Worship in the Beauty of Holiness: The Liturgy


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Why do we put water into the chalice at the Offertory? The blessing and pouring of a small amount of water into the wine reflects ancient Jewish practice, which would have been used by Christ at the last Passover when He instituted the Eucharistic Feast. There is, however, great theological significance to this action.

First, what we are given in the Eucharist is the entirety of God’s acts of redemption in miniature. The parallel is made between the Eucharist and the offering of Christ on the cross. It is on the cross that Our Lord gives Himself to take away the sins of the world. On the cross, just before and in His death, what comes out from Christ is the Spirit (“And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.” Lk. 23:46), the water and the blood, (“But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced [Jesus’] side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe.” Jn. 19:34-35). These are now not divided, but united. Part of what their unity means and implies is that they are also brought back together where they started- with Christ’s Body. In other words, this points to Christ’s bodily Resurrection from the dead. The Eucharist, in which the water and the Blood are transformed by the Words of Christ (to which the Holy Ghost, Who is also called down on the gifts, is always joined) then brings these together, presenting to us and making us present His cross and empty tomb. The mingling of the water and wine is a powerful pointer to this anamnesis, which happens shortly afterward.

But there is more. The pouring of a small amount of water into the chalice of wine is also a statement about the two natures in Christ and how this is a necessary element in our Christ’s work to free us from sin, death, and the devil and share His life with us. These connections are made very clearly in the blessing spoken (quietly by the priest) over the water when it is brought to the altar:
O God + who didst wonderfully create, and yet more wonderfully renew the dignity of man, grant us, that through the mystery of this water and Wine, we may be sharers in his divinity who vouchsafed to be made partaker of our humanity, Jesus Christ, thy Son our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen.

This is why the water is poured in in such a small amount. It is a comparison of the power of the two natures. This is a theological statement similar to what we find in the Athanasian Creed:

For the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. Who, although He is God and man, yet He is not two, but one Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking of that manhood into God. One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.

In other words, the mixing of the small amount of water into the wine is a sign of the human nature which was taken into the divine Person of God the Son. And it is this human nature- a real human body, soul, and will- which enables Our Lord to accomplish redemption for us. He is able to suffer and die and rise again as a man, without sin of His Own, but taking our sins upon Him. Yet He can do this perfectly, for all people of all time, precisely because He is also God. And the flip side is also true: And He can use His Body, participating in the power of His divine nature, to share His life with us. His Body is the Body of God the Son, so we can truly say that we are given the Body and Blood of God, which is life-giving.

As happens in so many other parts of the ancient Liturgy, a sign of redemption and part of the Mystery of Faith is presented before us- a powerful proclamation of the love of the Triune God. May we always receive it as such!

Worship in the Beauty of Holiness: The Prayer of the Church

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. … I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands” (1 Timothy 2:1-4, 8)
“The Prayer of the Church” may seem an odd title for a single part of the Liturgy. Isn’t the whole Liturgy made up of the prayer of the Church? So it is. Yet, here we focus not on the specific theme of the day (as in the collect and other propers), but on the main categories of prayer, as mentioned in St. Paul’s epistle above. Let’s look at the terms used there:

  • Supplication (δέησις deēsis): These involve asking for God’s help in particular matters of need, offering petitions to God on behalf of some person, group, or situation. This involves an expression of need.

  • Prayers (προσευχή proseuchē): This is a much broader word, which may include any kind of activity of faith directed toward God, whether verbal or non-verbal expressions of trust and confidence in God. This emphasizes the aspect of faith and devotion.

  • Intercessions (ἔντευξις enteuxis): The base meaning of this word is to come together, to meet, to have an interview. One draws near to God to express the concerns of one’s heart and mind. The contextual emphasis is childlike confidence, complete reliance on God, and the expressions of the concerns of the heart.

  • Thanksgiving (εὐχαριστία eucharistia): This is a word we have seen many times before. It is used in the broader sense to refer to the expression of gratitude to God for God’s gifts and His gift of Himself to us. In its narrow or more restricted sense, it is, of course, used to refer to the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, which is both characterized by our giving back to God what he has given us, and to our doing so in union with Christ’ Whose offering of Himself makes our union with God possible.

Some other words which also are often used include:

  • Glory/Bless (δόξα doxa): This word, used as a verb, means two different things, depending on whether the one doing it is God or a creature. When creatures do this, it means that we have an appropriate assessment and expression of God. We honor, bless, or glory in God, re revel in His very nature as he is revealed to us. (The emphasis of the “glory of God” as a noun, is God’s revealing of Himself as He is. Shekinah, the word for God’s special Presence in the Most holy Place in the Temple, for example, is described as His glory [cf. John 1:18, where in Christ God “tabernacled among us, and we saw His glory.”]) When God is doing the action, it involves god revealing Himself to us and placing His goodness onto and into us. This is what happens when God blesses us with the placement of His Name on us in the Benediction at the end of the Liturgy, for example.
  • Praise (ἔπαινος epainos): Here we express admiration to and for God, before one another and before the world.

These various words are complementary, and are often combined together, such as, for example, in Ephesians 1, where God acts “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” The result of God’s action in calling us to Himself and giving Himself to us (His grace), is that we have admiration for the act of His Self-revealing.

In various ways, we bring before God the needs of the Church and the world. It is important to recognize that we don’t do so because God needs information from us, or cannot act without our prayers. At the same time we acknowledge that we need to pray- it is part of our spiritual health and our development in God’s likeness. God tells us “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16), or, translating it differently, “The effective prayer of a righteous person has great power.” This power comes not from the one who prays, but from God Who hears our prayers. And while God does not need us to do His work, He nevertheless chooses to involve us in His work, as His co-laborers (see Col. 1:29; 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1). Our “help” may be very minor. I am reminded of my daughter at age five “helping” me push the lawnmower. Yet, it is our Father’s pleasure to help us to grow up in sharing His life with Him, as His Own beloved Family.
Christ our God help us to be aware of the holy dignity and importance of our prayers, so that we should not be discouraged, but offer God our little help, both to our benefit and that of Christ’s Holy Church.

Worship in the Beauty of Holiness: The Invitation to Confession, Confession of Sins, and Absolution

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the Truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

The invitation, prayers, and Absolution which come after the Prayer of the Church are part of our preparation for receiving Christ in the Eucharist. While most usually these were located historically at the very beginning, or just prior to the Liturgy proper, some of the old Latin service books put them here, and this was why they came to be here starting with the first English Prayer Book.
In coming to receive Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, we come with an awareness of our need, a rejection of our sins, and the desire to be made new. We see ourselves as we are- or at least we are training ourselves to see ourselves this way: as creatures before our Creator, weak sinners Who need to be purified and share in God’s holiness in order to be made really whole. We understand that the sins which have hurt us are a form of real disease, and create real inner wounds in our hearts and minds and souls. They are a genuine burden, and infect us with poison until they are removed from us, so that we can be free to live as God’s People. Even when we do not feel the reality of this, when we do not have a full awareness of our own hurts- whether caused by us or by others- the Church trains us to confess anyway, and by the invitation and general confession of sins to become more and more aware of them, so that we will run to our Great Physician and receive His healing, which He delights to give us.

The General Confession is followed by a General Absolution. (“Absolution” comes from the Latin absolvere and absolutio, the word asbsolution in English carrying the idea of forgiveness, being set free or delivered.) While we should seek out from our priest more specific declarations of forgiveness and council for very serious wounds of our sins, the General Confession also helps us here to prepare, just before we go to our Lord’s altar to receive Him, so that we can do so without inner distractions as much as possible. An echo of this is also found in the declaration of the priest later: “The peace of the lord be always with you!” This is the remnant of the practice in the early Church of being reconciled to one another, so that we can go to receive Our Lord’s Body and Blood without holding any grudges against one another. (See Matthew 5:23-24). This is, again, a reason for connecting the confession of sins with the Offertory, which is not too far removed from this point in the Liturgy.

Here, as always, we are aware of the inherent power of God’s Words to do what they say, and the role of the priest as one who acts in persona Christi. He speaks not for himself, but for Jesus, Whose forgiveness is actually put into us, poured through our ears into our hearts and minds and souls, and for the healing also of our bodies. “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (John 20:21-23).
We can also remember that just as we sometimes feel the needs for confession and sometimes we don’t (but do it anyway), we likewise may feel relieved and set free by the Absolution, or we may not. But we don’t act based on our feelings, but on the basis of what God says. God’s Words are reliable, faithful, and true; our feelings aren’t. No matter what we feel, we can know that the work of Jesus, including his defeat of the particular sins we are confessing, has been applied to us according to His Own institution and command.
The goal is, once again, to make us whole. This is the essential meaning of the word “peace,” especially coming out of the Old Testament, where the Hebrew word “shalom” (שָׁלוֹם) carries this primary meaning. And notice that after receiving Christ’s Absolution, being fed on His Own glorified Body and Blood, we are sent out with the proclamation of this peace, too: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:7).

Worship in the Beauty of Holiness:

The Comfortable Words
Fr. Patrick Fodor
Why do we have the “Comfortable Words” in the Liturgy? Why are they called “comfortable?” These words are not “comfortable” in the popular sense, but in the older sense of the word: these are Words from God which are “strengthening” Words. They are strengthening in a particular context: the preparation for the reception of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. They are connected directly with the Absolution (forgiveness of sins), and are the further assurance of God’s desire to forgive and heal us as we “truly turn to Him” in repentant faith.
We can, then, make some observations about these particular Scripture texts, and their meaning in this context:

Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.  St. Matt. xi. 28.
Here we have an appeal to come to Christ, sure of His faithfulness to do what He says. The word for travail, means to have difficult labor, which makes one very tired. It is used of physical work, but also of teaching and works of piety generally, including worship. One can also be exhausted with the work of carrying burdens or with grief.

The word translated “heavy laden” emphasizes a difficult load. It is especially used with reference to the heavy burden of the Law of Moses (cf. Luke 11:46), and the consciousness of sin which results from honest examination of one’s self in light of the law. It is precisely this burden- an awareness of one’s own failure to keep God’s law, which is most in view here, as we confess our sins, the “burden” of which is ‘intolerable,” seeking forgiveness which lifts that burden from us, and sets us free to work in God’s service, in “righteousness.” The “refreshing” is precisely the giving of strength which results from being given ‘rest.” This “rest” is not mere physical rest, but the complete fulfillment of our lives by Christ, Who Himself is the completion and fulfillment of God’s promised “rest” (literally, “Sabbath”). What God gives, in other words, is a completely different sort of heavenly life, in which we, as God’s people, are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), being “filled up with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19): God shares His whole outer life with us creatures, as an act of grace, so that our growth in the experience of that heavenly life is infinite.

So God loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  St. John iii. 16.
This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  1 Tim. i. 15.
No one who genuinely turns to Him will be turned away. Contrary to what Calvinists teach, Christ died for all human beings. God’s desire and purpose is for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (i.e. Jesus, Jn. 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:4). This, we are assured, includes each one of us.
If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the Propitiation for our sins. 1 St. John ii. 1,2.

Christ, Who proclaims forgiveness to us by the mouths of His ordained priests, acts as our “Advocate.” In His perfect life and death for us, He “stands by our side,” and speaks the effective prayer for our forgiveness: “Father, forgive them.” His active and passive obedience, the perfect and ultimate fulfillment of God’s Law of Self-giving for God and neighbor, are the sure, effective, divinely powerful means by which God objectively wipes away our sin, and makes us right with Himself. Christ is our hilasmos, the “atoning sacrifice” which reconciles to God. He removes our sin from us as far as the East is from the West (Ps. 103:12). This objective work of Christ, complete and perfect, is now subjectively applied to us through the Means of Grace. We all sin, but Christ applies to us the forgiveness He has won for us. He has just done it in the Absolution- spoken just before the Comfortable Words. The “Comfortable Words,” are thus intended to assuring us of the reality and full power of the forgiveness we have just received from Christ in the Absolution, and so to prepare us to come to His Heavenly Banquet, the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

Worship in the Beauty of Holiness: The Preface

The Lord Jesus Christ be with thy spirit." (2 Timothy 4:22)
With the preface, the Eucharist (“Thanksgiving,” Col. 4:2) properly speaking begins. The pattern follows that used in the earliest Christian Church, and is found in the Liturgy of St. James, which is arguably traceable to the first century. The earliest record we have of the actual Christian liturgical texts includes the “Preface” (“The Lord be [or “is”] with you. And with thy spirit. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is meet and right so to do.”) and the Sanctus.

The salutation and response involve more than most people realize. While we can notice that “The Lord be with you” is as old as the book of Ruth (2:4. Cf. 2 Chron. 15:2; 2 Thess. 3:16), what is most important is the New Testament liturgical context and use of these words, which is suggested by Matt 28:20 and its context. The words are, literally, “Dominus vobiscum” (Greek, κύριος μεθ᾽ ὑμῶν). There is no explicit being verb. It can be translated “The Lord be with you,” as a prayer for the people. However it can also be (and has been) translated (or has been understood to be, where the older languages are retained) as a declarative statement or proclamation: “The Lord is with you.” Through the priest, who is acting in persona Christi (as icon of Christ), Our Lord proclaims that He is present with His people in a special way, to give His life to us.

The response is also more involved than most people know. “And with your spirit” is not the functional equivalent of “same to you!” It is a prayer of God’s people for the officiant. This is why this salutation and response are found before each significant action in the Liturgy, in which God gives Himself in His Gifts to His people. The prayer of the people is that the gifts of the Spirit, given by God in ordination, will be stirred up in the one celebrating, so that he does not goof up what he is about to do.

This is reflected in the ancient liturgies. For example, in the ordination rite for a bishop in The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus the very first thing a bishop did after ordination was celebrate the Eucharist, and the very first words spoken by him were the words: The Lord is/be with you. The response “And with thy spirit” is connected with the specific language used in the ordination rites, about the reception of the Gifts of the Spirit. This is reflected in the other ordination rites, too. For example, here is that for the priest (presbyter):

[W]hen a presbyter is ordained, the bishop shall lay his hand upon his head, …praying and saying: GOD and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, look upon this thy servant, and grant to him the Spirit of grace and counsel of a presbyter, that he may sustain and govern thy people with a pure heart… And now, O Lord, grant that there may be unfailingly preserved amongst us the Spirit of thy grace…

This pattern of the prayer of the people, “And with thy spirit” as a reflection of the ordination rite is seen across the liturgical landscape of the early Church.1 The ancient writer Narsai of Nisibis, in a sermon “An Exposition of the Mysteries,” explains how the priest proclaims peace to the people, and then the people respond in prayer:

The people answer the priest lovingly and say: 'With thee, priest, and with that priestly spirit of thine. They call 'spirit’ not that soul which is in the priest, but the Spirit which the priest has received by the laying on of hands. By the laying on of hands the priest receives the power of the Spirit, that thereby he may be able to perform the divine Mysteries. That grace the people call the 'Spirit' of the priest, and they pray that he may attain peace with it, and it with him. This makes known that even the priest stands in need of prayer, and it is necessary that the whole Church should intercede for him. Therefore she (the Church) cries out … ' Peace be with thee,' say the people to the bright (-robed) priest …by whom are celebrated the Mysteries of the Church: ' Peace be to thy Spirit' with thee through thy conduct. 'Peace be with thee,' for great is the deposit [i.e. of the Spirit’s Gifts] entrusted to thee.”

The themes of the particular season are then expressed in the Proper Preface, which leads into the united song of the Church in heaven and on earth, in one unending celebration of God and His Gifts by which He shares Himself and his life with His people. So the Liturgy leads us into the very center of all the Mysteries, the celebration of the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Altar, where we are joined to His Passion, death, resurrection in glory, and ascension.

1 See In the Stead of Christ: The Relation of the Celebration of the Lord's Supper to the Office of the Holy Ministry, Kent A. Heimbigner (Repristination Press, 2011), esp. pp. 90-97; 120-127.

Worship in the Beauty of Holiness: Sanctus

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.  Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts [literally “Sabaoth” meaning “angelic armies,” as in Luke 2:13 and the Te Deum]: the whole earth is full of His glory. And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:1-4)

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