Anglican worship is structured and, though ‘nuances’ may vary somewhat among congregations, all use The Book of Common Prayer as its source.
The first English prayer book was written in 1549 by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Since then it has gone through a number of revisions.
The texts and patterns of worship in the prayer book are derived from the earliest surviving texts of ancient Christian worship, updated and expanded as times and circumstances have changed. The common words of the prayer book express our most deeply held beliefs. They keep us connected to the timeless elements of Christian tradition, and allow us to participate as more than just listeners.
The Eucharistic service has two main parts. The first part is known as the “Liturgy of the Word,” sometimes called the Ante-Communion where ‘ante’ means before. The word liturgy means the work of the people. In the Liturgy of the Word we gather in the Lord’s name, proclaim and respond to the Word of God, pray for the church and the world, reaffirm our faith, confess our sins and receive God’s forgiveness. We do this, not as a group of spectators watching a group of performers, but as the people of God acting together, each with his or her appointed part to offer.
The second half of the liturgy is called the “Great Thanksgiving” or the Liturgy of the Table. We often refer to the whole service as Word and Table. It is the heart and culmination of our worship – more on that later.
The service begins with what’s called the gathering rite. Once we are assembled in one place, those people who have designated roles in the service enter in procession while we all sing praise to God. The procession allows everyone to take his or her appointed place, while at the same time helping the service begin on a note of dignity and reverence. When all are ready, the minister begins a dialogue of praise with the congregation.
This is known as the Opening Acclamation or the Salutation. It identifies the purpose for which we are gathered. The most common salutation, “Blessed be God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is drawn from the Orthodox Church.
After an optional prayer called the Collect for Purity, we recite one of 3 statements of praise: either the Kyrie (meaning Lord), or the Trisagion (meaning thrice [3x] Holy) or the Gloria in Excelsis (meaning Glory in the highest”). The gathering rite concludes with a Collect, or prayer, that reflects the theme for this particular Sunday.
So let us now stand as our service begins with the gathering rite.
The service begins and continues through the Collect
Second instruction, following the Collect (Prayer) of the Day
(Please be seated) It is our custom to sit, stand or kneel at different parts of the service. Most of these postures are optional, but we find them useful in helping to worship with our bodies and not just our minds. Typically, we follow the biblical Jewish and Christian traditions of standing to praise God and to pray, sitting in order to listen, and kneeling in order to express penitence or devotion. Here at St. Aidan’s, should you have a physical condition that makes any of these difficult, you are always welcome to adopt a more comfortable position.
Silence is also an integral part of liturgical worship, for it affords us the opportunity to reflect, to think, to pray, to offer personal praise and petitions and, above all, to be in the presence of God.
You may also have noticed that, for example during the opening acclamation, some people engage in various acts of personal devotion, such as bowing or making the sign of the cross. These are optional, but they are used by some in order to enhance their individual experience of worship. Worship involves the whole person, including one’s physical body.
Especially during the period between Advent and Pentecost, in the Anglican tradition, we use a fixed pattern of scripture readings, called the Eucharistic lectionary. That allows us to hear most of the Bible within a three-year period. During the season of Pentecost, sometimes referred to as “Ordinary Time” – that’s the long season between Trinity Sunday and Advent – we may depart from the lectionary and use Scripture passages that relate to, say, a thematic series of sermons that have been selected.
It has long been a tradition among Christians that members of the congregation read the first lessons. We all participate in singing or saying the Psalm together. The Psalms are the ancient hymnal of the Jews, and Christians have always continued to use them.
After each lesson, the reader declares, “The Word of the LORD” indicating that these sacred texts reflect the mind of God. The people respond, “Thanks be to God.”
The final reading at a Eucharistic service is always from one of the four gospels. Gospel is a Greek word meaning, “Good News.” Christians have long given special importance to the gospels because that is where we hear directly the words and actions of Jesus.
We express this importance by having an ordained minister do this reading, standing in the midst of the congregation, as was the Jewish custom of carrying the Torah – the scrolls containing the Law, into the congregation. If there is a deacon present, it is appropriate for the deacon to read the Gospel. Members of the congregation stand and face the Gospeller. At the introduction of the Gospel reading, we make the sign of the cross on our foreheads, mouth and heart, meaning Lord, Jesus, speak to my mind, be on my lips and rule in my heart. In this way, we engage the whole person in worship, spirit, soul and body.
Then follows the sermon – or the message or homily – which is almost always based on at least one of the scripture readings (the Gospel, more often than not.) Then we conclude our response to God’s Word by standing and affirming together the Nicene Creed. This creed is the fullest statement of Christian faith apart from the liturgy itself and was adopted by the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. It was later modified by the West in the sixth century. From time to time, we recite the Apostles Creed – older and shorter than the Nicene Creed. Both Creeds are fundamentally affirmations of the Triune God (Holy Trinity). Some people make the sign of the cross at the end of the creed to remind us that we were signed with the sign of the cross at our baptism, and made Christ’s own forever.
The lessons, Gospel are read; the Sermon and the Nicene Creed recited
Third instruction, following the Nicene Creed:
As we approach the end of the Liturgy of the Word, we pray for the church and for the world, and make our final preparation for the next part of the Communion service. Our prayers include the entire universal Church, the nation, the welfare of the world, the concerns of the local community, those who suffer or are in trouble, and those who have died. We usually use a pattern of prayer that allows everyone in the congregation to make responses.
When the prayers are concluded, we say together a general confession of our sins and listen as the Celebrant, a priest with the authority to pronounce the forgiveness of Christ, pronounces what we call the Absolution. Thus we come to the altar as a sanctified, forgiven and reconciled people.
Then we are prepared to exchange God’s Peace, in which we briefly greet those nearby in the name of the Lord. The Peace is an exchange of the Peace of Christ and should not deteriorate into a visiting time. For the early Church, this was a time of mending relationships and achieving reconciliation. The Peace marks the end of the Liturgy of the Word.
The Prayers of the People, Confession/Absolution, Peace
Fourth instruction, after the exchange of the Peace and after any announcements, but before the Offertory:
We now begin the second part of the Eucharist with the Offertory. Here, two things happen. First, the altar is prepared for the celebration of the Eucharist and those gathered offer their gifts of money collected for the work of the church. Since there are no words being spoken at this time, it is also a good time for an offering of music.
The preparation of the bread and wine on the altar is one of the traditional roles of the deacon, if there is one present. Either leavened or unleavened bread may be used. We use actual wine just as Jesus did and as he commanded us to do. Alternatively, we bless small portions of grape juice for our children and those who prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.
A little water is generally added to reduce the strength of the wine and to symbolize the water that poured out of Jesus’ side after his crucifixion.
Before the priest begins praying the Eucharistic prayer, it is the custom for an acolyte to pour a little water over the priest’s fingers. The receptacle used for this purpose is called a “lavabo bowl. This reminds us that we should all come to God’s altar with clean hands and pure hearts. Since it was a Jewish custom for the head of the household to wash his hands in a similar way, it is likely that Jesus did this at the Last Supper.
We typically use vessels made from precious metals as a way of honoring the importance of Communion. We use linen cloths on the altar or holy table in ways that are very similar to the way in which you might use linen or other special napkins and tablecloths at a fancy dinner party. In fact, both scripture and Christian tradition often compare communion to a great heavenly banquet – a feast for all the saints. We are also reminded of Christ linen burial cloth.
Once the altar is prepared, the offerings of the people are brought forward.
The table is set and the offering is received.
Fifth instruction, after the altar is completely ready and just before the celebrant begins:
Remember? The word Eucharist means to give thanks. At every communion service, Christians recall the story of God’s creation and God’s saving act of redemption by the sending of Jesus. We focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus that is at the heart of the Christian faith. We listen to his oldest recorded words at the Last Supper with his disciples, in which he commanded us to continue the tradition he was beginning. You will find the clearest expression of the meaning of communion by listening carefully to the words of the service.
The one who presides over Eucharist is always an ordained person known as a presbyter or priest. In the earliest centuries of the church, the bishop, or chief pastor, would always preside, but soon the church grew too large for one person to do this. So the bishop ordains and delegates priests to celebrate the Eucharist in each local congregation. The three-fold order of the ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons goes back to the beginnings of the church; that is why Anglicans and others retain these orders to this day.
The Holy Table or Altar having been prepared, the Eucharist begins with “Lift up your heart” – the “Sursum Corda” The words follow the format of an ancient Jewish table blessing. The
phrase is also a call to ascend in worship before the heavenly throne, “joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven …”
The Eucharistic prayer is interspersed with music of praise and blessing: the “Sanctus”, the ancient hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” is taken from Isaiah’s vision of worship in the heavenly realm and is referenced by St. John in his vision of heavenly worship. The Benedictus: “Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord…” reminds us that God does come to us in the Holy Communion, and is made known to us in the breaking of the bread, culminating in the wedding Supper of the Lamb.
As the words and action at the altar unfold, they do so according to a four-fold pattern first used by Jesus when he miraculously fed the multitudes with bread and fish, and also used again at the Last Supper. First he took the bread. Then he gave thanks over the bread. He broke the bread, and finally he gave it to the people. As we involve ourselves in the drama of communion, and as the Celebrant invokes the Holy Spirit to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine, together we remember what happened in such a vivid way that this memory is brought right back into the present moment.
Then, following the extended prayer of thanksgiving, we pray the Lord’s Prayer. This is especially appropriate in the context of the Eucharist for the prayer and the Eucharist are focused on the same thing: the coming of God’s kingdom.
At this point, the consecrated bread is broken, reminding us of Christ’s sacrifice. This is called the fraction.
The Prayer of Consecration, Lord’s Prayer, Breaking of the Bread and Fraction Anthem (Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us.)
Sixth instruction, after the celebrant has broken the bread and the fraction anthem has been sung, but before the words of invitation:
Through all of our prayers, we believe that, in a mysterious way that we may never understand, God has now transformed the bread and wine so that Christ is truly present in them. Together they are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace - the traditional definition of a sacrament.
The Celebrant pronounces the invitation to the Communion (the Gifts of God for the people of God.)
Every baptized Christian is encouraged and invited to receive communion by coming forward near the altar. You may either stand or kneel. The celebrant will first offer a blessed wafer or bread to you, placing it on your outstretched hands for you to consume. Then a priest, deacon or liturgical assistant will administer the chalice of wine. It has always been Christian practice to drink Communion wine from this common cup, and you may do so by grasping the chalice at the bottom and tipping it slowly. Though there are no recorded cases of any illness ever being spread through the common cup, we recognize that some may prefer not to drink from it for various reasons.
You are welcome to receive the bread only (and not the wine), or you may take your piece of bread and dip it yourself into the chalice. (This is called ‘intinction’.) It is customary, having receiving the bread and wine, to respond with the word, “Amen”, a gesture which affirms your faith. After you have received Communion, you may return to your seat.
We encourage those who, for whatever reason, may prefer not to receive Communion, to come forward for a blessing. You may simply fold your hands over your chest or just say, “Blessing.”
Communion administered and ended…
Final instruction, after communion music is finished, while the last of the altar is being cleared:
When all have received their communion, the deacon (or priest) clears the altar in much the same way as you might clear your own table after dinner, removing the dishes and cloths and eating or storing any leftovers. In church, we generally consume any leftover bread and wine immediately. Occasionally some is reverently put aside to carry to those who have not been able to attend the service.
The Celebrant then leads everyone in saying the post-communion prayer.
The Celebrant then says a prayer of blessing over the congregation and there may be a final musical piece and departing procession.
The final act of our common worship is the dismissal, which formally closes the worship with a call for us to go as Christ’s servants out into the world. It reminds us that the purpose of worship is not simply to encourage and build ourselves up, but for all of us to be empowered and sent forth as ministers of Christ. At times I have reminded the congregation with these words: “Our worship is now over. Our service now begins.”
Post communion prayer, blessing and dismissal.