|. . .use this information to help you in your faith walk and to entertain your friends with your new-found knowledge.|
All Saints’ Day
The first day of November is All Saints’ Day, when we remember that all Christians, both living and dead, who have lived exemplary lives are saints of God. While there were days in the early church that were dedicated to all the martyred saints, it is thought that All Saints’ Day came out of the early Irish church. It had spread throughout the church by the ninth century. November 2nd is traditionally called All Souls’ Day; then people remember all of their family and friends who have been faithful to Christ even if the broader church does not know of them. In Mexico All Souls’ Day combined with an Aztec holiday that commemorated family members who had died; this holiday became The Day of the Dead, and it is celebrated by visiting the graves and decorating them with marigolds and sugar skulls and the relative’s favorite food and drink. The day before All Saints’ Day is called All Hallow’s Eve in Old English. Perhaps combining Irish and English pagan traditions of Samhain (celebrated near the same day), this day is the preparation for All Saints’ Day and is a mix of parties and pranks. You know this day better as Halloween.
Can You Be an Episcopal Saint?
The Wednesday midday service at St. Timothy’s always celebrates the saint listed for that day. But who decides which people are on the list of the Episcopal Church’s saints? Many of our saints predate the Reformation and so are inherited from our Catholic tradition of that time. Subsequent to the Reformation, the Anglican method of identifying saints has differed from that of the Roman Catholic tradition. In the Episcopal Church, a person who people think led an exemplary holy and faithful life can be nominated after death. Normally a diocesan convention considers the nominations first, exploring the life and impact of each nominee. If the convention agrees, then it forwards the name to the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, which then presents the name to the triennial convention of the denomination. After a three-year trial use, the name is either added or not. And this is how North Carolina’s own Virginia Dare and Chief Manteo were added to our list. Their feast day is August 18.
Green, Green, Green!
From June 22 until November 30, the liturgical color in the church is green. This church season after Pentecost is also called Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time means that we number, “order,” the Sundays after Pentecost. This time is neither a feasting time nor a fasting time for the church. The focus of the church during this time is growing stronger in devotion to God. In the Episcopal Church, we use the green as symbol of that growth.
“O gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed! Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds.” This is the Phos hilaron which is said or sung at the beginning of Evening Prayer. Evening Prayer, like Morning Prayer, came out of the monastic system. Evening Prayer is probably the least used service in our Book of Common Prayer, which is sad since there is such lovely poetry to be found within the service. And there are some lovely musical settings for the prayers and the poetry as well. When the service is sung, it is called Evensong. There is no set time to offer this service, but it is generally done after the workday is over, either before or just after the usual dinner hour. St. Timothy’s will get to partake of Evensong this coming November when the Raleigh Convocation Choir will be coming on a Sunday night to sing it. I hope you will join us!
“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it!” “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it!” This quote from Psalm 118 is still a common greeting in the morning for some. For Christians it reminds us of Christ’s joyous resurrection on the first day of the week. In the early days of the faith, it became common practice to gather early on the first day of the week, before the workday started, to pray and to hear stories about Jesus. An agape meal also became common. The agape meal evolved into the Eucharist, and the prayer service in the early morning evolved into Morning Prayer. And as Christians became the majority of the population the first day of the week became the day of rest instead of another workday. By the end of the second century, the faithful had begun to feel unworthy to receive the Eucharist every week. In order for the faithful to be fed spiritually, the tradition arose of offering Eucharist in the early morning services and on special days at the Sunday mid-morning service. On other Sundays, Morning Prayer was offered. This became the norm for the Protestant churches until the mid-twentieth century, when Eucharist became the primary worship service on Sunday.
Praying the Hours
The Christian practice of praying at set times of the day evolved in the early church. The Jewish practices that we inherited were variable: prayers occurred either morning and evening or morning, noon, and evening. The Didache, a document written between the second half of the first century and the first half of the second century, instructs the reader to pray morning, noon, and evening. By the fourth century, as the monastic system developed, communities gathered five times a day to pray: morning (dawn), 9am (3rd hour), noon (6th hour), 3pm (9th hour), and evening (dusk). By the fifth century, the monastic world had added a prayer service in the middle of the night, so that there would be prayer without ceasing within the church. In cities, the morning and evening prayers were public services at the local cathedrals. Exactly what prayers, statements of faith, and hymns were used in the early Church was variable depending on each community. But the services tended to comprise two parts: hymns and psalms of praise, and prayers for the Church and the world. Psalms 148-150 were universally popular for morning prayer, and the Phos hilaron was used as an evening hymn. While the contents of the prayer services continued to evolve through the centuries, the times remained locked in until the Reformation. Morning Prayer became the main worship service on Sunday, with Eucharist happening only early in the morning and on feast days. For more information see Early Christian Worship, by Paul Bradshaw.
Bells In Worship
Bells have been used in worship for millennia. Bells were attached to clothing and small bells were kept for use in a worship space (the ancestor of Sanctus bells). But the term church bell usually connotes the large bells that reside in a bell tower. Because these bells have been used to call the faithful in a community to worship, they were large and loud. They were normally located in a high tower so their sound could be heard throughout the community. And they were used not only to call people to worship, but also to warn of danger. Bells are tuned during their construction to distinct tones. Thus, listeners can distinguish one church’s bells from another. And ringing patterns were created to differentiate Morning Prayer, weddings, funerals, and invading armies.
Legend has it that Paulinus, the bishop of Nola in Campania, Italy, introduced bells to church worship in the fifth century. By the Middle Ages they had become common in churches. Early church bells tended to be square, constructed of riveted, hammered iron plates. While the Chinese were casting bells for at least four thousand years, the art did not develop in Europe until about the time of Bishop Paulinus. St. Timothy’s has two cast bells in its bell tower. Traditionally the smaller one has been used to announce a funeral and the larger one reserved for use on Sunday mornings and for weddings.
Prayers of the People
The book Study of Liturgy devotes more than 550 pages of discussion of theology, liturgical development, initiation rites, the Eucharist, and ordination, but only nine partial pages mention the collected prayers of the faithful. While prayer is integral to our worship, what we call “The Prayers of the People” is unique to each worshipping community. For most of our Anglican history, the service had moments of silence when we could add our personal petitions and intercessions, silently. The spoken prayer was in a set form and read by the celebrant only. One of the major rewrites of this set formoccurred in the first edition of the American Book of Common Prayer (1789), when the American Church no longer acknowledged the monarchy. By the 1960s the Church was inviting people to add their personal petitions aloud during the prayers.
The Prayers of the People are supposed to be both universal across the faith and particular to the individual congregation. Today, each congregation can either use a variety of set forms found in the Book of the Common Prayer or write its own according to a pattern found on page 383. At St. Timothy’s, the Episcopal Youth Community is invited to write the Prayers of the People for the Easter season. Creating these prayers for the community greatly assists in the formation of our youth’s prayer lives.
The top of St. Timothy’s altar is covered with what is called a fair linen. Normally there is a rough cloth that is laid between this fair linen and the altar. This rough cloth, usually imbedded with wax, is called a cere cloth. The cere cloth was originally used to protect the fair linen from condensation that forms on top of stone altars as temperatures cool. Today most altars are made of wood, and the cere cloth helps prevent any spilled liquids from damaging the wood. The fair linen is exactly what the name suggests: it is snow white, beautifully embroidered, and frequently made of linen and not cotton. Linen is used for several reasons: it was the traditional non-wool fabric used throughout the Middle East and Europe; it drapes beautifully and does not pucker as much as cotton when embroidered; and when treated properly it can be surprisingly durable. For clothing, cotton is much more popular than linen because 1) linen is notorious for wrinkling; 2) cotton is a much less expensive fabric these days; and 3) cotton can be bleached repeatedly without being destroyed. That does mean that our fair linen is expensive, and it must be carefully washed (no bleach, thank you) and expertly ironed to maintain the cloth’s straight lines. The care of our fair linens is a specialized ministry within the altar guild. You are invited to come up to the altar after a service to see this beautiful and functional piece of artwork.
The Paschal Candle or “that big candle that is sometimes up front”
There is a very old church rite, called Lucernarium, which is a short service of the lighting of the candles just prior to Evening Prayer on Sundays. At the Easter Vigil, the night before Easter, this ancient rite has evolved into lighting an especially large candle to dispel the darkness of night as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of our own resurrection. All the candles in the church are extinguished at the end of Maundy Thursday’s service. The church is kept dark until sundown on Holy Saturday when the Paschal candle is lit for the Easter Vigil service. One of the earliest mentions of this candle is in a hymn written in the latter part of the 4th century.
This candle is now known as the Paschal candle; Paschal is a Greek word meaning, “pass over.” The candle, then, is a symbol that death will “pass over” us, that we will be resurrected from death. This candle is lit when a person is received into the body of Christ through baptism and at a funeral. We also keep it lit during the entire Easter Season to remind us that it is Christ’s salvation that chases away the spiritual darkness that threatens to destroy us.
The Paschal candle’s location in the physical church varies: for baptisms it is to be near where the baptism takes place. Often the one being baptized is given a small candle that is lit from the Paschal candle. At a funeral, the Paschal candle stands next to the person’s physical remains at the front of the church. At Easter and the Easter season through the Day of Pentecost and the Sunday in Epiphany, when we read about Christ’s own baptism, the candle stands at the front of the church, as near to the altar area as is logically possible (for our church this location is at the foot of the steps leading to the choir area).
Flowers in the Church
The Episcopal Church worships God in a multisensory way. Different pieces of the service offer stimulation of each of our senses so that we are invited to experience God with our full being. Flowers play a role with both their visual beauty and their fragrance. But having flowers in worship is also a symbol of our stewardship. The Bible tells us to offer our “first fruits” to God. This means we offer of our financial resources, our time, and our talent, including flowers as a beautiful sample of the land’s bounty. Flowers are also offered as a prayer, as a memorial, or as a thanksgiving by parishioners.The Episcopal Church has rules concerning the amount and type of flowers that are in various services. These rules help set limits on what the altar guild can care for, they avert the temptation of public extravagance, and they allow for safe and unimpeded movement of the worship team. There are times when we use only greenery in the church to help set a more reflective mood for worship. But. as a certain flower company suggests, “Nothing says ‘I love you’ like flowers.”
The Advent Wreath
The Advent wreath comes to the Episcopal Church from the German Lutheran tradition. The stories of its origins vary; one tradition is that it is the descendant of a northern Europe pagan ritual; another claims that it was a German Lutheran teaching tool in the 1800s. The wreath, a circle, usually comprises evergreen branches and is placed horizontally on a table or a stand or hung from the ceiling. Nestled in the greenery are four candles placed equidistant from one another, each representing a week in Advent. These candles match the liturgical color used in the local church, usually violet or blue. Sometimes one rose-colored candle is used to represent the third Sunday in Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Normally there is a central white candle called the Christ candle, which is not lit until Christmas Eve. The blue or violet candles remind us that Advent is a season of penitence; the rose candle reminds us of the impending joy of Christmas and its meaning. On the first Sunday of Advent, one candle is lit. Additional candles are lit for successive weeks until Christmas Eve, when all the candles are lit. Traditionally the wreath is kept in the sanctuary and lit every Sunday until Epiphany, which marks the end of Christmas.
A Quiet Radical
There are four orders, or types, of ministers in the church. They are: all baptized persons; bishops; priests; and deacons. Deacons come in two types: transitional and vocational (or permanent). A transitional deacon is someone who has been trained to be a priest and is in formation to be a priest. These people will be deacons for six to twelve months before their ordination to the priesthood. A vocational deacon is someone who is set apart from baptized parishioners, ordained to carry out special ministries in the community and in the church. From one of our diocesan resources, “A deacon is a baptized person called and empowered by God and the Christian community to be an icon illuminating Christ as a model of servanthood for all people.” A deacon has a focal ministry in the broader community and fulfills specific roles within the liturgy, such as reading the Gospel and setting the Eucharist table. The deacon brings the concerns and hopes of the broader community to the community of faith; the deacon is, “like Jesus, a quiet radical.”
Votive Candles in the Church
Votive candles are a personal prayer practice that embraces the mystery of our faith and is an outward and visible sign of an inward prayer. The practice is found in most Christian denominations including the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions. In England, votive candles were one of the practices that were removed from the Anglican churches during the Reformation and its subsequent turmoil. Today, however, you will find votive candles in their stands in many Anglican churches in England. They are increasingly found in American Episcopal churches, especially where members have come from Catholic and Orthodox traditions.
Lighting a votive candle in the candle stand is a personal prayer practice that is done in community, which is why votives are found in the naves or chancels of churches. As E.S. Gale points out, “they are a ‘Christianized’ version of the ancient votive offerings: they are lighted, a small monetary offering is made, and prayers are said on occasions of special prayer for the sick, the departed, etc.; on anniversaries of Baptism, Confirmation, and Marriage; or in connection with vows made (for instance) in Advent and Lent, and after Confession.” The money (generally a dollar or some change) is placed in the alms box (normally found at some corner of the stand). The alms donated are traditionally used to buy replacement candles and to help the poor.
At Ripon Cathedral in England, parishioners, travelers, and tourists can light a candle and drop the name for whom they are asking prayers into a prayer box next to the votive stand. The name is read at that day’s Evensong worship. After those who lit a candle have gone, the candles have continued to burn, a reminder that as those individuals re-entered their active life away from the church, their prayers continued to be real, and God continued to hear them. And the community continued to pray with them.
The word, Episcopal, is Greek for bishop. When we say that we are members of the Episcopal Church we are acknowledging that our chief spiritual shepherds are our bishops. Since our bishops are not here on most Sunday we can tend to forget this. But there are several liturgies that only our bishops lead. On September 8th, Bishop Michael Curry, our diocesan bishop, will lead one of those services: confirmation. He will ask the candidates if they affirm the promises made at their baptism and then lay hands on their heads and pray over them. And as our bishop he will lead us in the Eucharist and bless us at the end of each service. Can you find the other services in our Book of Common Prayer that the bishops preside in?
Facing East: The history of facing the symbolic East in the Episcopal Church while reciting the Nicene Creed has roots from the Anglo-Catholic movement of our denomination at the beginning of the last century, possibly dating earlier. This tradition is not common in today’s Church. I may have first encountered it when in college, but it was not until my first church assignments as a priest that I personally experienced it. “Facing East” means to turn to the symbolic East wall of St. Timothy’s (where the altar is), facing the wall and not the altar. According to the 1912 Prayer Book Dictionary by George Harford et al, this practice is rooted in an action by the newly baptized in the early church where they would stand facing to the West and repudiate their former sinful life and then turn to the direction from whence the Christ is supposed to return (the East of the rising sun) and affirm their new faith by reciting the Creed. In a sense we are turning toward Christ and reaffirming our baptism every Sunday. And we can do this even if we are struggling to understand some portion of the Creed. In theory, this would also be done with the Apostle’s Creed at funerals, but I have not experienced this as yet. At funerals there is the hospitality issue of friends and family who are not familiar with our liturgy. So it will be on Sundays where you will see me turn and join the congregation in facing East as I reaffirm my baptism in the words of the Nicene Creed.
July: Kneeling vs Standing
When I was little, the Episcopal Church stood only for singing. We knelt in prayer and to receive absolutions or blessings. Since over half of our regular Sunday worship was spent in prayer, we knelt a lot! We still have the same amount of prayer today. But by the time I was in seminary, worship styles had changed. In the church plant where I served as a seminarian, we stood so much that I wondered why they had bought chairs that had kneelers, for we seldom used them. And one of our Eucharistic Prayers lends itself to this way of being Episcopalian. Standing is both a very old tradition in the Christian tradition and a new one. Standing, kneeling and prostration are all biblically-based, and historically-based, ways of being in prayer. You see these body positions in most of human religious traditions. They imply different relationships with our Creator. Standing implies that we know that we are redeemed and stand with our brother Jesus. Kneeling before our Lord says that we know we are in need of perpetual forgiveness. Prostration reminds us that without God’s almighty power we are just dust blowing in the wind. But God hears us in all forms.
June: Part 1, Crossing Yourself
If there is any gesture that differentiates “high church” people from “low church” people in the Episcopal Church, it is the act of crossing yourself during worship. For “low church” parishioners this act can look suspiciously Roman Catholic and not Protestant. Most are perfectly happy to have those around them cross themselves, but for Protestant spirituality it is a distraction from prayers and superfluous to do yourself. For the “high church” parishioner, it seems to come automatically and is a physical reminder of the Trinity and of Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice. The act in Western Christianity is thus: right hand’s fingers touch your own forehead, then the chest near the heart, then the left shoulder, followed by the right shoulder. Those from the Orthodox tradition reverse the order of touching the shoulders. For “high church” people or for Anglo-Catholics, this crossing is done anytime the name of the Trinity is invoked and whenever you receive a blessing. Another type of crossing can be done when the Gospel is read: using the right thumb, cross yourself on the forehead, the mouth, and the heart. Can you guess why these three places? All of these are matters of personal spirituality as well as community tradition. St. Timothy’s comes out of a “low church” tradition, so you will not see many people using this body language, but some do.
Pentecost means the fiftieth day. Sunday, May 19, will be the fiftieth day of Easter Season. This mirrors a seven-week Jewish festival called the Feast of Weeks. Our Christian Pentecost comes ten days after we have remembered Jesus’s ascension into heaven. On Pentecost, we remember the story in the book of Acts in which the Holy Spirit descended onto the gathered faithful and sent them out into the streets praising God in many languages. In our scriptures, the Holy Spirit is described as being as if a dove and as if a flame. The liturgical color for the day is red, like the color of flames. Congregations are invited to wear the colors of flame (especially red) to church. It is common for churches to be decorated in symbols of flames, doves, or both. And in many congregations, the scripture readings may be offered in different languages to help us remember the miraculous gift of hearing the Good News in each of our own languages! Some churches also celebrate with food and fun after the main service. This year our parish picnic falls on Pentecost.
Amen, Amen, Amen! So just what does this word mean? It is used by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, albeit differently within each tradition. In Judaism it is the response to a blessing from God; for Muslims it is used after a supplication to God; for Christians it is used with any prayer to God. But its meaning is the same in all three faiths: it is a declaration of affirmation for the words immediately preceding or following it. Simply put it means, “So be it.” When you use more than one amen or use it in all caps, it not only confirms the words, but also invokes their fulfillment. At the end of our Eucharistic prayers, we use an AMEN, which we should say with a strong voice, to state that we believe the words in the prayers and believe in their fulfillment in the bread and wine. Amen.
Confession of Sin
Did you ever break something as a child when your parents were not around? I’ll bet you were like me: you were totally distracted by the event and what their reaction was going to be when they found out. You may have blurted out what happened as a way to get it all over with. If you didn’t, the event likely hung over you like Damocles’ sword. I always found relief after everything was out in the open and I had made my confession. Until then, that broken item ruled my relationship with my parents. Even dinner was tasteless until all was out in the open. This is why we have the Confession of Sin before we start Eucharist. Until we have confessed, we cannot really enjoy the benefits and joys of Eucharist. There are a few occasions when we do not have the Confession before Eucharist. Can you name those times and say why we omit Confession?
What Is a Lectionary?
The Episcopal Church is one of the denominations that uses a set series of Bible readings for both its Sunday services and its daily readings. We inherited this tradition from our Catholic roots. Why do we do this? There is a strong temptation to not read the parts of the Bible that we find distressful or that we don’t agree with. We call this abbreviation of Holy Scripture— reading only the parts of the Bible that we like—our own personal canon. To preclude this in our churches, our church Fathers sat down with Scripture and divided it by season, matching the Old Testament and Psalm readings by similar theme with Gospel readings and then adding Epistle readings in sequence. Over time these readings were expanded, so that in a three-year cycle a vast amount of the Bible is heard on Sundays. When daily readings, which are in a two-year cycle, are added to the Sunday readings, more than 80 percent of scripture is included in the cycle. Our current lectionary, the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), was created in the twentieth century by an ecumenical set of Christian scholars. On a couple of Sundays our church deviates from the RCL. Do you know which Sundays they are?
What Is Epiphany?
“Oh, I had an epiphany today.” How many times have each of heard this or said this at the dinner table? In this context we mean a sudden realization of something, normally as culmination of fact gathering or related experiences. We have all had epiphanies. In cartoons an epiphany is represented by a light bulb over the character’s head; it is the “ah ha” moment. It is also the name of the season of the Church year that we are heading into. It is the season of Light. The days are now becoming longer, and light illuminates our darkness of understanding. The ah ha moment occurs when there is evidence of a fact all around, but you are in the dark. But as you encounter more of these facts, the larger picture becomes apparent as if out of thin air. And so that is how we experience the fact of Christ’s incarnation as Jesus. The day of Epiphany is the celebration of the wise men arriving to visit Jesus. This is the first sign outside of the local community that there is something special about this child. And then there is Jesus’ baptism, where the witnesses hear a voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And then the wedding at Cana, when he turns water into wine. Then Jesus reading from Isaiah, noting that “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” And finally Peter and John and James witness the Transfiguration. Each of these events points to the divinity of Jesus.
What Is Advent?
Advent is the four weeks before Christmas. You will notice that we do not sing Christmas carols in December, nor does the Angel Tree have decorations. We wait until Christmas Eve to sing all the carols. Traditionally, Advent is a penitential season of fasting and prayer to prepare us to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, God incarnated in human flesh. I like to differentiate Advent’s penitential season from Lent’s by likening this time to the last four weeks of pregnancy. Everything is about to change in the lives of the parents and of their family. The mother is having difficulty getting around and getting comfortable. Some couples wonder if they are ready for the birth. Incarnational theology states that everything in creation changed at the birth of Jesus, that the earth experienced the beginning of birth pangs that continue even today. Christ is causing us to be a new creation. Advent reminds us to get ready for this. Listen to the words of our Advent hymns and of the Bible readings for these four weeks, and you will understand the advantages of waiting.
Episcopal Music and Hymnals
Did you know that we have five hymnals plus additional books called “Enriching Our Music” in the Episcopal Church? With all those music resources at hand nowadays, it is surprising to find out that one of the biggest arguments in the early church in Rome was whether to allow music into the worship service at all. Musicians were not considered the most righteous of company, and many of them played music for the pagans! But catchy tunes are exactly that–catchy. And the church leaders realized that if their parishioners were singing tunes that they heard on the streets, it might be a good idea to teach them to sing tunes associated with worshiping God! Hymns are both intellectual and emotional. The words can explain some idea or story, and they can be poems about a scene or an emotion. Music is the emotion: certain rhythms and tones trigger an emotional response or recall one. Using several published resources from various Episcopal associations, our music advisory group selects hymns whose words reflect the message from the readings for that day or whose emotional signatures set the tone for that worship experience.
Answer to last month’s question: there are eight Eucharistic Prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. Can you find them all?
Common Prayer for Holy Communion:
How many Eucharistic Prayers are there in our current prayerbook? How many other Eucharistic Prayers can we use from other resources at our Sunday worship services? The 1928 Book of Common Prayer had the title “The Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion” and used only one Eucharistic Prayer (pp. 80-81, for those who have this book), which assumes one theological position. But it was an unusual prayerbook in the history of our denomination in that it prescribed the service in more detail than usual. Our ancient English roots had more than one Eucharistic prayer and we fought over them. The real question is why do we have more than one? The answer is that Anglicans are drawn together not by one theological position, but by praying together. And because we hold varying theological positions, our current Eucharistic prayers give voice to these different positions. An example: Eucharistic Prayer B places more emphasis on the prophets and on the incarnation and final coming of Christ. Eucharistic Prayer C places more emphasis on God’s creative powers. And the answers to the first two questions? See this space next month!
Parts of the Church
One of the wonderful gifts of our Anglican heritage is our inherited language about church. Some of the words are still in use today with their original meanings, others have shifted in their meanings. For example, if you enter the church from the Goldsboro Street entrance, you step up through the outer doors into the enclosed portico, then through the second set of doors into the narthex. The area in the church where most people sit is called the nave. This term is thought to come from the Latin navis, meaning ship, an early symbol of the church. Go up the two steps at the front, and you are now in the chancel. Again this term is descended from a Latin word meaning latticework. This lets you know that the area that contains our altar, choir members, and lecterns normally was separated from the nave by wood or iron latticework. In part, this was an early security measure, protecting against both thieves and livestock that might be sheltered in the nave in foul weather (the nave was never locked). Within the chancel is the sanctuary. This word has changed meanings and can denote many areas, depending on your church tradition. In the early church, it meant the area immediately around the altar, where only ordained people were allowed without invitation (bishops, priests, deacons, acolytes). Frequently marked off by a rail separating it from the rest of the chancel, it was also the place where people could go to avoid being arrested or taken away. Now you know where the term to give sanctuary comes from. This concept has been used in our modern legal system when church leaders chose to give people sanctuary from the local civil authorities. For some traditions, however, a sanctuary can be equated with the entire worship space. Knowing where your sanctuary bounds are could be critical in some situations! For more delightful terms, see An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church by Don Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum at http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/109399_79309_ENG_HTM.htm. A print copy may also be ordered.
Acolytes—are they ordained or not?
“The Church ordains three major orders today—Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. In the early Church, four minor orders were also ordained—Acolytes, Lectors, Exorcists, and Ostiarii, known today as Vergers. The word Acolyte comes from the Greek word ‘akolouthos,’ meaning a servant or attendant who waits continually upon another: a follower.
“The Council of Carthage of 398, which deals with the ordination of acolytes …. ‘when an acolyte is ordained, let him be taught by a bishop how he ought to act in the performance of his duty. But let him receive from the archdeacon a candlestick with a candle that he may know that it is his duty to light the lamps of the church.’ From The Use of Lights in Christian Worship by D.R. Dendy, page 80 (1959, Alcuin Club Collection).
“In the early church, the acolyte’s duties consisted chiefly of lighting candles in the church and assisting at the preparation of the wine for communion. The Gospel book and the processional crosses were carried by the three ‘major orders’ only until recent times. Adult acolytes were the norm in the past, but in the 20th and 21st century, it became common to give the role to children as part of their spiritual formation. And while acolytes are no longer ordained, they are trained as leaders of our liturgy, taking on duties once reserved for bishops, priest and deacons!”
–A summary of the history of acolytes, by Kent Wingerson, Acolyte Director and
Cathedral Verger, Grace Episcopal Cathedral, Topeka, KS (2005).
Episcopal priests wear funny clothes!
Have you ever wondered where they come from? One clue is if you have been to a “high” Roman Catholic or Lutheran church. The Sunday clothes that I wear are called vestments, and many are descended from ancient Roman clothing. And I do mean ancient. The large, colorful outer covering that I wear during the church services is called a chasuble and was used by Roman gentlemen during the Empire as a way to protect their undergarments. The chasuble is generally worn during Eucharist services, and its color is determined by the liturgical season (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, etc.). The stole, also color-coordinated, is slung over the priest’s neck. Deacons wear their stole over the left shoulder and connected on the right hip to denote their different role in liturgy. The stole tradition is from our Jewish ancestry. From our monastic tradition comes the wearing of a white alb or a black cassock, the robe worn under the chasuble and stole. The debate over which to wear during services has raged within the English churches and their offspring for well over a millennium. All you have to do is look at paintings, drawings, and photos to see how tradition has switched between the two. But these garments cover our day-to-day clothing so that both rich and poor serve God equally, and each person on the liturgical team has a specific and unique role in our services.
What is Compline?
Compline has been described as the “goodnight prayer of the Church.” The service can be read quietly, sung, or chanted. John Rutter, an American composer, has written a wonderful musical setting for this liturgy. It originated in the fourth century among monks as a way to end their long day with communal prayer. Historically, outside of the monastic system, Compline has been a service for private or family devotion. Our present Book of Common Prayer marks its first appearance as a church service for the Episcopal Church. Because of Compline’s history, you can consider it the grown-up version of “now I lay me down to sleep, which many of us learned as toddlers.” One of the lines from this service—”the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end”—reminds us of that prayer.
What color is this Sunday?
If you ever wander into the room where the altar guild gathers on Saturday morning (it’s called the sacristy), you may hear a question that is asked there regularly: “What color is this Sunday?” This is not a question that has always been asked in the Episcopal Church; we started using colored hangings in the 1800s. Anglican churches (which we are a member) stopped using colored hangings during the Protestant Reformation, leaving the altar bare or covered with a simple white cloth, but the Episcopal Church started using them again in the 1800s. Now we use several colors. The color of the hangings used at the the altar and of the clergy’s vestments is determined by the seasons of the church and specific events. Colors symbolize many things: red for the blood of the martyrs; white for purity and salvation; purple for humility, passion, and royalty; black for mourning; and green for growth and revelation. In May we will move from the white of Easter season to the red of Pentecost. Summer will be green, liturgically and horticulturally.