In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

Today I would like to continue our look at the Divine Liturgy of our Church. We’ll have one more general look, tonight, before we get more specific beginning with next week’s Vespers homily. Tonight I would like us to consider the overall make up of the Divine Liturgy. You could say that the structure of the Liturgy is divided into 3 parts – the Proskomede, the Liturgy of the Catechumens, and the Liturgy of the Faithful.

The Proskomede is served by the priest alone, and very rarely is there anyone else around to actually witness the service. It would be nice to walk through that service in some detail, and perhaps we’ll have the chance to do that at some point. But for now, we can say that this service is a preparation service. The bread and wine are prepared, which are later to be offered to Christ and communed by the people as His very Body and Blood. Along with this preparation, the priest also prays, and if you look at the prayers and commemorations, the priest prays for the whole world. This is why many Fathers say that the most powerful prayers in our Church are those offered at the Proskomede. Why? Because as the priest remembers each person, he places a particle on the paten, and after Communion all of the particles are placed into the Chalice, which holds the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest prays – may the sins of all those here remembered be washed away by Thy blood and the prayers of all the Saints. All those prayed for at this service of Proskomede are joined with the Body and Blood of Christ – there is no more powerful prayer than this.

The second part of the Liturgy (or first, as some people reckon the Proskomede as its own service) is the Liturgy of the Catechumens. This section begins with “Blessed is the Kingdom…” and ends with the Litany of the Catechumens. It’s called the Liturgy of the Catechumens because, historically, it is the part of the service that catechumens were able to attend. At the dismissal of the catechumens, at the end of the Litany of the Catechumens, the catechumens all had to leave the Church. “Depart catechumens, all catechumens depart…” The structure of the Liturgy of the Catechumens very much mirrors the worship of the Jews in the synagogue. This makes sense – as the early Christians were forced out of the synagogues, they patterned their worship on what they knew. This section of the Liturgy contains prayers (Litanies), the singing of hymns and psalms (between the Litanies), reading from the Scriptures (Epistle and Gospel), and finally a teaching from the Scriptures (homily). This parallels what Jewish worshipers would have seen in the synagogue. And this was the “public” portion of the worship of the Church.

After the Litany of the Catechumens, we begin what is called the Liturgy of the Faithful. It is called this because, again, historically, only people who were members of the Church would be allowed to stay. This is where they Mystery of the Lord’s Body and Blood takes place – and the ancient Church was adamant that only those partaking of the Body and Blood were to stay. You can even hear in the language of this portion of the service, it’s assumed that all present will be communing. In fact, one of the strongest penances used to be that a person could be present for the Liturgy of the Faithful, but not allowed to commune. It was particularly heart-wrenching to be deprived of the grace of the Holy Mysteries. There’s a lot for us to learn in that. This is the particularly Christian portion of our service – the offering of the gifts to the Lord, and receiving them back as His very Body and Blood. After Communion, you’ll notice that the service ends very quickly, and the people are sent into the world to carry the Light of Christ with them. The Father’s say that the Liturgy doesn’t end with the dismissal, but that we carry on this service with us into the world.

Next week we’ll begin walking slowly through the Liturgy of the Catechumens, hopefully learning and being able to participate ever more fully in the worship of our Holy Church.

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson