold of it, it would exacerbate persecution, and so one had to be very sure of who was being given this dangerous text! References to a kingdom coming were revolutionary - potentially seen as a direct challenge to the Emperor.
We have reached the Eucharistic prayer. There are various elements to this which are worth expounding, to better understand what we are doing when the president says this on behalf of the whole congregation. And perhaps that is the first point to mention - it is the whole congregation who consecrates, albeit the president says the words and performs the actions, she or he does so as representative of the whole community.
We have reached the third movement of the service: the Liturgy of the Sacrament. And the first action which takes place in this section is an important hinge which links together the first half of our service and the second half, and that is sharing the Peace. Coming as it does after the intercessions, Michael Perham in 'Pastoral Liturgy' writes, 'it is the seal of the prayers of the people and it looks forward to the Liturgy of the Sacrament, both by being a ritualizing of the command of Jesus to be reconciled to our neighbour before bringing our gift to the altar and also, being in effect, the opening greeting of this second, table-based service.'
After we have listened to our readings, and the sermon, and declared our faith in the words of The Creed, we turn to God in prayer. The intercessions are exactly that - the place we bring the needs of the world, the needs of the Church, the needs of the local community, the sick and the suffering, and the community of saints. It is Michael Perham, in 'New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy', who notes that we have already had the prayers of penitence, and still to come is thanksgiving prayers in the Eucharist, but that here is the place we bring our petitions to God. They are usually - quite rightly - lay-led, for these are the prayers of the people. The words and the silences are both important: both the words of prayers we bring before God on behalf of the community, and the way in which we enable others to pray their own prayers in 'the spaces. The wonderful joy of different people preparing intercessions is we are all tuned in to care about and notice a variety of needs, and find ourselves drawn to different causes, the plight of different nations, with a heart for particular issues. It enables us as a community to be wide-ranging the needs we bring to God. Mostly - and again I think quite rightly - the prayers pick up on the themes of the readings and Gospel.
We are still in the second movement of the Eucharist - the Liturgy of the Word. We have spoken of the scriptures, and spoken of the sermon. As the second part of this movement, as a congregation, we now make response. We do this firstly by saying a version of the creed or an affirmation of our faith.
We turn our attention to the 'second movement', The Liturgy of the Word. In this part of the service, we listen to God's Word, listen to thoughts about it in the sermon, declare our faith in response to it, and then pray together in the intercessions to conclude the movement.
Firstly then, we listen to it. As Timothy Radcliffe says in Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist' 'We listen to the scriptures and are reminded of the story of God's friendship with humanity; we begin to glimpse who we are and where we are headed.' Everything we have done so far has prepared us to be receptive and ready to hear God's Word. It is worth saying that there may be two kinds of listening happening here. We listen to what is read out loud, but in the spaces which give us time to reflect, we listen for how our own lives may be part of what we hear and what God may have for us.
Last month I left us having simply come together as a community to worship God: we got as far as the opening words, the greeting! This is all part of the first movement in our liturgy, which is called The Gathering, but there is more to this section than simply that. There is much about us that needs gathering in. It is Timothy Radcliffe, of the Dominican Order and who lives in Oxford, who has written in his book, Why Go to Church, The Drama of the Eucharist:
'We come to church with our fragile identities, often enough constructed over and against each other. We come as people whose sense of self is sometimes grounded in competition, striving for superiority or struggling with a sense of inferiority.'
Last month I introduced this series which hopes to explore the liturgy we use in church. We reminded ourselves that by liturgy we mean the words, the silence, the movement, the symbolic actions, the music, which combine to create the space for us to worship God. It is also worth reminding ourselves that liturgy means literally 'the work of the people'. In other words, liturgy is not something clergy do to you (I promise)! Or that clergy offer on behalf of everyone else! It is the responsibility of all of us to participate in it, for worship to be offered to God, and so liturgy is something in which we all actively engage.
For some time I've been toying with the idea of finding ways to explore together the liturgy we use as Anglicans in the service. This is partly because people have recently been very interesting in asking more about different aspects of the liturgy, and as I have responded to their enthusiasm and questions, it occurs to me that going on a journey together where we explore what liturgy in our worship is all about might be very productive. I was also very interested that a year ago, when I was reading the profile for this benefice, Minchinhampton described itself as a Eucharistic-based church. I was fascinated by that, and delighted by it. And in fact all our three churches in the benefice are Eucharistic-based. But what I want to throw back at the benefice is this: what does it mean to be Eucharistic-based? Over the next few months in the space of this regular feature, I hope that we can begin to explore what that might mean, and discover together the richness of what the Eucharistic service is all about.