1. What is Liturgy?
2. Music as Liturgy
3. Calendar as Liturgy: Seasons of the Church – Advent
1. “Liturgy” is a word used when discussing the different ways we can offer worship to God. There are many ways to lift up our voices in praise and thanksgiving to our Creator.
One type of worship is called “liturgical worship” or “liturgy”. The word “liturgy” is derived from two different Greek words that, when you put them together, they mean “work of the people.” The “work” or “offering” is our public prayers, our texts we use in our rites. Liturgy is a formal type of our worship of God. The Episcopal Church uses both ancient and modern texts and prayers in our worship of God. Some texts can be traced back to the early years of the church, others can be traced to this decade.
If you want to dig deeper: in An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church (Church Publishing, 2000),Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum explain that “liturgy expresses the church’s identity and mission, including the church’s calling to invite others and to serve with concern for the needs of the world.”
Although many liturgies of The Episcopal Church are included in the Book of Common Prayer, newer liturgies, such as same-sex blessings and rites for departed pets, are developed and reviewed by the Episcopal Church’s Standing Commission for Music and Liturgy on an ongoing basis.
2. Another important part of Liturgy is Music. Music in The Episcopal Church can be as diverse as its worship services. Although final authority over the music used in an Episcopal service is “the duty of every Minister” (Canon 24, Section 1), our hymnal draws all Episcopalians together musically in the same way that the Book of Common Prayer draws us together in prayer and liturgy.
Most recently revised in 1982, “The Hymnal 1982″ of the Episcopal Church offers 720 hymns in addition to liturgical music. While some of the hymns date back to monastic chants, the hymnal offers more modern music as well. Additionally, there are two other “official” hymnals of The Episcopal Church: “Wonder, Love and Praise” emphasizes contemporary music, and “Lift, Every Voice and Sing” brings African-American and Folk music into our singing.
The Office of Latino/Hispanic Ministries is also in the final stages of compiling a cancionero (songbook) to offer as an affordable, accessible, and culturally relevant Spanish-language songbook for use throughout the Episcopal Church.
3. Calendar as Liturgy: Seasons of the Church – Advent
The civic calendar year is divided into the four seasons of winter, spring, summer and fall. Each season represents a different mood, a different emphasis, e.g. winter is associated with snow and summer with heat waves.
Well, the Church’s calendar year is divided into seasons as well. These seasons are called liturgical seasons because the liturgy (worship) of each season represents its own mood, theological emphasis, and modes of prayer.
Let’s talk about Advent first, because it begins the new year in the Church. Advent is the first season of the Church’s liturgical year and it consists of four Sundays. The first Sunday always starts with the Sunday closest to November 30th; and for this year that is December 2nd. The word “advent” is derived from the Latin adventus, which means “coming” or “arrival.” In the societies of the Roman empire (where and when Jesus lived) the word adventus referred to the arrival of a person of dignity and great power — a king, emperor, or even one of the gods. For Christians, Advent is the time when the church patiently prepares for the coming of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ.
What does the Church focus on during the season of Advent? Because most of the Advent season takes place in December, it is usually considered to be a prelude to Christmas, and a preparing for the birth of Christ. Yet Advent is also about preparing for Christ’s return on Judgment Day. Indeed, the Advent season focuses on Christ’s threefold coming — past, present, and future. First, we remember our Lord’s humble first coming in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Second, we give thanks for his present and continual coming to us through Word and Sacrament. Finally, we look forward with hope and longing to his second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.
Wait…what, there are colors involved too? Yes, each Church season has its own color.
Purple is the traditional color for the season of Advent. Purple was the most costly dye in ancient times and was therefore used by kings to indicate their royal status. Purple also signifies the repentance of God’s people as they patiently await the arrival of their Lord.
What is the Advent wreath I hear people reference? The Advent wreath is one of the most popular symbols used by Christians during the season of Advent. These wreaths consist of a circle of evergreen branches set with four candles, encircling a center candle. The evergreen circle stands for the eternal life that Christ has won for all believers. The four candles set in the circle represent each Sunday of Advent, and the center candle represents the Christ Child. With each Sunday a new candle is lit and the increasing light from the burning candles represents the coming of Christ as the light of the world (John 1:4-9).
Three of the encircling candles are purple and one is rose-colored. The purple signifies that Advent is a season of repentance as well as expectation and they are lit on the 1st, 2nd and 4th Sundays. The candle for the 3rd Sunday is the rose-colored candle. This Sunday is also known as Gaudete Sunday; gaudete is the Latin word for “rejoice” and the readings assigned for the 3rd Sunday have an added emphasis of joy and rejoicing.
On Christmas Eve, at the culmination of the season, the white center candle, the Christ Candle, is lit. This and all the candles remain lit for services throughout the 12 days of the Christmas season.