The Celebration of the Holy Eucharist

I recently found a little booklet of Liberal Catholic Services published in 1926. The introduction was a lovely explanation of the Eucharist by Bishop F. W. Pigott. This is drawn from Bishop Pigott’s introduction. He titles it “The Celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Commonly Called The Mass.”

“Eucharist” is a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” The word “Mass” is of uncertain etymology; some think the name to be derived from the Latin phrase Ite, missa est, with which catechumens or probationers are said to have been dismissed in the ancient Church before the chief part of the service-with which the Holy Angels are still dismissed at the end of it, to fly forth on their glorious errands of mercy and blessing. The fact that the term “mass” has in this Liturgy given place to “Holy Eucharist” has no doctrinal significance. We have preferred the latter title because it expresses more adequately and beautifully the nature and character of the Service.

The Holy Eucharist is the central act of Christian worship. Designed to help those who take part therein, it is intended also to pour out a great flood of spiritual power upon the surrounding world at large, and it summons the congregation to intelligent and energetic participation in this work. So real is this participation that the congregation may expect to feel a great spiritual upliftment.

The Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist opens with the Asperges or sprinkling with consecrated water, whose purpose is to prepare the building, to purify and steady the thought and feeling of the people, and to invoke the presence of an Angel to assist in the worship.

Then follows the Preparation, consisting largely of ascription of praise to Almighty God, intended to attune the worshippers to high and holy things. This is greatly helped by the Confession and Absolution. The Collect, Epistle, Gospel, and Creed draw out especially the thought of the people, whereas the preceding sections have largely worked on their devotion.

At the Offertorium another phase of the Liturgy is introduced. The bread and wine are now brought forward and offered in the service of God as first-fruits of the earth and tokens of our worldly offerings. In ancient times produce of various kinds was at this place offered for the support of the clergy and the poor, and blessed. A little later, in the prayer, “We lay before Thee, O Lord,” these elements are offered as a symbol of the sacrifice of ourselves to God’s service. Very shortly, in the Prayer of Consecration, they will be offered as a channel for Christ’s blessing, and at yet a later stage as His most sacred Body and Blood, to be used by us as an aid to unite ourselves with His will. Then comes the splendid appeal to the congregation to lift up their hearts, and, in company with the nine orders of Angels whose presence is here invoked, to give “eucharist” or thanks to Almighty God-the Sursum Corda and Preface, followed by the Sanctus.

We have now entered upon the Canon, as it has been called since ancient times, the most important section. At the beginning of the Prayer of Consecration the celebrant proceeds to enumerate the special purposes or intentions for which the Sacrifice is to be offered. The Liturgy then explains how this great act of worship is in itself a mystery-drama, re-enacting in time and space the primal cosmic sacrifice of the Logos, the incarnation or descent into matter of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.

Now come the Words of Consecration, the solemn act by which the bread and wine in their natural substance become the Body and Blood of Christ. It may help us to understand this great mystery if we realize that our own bodies are vehicles or expressions of our consciousness, of the indwelling Spirit; so that bread and wine which nourish our bodies become here the special expression or manifestation of the Christ, the channel of His blessing for the nourishing of our souls. All who are present must inevitably be uplifted by the radiation of His holy power, and those who receive Holy Communion are brought by this blessed privilege into close and intimate union with Our Lord and Master.

Rightly do we regard this service as the supreme act of Christian worship and offer thanks to Him Who gave it. All the love and devotion that have so freely been poured out during the Service, and the infinite abundance of spiritual force that has been called down from on high in response, are gathered together by the directing Angel and shed abroad upon the world along with the benediction given by the Celebrant. Through the ceremony of the Holy Eucharist, each time it is celebrated, there passes forth into the world a wave of peace and strength, the effect of which can hardly be overrated; and this, which is indeed the primary object of the Service, is achieved at every celebration, whether the Priest be alone in his private oratory or ministering to a vast congregation in some magnificent cathedral. Therefore it offers to us an unequaled opportunity of becoming laborers together with God, of doing Him true and laudable service by acting channels of His wondrous power.

Judie A. C. Cilcain

May 25, 2003

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