The Exhortation in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer states, “Dearly beloved in the Lord, ye who mind to come to the Holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ, must consider how Saint Paul exhorteth all persons diligently to examine themselves, before they presume to eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup. For as the benefit is great, if with a true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; so is the danger great, if we receive the same unworthily. Judge therefore yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord; repent you truly of your sins past; have a lively and steadfast faith in Christ our Saviour; amend your lives, and be in perfect charity with all men; so shall ye be meet partakers of those holy mysteries.”
Christ gave up His life to heal and redeem our bodies and souls. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is a foretaste of the full healing and redemption that awaits us when Christ returns to make all things new. Therefore as the Exhortation reminds us, we are not to approach the Sacrament of the Eucharist flippantly or lightly. This means that we must prepare our hearts and minds to participate in these divine mysteries. We do this in a couple of ways.
First, we are to quiet ourselves before the service by mediating upon the scriptural readings for the day and by offering silent prayers to God such as the Lord’s Prayer. This requires that you arrive a little early for the service and save your socializing until after the service concludes. There is a time for God’s people to socialize, but it is not when we are preparing to come before Him at His altar.
I have observed that oftentimes, when people visit Anglican services, the reverence that they encounter in the liturgy strikes a cord in their hearts. This is because of the peace and calm that come from being in the presence of the Lord. Therefore, if we are going to enter into God’s presence and hear what He wants to tell us through His Word and Sacrament, would it not stand to reason that we must be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10) before the service begins?
Another way that we prepare ourselves to participate in the divine mysteries of the Holy Eucharist is by openly examining our hearts to see whether or not we have “truly and earnestly repented all our sins, are in love and charity with our neighbors,” and are leading lives which are glorifying and pleasing to God and are edifying to others. Of course, there is a time in our service in which we make our general confession to God and this is an important and necessary element in our
liturgical worship. However, prior confession of any known sin is also necessary to
open our hearts and minds to clearly hear God’s voice in the liturgy and to receive the Sacrament worthily. This prior confession allows us to come to the altar of God with a full trust in His mercy and a quiet conscience.
However, sometimes this prior silent confession before the Lord is not enough to quiet our consciences. This is especially true in cases where we have committed grievous, mortal sins. In these cases we are to do as the 1928 BCP tells us on page 88. If by these means a person cannot quiet his own conscience, “but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to the Minister of God’s Word, and open his grief; that he may receive such godly counsel and advice, as may tend to the quieting of his conscience, and the removing of all scruple and doubtfulness.” This is referring to the Sacrament of Confession and Penance. If you are struggling with a sin or hindrance that is troubling your conscience, I exhort you to make use of this Sacrament given by our Lord Jesus Christ to cleanse you and your sins and restore your hearts and minds to a state of peace that comes from knowing the love of God, and His Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
An Instructional Commentary for the Order of Holy Communion
by Rt. Rev. Ray Sutton (2008)
The Book of Common Prayer (1928)
The Oxford Prayer Book Commentary by Massey H. Shepherd (1950)