Why are there no flowers in Church for Lent?And the new one for July
Demystifying Church part 2!
The Christian year has a number of ‘big’ festivals – our most important celebrations of special events in the history of the Church. We remember special Saints (such as St Peter, St Paul, John the Baptist, St George, St David, St Andrew etc) throughout the year, we remember the birthday of the Church at Pentecost (Whit Sunday) and we remember important parts of the life of Jesus. The most important festival of the year is Easter, remembering the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus closely followed by Christmas when we remember His birth. These celebrations were considered so important by the early followers of Jesus that they set aside time for preparation before them - leading up to Christmas we have the time of Advent, and leading up to Easter we have the period of Lent.
These times of preparation were called ‘fasting’ because people would stop eating rich foods, such as meat and eggs and cheese and would stop drinking alcohol. This was in order that they might concentrate on the important meaning of Christmas and Easter before actually getting to the big day itself.
Lent is also a reminder of what Jesus went through when he spent time in the desert praying before he started his work of proclaiming the Gospel which we call his years of ‘public ministry’. During this time, which the Bible describes as ‘forty days and forty nights’ we are told he went without any food, and was also tempted to give up on doing God’s work and to do as he pleased but he resisted. This is such a significant story that since the earliest times Christians have tried to follow Jesus example and to have a time of self-discipline and prayer before Easter. Lent was also the time that people would prepare to be Baptised on Easter day, so those who were joining the Church would spend forty days learning about the Christian Faith before they became members of the Church.
Because of this it was thought important that the whole Church should have a more solemn time leading up to Easter, therefore we change the colours of our Altar Cloths and vestments to purple (called our ‘penitential’ colour) and we remove the flowers from the Church. We have this time to remind us of all that Jesus went through in his life, especially at the start of his ministry, and leading up to his cruel death. It means that when we get to Easter, our greatest celebration, we don’t take God’s love for granted but we rejoice that God did love the world so much that he gave Jesus to die to take away our sins.
Liturgy: services and praying together – Part 1
One of the great treasures of the Church of England is its liturgy, at least that’s what a number of commentators say about the services we use. Though many of us have experience of Churches which don’t use a set form of words for services, the Church has been using ‘Liturgy’ since the first century to give order and shape to worship. The reason we use certain words is not that we learn services by rote and parrot them off every week, but to give space within these structures to pray using the prompts and familiar order.
There are certain elements we find within all Anglican worship. The service will usually contain a form of confession, a prayer for the day or week of the Church’s year called a Collect, readings from the Bible (often accompanied by a sermon or thoughts based on those readings), prayers for the world (commonly called Intercessions), the Lord’s prayer and a form of blessing; either said by a Priest or all said to one another such as in ‘the Grace’. A Holy Communion service – also known as ‘The Eucharist’ or the Lord’s Supper – will contain all of the above plus a prayer over the bread and wine, and other elements which stretch back to the beginning of the Church’s life such as the Peace, Sanctus (Holy, Holy, Holy) and Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).
1662 and all that…
Many of us would consider the prayer book of 1662 a gem amongst the written forms of worship that the Church has used over the centuries. In itself it created for hundreds of years a sense of identity and order in worship that was uniquely Anglican. In the past fifty or so years, however, much more research has been done by all of the major church denominations into the foundation of worship stretching back to the early days of the Church. One of the concerns of Liturgy is to ‘proclaim afresh’ the belief of the Church in a way that people understand and relate to, whilst being true to our roots in faith. Whilst beautifully written and still very much at the heart of Anglican Tradition the 1662 prayer book lacks many important elements of worship. Archbishop Cramner, the author of the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, was adamant that worship should always be in ‘the vernacular of the people’ and shouldn’t alienate worshippers with arcane or archaic words. The revisions of the BCP which took place over the next hundred and twenty years were often as much to do with making statements about politics – within both church and state – as with theology. Amendments were made to the shape and content which Cramner himself did not wish for, and the Act of Uniformity of 1662 which made the BCP the sole prayer book authorised for use in England was as much concerned with stamping the authority of the re-established Monarchy on the Church and of subduing the non-conformists as with binding the Church of England together.
In the 1960s and 70s members of the mainstream denominations began working together to discover how worship had shaped the early Church. Using manuscripts of worship services stretching right back to the beginning of Church they found certain elements which were considered crucial to certain services, particularly Holy Communion. The prayer invoking the Holy Spirit at Communion (epiklesis) and the sharing of Peace were two things which had been dropped from the BCP, the first because it looked too much like the Roman Catholic Rite the second because the rich refused to touch the poor in Church and wouldn’t share the peace with them. These were quickly brought back into general use as they were considered Biblical practice, indeed the first letter to the Thessalonians had instructed Christians to ‘greet one another with the kiss of peace’ – which soon became a handshake in British tradition!
These revisions in worship were, and are, concerned with bringing the Church back to the practices of our forebears in faith, whilst at the same time making worship accessible and relevant for a 21st century Church. Though there is much more variety available within our services, the shape is constant between all types of service. Rather than having one form of prayer following the BCP 1662 our services have what liturgists call a ‘family resemblance’ which gives a feel of Anglican worship whilst also having a sense of local identity and making allowances for local practise. If you look closely, though, you will find that similar shape within all of our services, Holy Communion, Morning and Evening Prayer (both contemporary and traditional), Morning Worship, Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals and even Family Services all contain the elements which make our services Anglican in such a way as to express our common life and faith.
So next time you take part in worship, look out for those things which make up our worship, and remember that in sharing these words and actions we share the faith of our brothers and sisters stretching back over hundreds of years, even as we carry on their life and witness in our daily lives giving glory to God in all we do and say!