Church of England Diocese of Liverpool St. Margaret and All Hallows Orford

What happens at Mass? The Eucharist explained

Introduction

At St Margaret’s we take the command of Jesus, to ‘do this in memory of me’ very seriously. The eucharist, known as the Mass, the Lord’s Supper and Holy Communion is our central act of worship.

But what is the eucharist? The eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. The eucharist is, above all, a sort of heavenly drama, and earthly play. But it is a play with a difference, for in it, we are not mere spectators, but we have an important part to play. This drama of God is a serious business, and if we take part in it properly, we too will achieve inner harmony with God.

The Gathering

What is Act 1 of the play? The gathering. We first gather together as the people of God, male and female, rich and poor, young and old, and with different lives, and yet, we all do the same thing, we all come, come together as one, one around the altar. The world out there is divided and chaotic, the world out there tells us that we are individuals, and yet here, we remember in the words of St Paul, that we are united as one in the Body of Christ.

The first stages of the Mass

Once gathered, what do we do? We sing! Singing is not some pointless activity, but points us beyond, as we join with the angels and all the saints, giving praise and worship to God. We do this as we priest and servers process to the altar, we come to God to give reverence to him. Incense is often used a sign of God’s holiness, we remember that incense was one of the gifts offered to Christ at his birth by the Magi. The scriptures, particularly the book of Revelation speak of incense representing the prayers of the people rising to God’s throne.

The Greeting

Act 2 begins the eucharist proper, with important words; we speak the name of God: + Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and make the sign of the cross. By this gesture and simple phrase we proclaim that we belong to the God the Holy Trinity. The world tells us that we belong to no one, we are in charge, St Paul told Christians long ago, ‘we do not live to ourselves, if we live we live to the Lord’. We remember that we are the Lord’s at every Mass, we remember that our lives do not belong to us, but to God. We remember that it is only through his cross, that we can have that gift of eternal life. When we make sign of the Cross, we pray in God, not merely to God.

The priest then greet you all, ‘the Lord be with you’. He does not do so with his own ideas and thoughts, but Christ’s. Hence the priest wears the vestments to make this clear, he denies himself, and veils himself, so that Christ may be seen. The people respond: ‘and also with you’, not addressing the priest, but Jesus, in whose place the priest stands.

The Penitential Rite

Like Jesus, who called the people to repentance, the priest calls those present to call to mind and confess their sins. This simple move is important. We are all sinners, we all fall short of the ideal; all of us have imperfections, some obvious, some not. Jesus calls us, and in this moment, when we are bathed in the light of God, we bring to him all our words and actions that have fallen short of his teaching and his law. In so doing, we stand against the world which says do what you like, when we confess our sins, God is ready to hear us and forgive us. We cry: Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. There’s no room for getting out of it, for we know that we are incapable of saving ourselves. We are beggars before the Lord. We then hear the words of the priest, the words of Jesus himself, words of mercy and forgiveness. God has no interest in making us grovel in self-reproach, he wants to forgive, but we must always remember that we have something in us that needs forgiving.

The Gloria

After the absolution –we sing the Gloria, Gloria in excelsis Deo. This is a formula for a happy life. When we give God the highest glory, then our lives become ordered, peace breaks into our lives when God, not money, fame or pleasure come into our hearts. If we pray it in our hearts, if we sing it with our lips and believe it our minds, we fall ever deeper in love. That love is expressed in the collect, which focuses our minds and joins us all, different people, together as one.

The Liturgy of the Word & Sermon

We move to the word of God. The read and hear the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament. It is here that the stories of our faith are told, that we are drawn into the world of the Bible. And then of course we hear the Gospel, the priest and servers come to the centre of the nave, just like as Christ who came down from heaven to proclaim his word.

The priest then preaches, not his own ideas or private convictions, but only those of Christ, only his teaching, only his grace, only his mercy. The priest does not speak in his own voice, but the voice of Christ.

The Profession of Faith & Intercessions

We then stand and proclaim our faith together in the creed: ‘I believe in one God…’ The Church declares its faith, it proclaims it for all to hear, that there may be no mistake, that there may be no uncertainty, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It proclaims with absolute clarity what we believe as Christians, it proclaims the truth, not as we perceive it, but as it has been revealed to us. For the Church is the recipient of the God’s grace and we, as his people, look towards the forgiveness of our sins and the resurrection of our bodies. Those who state their faith in the one God stand against the world and its empty promises.

We then offer our prayers to the living God, we pray for one another, because we share a common life, with those who are sick, and with those who have died, precisely through our through our baptism, which we recall through making the sign of the cross with the Holy water by the door. In that simple action, we remember that we are not a club, but a living body, growing together, with Christ at the head.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist

Act 3 – the liturgy of the eucharist. The moment of deepest encounter. We will know all too well that we cultivate our friendships by listening and talking to the other; we have listened to the word of God and spoken it. And we cultivate them again, when we eat together. In Act 3, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we encounter the living God as he reveals himself to us in and through bread and wine. We now come to eat, we come to communion. Bread and wine are offered – the gifts of creation are offered to the creator – so that we may become a new creation through them. As I pray, ‘blessed are you Lord God of all creation’. But the Bible teaches us, that in a world gone wrong, there is no communion without sacrifice. Sin has twisted us out of shape, intimacy with God will need us to be twisted back into shape. A sacrifice to restore communion, a Sacrifice to produce communion. And so, the priest says, ‘pray my brothers and sisters, that this my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father’. The people respond, asking the Lord to accept the priest’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and to once again, look on the face of his dear Son, whose sacrifice on the cross we celebrate until he comes again.

After the prayer of the day, the preface, we sing, holy, holy, holy. This praise joins ours with that of heaven, with all the angels and saints. We give glory to God, once again.

‘Lord you are holy indeed’, we recall what God is again –

ultimate holiness, and ask God the Holy Spirit to come upon the gifts of bread and wine. We then recall the meal Jesus shared with the disciples the night before he died. And the priest moves from third person to first person, the priest speaks the very words of Jesus, in whose place he stands. Take eat, this is my body which is given for you. The same is done with the cup of wine. By the power of these words, the bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, so he becomes really, truly and substantially present.

Jesus tells us in the scriptures, that he is the bread of life. Jesus does not dumb down his words, he doesn’t say that the bread is like is flesh, or has the appearance of his flesh, he tells us all too clearly, that it is his flesh. John’s gospel recalls that when Jesus refused to change his words, some of the disciples left him. It was too much for them to bear, for as Jews, they could not drink blood and eat flesh. And yet, Jesus’ words remain, he tells them they must eat as animals would, gnawing at the flesh. Simon Peter said, ‘you have the words of eternal life’. Peter’s confession of faith has held, what appears what we receive doesn’t change in taste or form, and yet, as Christ says, we receive his very self. And so when we see the blessed sacrament, the body and blood of Christ, we should bend the knee and genuflect, in reverence to him.

Through him and with him and I him… Christ then is the living sacrifice offered to the Father. The priest is in the holy of holies. The blood of animals isn’t offered for the forgiveness of sins, but the blood of Christ, for the salvation of the world.

The Dismissal

God feeds his people – and after they have been transformed by what they have received they are blessed and sent. The Mass is ended; go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

You are sent to proclaim the Good News, to tell others of the salvation you have experienced.

We gather as one family, we hear the word of God, we profess the faith and pray for one another, we offer the sacrificed to the Father and receive the body and blood of Jesus. We are more properly formed and ready to go out and tell others of the life and love you have received, so that others may come to know him as the way, the truth and the life.

Why not enter into the mystery of salvation, won by Christ, once for all upon the cross, but made present on the altar in bread and wine? As the Jesus says ‘come to me’. Encounter him in holiness, encounter him in beauty, encounter him in singing, encounter him in the eucharist, the foretaste of heaven.