Why Anglicans worship the way that they do.


If you have never been to an Anglican worship service, you may find it rather confusing. We use different bodily postures: people are expected to know when to kneel, stand, or sit. The congregation is also expected to make various responses through-out the service. All this may be quite bewildering, with the risk that a newcomer might not return.

This booklet has been written to help you overcome these barriers in the hope that you will learn to appreciate our form of worship, and might consequently choose to make us your church home.

Why doesn’t the Anglican Church make it easier for people to worship in their churches? Why is the service so complicated?

We believe we have good answers to these questions, and we are convinced that once you understand why we worship the way we do and learn a few basic ground rules, you’ll come to appreciate the depth and richness of our heritage.

Our ancient heritage
The word heritage is used intentionally. You see, Trinity Anglican Church is a constituent member of the Traditional Anglican Communion. We are part of a worldwide body of Christians which traces its lineage all the way back to the time of the Apostles. Even though our service may seem strange to modern eyes, it is basically the same service that has been used since the earliest days of Christianity. An early Christian book called the Didache, written around A.D. 100, reports that every Sunday the Christians of that time celebrated the Holy Eucharist where both Word and Sacrament played a prominent part. The Anglican Church continues to worship in this ancient way in the sincere conviction that God has called her to “uphold and propagate the historic Faith and Order” of Christianity.

The Holy Eucharist
The word Eucharist is simply the Greek word for “Thanksgiving.” It comes from the Last Supper where Jesus took bread and wine and gave thanks to the Father, saying “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you. This is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.”

If you study church history, you will see that the Holy Eucharist was the central form of Christian worship for all churches until the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. Regrettably, because abuses and superstitions crept into this basic Sunday service, many protestant churches discontinued the practice.

They felt they had good reasons. For years the Bible was unknown to the ordinary Christian. It was kept in Latin, which only the clergy and highly educated laity understood. And the sacramental part of the service became almost magical.

But if you go back and read the works of the two greatest reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin, you will discover that neither of them intended for the Holy Eucharist to be discontinued as the principal Sunday service. They wanted to reform the service, not radically alter it. It was their followers who developed the kind of worship service many contemporary Protestants use, one in which the Lord’s Supper occurs only occasionally.

The Anglican Faith has taken a different course. It has kept the historic catholic order and practice, maintaining a balance between Word and Sacrament. At the same time, it embraced protestant theology, with its return to the biblical doctrine of the five “alones.” We are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, on account of the merits of Jesus Christ alone, revealed in Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone.

In our Sunday Holy Eucharist we believe we have preserved the fullest form of Christian worship: We praise, glorify, and thank God for all His benefits. We hear His holy Word. We acknowledge and confess our sins. We pray for the needs of the entire world. And sacramentally we enter each week into union with the mystery of the death, resurrection, ascension, and pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus: the only Mediator between God and man
Central to our understanding of how Christians should worship is the belief in Jesus Christ as the only Mediator between God and mankind. Accordingly, it is our firm conviction that the Holy Eucharist is not primarily our worship but Jesus’ worship of His Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Only as living members of Christ’s Body, the Church, can we share in this perfect worship. We are incapable of hearing God’s Word, or receiving the Sacrament, or responding to His grace unless it is done in and through Jesus Christ.

Rooted in biblical worship
Our form of worship is deeply rooted in the biblical understanding of worship. Biblical worship possesses five characteristics. First, it is focused on the awesome holiness of God. Second, it is modeled after perfect worship continually going on in heaven. Third, it takes place in the temple. Fourth, it is accomplished by sacrifice. Fifth, it is offered by a priest.

In faithfulness to biblical tradition, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist centers on the holiness of God, unites us with perfect heavenly worship, takes place in the temple of Christ’s body, commemorates the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, and express the eternal priesthood of Jesus.

That’s why our service always begins with reverence for God; it reaches a climax through union of our voices with the angels, archangels, and the entire company of heaven, as we sing with them, “Holy, holy, holy.” That’s why we also assign different parts to various ministers, with required responses and postures for the whole congregation, to show that it is the entire Body of Christ (in the true temple) that our worship takes place. For us it is essential to remember week after week the sacrifice of Jesus through Holy Communion

True worship must be reverently focused not on ourselves but on God Those who have abandoned the ancient form of Christian worship are apt to slip into a man-centered worship-service, which focuses primarily on us. We think many “user-friendly” churches have too easily accommodated themselves to American sales techniques. They want people to have a good “worship experience” so that they’ll leave feeling good about themselves. We certainly are not opposed to uplifting spiritual experiences, but we believe the Scriptures always direct us away from ourselves to give glory and praise to God.

Word and Sacrament
The ancient Christian service of the Holy Eucharist is comprised of two main parts: The Word of God and The Holy Communion.

The Word of God consists of four readings, includung an Epistle and the Gospel for the Day. The sermon shows how the scripture lessons may be applied to our lives here and now.

Through The Holy Communion, we are united more fully to Christ’s priestly sacrifice in the temple of His Body so that we can enter more fully into the mystery of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and thus become more faithful witnesses in our daily lives.

The Book of Common Prayer
The Anglican Church uses a service set forth in the Book of Common Prayer for several reasons. First, to show that the worshipers form a community, composed not only of those gathered in this particular church but also embracing all the people around the world worshiping with the same words, as well as all our Christian forebears who have worshiped in this way down through the centuries. Second, to help shape us by repetition week after week in correct doctrine and practice, the way stones are shaped by the continuous flow of a river. Third, to make sure that all the richness of Christian worship is contained in every service.

All Christians use at least one common prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. Dare we think that we can compose a prayer as great? What would you think of a symphony orchestra that refused to play any music previously composed by others, arguing that their music would not be genuine or authentic unless it was extemporaneous? What arrogance to think that they could spontaneously make music as beautiful as that composed by Mozart or Beethoven! So it is with our Book of Common Prayer. It is a treasury of great prayers composed by our Christian ancestors. We recognize that there is a certain danger of becoming rote through this method of worshiping, just as there is a similar danger for an orchestra which plays set compositions. But this danger can be avoided. Just as a symphony orchestra can play a composition it has played hundreds of anew each time from the heart, so we can pray our common prayers anew each time from the heart. When we do so, we discover a depth of worship which could never be achieved by on-the-spot extemporaneous praying.

Arrangement of worship space
Besides using a fixed structure, we believe the setting of our service is also important. We avoid using multi-purpose spaces for our worship. We think that if the same space is used for both fellowship and worship, the informality of fellowship would inevitably carry over into the service and diminish the sense of reverence demanded by the holiness of God. We prefer, therefore, to have a sacred space set apart exclusively for worship.

As you enter this sacred space your attention is drawn to the altar. The altar holds prominence to remind us of the importance of Christian temple worship in which we commemorate the priestly sacrifice of Jesus Christ. To heighten the sense of the mysterious majesty of God we enclose the altar within a communion rail. We call this enclosed space the sanctuary, a symbol of the heavenly throne room of God. The entire sanctuary is elevated, with the altar in the highest place, thereby signifying the exalted position of our God.

The altar is covered with a white linen cloth to symbolize the purity of heart with which we should come to the holy feast. The place where the congregation sits is called the nave. This comes from the Latin word for ship.

The Apostle Peter likens the Church to Noah’s ark. Through faith and baptism, we are rescued and brought into Christ’s ship and thus are enabled to sail securely to our heavenly destination.

The Celebrant
Our priests wear special vestments to remind us that they are not representing themselves, but Jesus, who is really leading our service. His over-garments consist of two pieces of clothing in the color of the day: a stole around his neck to signify the yoke of Christ and an outer garment called a chasuble, which goes on over the head through a hole in the middle. This symbolizes the seamless robe worn by Jesus at His crucifixion. The colors are visual aids to help us enter more fully into the theme of the feast or season.

 

Information received from Bishop Owen Williams.