As a parish within the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church, our worship is grounded in the rich liturgical heritage of The Book of Common Prayer, expressing a worship tradition rooted in two thousand years of church history. Whether we gather for a formal high Mass on Sunday, or the simple Low Mass with anointing for healing, or for the silent contemplative prayer together, the rhythm of worship underpins everything we do. Anthropologists and sociologists have discovered that ritual is intrinsic to being human. We rely on rituals to
Anthropologists and sociologists have discovered that ritual is intrinsic to being human. We rely on rituals to bring meaning and order to every aspect of our lives. The classic example of an everyday ritual is a handshake, which not only signifies but also actualizes the friendship that it symbolizes. (If you doubt this, then consider the impact of refusing to shake someone's hand!)
The rituals of Anglo-Catholic worship engage us in the fullness of who we are as human beings. We stand to praise; we sit to listen; and we kneel for prayer. Worship involves the mind, the heart, and the body. Yes, rituals can become empty when we perform them absent-mindedly without paying attention to their meaning. The solution, however, is not to jettison the rituals but rather to give them life by performing them with thought and prayer.
Vestments and Ceremonial
At one level, special clothing for worship is similar to that of ceremonial dress uniforms in the armed forces: they signify a rank and a function. When the Sacred Ministers put on vestments, they are stepping into a defined liturgical role. So far as possible, the vestments serve to obscure the individual personalities that call attention to themselves and distract the congregation from prayer and worship. For example, the chasuble worn by the priest helps the congregation to see not Father So-and-So with all his quirks but rather the celebrant of the Mass, a stand-in for the risen Christ. At another level, the wearing of sacred vestments serves as a reminder that the ministers of the Mass are engaged in no ordinary activity but are walking on holy ground and handling holy things.
Some of the ceremony is ancient. Incense, for example, has been used in Jewish and Christian since before the Bible was recorded. It is associated with sacrifice and used to prepare the place of sacrifice, to bless the elements of bread and wine, and to incorporate all the people who are present in the offering.
We bow often. It is always a lowering of the eyes as a sign of respect. Sometimes we bow to the sacramental presence of Jesus; we bow when the cross passes in procession; and we bow to one another in greeting and in gratitude.