Antecommunion in a liturgical sense, is that part of the order for the holy communion which precedes the exhortations, prayers, etc., connected with the actual celebration of the eucharist. It has for many ages been customary to view the communion service as embracing three main divisions:
1. The antecommunion, or the preparatory portions; having a general reference to the sacrament, but yet not touching on its immediate celebration.
2. The communion proper, formerly styled the canon, including the consecration and distribution of the elements. And,
3. The postcommunion, or prayers, anthems, etc., which follow after the reception of the sacrament. The English and American prayer-books differ somewhat in assigning the limits of the antecommunion. In the first book of Edward VI it appears to have embraced the offertory; and in the English prayer-books now in use, the rubric extends it "until the end of the general prayer (for the whole state of Christ's Church militant here on earth)." In the American Prayer-book the rubric does not authorize the minister to proceed further than the end of the Gospel, unless "when there is a communion." In the primitive age the holy communion was administered on every Lord's day at the least, and the antecommunion formed an integral part of the regular liturgy or service. But it was also used in a detached form, as with us. It appears, also, that in the Middle Ages a practice prevailed, under the appellation of missa sicca or missa nautica. The earliest notice of this practice, according to Bona, is in the writings of Petrus Cantor, who flourished A.D. 1200; and it seems to have prevailed extensively in the West for some centuries afterwards. The missa sicca, or "dry service," as it was called, consisted of a repetition of all the preparatory and concluding parts of the liturgy, omitting the canon. No elements were laid on the table, and there was neither consecration nor communion. This certainly approaches very nearly to the office enjoined by the Church of England, when there is no communion. See Origines Liturgicoe, 1, 164, 165.