In Praise of the Sacred

IN PRAISE OF THE SACRED:

A Guide to Sacred Space

Elevation of All Saints' Church

By

Lawrence Holben

ALL SAINTS’ EPISCOPAL CHURCH

1350 Waller Street  San Francisco, CA 94117

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To the Newcomer and Visitor

All that is ultimately required for true Christian worship is “two or three gathered together” (as Jesus put it) sharing bread and wine. Everything else is finally nonessential.

Yet, from a very early time, Christians have understood that our worship is a “foretaste of heaven,” bringing together the best of our lives — all that is excellent, all that is true, all that inspires — and offering it up in thanksgiving to God. In this spirit, we strive as Anglo-Catholics to make our worship at once solemn, beautiful and authentic. If our services at first seem complicated, please remember:

  • Your neighbors in the pew are not watching to see if you “get it right.” All that is ever expected of anyone is reverent attention.
  • If you need help in finding particular portions of the service in the Prayer Book or Hymnal, don’t hesitate to ask the assistance of someone near you.
  • Feel free to participate as much or as little as is comfortable for you. You may find it useful on your first visits simply to listen and prayerfully observe portions of the service rather than struggling to find each prayer or response in the Prayer Book.
  • The Episcopal Church has a policy of “open communion,” which means all baptized Christians are invited to receive communion with us.  At All Saints’, we do not presume to place limits on God’s work in anyone’s life and so welcome all who desire to grow in the love and knowledge of God to join us at the Holy Table.

The Eucharist The Principal Act of Christian Worship

For all catholic Christians (Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican), the principal act of Christian worship is the same: bread and wine are offered and blessed, the bread is broken, and the bread and wine (or sometimes only the bread) are shared.

By this act, we understand ourselves to be recalling and making present in our own time the central truth proclaimed by the Christian faith: that God came to us in Jesus and that Jesus gave his life to reconcile us to God by overcoming evil and death.

While the act of worship is everywhere the same, various names are used for it, the most common being:

  • Holy Eucharist. An anglicized form of a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving,” “Eucharist” has been used since very early in the church’s history to indicate that Christian worship is an act of thanksgiving for the spiritual realities remembered in the breaking of bread. This is the name used in the Prayer Book.
  • Holy Communion. THe term points to what happens in partaking of the consecrated bread and wine -we are brought into union with God through Jesus whose sacrifice we remember.
  • Mass. A nickname for the Eucharistic liturgy that developed in the Western church from the Latin words of dismissal at the end of that liturgy, “Mass” is often employed by to express our commonality of sacramental perspective with the Roman Church in which that term is the universal usage.

Liturgical Worship

Our worship is liturgical: that is, it is a conversation between the priest and the congregation. Both parts of this dialogue are equally important. Indeed, “liturgy” literally means “the work of the people.” Even in those sections of the service in which the priest prays alone, he or she does so on behalf of the whole people of God gathered around the altar.

Liturgical worship is also fIxed, using written texts for prayer and praise. In the liturgy, the general structure and certain key sections are always the same, while other sections are variable and depend upon the liturgical calendar or congregational preference.

A Two Part Liturgy

The Eucharistic liturgy is divided into two basic parts:

The first section -which is based upon and very similar to a Jewish synagogue service -is the Liturgy of the Word (titled “THE WORD OF GOD” in our service bulletin). It includes readings from Scripture, prayers, and a sermon;

The second section -which catholic Christians see as a symbolic replacement for the temple sacrifIces of the ancient Jewish community -is the Liturgy of the Eucharist proper (“THE HOLY COMMUNION”), the offering, consecrating, and partaking of the bread and wine.

Printed Resources for Worship

Three documents will assist your participation in the liturgy:

The Prayer Book. The words (“rites”) and some, but not all, of the actions (“ceremonials”) of the liturgy are contained in The Book of Common Prayer -”common” meaning “used by all together.” The Prayer Book provides several different forms for the Eucharistic Liturgy, all with the same basic structure but each distinctive in language and tone. At All Saints’, we customarily use Rite II (beginning on pg. 355) for Solemn Mass on Sundays.

The Hymnal. Hymns and congregational service music are contained in The Hymnal. Service music is grouped at tile front of this book with separate numeration preceded by an “S.”

The service bulletin. The service bulletin is a guide to those parts of the service which change from week to week. It does not list everything that happens in the liturgy in detail, but rather gives a “road map” through the service by indicating its general movement and listing points of congregational participation and where these can be found in Prayer Book or Hymnal.

The bulletin also often includes musical settings for certain acclamations or the psalm refrain. An insert is usually provided, as well, giving the text of the day’s scripture readings and collect.

Sacred Space

If you are not familiar with liturgical worship, some things about the space and the objects we utilize in our worship may require explanation.

The Sanctuary. The raised’ area at the front of the church, where the altar is located, is called the “sanctuary” -literally, the “holy place.” In Biblical usage, “holy” means “set apart” and this space is set apart for the central acts of our worship.

The Altar or Holy Table. Since the Eucharistic liturgy is a ritual meal, it is celebrated at a table. Since what is remembered and made present in that liturgy is the sacrifice ofJesus on the cross, that table is also called the altar.

The Tabernacle. Behind the altar, in the center of a shelf on the back wall, is the tabernacle, a kind of safe in which is kept consecrated bread (the “Reserved Sacrament”), which we affirm to be the Body of Christ. The word “tabernacle” literally means “tent,” referring back to the Old Testament “Tent of Meeting,” the holy place of the Jews in their desert wanderings. A vigil light suspended from the ceiling to the left of the tabernacle symbolizes the presence of Christ in the Reserved Sacrament.

The Pulpit/Lectern. At All Saints’, the lectern serves both for the reading of Scripture and (upon occasion) for preaching. Following ancient practice, the Gospel is read from the center of the church, in the midst of the people.

The Font. At the back of the church, you will note the marble baptismal font in the center of the main aisle. Its placement is deliberate: as we sacramentally began our new life in Christ through baptism, so now, each time we physically enter the Church, we pass “through” the symbol of that baptism. Except on Good Friday and certain other special occasions, a small pool of holy water is maintained in the font. Many, upon entering the church, find it meaningful to dip their fingers in the water and sign themselves with the cross as a reminder and symbolic renewal of their baptismal promises.

Windows and Icons. The images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, and various saints placed throughout the church are more than decoration. They remind us that, in our worship, we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses,” all the redeemed, whom we will one day join in the Eternal Reign of God. They also provide focus for individual prayer.

Holy Water. Holy water is water set aside for a sacred use through the blessing of a priest. It is a symbol of the spiritual washing away of sin and the nurturing and refreshing of our spiritual life. It is used for baptism, individual blessing upon entering the church, blessing of objects and the ceremonial of “asperges” at the beginning of a Solemn Mass.

Incense. The use of incense in worship can be traced to the Old Testament, where it figured largely in the daily offerings at both the Tent of Meeting and, later, the Jerusalem temple. It is a twofold symbol, signifying both our prayers rising to heaven and the blessing of God pouring out over us.

Candles. The first Christians met at night in private homes, underground catacombs and caves. As a result, oil lamps were necessary. As Christian worship was legalized and moved to daylight hours, the use of lamps (and, later, candles) remained, transformed from a practical purpose to a symbolic one: as Christ is the Light of the World, candles symbolize Christ’s presence. They are also symbols of our continuing prayer, especially when placed before an image of Christ, the Virgin, or one of the saints.

Flowers. Except in penitential seasons when the austerity of the sanctuary reflects the seasonal themes of introspection, repentance and spiritual pilgrimage, flowers behind the altar are a reminder of God’s lavish gifts in the beauty of nature. They also offer members of the congregation opportunity to remember and give thanks for anniversaries and birthdays, the lives of departed family members and friends or other special events.

The “Body Language” of Worship

Because we are physical beings, what we do with our bodies “speaks” along with our words. Anglo-Catholics acknowledge this fact by incorporating various physical acts into the fabric of worship.

Standing, Sitting and Kneeling. The rule once was: we stand for praise, sit for instruction and kneel for prayer. This is still a useful guide, although it is not absolutely observed.

The oldest Christian posture for worship is standing. Kneeling in church was a medieval innovation; pews (and sitting) were not introduced until the Reformation, when Protestants turned the focus of their services to lengthy sermons.

At All Saints’ we retain the medieval custom of kneeling for the heart of the Eucharistic liturgy, for confession and for blessings.

Bowing. In Anglican usage, a simple bow or lowering of the head is a sign of respect. Anglo-Catholics normally bow:

  • when the name ofJesus is spoken -in honor of the Redeemer, remembering that among the ancient Jews, the Holy Name of God was considered too sacred even to pass human lips
  • in the Creed, at the affirmation of the incarnation and in reverence of the Holy Spirit, in celebration of God’s solidarity with humanity
  • when the cross passes in procession – in respect for the symbol of Christ’s gift of his life for us
  • when making certain acclamations and when receiving a blessing – as a sign of grateful humility

Genuflection. This action, a momentary kneeling on the right knee, probably originated as a sign of respect for a civil or ecclesiastical dignitary. It is now customary to genuflect when entering or leaving a pew in church out of reverence for the Reserved Sacrament kept in the tabernacle behind the altar, although some prefer to use a bow in this instance and either action is equally appropriate.

Kissing. At several points in the liturgy, the priest and/or other ministers kiss a sacred object -the altar, the Gospel book -as a symbol of reverence.

The Sign of the Cross. The sign of the cross (touching the forehead, breast, and then each shoulder) has been used by Christians as a form of blessing since the early centuries of the Common Era. Since Christians are “sealed” with the sign of Christ’s cross at their baptism, the sign of the cross is also seen as recalling that baptism and its promises.

Individual use of the sign of the cross varies in the Anglican tradition and there is no “right” or “wrong” use. Customarily, most Episcopalians sign themselves with the cross:

  • upon first kneeling for prayer before the start of worship;
  • • at the end of the G!oria in Exce!sis and the Creed;
  • • at the Absolution following the Confession of Sin;
  • • at the final blessing.

Anglo-Catholics use the sign of the cross at a number of other points in the liturgy as well, generally as a symbol of receiving God’s blessing or confirming an affirmation or acclamation. If you are new to liturgical worship, do not feel obliged to cross yourself every time those around you do so. Consider the significance of the act and use it as little or as much as has meaning for you.

A particular, modified use of the sign of the cross occurs at the announcement of the Gospel: we use our right thumb to trace a small cross on our forehead, lips and heart as a symbolic prayer that the truth to be read will touch the mind and heart and be reflected in what we say.

Chant and Intonation

Anglo-Catholic worship has long been marked by its use of a sung service which includes both intonation (singing a phrase on a single note, sometimes with a small variation called a “cadence” at the end) and chant. In the ancient world, both religion and theater used singing or intonation to denote higher levels of feeling or signifIcance for which mere speech was thought inadequate. Jewish worship (in temple, synagogue and home) used chant and other musical forms. As is the case with many other elements in our worship, Anglo-Catholics use intonation and chant both because of the beauty and dignity they bring and because of their place in Christian tradition.

Vestments & Furnishings

The unique apparel (”vestments”) worn by the priest and others at the altar serves several purposes: possible distractions of personal taste are eliminated; those vested are set apart and to some extent made “impersonal” (since they represent all of us, not just themselves); and the dignity and significance of worship are underscored.

The vestments also remind us of our roots, since they are modifIed forms of ordinary clothing worn in the fourth century Roman Empire -the period at which the church was moving from the legal status of an underground sect to that of a recognized religion.

The colors of the vestments (and of the “furnishings” -cloth hangings on the altar and lectern) are determined by the season of the church year:

Blue. Blue is used in Advent as a sign of expectation, both of the birth of Christ and of his coming again in glory.

White or Gold. Reflecting the dazzling array of the heavenly hosts as described in scripture and symbolizing purity and joy, white and/or gold are reserved for the church’s most glorious feast days: Christmas, Easter and the commemoration of saints who were not martyr

Red. A twofold symbol, red recalls the “tongues of fire” that descended on the followers of Jesus fifty days after his resurrection (when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church) and so is used for the Pentecost feast and season which celebrate that event. It also represents blood, and thus is used for the Holy Week commemoration of Christ’s passion and for the feast days of saints who were martyrs for the faith.

Green. A color associated with life and the good gifts of creation, green is used in “ordinary time,” the periods between the two great fast and festival cycles of Advent to Epiphany and Lent to Pentecost. In ordinary time, the church focuses on our daily call to grow in love, faith and service.

Black. The symbol of mourning, black was traditionally used for a requiem (funeral mass). More often today, white or gold is used, as a reminder of the Christian hope of resurrection to share in the eternal reign of Christ.

Unbleached Muslin. Lacking any dye, the natural off-white of muslin is used for the forty days of Lent, in symbol of the “sackcloth” traditional to penitence. Trimmings of red and black suggest the passion and death of Christ toward which Lent looks.

[NOTE: This document is undated.  This version complied 27 Nov 2010.]