There are a number components that make up the Anglican liturgy that we follow. To gain a better perspective of the various parts of our liturgy and how they work together to form a unified whole, Emmaus took several weeks to go through it.
The following is the fruit of our endeavor to consider the long-standing, world-wide tradition that we are a part of:
The Acclamation & Opening Scripture Sentences:
Our worship begins with The Acclamation (Blessed be God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever. Amen), which reminds us of the primary purpose of why we have joined together: To worship and praise the Triune God.
We then hear Opening Scripture Sentences, which remind us that our worship, first and foremost, is a response to the God who has first revealed Himself to us – the God who has first spoken all things into existence. Everything we do is a response to God’s initiative of grace.
The Collect for Purity:
If we are to properly respond to the Holy God’s initiative of grace we are going to need His Spirit to cleanse and prepare our hearts, and so we pray the Collect for Purity, a prayer that dates back to the 11th century.
The Summary of the Law & Kyrie:
The next portion of our service is penitential in character. Once we have asked the Holy Spirit to cleanse and prepare our hearts, we approach the Living God in humility and repentance as we consider His Holy Law, and ask Him to have mercy upon us.
The Collect of the Day
We now pray The Collect of the Day. This prayer gets its name because it collects, or gathers, the scriptural theme of the day into a focused prayer. The majority of these prayers date back to the early centuries of the church – most of them can be found in liturgies that date back to the 5th and 6th centuries, but are understood to have already been in use before that time.
One of Archbishop Thomas Cramner’s main goals in putting the original prayer book together was for people to hear the Word of God in their own language, because he believed in the power of God’s Word written. Archbishop Cramner believed that if people were able to hear God’s Word, it would transform their hearts by the power of the Spirit. And so, as Anglicans, we read a lot of Scripture. We read from the Old and New Testaments, we corporately read/pray the Psalms, and we read from the Gospels together. We read a lot of Scripture because we too believe that God’s Word written has the power to change our hearts by the work of God’s Holy Spirit.
The Nicene Creed
The word “creed” comes from the Latin credo, which means “I believe.” We recite The Nicene Creed every week as a way to remind ourselves, and to declare, what we believe as members of the, “one holy catholic [universal] and apostolic Church.” The Nicene Creed dates back to the 4th century, and is the first creed to obtain universal authority in the Church. “The purpose of the Creeds is to declare and safeguard God’s truth about himself, ourselves, and creation, as God has revealed it in Holy Scripture.” (Catechism)
The Word of God is God’s Word for God’s people at all times, and in all places. God’s Word brings conviction of sin, restoration, healing, encouragement, the promise of eternal life. When we hear God’s Word preached it should deepen our understanding of Him and His Word, bring us to a sure and certain knowledge of His grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and relate to our lives today, as we seek to faithfully follow Him in this time, and in this place.
The Prayers of the People
We are called to be a people of prayer. And when we join together to worship the Triune God, we pray. We pray for God’s world and those in authority, we pray for the people around us, we pray for God’s Church, and we pray for one another. In concentric circles moving from creation to our community, we pray. We pray because it is a joy and a privilege to bring our supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings (1 Tim. 2:1-6) before God’s throne of grace.
The Offertory & Doxology
As Christians we recognize that everything that we have is a gift from God – in the words of the doxology, we, “praise God from whom all blessings flow.” And as part of our worship, it is our joy and privilege to give back to Him in the form of tithes and offerings from the abundance of all that He has given us. (Click here to learn more about the history of the Doxology)
Confession & Absolution
In the same way that we pray The Collect for Purity before we hear God’s Word, we confess our sins before we come to God’s Table. We come before God recognizing that we have sinned against Him, “in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone,” and that we desire His mercy and forgiveness, “that we may delight in [His] will, and walk in [His] ways.” After confessing, the priest (or bishop, if present) stands, and in the name of Jesus, pronounces the forgiveness of sins over those who, “sincerely repent and with true faith turn to [Him].” In this two-part act we not only recognize our need for forgiveness, but, in faith, receive God’s mercy, that we may joyfully partake at His Table.
The Comfortable Words
Scripture is at the heart of the Anglican liturgy. After we have received God’s forgiveness through the Absolution, our experience of God’s grace is reinforced and encouraged by the truth of His Word. In The Comfortable Words we are reminded of Christ’s invitation to the weary; the Father’s great love for the world; Christ’s mission to save sinners; and the assurance that Christ is not only the propitiation (atoning sacrifice) for our sins, but also our great advocate.
The Peace is an ancient Christian greeting that recalls the risen Jesus’ words to the Apostles in John 20:19. This act of passing the peace can be found in some of the earliest Christian liturgies. When we pass the peace we are following the Biblical command to make peace with one another (Matt. 11:23-24; Mark 11:25), while also expressing the new reality that now exists through Jesus – that because of Jesus, and the gift of His Spirit, His people are now truly at peace with God and with one another (Eph. 2:13-22).
The Sursum Corda
The Sursum Corda (“lift up you hearts”) is one of the oldest parts of the Communion liturgy. Having now confessed and received absolution, after hearing the comfortable words and experiencing the peace of Christ afresh, we lift up our hearts to God with thanksgiving, as we prepare ourselves to feast at the Table where, “Christ is the host and we are his guests.” (Kenyan Rite)
Though our worship is grounded in this world – praying for God’s Kingdom to come here on earth as it is in heaven – our worship is not limited to this world. When we come together to worship God we join with brothers and sisters around the world, with the saints who have gone before us, and with the angels in heaven, “who forever sing [the Sanctus] to proclaim the glory of [God’s] Name.” As our hearts are lifted up in worship we join with, “Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven,” and sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!”
The Prayer of Humble Access
Though many parts of the Anglican liturgy are much older than the English Reformation, The Prayer of Humble Access is not. Thomas Cramner wrote this prayer for the original prayer book, and we pray it before we come to the Lord’s Table. This prayer reminds us, in the midst of our joining with, “Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven,” as we sing The Sanctus, that our ability to come before the Lord is an act of pure grace. We don’t come to the Lord’s Table because, “of our own righteousness,” we come to the Lord’s Table because of His, “abundant and great mercies,” because He, “always delights in showing mercy.”
The Prayer of Consecration
In The Prayer of Consecration we are remembering the once for all, perfect sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the whole world, using His words from the Last Supper. We proclaim the mystery of faith – Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. And we pray to partake in the Body and Blood Christ, feeding on Him in our hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving.
The Agnus Dei
The Agnus Dei is another part of the liturgy that has continued to be recited by Christians for centuries. In it we are joining with John the Baptist and recognizing Jesus as, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) As we proclaim Jesus as the Agnus Dei (the Lamb of God) we are also asking for His mercy and peace before partaking of His Body and Blood.
The Prayer after Communion
After partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the Thanksgiving meal (the word eucharist comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving), the Church gives thanks. We thank God for feeding us and for assuring us that we are united in, and to, the Body of Christ. And now that we have been nourished by Christ, we ask God to send us out into the world the do the work He has given us to do, for His honour and His glory.
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Gloria in Excelsis is a hymn of praise to the Triune God. This hymn is based upon the angels’ words to the shepherds at the birth of Christ (Luke 2:14), and dates back to the 2nd or 3rd century. The Gloria has been sung by God’s people for centuries, and has even been used as a way for the Church to teach sound doctrine (combating Arianism in the 4th century).
The Blessing & Dismissal
Our liturgy begins with The Acclamation & Opening Scripture Sentences, where we are reminded of whom we have come together to worship, and who has invited us into His presence. As we said at the beginning, “everything we do is a response to God’s initiative of grace.” Now, as we come to the close of our service, we are sent out with The Blessing of the Triune God and dismissed to, “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” As we go forth, in the love and peace of God, we extend God’s gracious invitation to the world around us, that they too may join us in joyfully worshiping the risen Lord, Jesus.
The Anglican liturgy is not perfect, no liturgy is, but it is a beautiful and powerful way for us to come into the presence of the Lord, to be fed by Him in Word and Sacrament, and to go forth with His blessing, extending His loving invitation to the world around us.