Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rethinking Sunday Services

Some thoughts on Sunday worship...

Most of you will be familiar with the sort of liturgy found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.  Along with most modern liturgies, it is based upon Dix's idea of liturgical shape.  There is an introductory rite, Gloria, collect of the day, readings, sermon, creed, prayers of the people, peace, offertory, prayer of consecration, communion, post-communion prayer, dismissal, roughly, with some local variations, etc.  This shape has been adopted by most Christian denominations, the exception being churches like the Reformed Episcopal Church, who have resisted the "liturgical peer pressure" on most Protestant denominations.  In addition to this modern liturgical shape, the Anglican Communion has had a major shift from being a Word-based faith to a symbol-based faith in the last two hundred years.  As you may or may not be aware, the typical Anglican service before the 1860's was Morning Prayer, followed by the Litany, and the Ante-Communion Service (Communion was celebrated at most once a month).  There was little ceremonial action other than perscribed by the Prayer Book (which in these services was mostly sitting, standing, etc.).  The meat of the service was the reading of the Scripture and the expounding of the same in the sermon.  In those times, there could have been up to nine readings from the Scriptures during a service.  There were the two readings from the Table of Lessons for the Daily Office, usually a chapter each, the Psalms from the Psalter, from one to five depending on the day and length of each, and the Epistle and Gospel of the day, usually shorter than the Office readings.  In addition to the readings, the Liturgy is saturated with Scripture; most of the versicles and responses are taken from Scripture. 

I've come to realize that, we, Episcopalians, are very much versed in the art of liturgy and the "mechanics" of public worship.  Only an Episcopalian would know what an aspergillum is or that the liturgical color for Gaudete Sunday is rose.  However, if you ask him to recite the Scriptures, you will find that he is not thoroughly familiar with God's Word.  Perhaps it is time to reconsider the ceremonial complexity of our services in modern Anglicanism.  Perhaps it is time to shed our rituals for a simpler service in accordance with the simplicity of the Prayer Book.  The Lord says, "Thy Word is truth," yet we know not the Words of life as they are contained in the Scriptures.  It is time for the Episcopalian to know and love the Word of God.

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