Ascension Day Orchestral Mass

Thursday evening, May 30th at 6:30 pm, a Solemn Mass will be sung to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. The Advent Choir and Orchestra will offer “An English Mass” by Herbert Howells. Our preacher will be the Rev’d Dr. Edie Dolnikowski, Canon for Ordained Vocations in the Diocese of Massachusetts. Mark your calendars and observe the Ascension on May 30th at the Advent! 

Herbert Howells
Herbert Howells

A gorgeous work for chorus, string orchestra, winds, tympani & harp, Howells’ “An English Mass” is rarely performed. We believe that this will be its North American Premiere by an all-professional choir and orchestra. The mass was commissioned for a 1956 concert of all-new works to celebrate Harold Darke’s 50th anniversary as organist & choirmaster of St Michael’s Cornhill, London. The title refers to the use (apart from the Kyrie) of the English text from the Prayer Book for the setting of the mass. In “An English Mass,” sonorous textures combine with sinewy melodies to create a mystical setting of refined beauty. Ecstatic outbursts of praise contrast with hushed melting solos. 

The Rev'd Dr Edie Dolnikowski
The Rev’d Dr Edie Dolnikowski



After completing a doctoral degree in medieval Church History, Edie Dolnikowski moved to the Boston area in 1990 to attend the Episcopal Divinity School. Since her ordination to the priesthood in 1996, she has served as an associate at The Church of Our Saviour, Brookline and St. Andrew’s Church, Wellesley.  In 2013 she was called to serve as the Canon for Ordained Vocations, where she works with the Commission on Ministry and those preparing for ordination as deacons and priests in the Diocese of Massachusetts.

Blog Post: “Aslan Is Not a Tame Lion: The Serious Mistake of Casual Worship”

Recently, a blogger and church musician, Jonathan Aigner (, visited the Church of the Advent for Sunday worship and was moved to write the following on his blog, “Ponder Anew.” We thank Mr. Aigner for the opportunity to share his post here.

Aslan Is Not a Tame Lion: The Serious Mistake of Casual Worship






An Instructed Eucharist

(20 February 2011)

I. Introduction

Every service of Christian worship is a drama – a drama in which we enact, proclaim, and, as well, participate in the mighty acts of God. That’s what we are doing this morning; that’s what we do each time the Holy Communion – the Eucharist – is celebrated. Our drama today will be a little different, for we shall stop the action at certain points to explain its significance. We are doing this so that all of us may come to a deeper understanding of our worship and its meaning and, thereby, may participate with more enthusiasm, understanding, and joy – and ultimately with greater spiritual benefit.

Right now the stage is empty. The principal actors have not yet entered – though you and I are here and we are also actors in the drama. (Remember that. Never forget it. We too, are actors in the drama. We stand. We sit. We kneel. We speak and sing. We make various gestures which allow us to participate, enter into, and be involved in the drama of the Mass.) Soon, however, the principal players will arrive. They will make their entrance in procession as we sing a hymn.

There’s more to this entrance than just getting them in where they ought to be. It’s rather like the rising of a curtain as a play begins. The curtain begins to rise and we know that suddenly we shall be carried into another world, the world created by the play. The Entrance Hymn with its procession is just like that. It’s a sign. It signals to us that here in Church we are about to be swept into another reality – another world – not the ordinary world we live in day to day – but the extraordinary world of God, our world as He created and intended it to be.

II. After Entrance Hymn. Prayer Book: Rite I, pp. 323 – 325; Rite II, pp. 355-357

Ever since the Resurrection of our Lord, Christians have gathered together week by week, sometimes day by day, to perform one particular action – remembering His death and receiving His life with bread and wine and prayer. Many things in the Church have changed, but this one act has remained basically the same. It has been thought so essential that Christians have often risked their lives and sometimes lost their lives just to do this thing. It has been performed in innumerable different ways from the simplest gathering with bread and wine to the most complex and ornate ceremonial. It has been known by many names: the Holy Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Essentially, however, the action is the same, and it’s not at all forcing a point to say that the observance of this act is one thing that has formed a bond of continuity over the many centuries of the Church’s existence and across the painful divisions that separate Christians. The various Churches may think differently about the Eucharist and many perform it in different ways, but most agree that it is necessary and fundamental and commanded by our Lord.

A priest cannot celebrate the Eucharist alone. The Church forbids this, for the Liturgy is not a private thing. The Eucharist is the Church’s Act, and it can only take place in a community, performed communally by a part of the whole Church. Again, it is a drama: many people participating together in one action. From earliest times it has been called the Liturgy, from leitourgia, a Greek word which roughly translated means “work,” specifically, public work, a work of the people. The Eucharist is the Church’s work par excellence. In it the Church does all those things which make the Church what it is: it hears the word of God in the Scriptures, praises God for His majesty and love, offers prayer for the necessities of life, and partakes of the Sacrament of bread and wine which the Lord has ordained. The Liturgy is the Church’s work, and in this work the Church becomes in a very real and obvious sense what it is: God’s people, the Body of Christ gathered to acknowledge His real and living presence in Word and Sacrament and to feed upon the grace and power which Christ gives us through Word and Sacrament.

If a priest occupies a prominent place in the celebration of the Liturgy, this is because the Church has singled out particular persons to be her instruments and preside in the carrying out of this particular action. This morning Father Wood is our presider, the celebrant, of the Liturgy. He performs this function in the name of our Bishop who is the normal presider at every act within his jurisdiction. We have symbolized this already by the Processional Cross which brings the principal ministers into the Church. The Cross here is said to be a sign of the Bishop. The Bishop leads his people into the Church and to the Altar where they will meet Christ.

The celebrant, then, is the Bishop’s deputy in the Liturgy and, as such, has a specific function, a particular role, in the liturgical drama. The ancient vestment which he wears, called a chasuble, indicates this role. Supporting parts in the drama are played by the Deacon and Sub-deacon, who also wear vestments which indicate their function as assisting ministers. They and others at the Altar may be conspicuous by their dress, but they are no more important than you and me in the congregation. Because . . . again . . . the Eucharist is the action of the whole Church. It is always together that the Eucharist is celebrated – by a body, by a community. The congregation’s participation in hymn, in response, in prayer is absolutely essential.

The procession has entered now. The stage, so to speak, is set and full. And we begin our work by blessing God. The ordinary world around us does not bless God. The every-day world largely ignores God. But in this other world, this extra-ordinary and essential world of the Liturgy, God is indeed blessed. This sets the tone. “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” we say, “And blessed be His Kingdom, now and forever.” We then pray to God to prepare us for what is to come. We ask Him to send His Holy Spirit into our hearts – to make our intentions pure and to enable us to praise and love Him with all our being. Afterwards we acclaim and praise Him – merciful and glorious, glorious in His mercy and love for man. Depending on the season, one or the other or sometimes both of two very ancient hymns – dating from the fourth century – follow immediately. The Kyrie eleison (from the Greek for “Lord have mercy”) or the Gloria in excelsis (from the Latin for “Glory to God in the Highest”). Both of these come from the East and have been a part of the Church’s worship from earliest times. The Kyrie has a double emphasis. It was originally a shout of praise directed towards God or even an earthly ruler. It is like the Biblical words “Alleluia” or “Hosanna”. It can be understood as the joyful cry “The Lord is merciful!” In another context it can be understood as a plea for mercy from God. The Gloria which often comes next is a wonderful and ecstatic hymn of praise to God acclaiming His splendor and His majesty in Christ. Its tone is one of jubilant celebration, so much so that during the more somber seasons of Advent and Lent we leave it out of the Liturgy – to return on the great feasts of Christmas and Easter.

The Kyrie and Gloria ended, the celebrant calls us to prayer and prays on our behalf the collect for the day. This is a short prayer which refers to the feastday we may be observing or to the lessons which will next be read. It collects together or summarizes the themes which will be the focus of the liturgy.

III. After The Epistle. Prayer Book: Rite I, pp. 325 – 326; Rite II, pp. 357-358

The action of the Eucharist consists of Word and Sacrament. Both are fundamental parts of the life and faith of every Christian. At this point we are engaged in the Service of the Word. We have just heard a reading from the Old Testament – those books which record the history and yearning of the Hebrew people and which look forward to Christ – and from the Epistles – letters of instruction written to members of the early Church. This first part of the Service, together with the sermon, has its origin in the worship of the ancient Jewish Synagogue. Like that it is primarily a service of teaching and instruction.

Here at The Church of the Advent and in most Churches lay people who are members of the congregation read the first two lessons. One particular reading, however, has by an early tradition always been reserved to the clergy: the solemn reading of the Gospel. Doubtless you’ve noticed that we read the Gospel lesson at Mass in a manner very different from the lessons. For instance, the singing of a hymn or a chant and a procession precede this reading. Much more solemnity, more ceremony is involved in the proclamation of the Gospel. Why is this? Again, because the structure of our Christian faith is two-fold, Word and Sacrament. This doesn’t simply describe what Christianity is from the outside, but from the inside: how it works as a religion. It means something important and profound: that we seek and find Christ’s presence in the Word and in the Sacrament. At the reading of the Gospel Christ makes Himself present to us in his Word just as surely as he was present with his disciples two thousand years ago. For this reason before and after the proclamation of the Gospel we hail and acknowledge not the reading, but Christ himself, the Word of God, who is mystically present in these words of Scripture. We stand at the reading of the Gospel and face the Book in order to be addressed and encountered by the One who comes to us in His Word. “Glory to You, Lord Christ,” we say. Because the reading or singing of the Gospel is such a special act, it is reserved for members of the ordained ministry – a priest, a bishop, or a deacon. The Gospel Book, itself a symbol of Christ, is brought in the procession to the midst of the Church to symbolize the coming of the good news of Christ to His people.

At a Solemn Eucharist, the book is censed. The use of incense is deeply rooted in the Scriptures and in the traditional practice of the Church. At this point in the service it is derived from the practice of the ancient Roman Empire in which incense was carried before important personages as a mark of their rank. And so, before the reading of the Gospel we greet our Lord, our King, with incense – a mark of the respect and homage which He deserves.

IV. After the Gospel. Prayer Book: Rite I, pp. 358-359; Rite II, pp. 358 – 359

The lessons have been read; the Gospel proclaimed. At this point in a normal service the sermon would be preached. Afterwards we respond to God’s Word to us in Scripture and sermon by declaring our common faith in the words of the Nicene Creed. This is an outline of belief which the Church adopted some 1600 years ago in a council at Nicaea, a town in present-day Turkey. It was chosen then to be and probably still is the best statement of what Christians believe – a summary of the meaning and hope of the Faith. In the Creed we affirm our belief in the mighty acts of God for our salvation – acts of power and love – the reason we are here today.

V. After the Creed. Prayer Book: Rite I, pp. 359-360,; Rite II, pp. 383-395

The Liturgy continues with prayer. Prayer, for the Church and for every Christian, is like the bloodstream and the blood. It joins everything together and it brings life. Without blood the body dies. Without prayer our faith becomes boring, sterile, and dead.

In the intercessions we present to God in prayer our own needs and necessities, and the particular needs of those close to us, family or friends, who may be sick or troubled, and the needs of the Church and the world. Then in prayer we confess our sins – those acts in our lives which have denied and stifled Christ’s working in us and have taken us away from Him.

Christ promised to the Church the power to bind and to lose, that is, the power to forgive sins in his name. The celebrant, then, on behalf of the Church pronounces over us the Absolution, a formal declaration of the forgiveness of our sins which Christ promises and gives to every Christian. And then, assured of Christ’s forgiveness, we greet one another in His name. It is sin that separates us one from another. It is sin that destroys the peace between us. In Christ our peace is restored.

VI. Before the Offertory.

In the early years of the Church’s life, if you had not yet been baptized, at this point in the Mass you would be made to leave the building. The Liturgy of the Sacrament, the second part of the Eucharist, was considered too sacred for the eyes of those who had not been initiated into the mystery of Christ’s Redemption. The unbaptized were expelled and in some places the doors to the Church were locked. It was with great seriousness and even awe that the early Christians regarded the miracle of the Mass.

The action of the Liturgy now moves from the pulpit and the lectern – the place of the Word – to the Altar – the locus of Christ’s sacramental presence, as bread and wine are brought forward in the Offertory and prepared.

We are accustomed to think of the Offertory as the Collection – the collection of our offerings of money which we return to God as stewards, in thanksgiving, for the support of His Church. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and the practice is to be encouraged! In the beginning, this was not the case. In the ancient Church money played no part in the Offertory. Rather the Offertory consisted of the gathering together and bringing to the Altar of bread and wine – bread and wine which often each person brought individually to the Church.

Bread and wine and the Offertory itself are powerful symbols. In the first place, bread and wine represent in microcosm the whole life of humanity – the life and work of men and women in the Creation, which God has entrusted to man’s care. The bread is not merely grain; the wine is not merely the juice of the grape. They are more than that. They go beyond simple nature. Rather, they are grain and grapes which have been transformed by human life and work. In the second place, we may see the Offertory as a symbol of the Christian life itself – these elements of bread and wine, like the life of the Christians, are given to up God to be received back infused and alive with the presence, and life, and grace of Christ. Members of the congregation – representatives of us all – bring forward the gifts which we shall receive back changed and transformed and which by the grace and power of Christ will transform us.

At a Solemn Eucharist incense is used at this point. Here the symbolism is very Biblical and Jewish, with its origin in the practice of the ancient temple in Jerusalem. The incense represents prayer ascending to heaven. The gifts of bread and wine, those serving at the altar, and the congregation are censed to signify that all of us together are being swept up into that movement of prayer and offering which is the Eucharist.

After the Offertory. Prayer Book: Rite I, pp. 333 – 338: Rite II, pp. 361-376

This last part of the Liturgy – its climax and conclusion – stems from the last supper of Jesus with his disciples. Strangely enough, we don’t know a great deal about the particulars of this meal, which has so often been repeated. The Gospels don’t tell us much. What we can say for certain is that Jesus commanded the Church to “Do this in remembrance of Me” and that Christians have remembered his command and repeated this meal over and over throughout the centuries. Their experience has always been this: that He was present with them when they obeyed His command.

This part of the Eucharist – the Liturgy of the Sacrament – begins with the celebrant’s exhortation to “Lift up your hearts.” “Be joyful,” the priest tells us, “Sursum corda!” “Lift up your hearts.” The key to the meaning of the Prayers to follow lies in what the celebrant says next: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God,” for the Eucharistic Prayer is primarily a giving thanks to God for His acts of power in creation and redemption. This is, after all, just what Jesus did at that Last Supper: “He took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it . . . he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them.” This same action – the giving of thanks – is the celebrant’s and also our action in the consecration of the gifts of bread and wine. For this reason we call the consecratory prayer “The Great Thanksgiving.” In fact, this strange Greek word “Eucharist” which we’ve been using means exactly that – to give thanks.

We give thanks to God first by repeating in the Sanctus the hymn which Isaiah the prophet heard sung around the throne of God – “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might.” Next, we praise the one who will soon come to us in the Sacrament of his body and blood, repeating the words of the crowd which greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday – “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” And in the prayer of consecration we give thanks to God for His mighty work in Jesus, the Christ. We pray that He will bless the gifts of bread and wine – that they may become the Body and Blood of Christ; that we, being made holy by the Spirit, may find our real food and real drink in His Body and Blood. This is the Christian sacrifice, the holy sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in which we recall thankfully the sacrifice of God in Christ. Here at The Church of the Advent the tower bell is rung at certain points during this prayer, namely at the Words of Institution: “This is my body. This is my blood.” The bells have their origin in the medieval Church. Their function was then and is now to alert us and focus our attention on the central mystery and miracle of the Liturgy – the coming of Christ to His people. The bells are rung and the celebrant lifts high the host and chalice for all to see.

In the Episcopal Church we believe that something really occurs to the bread and wine when they are consecrated by the priest and the Church. In this we are joined by the great and historic tradition of Christianity – by the Orthodox Churches, the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran Churches, and several of the Reformed Churches. Some say that the Liturgy is only a kind of memorial: we eat bread and drink wine and remember Jesus when we do it. Certainly that’s true, but in the Anglican Communion we claim that there is more to it than that. We believe that when we gather together and give thanks over the bread and wine, Jesus Christ – as he promised – will make himself present to us, sacramentally, in the bread and wine. This is the faith of the Church. Moreover, and most important this has been the experience of the Church from the very beginning. The bread and wine become sacraments – instruments, signs effective in themselves – by which Christ Himself gives us his presence, and his power, and his life. God in Christ is always working to be near to us – to be close to us, and with us. He is, of course, continually present to us at every time and in every place, but in the Holy Communion He is as near to us as the food we eat and the wine we drink.

VIII. After the Communion. Prayer Book; Rite I, pp. 339: Rite II, pp. 365-366

We have received Christ’s Body and Blood. What else is there now to do, but again give thanks? We do so in a concluding prayer and the Liturgy ends as the celebrant blesses us and we are dismissed. We have celebrated the drama of God’s mighty acts; we have partaken of the Body and Blood of his Son; we have been swept into the extraordinary world of the Liturgy. We are dismissed to go out into the everyday world and take with us what we have received here, to spread abroad the love and power and presence of Christ. And what is our response to this? Once again – and how appropriate that these are the very last words spoken in the Mass! – “Thanks be to God.”

A Note about the term Transubstantiation

Many people equate the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist with the theory of Transubstantiation.  They are, in fact, not exactly the same thing.  The doctrine of the Real Presence asserts what the Church has believed, taught, and experienced since earliest times, i.e. that Christ is really and truly present to his people in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Transubstantiation is one theory among the many which seek to explain how Christ is present; to articulate the mechanics, so to speak, of His presence.  It was developed in the thirteenth century by St. Thomas Aquinas in order to combat rather crude theories of the Eucharist that gave rise to superstition.  St. Thomas’ explanation depended, as did his theology, on the philosophy and metaphysics of Aristotle.

By the time of the Reformation an intellectual reaction had taken place against St. Thomas’ thought, which had become the official teaching of the Roman Church, and also against the Aristotelianism upon which it is based.  Luther and the English Reformers protested that Aquinas’ doctrine of transubstantiation per se can nowhere be found in Scripture or the early teaching of the Church.  They were right;  it can’t.  It was, in their view, an illegitimate development which was a departure.  They never, however, denied the doctrine of the Real Presence;  indeed, they defended it.  It was not until the second generation of the Reformation came along that this fundamental and scripturally-based doctrine was questioned and by some denied.

Even if we regard the doctrine of Transubstantiation as simply one way of explaining the gift of Christ’s Real Presence in the Mass, there is still some value in continuing to use the word.  All accounts of how Christ is present – even those which the Continental and English Reformers came up with – attempt to make it clear and undoubted that a miracle is taking place in the bread and the wine.  For some in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, Transubstantiation – in a metaphorical rather than metaphysical sense – remains the best term to point to this miracle – the mystery of Jesus’ Real Presence with his people, veiled in bread and wine.

Be that as it may, a good way to end this discussion is to quote verses on the matter attributed to a very clever and crafty lady, Elizabeth I.

His was the word that spake it,
He took the bread and brake it;
And what that word doth make it,
That I believe and take it.

Form for the Blessing of Homes at Epiphany

St Matthew tells us that when the wise men arrived in Bethlehem to visit Jesus, they found him and his mother in a house, not the stable where they had found their first temporary shelter. This is a cue that our Epiphany celebration should focus on our own houses, and it is a very old custom to bless houses on Epiphany. In the East, in particular, it is the custom for the parish priest to go through the parish blessing houses—not the elaborate blessing of a new home, but a special blessing that is also often given at Easter, a renewal of the homes in which the people of God dwell and live out the mystery of faith day by day. In recent years, this custom has been revived in some places in the West, and The Book of Occasional Services of the Episcopal Church provides forms for this blessing. However, there is another way of blessing homes at Epiphany that begins in church, but does not require the priest to go from house to house—something that would be quite impossible in many non-geographical parishes in the modern world. This custom involves chalk that is blessed by the priest and taken home by families to mark the doors of their homes.

On this, the first Sunday after Epiphany, we will bless chalk during the 9:00 Mass to be used to hallow all our homes throughout our parish and our city. The chalk will be available at the back of the Church, so please take some home with you. The initials of the legendary names of the wise men are written with blessed chalk on the lintel above the front door of the house, framed by the numbers of the new year, in this way:

20 + G + M + B + 17

After making the inscription, the following prayer is offered:

Leader: The Lord be with you.

People: And with thy spirit.

Leader: Let us pray. O Lord, holy Father, Almighty, everlasting God, we beseech you to hear us and vouchsafe to send your holy Angel from heaven to guard and cherish, protect and visit, and evermore defend all that dwell in this home. I call upon your Saints Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar, to protect my family, friends and all who enter here from every harm and danger, and I place this mark over my door to remain as a reminder to us that my home is truly the house of the Lord. O God, make the door of my house the gateway to your eternal Kingdom. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

All: Amen.


A Glossary of Churchly Terms

The list which follows is not arranged alphabetically. Neither is it arranged arbitrarily. We have attempted to gather together terms which are related one to another.

Scripture and Theology

The Faith and Practice of the Christian Life

The Church’s Worship

Liturgical Time: Liturgical Colors and the Church Year

Liturgical Furnishings, Hardware, Etc.

Dramatis Personae of the Mass


Terms Relating to Scripture and Theology

Canon of Scripture – The Bible did not always exist as we know it today. In fact it took the Church nearly 200 years to decide which books to include in the Bible. When it did make a decision which was generally accepted this was set and known as the canon, a term derived from a Greek word which means a standard.

The Old Testament – The Hebrew Scriptures. The story of creation and of the fall of humanity through disobedience. The record of God’s plan to undo the fall, specifically through his dealings with His chosen people – the Jews.

The New Testament – The Scriptures of the Christian Church. The record of God’s acts for man in His Son – Jesus, the Christ – and the record of the early Church’s response to these acts. The canon of the New Testament is composed of:

The four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John.

The Acts of the Apostles – a history of the young Church and its missionary efforts.

The Epistles – letters of instruction and doctrine by Peter, Paul, John and others to the young churches.

The Revelation of John, or the Apocalypse – a visionary and symbolic writing.

The Apocrypha – Writings composed mainly in the period between the Old and New Testaments. Not included in Protestant Bibles but accepted in the Bibles of the Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Accepted by Episcopalians not as a source of doctrine, but as instruction.

Revelation – From “reveal” – the revealing or disclosing of God and His acts to man.
general revelation – revelation accessible to all people, as the discerning of God’s presence in the beauty of nature.
special revelation – revelation accessible to humankind only through a special means, as the revelation through the Jews in the Old Testament, or the revelation in Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Historie and Geschichte – Two German terms which relate to the study of history and which provide a helpful distinction in considering the stories and events recorded in Holy Scripture.
Historie means the bare literal fact or, in the case of accounts in Scripture, that which is reported to be the bare literal fact.
Geschichte means the interpretation or the meaning of the fact, i.e., what it means to people, what it means to me. How are these peculiar terms useful? In the scriptures many of the accounts and records are mythological or are facts clearly overlaid with myth and legend. Are we to abandon these because they don’t make sense or we can’t believe them? Not necessarily. We may accept the Historie as myth and not in itself literal fact, but we may confess the Geschichte to be true and an inspired revelation of meaning about the world and mankind: for instance, the account of the Garden of Eden. There may well have never been an historical Adam and Eve; however, various meanings of the story are indisputable and revealed: innocence, temptation, disobedience, fall. This distinction in the interpretation and understanding of Scripture is not a new one; it goes back at least as far as St. Augustine.

Theology – Literally the “science of God” – the understanding of a system of religious faith – in Christianity theology is derived from the scriptures, the tradition of the Church, the worship and experience of the Church, the reason of man.

Doctrine – A belief or teaching of the Church. A body of instruction which expresses the Church’s faith.

Dogma – A particular interpretation of a doctrine. For example, the Church has always believed that our Lord is truly and really present in the Sacrament of the Altar. This is a doctrine. Transubstantiation, which is a explanation of how He is present, is a dogma.

Tradition – We confess that the Holy Spirit is always with the Church guiding it and guarding it. For that reason the Church may learn from its own history, its tradition and thought and prayer and experience, from its successes and from its failures. In the Episcopal Church, as in the other Catholic churches, we look back to the tradition to instruct us. For instance, we confess the Creeds, which are not in the scriptures but are the product of the Church’s reflection upon the scriptures. We believe in God’s nature as Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – a doctrine which is indeed a Biblical one, but was elaborated and articulated more explicitly by the Church in years after the time of the Scriptures.

Creed – A statement or formula of Christian belief. There are three main creeds: the Apostles Creed (BCP, p. 52), the Nicene Creed (BCP, p. 326), and the Athanasian Creed (BCP, p. 864).

Ecumenical Council – The first five centuries of the Church were a period of intellectual controversy and stormy debate. At times general convocations of the Church were called to settle pressing questions of doctrine. Those councils which were universal and whose decisions were later accepted by the whole Church are called the Ecumenical Councils. Their decisions have in a sense become final and are now standards of right belief in the Church. Example – the Nicene Creed is a formula of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D.

Heresy – Wrong belief or error in the understanding of the Faith.

Incarnation – the belief and doctrine of the Church that God assumed manhood in the person of Jesus of Nazareth the Christ; that Jesus is both God and man, completely and fully God, completely and fully man. (See the Chalcedonian definition, BCP, p. 864)

Fall of Man – The teaching of the scriptures and the belief of the Church that in some way man is not as he should be, not as he was intended to be by God in creation; that he has fallen from fellowship with God and is consequently sinful, hateful, and unhappy. This is not to be thought of as the condition of one person or of some people, but rather of all humanity, and for that reason it is sometimes called Original Sin. (Here, again, is a good example of the Historie/Geschichte distinction. We may not accept the Historie of the story of Adam and Eve, but we can accept the Geschichte , i.e., that man is fallen and in need of redemption.) It has been said that the Fall of Man and Original Sin are the only theological ideas which are empirically verifiable.Sin – The condition of Man apart from God. Any action of a human person in which he or she makes this condition of separation from the Person and Will of God real or actual.

Atonement – Literally, at – one – ment – the doctrine that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, man has been restored to fellowship with God. That man has been made at – one with God. The stranglehold of sin is broken and man is re-created as he should be – with God. The alienation of the Fall is overcome and man is raised to a new life with Christ in God.

Grace – The power of God. To understand what the church means by grace we must note that it is:

unearned – man is a creature and he cannot earn the grace of the infinite God.

undeserved – man has fallen away from God and he does not deserve the grace or power of God.

cooperative – God’s power – grace – acts with us as we allow it to become the principle of our lives. As we grow in grace, it grows in us making us holy, pure, and happy.

Grace – this word says to us that we don’t have to do anything to earn God’s love or receive his power. It is there – all has been done for us – not by us – in the atonement of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. In Baptism we receive the grace which brings us within the scope and power of the atonement In the Eucharist we receive the sacramental nourishment of grace to live the life of grace.

Sacrifice – From the Latin sacrum facere – to make holy. We usually think of sacrifice as meaning to give something up. Perhaps it does carry this meaning, but we must remember that the fuller meaning is to give something up in order to receive it back again. Jesus’ life was sacrificial: He gave up his life which was a human life – in order to receive human life back again, made holy, at-oned, with God. The Christian life is sacrificial: we give up our own lives to God in order to receive them back again made pure, holy, and happy. Christian worship is sacrificial – we give up our lives in worship, we give up the bread and wine in worship, and we find our life changed by worship, and the bread and wine made holy in worship to be food for our changed life.The Trinity – The Christian doctrine about the nature and inner life of God. That God is one God in Three Persons – One God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (The Athanasian Creed will tell you more about this. B.C.P., p. 864)

Terms Relating to the Faith and Practice of the Christian Life

Word and Sacrament – The Christian Faith as the Episcopal Church understands it has a twofold structure – word and sacrament. In God’s Word – the Bible – we learn about God, what He has done for us, and how He wishes us to be. The Word, then, is intellectual and moral. In the sacraments we are brought into the life of the Church and are nourished by communion with God Himself. The sacraments, then are mystical and experiential.

Sacrament – According to the BCP a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace given unto us; and a pledge to assure us thereof.” – a visible way in which God gives Himself and His power to us, as in the water of Baptism or the Bread and the Wine of the Holy Eucharist. In the Orthodox Church these are called Mysteries – the spiritual and supernatural way in which God uses the everyday things of the earth, and the occasions of human life. There are seven traditional sacraments: Holy Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist (Mass), Penance, Holy Unction, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony.

Holy Baptism – The sacrament by which a person becomes a member of the Christian Church.

Holy Eucharist – The sacrament by which one’s spiritual life is nourished by God in Christ. Other names for the Eucharist are The Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, the Divine Liturgy, the Mass. Eucharist means “giving thanks”.

Holy Orders – The Church, like all human institutions, needs order and structure to enable it to operate efficiently and effectively. For that reason certain persons in the Church are singled out to be the leaders and organizers of its life and activity. Holy Orders is the sacrament whereby the Church is provided with individuals who give it order and organization.

Threefold ministry of the Church – Traditionally the Church has had three different types of orders. The Episcopal Church believes that these three traditional orders are the way the Church was intended to be structured by God. They are:

Bishop – The visible head of the Church in a specific location and the chief sacramental minister. The Bishop confirms and ordains; he is a symbol of the unity of the Church and he gives orders to the Church. He is bishop over a diocese.

Priest – The priest is an ordained leader of the Church in a specific parish. It is the priest’s office to preside in the name of the Bishop over the celebration of the Sacraments and the worship of the Church, to teach, to govern and lead, to be a pastor to his flock.

Deacon – The word deacon comes from a Greek word which means “minister” or “servant”. In the early Church it was the deacon’s duty to carry out the official charitable works of the Church, i.e., distributing food to the poor, visiting the sick, etc. Thus, the deacon embodied the Church’s role as a servant to the world. In the middle ages the role of the diaconate became little more than that of an apprentice to the priesthood, which is unfortunately where it stands today. The deacon assists the priest at the celebration of the Sacraments, but is not a full sacramental minister.

Minister – Every Christian is a minister! As Christians we minister Christ and His love to our fellow Christians and others around us. Some persons have special ministries – as bishops, priests, and deacons – but we are all ministers in one way or another.

Preacher – The person who preaches a sermon during the Church’s worship. Any person can be a preacher.

Apostolic Succession – The continuity of teaching, worship and order in the Church over the centuries. This is a doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church, as well as the other catholic churches. The apostolic succession is preserved by the bishops who stand in a continuous succession back to the Apostles themselves.

The Church – The Body of Christian believers. Those who profess Jesus, the Christ, to be their Lord and their Savior, who live by His grace, pray in His name, and follow His example. There are four marks of the Church: she is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. That is to say:
One – unity is her reality and her goal.
– holiness is the presence of Christ within her.
– universality in space and in time and universality as a communion of the living with the dead is her nature.
Apostolic – the teaching of the Apostles handed down through the centuries is her standard and tradition.

Anglican Communion – The worldwide body of Christians in communion with the See of Canterbury (the Archbishop of Canterbury); the Church of England, the Church of Canada, and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America are some of the members of the Anglican Communion. It is just as correct to say that you are an Anglican as to say that you are an Episcopalian.

Archbishop of Canterbury – The presiding bishop of the Church of England, and the titular head of the Anglican Communion.

Thomas Cranmer – The Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII who presided over the Church of England’s split away from the Church of Rome. Thomas Cranmer compiled and wrote most of the original Book of Common Prayer.

Book of Common Prayer – The book of worship of the Episcopal Church, the Prayer Book.

Terms Relating to the Church’s Worship

The Liturgy of the Word – The order for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is twofold and is a reflection of the basic pattern of Christian faith and practice: 1) the Word and 2) the Sacrament. In the first part of the service – The Liturgy of the Word – we hear the Word of God proclaimed from the Bible – in the Old Testament Lesson, the Epistle, and the Gospel. We listen to an interpretation of the Word in the Sermon. We respond to this Word by declaring the substance of our faith in the affirmations of the Creed. This first part of the Mass is also known as the pro-anaphora and the synaxis.

The Liturgy of the Sacrament – After we have heard the Word of God proclaimed and expounded in the first part of the celebration of the Eucharist, we move to the second part of the service which is the The Liturgy of the Sacrament. Here we obey the commandment of our Lord to “Do This in remembrance of Me” and partake of the mystery of His presence in the Sacrament of Bread and Wine. This part of the Mass is also known as the anaphora, and with regard specifically to the Eucharistic Prayer or Consecration as the Canon of the Mass.

Proper of the Mass – Those parts of the Mass, such as the Collect, the Lessons and Gospel, the Introit and Gradual, etc., which vary according to the season and the day.

Ordinary of the Mass – Those parts of the Mass which do not vary, such as the Canon and other prayers.

Low Mass – A Mass celebrated without music or singing and with simple ceremony. The Celebrant is assisted only by a server. Also known as Said Mass.

High Mass or Solemn High Mass – A Mass that is sung and accompanied by music. Incense is used and the ceremonial is elaborate and colorful. The Celebrant is assisted by a Deacon and a Sub-Deacon, who have specific roles and responsibilities in the liturgy.

Liturgical Furnishings, Hardware, Etc.

Chalice – The cup used for the wine at the Holy Eucharist.

Paten – The small plate used for the bread at the Holy Eucharist.

Host – The unleavened wafer-like bread used in the Holy Eucharist.

Sanctus Bell or Sacring Bell – A bell sometimes found in churches which is rung at various times during the celebration of the Eucharist.

Crotalus – A wood rattle-like object which makes a terrifying sound. It replaces the Sanctus Bell during certain Holy Week Masses when the ringing of bells is surpressed.

Baptismal Font – A large receptacle which holds the water for the sacrament of Holy Baptism.

Paschal Candle – The large tall candlestick which is kept lighted during the fifty days of Easter and then placed next to the Baptismal font during the rest of the year. It is a symbol of the Resurrection of Christ – the Light of the World.

Thurible – Incense pot or censer.

Aspergillium – A wand-like object used for sprinkling Holy Water. Also known as an aspersorium or a hyssop. These names are derived from Psalm 51:7, Asperge me hyssopoet mundabor; lava me, et super nivem dealbabor. (Thou shalt purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; Thou shalt wash me and I shall me whiter than snow.), which is sometimes sung as the congregation is sprinkled at the beginning of Mass.

Monstrance – A remarkable object, often resembling a sunburst or a glory. A consecrated host is in placed in it to be the focus of meditation or adoration or to be carried in procession. Also called an ostentorium or ostensory.

Reserved Sacrament – Sometimes the sacramental bread from the Holy Eucharist is kept in the church to be available for any who may be sick or in grave danger of death and also to be a focus for prayer and adoration. When it is reserved, the sacrament is kept in a tabernacle – a box-like object which sits upon the altar as in the Lady Chapel at the Advent. Or it may be reserved in an aumbry or sacrament house, which is a more or less elaborate cupboard on the wall of the sanctuary near the altar. A light is always kept burning in front of the reserved sacrament signifying the presence of our Lord in the sacrament of His Body.

Dramatis Personae of the Mass

Sacred Ministers – The Celebrant and two assistants, Deacon and Sub-Deacon, at the celebration of Solemn High Mass.

Acolyte – Person who assists the priest at service.

Crucifer – Person who carries the cross in a procession.

Thurifer – Person who carries an incense pot.


Cassock – The long black (or red or purple or white!) robe worn by the clergy, the choir and the acolytes.

Surplice – The long white robe worn over the cassock.

Stole – The narrow colored scarf-like vestment worn by the ordained clergy. It is usually worn only at sacramental services and blessings. Its color varies with the season and the nature of the service being celebrated, as do the other vestments worn at the celebration of the Eucharist.

Maniple – A strip of cloth worn over the left arm by the Sacred Ministers during the Mass. It was originally a handkerchief or towel, with an obvious and practical purpose, which was part of normal dress in the Roman Empire. Later, it became associated with rank. In the Church it has always been understood as a sign of the nature of the ordained ministry – to be a servant of the servants of God.

Alb – A long white vestment with sleeves worn by the priest and deacon at the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

Amice – The fluffy white cloth worn around the neck of the priest at the Mass.

Chasuble – The colored poncho-type vestment worn by the priest at the Eucharist.

Dalmatic and Tunicle – Vestments worn by the Deacon and Sub-Deacon at Solemn High Mass.

Cope – The cape-like vestment worn by the clergy in processions and certain other services.

Biretta – A square black cap with a decorative pompom worn by the clergy as street dress and in some places also during Mass (during which it is removed at the mention of the Name of Jesus).

Humeral veil – a large oblong fabric, usually quite ornate, used at Benediction and for processions of the Blessed Sacrament, worn draped over the officiant’s arms and shoulders and covering the hands so that skin does not directly touch the monstrance bearing the Host.

Liturgical Colors and The Church Year

“Liturgical Time” is divided into seasons, each with a distinctive theme and appointed liturgical color. The liturgical colors are:

White (or gold): symbolizing purity, victory and joy, used at Christmas, Easter, and other Feasts of our Lord, the feasts of saints other than martyrs, and other festal occasions such as baptism or marriage.

Purple: symbolizing penitence and sorrow, worn during Lent and Advent, also worn by priests when hearing confessions.

Red: symbolizing the Holy Spirit and blood, worn at Pentecost, at ordinations, and on feasts of Apostles or martyred saints.

Green: symbolizing growth, worn during the “Ordinary” seasons – between Trinity Sunday and the First Sunday in Advent and between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.

Black: the color of mourning; worn for Requiem Masses and on Good Friday.

Oxblood: a deep dark red, combining the symbolism of blood with the darkness of sin, worn during Holy Week.

Blue: the color associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary; in some places blue is worn during Advent.

Rose: worn on the Third Sunday of Advent and the Fourth Sunday of Lent, days of “refreshment” in the midst of seasons of preparation and penitence.

The Church Year begins with the First Sunday of Advent and ends with the Feast of Christ the King on the last Sunday after Pentecost. The first part of the year follows the life of Christ from His foretelling and Incarnation through His ministry, His death, resurrection, and ascension, and the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. After Pentecost the Church Year enters an extended time of teaching. The seasons of the Church Year are as follows:

Advent – the four Sundays before Christmas, foretelling and anticipating the Incarnation; this season is more preparatory than penitential.

Christmas(tide) – the days from Christmas through Epiphany (January 6) inclusive, celebrating Christ’s birth and His manifestation to the Gentiles.

Ordinary Time after Epiphany – the weeks between the Sunday after Epiphany and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, one of the two periods in the church calendar (the other being Ordinary Time after Pentecost) in which the lessons focus on growth in Christian life rather than a particular period or event in the life of Christ.

Lent – from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, a period of penitence and self-discipline to prepare for the great feast of Easter; liturgical features include the omission of “Alleluia” and readings that emphasize man’s fallen nature.

Holy Week – from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday, commemorating Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, His Passion and Crucifixion.

The Triduum – the “Great Three Days” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday:

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and Christ’s washing of His disciples’ feet (the “Maundy”, from Latin mandatum, a commandment: “a new commandment I give to you, that ye love one another”).

Good Friday observes Christ’s Crucifixion, death and burial with solemn prayers, the Passion according to St. John, and the Veneration of the Cross.

Holy Saturday leads into the Easter Vigil, the great service in which the church scattered after the Crucifixion is gathered together and reconstituted, with the blessing of the New Fire, administration of Holy Baptism, and the first Mass of Easter.

Eastertide – the seven weeks between Easter and Pentecost, a sustained celebration of the Resurrection.

Ascension – the feast commemorating Christ’s Ascension into Heaven, 40 days after Easter and 10 days before Pentecost.

Pentecost – the feast celebrating the promised descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. Although red vestments are worn, a traditional name for this feast day is Whitsunday – “White Sunday” – a name derived from the white robes given to persons baptized on this day.

Trinity Sunday – the Sunday after Pentecost, given over to a celebration of the mystery that is the Holy Trinity.

Corpus Christi – usually observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday; a celebration of the mystery of the Eucharist, traditionally including a procession with the Blessed Sacrament.

Ordinary Time after Pentecost – the period between Trinity Sunday and the first Sunday in Advent, an extended time of teaching and growth.

Our Liturgy: Questions and Answers

For many people – even many Episcopalians – the style of worship at the Church of the Advent will be unfamiliar, perhaps even rather strange. These questions and answers are intended to address some of the points that most frequently puzzle visitors and newcomers.

Also see: Some Remarks by the Rector on Ritual and CeremonyGlossary


Where do our customs come from?

Why do we call ourselves “Anglo-Catholic”?

Why is the worship so formal?

Is everyone supposed to make all these gestures?

What are all the people at the Altar doing – why all the fancy vestments?

Why do we use incense in the services?

Can I receive Communion here?

Where do our customs come from?

Worship at the Church of the Advent reflects our foundation in the tradition of the “Oxford Movement.” Beginning in the 1830s, several Church of England clergy, in reaction to what they perceived as the laxity and spiritual lifelessness the Church in their day, started a renewal which came to be known as the Oxford Movement (because most of them were associated with Oxford University). They advocated a restoration of the pattern of Catholic worship, devotion, and spirituality which originated in ancient times but was lost during the Reformation. The recoveries included an ornate liturgy, private confession, devotions addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and monastic orders, as well as the use of the name “Mass” for the service of the Eucharist.

Why do we call ourselves “Anglo-Catholic”? 

The word “catholic” comes from a Greek word meaning “universal” and originally referred to essential beliefs held by all Christians. Over the course of history, as a result of various schisms and the consequences of the Protestant Reformation, it has come to identify Christians who hold a specific set of theological and sacramental views. Today, “Anglo-Catholic” describes the beliefs and practices of Episcopalians (Anglicans) who follow the ideas and practices born from the Oxford Movement.

Why is the worship so formal?

In addition to ceremonial recoveries, scholars of the Oxford Movement also led a rediscovery of classical Catholic theology, which included an elevated view of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which we believe Christ to be really present to us in the sacramental bread and wine – His Body and Blood. From a Catholic viewpoint, worshipping Christ present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist is an experience so profound that words become inadequate and ceremonial gestures, such as the Sign of the Cross and genuflections, serve to express some of what we cannot put into speech.

Is everyone supposed to make all these gestures? 

Not unless you want to. The Sign of the Cross and other ceremonials are outward signs of reverence; expressions of deeply personal belief and practice. They are not requirements of our liturgy or “tests” for membership. If you feel comfortable with them, use them by all means. If you have questions, one of the clergy would be glad to explain these customs to you.

What are all the people at the Altar doing – why all the fancy vestments? 

Our liturgy employs a number of ministers, ordained and lay, in roles that enhance our worship. The principal actors in the drama of the liturgy are the Sacred Ministers of the Mass – the Celebrant, Deacon, and Subdeacon. Their liturgical roles and distinctive vestments date back to early Church tradition. The Celebrant presides at the service and consecrates the bread and wine; the Deacon proclaims the Gospel and assists in the ministration of Communion; the Subdeacon reads the New Testament lesson and also assists at Communion. The Celebrant and Deacon are always ordained clergy; the Subdeacon is customarily a layperson who has been specially licensed and trained for this ministry. The other servers and choir play supporting roles in the action of the Mass, all of which draw the focus of attention to the liturgy of God’s Word and Sacrament. The vestments we use not only define the roles of the servers, but also express the corporate nature of our worship by minimizing individual distinctions.

Why do we use incense in the services?

The tradition of using incense in the liturgy goes back to ancient Hebrew worship, as recorded in the Psalms: “Let my prayer be set forth in Thy sight as the incense” (Psalm 141:2). As this verse suggests, incense symbolizes the prayers of the faithful rising up to heaven as the smoke rises to the rafters. Incense also appears in the Bible in association with visions of the Divine, most notably in the book of Isaiah and the Revelation to St John. The smoke itself is associated with purification and sanctification; thus, we cense the consecrated elements of the Eucharist to show that they are set apart, and when we cense people we are not only symbolically “purifying” them but also acknowledging that they are set apart by their Baptism.

Can I receive Communion here?

All baptized Christians are welcome at our Altar. In accordance with the Canons of the Episcopal Church, any person who has been baptized with water in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit may receive Communion in this Church. Please feel free to speak to one of the clergy if you have any doubts or scruples in this regard.


We hope this information deepens your understanding and enjoyment of our worship. If you have other questions about our liturgy or ministries, please speak to one of the clergy.

Compline at The Church of the Advent

Announcing Compline at the Advent—Second Sundays at 8 pm

Beginning Sunday, December 11, at 8:00 pm, the Church of the Advent will begin celebrating the ancient liturgy of Compline, preceded by Lucernarium, an evening service of lamp-lighting. All are invited to attend this new service with ancient roots in Christian practice. Going forward, we plan to pray Compline on the second Sunday of every month at 8:00 pm in the nave. There is particular need for parishioners familiar with liturgical practice at the Advent to participate, so if you are interested in helping celebrate this service of prayer before bedtime in the custom of early Christian monasticism, please contact Fr Hanson ( or Fr Wood ( This is a great opportunity to mark the Advent season with vigilance and reverence, and to become more familiar with the practice of daily prayer.

Advent and Christmas Observances for 2021

Sunday, November 28
Advent Sunday – Feast of Title & Dedication
8am: Low Mass
9:30am: Advent Wreath-making
11am: Combined Mass & Procession
John Taverner: Westron Wynde Mass
4:30pm: Raymond Hawkins Organ Recital
5pm:   A Service of Advent Lessons & Carols
music of Britt, Byrd, Jackson, Lehman, Martin, Palmer, Vaughan Williams, Victoria & Willcocks

Saturday, December 11
9am: Advent Quiet Morning (more information)

Friday, December 17
Advent 20s and 30s
6:30pm: Carolling on Beacon Hill – meet at Tatte at the corner of Charles and Mt Vernon Streets

Friday, December 24th
Christmas Eve
4:30pm: Family Mass
9:15pm: Choral Prelude
10pm (note time!): Solemn Mass
Roland de Lassus: Missa “Bel’ Amfitrit altera”

Saturday, December 25
Christmas Day
9am: Morning Prayer & Low Mass (no music)

Sunday, December 26
Christmas I
9am: Combined Mass

Friday, December 31
New Year’s Eve
5:00pm: A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols
music of Head, Holst, Jackson, Lister, Maconchy, Martin, Mathias, Palestrina, Stopford, Sweelinck, Villette & Willcocks

All events at the Advent are Covid-compliant.
Any changes due to the public-health situation will be announced on our social media pages.



Some Remarks on Ritual and Ceremony

The Advent’s liturgical style is a distinct one. We are, as is said, a “High Church”. This makes us rather unique in these parts, and is one reason that many of our members come to the Parish from a considerable distance in spite of the fact that a nearby church would be more convenient. And yet we are a varied and diverse group of people – thank Heaven! – one sign of which being the many different ceremonial ways by which members participate in worship. A number of people, particularly newcomers to the Parish, have asked me about these, and so I am including this brief article to explain a few of the liturgical acts you may have noticed at the Altar or in the pews around you.

We should begin by thinking about ritual and ceremonial themselves. We have to do this because both these things have become strange to many people in today’s secular world. Often they are regarded only as ornament, things not important in themselves. What is important, it is thought, is the reality or truth or feeling to which they point or which they seek to express. The ritual is only the outward trapping in which that reality has become clothed: do away with it; the reality remains. This idea, enticing as it may be to many people, is a mistake. The fact of the matter is, rather, that the more significant a reality, the more necessary are the rituals and ceremonials needed to express it. Words are inadequate us when involved in the really important things in human life. At those points we must join ritual, ceremonial, symbol to the words. One obvious example of this is human love. When we are deeply in love with someone we discover that that short phrase, “I love you,” – precious as it is – is not enough. Words cannot capture what we feel, and we are forced to do something more to express ourselves: an embrace, a kiss, a gift, a nickname. These are part of the ceremonial of romantic love. Viewed from the outside they may appear trivial, inconsequential, but from the standpoint of one in love they are deeply important, for the reality of love is beyond expressing by words alone.

Nowadays we call this “body language,” and, fortunately, we are beginning to rediscover and appreciate its power in our lives. Often it does more than simply express various human realities. Indeed, in many instances it is able to enhance them and heighten our awareness of their presence. Through a kiss, for example, we not only demonstrate our feeling of love but also make very real and tangible that love between ourselves and our beloved. Ritual and ceremonial, then, in varying decrees have a two­fold function: to express and to enhance.

A liturgical example would be the practice of kneeling. How expressive is this posture of man’s place before the Almighty God in prayer. How greatly it enhances a prayerful attitude. Perhaps this is why many people feel uncomfortable when they are asked to pray in another posture, for kneeling just “feels right”. And yet the practice of kneeling is a rather new thing in the Church’s ritual. For the first thousand years – and still the case in the Orthodox Churches – standing with hands raised was the normal posture for prayer. Kneeling caught on in the Western Church as it was influenced by the ceremonial of European feudal society; one knelt before one’s superior. It has remained with us in the West because it does well what ceremonial is supposed to do: express and enhance the reality to which it points.

There is one other function of ritual which we ought to think about before we go on to consider some of the things that are done in Churches. This function is to enable us to participate more fully in what is going on. The worship of the Church is not a spectator sport. The Hebrew and Greek words which mean worship originally indicated actions: the Hebrew means literally “to prostrate oneself,” the Greek means “to bow down.” A later word which is uniquely Christian, liturgy, points to the same thing. It means a common work, something which we do together. As the Bible and tradition understand it, then, worship is an action and requires participation. To participate is to enter into the worship; to sit back and watch, as if going to Church were like going to a lecture or to the theatre, is to miss the point, and, by the way, is bound to disappoint us. (Let’s face it: even the best of preachers have their bad days; even the best of choirs sometimes fall flat.) To worship is to enter into an activity, and it is precisely the Church’s ritual and ceremonial which enable us to enter. At times it thrills us. Other times it makes a point, dramatically, about our Faith. Often it demands that we do certain appointed actions in order that we become a part of what’s going on.

It is an error to identify ritual or ceremonial with any particular church or denomination. Each one has its own and the variety is enormous. The silence and austerity of a Quaker meeting, for instance, is just as much a ritual act as the most elaborate catholic liturgy. The practices that we shall consider now are chosen because they are traditional and are most often part of the worship of parishioners at the Church of the Advent.

BOWING. The significance of bowing is obvious, as it is part of the ritual of common courtesy even in today’s world. We bow slightly when we meet someone and shake their hand. We bow as we pass an acquaintance in the street. It is a gesture of acknowledgement and respect. In Church people bow toward the Altar when they enter or leave their pews, acknowledging it to be the focal point of the Church’s worship and the symbol of Christ’s sacrificial life. A bow is made to the Cross as it passes in procession and at the name of Jesus or of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Some bow toward the Bishop as a sign of respect and a recognition of his authority in the Church, just as they bow toward the Celebrant in procession to acknowledge his role as presider at the Holy Table.

GENUFLECTING. A genuflection is made by keeping the body erect and touching the right knee to the ground. Originally it was a gesture of deference towards a superior in the court ceremonial of the Roman Empire and was adopted by the Church in the West. It is commonly made by people on leaving or entering their pews when the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist is present on the altar or is reserved nearby. It is an affirmation of Christ’s real presence in the Sacrament. At the Advent we genuflect at the words, “and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man,” in the Creed, to acknowledge the mystery of the Incarnation of God the Son in Jesus Christ. We do the same at the words. “and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” when the Prologue (1:1 – 18) of St. John’s Gospel is read.

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS. The Cross, of course, is Christianity’s fundamental symbol. From the earliest time it has been used by people as a mark of their devotion to the One who died upon it. Together with the Altar, the Cross above it serves as a focal point in most churches, and it is worn as a pendant over the heart by many people. Our lives as Christians begin with this symbol, for it is part of the rite of baptism for a priest to mark us with the Cross.

As early as the second century tracing a cross upon themselves is mentioned as a gesture Christians made in worship and during prayer, when they awoke in the morning or went to bed at night. It is usually done by touching the right hand first to the forehead, then to the breast, then to the left shoulder and to the right (or in the Orthodox Churches, the right should and then the left). This practice is very, very ancient, but it is hard to say what its significance is in any precise way. Perhaps this gesture is just another one of those things that “feels right” – to mark oneself with the Cross, the symbol of Christ’s death and self-giving love for us, an action reminding us of what the Faith is all about. When this gesture should occur is also hard to specify, for the practice varies from church to church and individual to individual. It may be made at the beginning or at the end of prayer, at the end of the Gloria in excelsis and the end of the Creed, whenever the Trinity is mentioned, at the words, ‘but deliver us from evil’ in the Lord’s Prayer, and in threefold form over the forehead, the lips, and the heart before the solemn proclamation of the Gospel in the Eucharist. (In this case it is often accompanied by the silent prayer: “May my mind, my lips, and my heart give praise to the Lord” or “May my mind ponder, my lips proclaim, and my heart receive the Gospel of Christ”.) Sometimes it echoes, so to speak, the sign of the Cross made by a bishop or a priest when blessing or pronouncing Absolution to remind ourselves that blessing and forgiveness have their origin in the Cross.

* * * * *

What should you do? The old rule of thumb in the Episcopal Church used to be: kneel for prayer, stand for praise, sit for instruction. And though this was not followed in all instances, it is not a bad rule to remember if you are puzzled. But what about those other things I’ve just mentioned? Well, the best criterion is to do what “feels right”. Perhaps you might want to try some of these things for a time and see if they work for you. As the old farmer said, “Can’t hurt. Might help.” If they do, fine. If they don’t, discard them. The point is to do something which is natural for you, and personally expressive, and which, again, “feel right”, and thereby to enter as fully as possible into worship. That is our chief duty as believers, and as Scripture teaches, it is from worship “in spirit and in truth,” with heart and soul and mind that all other Christian virtues and blessings proceed.

The Liturgies of Holy Week

I hope that these comments will be helpful. It might be a good idea to read through the description of each service before you come to Church. You will then be familiar with what is going to take place in these unique liturgies and will be better able to enter into the action and drama of the liturgy.

Father Warren
The Collect for Holy Week

Assist us mercifully with thy help, O Lord God of our salvation,
that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts,
whereby thou hast given us life and immortality;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Palm Sunday

On this day the entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem is commemorated at the beginning of the Mass, and accordingly the Entrance Rite of the Mass is altered and elaborated to re-enact this event and to mark our own entrance into the sacred time of Holy Week. Acolytes and clergy enter and stop at the bottom of the Choir. The collect printed above is sung to mark the beginning of Holy Week. Then the story of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem is intoned, and the palms which we have been given are blessed. After this we process out of the Mount Vernon Street doors and around to the front doors on Brimmer Street, singing All Glory, Laud, and Honor which recalls Christ’s triumphant reception into the city. The liturgical color for this first part of the Palm Sunday liturgy is bright red, a sign of that triumph.

As we re-enter the church, however, there is an abrupt change in the mood of the service, signaled by a change in color. Red becomes oxblood. The frontal has been changed while we are in procession. The Sacred Ministers of the Mass change their vestments immediately after we enter. Our Lord was acclaimed as he arrived in Jerusalem, but quickly the powers that be conspired to do away with him. Triumph became betrayal and death. And so it is the story of the Passion which is the Gospel for this Mass. It is sung in parts to make us aware of the great drama that is beginning to unfold. During the last hymn the organ is turned off verse by verse until we are singing a capella. It will not sound again until the First Mass of Easter. The congregation leaves in silence.

Maundy Thursday

The liturgy on this day differs from that of an ordinary Solemn Mass in two respects: a ceremony, unique to the day, following the sermon and another at the conclusion of the Liturgy. The Gospel appointed is St John’s account of the last supper of Jesus and his disciples. In this account Jesus gives his followers a new commandment – “Love one another” – and to show what this means He humbles Himself and washes their feet. This Gospel is proclaimed, a sermon is preached, and Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet is re-enacted. Twelve persons representing the twelve Apostles come forward, and the clergy wash their feet as the choir sings the words of Jesus’ commandment of love and servanthood. Each is given a coin as a symbolic reversal of the betrayal which is to come. The service then proceeds as usual until after the Communion. It has been the custom of the Church for many centuries not to celebrate the Eucharist on Good Friday, but to receive from the Sacrament reserved from the previous evening. The liturgy, then, ends with a procession to the Altar of Repose in the Lady Chapel where the Sacrament is reserved until Good Friday. There a watch of prayer is kept until midnight, commemorating our Lord’s time in the Garden of Gethsemane. After the procession of the Sacrament the clergy, acolytes, and choir return to the sanctuary to prepare it for the next day. The lamps are extinguished and the sanctuary is stripped of all ornamentation. The bare Altar is washed with water and vinegar. The tabernacle is left open and empty. The choir intones Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me” – to remind us of the desolation of Gethsemane and the Cross.

Good Friday

We have commemorated our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem and His institution of the Eucharist. On Good Friday the liturgy focuses our attention upon His death. Appropriately, the ceremonial is stark, direct, and powerful. Its meaning is unmistakable.

The night before the Church has been liturgically destroyed. Everything which pertains to its life – even the Blessed Sacrament – has been removed and the building is empty and lifeless – no longer, in a liturgical sense, a church. This day speaks to us only of death. Consequently, the Mass, which proclaims resurrection and life, is not celebrated on Good Friday. Rather, in the Liturgy of the day Communion is made from the Sacrament reserved from the evening before.

The Sacred Ministers enter the Church in silence. At the foot of the altar they prostrate themselves. Upon rising, the Celebrant sings in monotone the Collect for the day. After this brief entrance the Liturgy of the Word begins. Today it is different from any other celebration chiefly in its simplicity. The Old Testament Lesson and the Epistle are read without the usual ceremonial. St. John’s account of the Passion and Crucifixion is sung by members of the Choir.

After the sermon the Sacred Ministers gather at the foot of the altar for the Solemn Collects of Good Friday, the intercession for this day’s rite. These are a series of very ancient prayers for the whole world, “all sorts and conditions of men,” which are traditionally associated with the day on which Christ suffered for all humanity. The Deacon bids us pray silently for various aspects of the life of the world, and the Celebrant sums up or “collects” our prayers with the appropriate Collect.

At this point the usual structure of the liturgy is interrupted by an ancient ceremony peculiar to Good Friday. The Sacred Ministers go to the rear of the Church, and there take up a large veiled crucifix. They then process down the aisle by stages solemnly unveiling and displaying the cross to the congregation. “Behold the wood of the Cross whereon was hung the world’s salvation! O come, let us worship!” When they have reached the foot of the altar, the cross is set up to be venerated by those who wish to do so. This very emotional ceremony began in the fourth century Church in Jerusalem when what was believed to be a relic of the true Cross was displayed on Good Friday.

When the veneration has been completed, the Sacred Ministers and Acolytes go to the Altar of Repose to bring forward the Blessed Sacrament which was consecrated the night before. This corresponds to the Offertory Procession in an ordinary celebration, but because the Eucharist is not celebrated on Good Friday, it is the reserved Sacrament which is brought to the altar, thus another name for this liturgy, the “Mass of the Presanctified Gifts.” On this day the Liturgy of the Sacrament is made stark and simple. It consists only of the breaking of the bread and the Communion, for there is no consecration. As preparation this is preceded by the Confession and Absolution and the Lord’s Prayer. After the Communion and a concluding prayer the liturgy is ended and the Sacred Ministers, Acolytes and Choir leave in silence.

The Paschal Vigil and First Mass of Easter

The service begins with the Church in darkness, expectant, seemingly just as it was when we left on Good Friday. The Resurrection of Christ is the act of God which brings the Church into being, and during this first Mass of the Resurrection the Church will ritually and, indeed, literally come into being again. It will be “re-built” liturgically in order to become what it was before the desolation and death of Good Friday. Light will enter the Church and the lamps will be rekindled. Persons will be baptized into the household of God. The Eucharist will be celebrated once again and the Blessed Sacrament – Christ’s risen presence among us – will be returned to the Aumbry. In this Mass the Church becomes alive again and whole through the power of Christ’s rising, no longer broken, desolate and empty as it was the day before.

The Choir, Acolytes, and Sacred Ministers enter the rear of the church in silence and in the dark. A fire is kindled and blessed and the Paschal Candle, a symbol of the Resurrection, is lit. The Deacon of the Mass takes the candle and leads us into the Church by stages. In a reversal of the procession of the veiled cross on Good Friday, he stops three times. This evening, however, he exclaims “The Light of Christ,” and at each exclamation the light spreads from the Paschal Candle first to the clergy, then to the choir, and finally to the congregation. Having entered, we all fill the Church with the light of the Resurrection. The Paschal Candle is put in place. Given the size of the candlestick, this is a moment of great excitement and anxiety here at the Advent. The Exsultet, an ancient hymn extolling the joy of Easter, is sung by a cantor.

Then follows the Vigil – a period of anticipation which awaits the solemn proclamation of Easter. Originally, the Vigil would continue until the stroke of midnight when the Resurrection would be announced. In our celebration it is much shortened. Five lessons from the Old Testament are read which in the early Church were understood to be prefigurings or “types” of God’s action in the Resurrection of Jesus. Silence follows each lesson. A psalm is chanted and the Celebrant prays an appropriate collect.

After the last of these collects, the Vigil itself is ended, and we proceed to the Administration of Baptism, Easter being a traditional and most appropriate time to initiate new members into the Church. The Deacon takes the Paschal Candle from its holder and leads a procession of Clergy and Acolytes to the Font. The candidates for baptism and the congregation join them. The Celebrant questions the baptizands, parents, and godparents and hears their vows. We reaffirm our own vows together with them. He then sings the Blessing of the Baptismal Water during which the Paschal Candle is plunged three times into the font, as if it were inseminating the water with the power of the Resurrection. Baptism is administered, and afterwards we all are sprinkled with water from the font to remind us of our own Baptisms. The procession returns to the Altar as the Litany of the Saints is sung, and we join our prayers to the prayers of those who have gone before us and know the fullness of the power of the Resurrection.

At this point the Celebrant proclaims the news we have all been waiting for, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” and all respond, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” The Gloria in excelsis is sung for the first time since we began Lent; the Collect for Easter; and the Liturgy of the Word begins. Before the proclamation of the Gospel, the Great Alleluia is sung by a cantor. This wonderful word, itself a joyful exclamation, has been suppressed during Lent. As if delighting in it, the cantor and congregation sing it three times, each time on a higher note.

After the sermon the Liturgy then proceeds as usual. Bread and Wine are brought to the altar and the First Mass of Easter is sung. The tabernacle, previously open and empty, is now replenished with the risen, sacramental presence of Christ. Easter has once again given birth to the Church. The Deacon dismisses us, “Depart in peace,” and he adds, “Alleluia, Alleluia!” We all respond, “Thanks be to God. Alleluia, Alleluia!”