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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Rites and Ceremonies

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

Communion is received at the regular worship service throughout the life of an Anglican believer.  Some churches celebrate the Eucharist at every weekly service, others less frequently.  In Communion, worshippers receive a bite of bread or a wafer, and a sip of wine (or grape juice in some churches).  The significance of the bread and wine, however, is debated within Anglicanism, with a variety of Reformed views being most common.  Some view them as simply bread and wine, with the significance placed on the Eucharistic ceremony.  Such ceremony might be seen as a memorial of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, or as an action during which the spiritual presence of Christ is received by the faithful.  Others view the elements of bread and wine in more sanctified terms, as instruments through which the spiritual presence of Christ is received.  Some, however, maintain a rather Lutheran perspective, seeing the elements as bearing the real but intangible body and blood of Christ.

Anglicanism also recognizes other sacramental rites that evolved in the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  These include confirmation (the affirmation of the faith upon reaching maturity), ordination (the rite of being made a clergy person), matrimony, reconciliation of a penitent (confession of sins and pronouncement of absolution), and unction (anointing the sick, usually with oil, for the sake of healing).

The BCP contains ceremonies for the great sacraments, the other sacramental rites, and other occasions such as burial of the deceased.  The central ceremony is the weekly (generally Sunday) worship service, which is structured with twin focal points, word and sacrament, because of the importance of joining the proclamation of God's word (meaning the Bible and its message) with the administration of a sacrament.

The first portion of the weekly service is the service of the word.  It contains set prayers, invocations, and proclamations of praise, some said by a clergy person and some by all worshippers.  There are also songs, perhaps of contemporary composition or from a book of classic hymns.  The core of the service of the word involves reading from passages of scripture and a sermon or homily, with a proclamation of faith (usually the Nicene or Apostles' Creed) serving as a corporate response to the word read and preached.  More prayers and the confession of sins follow.

The second portion is the service of the sacrament, referring to the Eucharist.  This portion of the service includes brief recitations of salvation history (creation, fall, redemption) and the Last Supper.  There is also an invocation of the Holy Spirit to consecrate the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine, and the Lord's Prayer is said.  Then the elements are distributed to the worshippers.  After more prayers and singing, the service ends.  There are, of course, variations on this pattern, but this is a representative summary.

Study Questions:
     1.    What is the BCP? When was it created, and what does it include?
     2.    Describe the Anglican rite of baptism. Why do Anglicans participate in it?
     3.    Describe the Anglican Eucharist.
     4.    What other sacramental rites does Anglicanism celebrate? How are they guided?


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