Next Sunday, August 4, is the last in a series of five “Liturgy Labs” that we’ve held this summer.  We’ve gathered before the 10AM service, eaten donuts, and discussed various parts of our liturgy, and then we’ve experimented in our service in ways that illustrate or build on our discussion.  These sessions have been a lot of fun, and were well attended. Thank you to all who have and will participate, help set up, and bring the donuts.  

Our last Lab will focus in on Eucharistic Prayer.  Like each of the five topics, this one is too vast to adequately explore in 45 minutes of conversation before the service.  So, I am going to offer a couple of introductory remarks now, which will hopefully whet your appetite for next Sunday morning, August 4.

Eucharistic Prayer refers to the prayer which forms the second half of liturgy (the first being the “Liturgy of the Word”).  The prayer begins after the Offering with the dialogue between priest and congregation, “The Lord be with you…” and continues through several key movements, which I will discuss at the class.  Right now, I want to draw attention to the various Eucharistic prayers that are authorized for use in our church, and a little bit about where some of them came from.  

In the early church, the Eucharist was the exclusive domain of the bishop, and the earliest Eucharistic prayers were probably extemporaneously composed by the bishop during the service. Over time, bishops ordained priests to be their stand-ins as churches and diocese grew.  Eucharistic prayers began to be standardized and written down.  

There are technically eight Eucharistic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer 1979.  The first two are used within the service which is called Rite I. Rite I more closely relates to older versions of the Book of Common Prayer and uses Elizabethan (think Shakespearean) English.  Eucharistic Prayer 1 in Rite I is similar to the Eucharistic prayer that was written by Thomas Cranmer and included in 1552 Book of Common Prayer (with some important differences that I will discuss in the Lab).  

There are four Eucharistic prayers included in Rite II, which is the version of the service that we almost always use at Holy Apostles.  These prayers are named A, B, C, and D. All these prayers, except Prayer C, follow a similar pattern. Prayer C was written for the 1979 Prayer Book and is a pretty radical departure from the other prayers.  Legend has it that Prayer C was written by some priests and a bishop over the course of one evening in a Brooklyn bar and laundromat. It would be hard to make that up. Prayer D is an English translation of the 4th century Prayer of St. Basil, and is the only Eucharistic prayer that we share with the Roman Catholic Church as well as Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, and is very similar to a prayer used by Eastern Orthodox churches.

The other two Eucharistic prayers in the Book of Common Prayer are really more like outlines for Eucharistic prayer, which presume that the community will compose certain sections with guidelines and without failing to include certain key elements.  These forms can be found starting on page 400 of the BCP. It should be noted that these prayers should not be used for the principal Sunday service.   

There are also three more complete Eucharistic prayers, and two more forms or outlines for Eucharistic prayer found in the supplemental resource Enriching Our Worship.  These prayers are available for occasional use with the permission of the bishop. These prayers represent attempts to expand the language we use for God and avoid specifically masculine language or imagery. While I endorse the intent, the outcome (in my opinion) is not completely satisfactory.  

Well, that’s just scratching the surface; I hope to see you at 9:15 on August 4!

In Christ,

James +

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