By Zachary Braddock
This is the second meditation on the texts of the Mass. Last week I discussed the Collect for Purity, and next week I will discuss the Blessing that comes at the end of the liturgy.
The Prayer of Humble Access, like the Collect for Purity, is a prayer of preparation. But whereas the Collect for Purity comes at the very beginning — before anything else is said by the whole gathered church, before we read the lessons and gospel, before we pray for the whole Church — this prayer is said right before we receive Holy Communion.
The text reads:
We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
We approach the altar of the Lord, having read from the Prophets, having read the Apostle, having read the Gospel of our Lord. We have prayed for the Church and for the world, and we have confessed to God and in front of our brothers and sisters in Christ our sinfulness. This is the second great movement of the liturgy. We have heard the gospel and repented, and now we approach the throne of grace, so that we may be transformed, that we may grow in the stature of Christ, that we may be healed, that we may then go out into the world and there plant seeds of grace.
We do not presume … trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercy
What righteousness do we have? Apart from Christ, we can have none. We are, from the moment of our conception, afflicted by our sinful nature, which is not as we were created in the beginning. We know that we can do no good, apart from the grace of God, he has freely offered, in his Son, Jesus Christ.
We know that of ourselves, we can do nothing. So we bend the knee of our heart as well as the knee of our body, when we come to this altar, like the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, who came to the Lord asking for healing for her daughter, and pleaded before Jesus, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall their master’s table.”
But we are not given crumbs.
Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood
We are not given crumbs. We are given a full meal. And not just any meal. We come for the foretaste of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. Here, at the Lord’s table, we receive our Lord, truly and really, under the forms of bread and wine. We partake in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.
In John 6, Jesus tells the Jews, “I am the Bread of Life.” They asked, “How?” As Anglicans, we do not define how Jesus is present in Holy Communion. The how is not as important as the reality that Jesus gives himself to us, to draw us to him, that we may be transformed into his likeness, “that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”
It is that participation in the life of Jesus that we prepare for. We prepare to receive his body and blood for the healing of our bodies and souls. Uniting ourselves to our Lord, we become more and more like him, so that we show the world not ourselves, but Christ living in us. Then, we go out there, living the life of grace, received in this sacrament of love, in order that the peace of God may reign in our hearts and in the world.
The Rev. Zachary Braddock is a graduate of Nashotah House Theological Seminary, and serves as curate at the Anglican Cathedral of the Epiphany in the Diocese of the Holy Cross, which is affiliated with Forward in Faith, North America. He blogs at 21st Century Anglican.