I ran away with myself last week by going to the Sursum Corda when I should have mentioned a couple of little rituals that are not unimportant…
Through the years there have been some prayers added to the worship that the priest prays quietly but they give a clue to what’s happening and are certainly not meant to be secret!
When the bread and wine are brought up, some prayers of blessing are offered before they are honoured with incense and then the priest puts his hands together, bows and prays quietly: ‘Lord, be pleased to accept the sacrifice we offer you with humble and contrite hearts.’ He or she is praying to the Father as we – that’s all of us present – make our ‘sacrifice of prayer and praise’ which we do so through Jesus. This idea comes from Hebrews 13:15. But it also signifies the relationship between the Eucharist in which ‘we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes again’( 1 Corinthians 11:26 ) and the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. This is a connection he himself made at the Last Supper.
Just before the Sursum Corda, the server comes to the celebrant with water and a towel. Because the priest will be holding the sacred gifts of bread and wine which will become the Body and Blood of Christ, it is seemly that his fingers are cleansed, just as you might wash your hands before you handle food!
The priest prays a prayer as this happens : ‘Lord, wash away my iniquity and cleanse me from my sins.’
It comes from Psalm 51:2. This is a great reminder to the priest of his or her unworthiness to offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist and his or her need of the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. So the practical washing is linked to the need for spiritual washing…
This is the last thing he or she says before the Great Prayer begins with the Sursum Corda, in the same way, the last thing you say before you come to receive Holy Communion.. ’Lord, I am not worthy…’ (Matthew 8:8)
It’s wonderful the way all these prayers come from Scripture. Bible and Sacrament are one!