1. Why all the ritual and ceremony?
The parish’s worship speaks to the goodness of our humanity and the holiness of all of creation by engaging our senses through sight smell, and sound and by using physical symbols such as the sign of the cross and kneeling. Ritual and ceremony also remind us of the holiness and wonder of God. We hope it helps you draw closer to God with all your heart, mind, body, and soul.
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2. Why all those fancy robes?
In the Anglican tradition, those at the altar wear vestments. At one level, their purpose is to signify each person’s role and function in the worship. So far as possible, vestments help us to focus attention on God and the act of worship, not on the individual personalities of the ministers. At another level, the wearing of vestments serves as a reminder to the ministers that they are engaged in no ordinary mundane activity.
3. Why do you pray out of a booklet?
The Anglican spiritual tradition encourages us in our private devotions to pray in our own words as we are led by the Holy Spirit. When we come together to pray, however, it is useful to join in corporate prayers. The ancient prayers we use distill centuries of spiritual wisdom and embody the thoughts, sentiments and aspirations of the generations of faithful Christians who have gone before us. Thus we pray with those around us as well as the whole Church through time and space.
4. Why does the priest pray with his back to the people?
The priest is not so much turning his back on the people as turning to face in the same direction as the people, in solidarity with them. Christian churches are traditionally built with the altar toward the rising sun in the east, which symbolizes Christ, the Light of the world, rising from the dead and returning at the end of time to judge the world. So when the priest prays on behalf of the congregation, he faces east to emphasize that he is addressing God. Then at certain points in the liturgy, he turns to address the congregation on behalf of God. The eastward position emphasizes God’s transcendence and holiness.
5. Why do you use incense?
In the ancient world, incense was the equivalent of modern air freshener. When an important guest was coming to visit, one would burn incense to purify the air and eliminate any foul odors. Since we believe that Jesus Christ comes into our midst during the celebration of the Eucharist, we cense the altar, the ministers, and the congregation as a symbolic purification in anticipation of His arrival. Also, the rising smoke of the incense is sometimes said to symbolize prayer rising to heaven. At the most basic level, however, its pleasant perfume engages our sense of smell in the act of worship.
6. Why does only the choir sing parts of the service that the entire congregation sings in many other parishes?
Since the late Middle Ages, composers have set the texts of the Ordinary of the Mass–the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei–to music sung by a choir. Instead of singing along, the congregation is invited to meditate on the texts and offer personal prayer to God as the choir sings. At some Masses, especially in the summer when the choir is on vacation, the congregation sings the Ordinary.
7. Why does the Mass take so long?
Our 10:00 a.m. Sunday High Mass typically lasts for an hour and a half. This amount of time allows us to include all traditional aspects of the mass. The use of song, corporate and individual prayer, readings, and external gestures — such as coming to the altar to receive communion — display our faith and intention to be focused in worship. Many of us find that once we become familiar with the order of the service, the Mass becomes part of us and we step out of our clock-bound day-to-day life and into a foretaste of the Divine Life.
For others, we offer “low” Masses on Sundays and throughout the week, with no singing and less ceremonial. On Sundays, low Mass takes about 45 minutes. Weekday Masses last about half an hour.
8. Why do you use “old-fashioned” language?
Although everyday, modern language is typical for individual person prayer, for corporate prayer we use the liturgical English composed for public worship by Archbishop Cramner during the 16th century. It is not unusual for a liturgical language to differ from everyday language. The Roman Catholic liturgy was originally set in Latin, and the Divine Liturgy of the Russian Orthodox is set in Old Church Slavonic. In public worship we not only remember that God is with us and in us (imminent) but is also the transcendent Other. The language we use, together with the stylized ceremony, is intended to help us understand that God both holds us in his hand and transcends all His creatures.