Sunday is traditionally when Episcopalians gather for worship. The principal weekly worship service is the Holy Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion.
Episcopalians worship in many different styles, ranging from very formal, ancient, and multi-sensory rites with lots of singing, music, fancy clothes (called vestments), and incense, to informal services with more varied and contemporary music. Yet all worship in the Episcopal Church is based in the Book of Common Prayer, which gives worship a familiar feel, no matter where you go.
All Are Welcome
All are welcome to receive communion at St. Thomas’ Parish. Those who choose not to receive are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing from the presider.
At the end of the Eucharist, the congregation prays once more in thanksgiving, and then is dismissed to continue the life of service to God and to the World.
Liturgy and Ritual
Worship in the Episcopal Church is said to be liturgical, meaning that the congregation follows service forms and prays from texts that don’t change greatly from week to week during a season of the year. This sameness from week to week gives worship a rhythm that becomes comforting and familiar to worshipers and serves as a framework within which much variety actually is cultivated.
For the first-time visitor, the liturgy may be exhilarating or confusing. Services may involve standing, sitting, kneeling, sung or spoken responses, and other participatory elements that may provide a challenge for some. However, liturgical worship can be compared with a dance: once you learn the basic steps, you come to appreciate the rhythm, and it becomes satisfying to dance, again and again, as the music changes.
The Holy Eucharist
In spite of the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same components and the same shape.
The Liturgy of the Word
We begin by praising God through song and prayer, and then we listen to as many as four readings from the Bible: usually one from the Old Testament, a Psalm, something from the Epistles, and (always) a reading from the Gospels. The psalm is usually sung or recited by the congregation.
Next, a sermon interpreting the readings appointed for the day is preached. Rector Nancy Lee Jose is the primary preacher, and guest preachers often include Bishop in Residence Gene Robinson, other Episcopal priests from the area, or one of several designated lay preachers from within the parish.
The congregation then recites the Nicene Creed, written in the Fourth Century and the Church’s ongoing statement of what we believe.
Next, the congregation prays together for the Church, the World, and those in need. We pray for the sick, thank God for all the good things in our lives, and finally, we pray for those who have died. The presider (e.g. priest, bishop, or lay minister) concludes with a prayer that gathers the petitions into a communal offering of intercession.
In certain seasons of the Church year, the congregation formally confesses their sins before God and one another. This is a corporate statement of what we have done and what we have left undone, followed by a pronouncement of absolution. In pronouncing absolution, the presider assures the congregation that God is always ready to forgive our sins.
The congregation then greets one another with a sign of peace.
The Liturgy of the Table
Next, the priest stands at the table, which has been set with a cup of wine and a plate of bread or wafers. Now begins the Eucharistic Prayer, in which the presider tells the story of our faith, from the beginning of Creation, through the choosing of Israel to be God’s people, through our continual turning away from God, and God’s calling us to return. Finally, the presider tells the story of the coming of Jesus Christ, and about the night before his death, on which he instituted the Eucharistic meal (communion) as a continual remembrance of him.
The presider blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer. Finally, the presider breaks the bread and offers it to the congregation, as the gifts of God for the People of God.
The congregation then shares the consecrated bread and the wine. Sometimes the people all come forward to receive the bread and wine; sometimes they pass the elements around in other ways.