The most oft ignored rubric in the Book of Common Prayer might also be the most important. Unfortunately, it is mired deep in the “Additional Directions” of the Holy Eucharist portion of the Prayer Book, near the bottom of page 407. “While the people are coming forward to receive Communion, the celebrant receives the sacrament in both kinds. The bishops, priests, and deacons at the Holy Table then communicate, and after them the people.” (emphasis mine). Whether I am in a seminary chapel, Diocesan liturgy, or Sunday morning worship, it is clear that neither celebrant nor the people know this particular rubric and the power of its intended imagery.
In order for the reception of the Eucharist to be a communal act, it must all be done together. When the congregations watches as a single person, who has already spoken more than 90% of the words of our common prayer, receives a choice piece of bread and an unsullied sip of wine, something about the communal aspect of the Eucharist is lost. the Holy Table is the place where we all gather as sinners redeemed to be nourished and blessed by the Body and Blood of our Savior. We come to the Table whether we are 6 months or 106 years. We commune next to this with whom we disagree politically and theologically. We receive from those whom we have hurt and from those who have hurt us. We come, all of us, desperately in need of God’s forgiveness and blessing. The act of Holy Communion is the living out of Jesus’ message to both guests and hosts in Sunday’s Gospel lesson.
And it all starts with an invitation. For all the liturgical variety now available to us in as a people of Common Prayer, there is but one singular authorized invitation to the Lord’s Table. The words are the same in Rite I and Rite II, and there is no provision for anything different in Enriching our Worship. Whenever the Eucharist is celebrated, the Prayer Book directs the following action: “Facing the people, the Celebrant says the following Invitation The Gifts of God for the People of God. and may add Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”
This is not to say that this is the only invitation you might hear in an Episcopal Church, the Iona Invitation is growing in popularity, and might actually do a better job acting as an invitation, motivating people to live out the rubric on page 407 by coming forward, making the reception of the Eucharist a communal act for all four orders of ministry. It is a true invitation because it actually invites people to do something rather than to simply stare at the now consecrated elements of bread and wine.
This is the table, not of the Church but of Jesus Christ.
It is made ready for those who love God
and who want to love God more.
So come, you who have much faith and you who have little,
You who have been here often
and you who have not been for a long time or ever before,
You who have tried to follow and you who have failed.
Come, not because the Church invites you;
It is Christ who invites you to be known and fed here.
It isn’t Prayer Book authorized, so I can’t suggest you use it this Sunday, but my Bishop uses it, so I’m thinking we can try it here. A true invitation to the Lord’s banquet, where we gather as one to receive what we all need. Y’all come.