How to Benefit from the Holy Liturgy
by H.G. Bishop Mettaous
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
In our Coptic Church, the Holy Liturgy, in her essence of group prayer and worship, is the house of God and the door of heaven, the house of angels and the congregation of the saints. How do we spiritually gain from the Liturgy?
During the Holy Liturgy, angels and Archangels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, together with all the heavenly hosts are present and are surrounding the altar with great glory. At the awesome moment when the priest calls on the Holy Spirit to transform the bread and wine present on the altar into the Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, He is present amidst the praising of His holy angels.
The time we spend in church during the Liturgy is a slice of heaven on earth. The glory might be hidden from our eyes because we are still in the flesh, but many desired to see His glory and indeed did see and are witnesses to the testimony. Yet despite all these glories, many express that they do not benefit from attending the Holy Liturgy. So, how can one benefit from the Liturgy?
Before answering this, we must first understand what hinders us from receiving its benefit:
1. Coming late to Church
If people come to church late, they will deprive themselves of receiving the Holy Communion. They will also deprive themselves of listening to the Gospel readings, the beautiful hymns, and the deeply spiritual prayers said during the Divine Liturgy; prayers that uplift one’s heart and spirit to heaven, giving comfort and peace from all worldly cares. For this reason, the Lord Himself advises us to come to church early: “Those who seek Me early will find Me” (Proverbs 8:17).
2. Not Participating in the Responses during the Liturgy
One may come early, but attend as a spectator and not a participator. Hence they will not feel to be a part of the liturgy and leave feeling they have not received any spiritual benefit from it. Whoever attends the Liturgy is an important servant of the Liturgy, and this is clarified during the Servant’s Absolution when the priest says: “May Your servants, the ministers of this day, hegumens, priests, deacons, clergy, all Your people and my weak self be absolved...” Hence the congregation is one of the three important personalities present during the Liturgy - the clergy, the deacons, and the congregation. If one of them is absent, it is not possible to celebrate the Holy Liturgy.
Everyone present during the Divine Liturgy should share and participate in the responses with all their heart, soul and senses in order to receive from God the overflowing comfort and peace He will provide for us. Therefore, before the actual responses are the words, ‘The congregation responds,’ not ‘The deacon responds’.
3. Lack of Concentration or Contemplation during the Responses
Many times the hymns and responses are said in recitation instead of in contemplation, and hence our mind may become distracted from focusing on the prayers of the Liturgy. Every participant, whether clergy, deacon or believer, should pray with attention, understanding and in a spirit of contemplation, so that together with the Apostle Paul we say, “I will pray with the spirit and I will also pray with understanding, I will sing with the spirit and I will also sing with understanding” (1 Corinthians 14:15).
4. Occupation with Administrative Matters instead of with Spiritual Matters
Some people, during the Liturgy, occupy their minds with administrative matters, like the selling of the ‘korban’ (small holy breads), or collecting alms, donations, and so on. Amidst these thoughts they do not give themselves a chance to listen to the Liturgy and partake in the hymns and responses. To those, the Lord Jesus says: “These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone” (Luke 11:42), and also, “To everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastics 3:1). Hence, although the Apostle Paul tells us, “Those who lead, with diligence” (Romans 12:8), and at the same time, they participate in prayers and worship, according to what the Apostle also tells us in the same chapter: “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, continuing steadfastly in prayer” (Romans 12:11,12).
5. Prayer of the whole Liturgy in the Coptic language
Some complain that they do not understand anything or benefit because they do not understand the Coptic language it is prayed in. Hence, the preference is for praying the Liturgy in the language most common to all, and leaving a part to be said in Coptic, for it is our original language and our heritage, and so it is important for us not to neglect it. It is important, however, that the congregation try to learn the Coptic language, for it is the language of our fathers and grandfathers.
6. Lack of partaking of the Holy Communion
Some people attend the Liturgy only out of habit, and deprive themselves from receiving the Holy Sacraments, sometimes for months or years. The church advises that all those who have confessed and are spiritually prepared should receive the Holy Communion according to the words of our beloved Lord: “Drink from it all of you...” (Matthew 26:26,27). Those who do not partake of the Holy Communion deprive themselves from the community of believers and from a great blessing.
7. Receiving Holy Communion without Having Confessed
A person may come to receive the Holy Communion, while having on their conscience sins that are not confessed. This guilty feeling deprives the person from receiving spiritual consolation and benefit. The person receiving the Holy Communion should be repentant, pure and ready.