In the beginning: The earliest Christians were either Jews or God-fearing gentiles who worshiped in the synagogue; therefore, early worship followed the pattern of the synagogue liturgy, which it still does in Lutheran, Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic churches today (among others). Justin Martyr describes Christian worship in the second century as following this pattern. The word liturgy comes from a Greek word meaning “work of the people.” In the Eastern Church, the term is restricted to the Communion portion of the service. In the Western Church, the term refers to the entire order of worship and is generally used in churches where the congregation performs parts of the worship service by speaking or praying in unison.
The Christian worship service comes from the synagogue service. It consists of two parts, which we can see in the events of Nehemiah 8. In Nehemiah 8:1-9, the people gather to hear the Scriptures and expository sermons, and in Nehemiah 8:10-12, they participate in a meal.
The two parts of Christian worship are as follows:
The Synaxis (The Service of the Word)
The first part is modeled on the liturgy of the synagogue, and in ancient times as in the present, it is public. Synaxis comes from the same Greek word as synagogue; it means gathering together. This part of the service consists of prayers, scripture readings, psalms, hymns, and the sermon. Because it is centered on the Word of God, it is often called the Service of the Word.
The Eucharist (The Service of Communion)
The second part of the service (which is occasionally omitted, especially if no clergy are present) is the Communion service; in ancfient times it was called the Eucharist, the Greek word for thanksgiving. One could view it as an extension of the kiddush, or fellowship meal, that often follows synagogue services. This part of the service consists of hymns, prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sharing of the bread and wine. Originally, this part of the service was secret; only baptized Christians could attend or participate. However, overheard acclamations (“this is my body, take, eat” ) led pagans to conclude that cannibalism and other untoward things were going on and that led to violent persecutions. As a result, this part of the service is open to the public as well. In modern churches, worshipers greet each other and announcements are made during the break between the Synaxis (the Service of the Word) and the Eucharist (the Service of Communion).
Eastern Christian liturgy has not changed much over the last thousand years. The service is elaborate and the clergy and the choir perform it in the presence of the congregation. The role of the congregation is in many cases limited to standing in awe and adoration. Western liturgy has always been characterized by simplicity. Over the centuries, the west was dominated by only two or three liturgical styles, which gradually conformed themselves to Roman practice. During the Protestant Reformation the liturgy was reformed to expand the role of the congregation and to make Communion more frequent. The idea of a preplanned worship service was rejected first by third wave of the Protestant Reformation, then by the Quakers and the Puritans. Most religious groups that originated in the United States during the nineteenth century can be characterized as ‘nonliturgical’ in the sense that the congregation has no formal, corporate role in worship other than to be the audience and to join in singing.
Various parts of Christendom call Communion by various terms. Anglicans and Orthodox still prefer the original name, Eucharist, though the Orthodox also call it the Divine Liturgy or just the Liturgy. Other groups call the service Communion, which is what is achieved, or the Last Supper, which is what it commemorates. The word Mass comes from the Latin word used by the priest to dismiss the people at the end of a Eucharistic service. It refers to an entire church service that includes a Eucharist. Although the term originated in the Roman Catholic Church, it is also used by some Anglicans, some Lutherans, and many English-speaking Orthodox.
They are altar linens, because Jesus’ grave clothes were linen.
When you iron linens, you’ll get the best results if you iron the reverse side with a hot iron while they are damp, then the front side when they are dry. Pay attention to the edges so they remain straight. After you have ironed the corporal, the purificator, and the chalice veil, fold them in thirds lengthwise, then in thirds crosswise, so that you end up with a square. Crease them with your fingers, not the iron! When you unfold them, the folds make nine squares. You should fold them so that if there is an embroidered symbol, it’s on top. Iron the chalice pall flat, then insert the stiffener.
In general, set the altar up as follows:
Put the fair linen, which is large and rectangular, on top of the paraments, covering the top of the altar and hanging down evenly on both sides.
Unfold the corporal and place it on top of the fair linen so that it is centered on the altar. The word “corporal” comes from the Latin word “corpus” meaning body.
Now place the chalice on the center of the corporal. If there is a symbol on the chalice, place it facing the congregation.
Unfold the purificator, but not all the way, so that it is a rectangle folded in thirds lengthwise. Drape it over the chalice so that it hangs down evenly on the sides. It serves as a napkin to “purify” the celebrant’s lips and possibly the chalice after Communion.
Place the chalice pall on top of the paten. It is a square cloth, usually seven by seven inches, with a cardboard or plastic stiffener. It is called a pall because it has the same function as a funeral pall. It protects the bread and wine from insects.
The chalice veil is optional. Drape it over the entire assembly so that the embroidered symbol, if it has one, is facing the congregation. The chalice veil is a large square cloth, sometimes the color of the liturgical season.
The Apostolic Constitutions
The purpose of the New Testament is to bring lay people to faith, as it says isn John 20:30-31. Jesus gave additional commandments to the apostles about church order, discipline, and worship (Matthew 28:20), which, generally, only clergy needs to know. It wasn’t written down at first. The apostles and bishops taught them down orally (2 Thessalonians 21:15.) Then during the unrelenting persecutions between 90 and 311, it was dangerous to put things in writing, because the Roman government could use them against Christians to convict them of breakng the religion laws. After 325, when the danger of persecution had passed, the officials of the church began writing them down. The result is The Apostolic Constitutions. That must have made it easier to train new clergy!
They are not scripture, they are uneven in quality, but they give us insight into the ancient church that we would not have otherwise.
The Apostolic Constitutions is an ancient document that purports to contain the apostles’ commandments about church order, discipline, and worship. They also prescribes a church calendar that includes Lent, Easter, and Epiphany.
An ‘anthem’ is a hymn whose lyrics come from scripture. Historically, anthems were sung responsively.
A chalice is a drinking cup with a bowl, a single stem, and a foot, as in the illustration on the right. The stem usually has a knob to make it easier to grasp. Chalices are generally made of silver, gold, or ceramics. The chalice can be used two ways in the Eucharist. Either everyone drinks from it, in which case it is called taking Communion from a common cup, or worshippers dip the bread into the cup, in which case it is called Communion by intinction. (Intinction is just a fancy word for dipping.) If the common cup is used, the server wipes the cup with a napkin and rotates it for each communicant. I am not aware of any documented cases of disease being spread by the common cup.
A ciborium looks like a chalice with a lid. It is used to store the bread for Communion.
To some people, the word ‘chant’ refers to mindless repetitions of the same words and phrases. But ‘chant’ is actually a technical term for a specific musical form—a simple melody in which you sing a number of words or syllables on the same note. Or you might say that a song is words set to music, but a chant is music set to words. Chants require less musical skill than songs. The advantage of chanting is that most any text can be chanted to any tune without modifying either the tune or the text, and that makes it an ideal way to put scripture to music.
Chants remove any interpretive intonation from the scripture readings that might cause the preacher problems.
When you speak normally, the loudness of your voice goes up and down. If you are in a large room, people end up asking each other, “what did he say?” When you chant, the volume stays the same, eliminating that problem.
In a large room that has an echo, it is nearly impossible to understand what people are saying, even if there is an electronic amplifier. Under the same circumstances, however, it’s easy to understand someone who is chanting.
At my seminary, there was a short tunnel that connected two buildings. The tunnel had an echo that was so bad that we had to suspend any conversation while we were walking through it, however we could understand what we were saying if we chanted it!
A collect (pronounced CALL-ect ) is a short prayer that summarizes a foregoing series of prayers or a worship service. A collect is usually one sentence long and consists of three parts: an invocation, a petition, and a doxology. The following is an example of a simple collect:
O God, who gave your only Son to die for our sins, give us grateful hearts to live worthily before you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. AMEN.
Since fabrics, such as banners and vestments, have to be some color or the other, the historic Church has taken advantage of this fact and has used color to set the theme of worship. Color usage was more diverse in the past, mainly because dyes were expensive and it wasn’t as easy as it is today to get fabric in any color.
In modern times, we’ve developed a consensus about the use of colors in the western Church. green, purple, white, and red, with gold or ivory being alternatives to white. Protestant churches sometimes use blue. Black is, for the most part, no longer in use. This information is valid only for western Churches. Orthodox Churches use colors differently.
[Standard] Green is the default color. Green is the color of vegetation, therefore it is the color of life. Green is the color for the Season after the Epiphany and the Season After Pentecost. These two seasons are also called ‘Ordinary Time’ because the Sundays have no names, just ordinal numbers.
[Standard] In antiquity, purple dye was very expensive. Lydia in Acts 16:14 was a businesswoman who dealt in purple, so she must have been the first-century equivalent of a millionaire. Since purple was so expensive, and since only wealthy people could afford it, it came to signify wealth, power, and royalty, much like caviar does today. Therefore purple is the color for the seasons of Advent and Lent, which celebrate the coming of the King. Since as Christians we prepare for our King through reflection and repentance, purple has also become a penitential color.
[Standard] Angels announced Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8-15) and His Resurrection (Luke 24:1-8). The New Testament consistently uses white to describe angels and the risen Lord (see Matthew 17:2 and 28:3, Mark 9:3 and 16:5, John 20:12, Acts 1:10, and throughout Revelation.) In the ancient Church, people were given white tunics (albs) as soon as they emerged from the waters of baptism. Therefore, white is the color for the seasons of Easter and Christmas. White is the color for funerals, since it is the color of the Resurrection, for weddings, regardless of the season, and for secular holidays that are observed in the church.
[Standard alternative or addition] Gold can be an alternative or addition to white or ivory.
[Standard alternative or addition] Ivory can be an alternative or addition to white or gold.
[Standard] Red is the color of blood, and therefore also of martyrdom. Red is the color for any service that commemorates the death of a martyr. It is also an alternative color for the last week of Lent, which is called Holy Week. Red is the color for Pentecost Sunday and for ordinations and installations, because it is the color of fire and therefore also of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:3).
[Lutheran] According to the Manual on the Liturgy, Lutheran Book of Worship (Augsburg, 1979), on page 22, the traditional color for Advent is purple, “but the preferred color in the Lutheran Book of Worship, however, is blue, which has a precedent in the Swedish Church and in the Mozarabic rite. Blue suggests hope, a primary theme of Advent.” I’m calling it blue, but it is actually a shade of blue called indigo. Indigo is the color of the sky right before sunrise, therefore the color of hope.
In Orthodoxy and Catholicism, blue represents the Virgin Mary, because she is known as the Queen of Heaven, and because the heavens (the sky) is blue. Orthodox icons of Mary generally have a blue background. Blue paraments and vestments are not authorized for use in the Catholic Church, except in some isolated areas that have special permission to use them.
[Standard only for clericals] Black is the color of clericals. (Cassocks are clericals, not vestments.)
Before the advent of modern dyes, all dress clothes were black—just look at any photograph taken in the 19th century. The main historical connotation of black is formality. Because we don’t wear black as often today, it has survived as a formal color only at extremely solemn occasions, such as funerals. For some people today, black immediately connotes a funeral. Black is sometimes, but rarely, the color for funeral services, Good Friday, and All Souls Day (2 November).
[Optional] Rose (that is, a shade of pink) was sometimes used on the third Sunday in Advent, to signify joy.
The use of the color rose has a strange origin. Long ago, the pope had the custom of giving someone a rose on the fourth Sunday in Lent. This led the Roman Catholic clergy to wear rose-colored vestments on that Sunday. The effect was to give some relief the solemnity of Lent, so this was a very popular custom. Originally—before shopping malls—Advent was a solemn fast in preparation for Christmas, so the custom was extended to the third Sunday in Advent to liven it up a little bit, too. Somewhere in there the third candle of the Advent wreath turned pink. Meanwhile, Advent is no longer solemn and the pope no longer has the custom of giving out roses. It is kind of odd to think that a Methodist would put a pink candle in a Lutheran Advent wreath because the pope used to have the custom of giving out roses, but sometimes we’re a little more ecumenical than we realize!
In the Catholic Church, rose is an alternative color for the fourth Sunday in Lent (Laetare Sunday) and the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday).
To find the parament colors for a given year:
If you would like to get a schedule of the colors for the worship services in a specific year, enter a year and select Show Colors. (Overtype the year in the box to get a different year.)
A hymn is a song in which the singers praise, worship, or thank God. However, many church songs that are called hymns today are not directed to God at all, but to the congregation (as a testimony), to newcomers (as an invitation), or the congregation even sings to itself (as self-congratulation).
The word liturgy, which is a Greek word, has several different meanings in common use. For many people, a liturgy is a pre-planned worship service with all the parts written out. People who say that they have a nonliturgical church have this meaning in mind. Orthodox Christians, however, use the word liturgy to refer to the Eucharistic part of the service, so if a Baptist tells an Orthodox Christian, “we have a nonliturgical worship service,” the Orthodox Christian might go away thinking that Baptists never have Communion. Technically, however, if you have a printed bulletin or a preset order of worship, that is a liturgy. The only Christians who have a truly nonliturgical worship are the Quakers. (They sit in silence and wait to see if anyone says anything, and it is possible for a complete Sunday service to pass in silence.) The literal meaning of the word is the work of the lay people. In other words, worship is something you do, not something you watch.
In the era of the New Testament, a liturgy was a public activity that arose out of civic duty. For this reason, when the New Testament uses the word liturgeia (λιτυργεια) in the original Greek, it is generally translated ministry or service, such as in Luke 1:23, 2 Corinthians 9:12, Philippians 2:17, as well as Hebrews 8:6 and 9:21.
Originally, members of the congregation produced the bread and wine for Communion and presented it to the celebrant in the middle of the worship service, right before the Eucharist. This presentation of the bread and wine is called the offering, because it parallels Jesus’ offering of His flesh and blood for our sin. In the United States, where churches are financed through donations rather than tax money and most of them are in a perpetual state of financial distress, it has become customary to collect donations at this point in the service. Therefore, the term offering has come to refer to the money.
The Seasons after the Epiphany and after Pentecost are called ordinary time in some churches, because historically, the Sundays in those seasons have no names, just ordinal numbers (the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, and so on.)
Paraments are decorative cloths that cover various items in the chancel of the church, hanging down in front of them. A full set of paraments includes one for the altar, one for the pulpit, one for the lectern, and a bookmark for the Bible. They are usually the color of the season and often have an appropriate embroidered or appliquéd symbol.
A paten is the small circular plate that holds the Communion bread. It is used with a chalice and is made of the same material.
Until quite recently, there were no accurate timepieces, so worship services did not have a precise starting time. After the people gathered, the clergy and other ministers would enter the church in a procession to begin the service. This custom is still continued in most churches today, though in some churches it only survives in the wedding service. The first person in the procession is usually the crucifer, followed by other acolytes who light the candles and carry service books, then the choir, followed by lay ministers and then the clergy, with the highest ranking clergy last.
Pyx (or Pyxis)
A pyx (or pyxis) is a storage container for Communion wafers, which is often stored in a tabernacle. There is another type of pyx that is used to hold the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service.
Most churches are faithful to 1 Timothy 4:13 and incorporate the public reading of Holy Scripture in the worship service. Traditionally, there are up to four Bible readings during the Synaxis (the Service of the Word), which are taken from the Sunday lectionary:
The First Reading
Except during the Season of Easter, the first reading is taken from any part of the Old Testament except the Psalms. During the Season of Easter, the first reading is from Acts.
The Psalm is either an excerpt from a psalm or an entire psalm. Normally, the congregation participates in the psalm reading, either by reading it responsively or in unison, or by chanting it.
The Epistle Reading
The epistle reading is taken from any book in the New Testament other than a gospel. That is, for the purpose of the lectionary, readings from Acts and Revelation are considered epistle readings—with the exception that Orthodox Christians never take readings from Revelation.
The Gospel Reading
The gospel reading is an excerpt from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, just as you would suspect. Pews were invented by Roman Catholicism during the late middle ages for the comfort of the worshipers. Therefore, many congregations continue to stand during the gospel reading to show respect.
In many churches, the celebrant consecrates enough bread during Communion to serve not just the people who are present at the service, but also the sick who are unable to attend. The extra consecrated host is stored in an ornamental box called a tabernacle until it can be used. Because the bread is already consecrated, a lay eucharistic minister can administer it to the sick during sick visits.
In England, about the 16th century, there was a problem with people burglarizing churches to steal the consecrated host. They attempted to work magic with it and, of course, their faith wasn’t edified when it didn’t work. To stop these burglaries, Parliament passed a law requiring Anglican priests and any assisting clergy or lay eucharistic ministers to consume all the Communion elements in plain view of the congregation. That is why some Anglican churches, even outside England, do not have tabernacles even today.