Sunday, May 6, 2012


I confess that I was a bit disappointed to discover that the service we planned to attend last Sunday would not include the Eucharist. Being an every-Sunday-sacrament sort of guy, I thought for sure the service would seem unfinished—just like so many Presbyterian services participated in before where we had the “Service of Word and Sacrament” without the sacrament.

The locale for this worship event, however, was an Episcopal church,* and the reason for not having the Eucharist was somewhat different.

There was an earlier standard Lord’s Day service that morning with the Lord’s Supper. The one we would attend was labeled Morning Prayer, signaled by the black stoles worn by the clergy.

The two services come from two separate, but not unrelated, lines of liturgical development. The one evolved as the mode of weekly worship for the gathered Christian community—the other is part of the community’s daily worship pattern.

The Eucharistic service, then, belongs to the Sunday service, and not to the daily one—although it is not impossible to have Communion at a daily prayer service, just not likely.

Daily Prayer takes place on a schedule usually including three or four, or more “hours” or times each day: Evening, End of Day, Morning, and Midday.

When we come to Sunday morning, then, the two lines intersect—the Lord’s Day worship and Morning Prayer arrive at the same time.

Some Christians, I’d suppose, will waive the Morning Prayer because they consider it out-ranked by Lord’s Day worship. Not the Episcopalians, however. They will do both. And that’s what happened in this situation: we had Morning Prayer with a sermon included, something very different from a Lord’s Day service with the Eucharist lopped off the end.

Morning Prayer, like all Daily Prayer services, is heavy on the Psalms. The Gathering included the hymn, “All People That on Earth Do Dwell”, Old 100th, and the Lessons (the same New Testament texts used in the Lord’s Day service) were bracketed with two sung versions of the 23rd Psalm. The Prayers followed the model Lord’s Prayer with “suffrages” or intercessions, other prayers and the General Thanksgiving, concluding with the greeting of peace. Finally a sermon was preached, followed by a closing hymn and blessing.

It is this pattern that emerged as the predominant one for much Protestant worship in America. It was not a curtailed Lord’s Day service, but an amplified daily service. It was not sacrament centered, but prayer and sermon centered. This had an appeal for many as our nation was taking shape, moving across the continent.

I was reminded that the church I served, as so many others built at the in the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, was designed as a lecture hall. Looking at the original plans, if you sat in the front pew, you could stretch out your leg and touch the pulpit—no room for a table, because the customary worship didn’t call for one. Sermon rather than sacrament, in many denominations, became what really counted.

Perhaps this explains, at least a little bit, the neglect of the Lord’s Supper by so many Protestants, including us Presbyterians. The Morning Prayer version had all that we really needed—prayers and praise, scripture and sermon—and besides, so the argument goes, the weekly Communion is Catholic, not for us.

Besides this small historical insight, the experience itself was instructive.

Morning Prayer, as all the Daily Prayer services, has a particular ambience, a feeling or mood. It invites contemplation and reflection. The Psalms touch human emotions at the deep places, and the prayers seem to have words that express our hopes. The Scripture readings are read in a way to call us to ponder their meaning for our lives. The sermon somehow has an intimacy and personal impact.

It’s a subtle difference, to be sure, but a significant one. The two kinds of services do not actually merge into one, as many people and congregations have concluded. They are still separate strands of Christian worship, and point to two different needs: the weekly celebration of the community, and the daily prayer discipline of the community.

The Morning Prayer service on Sunday morning serves as a reminder to us that we must do more, in another service, to include the Sacrament of Communion, and that we must also do much more, in many services, to pray diligently every day.

Do you have Daily Prayer services at your church? At church meetings? At home? How often do you celebrate the Lord’s Supper? Why?

*The Trinity Church of Boston on Copley Square.

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