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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

Anglicanism's main book of rites and ceremonies is the Book of Common Prayer, or BCP.  First composed by Thomas Cranmer in 1549, editions of the BCP are to be found around the Anglican Communion in a variety of languages and with diverse theological emphases.  In addition, alternative liturgies (orders of services) have proliferated, the Church of England's Common Worship being a prominent example.  In the United States, the latest (1979) version of the BCP retains much of the traditional language of the 1928 version, but also adds modern language liturgies.  Some of the changes not only modernized the language, but adjusted the theological emphases, generally in an Anglo-Catholic direction.  In spite of this diversity, the BCP is still considered a bond of unity in Anglicanism, and most editions are recognizably heirs of Cranmer's work.

Anglican rites are generally centered upon the worship of God and the receipt of God's grace or blessing.  The two great sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion (or the "Eucharist" or "Lord's Supper") are primary in this regard.  A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  Baptism and Holy Communion are the "great" sacraments because they were instituted by Jesus Christ.

Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, and instructed his disciples to go and make disciples of others through teaching and baptism.  In the Anglican rite of baptism, water is applied (by sprinkling or immersion) to an infant or a newly believing adult (or older child), together with the recitation of particular words from scripture and an explanation of the meaning of baptism.  This ordinarily occurs as part of the regular weekly worship service, as the occasion arises.  A person is baptized once in his or her life, although a few Evangelical Anglicans promote rebaptism of those who were baptized as infants.  The exact meaning and efficacy of baptism is debated within Anglicanism, but the Thirty-nine Articles teach that baptism is a sign of regeneration by which, as by an instrument, one is grafted into the Church, the promise of forgiveness is sealed, and faith is confirmed.

The second great sacrament is Holy Communion.  The practice of Communion was instituted by Christ at the Last Supper.  The American BCP summarizes the Last Supper in these words:

On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread; and when he had given thanks to you [God the Father], he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, and said, "Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you.  Do this for the remembrance of me."  After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, "Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.  Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me."


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