You may have questions about our Episcopal worship service.
Q. Why does the Church use assigned readings from the Bible for each Sunday and holy day in the church year?
A. So that most of the Bible can be covered in a three-year period. The use of a lectionary keeps us from harping on favorite passages over and over and helps us to discover and re-discover the gems of the whole Bible.
Q. Why does the Episcopal Church have communion every Sunday?
A. Because this is what the early Church did. In the New Testament, Christians met together every Lord's Day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to be nourished on his body and blood. The Church celebrated the Holy Eucharist (Communion) every Sunday for centuries. It was not until long after the Protestant Reformation that some Christians decided that it was not necessary to do so.
Q. Why does the congregation pray out of a book?
A. For the same reason most Christians sing out of a book--so we can sing and pray together. The Eucharistic prayer and the other great prayers of the church are the congregation's prayers too, and the congregation should share in them.
Q. Why do many of the people bow or genuflect (kneel briefly on one knee) upon entering or leaving their pew?
A. There are two reasons.
(1) The altar is the place on which Jesus comes to us in the elements of consecrated bread and wine. The altar is therefore a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross just as the American flag is a symbol of our country and those who sacrificed their lives to keep our country free. Just as we salute the flag by placing our hands over our hearts, we also "salute" the altar by bowing our heads toward it.
(2) Many churches reserve the sacrament (the consecrated bread and wine) on or near the altar so that it may be taken to those who are ill or who for other weighty reason were not able to attend the Eucharist. When the sacrament is reserved, out of reverence for the real presence of Christ, it is customary to bow deeply or genuflect (kneel briefly on one knee) as a symbol of respect for our Lord's presence.
Q. Why do many people in the congregation kneel in prayer upon entering their pew?
A. To prepare themselves for worship. They pray for themselves that they might worship our Lord in spirit and in truth; they pray for the congregation; they pray for the priest and other ministers who will be leading the worship; and they pray for any other matter may be weighing on their mind.
Q. Why does the congregation remain quiet before the worship begins?
A. There are two reasons.
(1) They remain quiet out of reverence for the house of God and the Lord's presence upon the altar. "The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him." (Habakkuk 2:20)
(2) They remain silent so as not to disturb others who may be praying around them.
Q. Why is there so much getting up and down during the services?
A. The Episcopal Church is well known for its physical as well as its oral worship of God. Generally speaking, we kneel or stand to pray, stand for hymns, the creed, and the reading of the Gospel, and sit for instruction. We believe our physical attitude can influence our mental and emotional attitudes so that we may worship more easily.
Q. Why does the congregation say "amen" at the end of prayers?
A. The word "amen" literally means "so be it" or more casually, "Yes, I agree with that, and I offer that as my prayer too." When we answer "amen" at the end of prayers, we are simply saying that the prayer was our prayer as well as the prayer of the one who uttered it.
Q. Why do members of the congregation bow their heads at the name of Jesus in the creeds?
A. As a sign of respect for our Lord. This sign goes back to the New Testament itself. St. Paul wrote to the church at Philipi, "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow." (Philipians 2:10)
Q. Why does the congregation stand for the reading of the Gospel?
A. The Gospel is composed primarily of the words of Jesus himself. Out of respect for our Lord and the good news he brought us, we stand.
Q. Why do many in the congregation cross themselves at various places in the service?
A. The sign of the cross was originally used as a mark of identification as Christians. It was probably first used at baptism on the foreheads of those being baptized to mark them as "Christ's own forever" (Book of Common Prayer, "Holy Baptism," p. 308). It still has that significance today, and in the baptismal service the Prayer Book directs the baptizer to mark the baptized one with the sign of the cross. However, over the centuries other meanings have been attached to the sign. (1) It may be a silent prayer. (2) It may mean that the Christian acknowledges receipt of the sacrament or of a blessing of some sort. (3) It may be an acknowledgement of the Holy Trinity. (4) It may be used as a reminder of the Christian's baptism, thereby reminding the person that he/she is indeed a Christian and must behave in a Christian manner. The sign may have other uses as well; but however it is used, it is important that it be used in a reverent and prayerful manner
Q. Why is the cross carried at the head of many processions?
"Lift high the cross
The love of Christ proclaim
Till all the world adore
His sacred name." (Hymn 473)
Q. Why do many in the congregation bow as the cross passes them in procession?
A. Just as the altar is a symbol of our Lord's sacrifice, so is the cross. If we are Christians, we may "salute" the cross as Americans would "salute" our national flag when it passes by.
Q. Why do the choir, clergy, and other ministers wear vestments (special robes) during the service?
A. To answer in the words of Brother Thomas Bushnell, BSG:
To add to the beauty and festivity of the services, and to signify their special ministries, the clergy and other ministers wear vestments. Choir vestments usually consist of an undergown called a cassock (usually black) and a white, gathered overgown called a surplice. The clergy may also wear cassock and surplice.
Another familiar vestment is the alb, a white tunic with sleeves that covers the body from neck to ankles. Over it (or over the surplice) ordained ministers wear a stole, a narrow band of colored fabric. Deacons wear the stole over one shoulder, priests and bishops over both shoulders.
At the Holy Eucharist a bishop or priest frequently wears a chasuble (a circular garment that envelopes the body) over the alb and stole. The deacon's corresponding vestment has sleeves and is called a dalmatic. Bishops sometimes wear a special headcovering called a mitre.
Stoles, chasubles, and dalmatics, as well as altar coverings, are usually made of rich fabrics. Their color changes with the seasons and holy days of the Church Year. The most frequently used colors are white, red, violet, and green.
--Brother Thomas Bushnell, BSG http://www.mit.edu/~tb/anglican/intro/ec-worship.html
Q. Why does the Church celebrate the various holy days of the Church?
A. In recognition of the important events in the life of our Lord, his saints, and his church. We recognize the coming of Christ in Advent, Christ's birth in Christmas, Christ's manifestation to the gentiles in Epiphany, our repentance and Christ's suffering and death in Lent, Christ's resurrection in Easter, Christ's ascension into heaven at Ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost, and the spreading of Christ's kingdom in the time after Pentecost. In addition we recognize individual outstanding Christians of the past and hold them up as examples on the various saints' days of the church calendar. In celebrating these days we get to symbolically walk with Christ during his life and ministry and with the saints of yore in their journey toward Christ and his heavenly kingdom.
Q. Why does the Church use different colors to highlight the various seasons of the church year?
A. As symbols of what we are celebrating on any given season or day. Purple or Blue is used in Advent to symbolize the coming of royalty--the King of kings. Purple is used in Lent to symbolize repentance. Red is used to symbolize fire on Pentecost and blood on feasts of the martyrs. White is used to symbolize purity on any feast related directly to our Lord. These colors remind us visually of what we are celebrating spiritually.
Q. Why does the congregation say the creed during the service?
A. It is important that we re-affirm our faith in whom we believe. The creeds confirm our faith in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Q. Why does the Church use candles on or around the altar?
A. Originally lights were used for utilitarian purposes: to see by. Gradually they came to symbolize Christ as the light of the world, to symbolize the prayers of Christ's people, and to add to the beauty and dignity of our worship.
Q. Why do Episcopalians have so much symbolism in the church buildings?
A. Symbolism is a part of all of our lives whether we recognize it or not. The American flag is symbolic of our country and our patriotism, a photograph of a loved one in our home is symbolic of the real presence of our loved one, and a school song is symbolic of our alma mater. Symbols help us to recognize the truth behind those symbols and keep us in touch with the significance of those symbols.
Q. Why is the altar rather than the pulpit the center of focus in the church?
A. The Episcopal Church is a sacramental church. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the principal act of worship on the Lord's day. The altar is symbolic of our Lord's presence in the Holy Eucharist. What could be a better symbol of focus than a table around which we gather to commune with our Lord and with each other.
Q. What is the history of the Episcopal Church?
A. We have another page with frequently-asked questions about the Episcopal Church's history, structure and beliefs. If you are interested in the history of All Saints', we recommend this page.