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What is the Priest Doing

What is the celebrant doing throughout the Eucharist celebration and why?

 

Liturgical Note# 16- There are two fundamental principles that define Reformed worship. The first is the Regulative Principal. Simply put, the Regulative Principle states that God determines how God is to be worshiped. As such, worship is always to be based on the clear teachings of Scripture. The second principle of reformed worship guides the manner in which we employ the aspects of worship taught to us by Scripture. It is the principle of Apostolic Simplicity. Apostolic simplicity involves three points vital to right worship:

1.     First the worship service is to be conducted with the dignity and reverence required by coming into the very presence of God. As such, we bring the best that we have (of both our individual participation in worship as well as our corporate presentation of worship).

2.     Second, worship is incarnational. God created, addresses, redeemed, and claims the whole of man. Therefore, our response to God (i.e. worship) is not limited to only one part of man. Rather, worship is to address and involve every aspect of man’s being [his heart, mind, soul, and strength (senses)].

3.     Third, every ceremony, motion, and article incorporated into the worship service is to clearly underscore and communicate the theology (or aspect of the Gospel) central to that portion of the service. Otherwise, it is to serve some necessary utilitarian purpose. Any motion, ceremony, or vessel incorporated for its own sake, for a merely aesthetic value, or on the basis of a tradition whose meaning has long since been forgotten is to be purged from the service. Likewise, the service is to be kept free from ceremonial clutter. That is, the aspects incorporated into worship are to be limited to those that clearly reflect and proclaim the central biblical focus of a given portion of the service.

In the end, the principle of Apostolic Simplicity insures that worship is reverent and simple; holistic and self-consciously Scripture based

 

A. Setting the Table- even though most of the activities involved in preparing the Table are simply utilitarian actions, nonetheless they are meant to be visible. That is, the preparation of the meal is intended to guide and to prompt the preparation of the individual’s heart

 

Furthermore, there are three prayers that I say during the setting of the table that cast light on the basic theology of the meal.

 

-Eucharist for Bread: Lord I praise and thank thee for thy spiritual presence with thy people at thy Table today, as it is written, “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms”.

 

-Eucharist for Wine: Lord I praise and thank thee for the grace procured by your blood; grace that not only forgives our sins but also cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Work efficaciously in the specific areas of need of each person here today.

 

Hand Washing- Lord, I am unworthy to minister either your Word or Sacrament, except by your grace and your command.

 

B. Consecration

Institution: Remember the institution directs our faith to Christ’s onetime Sacrifice and directly identifies the bread and wine with the Sacrament Christ instituted for His people. As such every action incorporated in this portion of the service is to underscore the primary function and meaning of the Institution.

 

(1) ALL glory be to thee, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, for that thou, of thy tender mercy, didst give thine only Son (2) Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death and sacrifice, until his coming again: (3) For in the night in which he was betrayed, (4) he took Bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and (5) gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is my Body, which is given for you; Do this in remembrance of me (6). Likewise, after supper, (7) he took the Cup; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you, and for many, for the remission of sins; Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me (8).

 

1.     The prayer begins with arms extended thus continuing the praise and worship begun by the Preface and the Sanctus (as such we are reminded that the entire Sacrament is a service of praise and thanksgiving for the salvation Christ accomplished for us on the cross). At the same time, the priest’s outstretched arms indicate that the congregation is fully participating in this act of worship (i.e. the priest is leading them in prayer/worship. He is not doing the praying/worshiping for them).

2.     At the name of Christ we bow in worship thus acknowledging His Lordship as well as His spiritual presence

Philippians 2:10 that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth,11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Matthew 18:20 "For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."

3.     Three times during the consecration we ring the Sanctus Bells (once as the consecration begins and then as each element is set apart). Originally the bells were to alert those who did not speak Latin that the consecration of the elements had occurred (thus the name Sanctus Bells). Today we continue their use to remind the congregation that the bread and wine are being set apart. Therefore, from this point on in the service we are no longer to respond to the elements as mere bread and wine. Rather, we are to receive them as signs and seals of Christ’s onetime sacrifice.

4.     During the consecration we intentionally imitate Christ’s actions at the Last Supper thereby identifying what we are doing with the meal Christ instituted and commanded. Thus, we give thanks, we take, and we break the bread. [Note: it is at this point that we break the bread (i.e. that the fracture occurs). The reason is that it is at this point that the bread is identified with the meal Christ instituted and set apart as a sacramental element. The later fracture (at the Peace) is not sacramental (the elements are already consecrated). Rather, it is distributive and reflective].

5.     The rehearsal of Christ’s actions at the Last Supper continues as the priest holds the broken bread outward in his hands thus recalling Christ’s giving of the bread to the disciples. Later, at the Peace, the priest will repeat this action. However, this time he turns, faces the congregation, and in the name of Christ offers the same sacrament to God’s people.

6.     At the words, “Do this in remembrance of Me”, the bread (and later the cup) are elevated. In both cases, the elevation shows the congregation the “this” that we are commanded to do. In other words, the elevation serves to visually connect the elements with the words of Christ’s institution. This bread is now set apart as a sign and seal of Christ’s body. This wine is now set apart as a sign and seal of Christ’s blood. As such, the congregation’s faith is directed to receive the elements according to spiritual reality they represent. Notice: our faith is directed by word (the Institution), sound (bells), and sight (elevation)

7.     The Priest takes, thanks, and gives the cup - see #4 above

8.     See #6 above

9.     Note from this point onward the priest will hold his thumb and forefinger together as he prays. The reason is so that no crumbs of the consecrated bread will fall on the floor and be walked upon. As such, this posture serves as an important visual reminder of the respect which we are to show for what has been set apart for the worship of God. It is not to be treated lightly but handled with dignity and care.

 

Oblation-Remember the Oblation and Invocation serve as prayers of summary and intent. That is, they state what we are doing and why we are doing it. As such, every action incorporated in this portion of the service is to underscore the primary function and meaning of the Oblation and Invocation.

 

(1) WHEREFORE O Lord and heavenly Father, according to the institution of thy dearly beloved Son our Savior (2) Jesus Christ, we, thy humble servants, do celebrate and make here before thy Divine Majesty, with these thy (3) holy gifts, which we now offer unto thee, the memorial thy Son hath commanded us to make; having in remembrance his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension; rendering unto thee most hearty thanks for the innumerable benefits procured unto us by the same.

 

1.     As the Oblation begins, the priest will narrow the extension of his arms as a sign of focus. It is the bread and wine that are set apart as sacramental elements (not candle sticks or prayer books). As such, this action serves to direct the focus of the entire congregation to the meal before them (our minds are not to wander).

2.     At the name of Christ we bow in worship thus acknowledging His Lordship as well as His spiritual presence at the Table.

3.     We make the sign of the cross over the bread and wine thus identifying them as that which is set apart for the worship of God. Furthermore, the sign of the cross both reminds us and gives us the assurance that what is offered in God’s name is accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s all sufficient offering.

 

Invocation- The Oblation and Invocation serve as prayers of summary and intent. That is, they state what we are doing and why we are doing it. As such, every action incorporated in this portion of the service is to underscore the primary function and meaning of the Oblation and Invocation.

AND we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us; and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to (1) bless and sanctify, with thy (2) Word and Holy Spirit, these thy gifts and creatures of bread and wine; that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior (3) Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed (1) Body and Blood.

 

1.     We make the sign of the cross over the bread and wine thus identifying them as that which we ask God to bless and set apart for His worship and renewing our focus on them. Furthermore, the sign itself reminds us that we offer these elements to God in Christ’s name. That is, we offer them according to Christ’s will (or command) and on the basis of the merits of Christ’s all sufficient Sacrifice (vs. our own merits or the merits of things we offer)

2.     As mentioned above, the Invocation makes the theology of the Institution explicit. By stating what we are doing and how it is being done, the Invocation allows the congregation to participate in the consecration with prayers that are fully informed and rightly directed. Here the priest holds his hands over the bread and wine thus once again identifying them as that which the prayer asks God to set apart. Simultaneously, the prayer reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit (not the priest) who sets apart the elements as sacramental. Furthermore, we are reminded that the Spirit always consecrates according to God’s Word. That is, He only sets apart what Scripture commands for the reasons that Scripture commands it.

3.     At the name of Christ we bow in worship thus acknowledging His Lordship as well as His spiritual presence

 

Communion Prayer- the Communion Prayer underscores the active nature of the Eucharist. That is, it reminds us that each party brings to the table what is his to offer. Christ brings the grace of His one time Sacrifice and we bring our need and thanksgiving. As such, every action incorporated in this portion of the service is to underscore the primary function and meaning of the Communion Prayer.

 

AND we earnestly desire thy fatherly goodness, mercifully to accept this our (1) sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; most humbly beseeching thee to grant that, by the merits and death of thy Son (2) Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we, and all thy whole Church, may obtain remission of our sins, and all other benefits of his passion. And here we (3) offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee; (4) humbly beseeching thee, that we, and all others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may worthily receive the most precious (5) Body and Blood of thy Son (2) Jesus Christ, (6) be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and we in him. And although we are (7) unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice; yet we (4) beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through (2) Jesus Christ our Lord; (8) by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory be unto thee, (9) O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

 

1.     At this point in the prayer, the priest extends his arms outward visually underscoring that the offering we bring is one of praise and thanksgiving and that it is offered in response to Christ’s one time, all sufficient, Sacrifice.

2.     At the name of Christ we bow in worship thus acknowledging His Lordship as well as His spiritual presence

3.     Next the priest cups his hands together and presents them to the Lord as a visual reminder that just as Christ redeemed the whole of life so too we are to respond by offering all that we are, do, and have to God’s service.

4.     Throughout the service, the liturgy reminds us that approaching God’s throne is a privilege of His grace. Therefore, we do not come presumptively or casually. Rather, we come humbly asking God to mercifully receive our prayers. Thus, as the liturgy reminds us of the proper disposition of prayer, we respond by bowing our head as a visual expression of our humble reverence.

5.     Again, we make the sign of the cross over the bread and wine thus identifying them as that which is set apart for the worship of God and renewing our focus on them.

6.     Here the celebrant crosses himself (and thus invites the congregation to do the same) as a prayer asking God to fill us (mark us) with His grace and favor. At the same time the sign of the cross assures us that God has provided every blessing and grace for His people through the Cross.

7.     The priest underscores our unworthiness and the woe it brings by symbolically beating his breast. As such, we have a stark visual reminder that our offerings to God are not made on the basis of original merit but rather on the basis Christ’s onetime Sacrifice.

8.     As the prayer underscores the unity of the Trinity, the priest takes the bread in hand and makes the sign of the cross three times over the chalice. This action then visually underscores the unity of the Trinity as well as the fact that our salvation is the work of the whole Godhead. At the same time, this action also underscores the unity of the Sacrament. That is, the two elements are each part of one and the same sacrament. They both point to the same Savior and to the same onetime sacrifice. Likewise, both are to be received by God’s people as often as the meal is celebrated.

9.     Finally, the prayer concludes with the elevation of the bread and wine. That is, we conclude the entirety of the consecration by offering our celebration of the Supper as well as our faith in what it represents to God in worship and thanksgiving.

 

 

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