The Church of St. Peter
A Guide to the Worship
We welcome you to St. Peter’s Church! We hope you will find this article helpful as you worship with us. Please feel free to participate in as much or as little as you are comfortable with.
Anglicans do a lot of liturgy. Liturgy is a Greek word meaning “the Work of the People”. It is an ancient Christian word that refers to our community’s offering of praise and worship of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We “do liturgy” not as a collection of individuals, but as one body, as one community praying with one voice and one heart. Liturgy in its most simplest sense is what we do in church whether the ceremonies and rituals are simple or elaborate. Liturgy in a deeper sense is not what we do, but rather who we are. Liturgy, the work of the people, goes far beyond the church doors. Liturgy is the work that the people of Christ do every day as we try to meet the challenges of bringing God’s love, hope and peace to our community and to our world.
Body and Soul
People are both spiritual and physical beings. We have both a body and a soul. At St. Peter’s we try to use our whole selves, both body and soul to worship God. We use all of our senses to worship our Creator - incense, flowers, candles, vestments, colour, art and architecture, music and bells all join in our praise of God. We “taste and see that the Lord is good” as we share in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. We also use our bodies to worship as we make the Sign of the Cross, exchange the gift of peace, bow, kneel or genuflect. At St. Peter’s we try to use all that we are and all that we have to celebrate and experience the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Welcome to God's House
Our worship of God can begin the minute we step into church. As you enter the church you will notice that the holy water basins called stoups and the Baptism Font are located close to the entrance. The holy water is taken from previous baptisms. We bless ourselves in the shape of the cross with this water as a reminder of our own baptisms and our commitment to Christ. We also do this as a symbolic washing away of all the previous week’s burdens and wiping clean of all that might hinder us from being in communion with God and our neighbour.
Before people sit down or when they leave the church you will see them bow or genuflect (“bend the knee”) towards the Altar. This is a sign of awe, reverence and humility as we come before the presence of God. It is a recognition that we have come into our Lord’s house, our Lord Jesus who became a servant and who knelt down to the floor to wash his friends' feet and expects us to follow his example of humble service.
The Family Meal
The central act of Christian worship is the Holy Eucharist (Greek for “Thanksgiving”). It is also known as the Mass, Holy Communion, the Divine Liturgy or the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist is the sacred meal of bread and wine that Jesus gave his disciples through which we celebrate the life, death and resurrection. Through it we receive the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. By celebrating the Eucharist we receive the presence of Jesus into our bodies and hearts and are made one with him and with our neighbours. The Eucharist is our spiritual food which strengthens us to go out from the church and to do God’s work day by day.
The Eucharist is our family meal. The Altar is our family table. The spiritual father or mother of our church family is the priest, who with the whole community, celebrates this great feast.
The Eucharist is made up of two parts. The first part is the Liturgy of the Word which evolved from Christianity’s Jewish synagogue roots. It focuses on the readings from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, the Gospel or Good News of Jesus and a sermon that reflects on the readings. The second part of the Eucharist is known by various names - the Liturgy of the Sacrament, the Liturgy of the Sacrifice or simply the Celebration of the Eucharist. But before we can come to this sacred feast we have to get things right with God and our neighbour. In between the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist we say a confession together and receive absolution or the forgiveness of sins from Christ through our priest. Reconciled with God and our neighbour we share an outward sign of that peace (usually a handshake) and say, “The peace of Christ be with you.” We then move to the Eucharistic Meal where, as Jesus did and commanded us, we take bread, give thanks, bless it, break it and share it with one another.
Bells and Smells!
We ring bells to draw our attention to important parts of our service. A bell rings three times to indicate that the service has begun and reminds us to focus our thoughts on what we’re about to do. There is an ancient saying that the bells of church are the voice of God calling the Christian to prayer.
We ring bells when we say or sing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts…” at the Eucharist. Here we are reminded that we never worship alone but rejoice along with the angels and saints in heaven.
Bells are also rung when the priest lifts up the Body and Blood of Christ during the Eucharist. This ringing of bells expresses our joy being in the presence of Christ. The ringing of bells is a symbol of celebration in worship and as Psalm 150 says “Praise him with the clash of cymbals; praise him with the triumphant cymbals; let everything that has breath praise the Lord!"
On special celebrations such as Christmas, Easter or a saint's day we use incense. In Jesus’ day if a guest was coming, you were having a wedding or a feast, incense was burned beforehand to freshen the air and to make the arrival of that honoured guest a special occasion. We burn incense as a symbol as we await Christ who will come to be with us in his Word and his Eucharist. The priest and people are also censed as symbols that Christ may have a welcome place prepared for him in our hearts.
During the Eucharist we offer God the gifts of bread and wine. We offer money, the fruits of our livelihood, as well as prayers for the Church, the world and all those in need. Incense is offered at this time as a symbol of our prayers and offerings rising to heaven. As the Psalm says “Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:2)
The Sign of Love
Throughout the liturgy you will see people making the Sign of the Cross over themselves. This is an ancient Christian custom originated from the baptism service of the early Church. At our baptism the Sign of the Cross is traced on our forehead with chrysm (holy oil). Every time we remake the Sign of the Cross over ourselves we reaffirm our identity as children of God, disciples of Jesus and members of the community of the Holy Spirit. The cross is the ultimate sign of Jesus’ love, therefore we make the Sign of the Cross when we receive the love of Christ in the gifts of forgiveness, Holy Communion or a blessing.
You may notice changes in the church throughout the year; the colours on the Altar and the clergy’s vestments, different ceremonies and so on. The Church has its own calendar with its own unique seasons, celebrations and rituals. Each year the Church Calendar relives the Christian story. It starts with Jesus’ conception (Annunciation to the Virgin Mary), his birth (Christmas), through his life on earth, to his suffering and death (Holy Week), to his resurrection (Easter). Each year the Church Calendar allows us to relive in new and unfolding ways the story of our faith. Each year we are invited to walk with Christ and share in the mystery of his life, death and resurrection. The Church Calendar also has special days to celebrate the lives of the saints, the heroes of our faith. Usually a saint’s day is celebrated on the date of their death or as the early Church called it their “heavenly birthday".
Vestments are the clothes worn by the clergy and others who are officiating at the Church’s liturgy.
Most vestments were the formal clothes that Christians wore in ancient Roman times. The Church didn’t want to get caught up in the latest changing fashions and simply kept wearing what it had always worn. After two thousand years why change now? Later, Christians attached symbolic meanings to the vestments. We wear vestments because they are a link to our Christian past and ancient traditions. Vestments, like a judge’s robe or a couple’s wedding attire add a unique sense of dignity appropriate to the worship of God. Vestments are worn to lose the identity of those leading the service. God, not the worship leader, should be the focus of attention. Vestments also cover over signs of status or wealth. You can’t see whether a person is rich or poor under all those vestments.
Walking with Christ Throughout the Year
Advent: Meaning the “coming” of Jesus to our world.
Colour of Season: Purple or blue, the colour of royalty, a symbol preparing for the coming of the “King of kings”.
Unique Traditions: Lighting of the Advent Wreath.
Christmas (the “Christ Mass”) and Epiphany (the “Revealing”) celebrates Jesus’ birth and his revelation as the Saviour.
Colour of Season: White or gold, the colours symbolizing heaven, joy and purity.
Unique Traditions: The Creche (Nativity Scene), Service of Lessons and Carols.
Lent (Old English “spring”) the 40-day period in preparation for Easter.
Colour of Season: Purple, an ancient colour for sadness, symbolic of mourning for our sins.
Unique Traditions: Ashes placed on forehead on Ash Wednesday, a time of fasting, prayer, confession and doing extra good works, Stations of the Cross.
Holy Week: The week starting with Palm Sunday (blessing and procession of palms) leading up to the Triduum.
Colour of Season: Red, a symbol of the blood of Christ.
Unique Traditions: Extra celebrations of the Eucharist and Stations of the Cross.
The Triduum (Latin - “Three Great Days”) Maunday Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil. Three separate days but celebrated as one unbroken service commemorating Jesus’ last supper, his suffering, death and resurrection.
Maundy Thursday (Latin - “Commandment” Thursday) Jesus commands us to love and to celebrate the Eucharist.
Unique Traditions: Imitating Jesus the priest washes people’s feet; Stripping of the Altar - a symbol of Jesus’ arrest and being stripped of his clothes and dignity; Vigil - a time of silent prayer “with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane”.
Good Friday (Old English “God’s Friday”)
Colour: No colour or hangings, the church is left stripped and bare.
Unique Traditions: Veneration of the Cross, Christ’s Reproach’s from the Cross, solemn silence, day of fasting.
Colour: White or gold.
Unique Traditions: Lighting of the Easter Fire a symbol of new light and life out of darkness and death; Lighting of the Pascal (Easter) Candle; Singing the Exultet a hymn of joy announcing that Christ is risen.
Our modern day use of symbolism and ritual at St. Peter’s church is living connection with a very ancient tradition going back through the Middle Ages, to the early Church which had its foundation in the ancient he Jewish faith. Like all living traditions it will grow and evolve to speak to each new generation. We hope that God has spoken to you some way today.
By Dean Rose
Permission is granted to use and replicate this or parts of this article with the following ascription;
From an article by Dean Rose, St. Peter’s Church, Oshawa, Diocese of Toronto.