In a recent Chargers’ football game, the quarterback, Phillip Rivers, mishandled the ball as it was hiked to him which almost caused a fumble. Later on, the camera picked up Rivers and his center on the sideline practicing over and over again the handoff which is one of the fundamentals of football. It’s a team sport so football players must learn right away how to hand the ball off to each other.
Teamwork is also vital to good liturgy. The term liturgy means what we do when we gather to worship God. One can always worship God individually, but liturgy occurs when two or three or more or many more are gathered in Jesus’ name. And, it’s a teamwork rich environment.
In the Episcopal Church, many handoffs occur in each service. Bulletins are handed out, the Peace is exchanged, and offerings are given and received. And then there is communion.
We are training acolytes. One of the first things they learn to do is make a good handoff – they learn how to carry a cross or torch, the Gospel book, offertory plates, and eventually, how to handle the chalice and paten (plate). I invite you to watch closely what happens around the altar as we prepare for communion. There is great thought and intentionality involved in passing liturgical hardware back and forth. Some important elements of liturgical handoffs are attention and holding. You need the attention of the person you are handing off to and, at a certain point, both people should be holding onto the sacred item. Imagine that an usher hands you a bulletin but lets go of it before you touch it. The bulletin would fall to the floor. The same thing can happen with a full chalice. If the receiver does not have the intentionality of attention and holding, things can go south in a hurry. I have dropped a chalice and have seen several others dropped in my course of altar serving. It happens. But, the fundamentals of the handoff remain: attention and holding.
During a service, we praise God, in part to get God’s attention. Once we praise God’s name, we then ask God to hold us, our prayers, our concerns, our sins, our thanksgivings and wishes. At those moments, I believe there is a handoff between us and God.
Imagine when you receive communion. The bread is held by the hand of a priest and your hand at the same time. For a brief moment, both people are holding the bread. There is attention and holding of the sacred act. And like passing a plate, when we pray to God, we are holding one end of the prayer and God has the other.
This sacramental symbol is an outward sign of the invisible Grace of God that happens during liturgy. God and human are touching and participating together in every aspect of a worship service.
Let us worship God in the beauty of holiness and let us take a moment to notice the beauty with attention and holding.
- Fr. Marshall