“Penitence, Prayer, Praise, Proclamation: The Nature of Worship”
In some combination, all four of these elements are found in all three of the great worship services of Anglicanism, namely, the Holy Communion, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. They are also found to some degree in the Ministration of Holy Baptism, the Order for Confirmation, and the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony. Other services and devotions, for example, the Litany, concentrate on one or the other of these elements, but complete worship contains all four.
Penitence: The Christian approaches God with regret for his errors and disobedience and a conscious desire to amend his ways. This is an age in which “anything goes” and people do not like to admit the possibility of anything so disagreeable as even minor sin. But Christians know that there is sin in everyday life and that the worst thing they can do is to deny it. “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” said the Lord. And so we begin Morning and Evening Prayer with a General Confession. And before we dare approach the Holy Table in Communion, we also join in the General Confession. Only as we inwardly cleanse ourselves by penitence are we prepared to worship God.
Prayer: Along with penitence, prayer is the establishment of communication with God. Worship is not a one-way broadcast but a two-way communication. Prayer may of course be silent and wholly private between the worshipper and God. Or it may be corporate prayer, said or sung by the worshippers together, or it may be collected prayers of the people, gathered up and offered by the Minister in the form of a “Collect.” Prayer is an opening of our hearts to God, a baring of our souls and inmost thoughts, a conscious acknowledgment that from God, “no secrets are hid.” Prayer may be for ourselves or for others. It may seek God’s mercy and protection or invoke His all-knowing will for the world and us. It may include penitence and it may include praise and thanksgiving. Whatever it says, it is our manner of reaching out to establish contact with God, of admitting that we are finite and He is infinite, that we are creatures and He is the Creator, that we live only in, by and through Him.
Praise: God sent us here; He will take us back. He is the author and Creator of all that is. “We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand,” as the Venite puts it. He is all-wise, all-seeing, all powerful. He is the source of all that we have. Therefore it is natural to praise Him, to extol Him, to pour out our respect and thanks and awe in praise. This may take the form of a song, such as the Venite, the Benedictus, the Jubilate Deo and other canticles. It may be expressed by a hymn or by a loud Amen or Alleluia. It may be expressed by the Sursum Corda and the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” or the Gloria in excelsis, in the Holy Eucharist. It may be expressed in prayer. But it should come from a heart full of reverence and love and thanks. “Praise God from whom all blessing flow.”
Proclamation: Christian worship is also marked by the proclaiming of the Christian message, the Gospel. This proclamation is done by various means. It is done by selected Scripture readings – the Lessons in the Daily Offices, the Epistle and Gospel in the Holy Communion. It is also done through the singing of hymns, which carry some part of the message from God to us. It is very directly accomplished through the sermon preached by the Minister, for this should expound the Gospel and the moral and religious and supernatural teachings of our faith. By proclamation, by teaching, by learning, we understand God’s purposes better and draw closer to Him.
These, then, are the four elements of worship: penitence, prayer, praise and proclamation. All four are present in any full and complete service of corporate worship and all four should be present in some measure or form in our private worship. Worship is the individual’s approach to God, God’s response to him, and the resulting mystical union of man with God.
Anglicanism provides a ritualistic form of worship. Ritual means simply a prescribed or customary order of worship. In Anglican churches, these prescribed forms are found in the historic Book of Common Prayer.
Ritual has the advantage of leaving nothing to chance. Nor is anything left to what might be the personal whim, bad taste or bad judgment of the officiating minister. The rites prescribed include everything required for complete worship in an orderly, reverent and beautiful manner.
The Book of Common Prayer is universally acclaimed for the dignity, reverence and classic beauty of its forms and language. It allows for few surprises. The worshipper knows what the service will be like in any traditional Anglican church. One might say that, in modern terms, this classic ritual provides the “inertial guidance system” for Christian worship! On the other hand, ritual does pose a danger for officiant and worshipper alike. That is the danger that familiarity and frequent use may turn ritual into rote – sheer mechanical, memorized, unthinking, automatic repetition. This can lead to boredom and inattention and even irreverence.
With awareness of this danger, it can be avoided and turned into a dividend. The worshipper can convert each Eucharist into a search for a word or phrase or a prayer which has never really impressed itself on his consciousness before, and can then ponder its freshly-discovered meaning and beauty. Thus each service can be a fresh adventure, a fresh plumbing of new depths, the discovery of new riches in familiar old words and phrases, the attuning of the ear and spirit to new shades of beauty and worship.
Anglicans have a form of worship developed and prescribed by the experience of the Church, of Christian worshippers, through many centuries. Much of it goes back to the earliest Christian worship, and even to the Old Testament and pre-Christian Jewish worship. Very little of Anglican worship has less than four centuries of Christian use behind it.
Anglican ritual, then, ensures that we worship in the same manner, often in the same words, as Christians throughout Church history. By its use of some elements of ancient Jewish worship, Anglican ritual also underlines the fact that we are the new Israel, sprung out of the Old Israel. Realization of these facts can make worship deeper, more significant, more reverent experience. It can make worship a thrilling experience as we feel ourselves indissolubly linked with the worship of the millions who have gone before us in adoration of Jehovah and the most blessed Trinity.
A Collect is a prayer said by the minister (whether bishop, priest, deacon or lay reader) on behalf of the congregation. We think of these prayers as being the “collected” prayers of all the people, offered up by the minister on their behalf.
The name, “Collect,” is particularly applied to certain special prayers. For example, the prayer that is said just before the reading of the Epistle at the Holy Eucharist is called the Collect for the Day. In several cases, more than one such prayer is provided; for instance, there are three for the Good Friday Liturgy.
These are all printed in the Book of Common Prayer. Most of them are beautiful translations by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (1489 – 1556) of ancient prayers hitherto in Latin. All of these Collects are addressed to God the Father, save three (Advent III, St. Stephan’s Day, and Lent I). Other Collects, addressed to the Father, are found in the Morning and Evening Prayer. The former has Collects for Peace and Grace; the latter has Collects for Peace and Aid Against Perils. Collects are also provided in the Prayer Book for some of the Lesser Sacraments and some of the Occasional Offices, examples being Ordination, Visitation of the Sick, etc.
The word, “Collect,” actually comes from a Latin phrase, “Oratio Ad Collectum” (“The prayer at the assembly”), which designated prayers said by the Pope on certain occasions during Holy Week. But the term has long been explained popularly and quite satisfactorily as meaning prayers of the people collected, gathered up and offered by the minister. As such, they merit the hearty assent of the people, signified by an audible and approving “AMEN” at their close.
The original Collects were nearly all in a standard form. First came the salutation, then a description of some act or attribute of God, then a petition or request and finally a doxology, a phrase of praise and glory. A classic example is the Collect for Monday in Easter Week: “O God (salutation), whose blessed Son did manifest himself to his disciples in the breaking of bread (description of an act of God); Open we pray thee, the eyes of our faith, that we may behold thee in all thy works (petition or request); through thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord (doxology). Amen.” Although the fourfold construction may be seen in many of the Collects, there are some, especially those which through the years have been substituted for others, which have departed in some degree from the classical form.
Many of the Collects are among the most beautiful and meaningful passages in the Book of Common Prayer. The least the worshipper can do is to listen to and share in them, making them silently his own (and audibly, too, for that matter, through the “Amen”) when they are said by the minister. Many people have memorized some especially lovely and significant ones and here and there are persons who have memorized all of them!
“Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy truly humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
The Book of Common Prayer
e historic Book of Common Prayer is so basic to Anglican worship and thought and so beloved of most Anglicans that it would seem almost unnecessary to write anything about it, having been the subject of innumerable books and pamphlets. Nevertheless, it is often found that members of the Anglican Churches are really familiar only with whatever services they usually attend; and moreover, that although they know the familiar prayers and phrases, they regularly overlook the rubrics. So it would seem that a few facts and comments are in order after all.
First, what are the sources of this Book, which is widely acclaimed as an incomparable order of worship and a glory of the English language? It did not spring full-fledged from the brain of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer or any other person in 1549 or at any other time. Basically, it is a compendium of the liturgy which has grown up and existed in the Church of Rome over a period of centuries. Cranmer left out some things and also added some beautiful compositions of his own, such as the Prayer of Humble Access and the post-Communion Prayer of Thanksgiving. Most of the contents, however, are simply adapted from the earlier liturgies of the Church, e.g., the Te Deum Laudamus (fourth century), the Prayer of St. Chrysostom (from the fifth century Greek Liturgy), etc.
Only one Office in the 1928 Book is of strict American origin, and that is the “Office of Institution of Ministers,” composed by the Rev. Dr. William Smith, Rector of St. Paul’s Church, Norwalk, Connecticut in 1799. The first post-Benediction Prayer in this Office is said by authorities to be one of the most beautiful prayers in the entire Book and is a composition by Dr. Smith.
The Book of Common Prayer provides for Anglicans worship that is majestic, beautiful, above the ordinary levels of their lives and orderly and dependable. It is Scripturally based; it has been developed by the Holy Catholic Church through the centuries and is thoroughly beloved by Anglicans in all its similar forms everywhere.
Even so, it merits closer study. It is an integrated Book and if it is respected and loved, all parts should be respected and loved. Too many Anglican worshipers are not as familiar as they should be with the 57 opening pages of explanatory and informational material. These repay occasional review – not least the Preface on pages v – vi; “Concerning the Service of the Church” on pages vii – viii; The Calendar, pages xlvi – xlix; and Tables and Rules for the Movable and Immovable Feasts, pages l – li. All parts of the Book are equally authoritative, equally valuable and equally beneficial.
That is true of the Rubrics, also. The Rubrics are, of course, the rules and directions as to the conduct of the services; they are usually printed in italics, but were formally printed in red, hence the name, “Rubrics.” If the Book of Common Prayer is to serve one of its purposes, to standardize Anglican worship, the Rubrics ought to be carefully and uniformly observed. Substitution of personal judgment and preference for the official directions was one of the causes of the breakdown in the usage of the standards in the second half of the 20th century and hence the adoption of a radically different version by the Episcopal Church in 1979. Yet through ignorance or carelessness, Rubrics are often ignored. A common and illustrative example is the corporate recital of the Prayer of Humble Access, whereby the Rubric clearly states, “Then shall the Priest, kneeling down at the Lord’s Table, say, in the name of all those who shall receive the Communion, this Prayer following”.
The Book of Common Prayer is not, of course, absolutely perfect beyond all improvement. It has never been so regarded and should never be so regarded. The Book of 1549 was followed by the Book of 1552, and that in turn by the long-lasting Book of 1662. The first American Book of Common Prayer of 1789 was clearly descended from the English Book of 1662, though also drawing heavily on the Scottish Anglican Book of 1764. The American Book was subsequently revised in 1892 and again in 1928. The most recent revision of 1979 was rejected by many American Anglicans as departing in substance from the foundations of all previous Books and as decidedly inferior in style and beauty. Nevertheless, at some point, the 1928 revision will also again be revised in some details.
Anglicans can be justly proud of their unrivaled Book of Common Prayer. It is not God, but it is an exemplary road to the understanding and worship of God.
There is, perhaps, no book of Holy Scripture more familiar and more loved than that of The Psalms. The psalms fit so many moods. They are beautifully expressed. They are so poetic and musical. Phrases from them abound in literature. The psalms have entered into the very fabric of our life and culture.
They are gathered together in the Book of Common Prayer in a section called The Psalter, which is simply the Bible’s Book of Psalms. Certain psalms are specified and included in the Daily Offices and in other services such as the Visitation of the Sick and the Burial of the Dead. Additional selections are appointed from the Psalter for use each day of the year in the services of Morning and Evening Prayer. Thus it is principally in Morning and Evening Prayer that Anglicans hear and say the Psalms in the yearly cycle.
In general, psalms are said (or sung) by minister and people together, sometimes in unison, sometimes responsively (minister and people saying alternate verses). It is important to say them thoughtfully and deliberately, to bring out their beauty of cadence. They are poems, or songs, not rhymed in the western style, but Hebrew poems of special beauty in language, phrasing and rhythm. Their poetry is enhanced by proper reading, which should include a distinct pause at the asterisk between the two halves of each verse.
The Psalms obtain much of their effect from the repetition, or parallelism, as it is called, that marks a great many of the verses. This means simply that what is stated in the first half of a verse is essentially repeated, though in a different way, in the second half. An example: “The heavens declare the glory of God; * and the firmament showeth his handywork” (Psalm 19, v. 1). Sometimes, however, the second half states a complimentary or even a sharply contrasting thought.
We noted at the outset that the Psalms fit many moods. There are psalms of praise and of joy, of lamentation and of complaint, of hope and of despair, of instruction and of meditation, of confession and of thanksgiving. Through them all run the themes that God is supreme and powerful, watchful and vigilant, just and merciful.
The non-Anglicans who use the Prayer Book Psalter for the first time or the Anglicans who have reason to refer to the Book of Psalms in the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible will each experience some confusion and surprise. The language of the psalms in the Book of Common Prayer is often slightly or even sometimes considerably at variance with the language of the psalms in the King James Version. This is because of the fact that the Psalter was put into the first Prayer Book, in 1549; it followed the versions of the Coverdale Bible of 1535 and the “Great Bible” of 1539. This use has continued throughout Anglicanism. There have been some subsequent corrections of poor translations which, however, did not make the Prayer Book Psalter by any means identical with the text in the King James Bible. Coverdale, though a bishop (of Exeter), was no linguistic scholar and his version was defective in places. But what he lacked in scholarship, he amply made up for in his sense of poetry, rhythm, music and majesty.
But who wrote the psalms in the first place? Modern scholars do not know for sure. It used to be thought that King David was the author; there is now no certainty that his authorship can be assigned to any of these compositions. The Book of Psalms was not written as a unity, by one person. It is a collection of the spiritual outpourings of many mystics, prophets, seers and leaders over a long period of time (but many of the psalms are as recent as the post-Babylonian Exile: 587 – 538 B.C.).
Whoever the authors and whatever the dates, the collection in the Psalter has religious and spiritual insights at once profound and prophetic. These hymns appealed deeply to the Jewish people and were thoroughly familiar to them. Quotations from them were often on Christ’s lips, even on the Cross, He cried out in the words of the first verse of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
How fortunate we are to have such a spiritual resource still at our command, as it was at the command of the Messiah, enabling us all to worship God in every mood of penitence, prayer, praise and proclamation. “O praise the Lord, for it is a good thing to sing praises unto our God; * yea, a joyful and pleasant thing it is to be thankful.” (Psalm 147, v. 1)
The English word, “creed”, comes from the Latin word, credo, which means “I believe”. A creed, therefore, in the religious sense, is a statement of one’s faith or belief.
Those Churches which claim direct descent from the early undivided Christian Church, the original “Catholic” Church, all accept one or more of the certain ancient and formal statements of faith, or Creeds. Some other Church bodies also accept some of these formal declarations but many Protestant bodies do not. Acceptance of and belief in the ancient Creeds is an express or implied condition of membership in such Churches as Anglican bodies, the Roman Catholic Church, the various Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Old Catholics. To understand what the Creeds mean to Anglicans, see, for example, in the Book of Common Prayer, 1928 American edition, the third question in Holy Baptism, on page 277, and the third question on page 278.
There are three historic Creeds. The Apostles’ Creed, so –called because it was once thought the Apostles themselves formulated it, dates in its present form from about A.D. 700. It is short and to the point and states 19 basic Christian beliefs.
The Nicene Creed restates 17of these points, some in expanded form (it omits the mention of Christ’s descent into hell and also the Communion of the Saints). It was drawn up at the First Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) and modified by the First Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381). It is the most universally used of the three historic Creeds.
The Athanasian Creedis seldom if ever used in Anglican services in the United States but it is a full exposition of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the Incarnation. It was written sometime before A.D. 373 but probably not by Saint Athanasius.
The Creeds are thus handy and oft-repeated summaries of our Christian faith. Anglicans say the Apostles’ Creed at Morning and Evening Prayer, often at burials, etc. The Nicene Creed is nearly always said at Holy Communion. No Anglican Christian should receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion (the Eucharist) without saying the Creed and no Christian should say the Creed without thinking of what he is saying and believing it.
The Daily Offices
We commonly call them Morning and Evening Prayer, or sometimes by the older terms Matins and Evensong. Together they are known as The Daily Offices, and the Book of Common Prayer provides for them to be said (or sung) daily throughout the year.
In ancient times they developed a regular round of daily services to be sung or said by monks, priests and nuns, and these came to full flower by the sixth century. These services were eight in number: Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers and Compline.
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, the chief architect of the Book of Common Prayer, took these eight Offices (or, to be exact, took five of them) and translated, simplified, rearranged and condensed then into two very similar services, Morning and Evening Prayer. He and later revisers also added a few details not originally part of the former “Choir Offices.”
The result is two services greatly beloved by Anglicans and familiar to all. It must be added, however, that as Church practice has developed, these Offices have tended to become Sunday services only, as far as the laity and many priests are concerned, contrary to the original intention that they should have daily use. Moreover, in many churches, they have become the principal Sunday service on some or many Sundays, which was certainly not the Prayer Book’s intent. They have also, in practice, often added a sermon, for which there is no provision whatever in the Prayer Book Order.
None of this negates the fact that these services are beautiful and satisfying structures of worship. They take the worshiper through an orderly round of Bible selections and Psalms (actually, if read daily, they would cover all the Psalms in a year). They include an Old Testament reading, thus remedying a lack of Liturgy of the Holy Communion, which had included such readings in pre-Reformation days.
Most of the prayers and canticles used in Morning and Evening Prayer are restatements of Scriptural passages. The General Confession, for example, has been called a “tissue of Biblical phrases,” taken out of both the Old and New Testaments. So is the Declaration of Absolution. The Venite comes straight from Psalms 95 and 96. Both the Benedictus es and the Benedicite are taken from the Apocryphal “Song of Three Children.” The Benedictus is taken from the Gospel according to St. Luke and is Zacharias’ song of praise for the birth of his son, John the Baptist, whom the angel Gabriel had indicated to him would be a precursor of the Lord; while the alternative canticle, the Jubilate Deo, is Psalm 100.
Similarly, the Evening Prayer, the great canticle, the Magnificat, also from the first chapter of St. Luke, expressed Mary’s rejoicing on the occasion of her visit to Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. (The alternatives to this canticle are both Psalms.) As the Magnificat looks forward to the Incarnation, the Nunc Dimittis looks back to it as an accomplished fact, breathing a spirit of peace, thanksgiving and hope; it is taken, or course, from St. Luke’s second chapter.
Non-scriptural is the hymn known as the Te Deum. The Gloria in excelsis, an alternative to the Gloria Patri in Evening Prayer, is also non-scriptural. These are considered to the two greatest hymns of the Church, both West and East. The Te Deum laudamus is a magnificent exclamation of praise in its restatement of the creedal doctrine of the Trinity. It probably originated in the fifth century. The petitions which constitute the last seven verses of this hymn were not originally part of it. The Te Deum is so majestic that it is sometimes used as a service of thanksgiving on occasions of special rejoicing.
Morning and Evening Prayer end with Collects and Prayers taken from a wide variety of sources – the Bible, ancient Sacramentaries (collections of prayers), the Prayer for Clergy and People being an example; an English bishop (Peter Gunning of Chichester, 1670 – 1674), who composed the Prayer for All Conditions of Men; Queen Elizabeth I, who originated the General Thanksgiving, revised in its present form as another English Bishop (Reynolds of Norwich, 1661 – 1676), etc. A Prayer of St. Chrysostom comes from the fifth century Greek liturgy. The two Offices conclude with the Grace, a slightly altered version of the final verse of St. Paul’s second Epistle to the Corinthians.
The Daily Offices (including Morning Prayer, whether used separately or as a preface to the Holy Eucharist) are models of the fullness, the beauty and the ordered structure of Christian worship. They are among the many Anglican treasures.
This page is part of a series of Anglican teaching leaflets originally written by Perry Lankhuff and offered by Christ Church Anglican.