We have focused on the Proskomydia and the Liturgy of the Word; this Sunday our Lenten reflection rests on the third part of the Divine Liturgy: the Liturgy of the Faithful—the culmination of our common prayer, where we share in the Eucharistic meal and reinforce our unity as the body of Christ.
Recall that in the Early Church, believers in Christ were being persecuted, tortured and killed, as our people are by Russian forces in Ukraine today. After hearing the scriptures and the homily, only the baptized could stay for the sharing of communion. This was done not to be superior, but to protect those who had committed their lives to Christ’s way. Only the truly dedicated received baptism, because a Christian was more likely to undergo the suffering of Christ than the safety and health that many today mistakenly expect from faith in God.
Therefore, the unbaptized were asked to leave, since imposters and betrayers might be among them. Thus the Liturgy resumes with the words: “Only the faithful, again and again in peace let us pray to the Lord!”
Now, no one is asked to leave. We “the faithful” stand before the altar—before God—asking for mercy (God’s tenderness) on behalf of all humanity. The peace, health, and safety we entreat is for all creation. With the Cherubic hymn we enter a heavenly space: We are angels; we put aside our cares; we sing joyfully.
In this way we enter into the mystery of our life in Christ—God becoming human unites our humanity with God. The alleluia is our response of awe to this inexplicable mystical reality. While we sing, the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar (the Great Entrance); again the incense fills our physical senses with the knowledge of the Spirit filling our being. The Great Entrance symbolically represents Christ’s passion and death. As Jesus did, we pray to be delivered from “tribulation, wrath, and misfortune.” Together we recite the “Creed” confirming the baptismal commitment we made as we became members of our Church family. But first, we join in the flow of the Trinity by showing our love for each other. “Let us love one another, so that with one mind we profess.” We complete the statement: “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity one in being and undivided.” Now of course, the pandemic prevents close contact, but without pandemic precautions, we embrace each other as sisters and brothers in a kiss of peace saying: “Christ is among us! He is and shall be! We strive toward a relationship of unity with each other in Christ.
After this, the Eucharistic prayer or Anaphora begins. “Eucharist” means thanksgiving. Gratitude in itself is relationship with another beyond ourselves. We raise our hearts in thanksgiving as Father lifts up the bread and wine of the eucharist. The prayer over the gifts follows the same form as the Jewish Prayer of Thanksgiving, the Birkat-hamazon, prayed by Jesus the night He was betrayed. In this silent prayer, the priest recalls all that God has done for us since the beginning of time and asks for the Spirit to come upon us and the gifts of bread and wine. We respond with gratitude, placing ourselves in Christ’s presence just as His followers were at that Lord’s Supper. We hear Christ’s words spoken to them, and now to us, that this bread and wine given to us by Christ—Is Christ Himself. The next silent prayers encompass everyone again including those before us, the angels, saints, and Mother of God. We prepare to receive communion with gratitude, prayer, and love for our neighbour. As Pope Francis has said, Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, as some like to think. It is a mystical event that raises all humanity to equality, dignity, and union. Eucharist is communion/koinonia: sharing in common.
The sacrament of Eucharist is the fulfilment of the Divine Liturgy; it is how we physically take part in Christ’s heavenly presence among us. The Eucharist is a gift of grace that unites us as a community of faith, so we are all invited, by Christ, to receive the sacrament.
Unless we have committed a mortal sin (that means we are very troubled and need to look for spiritual guidance), we come to the Eucharistic celebration to be renewed in our faith and to strengthen our relationship with Christ through our church community. When we receive the Eucharist the priest reminds us that “the servant of God is communicated with the precious
body and blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting, amen.” The sacrament of confession (penance) is not mandatory before receiving Communion. Can we, as human people, ever pretend to be so perfect as to approach God? We approach, not because we are sinless, but because we accept God’s grace that we know through Christ and experience through the Holy Spirit as community.
Before we share in communion, we pray the Lord’s prayer, calling God our Father, admitting we are His children. We pray before approaching that this meal not be “for judgement or condemnation but for the healing of soul and body.” “Jesus still and always ‘eats with sinners’.” (R. Rohr)
The Divine Liturgy concludes in thanksgiving, and newly inspired prayer for our world. We leave in peace, committed afresh to spreading love where we are, recognizing others as our siblings and treating them with openness and honesty.
“Do not forsake us who hope in you. Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, . . .to our nation under God, to our government and to all your people.”
We are not alone. We are loved. We are wanted. We are invited to a table of life-giving nourishment together with all humanity on behalf of all creation. We are invited and we respond: Amen!