The Liturgy of the Sacrament/Altar
After the Liturgy of the Word is concluded we come to the climactic portion of the Liturgy. Throughout the Preparations, the Entrance Rite, the Liturgy of the Word, and the Creed and Homily, we have been building towards something grand. Unlike some modern western traditions, we are not building up to the sermon as the sole purpose and reason for our gathering in community. Rather we are building up to an encounter; we gather together to worship a person, not a set of precepts. We are not simply coming to hear a good message, but are coming together to meet Christ.
We have prepared ourselves individually and corporately to enter the throne room, we have expressed our reliance upon the mercy of Lord Jesus, we have glorified Him for allowing us to enter His presence, we have sat at His feet to learn from His words and we have submitted ourselves to the orthodox doctrine of the church as well as the teaching of the minister, who is compelling us to be disciples. With this foundation laid, we are now ready to participate in one of the holy mysteries of the church.
In the earliest church, this transition to the Liturgy of the Sacrament would be the point in which the Catechumenate, those who were preparing for baptism, would be asked to leave in order to receive additional teaching on what it means to be a disciple of Lord Jesus. Only those who were baptized and able to participate in the mystery of the Eucharist would be allowed to stay. While such physical separation between baptized and unbaptized is not typically practiced in the modern church, the sense of it is retained in that only those who have been baptized are able to partake of the body and blood of Christ in the sacrament.
When we participate in the Eucharist, we are participating in a holy mystery that involves the very real presence of the incarnate Lord himself. We are not interacting with mere bread and wine, we are witnessing the miracle of the incarnate Lord making himself present for us so that we can receive His grace to live the life of a disciple. As a result, the preparations of the prior elements of the liturgy should not be seen as optional, but rather essential to ensuring that we are entering into this mystery in a worthy manner.
Just like the Entrance Rite and Liturgy of the Word were made up of multiple elements and movements, so too is the Liturgy of the Sacrament. These elements include: the Offering, Preparation of the Altar, Prayers of the Church, Confession, Absolution, Comfortable Words, Sursum Corda, Proper Preface, Consecration, Lord’s Prayer, Fraction, Agnus Dei, Prayer of Humble Access, Distribution of the Elements, Post-Communion Thanksgiving, Blessing, Last Gospel, and Dismissal.
(As Published in St. Luke's E-News Update, 6/10/18)