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Religion Library: Anglican/Episcopalian

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life

Written by: Russell P. Dawn

Like other Christians who follow the liturgical calendar, many Anglicans tailor their personal devotional practices to the liturgical seasons.  For instance, during the four-week season of Advent the family dinner table might be adorned with an Advent wreath, a circle of evergreen fronds with four candles on the circle and one in the middle.  Although there is some variation in the colors of the candles, typically there are four purple candles (or three purple ones and a pink one) on the circle, and a white one in the middle.  Starting on the first Sunday of Advent, during the first week one purple candle is lit each evening (or perhaps just on Sunday); during the second week another purple candle is added; during the third week the pink or third purple is also lit; and in the final week all four candles are lit.  Then on Christmas (or Christmas Eve) the white candle is added.  The lighting of the candles may be accompanied by a reading from scripture or a devotional prayer.

The symbolism of the Advent wreath includes eternal life (the circular shape and the evergreen leaves), the light of God coming into the world (the candles), penitence (Advent is a penitential season and purple is a traditional penitential color), and awaiting the coming of Christ.  Each candle also has its own meaning, although there is little uniformity there.  A frequent pattern of meanings is that the first candle signifies hope, the second love, the third joy, and the fourth peace.  The white candle always symbolizes Christ.

Another liturgical season with a common pattern of devotional practice is the six-week penitential season of Lent.  The first day of Lent is called Ash Wednesday, and the traditional practice is that Anglicans (and other Christians who observe Lent) attend a Church service that day and receive the imposition of ashes.  Ashes blended with a little oil or ointment are traced onto the worshippers' foreheads in the shape of a cross, reminding them that they are from dust, and to dust they shall return.  In other words, without the gracious love of Christ, they are nothing. 

Many Anglicans also follow the devotional practice of "giving up something for Lent."  The form ranges from giving up chocolate for the duration of Lent, to giving up some free time or television for the sake of prayer and Bible reading, to fasting one day each week.  The main purpose of the discipline is to call to mind the worshipper's own tendency toward self-indulgence, and the enormity and centrality of Christ's sacrifice for the worshipper's sake.

Study Questions:
     1.    What is meant by the Anglican “Daily Office”?
     2.    What is the purpose of daily devotions? How does one engage in them?
     3.    How might the liturgical year influence one’s daily devotional practice?


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