THE HOLY COMMUNION
The Prayer Book gives worship an evangelical shape by constructing services in terms of the sequence, sin acknowledged grace announced faith exercised in response. This sequence of themes constitutes the Gospel in liturgy.
Anglicans who worship with Free Church friends often feel that, good as non-liturgical services with free prayer can be, Prayer Book worship is more satisfying. Why? The reason seems to be that the sin-grace-faith sequence, which contains at once the essence of the Gospel, the heart of Christian experience, and the first need of every man who would approach God, is less prominent in most Free Church worship than it is in the Prayer Book.
The Prayer Book sees the sacraments as applicatory signs, ordained by Christ to confirm to us the truths and promises of the Gospel. Some talk as if the Gospel is about the sacraments, but the Prayer Book position is rather that the sacraments are about the Gospel. Accordingly, the chief concern of its sacramental services is to preach the Gospel; hence they, too, are built in terms of the sin-grace-faith sequence. We shall see this in the Holy Communion service.
Like most masterpieces, the Prayer Book Communion service has a basic structure that is extremely simple; just three repeats of the sin-grace-faith cycle, like three turns of a screw, each going further than the last in fixing the Gospel in our hearts and drawing out our response to it. The second adds to the first a sharpened application; the third adds to the second a sacramental confirmation. The service is built up thus.
First cycle. The ante-communion: (1) acknowledgement of sin by the collect for purity and the hearing of the law, with the response Lord, have mercy upon us (2) proclaiming of grace by New Testament readings; (3) responsive exercise of faith, in testimony (I believe), learning of God (the sermon), giving to God (the collection), and prayer for the church on earth.
Second cycle. (1) acknowledgment of sin in the confession; (2) proclaiming of grace, first in the prayer of absolution (God hath promised forgiveness of sins), and then in the comfortable words; (3) responsive exercise of faith, in thanksgiving for this grace (Let us give thanks Glory be to thee, O Lord most High).
Third cycle. (1) acknowledgement of sin, in the prayer of humble access, confessing our unworthiness to come to the Table; (2) proclaiming of grace, in the prayer of consecration, which expounds the cross (a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world), and the delivering of the tokens of the cross to each worshipper; (3) responsive exercise of faith, in fresh thanks, self-giving, and adoration of God on high and His exalted Son.
No other Communion service in the world is so full of the Gospel. Would that modern Anglicans appreciated it more!