Ready for Worship

The most characteristic activity of a typical parish church is worship. A whole cadre of people swing into action: the altar guild, the flower guild, the chalice bearers, the ushers, the lay readers, the ushers, the coffee hour hosts, and more, down to those who count the offering and those who lock up the place when the service is done. All are devoted to making the sanctuary beautiful and comfortable, and seeing that everyone present is welcome. Their devotion is an end in itself, never to be discounted, but they would be the first to say something greater goes on; something greater than the sum of all their parts.

What is that something else? It is the worship of God, named in the first sentence above. —or is it? Is there not a still greater Something not yet mentioned? Thanks be to God, there is. It is His own self-offering. That is literally the substance of the Eucharist: the body and blood of Jesus Christ, given for you and for all of us. This is clearest in churches that celebrate the Eucharist, the Mass, at every worship service, but the truth is there in those where prayers and preaching are the “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace,” as the Book of Common Prayer defines Sacrament.

Continue reading “Ready for Worship”

Liturgical Moments

Every church member has more and less satisfactory experiences in worship. I complained to my friend Ken about disappointing services in my home parish, so he challenged me to describe what I would consider ideal. My Episcopal parish celebrates the Mass every Sunday, so the question evokes a liturgical imagination different from what we find where the sermon is the main event.

The form of the Eucharist is set in Christ’s Institution of the Sacrament (Matt. 26:26–28 and parallels). Its physical movement, breaking the bread, pouring and drinking the wine, would be recognizable anywhere in the world; a communicant would not need to know the language to follow and participate. Far from being rigid and constricting, the structure of the service frees worshipers from a preacher’s words or emotions. Absolutely any feeling, possibly different for each person present, could arise to be blessed.

Continue reading “Liturgical Moments”