The principal weekly worship service for Episcopalians is called Holy Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. When you worship with us on Sunday, this is likely the service you will experience.
The guide for the service is The Book of Common Prayer, a red book with a cross on the cover found in all pews. At Grace-St. Luke's, we also provide the day's liturgy in an easy-to-follow paper service bulletin. Be sure to get one as you walk in.
Worship in the Episcopal Church is said to be “liturgical,” meaning that the congregation follows service forms and prays from texts that don’t change greatly from week to week during a season of the year. This sameness from week to week gives worship a rhythm that becomes comforting and familiar to the worshipers.
For the first-time visitor, liturgy may be exhilarating… or confusing. Services may involve standing, sitting, kneeling, sung or spoken responses, and other participatory elements that may provide a challenge for the first-time visitor. However, liturgical worship can be compared with a dance: once you learn the steps, you come to appreciate the rhythm, and it becomes satisfying to dance, again and again, as the music changes.
In spite of the diversity of worship styles in the Episcopal Church, Holy Eucharist always has the same two major components.
The first component, The Liturgy of the Word, is a set of Bible readings interspersed with group singing of hymns or psalms. One of the readings is always from the Gospels. Next, a sermon interpreting the readings appointed for the day is preached, and then the congregation recites the Nicene Creed, which was written in the Fourth Century and remains the Church’s statement of what we have believed ever since.
Next, the congregation prays together—for the Church, the World, and those in need. We pray for the sick, thank God for all the good things in our lives, and finally, we pray for the dead. The presider (e.g. priest, bishop, lay minister) concludes with a prayer that gathers the petitions into a communal offering of intercession.
In certain seasons of the Church year, the congregation formally confesses their sins before God and one another. This is a corporate statement of what we have done and what we have left undone, followed by a pronouncement of absolution. In pronouncing absolution, the presider assures the congregation that God is always ready to forgive our sins.
The congregation then greets one another with a sign of “peace.”
The second half of the service—The Liturgy of the Table—then begins. The priest stands at the table, which has been set with a cup of wine and a plate of bread or wafers, raises his or her hands, and greets the congregation again, saying “The Lord be With You.” Now begins the Eucharistic Prayer, in which the presider tells the story of our faith, from the beginning of Creation, through the choosing of Israel to be God’s people, through our continual turning away from God, and God’s calling us to return. Finally, the presider tells the story of the coming of Jesus Christ, and about the night before his death, on which he instituted the Eucharistic meal (communion) as a continual remembrance of him.
The presider blesses the bread and wine, and the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer. Finally, the presider breaks the bread and offers it to the congregation, as the “gifts of God for the People of God.”
The congregation then shares the consecrated bread and the wine. At Grace-St. Luke's, we come to the altar, one pew at a time, and many receive bread first, then a sip from the chalice. Intinction is another method of receiving communion, whereby the bread is dipped into the chalice, so that one receives the bread and wine together. It is also perfectly acceptable to receive communion in one kind only (bread). The practice of receiving communion varies from parishioner to parishioner at Grace-St. Luke’s.
All are welcome. All baptized Christians—no matter age or denomination—are welcome to receive communion. Episcopalians invite all baptized people to receive, not because we take the Eucharist lightly, but because we take our baptism so seriously.
Visitors who are not baptized Christians are welcome to come forward during the Communion to receive a blessing.
At the end of the Eucharist, the congregation prays once more in thanksgiving, and then is dismissed to continue the life of service to God and to the World.