How Do We Worship?
Q: What is worship like at St. Michael’s?
A: As in all Christian churches our worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is the glue that binds us to our Lord Jesus Christ and to one another. The purpose of our worship is to gather God’s people to hear God’s Word read and preached, offer our prayers, and celebrate the sacraments. By doing this we express our devotion to the holy God who is transforming our lives. The form of our worship on most Sundays is Holy Eucharist (Eucharist a Greek term meaning thanksgiving). Eucharist is known in other places as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Mass, or the Divine Liturgy.
Q: How are we transformed by worship?
A: We Episcopalians believe that God meets and accepts us as we are right now, despite our sins, shortcomings, and defects of character. Yet because God wishes only the best for us, God helps us overcome these limitations and become better people. For us, Jesus Christ is both the model of a life lived in faithfulness to God and themeans by which we are transformed into the kind of people God wants us to be. For this, we give thanks, week in and week out. In fact, gratitude to God is the very foundation of our worship.
Q: What is a sacrament?
A: A sacrament is a ritual or act of worship that we Episcopalians believe to be 1) an outward and visible sign of God’s grace, and 2) a sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. Episcopalians think of Baptism and Eucharist as the two most important sacraments, because the Bible assures that Jesus himself participated in the first and instituted the second. A sacrament always employs something material – for example, water at Baptism – as a vehicle for God’s grace. In scripture we read that God created this material world and called it good. The sacraments affirm this. Thus, the material component of the sacrament becomes “the sure and certain means” by which we are assured of receiving God’s grace.
Q: What happens during Holy Eucharist?
A: The Eucharistic liturgy (liturgy means worship service) has two parts. The first part focuses on the Word of God. We hear portions of the Bible read aloud, and then the priest offers a sermon (or homily; both terms refer to preaching) normally based on these readings. After that we respond to God’s Word by prayer and confession of sin. The second part of the service is Holy Communion. The priest leads the congregation in asking the Holy Spirit to make everyday bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Episcopalians believe that the elements are spiritually (but not physically) changed, and that Christ is really present under the forms of bread and wine. After sharing this sacred meal, we are sent forth to take the good news of Jesus Christ into the world.
Q: What is the grace received in Eucharist?
A: In Holy Eucharist we receive forgiveness of our sins, renewal of our relationship with Jesus Christ and one another, and strength to work with Christ for the reconciliation of this world to the Father. Christians also believe that Eucharist gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet that awaits us when, at death, we step from this life into eternal life.
Q: What is the grace received in Baptism?
A: Holy Baptism is the sacrament by which we share in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this ritual we believe that God adopts us as children, unites us forever with Christ as Lord and Savior, assures us of eternal salvation, bestows upon us the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and commissions us as ministers of the gospel. This is not “christening”! We christen cruise ships; we baptize human beings! By baptism each of us becomes a member of the Body of Christ – the Church – and is qualified to receive Holy Communion. Baptisms take place on Sundays, in the context of our regular worship.
Q: Do Episcopalians sing?
A: We Episcopalians love to sing and music plays an important role in our worship! Our 10:30 service at St. Michael’s-Grosse Pte. Woods normally includes four or five hymns, usually traditional tunes and texts. Certain parts of the service may be sung or said – this is called “service music” – and the priest and people may sometimes chant part of the service. We have a volunteer choir which leads our congregational singing and offers special anthems almost every week. If you enjoy singing, consider joining our choir! We also have a youth chorus that performs at the major holidays. In addition, our organist performs instrumental music before and after the service. (Please note that the 8:00 Eucharist customarily includes music only at Christmas and Easter.)
The Book of Common Prayer
Q: Why do Episcopalians worship out of a book?
A: First and foremost, The Book of Common Prayer is a handy aid for our public worship (common means public). It includes the services authorized for use in Episcopal congregations, along with the psalms, a large number of prayers, and other helpful material. The Prayer Book is largely composed of biblical texts pieced together for use in worship. Second, the Prayer Book is a source of unity among Episcopalians. While we may disagree over interpretation of Holy Scripture, doctrine and other matters, most Episcopalians understand that our Lord expects his people (even when grumpy!) to get down on their knees and pray together. Finally, The Book of Common Prayer is one of the crown jewels of English literature. Its words have become part of our everyday language and culture. For example, if you are watching a funeral service on daytime TV and one of the actors says, “…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” you are hearing a direct quotation from the Prayer Book!
Q: Doesn’t the Prayer Book just get in the way?
A: For some people, especially newcomers to the Episcopal Church, the Prayer Book can be confusing. Like anything new, it definitely can take awhile to get used to. If you find the Prayer Book frustrating, just put it back in the pew rack and listen to what the other worshipers are saying. Before long this “language of prayer” will begin to make sense to you.