The title page for the Holy Eucharist in the Prayer Book (p. 315) informs us that our liturgy is composed of two primary parts: “…the Proclamation of the Word of God and the Celebration of the Holy Communion.”
One might say we have two feasts on Sunday morning—a feast on the Word of God in sacred Scripture, and a feast on the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion.
As Cranmer’s glorious collect on the Holy Scriptures expresses, “Grant that we may…inwardly digest them.” “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God!” (Deut. 8:3). No church in Christendom has more of the Bible read in public worship than the Anglican church. We begin with an Old Testament reading followed by a second from the hymnbook of the Bible, the Psalter, usually sung or chanted. These texts root us deeply in Jewish Scriptures: the TaNaK as they are called in Hebrew—the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Naviim), the Writings (Ketuvim). This is the Bible our Lord knew and loved, and these are the scriptures that constantly point toward Him.
Next, we hear the Epistle lesson. Epistle means letter, because this text is most often taken from one of the apostolic letters of the New Testament. These readings are most often exhortations to right conduct and right thinking for the Christian church. The assigned readers (called lectors) conclude their readings with the affirmation “The Word of the Lord”, and the congregation heartily responds, “Thanks be to God”.
The culmination and high point of the ministry of the word is the reading of the Gospel. This portion of Scripture is always taken from one of the canonical Gospel books—Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. The reading of the Gospel by the clergy takes place in the midst of the congregation. At the solemn liturgy at 10:30 AM, the Deacon of the liturgy is the Gospeler. He first receives a blessing from the Celebrant and then, accompanied by torchbearers (“Let thy word be a lamp unto my feet”), processes into the nave. All this is symbolic of the Father sending the Son into the world (John 3:16). During the reading of the Gospel everyone stands. “When the Gospel is read, let all the presbyters, and all the deacons, and all the people stand very quietly to hear the words of the King of Kings.”(Apostolic Constitutions 380 A.D.) This is a very ancient and early tradition rooted in the Jewish custom of standing for the reading of Torah (see Nehemiah 8:5). At the annunciation of the Gospel reading many people make the sign of the cross three times on their forehead, lips, and on the heart, praying silently: “May the Word of the Gospel be in my mind, upon my lips, and in my heart.” We then shout “Glory to you, Lord Christ”, and again after the reading of the Gospel “Praise to you Lord Christ”.