Our Liturgy During the Season After the Epiphany

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 Season After Epiphany

The Season After the Epiphany is all about newness — the newness of Jesus’s ministry, the gathering of the disciples who discover new community together, a sense that in Jesus’s teaching a new dispensation has arrived. Jesus himself is something new, not just because he is God become human, but because he is a Galilean craftsman presuming to speak and heal with the authority of a priest in Jerusalem or a rabbi among the pharisees. In the new world that epiphany points us to, new voices will be honored, new forms of healing will be found, and a culture of disciples will spring up that will help carry forward the startling rearrangements of God incarnate.

The story of the magi at the beginning of the season suggests that this newness includes the insights and wisdom of people who are far outside of the fold. We can no longer be limited by narrow insights spoken from narrow cultural perspectives, but must be willing to expand our understanding and our hope. The readings from Acts and 1 Corinthians tell the story of all of the shifting and rearrangement that has to occur when we invite the new into our lives. Sometimes it’s fraught and difficult, but difficulties should not lead us to turn back to the old ways of being. Rather, we must discern and carefully negotiate with all of the opinions and ideas that are contributing to the new arrangement.

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.

Collects & Trisagion

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 a seasonal collect, that the priest will pray for the entirety of the Season after Epiphany. After this collect we sing a canticle or song of praise. This season we’ll be singing a Trisagion, which comes from the Eastern church and invokes the Holy Trinity. After the Trisagion, 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.

Readings

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 the Season After Epiphany is adapted from a form used at Iona Abbey.

Prayers of the People

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our concerns for others, we forget to give thanks for their presence in our lives. Although the Book of Common Prayer places a thanksgiving for the blessings in our lives at the end of the prayers, our parish chooses to put it first, so that we can call to mind the preeminence of God’s love.

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.

Confession & Absolution

Although we are created good, we all miss the mark sometimes when interacting with God, the world, each other and ourselves. Confession is an opportunity to reset, to be forgiven for our mistakes, and to affirm our willingness to try again. Absolution is an assurance that we are forgiven, and that our relationships can be restored to wholeness.

The Peace

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.

The Eucharist

Every week, we celebrate the Eucharist, also called Holy Communion. During the Season After Epiphany, we are using Eucharistic Prayer 3 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. 

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