Our worship environment.
At St. John’s before the opening hymn begins there is 10-15 minutes of quiet time. This allows people quiet time to gather their thoughts and prayers and to make their silent offerings to God. Five minutes before worship begins the organist begins playing a meditational piece. This “breaking of silence” by the organ helps us to move from our personal prayers to the anticipation of worship and to receiving Jesus in Holy Communion.
Worship begins with great reverence. A hymn is sung, the people stand as the processional Cross is lifted high by the crucifer and assisted by torches leads the choir, any assisting lay ministers and the clergy down the center aisle up to the Altar of God.
This begins the entrance rite. (BCP, pp. 355f) Starting worship this way has deep meaning. It unifies the people of God so we respond corporately as a body, and not as a gathered collection of “individuals.” Once at the Altar the opening acclamation is announced by the celebrant. Most of the year we hear the words by the priest, “Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” And the people respond, “And blessed be His Kingdom, now and forever. Amen.” The Kingdom of God is working mysteriously through the Body of Christ, the Church. Our worship is Trinitarian and through-out the service we acknowledge the holy and undivided Trinity.
The collect for Purity (BCP, p 355) follows. We pray to God who knows the many issues we struggle with and we come to Him so He can cleanse our hearts by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so we can perfectly love God and allow His holy life to be magnified through our daily living. The collect of Purity is offered by the priest on behalf of all the Church. It has been used to open the Anglican Mass since 1549.
The Sunday eucharist continues with the Gloria-in-excelsis (BCP, p 356). This ancient hymn reaches back to the mid fourth century AD. The opening words are the words that the angels sang when the birth of Christ was announced to shepherds in Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest…”
This entrance rite is important because it helps us form a proper mental attitude toward our worship. Our lives are very busy and our minds are scattered in many directions. So at Church we need help in getting focused on the present moment. Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross happened two thousand years ago. But on the night before He died He made it possible for the Cross to remain present every day until He returns in glory! Calvary is not locked in a time capsule and therefore no more concerns us than anything else in the past.
We come to Church because Calvary is there. We pray before approaching the Altar rail, “We do not presume to come to this Thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in Thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy Table. But Thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen.” (1928 BCP, 82)
At the Altar rail we kneel with St. John and St. Mary at the foot of the Cross. When our blessed Lord ascended to Calvary, He was stripped of His garments. Clothing He needed no more. He would save the world without the trappings of a passing world. His garments belonged to time, for they localized Him, and fixed Him as a dweller in Galilee. Jesus no longer belongs to Galilee, nor to any Roman province. Now Jesus belongs to the world.
Today our Lord continues to draw the whole world to Himself through the mystery of the Cross (Jn 12:32). Let us live in faith with our eyes wide open to receive the greatest mystery on earth and that is Jesus Christ, the Father’s glory and our only source of hope.