On Sunday, we will use the Exhortation as the Bidding to Confession at St. Mary's.
The Exhortation has been part of the Anglican liturgy since the first prayer book in 1549. In a world of monthly or even quarterly celebrations of holy communion, it and was intended to be read on the Sunday or holy day prior to remind the faithful to approach the Holy Table worthily after having repented of their sins. Thankfully, in our day, weekly communion has been restored, but that means that we rarely hear these powerful words.
In the Exhortation, the Church invites us to approach the Holy Table worthily. By accident, the Eucharist can become mindless repetition. We mechanically sit, stand, and kneel, and recite the prayers from memory. We approach the altar without even thinking about what we’re doing…without thinking about who we are or who we are about to consume. The Exhortation reminds us that we are sinners called to repent, and that God is holy and stands ready to forgive us.
While the Lord calls us to receive communion worthily, the Eucharist is not a purity test. There are churches that teach that you can’t receive communion unless your soul is in a “state of grace”, meaning free from mortal sin and pleasing to God (as if you are somehow less pleasing to God at other times). That is not the message of the Exhortation! This isn’t about being refused communion because of what the Church or the priest think about your conduct, it’s instead a call to “judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.” We are called to examine our lives by the rule of God’s commandment, reconcile with God and with our neighbor, and then “come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.”
Beyond its occasional use at Mass, it is also a powerful tool for any Christian to use as a way to examine one’s conscience. As Lent quickly comes to an end, let remember the dignity of the most Holy Sacrament, and let us repent and return to the Lord!
An Exhortation – from page 316 of the Book of Common Prayer
This Exhortation may be used, in whole or in part, either during the Liturgy or at other times. In the absence of a deacon or priest, this Exhortation may be read by a lay person. The people stand or sit.
Beloved in the Lord: Our Savior Christ, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood as a sign and pledge of his love, for the continual remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, and for a spiritual sharing in his risen life. For in these holy Mysteries we are made one with Christ, and Christ with us; we are made one body in him, and members one of another.
Having in mind, therefore, his great love for us, and in obedience to his command, his Church renders to Almighty God our heavenly Father never-ending thanks for the creation of the world, for his continual providence over us, for his love for all mankind, and for the redemption of the world by our Savior Christ, who took upon himself our flesh, and humbled himself even to death on the cross, that he might make us the children of God by the power of the Holy Spirit, and exalt us to everlasting life.
But if we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup.
For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body. Judge yourselves, therefore, lest you be judged by the Lord.
Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.
And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith.
To Christ our Lord who loves us, and washed us in his own blood, and made us a kingdom of priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory in the Church evermore. Through him let us offer continually the sacrifice of praise, which is our bounden duty and service, and, with faith in him, come boldly before the throne of grace [and humbly confess our sins to Almighty God].
Fr. Charles Everson works as a banker by day and a priest by night. His love for music and liturgy led him to a suburban parish as a simple chorister, and as of late, to St. Mary's as a priest. He feels called to share the love of Jesus Christ with a broken world in desperate need of hope and reconciliation.