Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Saturday Evening

In the practice and calendar of the Church, the celebration of Our Lord's resurrection begins not on Sunday morning, but on nightfall the preceding evening. This is a direct inheritance from our Jewish forebears, for whom each day commences with nightfall. Thus, the first liturgical observance of Sunday is on Saturday evening, making Evening Prayer on Saturday a preface to the services of Morning Prayer and Eucharist on Sunday morning.

When saying Evening Prayer on Saturdays it is important to include not only the Collect of the particular Sunday in the Church Year now begun, but also to offer prayers of preparation for receiving Holy Eucharist. Indeed, one priest long ago remarked that the best way to examine one's conscience was to remember that in a certain number of days or hours, we will receive the Body and Blood of Christ... and to be ready for this sacred gift in all our acts and deeds.

To prepare for receiving Holy Communion is virtually a lost art in the modern Church. We have come to understand the Eucharist more in terms of "party" or "right" or "habit" than as gift, participation in the Kingdom of God, or entrance into the Divine Worship itself. This has given rise to a "drive-through" mentality in our church, wherein the Eucharist is "fit in" to the rest of our life, rather than for the Holy Mysteries to be the very basis on which our life is founded and understood. Any Christian life, any tradition, for which this is so is not long to prosper.

At heart, Eucharistic preparation is an opening of the truth of our life to God. It means acknowledging our brokenness, often in considerable particulars. It also means hearing again the message of God's desire for our complete transformation into the fullness of life—something possible only in Jesus Christ, and made available in his sacred Body and Blood. There are many ways to do this. Here are two prayers—one for Saturday night in preparation for worship in the morning, and one ancient prayer of preparation for receiving Holy Communion—which bear saying as part of our Evening or bed-time prayers as we begin the full and rich observance of the Lord's Day each week.

For Saturday Evening
O holy and most merciful Father, whose most dear Son Jesus Christ did on this day of the week lie in the grave, all the travail of his soul and the agonies of his body being past, grant that by his blessed ministry and mediation we may become dead unto sin and freed from all its power. Give us grace that we may offer our daily and weekly tasks in this world ever looking forward to that rest which remains for your people. Receive our humble and hearty thanks for all your forbearing goodness to us through this week now drawn to a close. Prepare us for the sacred and holy worship of another of the days of the Son of man. Seeing how short our time is, may we be found diligent in your work, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. Suffer no stain of unforgiven sin to linger in our hearts, but pardon and accept us for the sake of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord. Amen.

A Prayer of St. John Chrysostom, before receiving the Holy Mysteries:
I am not sufficient, O Master and Lord, that you should enter under the roof of my soul; but as the Lover of humanity you will to dwell in me, I dare to approach you. You command it: I shall open the doors which you may enter with your love for all people as is your nature, that you may enter and enlighten my darkened thought. I believe that you will do this, for you did not drive away the sinful woman when she came to you with tears, neither did you reject the publican who repented, nor did you spurn the thief who acknowledged your kingdom, nor didst you leave the repentant persecuter to himself; but all of them that came to you in repentance you numbered among your friends, O you who alone are blessed, always, now, and unto endless ages. Amen.


  1. Thank you for this teaching. The practice of preparing on Saturday Evening to receive the Holy Mysteries on Sunday is so sensible. Just as the farmer prepares the soil before planting, or we prepare our home for a guest, so too preparing our hearts with these prayers gives space for God to work in our lives. It wakens us to our Guest who stands at our heart's door and knocks.

  2. You are most welcome, Carole Ann. I hope to do more in this area as time goes by. Over the years I have come to understand preparation and thanksgiving for the Eucharist as a way to grow in knowing the Holy Mysteries to be "normative" in life. Gradually, more and more of the week, more and more of my experience and thinking, relates directly to the sharing in the Eucharist. Far from being a hollow repetition of words and actions, these forms deepen participation and understanding--leading to a rich harvest, as you suggest. Brandon+