Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, December 22, 2019
Worship by Liturgy II
A number of people have asked what the elements of the Anglican liturgy mean and why we do what we do during the service. I thought it appropriate therefore to put to paper some explanation of what we do and why. Whether you have been an Anglican all your life or are new to Anglicanism, I urge us to familiarize ourselves with these elements. When we do, we worship more knowledgeably with an informed mind and heart.
1. Why do we start our service from the back of the church?
Here at St. Peter’s Anglican Church Loveland, we use the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) liturgy. That is the denomination we belong to. We start the service from the back of the church to signify our coming from outside in the world to meet God and each other inside the sanctuary. The service starts with a song of praise. By opening our worship with praise, we declare that the gathering is about God, not us.
2. Why does the procession follow behind the cross?
The procession follows behind the cross because it is the cross that made the gospel possible, and it is because of the cross that we are gathered for worship. The cross is carried by an acolyte, who is called the crucifer.
Behind the crucifer comes perhaps another or other acolytes, and then follows the deacon who will read the gospel. This deacon carries the Gospel Book and holds it high in the air for people to see the gospel coming to them. As you look at the Gospel Book processing into the sanctuary past you, you are asked to bow in respect to the gospel and in thanksgiving and awe to God for sending us his gospel, the good news of our salvation. Other deacons follow the gospel reader in a single file or in twos.
Then the priest or priests follow, again in a single file or in twos. Priests walk by rank. If there’s a bishop present, he will walk in last. If there’s no archdeacon or bishop, the rector of the parish walks in last. This means that if the archbishop is present, he walks in last.
3. What does the altar signify?
The altar is a visible sign of Christ’s presence in his sanctuary and among his people gathered to worship him and to present their petitions to him. On reaching it, the acolytes form a horizontal line and bow to respect the altar, except that the acolyte carrying the cross does not bow. Then the acolytes proceed to the left side of the sanctuary, and the crucifer places the cross in the holding slot.
When the rest of the procession gets to the altar, they too form a horizontal line and the Gospel Book is placed on the altar in a standing position and partly open. The clergy bow to respect the altar and then take their seats. There might follow words of welcome from the rector to the congregation before prayers begin.
4. What are the parts of an Anglican Eucharistic service?
There are two parts to the Anglican Eucharistic service: the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist or the Great Thanksgiving. The early part of the service is the preparation for the Liturgy of the Word. The liturgy of the Word proper begins with the reading of the lessons appointed for the day.
As was mentioned and emphasized in Worship by Liturgy I, everyone is invited to participate actively in the praise and adoration of God. No one is a spectator. Say out loud the words prayed by all, and say a solid Amen to prayers prayed by others. No one should be timid or left out. You are not an orphan or a stranger. You are in the house of your God. Gladly worship him with your whole being. Jesus tells us in John 4:23 that God is in the hunt for those who would choose to worship him with their whole being. Max Lucado advises as follows: “Worship verbally; worship in community; worship demonstrably” (Because of Bethlehem, 2016:38, 39) Worshiping demonstrably means if you feel like raising your hand or hands in prayer or praise, go ahead. Or if you want to sway your body while praying or singing, go right ahead and do so in the presence of your God. Please don’t be self-conscious.
5. What is the meaning of the Gospel being read in the middle of the congregation?
The gospel is brought among the people to be read. This is what Jesus did. He didn’t speak the good news in a building with only a few people. He went out among the people. For the reading of the gospel, the acolytes proceed to a point in the middle of the congregation with the cross leading them. Sometimes another acolyte carries a lit candle. The deacon designated to read the gospel picks the Gospel Book from the altar and again carries it high in the air for all to see. The symbolism of the cross going ahead of the Gospel Book, is again that it was the cross that made the gospel possible, namely, the cross preceded the coming of the gospel of Christ. The carrying of the gospel high is to symbolize to the people that the gospel is coming to them.
After the gospel reading is announced, there’s a gesture that some people make. It involves the signing with the hand: a cross on the head, on the lips, and on the chest, drawing an imaginary straight line as the hand moves down from head to chest. The gesture is made with the prayer, “May the gospel be in my head, on my lips, and in my heart. May I be filled by it and soaked in it, and may I live by it and embody it in my life.” After the gospel is read, the Gospel Book is returned to the altar and placed down in the same manner as before. The liturgy of the Word ends with the doxology sung after the offertory. The elements of the entire liturgy are outlined in Worship by Liturgy I. Please refer to it to refresh your memory.
At the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving, the Gospel Book is laid on the altar face up. The coming forward of the faithful to receive the elements of the Holy Communion, the bread and the wine, is like a family coming together to feed at the table of the Lord. It is a communal meal. Once at the rail, it is desirable that you kneel if you are able. If for any reason you cannot kneel, stand reverently. Then you rest one palm of your hand over the other palm thus forming a throne for your Lord. You do not reach out to take the bread yourself. You wait and receive it from the minister. The minister will place the bread in your hand. When you receive the bread, you may eat it and wait to take a sip from the cup, or you may hold onto it and wait to dip in the wine.
After the congregation has received the Holy Communion there will be a post-communion prayer and after which a blessing. At the time of the blessing from a priest or bishop, it is customary for the worshiper to raise hands at an angle, bent at the elbow with palms up, as a sign of receiving and accepting the blessing.
6. Why is the cross carried out of the church at the end of the service?
At the end of the service, a final hymn is sung, and the cross once again leads the procession and the Gospel Book is held high in the air to signify the faithful taking Christ’s message out into the world.