So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
From the earliest times
From before we were called Church, we the people of the Way of Jesus were breaking bread as Jesus commanded us to do on the night he was betrayed. In some ways it is indeed true that the Eucharist gives birth to the Church, for these people of the Way, nurtured in this Sacramental reality come to be known as Church, the Greek word Ecclesia - meaning called out.
A new expression of history
Bread an wine have an important place int he history of the Jewish Nation. In Genesis 14:18 we read that the enigmatic Melchizedek brings out bread and wine and blesses Abraham following his victory over the Amorites. In the account of the Exodus we read of the meal eaten in great haste on the night of the Passover (Exodus 12), and we know that Jesus and his disciples were honouring this great celebration of the liberating of Israel at the time of the Institution of the Eucharist.
This is perhaps the most ancient of the names we use, being a Greek word and meaning Thanksgiving. It has in recent time become the normative term we use for the sacrament central to the life of the Church.
This was the term most often used in the 16th Century when the Church of England understood it's new shape following the separation from Rome. It reminds us of our unity with Christ Crucified, and with each other.
The term Mass is the term often used by our brothers and sisters in faith in the Roman Catholic tradition and it refers to the dismissal at the end of the liturgy itta missa est - go the Mass is ended, and it reminds us that we come here to be strengthened to go out.
Perhaps the most ancient of the names, and certainly used in the Acts of the Apostles, and quite possibly the name they used before they had a name to use. It certainly carries the inference of the family meal and sustenance for the journey.
There has been a lot of energy wasted about what name people use to describe the sacrament. More important that we remember that Jesus said 'Do This'. None the less there is value in understanding what they names highlight for us.
The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
The Shape of the Liturgy
The liturgy of the Holy Eucharist it can seem a bit daunting, however the shape is very simple.
The Liturgy of the Word
Confession and Absolution
Greeting of Peace
The Liturgy of the Holy Sacrament
The Great Thanksgiving
The Words of Institution
Invocation of the Holy Spirit
The Breaking of the Bread
Communion of the People
In This World and the Next
The Orthodox speak of a table set in Heaven and Earth, and the central doors in the iconostasis as the doors of heaven. Whilst Anglicans are more restrained liturgically and in decorating our buildings, the idea of the Eucharist as a meeting place between earth and heaven is entirely consistent with our faith and understanding going right back to the days before Augustine.
The continental reformers waged war on sacramental theology, Anglicanism avoided much of the debate and the notion of a real presence was all we needed to say. Some have seen a middle ground, or an each way bet, however it is a more profound understanding, focusing on Christ present in our life together, profoundly real and spiritual and not simply temporal and physical.
Elizabeth 1 uttered words that have marked the Anglican position, though the words may have come from Matthew Parker.
Twas God the Word that spake it,
He took the Bread and brake it:
And what that Word did make it,
That I believe and take it.
We are the Body of Christ
His Spirit is with us
The Peace of the Lord be with you
Lift up your hearts
We lift them to the Lord
It is right to give our thanks & praise
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven & earth are full of your glory
Blessed is he who comes
in the Name of the Lord
Hosanna in the Highest
Christ has Died
Christ is Risen
Christ will come again
There is a sense of the high points here in the liturgy, and these are places where the people are speaking clearly, in the dialogue and the acclamations. This reminds us that one of the words used to describe the Eucharist is 'the liturgy', which is a composite of two Greek words Laos and ergon and it means 'The people's work'.
The Institution Narrative, The Epiclesis, and the Thanksgiving and offering are all important and indeed central to the action, but so also are those parts when the people make it their prayer. This is underlined absolutely when we join the great amen and the end of the great thanksgiving.
Blessing and honour and glory and power
are yours for ever and ever. Amen.
The Greek word Anamnesis has been problematic in translation. Most of our modern English translations render this something like 'do this in memory of me' or 'do this as my memorial'.
The use of the word however is strongly aligned with the understanding of the Jewish Passover Meal. Towards the end of the meal the youngest present asks the oldest 'why is it we eat this meal standing up, with our hats on ...' and in reply the elder responds 'a long time ago when our fathers were slaves in Egypt ...' and what follows is a recounting of the Exodus story of the liberation of the people of Israel. He concludes the narrative with the words 'Tonight we have come out of Egypt'. This is the historic act in the present tense. History is not simply remembered, it is called into the present lived experience.
From the Cyprus Statement agreed by the International Commission for Anglican - Orthodox Theological Dialogue 2006