Why Do We Do That?
A Brief Explanation of the Sunday Liturgy at St. Timothy's Church
One of the first things people notice about St. Timothy's is the way we worship, and that observation often prompts the inquiry, "Why do you do that?" This article answers some of those initial, important questions and helps you understand the meaning behind the things we say and do.
It is important to know that we do not 'begin' or 'end' worship on Sunday mornings, or at any other time. We simply join in with the worship of God that is going on all around us, all the time. Creation itself worships God in voice and song (Psalm 148). The angels and archangels also worship God continually. So when we 'begin' our worship service we are really just entering into that which is already taking place and adding our voices.
Ancient & Future
The first thing to note about St. Timothy's worship is that the liturgy (our order and expression of worship) is ancient and future. In the Old Testament, the people of God gathered three times a year to commemorate their redemption from Egypt and to celebrate God's goodness in creation (Lev. 23). At these sacred times, the Israelites moved through a somewhat regular pattern of worship. (Exo. 19-24; Lev. 1-9; Josh. 8:30-35; 2 Chr. 5-7; 29-31)
First, was a call to assemble. Second, there was a form of purification, usually a sin offering. Third, they often heard of God's mighty saving deeds recounted or listened to instruction from God's law. Fourth, they demonstrated their devotion to God through burnt and grain offerings. Fifth, they communed with God through the fellowship offerings. Last, blessing was pronounced over them.
Following Jesus' resurrection and ascension, the first Christians insisted that Jesus' death was the final sin offering (Heb. 7:26-8:2), leaving no room for the sacrificial system of the Old Testament. Rather, they gathered on Sundays to celebrate Jesus' victory over sin and death. At the same time, the early church recognized that the worship of the ancient Israelites followed the pattern and movement of worship in heaven (Exo. 25:40; Heb. 8:5; 12:22-24; Rev. 4:1-5:14). Thus, early Christian worship on the Lord's Day included assembling together, confessing of sin, hearing the Word of God, praying, offering gifts to the Lord, and communing with Christ in the Lord's Supper (Eucharist or Communion).
Within a few centuries, the early Christians began to commemorate certain days on which God's great saving acts in Jesus had occurred. Special worship services developed for these holy days (holidays) like Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. As the Christian calendar developed, the holy days and times were grouped into two cycles each year: the Season of Light and the Season of Life. The Season of Light begins in the darkest time of the year with Advent, a period of solemn preparation before celebrating the birth of Jesus on Christmas. The Season of Light continues for twelve days after Christmas until Epiphany (the day of the wise men) when we commemorate the leaders of the nations coming to worship Jesus and the light of the Gospel breaking into the world.
The Season of Life begins in the deadest time of the year with Lent, a forty day period of solemn preparation before celebrating the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. The Season of Life continues for fifty days after Easter until Pentecost, when we commemorate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the new life of the Gospel advancing into the world. Thus, both of these seasons begin with a time of solemn reflection, move into a commemoration of God's rescue of the world through Jesus and climax with a celebration of God's salvation going out into the world.
The calendar and liturgy at St. Timothy's is therefore both ancient and future: grounded in the worship of Scripture; patterned after the worship of the early church; joined to the worship of heaven; and anticipating the worship of the new creation at Christ's glorious return.
Ritual & Ceremony
Liturgy literally means "the work of the people," and this partly explains why the whole congregation participates in various aspects of the service, both by word and action, by ritual and ceremony. When important events occur in life, we commemorate it with ritual and ceremony. For example, we celebrate birthdays with cakes, candles, singing and presents. Almost all special events involve a meal together, whether the rehearsal dinner of a wedding or a meal following a funeral. Sometimes people question liturgy because it may seem inauthentic. But this is not the case for many Christian believers. Liturgy enriches worship by involving the whole person: seeing the lighted candles and uplifted cross; confessing our sins and our faith; hearing God's Word; standing in worship; lifting our hands in praise and need; kneeling in prayer; embracing at the peace; tasting the bread and wine.
Since biblical worship is liturgical, involving ritual and ceremony, and since God's people are a kingdom of priests, the restored temple (Exo. 4:22-23; 19:3-6; Eph. 2:19-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-10; Rev. 1:4-6; 5:10) it is right that we should worship through word and action. This is the priestly service of all God's people with all of mind, body and soul.
Word & Sacrament
At St. Timothy's we use The Book of Common Prayer (1962), (BCP) as our liturgical guide. We commonly celebrate two different services. The first is 'Morning Prayer' or 'Matins'. Historically in the church this service (along with evening prayer) would be celebrated every day. It is a solemn service of confession, proclamation and prayer.
On Most Sundays we celebrate what the BCP calls, 'The Lord's Supper' or 'Holy Communion'. This service is also commonly referred to as 'The Eucharist', a Greek word meaning 'thanksgiving'.' In the service we give thanks to God for his saving work through Jesus by the Spirit. The liturgy comprises two parts: 'Word and Sacrament'. The 'Word' of God is proclaimed through reading and the sermon, and the 'Sacrament' is celebrated through the Eucharist. Most people are familiar with sermons from the Bible, but for some folks, a 'sacrament' is a new notion. In short, the sacraments of baptism and communion are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as the means by which we receive his grace. Through the bread and the wine and by the Spirit, our faith, hope and love are empowered. With this in mind, let's take a closer look at the two parts of The Holy Eucharist to answer further the question, "Why Do We Do That?"
It is important to note that the words of the liturgy are drawn from scripture; with well over 80% taken straight from the Bible. You will also notice the language and even the grammar and sentence structure are unusual to our modern ear. Use of words like 'thee', 'thy' and 'beseech' are not common today, so why do we retain them? At the time the original Book of Common Prayer was written in the mid 16th century people did not speak exactly like this either, this was far too formal and lofty. The language served to remind us of the holiness of worship. This is not an ordinary event, like conversing with your neighbour or someone at the store. It draws our ears' attention to the idea that we are giving our praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God. This idea holds true today. Maintaining this more ancient and formal language also serves to remind us that we are a part of a much larger and very ancient church. Not just a single church in North Vancouver who opened its doors a few years ago but a global church whose roots date back not just to the 16th century but to the second and third century.
This Trinitarian greeting is taken from 2 Corinthians 13:14. The church throughout the centuries has used this greeting to welcome the people to begin worship.
Before the liturgy proper begins, the various ministers of the service may process in while the congregation sings a hymn. The procession enacts the spiritual reality that in our worship we join the exodus of angels and saints into God's temple. The church on earth together with the church in heaven enters God's presence. This exodus explains why the cross leads the procession. Only by the cross of Jesus may we leave the world behind and enter God's holy dwelling. Acolytes, who are often children assisting in the service, may carry torches behind the cross to light our way to Mount Zion above. To further picture the heavenly reality of our worship, the various ministers wear white robes (called albs), representing the radiant garments of the heavenly congregation and reminding us that only those made righteous by faith in Jesus may stand before the throne. The clergy wear collars symbolizing their roles as servants of Christ and his people, and they wear stoles (a coloured piece of fabric draped around the neck for priests and shoulder for deacons) symbolizing the season of the church year.
At this point in St. Timothy's history we do not do a full procession except at major celebrations.
Worship in Song
The most common definition of worship found in scripture means "to draw near to kiss". Worship and glory of our God is meant to be intimate and holy. We worship Jesus Christ in several different ways throughout the service including prayer, quiet reflection, celebration of the sacrament, and the reading of scripture. Perhaps the most obvious way we worship God is through singing. We lift up our voices to God and join with the heavenly chorus giving God glory, honour and praise due to his name. In keeping with our 'ancient-future' style we sing a wide variety of songs ranging from ancient hymns written by people like St. Francis of Assisi and Charles Wesley to more modern hymns written by people like Stuart Townend and Matt Redman. Worshipping together through song is also something people find deeply personal. Therefore we believe it is important to give people a variety of ways to enter into this type of Worship.
Collect for Purity
The service continues with what has come to be known as 'The Collect for Purity'. A Collect (pronounced cahlect) is a prayer used to 'collect together' the thoughts and prayers of the community gathered. All Collects follow a common pattern:
Address: "Almighty God"
Acknowledgement: "unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known"
Petition: "cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit"
Aspiration or purpose clause: "that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name"
Pleading: "through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen".
Opening Proclamation and Acclamation
The leader of the service, usually a priest, begins the liturgy with a proclamation of 'God's law' (either the Ten Commandments or the Summary of the Law spoken by Jesus). This is followed by an acclamation of praise to which the congregation responds. In this brief verse and response is the heart of worship: blessing God for who he is and what he does.
Collect of the Day
The Collect of the Day is a brief prayer that emphasizes the theme for that season of the church year.
At this point in the liturgy, we are seated and placed under the authority of God's word. God speaks to us through Scripture, and we are bound to obey gratefully.
The first lesson is usually taken from either the Old Testament or from the New Testament Epistles.
The other lesson each Sunday is usually from the Gospels. Traditionally in the church the deacon would read the Gospel lesson from the midst of the congregation to symbolize the incarnation of Jesus: the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us. When the Gospel reading is announced, some members of the church make a three-fold sign of the cross on their forehead, chest and mouth to remind them that the word of Christ must be on their minds, lips and hearts. Also at the reading of the Gospel the congregation stands, symbolizing the uniqueness and importance of the Gospel message.
While many Anglican Churches still follow a set lectionary (a three year cycle of reading designed to ensure as much of the Bible is read in church as possible), at St. Timothy's we have decided to break from this tradition so we can preach a sermon series taking us through whole books of the Bible in the course of a few weeks.
The Celebrant may then pronounce the Lord's peace to the people, and they respond to him in peace. The Peace is not merely a chance to say hello to friends we have not seen in a week. The liturgy reminds us that to come to the Table, we must be in right fellowship with others. What we enact in the peace, assumes a reality in our lives: that nothing divides us from others in the church as we come to receive the body of Christ. The Peace also serves to remind us that we are forgiven sinners seeking peace with God who forgives us. (The Peace may take place after the first lesson or later in the service just after the consecration of the bread and wine).
After hearing God's Word, we stand and profess the faith of our baptism and of the church in the words of the Nicene Creed. The Creed dates from the 4th century AD when bishops and theologians gathered in council at the cities of Nicaea and Constantinople to address various heresies. The Nicene Creed is affirmed by all Christians as a summary of the Trinitarian faith. In confessing it, we affirm the faith and profess in the heavenly realms that there is no God but ours. Often people ask why we use the word 'catholic' in the creed. 'Catholic' does not mean we are part of the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, 'catholic' means we are part of the one 'universal' church, the body of Christ's baptized and faithful people throughout space and time.
Following the reading of Scripture, and the affirmation of our faith, God's Word is proclaimed by a priest or some other person authorized to preach. Limiting the preaching role to certain people helps to safeguard the church from false teaching. The sermon is first of all a proclamation of God's word revealed to us in Jesus Christ and secondly an exhortation or application of the Scriptures to the church and to people's lives. Therefore, the sermon prepares us for Communion: thankful for God's work and trusting his grace for obedience. At St. Timothy's we take the preaching of God's word seriously and believe that effective proclamation in the power of the Holy Spirit is what transforms people's lives, builds the church and keeps it pure and strong
The Holy Communion
The second part of the liturgy begins with the collection of our tithes and offerings to the Lord. This flows with the overall movement of the Holy Communion liturgy, in which we give thanks to God for his goodness to us. The offertory is the gift of our first fruits back to the Giver of all things. It is also an acknowledgement that all we have comes from God, we are dependent on Him for everything and even that which we now give to God was a gift from Him to us in the first place.
The Prayers of the People
We are then invited to sit or kneel for prayer, and the congregation joins the petitions verbally or silently. As a kingdom of priests, we intercede for the church, the world, and for those in need. The Book of Common Prayer offers a number of different sets of prayers. The person leading the prayers is also welcome to make use of prayers written in other authorized prayer books from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.
Confession and Absolution of Sin
As a congregation we then humble ourselves before God and confess our sins to God together seeking forgiveness of the same. We do this corporately because sin is a corporate thing. When we sin we affect the whole body not just ourselves. We believe that if we confess and repent of our sin with true faith, God will forgive us our sins and grant us pardon through Jesus Christ. After the congregation has confessed their sins, the Celebrant then pronounces 'absolution'; that is, declares what God has done for us. This often raises questions, "Is it the priest who is forgiving me my sin?" No, God and God alone, forgives you of your sins. Only God has this authority. The Minister is simply proclaiming to you the reality of what God has just done in His grace and mercy.
Thanksgiving and Consecration
Now we come to the communion prayer, which contains several parts. First, the Celebrant (a priest or the bishop when he visits) begins with an antiphonal (or responsive) greeting called, 'The Sursum Corda', (lift up your hearts). Here the celebrant seeks permission from the congregation to move to the LORD's Table to consecrate the communion on their behalf. It also serves to acknowledge the mystery of the real presence of God among us. Second, the Celebrant offers the Preface to the communion prayer, which either expresses the theme of the church year or praises the Trinity. The Preface flows into singing two Biblical hymns as one song. The first hymn, the Sanctus (Latin for 'holy'), is the song of the angelic beings in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. The second hymn, the Benedictus (Latin for 'blessed'), is the song of Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. When we sing these Scriptural songs, we join the choirs of heaven praising God before his throne, and we entreat the Lord Jesus to join us by the Holy Spirit. Even more, we cry out for Jesus to return in power and glory for the great wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19).
After the song, the congregation stands, sits or kneels, and the Celebrant offers to the Father the Prayer of Consecration. This Prayer proclaims the gospel, recalls Jesus' words of institution at the Passover and invites the Holy Spirit to consecrate the bread and wine as the spiritual body and blood of Jesus and to consecrate us to receive properly. Throughout the prayer, the Celebrant lifts his hands, as an ancient biblical posture for prayer, and lifts the elements for all to see, offering them to God, dramatizing what Jesus did on His last night. The Eucharist is a 'means of Grace', and opportunity for everyone to engage with and meet with Christ who is present in the elements and at the Lord's Table through the real, manifest presence of His Holy Spirit. By this prayer of consecration of the elements, the bread and wine 'become for us' the body and blood of Christ when we receive them by faith.
At St. Timothy's we conclude the prayer of Consecration together as the body of Christ because it is a corporate prayer, "Wherefore, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, we thy humble servants...".
Prayer of Humble Access
The prayer of 'Humble Access' is a corporate prayer reminding us that it is by God's grace and favour that we can approach the Lord's Table and partake in the Eucharist. It is not our righteousness which makes us worthy to receive, but God's righteousness working in us.
Then the Celebrant invites the people to receive. As Christ was broken on the cross for our sins, so by the bread our union with him is assured and strengthened. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. As Christ's blood was poured out on the cross, the wine assures us that our sins are forgiven, that his grace is sufficient, and that one day we will drink the fruits of the new creation.
Some members of the church will make the sign of the cross before and after receiving communion to remind them that only through Jesus may we have intimacy with God and that their lives are committed to the way of the cross. Of course, communion is a time of celebration. As Jesus feeds us with grace by the Spirit, so the choir leads in singing God's praise again. Once everyone has communed with the Lord, the Celebrant and congregation offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the Lord's Supper and ask God to empower us to live lives worthy of him in the world.
As we draw our service to a close we sing a final song of glory to the Triune God. It is an ancient hymn called 'Gloria in Excelsis' or simply the Gloria. We then sing our 'Sending Hymn' together as we prepare to go back out into the world, as Jesus sent his first disciples, to proclaim the kingdom of God and to live out the Great Commission.
Benediction & Dismissal
Then the priest pronounces the Triune God's blessing over his beloved people. Many in the congregation make the sign of the cross as they receive the benediction. As the liturgy concludes, we are sent out into the world on Christ's mission by the power of the Spirit. The deacon (or minister if there is no deacon) dismisses us with thanksgiving, a fitting end to The Holy Eucharist. The ministers of the service then process out, symbolizing our return journey into the world on Christ's behalf.
Ministry of Prayer
After the dismissal our prayer teams are available to pray with and for people. At St. Timothy's we believe that God hears our prayers and that when two or three agree together in faith God will grant them their request as is best for them. We believe that God heals today as he did 2000 years ago: he sets people free from bondage, from demons, from mental and emotional pain just as he has always done for he is a good and loving Father. So we have prayer teams to meet with you and lay hands on you, to pray for whatever needs you may have.
Another way to look at the flow of the liturgy:
Our liturgy follows the pattern of Jesus life and ministry as seen in the Gospels.
- Jesus gathered his disciples together
- Jesus taught them about the word and the kingdom (through signs, parables and sermons)
- Showed them and had them pray (intercession)
- Led them to confession
- Celebrated Last Supper
- Gave final instructions, (after resurrection)
- His Ascent (marked by the Gloria)
- Disciples dismissed into the world.
If you have further questions about the liturgy at St. Timothy's Church or the Church Year, feel free to contact Rev'd Ken Bell. You may also find Sue Careless' books, Discovering the Book of Common Prayer- Vol. 1 & 2 helpful, and Robert Webber's book, Ancient Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Church Year, is an excellent resource for exploring the seasons of the church calendar.
Beseech: means to ask with a plea. It is stronger than 'ask' but with more dignity than beg or plead.
Manifold sins: simply means many and varied
Heartily: means sincerely and earnestly
Alms & Oblations: means gifts and sacrificial offerings
Meet: means very fitting or proper
Laud: means worship
Oblation: means self-offering or self-sacrifice
Remission: means forgiveness
Property: very essence, or proof of substance