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The Book of Common Prayer establishes the basic pattern of worship in the Episcopal church.  While patterns of worship vary greatly from parish to parish, all Episcopal churches are expected to use the Prayer Book and to conform to the guidelines it lays down for worship.


The Book of Common Prayer has a long history.  The first Prayer Book was issued in 1549 and used in the Church of England -- it was the first complete pattern of Christian worship to be rendered in the English language.  The first Prayer Book has three major purposes.  First, it was composed to ensure that the reading of Scripture would have a central place in the worship of English churches. Second, the Prayer Book was written in English to insure that worship would be understandable to the average person.  Prior to 1549 worship in English churches was in Latin, a language understood by the educated few.  Third, the Prayer Book was intended to facilitate common prayer, the worship of Christians gathered as a community.  The Prayer Book makes the whole of Christian worship available to each person in a parish.  The point here is that the liturgy of the Church is the common possession of all Christians, not the possession of the clergy or those "in the know".


The first American Prayer Book was produced in 1789 and was a slightly revised form of the Church of England's 1662 Book of Common Prayer.  The Prayer Book has gone through three revisions since then, one in 1892, another in 1928 and yet another in 1979. We currently use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.


The Big Picture

If you examine a copy of The Book of Common Prayer you will discover that there are two services of Holy Eucharist, one entitled Rite I (BCP, pp. 323-349) and one entitled Rite II (BCP, pp. 355-382).  The difference between the two rites is both linguistic and theological. Rite I reflects the language of earlier versions of the Prayer Book and places emphasis on human sinfulness and the need for forgiveness.  Right II uses modern English and places emphasis on the Eucharist as a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The inclusion of the two rites in the Prayer Book makes the statement that both forms of language and both theologies have a place in the Church. At Christ Church Rite II is used most frequently, Rite I is used at the Eucharist during the season of Lent and Advent.


Each rite contains options for the Great Thanksgiving or Eucharistic Prayer.  Rite I offers a choice of two Eucharistic Prayers (Prayer I on BCP, p. 333 and Prayer II on BCP p. 340) while Rite II offers a choice of four Eucharistic Prayers, Prayer D 9BCP, p. 372).  Each Eucharistic Prayer has its own emphasis and can be used at different points during the Church year.


Using Holy Eucharist Rite Two

If you familiarize yourself with Holy Eucharist Rite II you should be able to easily follow a normal service of worship at Christ Church.  So, let's start here.  It would be helpful if you had a Prayer Book handy and turned to page 355.

While the service may look complicated, it actually consists of two parts which are clearly labeled in the Prayer Book.  The first part of the service is the Liturgy of the Word, that part dedicated to the reading of the proclamation of the Word of God (BCP, pp. 355-360).  The second part of the service is the Holy Communion (BCP, pp. 36 1-366).  Prayer Book worship is centered around two major actions, the hearing of God's Word and the gathering at the Lord's Table to receive the Body and Blood of the risen Christ. These two actions constitute the basic substance of Anglican worship.


The Liturgy of the Word

The service begins with an Entrance Hymn.  During this hymn all those who will be leading worship (clergy, choir, lay Eucharistic ministers, lectors, verger, and acolytes) process to the chancel.  There follows an Opening Acclamation (BCP, p. 355).  One of three acclamations is used depending on the season of the Church year.  This acclamation reminds us of why we have gathered together--we have gathered together to praise God.  The Celebrant (the priest presiding at the Eucharist) then says The Collect for Purity (BCP, p. 355).  This collect appeared in the Prayer Book of 1549 and has been used ever since.  This collect reminds us that we can worthily worship God only if God inspires us with his Holy Spirit.  In fact, all genuine worship proceeds from the work of the Spirit.  The word "collect" indicates the fact that this prayer is designed to "collect" the individual prayers of those gathered and to sum them up.  The act of gathering for worship is completed with the Song of Praise (BCP, p. 356).  Usually the Gloria in Excelsis ("glory in the highest") is used here but other hymns can be used as well.  The Gloria is an ancient Christian hymn in praise of the Holy Trinity and comes to us from the early Church.


We pray before we read the Word of God.  This is the significance of the Collect of the Day (BCP, p. 357).  This prayer is offered by the celebrant to "collect" the prayers of the people.  The Prayer Book appoints a different collect for each Sunday of the Church year and these can be found (in chronological order) in The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 211-236.  The Collect of the Day is followed by the reading of God's Word (see BCP, p. 357).  The Scripture readings follow a definite pattern.  There is a reading from the Old Testament (11:15 am and 5:30 pm only), a Psalm (11:15 am and 5:30 pm only), a reading from the New Testament (usually an epistle), and a reading from one of the four Gospels.  The Scripture readings are drawn from the Lectionary, a three year cycle of readings for every Sunday of the Church year.  The Lectionary (divided into years A, B, and C) can be found on BCP, pp. 889-92 1.


Pride of place is given to the reading of the Gospel.  It is read from a gold covered Gospel Book which is carried in at the beginning of the service and out at the end.   There, may be a gospel procession in which one of the clergy walks to the middle of the church, preceded by a crucifer and two torches, and reads the Gospel lesson.  The congregation stands for the reading of the Gospel because of the belief that in the reading of the Gospel we are being addressed by Christ and therefore stand out of respect.  When there is a gospel procession it takes place during the Gradual Hymn.

Following the reading of the Gospel there is a Sermon (BCP, p. 358).  The earliest Christians gathered to hear Scripture read and to be instructed from Scripture.  The purpose of the sermon is to focus the congregation's attention on what has been read and to apply it to the congregation's daily life.


The sermon is followed by The Nicene Creed (BCP, p. 358)(see beliefs).  Having heard the Word of God read and proclaimed, we now affirm the faith of the Church as expressed in one of her most important creeds.   The Nicene Creed was formulated by the Council Nicea in 325 and revised by the Council of Constantinople in 381.   It is an ecumenical creed, a creed used by the whole Church.  In saying the Nicene Creed we are not, however, merely ticking off a series of ideas; the affirmation of the Church's faith is also an act of praise.  The use of the Nicene Creed also reminds us that as Christian we are bound together by a common faith; we are not a collection of individuals who share a common interest but we are bound together by sharing in the common faith of the Church.


The Prayers of the People (BCP, p. 359) are an important part of the service.  Having heard the Word of God read and proclaimed and having affirmed the faith of the Church, we now engage in one of the Church's most important works -- intercessory prayer on behalf of the Church, the world, and ourselves.  A prayer life that never takes us beyond our own needs is inadequate.  The Book of Common Prayer provides six different forms for the Prayers of the People and these can be found on pp. 383-393. T he form being used on any given Sunday will always be indicated in the bulletin.  It is important to really enter into the Prayers of the People and actually pray rather than simply listen to the congregation praying.  This part of the service can serve as a model for our individual prayer lives.  At the conclusion of the Prayers of the People the celebrant will say a Concluding Collect.  This collect is not listed in the bulletin but the collects used can be found on BCP, pp. 394-395.  Once again, the purpose of the collect is to "collect" the prayers of the people and offer them to God.


In order to prepare us to gather at Christ's Table there is a Confession of Sin (BCP, pp. 359-360).  Biblically speaking, sin is our separation from God; sin refers not to breaking God's rules but to our alienation from God that leads us to break our lives and those of others.  Sin precedes sins.  In confession we acknowledge our alienation and ask for forgiveness and restoration.  The absolution (BCP, p. 360) is pronounced by a bishop or priest who, by virtue of ordination, has received the authority to pronounce forgiveness in Christ's name.


The Peace (BCP, p. 360) is not a mere exchange of greetings or a time to say "hello" to those sitting around us.  Sin is our alienation not only from God but also from our fellow human beings.  Having confessed our sins and received absolution, we now offer signs of reconciliation to those around us.  Having been reconciled to God we can now be reconciled to each other.  The Church is a community of reconciliation, a community in which divisions are overcome by the reconciling power of God.


The Holy Communion

The Offertory marks the beginning of the second part of the service, The Holy Communion (BCP, p. 361).  Christian worship is an offering of ourselves to God in praise and thanksgiving.  This is symbolized in the offering of gifts of money to support the Church's ministry and in the presentation of oblations (bread and wine to be used in the Eucharist).  Ultimately what we offer is nothing less that our very selves.  While the offering is being collected the choir sings an offertory anthem.  When the offering and the oblations are actually presented at the altar there is a Presentation Hymn.


The Book of Common Prayer states that Holy Eucharist is "the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's Day" (p. 13).  The word Eucharist comes from the Greek verb meaning "to give thanks".  The verb is used in the context of Luke's account of Jesus' institution of the Eucharist: "Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them" (Luke 22:19).  The Eucharist is the Church's highest act of praise and thanksgiving.


The Eucharistic Prayer begins with a dialogue between the celebrant and the congregation called the Sursum corda, a Latin phrase meaning "lift up your hearts".  (Notice that the Sursum corda introduces all four Eucharistic Prayers, A, B, C, and D).  The Sursum corda makes the central purpose of the Eucharist clear especially when the celebrant says "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God" (BCP, p. 361).  In Eucharistic Prayers A and B the celebrant continues by saying "It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth" (BCP, p. 361) and then a Proper Preface is inserted (BCP, p. 361 and 367).  The Proper Preface is not identified in the worship bulletin and is simply spoken by the celebrant.  The Proper Prefaces can be found on BCP, pp. 377-381.  As the name implies, each Proper Preface is proper or appropriate to a particular season or day in the Church calendar.

In Eucharistic Prayers A and B the Proper Preface is followed by the Sanctus and Benedictus Qui Venit (these are also found in Eucharistic Prayers C and D).  This is the "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might...Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." (See BCP, pp. 362, 367, 371, and 373).  The word Sanctus simply means holy.  This "Holy, holy, holy" is also called the Trisagion or "thrice holy" and comes from Isaiah 6:3.  Here we acknowledge and praise the God who is holy beyond our ability to describe.  Benedictus Qui Venit is simply Latin for "Blessed is the one who comes" and is derived from Psalm 118:26.


The Eucharistic Prayer continues with a recounting of God's saving deeds in history with a recounting of God's act of creation, calling Israel into a covenant relationship, sending prophets, and finally sending Jesus Christ.  All four Eucharistic Prayers make the point that the death and resurrection of Jesus is the climax of God's relationship to his creation and that our salvation is based on this one event. In this sense the Eucharistic Prayers provide us with a capsule statement of the Christian faith. (See BCP, pp. 362, 368, 370, and 373-374).   It should be remembered that the whole of the Eucharistic Liturgy is a prayer -- the celebrant is not talking to the congregation but praying to God on behalf of the congregation. 


All four Eucharistic Prayers explicitly recall the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper:

       Prayer A: "On the night he was handed over to suffering and death..." (BCP, p. 362)

       Prayer B: "On the night before he died for us..." (BCP, p. 368)

       Prayer C: "On the night he was betrayed..." (BCP, p. 371)

       Prayer D: "When the hour had come for him to be glorified by you..." (BCP, p. 374)


This part of the Eucharistic Prayer highlights the connection which Scripture makes between the Last Supper and Jesus' death on Good Friday.  Jesus inaugurates a new Passover, the ultimate and final Passover, because his death on the cross seals God's new and ultimate covenant with humankind.   This is one reason why the Eucharist is so central to Christian worship.  Each time we gather at the Lord's Table we are reminded that is was Jesus's own action of offering himself that created the Church.


All four Eucharistic Prayers also contain a Memorial Acclamation.  This is one of the features of the Eucharist which Anglicanism has drawn from the Orthodox tradition.  In the Memorial Acclamation the congregation shares in the prayer being offered by the celebrant.  In Prayers A, B and C the Memorial Acclamation explicitly gathers together all the dimensions of time in praising God:

       Prayer A: "Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again." (BCP, p. 363)

       Prayer B: "We remember his death. We proclaim his resurrection. We await his coming in glory." (BCP, p. 368).

       Prayer C: "Remembering now his work of redemption, and offering to you this sacrifice of thanksgiving, we                                                celebrate his death and resurrection, as we await the day of his coming." (BCP, p. 371).


The Memorial Acclamation reminds us, among other things, that the Eucharist is not simply a memorial meal, a time to remember what Jesus did in the past.  It is also a time to anticipate what Jesus will do in the future and to celebrate what the risen Christ is doing now.


The Eucharistic Prayer concludes with an epiclesis or an invocation of the Holy Spirit. This is another element borrowed from the Orthodox tradition.  Thomas Cranmer included an epiclesis in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) to emphasize the fact that it is not the priest who consecrates the bread and wine but the Holy Spirit.  The epiclesis gives a Trinitarian shape to the Eucharist in that the Church prays to God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ in the power of


God's Holy Spirit. Each Eucharistic Prayer has its own distinct epiclesis:

       Prayer A: "Sanctify them [the bread and wine] by you Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son..."                          (BCP, p. 363)

       Prayer B: "We pray you, gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the                              Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant." (BCP, p. 369)

       Prayer D: "Lord, we pray that in your goodness and mercy your Holy Spirit may descend upon us, and upon these gifts,                            sanctifying them and showing them to be holy gifts for your holy people..." (BCP, p. 375).

       Prayer C does not have an explicit epiclesis but an implied one: "Accept these prayers and praised, Father, through                                Jesus Christ our great High Priest, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, your Church gives honor, glory, and                          worship, from generation to generation." (BCP, p. 372).  The epiclesis makes an important point: The Eucharist                        is ultimately an act of God, and act in which God the Father makes his Son Jesus Christ present through the                            power of his Holy Spirit.


The Memorial Acclamation is followed by The Lord's Prayer (BCP, p. 364).  It is appropriate that the Eucharistic Prayer conclude with the prayer which Jesus himself taught (Matthew 6:9-13).  In the liturgy of the Western Church, the Lord's Prayer has occupied this place since the sixth century.


The Lord's Prayer is followed by the Fraction (BCP, p. 364).  The celebrant breaks the Eucharistic bread in a gesture which further reminds us of the connection between the Eucharist and the cross.  From Christ's broken body flows life and salvation and this is because his is risen.  After the Fraction the celebrant says "Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us" and the congregation replies "Therefore let us keep the feast".  This comes from I Corinthians 5:7 and makes the point that the Eucharist is the great and final Passover because Christ the great and final Passover lamb.  After the Fraction there is a Fraction Anthem (BCP, p. 364).  The anthem allows the congregation to reflect on what has just happened and also the serves the practical purpose of allowing time for the altar to be prepared for the distribution of the Bread and Wine.


After the congregation has received the Body and Blood of Christ, the service is brought to a close by the Post communion Prayer.  The Prayer Book provides two Post communion Prayers (BCP, pp. 365-366) and both emphasize the fact that we have been fed at Christ's Table so that we can go out to serve him in the world.  We come to the altar not merely to receive consolation but to be strengthened to be God's people in the world.  The second Post communion Prayer is a modernized version of the Post communion Prayer which was included in the 1549 Prayer Book.


A Word of Encouragement

All this may seem a bit complicated and even overwhelming.  The point to be remembered is that worship is a skill, something that, like learning a foreign language, can only be learned through repeated use and practice.  The more you truly engage in the liturgy the easier it will become and you will probably reach the point at which, like speaking your native language, the liturgy will become second nature to you.  That is really the point.  The purpose of the Prayer Book is to move the liturgy from something that is done in Church into the very center of your existence so that you will be able to join with the whole Church in praising God.


The Wednesday evening service is similar to the Sunday service, but a lot less formal.  There are no hymns and instead of a sermon, there is a discussion of the Gospel reading.

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