Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why Do We Do That? Part 3

Someone asked me recently why I was doing this series. The answer is simple. I think it is important to understand the reasons we do what we do in worship as a means of enhancing our experience. Plus, if we joined a club of some kind, we’d likely be taught the customs and traditions of the club to help us feel more at home. Same thing here. So today, in the last of these for awhile, I’m focusing on why the clergy and laity dress as they do to lead worship.

If you’ve come to the Episcopal Church from some other denomination, you’ve noticed we dress funny for worship, i.e., we have unusual garments that are worn. We are not alone in having special garments that are worn by the clergy and those assisting at the altar. We retained the Roman Catholic worship garments of the Reformation period of the Church and have been using them every since. [There is a “more or less” here, but there’s not space to elaborate.] Some other liturgical groups use the same garments and they are making their way into churches that might not have used them 50 years ago, such as some United Methodist parishes. So, what are they called and why do we do it?
The white garment we wear at services of Holy Eucharist is called an alb, from the Latin word for white.  A garment much like this, the toga, was the daily wear of Romans in the formative years of the Church.  When clergy wore them they were just wearing their “street clothes.”  But as the dress style changed, the clergy kept the alb as their basic garment.  Originally these street clothes might be of different colors, but over time, the Christian community settled on white as a symbol of purity.  
Laity serving at the altar wear albs too. Most albs have hoods, but some clergy wear a modified alb called a cassock-alb.  It is essentially an alb without a hood. The albs are tied at the waist with a cord called a cincture. One underlying reason we wear vestments is to cover what we wear under them so as to not call attention to ourselves in a way that distracts worshippers. 

While all those at the altar wear the alb, clergy also wear a colored strip of cloth around their necks called a stole.  The stole is a sign of their office as clergy.  Priests wear it over both shoulders, hanging down the front. Deacons wear the stole diagonally from the left shoulder to the right side.  The stole originally was a kind of Roman robe or cloak which was worn by civic officials.  Over time, in the Church it became simpler and took its current form.  The stole represents the authority of the office of priest or deacon with the priest’s stole also representing the yoke of Christ they took on at ordination.
The celebrant of the Eucharist also wears an over garment called a chasuble.  Chasuble is from the Latin word for “little house” because the garment shelters the celebrant.  The chasuble can be simple or elaborate, but it is always seamless as Jesus’ robe was said to be—the robe for which the soldiers cast lots and is meant to remind us of that robe.  
In some parishes, celebrants don’t wear the chasuble, wearing only the alb and stole. In other parishes, that might be considered “low church,” i.e., they have a little less emphasis on ritual and custom, the celebrant and others may wear a black garment that hangs to the top of their shoes and has a little square cut out at the neck. It’s called a cassock and is worn instead of the alb. Over that, they wear a long white scooped necked garment called a surplice. Over that, they wear their stole.  This was essentially how the clergy dressed at the time of the Reformation in England. The return to albs and chasubles, which had been Middle Age customary wear, came about in the Anglican Church in the 19th century because of liturgical reform called the Oxford movement. That movement sought to return to the liturgical practices and customs of the Middle Ages.
Deacons don’t wear chasubles at the altar. They wear a similar though simpler garment called a dalmatic. It is the liturgical color of the day with simple decorations. Just like the alb had been the daily wear in Roman times, with some servants wore the dalmatic as their sign of office. It’s liturgical origin seems to have been Byzantine and was introduced in the West for liturgical use in the early 4th century first in Rome. It spread from there and was universally adopted by the 9th century.
For certain processions, such as major feast days, the celebrant or the Officiant may wear a cope.  The cope was originally just a cape worn outdoors to protect against the weather.  It is a large outer garment, open in front.  Attached to the back is a colorful section of cloth that originally was a hood.  Now it is purely decorative and is removed once the clergy are in position at the front of the church, just as you would take off your coat once you’re settled in.
For other services called Offices, such as, funerals, weddings, and Morning and Evening Prayer, the Officiant will wear cassock and surplice, unless there is a Eucharist.  The cassock is actually a garment some priests wear as daily wear over their other clothes.  For some of the offices, the Officiant may wear a black, stole-like band of cloth over the shoulders and down the front.  This is called a tippet and originated in the 14th century.  It is typically Anglican, though some non-Anglicans wear them.  Bishops dress differently from the other orders of clergy, that’s enough for today.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Why Do We Do That: Part 2

Last week I started by writing, “In this season of preparation for confirmation, I’ve found over the years that many people other than the inquirers wonder about why we Episcopalians do certain things in our worship.” The other thing I’ve run into is visitors commenting on how “Catholic” our liturgy seems. Today’s blog deals with that comment.

Yes, our liturgy seems very Roman Catholic and there’s a good reason. During the reign of Henry VIII in England when what would become the Anglican Church was developing, Roman Catholicism was the only way the English worshipped. This was true on the continent too, but Luther’s and other’s reforms on the continent didn’t just focus on theological differences with Rome, but with worship practices as well. The strong belief in the Protestant Reformation was that the Church had strayed far from the purity of the early Christians theology. Equally important for the reformers was that worship practices had been corrupted and needed to be reformed to return to that simple approach to worship. Consequently, much of the Roman liturgy was dumped and replaced with what the continental reform leaders thought the early Church was like.

But not in England. Sure, there was a strong sentiment to rid the liturgy and the Church of “excesses,” but the definition of excesses couldn’t be agreed upon. Also, unlike many continental Churches, the English Church kept archbishops, bishops, priests, and deacons and retained a bishop led organization--or episcopal with a little “e” structure. The big change here was these clergy could, and did, marry. (In the Episcopal Church, the other change is to give the other clergy and the laity an equal representation in the governance of the Church.)

There were many heated theological debates and some substantial theological changes were finally made. However, the liturgy retained much of the form and language of the Roman rite on which it was based. Many practices of the Roman church were retained as well, but many more were removed. For example, Anglicans still pray for the dead, but we have no provisions for paying for masses for the dead and we don’t believe our prayers hasten their departure from Purgatory--since we don’t believe in such a state. We pray for the dead, according to our Catechism, because we still love them and want them to continue to grow in grace.

During Elizabeth’s I reign, the Anglican Church really began to take shape. Tiring of the endless debates and tensions, Elizabeth decreed that, believe what you will about various matters, but we are going to all worship the same way. Using the Book of Common Prayer became a liturgical requirement and that Book, kept the essence of the Roman liturgy, while changing very little. Revisions made in the liturgy in her ordered Prayer Book, combined the more reformed ideas with the older Roman ideas, enabling people with both sensibilities to worship together and to “hear” what they needed to hear. 

The most fundamental of these is in what was commanded to be said when the bread and wine were administered. The more Roman words were, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.” The more reformed words were, “Take eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.” The first allows for the idea that the body and blood of Jesus are really present in the bread and wine. The second makes the sacrament much more a memorial of his death and requires the faith of the recipient to make the bread and wine “real.” Both of these sentences were to be said. And they still may be.  (Rite I on page 338, prescribes them as the preferred words at administration.)

So, we look “Catholic” in our worship, but we reformed a lot of our beliefs and practices. Elizabeth established in the Church the via media, the “middle way.” Often understood as wishy-washy, what via media actually means is we can accommodate a range of beliefs as we worship together as the Body of Christ. I think this is one of our great strengths. I hope you do as well.



Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Do We Do That? Part 1

In this season during which many parishes are preparing people for confirmation, I’ve found over the years that many people other than the inquirers wonder about why we Episcopalians do certain things in our worship. Today I’m starting a short series trying to address some of those questions.  Since this is the Season of Easter which spans 50 days, I want to begin by talking about a major liturgical change that’s made in the service for the season.

In most Anglican parishes around the world, the custom has developed to omit the General Prayer of Confession during this season. Why? Easter Season is understood to be the most joyous season of the Christian year with the focus more on praise, thanksgiving and our redemption than on confession. The Book of Common Prayer includes a rubric that allows for the omission on occasion and this great festival season is seen as a particularly good time to omit it.

There’s more! Before the Reformation, there was no general prayer of confession in the liturgy. People were expected to engage in self-examination and confession before coming to church to worship. This expectation influenced the trend for Christians to routinely to make private confessions to the priest on Friday or Saturday before Sunday worship. So, omitting the prayer is actually a return to the earliest practices of the Church. Outside of private confession, the idea also was that the very act of giving thanks to God was an acknowledgment of one’s sinfulness. The Prayers of the People also typically contained the Kyrie Eleison, which is penitential in nature. All this is to say, we don’t try to diminish the need to confess our sin; we just emphasize something else for a few weeks. 

Now to one other Easter practice. In many parishes, week after week, following the Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy...) most everybody kneels for the remainder of the Eucharistic Prayer.  In many of those same parishes, during the Easter season, people remain standing rather than kneel. Why? Same reason we omit the general confession. As redeemed people, we can boldly face God rather than humbly falling to our knees.

Besides which, kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer is a particularly western or Roman practice to start with. In the Orthodox Churches, they always stand for the Prayer and always have. In the earliest Christian Churches in the west, there weren’t chairs, much less kneelers, so everybody tended to stand. Kneeling entered the worship practices of the western liturgy in the High Middle Ages. The reason many people in Episcopal Churches stand for the Prayer year round is because it is the more historically “correct” way to pray. [BTW, to be completely “correct,” stand with your elbows at your side, your forearms pointing away from your body at about a 45 degree angle to your body and in front of you, with your palms open. This is called the “orans position,” the historic posture of prayer. You often see priests in this posture as they pray the Eucharistic Prayer.]

However, local customs are hard to change unless a particular rector really pushes for it. So in St. Mary’s practice, at Easter you are likely to see only a very few people standing during Easter--I’ll be one of them. One of the wonderful things about the Anglican Church is we don’t force people to conform to a particular practice in worship. What seems to matter most to us is this: if what you’re doing doesn’t disturb others as they worship and it enhances your experience of the Holy Mystery--do it! Stand if you wish; kneel if you wish; sit if you must. We’re just happy you’re there to worship our Lord as a diverse community of the faithful.



Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Creeping to the Cross

I had such a good response through emails and personal comments to last week’s post, I thought I’d continue the historical theme, but this time jump ahead to the medieval Church, especially in England, to which have much in common as Anglicans.

Holy Week was the heart of the Church year since Jesus’ passion and death was the heart of late medieval Christianity. From Wednesday on, the services were very elaborate with each day having special ritual observances. In the earlier medieval period the rituals were even more involved and powerful, but some of that vigor had waned. For example, the Vigil of Easter had been moved to Saturday morning rather than beginning at sunset Saturday night.

Palm Sunday’s procession was perhaps the most elaborate and eloquent of the processions of the Sarum rites. [Note: the cathedral at Salisbury, often called Sarum, had developed the liturgy that was largely in use across England. It was the revision of this rite that was the backbone of the Prayer Book liturgy developed during the English Reformation. Our present liturgy still has much in common with Sarum.] The rite began with blessings, sprinkling of holy water on the assembled people, reading the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the crowd’s reaction based on John’s gospel account.

Flowers and green branches were then blessed, distributed to everyone, and then all began the procession out of the church, led by a crucifix. The procession wandered through the village or city, finally making its way back to the church. There were a variety of other elaborate ritual actions including during the liturgy. Back inside the church the Passion story from Matthew was sung by three clergy and while this was being sung, worshippers, using sticks brought for the purpose made crosses for themselves. These crosses were kept in their homes until the next year and were thought to have special powers for warding off evil. Remind you of the palm crosses still used in many parishes on Palm Sunday?

Maundy Thursday was a very solemn liturgy. The kiss of peace is omitted because Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. Three hosts were consecrated: one for communion that day, one for Good Friday communion, and the third to be used in a ceremony at the end of the Good Friday service. When the liturgy was over, the altar or altars were stripped of everything on them. Water and wine were poured on them and they were washed with a broom of sharp twigs. All of this was to allegorize the stripping of Jesus, scourging him and crowning him with thorns, and the water and blood that flowed from the spear wound. 

People attended Tenebrae services on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. These were services in which candles were snuffed out one by one to symbolize the abandonment of Jesus by his disciples. But the Good Friday service was the most significant one of the week. In medieval Christianity, the passion and death of Jesus was the center of their theology, and indeed, the idea of literally sacrificing Jesus again at each Eucharist was central to worship.

Good Friday was a day of deep mourning. There was no Eucharist. The Passion story was read from John’s gospel. A veiled crucifix was brought into the church while a series of reproaches were sung. The cross was unveiled in three stages. At each stage the priest would intone, “Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the savior of the world. Come let us worship.” After the final unveiling, the clergy and the people would begin “creeping to the cross,” as it was known. They crept barefoot and on their knees down the main aisle of the church to kiss the foot of the cross. After this adoration, the third host from the Maundy Thursday Eucharist was brought from the niche and after all said the Lord’s Prayer, the priest, and the priest alone, communicated.

This practice of creeping to the cross was one of the most frequent targets of Protestant reformers from 1530 on. It was very hard to extinguish the practice because it was so much a part of the lay piety. Well after Elizabeth’s reforms were implemented, people still wanted to creep to the cross and did, in spite of an official condemnation of the practice.

But perhaps the most imaginative ceremony of Good Friday was at the end when Jesus was symbolically buried in a niche in the north wall called the Easter sepulcher. The priest, unvested and barefoot, brought out the third host from Maundy Thursday in a small container called a pyx. The pyx and the crucifix that had been venerated, were wrapped in linen and taken to the niche. A watch was kept at the niche until Easter morning that included the presence of many candles. The pyx and crucifix were removed on Easter and used in the Easter liturgy.

As you compare these rituals to our modern actions, you can see both the continuity and the alterations. For example, like them, we take the bread and wine of Maundy Thursday to a special place, but we do it on Maundy Thursday rather than Good Friday. Today we have no Easter sepulcher; we have an Altar of Repose to receive the elements. Many parishes have watches during the night on Thursday until noon Friday. And often there are candles and flowers. Our symbolism is not Jesus in the tomb, but Jesus in the garden in prayer and we are watching with him. This bread and wine are consumed on Good Friday and there is no consecrated bread or wine kept in the tabernacle because, as we understand it, Jesus is dead.

For our forebearers, the sepulcher was the central part of the liturgy of Holy Week, designed to inculcate and give expression to orthodox teaching, not merely on the saving power of the cross, but on the Eucharist too.  With its many lights and night watches, it constituted an especially solemn form of public worship of the consecrated bread or host.  It was a popular focus for lay piety and devotion.  But it was also the principal vehicle for the Easter proclamation of the Resurrection.

Yes, the services of our modern Holy Week can be long and sometimes tedious in our busy lifestyles. Still, without this visual reminders of Jesus’ final days and hours, can we really appreciate the wonder of his resurrection in its fulness? Earlier generations of Christians didn’t think so.