The Beauty of Holiness
Though the 20th century has seen an increasing trend towards “church as entertainment,” we in the ACC share the view of Lancelot Andrews, Bishop of Winchester (1617-1626), who believed that there should be a sense of holy decency” in the worship of the Church. From the grandeur of the Solemn High Mass to the sturdy simplicity of the said Daily Office, Anglican worship is characterized by a sense of reverence. And while our worship is not always formal, we take care to ensure that is it carried out with a respect for “the beauty of holiness.” (Ps. 96.9).
The Daily Office
The Anglican Daily Office has its origins in the earliest age of the church. We read, for example, in Acts 10 of Cornelius and his household praying together at specific times of the day. These prayer gatherings most likely followed the Jewish custom, during which psalms would be recited, canticles sung, and lessons read.
Later, with the rise of monasticism, this course of prayer became regularized, with members of the community coming together seven times over the course of the day. These services were named either to reflect their specific purpose, after the respective hours when they were to occur.
Mattins–from the Latin, matutinus, meaning “of the morning”
Lauds–from laudare, meaning “to praise”
Prime, Tierce, Sext, and Nones–from the time in which these services were to occur, i.e. the first, third, sixth, and ninth hours of the day
Vespers–from the Latin, vespera, meaning “evening”
Compline–from the Latin verb form completum, meaning” fulfilled, finished, or complete”,
This schedule of services ensured that the monastic community would uphold its officium, or “duty” of regular prayer and reading, but because of the time involved, this practice was not really suited for those who had to labor, and even the secular clergy, whose primary responsibility was to their parish, had difficulty maintaining its course. So, in the 16th century when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer set out to create a book of common prayer, that is, a prayer book for everyone, he combined the sevenfold office of the old monastic rule into two shorter services, Morning and Evening Prayer. These two services still retained the essential character of psalms, lessons and canticles, but were streamlined and simplified so that secular clergy and even laymen could use them.
This revised rite remains the essential structure around which the prayer life of Angican Christians is built. The Daily Office, as found in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, remains essentially unchanged from the days of Cranmer’s revision, and the Psalter, which is taken from the Great Bible of 1539, retains in its language an honest and earthy grandeur. Though Morning and Evening Prayer are an important part of Anglican corporate worship, and are often said in the course of Sunday services, they are intended to be a regular, that is daily office, which may be said by the indiviudal Christian at any time and any place. Thus, the Daily Office is a key means of exercising the spirit in the regular life of prayer.
The Holy Eucharist
The Holy Eucharist is the central act of worship for catholic Christians. In the Mass, we commemorate Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross, and receive his body and blood under the form of bread and wine. In the United States, the mass is celebrated according to the rites found in 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Other authorized rites include that the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book, the 1954 South African Prayer Book, and the 1963 Indian Prayer Book, as well as those found in the Anglican Missal. Each of these has its own beauty, and each occupies a unique place in the history of Anglican worship. In the current Missal, services are said using one of the three authorized canons:
The Gregorian Canon: This is the most ancient, of the Eucharistic three rites. It is the core of what was once known as the “Sarum Rite,” which was used throughout most of the southern province in pre-reformation England. Nowadays, when the Gregorian Canon is used, it is generally said in English, though a Latin version is available in certain missals.
The Prayer Book Canon of 1549: This is the Eucharistic canonfrom the very first Book of Common Prayer. Devised by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, it incorporated many elements of the ancient liturgy and served as a bridge between the Use of Sarum and later prayer book revisions.
The American Canon: This is perhaps the most familiar of the three Eucharistic canons, being based on the liturgy laid out in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (American Edition). There are a few minor differences, such as the inclusion of certain prayers, most of which are said silently by the priest, but it will be familiar to anyone who grew up in the pre-1970s Episcopal Church.
The amount of ceremonial in Anglican parishes varies depending on the day, but most services are what has traditionally been thought of as a “Low Mass.” This means that although there may be some chanting, the bulk of the rite is said. Likewise there are no sacred ministers (that is, the priest alone is celebrant), and things like torches and incense are not used.
In some parishes, there are occasions, such as Christmas and Easter, where the importance and rank of the day lends itself to an added level of ceremonial. At such times such parishes may celebrate a form of “High Mass.” This generally does involve chanting, as worshippers remember the dictum often attributed to St. Augustine–Qui bene cantat, bis orat, or “he who sings well, prays twice.” Such occasions may also see the use of incence, both in honor of Our Lord, who was given frankincense at his birth, and to symbolize our prayers which, St. John tells us, ascend up like ‘the smoke of the incense” before the throne of God.
Whatever the level of ceremonial, the Holy Eucharist is the key expression of our catholic faith and an opportunity for the worshipper to enter into communion with God.