March 17, 2015

Liturgy for Lent: 8 Essential Actions for Eucharist

This is part of a series my friend, Mike Angell and I are posting at each of our blogs. You can read the other posts here.

Mike: In the last post, we poked the bear. Jason, you asked whether the Eucharistic prayers needed to be read verbatim. People responded, a lot.

Jason: Thanks to everyone for the feedback over social media. It’s nice to know that this is a dialog that folks care about.

Mike: I’m convinced we need to be able to adapt the language if we don’t want liturgy to become a museum-piece, but I was persuaded by Jason in the first post on Eucharist that actions often speak louder than words. Today, with the help of the “Order for Celebrating The Holy Eucharist,” we present eight essential actions for Holy Eucharist.

Action 1: Gather in the Lord’s Name

Mike: Gathering the Community, in my opinion, should consume more of our energy than worship planning. “Change the liturgy (or music) and they’ll come” has been our default for too long. Our congregations still don’t reflect the diversity of their neighborhoods in terms of race, class, gender, orientation, and age. We have work to do in gathering the community.

Jason: Mike and I frequently talk about how important community organizing skills are for leading congregations. If we intend to minister to our communities we need to first know them. Building community from the outside in will change the face of our congregations.

Hack (from Mike): Who is leading worship? Maybe your congregation isn’t that diverse, but do you have a few young people, a few people of color who you can invite to serve, to read, to join the choir to put on the fancy robes? Model the diversity you hope for your community up front. It says to people in the minority: there is a valued place for you here.

Action 2: Proclaim and Respond to the Word of God

Mike: Eucharist always involves hearing and responding to scripture. Eucharist always involves hearing a lesson from the Gospel proclaimed. After the proclamation, there are very few rules about what the response to the text looks like. A lot of Episcopalian friends of mine probably get nervous that the prayer book is encouraging dance, talk, and other forms of art, to respond to scripture, but here it is, from 1979.

Jason: There’s a reason why we read passages from all over the Bible every week. Those that composed the framework of our liturgy–as well as those that compiled the canon of Scripture–believed that these books “harmonized” with each other. That is to say, they sing the same song, participate in telling the same over-arching story.

Hack (from Jason): If you’re providing a homily, don’t get bogged down in one passage, and don’t avoid the hard one’s. Ask yourself what the common message is across each of the passages for that day. And don’t forget that this precedes the Eucharist. How might these passages lead us to prepare us to come together around the Table? Keep it simple. Tell stories. Be practical. If you can do that then you’ll come across smarter than those trying to sound smart.

Action 3: Pray for the World and the Church

Mike: Eucharist always makes room to pray together, to give thanks together. There are official forms for the prayers of the people. They can be adapted. There is a list of categories of required prayer on page 383 that can be really helpful when writing or adopting prayers.

Jason: This can be such a meaningful and engaging aspect of the service for me. It can also be an invitation for those that need attention to hijack the service. Offering clear direction and encouraging brevity is really important here.

Hack (from Mike): In a smaller congregation, I used to write out prayers for each of the categories in the Prayer Book and cut them up on slips of paper, with directions on each slip. When it came time for the Prayers of the People, the prayers would bubble up from around the room. This also helped people feel invited to pray out loud for their own needs.

Action 4: Exchange the Peace

Mike: The peace can be really embracing, or very isolating. In some congregations, peace can become “half-time” lasting upwards of ten minutes. Newcomers greet their neighbors in the pew and then feel isolated while conversations happen between long time friends. Peace is meant to be sacramental, a sign of God’s love shared in community. Attention to the outsider is important.

Jason: Remember the theme song from, Cheers? We all want to be known. By name.

Hack (from Jason): Make it a point to offer the peace and learn the name of one visitor at every service. But don’t stop there. Introduce them to at least one other person. Outsiders are more likely to return if they are genuinely welcomed and feel as if they are known on that first visit.

Action 5: Prepare the Table

Mike: This is a moment of transition. We prepare the table by presenting our gifts of bread and wine, and our gifts of money. We offer all that we have and are to God in Eucharist, and here when enact the offering.

Jason: Many traditions have unintentionally embedded a lot of guilt into preparation to come before the Table. I think that confession, which comes earlier, is a great leveler. We’ve all fallen short of who we are intended to be. As I said before, no one is better than the other as we approach the Table. At the same time, we all bring gifts of the same worth. How to acknowledge this best seems to be a case-by-base basis. You have to know your community, your context.

Hack (from Mike): I wonder whether we might expand the use of the offering plates. Yes, money should be offered, but what about pledges of time, requests for prayer, email address changes, newcomer cards. The congregation I belonged to in Tegucigalpa included some Garifuna, a culture that blends African Diaspora and Indigenous ancestry and tradition. Garifuna women often danced the offering plates forward. Could a size-able minority make such an offering of culture in your congregation?

Action 6, 7, and 8: Make Eucharist, Break the Bread, Share the Gifts of God

Mike: Dom Gregory Dix, an Anglican monk and liturgist agreed with Jason. Action is key he said. Dix said that in scripture and ancient practice there is a four-fold shape to Eucharist. Four actions: Take, Give Thanks, Break, Share. “Take” was covered above when the presider receives the gifts and prepares the table. “Make Eucharist” is about Giving thanks. Eucharist directly translated means “Good Thanks.” The people respond with Amen! (My Hebrew professor said the best translation of Amen was “True that.”) The bread is then broken and shared. We’ll do a supplemental detail post on the traditional elements of the Eucharistic Prayers, but I thought Jason you’d like the focus on action here.

Jason: After this, we pray “... Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart …” This is so important! What we just celebrated is intended to shape how we go back into the world. The Grace we have just participated in is what we are to be to our loved ones, neighbors, colleagues, enemies. Connecting the worship service to our everyday lives seems to be a critical aspect in making it actually worthwhile. Why would I participate in this weekly ritual if I didn’t think it mattered to the rest of the week? Everything that follows the “ministration of Communion” is intended to communicate this. But make sure that it is.

Hack: In our next post, we’ll talk about the Eucharistic prayer in detail, and hacks to make it come alive throughout the week for people.
The Series: Introduction Pt.1 | Introduction Pt. 2 | The Daily Office | Praying Through Scripture | The Daily Office Cont. | Explaining the Pieces | Eucharist, an Introduction | Too Much Structure? | 8 Essential Actions | Moments of Transition | Saints and Sanctified Time

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