This week: Preparation for Worship; the Entrance Rite; hearing the Word of God and reflecting on that Word through the sermon.
In this season when we prepare for the coming of the Christ child at Christmas as well as remember the final coming of Jesus, it is a perfect time to reflect on the gifts of liturgy and celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Each Sunday during the four weeks of Advent we will explore a portion of the service — both its traditional, historic significance and its impact on our ability to serve as Christians in a broken world. Ours is not a passive liturgy. The word “liturgy” literally means “work” — it is the work of the people. We are all expected to participate, engaging our minds, bodies and voices, in the praise of God who invites each of us to intimate relationship with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
Preparation for Worship: Ideally, we need to be in our pews five to ten minutes before the service begins, to pray or sit quietly without distractions like cell phones and “neighborly” conversations. The Nave and Sanctuary are sacred space needing our respect and silence in preparing for worship.
The Entrance Rite: Everyone stands as a sign of respect when the procession enters. In services with music a hymn is sung to celebrate the beginning of our worship. The procession is led by an acolyte carrying the cross. Many of us will choose to bow as the cross passes. It is the central symbol of our faith and its leading position in our worship reminds us of the presence of God entering into suffering, identifying with it as an instrument of death, and transforming it into the means of our salvation.
The Opening Acclamation gives us a sense of where we are seasonally in the Church calendar, and we should proclaim it with vigor.
It is followed by the Collect for Purity in which we ask God to “cleanse our hearts” so that God can work more easily in our lives. Christians have been offering this same pray from at least the 11th century. This is followed by the Hymn of Praise in which we acknowledge our less than perfect ability to uphold God’s law and that God’s nature—- his mercy, love, justice — are worthy of praise and emulation. In the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent we often sing the Trisagion or the Kyrie eleison — an ancient liturgical phrase still offered in the original Greek, meaning, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” The rest of the year we sing the Gloria in Excelsis or another hymn exalting God.
The invitation to prayer reminds us that we are in community as we worship.
The Collect of the Day is a prayer that presents particular themes important for each Sunday or feast day. Together, the Collect of the Day, the Lessons, and the Gospel form a unit called the Propers. The Propers are different for each particular day in the Church’s calendar; and, today’s are for the First Sunday of Advent.
Word of God: Through the reading of Scripture we hear the story of God’s interaction with humanity throughout history. We come to understand that throughout time, we have struggled with the human dilemma in which we perpetually find ourselves, on the one hand knowing what is right and good, and on the other hand not being able of ourselves to help ourselves. We are reminded that we have been called into relationship with the living God and that, despite our fallible nature, that invitation is always open for us to live into our full potential as children of God.
There are many translations of the Bible. We take our readings from the NRSV, The New Revised Standard Version.
The First Lesson is usually from the Hebrew scripture, what we call the Old Testament. It presents the stories of God’s call to the Jewish people to be in covenant with Him. It often focuses on how God’s gift of the law to the people is misused and abused, yet the Lord’s steadfast love invites his people back into right relationship with him.
The Psalm is an ancient hymn form. Whether said or sung, the psalm presents the emotional response to the readings. Praise, anger, lament, joy, regret — all these moods remind us that we have a personal relationship with a God who is willing to meet us in whatever state we find ourselves and will listen. The practice of using a psalm after the Old Testament reading — or between the lessons and the gospel if there is no sequence hymn — dates back to the middle of the fourth century. It should be noted that the translation of the psalms in our prayer book is unique to the Book of Common Prayer and is not the same as other Bible translations of the psalms.
The Second Lesson or Epistle (meaning “letter”) helps us to understand the impact of Jesus on early Christians. Many of these readings come from letters written by Paul and other disciples, regarding issues facing the fledgling Church. While we only hear one side of the discussion, we still encounter and recognize the struggles of the human condition, and how Jesus’ death and resurrection have changed everything.
The Gospel (good news) is then read. We concentrate on one gospel each lectionary year that is Advent through the end of the season of Pentecost. Year A is Matthew; Year B – Mark; and Year C features Luke. The Gospel of John then fills in gaps throughout Years A-C. We stand out of respect to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and there is a certain power in corporate worship when we all move in response to a part of the liturgy. (The Lectionary online)
The Sermon: The purpose of the sermon is to proclaim the Good News, interpreting the readings and helping the congregants apply their teachings to their everyday life. The liturgy of the Word — collect through sermon — is intended to feed the congregation in a different way than Communion. Both parts of the service are intended to refresh and equip the members for the work they do individually and corporately out in the world. (St. Mary’s Sermons online)