"We thank you ... for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of your eternal kingdom" (Book of Common Prayer, p. 366).
It goes by several names: Holy Communion, the Eucharist (which literally means "thanksgiving"), mass. But whatever it’s called, this is the family meal for Christians and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. As such, all persons who have been baptized, and are therefore part of the extended family that is the Church, are welcome to receive the bread and wine, and be in communion with God and each other.
The Holy Eucharist can be found on pp. 316-399 of the Book of Common Prayer.
During the service
If you are a baptized Christian, you are welcome to receive the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion, the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood. This is done by holding out your hands to receive the bread. To receive the wine guide the chalice to your lips, or dip the bread into the wine. You may choose not to receive the wine. If you do not wish to receive Communion or have not been bapitzed, you may come forward to receive a Blessing from the priest. Please indicate this by folding your arms across your chest.
If you are not a baptized, we ask that you receive instructions from the clergy.
There are several reasons for this, but first we want to say that it is not that we don't want you to join us, or that you are not welcome to worship with us, to come to classes or coffee hour. In fact, we do hope that you will come and meet Christ with us and that God will guide you to join us through the waters of baptism!
For Episcopalians, the ancient pattern for joining the church has been Baptism first, and then Communion. In fact, the earliest versions of church worship services that we have describe baptism followed by anointing with oil (called Chrismation or confirmation) followed immediately by taking communion. In our church, we give communion even to tiny babies on the day of their baptisms! (We check with the parents first to determine their preference.)
In the early centuries of the church, those who were not baptized would actually be sent out of the church midway through the service (right after the sermon, and before the Creed). It was only baptized Christians -- those who had put away sin and been reconciled to God -- who were able to offer certain prayers to God, and give thanks for Christ's work of salvation, and receive the sacrament of Christ's body and blood.
We take Baptism seriously, which means that we believe that it is the event that makes a person into a Christian. We take Eucharist seriously, too, and the ancient practice of the church has been that it is a sacred meal for those who have already made their commitment to Christ at the font. We believe that the practices of these two great sacraments have been given to us by Jesus, and it is our task to be stewards of these precious gifts. This joins several things that we do that are only available to Christians. Marriage in the church, for instance, requires that at least one of the couple getting married should be a Christian. Also, there are parts of our burial rites that are only open to Christians. And of course, ordination is only open to people who are baptized Christians.
This isn't meant to make you feel unwelcome. We do welcome you to St. Stephen's. We do hope and pray that you will join us. We hope that you will come to seek Jesus and embrace the gift of grace that he offers. In time, we hope that God will lead you to the new life of the waters of baptism, and that one day you will join with us and all Christians at the fellowship of the Holy Eucharist.
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What to expect on Sunday
Frequently Asked Questions
What does Episcopalian mean?
Can I receive Communion?
Who is the Priest?
Who is St. Stephen?