Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Response to the Eucharistic Prayer

Our physical response in prayer is an important symbolic response to God and his love for us. As Anglicans we are used to kneeling for prayer, a sign of complete submission before God. I was struck, recently, while watching a documentary in which the Queen Elizabeth II was bestowing a knighthood that as this person knelt before her it would have been as easy to whip off his head as it was to tap him gently in the shoulder! Kneeling is the most vulnerable physical position the human body can adopt … and so rightfully our attitude in prayer.

We adopt this position during the Eucharistic Prayer, generally after the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy Lord …). The question, though, is why?

There are perhaps two responses: we respond to the word “prayer” and fall on our knees; in our previous Book of Common Prayer the Eucharistic Prayer was understood to be the work of the Priest, not the congregation, and so we meditated in prayerful attitude while this work was completed.

The (almost 20 years old!) new Prayer Book, An Anglican Prayer Book 1989 (APB) presents a different attitude to the Eucharistic Prayer, describing the Priest – in the bishop’s absence – as the one who “presides” over the Eucharist Service. The Priest is no longer described as the “Celebrant”, a term used in the Book of Common Prayer. The implication of this change is that the Priest now presides over the congregation, and the congregation celebrates: the Eucharist is now the work of Priest AND congregation, no longer just the Priest.

This changed (dare I say “transformed”?) attitude to the Eucharistic Prayer is backed up by the words in the first Eucharistic Prayer, “… we your people celebrate before you …” (APB pg 119) and in the second Eucharistic Prayer, “… we celebrate with this bread and this cup …” (APB pg 121) and in the third Eucharistic Prayer, “We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you.” (APB pg 124) and in the fourth Eucharistic Prayer, “… we offer/bring before you this bread and this cup…” (APB pg 126) and “… giving thanks that you have made us worthy to stand in your presence and serve you” (APB pg 126).

And so the Eucharistic Prayer is transformed from meditative prayer to celebration. And how do we celebrate? – very rarely on our knees!

The Parish Ministry Team and Council have discussed this at length, and believe it is right that we should adjust our physical response from kneeling after the Sanctus to standing, and to kneel for the first time at the Lord’s Prayer or Prayer of Humble Access (We do not presume …). This said, we also recognise that for some members of the Parish, kneeling for the Eucharistic prayer may be a deep part of one’s spirituality developed over decades, and so while we are encouraging everyone to stand, it is not obligatory! Additionally, we are aware that for some it is physically difficult to stand for long periods and a medical condition may require one to sit.

In Scripture we see a number of physical responses to encounter with God from falling on one’s face prostrate, to kneeling, to standing, to standing with one’s hands uplifted. Rarely, however, does anyone ever seem to sit in response to a Divine encounter – and so perhaps should only be a response if a medical condition applies!

Hopefully the above is helpful, particularly to those who were not present when this was discussed at our various Services in early March.

The Rector

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