We are happy to know that many people new to worship in the Episcopal Church come to St. Stephen’s, and we welcome you! This post is intended to help you learn about why we do what we do when we gather together for prayer and praise.
The Easter Season lasts for fifty days, from Easter Sunday until Pentecost. It is the season of the resurrection, when the focus shifts from death to new life, from struggle to joy. In terms of the ancient spiritual metaphor of a path or a road that we walk on, this is the season of the Via Lucis, the Way of Light. We walk a bright road during this season, whereas in Lent we walked the Via Crucis, the way of the cross. Both are necessary for spiritual balance, and the new life that grows in this season is dependent on the good soil that is created by letting things in our lives die and decompose during Lent. Jesus says that “unless a grain of wheat fall into the earth and dies, there can be no new life.” This is the season when that new life sends its tender shoots into our existence, when new ideas or ways of being take root and then come to full flower. It is a joyous, full, and bright season, and our worship is meant to raise us to heights of joy and new hope.
Hymns and Songs
We draw upon a vast tradition of hymns and songs from every century and every place in the world. Episcopalians sing plainsong chants with words that date from the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and we sing spirituals and hymns that date from the 21st century. The primary hymnals that we use are the Hymnal 1982, Lift Every Voice and Sing (LEVAS), Wonder Love and Praise (WLP), and My Heart Sings Out (MHSO). But we can, and often do, incorporate music from other sources as well.
The Opening Acclamation
On Easter Sunday we proclaim the great “Alleluia,” a word that we haven’t said throughout the forty days of Lent. It is a word of rejoicing, and we will continue to say it repeatedly throughout the season. We proclaim that Christ is risen. As a metaphor, resurrection resonates in our lives. How many times have we watched something in us die, so that something new can be born? Now is the time of that new birth!
Collects & Gloria
A collect is a prayer that “collects” the thoughts and hopes of the congregation. There are two collects that begin our service. The first is the Collect for Purity, an ancient prayer that was first used by priests exclusively, and then extended to be used by everyone. We ask God’s help in preparing us for worship, so that our hearts and minds may be truly present and that God’s peace may grow in us as we pray. After this collect we sing a canticle or song of praise. This season we’ll be singing a Gloria. This ancient hymn originated in the 2nd and 3rd centuries in the near East, and then found its way into western practice when Hilary of Poitiers translated it in the 4th century. It begins with the words that the angels sang when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and continues with more words of praise. After the Gloria, the priest will say the Collect of the Day. Each Sunday has its own assigned collect, which states the theme that most if not all of the lectionary readings will address.
The Episcopal Church follows The Revised Common Lectionary, which assigns Sunday readings throughout the year. Right now we are in Year C. The Readings consist of passages from the Hebrew Scriptures (also called the Old Testament) and the Christian Testament (also called the New Testament). Jesus was Jewish, and so much of what he taught was inspired by centuries of Jewish thinkers and sages. Christianity has always affirmed the need to stay connected to these Jewish roots, so we read from the Hebrew Scriptures, which include the stories of creation and of the patriarchs and matriarchs, the histories of the Israelites and Judeans, the lives and words of the prophets, and books of wisdom and songs. The Christian Testament includes letters that were written by St. Paul and others (the Epistles), stories of the first Christian communities (The Acts of the Apostles), and apocalyptic literature (The Revelation to St. John). The Gospels are also included, but they are so important that they get their own place in our service.
Poems & Canticles
The poems & canticles that we frequently use in worship comment on the scripture readings, just like the hymns do. At St. Stephen’s, we have a dedicated group of poetry-pickers who meet every six weeks or so to talk about the lectionary and choose the poems that we use in worship.
The Gospel Reading
As we sing the Gospel Hymn, we bring the Gospel to the center of the church because it is the center of our lives and worship.
There are four Gospels in the New Testament. Three of them are synoptic, a word that means “with one eye.” These three Gospels were drawn from the same sources and tell many of the same stories, with different emphasis depending on the Gospel. The fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John, was written for a specific, and now vanished, Christian community, that had a very different set of concerns and ideas than the communities that are addressed in the synoptic Gospels.
After the Gospel is read the priest or another preacher offers a homily, commenting on the scriptures we’ve heard and suggesting how they might apply to our lives.
The Affirmation of Faith
Since the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E., Christians have been saying an affirmation of faith as part of our worship. Saying such affirmations together connects us to the whole history of the Christian church. They are corporate statements of belief and, as individuals, we have a variety of ways of understanding them. The Affirmation of Faith that we are using during Easter is adapted from a form used at Iona Abbey.
Prayers of the People
We pray for everything — for our community, for our nation, for the world, and for everyone who has asked us for prayers. Requesting prayers is simple. Fill out the prayer request form that you’ll find on the lecture stand near the greeting table with as much information as you would like us to have. We’ll collect them and add your prayers to our weekly prayer list. The list goes out each Tuesday to a dedicated group of people who will pray for you and your loved ones throughout the week. The list is also used during our Sunday morning services.
Sharing the Peace is an act of reconciliation in which the body of Christ heals the wounds we inflict upon each other. It is an act of personal blessing prior to the Eucharist. We are instructed in Matthew, Chapter 5, that “if you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right.” Sharing God’s peace gives us an opportunity to make things right.
Every week, we celebrate the Eucharist, also called Holy Communion. During Easter, we are using Eucharistic Prayer 2 from Enriching Our Worship (EOW), one of the approved supplementary worship resources. The text of the prayer can be broken into several parts:
- The Preface, which expresses our feelings about the season that we’re in.
- The Sanctus, where we join our voices with angels and archangels. More on this below.
- The Institution Narrative, in which we tell the story of the Last Supper.
- The Memorial Acclamation, when we acknowledge that we’ve heard the story and made it part of our lives.
- The Epiclesis, when we ask the Holy Spirit to come be with us.
At St. Stephen’s, we have an “open table,” meaning that you are invited to receive the Eucharist regardless of where you are on your faith journey. To receive communion, come forward down the center aisle when invited by the priest. The priest will place the bread in your palm. If you choose, you can dip the wafer into the wine in the chalice, taking care not to get your fingers in the wine. To receive a gluten free wafer, extend your hands, palm down, when receiving communion. If you would like a blessing from the priest in lieu of partaking in the Eucharist, please cross your hands over your chest.