Anglicanism is one particular expression of the Christian faith. Perhaps our most important and distinguishing practice is our use of the Book of Common Prayer. We are a part of the Apostolic Succession, which traces back through the laying on of hands to the Apostles and ultimately, to Christ. We worship in all the richness of the Liturgy, and we acknowledge and take advantage of the Sacraments.
1928 Book of Common Prayer
Reform of worship and theology came to the Church of England with the publication of the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549. The Book of Common Prayer was composed with the idea that the people should be able to understand and participate in corporate worship. Before the Prayer Book, the standard form of worship in England was the Latin Mass. The Book of Common Prayer reformed and simplified the medieval services and placed a renewed emphasis on the Bible.
At the Parish of Saint Mark, we use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The poetic language of the liturgy within it dates back to the sixteenth century, but the Eucharist itself, instituted by Christ, follows the form of even earlier Jewish services.
It can be purchased online for less than $25, for example at Amazon.com. It is also available in digital format on the Internet at episcopalnet.org. Additionally, you can use commonprayer.org as a resource if you want all of the Psalms, Lessons and Collects for the day conveniently arranged into one page.
A Sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 292). In sacraments, God uses visible and tangible created things to communicate invisible and intangible grace. Grace is God’s undeserved favor that renews and transforms us into the image of Christ.
The definition of a sacrament is rooted in the biblical teaching about creation. The glory of God is reflected in the physical world he has made. St. Paul says in Romans, “Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (1:20) The creation is an outward and visible sign of the glory of the Creator.
The sacraments are objective manifestations of God’s grace. We receive grace from God in the sacraments whether we feel it or not, although the objective grace of the sacraments will frequently produce a positive subjective response in us. This will be more the case as we mature in the faith and develop the spiritual vision to perceive God’s grace in the sacraments. This is particularly true in the Eucharist, where God’s grace is always present in the presence of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We live in an age that puts great stress on subjective feelings. This is why many who are accustomed to forms of worship, which focus on our emotional response, do not understand sacramental worship, which focuses on the objective presence of God and His grace. The presence of grace in the sacraments and Christ’s presence in the Eucharist does not depend upon whether we experience a sense of excitement. It does not depend upon the charisma of the minister. It is an objective fact dependent upon the promises of Jesus Christ, who promised to never leave us nor forsake us.
It is wrong to think of sacraments as things that are entirely different from or other than the rest of creation. Sacraments are the fulfillment of the creation. In the world to come there will not be sacraments because the whole creation will, once again, be a sacrament.
The Anglican Liturgy
Those unfamiliar with liturgical worship often object that it is repetitive, and thus, devoid of the spontaneity they desire. But repetition is precisely the point of liturgy. C.S. Lewis wrote:
“Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like, it ‘works’ best – when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.” – Letters to Malcom. Chiefly on Prayer.
Furthermore, spontaneity in worship and prayer can often be a pietistic dressing for spiritual self-righteousness. N.T. Wright said:
“There is nothing wrong, nothing sub-Christian, nothing to do with ‘works-righteousness,’ about using words, set forms, prayers, and sequences of prayers written by other people in other centuries. Indeed, the idea that I must always find my own words, that I must generate my own devotion from scratch every morning, that unless I think of new words I must be spiritually lazy or deficient – that has the all-too-familiar sign of human pride, of ‘doing it my way:’ of, yes, works-righteousness. Good liturgy – other people’s prayers, whether for corporate or individual use-can be, should be, a sign and means of grace, an occasion of humility and gratitude.” – Simply Christian, pg 166.
As we learn the words and actions of the liturgy and come to understand what they mean, we develop the ability to pray from the heart.
The liturgy found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer is very traditional and extremely rich with meaning but can be confusing to a newcomer. It is very easy to wonder what you are supposed to say and when you are supposed to say it, why people sit, stand or kneel, etc. Please do not do anything that you are not comfortable with as you get acquainted with our service. We have a liturgy commentary available if you are curious about why certain traditions have been developed or want to know the meaning behind certain parts of our service. You can also speak with our Rector after the service about any questions you may have about our worship.
Perhaps one reason Anglicans are comfortable with tradition is because Anglicans recognize the importance of the Apostolic Succession, wherein every member is connected to Jesus Christ through the succession of Bishops. When an Anglican is confirmed or a Priest or Deacon ordained, a Bishop lays his hands on them and prays that the Holy Spirit will come into them in a new way. The Bishop, in turn, was consecrated and had hands laid on him by another bishop, also praying for the Holy Spirit to enter in a new way. And that bishop was consecrated in the same way as well, and so on and so forth in an uninterrupted line through the laying on of hands which is historically traceable all the way back to the apostles and finally to Christ himself.
The Apostolic Succession connects us to the man who walked on the shores of Galilee, who took on fishermen as disciples, and who was executed on a cross for us. It means that it’s not just a story that we found somewhere and decided that we like it. A librarian did not happen upon some ancient book and find himself fascinated in an amazing character that it portrayed, wondering who this man was, what he was like. We don’t need to “Search for the Historical Jesus.” That memory was never forgotten! The Apostles knew the historical Jesus. They knew who he was, what he taught, what he meant, how he lived, what he believed, and they knew personally what authority had been given to Him by God the Father and they saw how the Holy Spirit worked through him. That experience and knowledge was part of the gift which God gave to the Apostles, along with the indwelling of the Holy Ghost. That knowledge, power, and authority didn’t die with the Apostles: it was passed on through the laying on of hands and through teaching and preaching. It is that Apostolic faith retained by God’s grace through the succession of Bishops that we affirm today.
(Text gratefully used by permission of the Church of Our Savior, Santa Barbara, California.)