Faith Our Outward Sense Befriending

An Introduction To Our Worship And Practice

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

And for the people of St Cyprians and those who desire 'the more'.


This article is for those who are worshipping with us for the first time or who have recently begun to worship with us. It may also serve as a reminder to those who have become used to our worship and would like to think about it again. I hope you will find it helpful and that it will stimulate further questions and avenues of enquiry.

Initial Reactions

Initial reactions to the service are varied. Some find it unlike anything they have experienced before. Sometimes people think this is a Roman Catholic Church; others realise it is the Anglican Catholic tradition; some find it rather formal and also quite complicated; others wonder what the symbolism means and what the gestures are about; why use incense, why kneel at certain times and stand at others; why cross yourself? Why are some dressed in a certain way and others differently?

Context In History

In the 19th century there was a movement in the Church of England (C of E) which revived and promoted a Catholic understanding of the Church, its teaching, sacraments and practice. It had a great influence on many churches. Because many of its founders (like John Keble, John Henry Newman & Dr Pusey) researched and wrote in Oxford, it was called the Oxford Movement.

The Church of St Cyprian is a product of this re-awakening of the Church to its identity as part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, in continuity with the ancient church before the schism of the One Church between East and West which finally occurred in 1054AD.

The word 'catholic' means 'universal'. Universal is not merely a matter of what is relative to what others believe universally across the world, but what is in continuity with antiquity. St Vincent of Lerins (5th century), echoing St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3, wrote in his Commonitorium a reminder of "those things which I have truthfully received from the holy Fathers," which they "have handed down to us and committed to our keeping." His famous definition of what is right belief (orthodox) was: quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus: that which has been believed in the Church "everywhere, always, by everyone." This handing down of teaching and practice , from age to age through the community, we call the Tradition which is evolving slowly and in continuity with the past.

In the centuries after the protestant reformation the C of E had declined in its understanding and mission and had come to resemble more a department of state than a dynamic community called into being by Our Lord Jesus Christ. The tradition that was reawakened was the discovery that the Church of England, though reformed in the 16th century, was indeed the Catholic Church in England, retaining the Faith and Order of the Catholic church as it was in its early centuries.

The movement and its proponents sought to restore a true sense of the Church's calling and so a full sense of what it is to be the Church of God in England. St Cyprian's church is evidence of what was going on then and what was achieved in that latter part of the 19th and early 20th Century. Artists, musicians and architects like Ninian Comper, who designed this church and its furnishings, adopted the ideals of various schools of the Oxford Movement, influenced by medieval designs and practices as well as those current on the Continent in Catholic Europe; and were employed to build churches which expressed the reawakened catholic faith.

The Oxford movement was also called the High Church movement, because of its high doctrine of the Church, that is, that the Church is, and is called to be, the Presence of God in the world, in solidarity with all who are suffering and all who work for a society and world of peace and justice.

The Church, in Greek ekklesia, is the gathered people not a building. As a people, the church is the enfleshing of God's compassionate love for all so that others may see what kind of a God we worship. So the Church is not a mere accident of history, an organisation or institution which is for convenience of administration. It is, first, a community of faith. Institutional organisation is at the service of being a lively and effective community of faith. The Church is God's gift to us of others in whose company, as part of a continuous tradition, we are being brought into the fullness of life for which we are created and intended. So, for instance, Baptism isn't just something which happens to an individual. It is also how we become a member of God's church, a real community of flesh and blood (the Body of Christ) and so begin to participate in its ongoing life.

That the church often fails to live up to its high vocation ('calling', from the Latin vocare – to call) is a matter of regret and a reminder of our need for repentance, forgiveness and God's empowering strength.

Sometimes people refer to a church being 'high' or 'low'. They sometimes mean that a high church has lots of ritual, incense and music, while a low church would not have these things. 'High Church' is also used to refer to people, as in 'a high churchman' or 'he's very high'! Some may think of the Catholic tradition as one among many in the C of E. On the ground, as one goes from church to church, it may look like this. The Catholic tradition, however, contains the fullness of Christian practice and mission. Various emphases bring out aspects of the same jewel that is the universal, that is catholic, Christian truth.

Here at St Cyprian's this Catholic tradition has been retained over the years. We have chosen to continue with traditional language, use of the High Altar according to the original design and aspects of traditional ceremonial. In other churches, also of the Anglican Catholic tradition, modern language is used and the priest faces the congregation at an altar nearer the people. One is not superior to the other. It is a matter of different aesthetic choices and of ethos.

These alternatives may be seen as expressing different aspects of the same sublime truth about God: the one may emphasise (though not exclusively) God's transcendence (the One who is beyond our limits in our midst) and the majesty and glory of worship in the 'court of heaven'; while the other may express more of God's immanence (immediate presence) among us as his family.

Sacramental Life In The Church

We enter the community of faith, the Church, through the Sacrament of Baptism which is why the Font and Baptistry are near the main entrance. A Sacrament is a Rite (order of words) with ritual (symbolic gesture to accompany the words) which conveys and effects what it signifies: in Baptism, a rebirth into the kingdom of God. All the sacraments of the church can be seen in this way: our acknowledgment of life as a gift and God's grace meeting us to confirm, heal and empower what has been given through word, signs and gestures. They are 'events' in which we encounter the living presence of God in his Spirit and are sustained in our spiritual journey as individual persons but also as a Church, united in love and peace. A Sacrament is defined as an 'outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace'. Natural, human gestures and matter convey God's grace to us and we are invited to enjoy the full privileges of a sacramental life in the Church as sons and daughters of a gracious God.

There are seven sacraments, two of which were instituted by the Lord: Baptism and the Eucharist.

  • 2 Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism & Confirmation
  • Ongoing life in the Church: The Eucharist
  • State of life in the service of others: Holy Matrimony and Holy Order
  • Penance: the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)
  • Sacrament for the Sick and Dying

This article is to do solely with an understanding of The Eucharist, our regular and most important act of worship.

The Meaning Of Worship

"Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul", wrote St Ignatius of Loyola. Worship can be thought of in terms of 'giving God glory and praise' or 'giving God that which he is worthy of'. This is not because God might be upset if he suffers a deficit of attention, but because this orientation is what is profoundly natural for humans. That we experience longing for 'more' in life is a sign that we are designed for 'more'. Our core desire is for God (Psalm 63: 1&2): 'O Lord you have made us for yourself,' prayed St Augustine, 'and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.' And God longs for and delights in us. 'The glory of God,' wrote St Irenaeus, 'is man fully alive!'.

Worship, love and praise are natural to who we are as humans. For many this orientation has become a hidden, unfelt part of ourselves so that it seems that it is natural to be selfish, acquisitive, competitive, defensive and self-preoccupied. In fact this is unnatural and destructive of our true selves. Worship, being directed towards God who is in relationship with us, is the means by which we recover our true sense of self. In worship we rediscover our true focus and purpose in life and become a living sacrifice of praise to God. (Romans 12: 1-2)

So worship is not about being entertained (though it might be entertaining) or finding everything immediately accessible and relevant in the now. T.S. Eliot reminds us in Little Gidding: 'If you came this way, taking any route, starting from anywhere, at any time or at any season, it would always be the same: you would have to put off sense and notion. You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, or inform curiosity or carry report. You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.'

Worship is about 'tuning in' to our true and deepest current of desire within ourselves to worship God and allowing ourselves to be shaped by it. 'To save our souls' can be interpreted in this light, that is, rather than in the sense of escaping perdition by being morally good we are realising and living from our natural desire for God. Morality is a consequence of right orientation towards God, and living out of our true desire which is to love and serve God and others. Herein lies the consolation of true peace and happiness.

Early Developments

As the early Church community grew and developed in the post-apostolic age, its sense of what it was as the Body of Christ deepened and developed, the Spirit continuing to lead us into all Truth (John 14:26). There were many developments taking place in this period.

  1. The early Church Fathers wrote refuting false beliefs and refining Doctrine (teachings and definitions about the nature of God the Father, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist and so on);
  2. the Liturgy, a form of worship, with its components as we now use, began to evolve;
  3. the three-fold ministerial orders of Bishops, Priests and Deacons emerged to serve in the ongoing life of the Church,
  4. the Church deliberated and confirmed the Canon of Scripture (the list of authentic books of the Bible which could validly be called the Word of God to his people). It is useful to note here that in our post-reformation era we may think of the Bible as independent from the Church. In fact the Church predates the Bible and it was out of the lived, liturgical experience of an already worshipping community that the New Testament emerged. The Bible is the Church's foundational library of holy scripts and is interpreted in the light of a developing tradition in continuity with its received Doctrine, guided by the Spirit in the light of contemporary scholarship and experience. The Bible is the Church's touch-stone of Truth.

Names Of The 'Service'

The word 'Liturgy' is a better term than the word 'service'. Liturgy comes from the Greek liturgia which literally can be translated as the 'work of the people'. Thus the 'service' is not something that we go to witness as in 'the priest takes the service'. Rather, the liturgy involves everyone playing their significant part. The priest presides over the liturgy in which everyone has a part and is called the 'president' for this reason. In fact we are all the celebrants. Those who are part of the sanctuary party have a special role in the gestures and liturgy to focus our attention and help the worship to go smoothly and beautifully. Those who read, read for the edification of all. The congregation plays its full role in the offering, the 'doing' of worship together and making it a whole. Liturgy is work, something to be done.

The 'Liturgy of the Eucharist' is the most ancient name for the liturgy, from the Greek word which means thanksgiving. If a sense of thanksgiving is growing in us for life as a gift we become happier and more generous people. Our response to God is always one of thanksgiving. The other names for the liturgy are 'Holy Communion' (more correctly this refers to the act of receiving Holy Communion which is the climactic part of the action within the Liturgy of the Eucharist) and 'Holy Mass' or just 'mass' which is a kind of nickname – short & easy to remember from the Latin dismissal, Ite missa est – the gathering is done. It is also called the 'Lord's Supper'. A product of the Oxford Movement is that now the majority of churches recognise that the Eucharist is the ancient and most central act of Christian worship, the source and well-spring of Christian life.

Structure Of The Liturgy

There are two major sections in the Liturgy of the Eucharist:

  1. THE LITURGY OF THE WORD in which we listen to the words of Holy Scripture and hear them expounded in the homily; we then respond by professing our belief by saying the Creed (from Latin Credo = I believe) and in offering Prayers of Intercession.
  2. THE LITURGY OF THE SACRAMENT in which we celebrate God's saving work in Christ our Lord, 'making remembrance' of his precious Death, his mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension. Anamnesis is the Greek word for, 'make remembrance' and it includes the sense of 'remembering so as to make present now' as the Jews do in celebrating the Passover meal: what happened to the Jews then in being delivered from bondage at the Exodus, is present now for us to undergo as we 'make remembrance'. In Holy Communion, we are given a share in the Risen Life of Christ, delivered from death, with him.

These two sections are preceded by an Introductory Rite in which we Gather in song, Prepare ourselves by publicly confessing our sins, and sing the ancient song of praise, the Gloria. The Collect (an Opening Prayer), in which the theme of the day is collected up and offered to God, concludes the Introductory Rite and opens the Liturgy of the Word. The two sections are concluded with a post-communion prayer, a blessing and dismissal. So, in its bare essentials, the structure of the Mass looks like this:

Introductory Rite

Preparation: Confession & Absolution

Kyries and Gloria


The Liturgy Of The Word

Scripture Readings: Old Testament, Epistle & Gospel




The Liturgy Of The Sacrament

The exchange of Peace

Eucharistic Prayer - Sanctus & Benedictus

Agnus Dei

Receiving Holy Communion

Concluding Rite

Post communion Prayer

Blessing & Dismissal

The PROPERS of the mass are those parts which are proper to the theme of a particular day: e.g., sung sentences, readings and prayers. The ORDINARY of the mass are those parts of the mass that are ordinarily there in every celebration: Kyries, Gloria, Creed, Sanctus & Benedictus, Agnus Dei. The Ordinary is usually sung and their texts have been put to music by various composers through the centuries.

A mass is 'Solemn' when there is a Deacon and incense; a High Mass when there are three Sacred Ministers facing eastwards at the High Altar. A Low Mass is a mass without music and is said rather than sung and lasts about half an hour.

Real Encounter & Transformative Exchange With God

The Liturgy may be seen, and is hopefully experienced, as an encounter between God coming towards us in self-giving, gratuitous love as we recall God's saving love in Word and Sacrament. All of us are recipients of God's grace, mercy and love. This includes the presiding priest who stands for us in the Person of Christ (Persona Christi) by virtue, not of his worthiness or superiority, but by virtue of his being called by God and being ordained by the Church to serve in this way.

Throughout the liturgy there is an exchange between God and his people. This mutual offering is to bring us into union with God and one another. In the Liturgy of the Word we receive God's words as a gift and respond. In the Liturgy of the Sacrament we offer what we have received from God, transformed by human labour: our sacrifice of bread and wine. Our sacrifice (what we bring), in turn, is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ and offered back to us in Holy Communion so that we may be transformed into the Body of Christ, a flesh and blood community, inhabited by his Divine Presence, a living temple to his glory. We are then sent out to be the scattered Body of Christ in our society and the world so that it may be transformed too. This transformation is about becoming who we most truly and naturally are: humans made in God's image, reflecting his glory; and our society and world, so that it may be what it truly is: God's Creation, ordered according to the harmony and peace which is the gift of his creative Spirit.

Ceremonial & Customs, naturally human and good

Much could be written about these things and their complicated and various histories. From an anthropological point of view, we humans naturally develop rituals or customs, ways of doing things, communal ways of celebrating events to help us to express ourselves in word and gesture.

Think of the customs that you know, such as a greeting, with the different conventions which have developed in different cultures. Similarly, the church has developed customs not because they are all absolutely essential, but because they help in expressing something about who we are as a community of believers and of a perception of our loving God.

The important thing to recognise and enjoy is the fact that they are human customs which have evolved over time, through various cultures, into our own; and also to recognise that they have developed under the guidance of God's ever-present Spirit who works through what is natural to us.

Did you know that Muslims pray the way they do because they learnt it from the Syrian Christians who still pray like this in the monasteries of the Near East? Did you know that they face Mecca because they found the Christians facing East towards Jerusalem? In this way traditions are passed on – by imitating others. These traditions are not ends in themselves. If they were, they would be idols. But neither are they to be despised as mere human inventions.

Holy Order & The Sacred Ministers Of The Eucharist

In Victorian times (and before) people spoke of men 'taking Holy Orders' or 'going into the Church'. This is not strictly accurate for we all 'go into the Church' at Baptism, the first sacrament we receive. A person receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders by being ordained to an order by a bishop.

The Eucharist can only be celebrated with an ordained priest or by the Bishop who is the Ordinary Celebrant of every eucharist. A priest receives a licence from the bishop and is given the cure (care) of souls in a parish or institution to function in the bishop's name. So the bishop is remembered by name in the intercessions or Eucharistic prayer at every Eucharist.

In a High Mass there are three Sacred Ministers:

  1. a Priest (whether he holds the position of Vicar or Rector, Assistant Curate or Assistant Priest or Chaplain of an institution)
  2. a Deacon (who is ordained)
  3. and a lay-minister (who is not ordained) who acts as the 'Sub-Deacon'. (In the medieval church the sub-diaconate was one of the minor orders which included Lector, Porter, Exorcist, Acolyte.)

Each sacred minister has a particular role in the Liturgy:

  1. The Priest presides over the liturgy which is our corporate offering; so he welcomes the gathered people, says the opening prayer, preaches and says the words of the Eucharistic Prayer at the Altar on behalf of all; and gives the blessing.
  2. The Deacon proclaims the Gospel, may preach, assists the priest (presiding at the chair), prepares the altar, invites certain responses from the congregation and dismisses them at the end. He stands to the right of the presiding priest.
  3. The Sub-Deacon usually reads the epistle and assists at the altar; and is on the left of the priest.

Only someone who is licensed by the bishop may preach or someone else by invitation in exceptional circumstances.

At a High/ Solemn mass it is normal to have a number of servers: a thurifer with the incense in a 'thurible'; two acolytes carrying candles, a crucifer carrying the cross, and an MC to keep it all together.

Eucharistic Vestments

The vestments (robes) of the altar party are derived from the garments worn in the time of Our Lord. All wear an Alb (meaning 'white') which is the pure baptismal garment. When a deacon or priest is ordained he is invested with a Stole, a long strip of cloth. This is the sign of his authority given him to exercise the ministry of a priest or deacon. Bishops and priests wear their stoles around the neck so that it falls in two parts in front; deacons wear it diagonally across the front and back from the left shoulder.

Over the Alb and Stole, each sacred minister is dressed in a particular eucharistic vestment in the colour of the season:

  1. The Priest may wear a Cope (a cloak made of beautiful cloth) for processions and the Preparation; but the priestly Eucharistic vestments are the Stole and a Chasuble (from casula meaning 'little house' which was the poncho-like outer garment).
  2. The Deacon wears a Dalmatic (a garment originally from Dalmatia), a squarish over-garment over the stole.
  3. The Sub-Deacon wears a Tunicle—similar in design (sometimes identical) to the Dalmatic.

Gestures & Postures

In catholic worship, what we believe we show forth or demonstrate in sign, symbol and gesture. Thus worship includes our whole selves and is not simply a cerebral function. Our physical actions and postures can help us to develop the right attitudes in our hearts.

As you enter the church, you will find a holy water stoop (a mini font). People wet their fingers and make the sign of the cross to remind themselves they were brought into the community of the Church through the sacrament of baptism. Crossing oneself is a kind of physical prayer: "„ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". We cross ourselves at the introduction of the Liturgy and to receive a blessing at the close. At the announcement of the Gospel we make a small sign of the cross with the right-hand thumb, first on the forehead, then on the lips; and then, continuing with the fingers, by touching the centre of the breast, the left and right shoulders. This is a physical prayer meaning: "May the words of the Holy Gospel be in my head, on my lips and within my heart".

You may notice that people stop and bow their heads to acknowledge the altar or genuflect before taking their seats or when they get up to go to Communion. In our egalitarian society this may seem strange. Bowing to the altar is a physical sign of reverence for the Altar where the remembrance is made and where Christ our Lord is made present to us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In many churches the Sacrament (consecrated Bread - the 'Host') is reserved in an Aumbry (small cupboard in a wall) or in a Tabernacle (or 'Sacrament house') on the Altar. Reserving the Sacrament has two functions. First, to keep it so that it may be used for Holy Communion for the Sick and Dying; secondly, as a sign of Christ's real presence in his Church, among us and as focus for our prayers of adoration and intercession. The Reserved Sacrament in a church is marked by a perpetual light burning near it and in our cathedrals is usually to be found in a dedicated side- chapel, marked 'Reserved for Silent Prayer'.

It is customary to genuflect (go down on the right knee) or bow profoundly (from the waist) in reverence before Christ our Lord, present in the Sacrament. Read the hymn Adoro Te - 'Thee we adore', a hymn of praise to Jesus present in the Sacrament, from the 13th century by St Thomas Aquinas.

During the Creed it is also the custom to bow profoundly or go down on one knee at the words which recall God 'becoming flesh ' (the Incarnation from the Latin carne = flesh). Our physical posture helps us develop a sense of wonder and awe (both gifts of the Holy Spirit - see Isaiah 11:1-2) as we recall this extra-ordinary Truth about God. We bow after the words, '...came down from heaven' and stand once more after, '...and was made man'. Composers who have set the Creed to music often treat the words, et incarnatus est (and became flesh), with special effects such as a slower tempo and ethereal orchestration.

Kneeling is a sign of humility and reverence, reminding ourselves that we are in the presence of One who is greater than ourselves: our Creator God. Kneeling, we find ourselves in our true place: those who are dependent on God. It is useful to prepare for worship, kneeling in your place, by recalling that we are in God's presence and focusing on why we are here: to find our heart's true orientation in life which is ultimately towards God who is to be found in our own experience of life, in each other, in all Creation and in the Liturgy of his Word and Sacrament. There are prayers to help you, but you can begin by expressing your own feelings, desires and thoughts to God in your own words. The congregation kneels after the Sanctus in the Eucharistic Prayer in reverence for the Presence of Christ and the Words of Institution, Jesus' words at the Last Supper.

We don't have to remain on our knees all the time for that doesn't express all we feel about God or ourselves. We know that God in Jesus also calls us friends (John 15:15) and that we are adopted as first-born sons (and thus heirs). We have been made citizens of God's kingdom through baptism, sharing in the Sonship of Jesus. St Paul writes: 'The spirit you have received is not the spirit of slaves bringing fear into our lives again; it is the spirit of sons (Romans 8:15) … and if God has made you son, then he has made you heir (Galatians 4:5). We may feel we ought to kneel before God, but we stand in the dignity we have received from God as a free gift.

Standing is the norm for corporate or communal prayer since ancient times. It was only in the Reformation that pews/benches were introduced in our churches. In the Eastern Orthodox churches standing for prayer is still the norm and seats are only provided at the back and sides for the elderly and infirm. When we stand in prayer we are expressing our solidarity with one another and all humanity in prayer. Standing creates a sense of corporate rather than private prayer. We stand to hear the gospel proclaimed believing that, in the words of Jesus from the Gospel, God is speaking to us, his Church. We stand as fellow heirs with him. And we stand to pray the Prayer of the Church that Jesus gave us, the Our Father.

Layout Of The Church Building

The entrance area where people gather is called the Narthex.
The Font is at the entrance and the area around it is called the Baptistry.
The main body of the church is called the Nave.
The Quire / Choir is behind the screen - sometimes called the Chancel.
The Sanctuary is where the Altar is found and is the focus of the Liturgy of the Sacrament.


The use of incense as part of the liturgy is from the early centuries. It was natural for the Church to assimilate practices of synagogue and state into the celebration of the Eucharist. It is a sign showing honour, holiness and dignity. The Magi offered the gift of incense to honour the infant Jesus and in recognition of his holiness as Son of the Most High. The early Christians were required to burn incense before images of the emperor who claimed to be a god. Most, like St Cyprian, refused. As a result they were called 'atheists' and put to death or martyred. Martyr means 'witness': they witnessed in life and death to the Triune God, who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So incense is burnt in church to honour and show the dignity and holiness of God; and of the places in the liturgy where God is present to us – in Word, in Sacrament and in each other. Physical places and material objects are hallowed and reverenced with incense to remind ourselves that God gives himself there and through created material things (our bread and wine).

Incense is also associated with the cloud of God's presence. In the Old Testament, Moses receives the Law by entering a cloud; the people of Israel are led by a cloud by day through the wilderness; the prophet Isaiah receives his vision in the Temple in a cloud: 'the house was filled with smoke' he tells us; it is from a cloud that the voice was heard at Jesus' baptism, 'This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him'; it is in a cloud that the theophany of the Transfiguration takes place; Jesus is received into a cloud at his Ascension. Incense creates a sense of the reality of God's presence, in the paradox of hidden clarity. A cloud makes visible shafts of light. We see what light is.

It also symbolises the ascent of our prayers as a sweet and welcome fragrance to God. Psalm 141:2 "Let my prayer be set forth in thy sight as incense; and let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice." and Malachi 1:11 "From east to west my name is honoured among the nations and everywhere a sacrifice of incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering too."

  1. Incense is used in the procession of the Sacred Ministers to the altar to show the dignity of the priests and the holiness of what is about to take place because of God's presence among us.
  2. The altar is then censed to show its holiness as the place where the remembrance of the Crucified and Risen Lord is made; and where Our Lord makes himself present to us in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
  3. It is used to cense the Book of the Gospels because when the gospel is proclaimed, we are hearing Jesus speak to his people. The Gospel Book was one of the most cherished possessions of churches in the time before the printing press; it can be decorated with fine cloth or beaten precious metal. It is still kissed in token of its precious words at the conclusion of the reading.
  4. At the offertory incense is used to cense the elements (our offering of bread and wine) to show that they are being set apart for a special use in the Sacrament of Holy Communion – they will become for us the Body and Blood of the Lord; the altar as the focal point where remembrance is made (anamnesis) is again reverenced in this way; and the Sacred Ministers and the people are censed to remind us of our true dignity as those who are called to be a holy and priestly people: "… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a consecrated nation, a people set apart to sing the praises of God who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people at all but now you are the People of God; once you were outside the mercy and now you have been given mercy." 1 Peter 2:9 & 10

In monastic churches, where there was usually a screen separating the Nave from the Choir, the ringing of bells signalled important moments in the Liturgy to those inside, while the church bell was rung for those outside. These moments are: the Epiclesis (invocation of the Holy Spirit over the Gifts) and at the elevations of the Host and Chalice after the Words of Institution. The ringing of bells is a way of drawing our attention to what is happening and to quiet reflection and thanksgiving to the God of eternity who comes among us in time.

Liturgical Seasons, Feasts & Colours

See also: The Seasons and Important Feast Days of the Liturgical Year and which ones we are able to keep at S. Cyprians at Kalendar.

The Church Calendar is divided into a cycle of seasons and each season has a colour. Excluding minor exceptions here is an explanation.

ADVENT is the first season of the liturgical year and begins on Advent Sunday (usually last Sunday of November). This is a kind of Christian new year. This is a season of preparation for Our Lord's Second Coming; and in the final octave (8 days beginning 17th December) it becomes a preparation for the commemoration of The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Festival of Christ-mass. The tone of the season is penitential and the colour is purple. Purple is also used for funerals, (white for children). The other penitential season is called LENT which precedes Easter.

The feast of CHRISTMAS (Christ Mass, the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ) ends the season of Advent and begins Christmastide. The colours are Gold and White.

We then enter some weeks of ORDINARY TIME where the colour is Green.

LENT begins on Ash Wednesday and is the penitential season leading into the season of Easter. In a spirit of sorrow we remember our sins which lead us away from God and are renewed in our true desire for God. The colour is purple or, in some places, Lenten Array - a type of sackcloth.

Lent leads into HOLY WEEK which begins on PALM SUNDAY. Holy Week is a time of making remembrance of the particular events leading to Our Lord's Death and Resurrection. We enter into the events of the Paschal Mystery (from the Hebrew, Pascha = Passover), the passing from death to life of Our Lord as we follow closely all that he underwent to save us.

The liturgies of Holy Week, especially the Easter Vigil, which begins in darkness, are the Church's oldest and greatest liturgies.

EASTER (the Resurrection of OLJC) is the greatest feast of the Christian calendar, a season of joy and in Gold and White again.

The feast of PENTECOST (pente = 50 days after Easter) ends the season of Easter. In England this has been known as the feast of 'Whitsun'. The colour is red because of the tongues of flame on the apostles' heads. Red is also used on feasts of apostles and martyrs (the colour of blood), and for masses of the Holy Spirit.

The Sunday following Pentecost Sunday is TRINITY SUNDAY which is Gold or White and thereafter follow the SUNDAYS AFTER TRINITY in Ordinary Time for which, again the colour is Green. This is the longest period in the liturgical cycle and culminates in the feast of CHRIST THE KING (Gold) which brings the liturgical cycle of seasons to a close, some time in mid to late November.

There are THREE CLASSES OF FEASTS according to their importance:

  1. Principal Feasts/Solemnities: Every Sunday is a Solemnity as it is the Day of Resurrection and there is no greater feast than our Lord's triumph over death. There are other feasts of Our Lord and of Our Lady which fall in the week which are kept as solemnities; others are Corpus Christi, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), All Saints' Day and the Patron Saint of a parish, town, or country. The Eucharist on a Solemnity includes the Gloria and the Creed.
  2. Festivals/Feasts of Apostles and some of Our Lord and Our Lady of lesser importance. The Eucharist on a Feast will have the Gloria but not a Creed.
  3. Memorials/Commemorations are usually for saints days. Neither Gloria nor Creed.

The importance of a saint varies from country to country according to the local holy men and women in whom God's grace was made manifest. The date for commemorating a saint is usually the date the saint died or was martyred which is the date of his/her birth into paradise and so a day for feasting.

Nowadays, important feasts which have a definite date are sometimes transferred to the nearest Sunday. This makes it more convenient, but can also lead to a church community being a 'Sundays only' congregation.

Weekday feasts are celebrated so that we can be encouraged in our following of the Lord as we draw fruit from the events in the lives of Our Lord, Our Lady and the saints, the heroes and heroines of the Church community.

The Communion Of Saints

St Paul, in many places, addresses the members of the churches as saints (holy ones). In the letter to the Ephesians (2:9), which may not have been written by St Paul, we also read: "So you are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints, and part of the household of God" We are all regarded as saints, made holy by God's grace.

In the well-loved hymn, 'For all the Saints', we sing: 'O blessed communion, fellowship divine'; and in the Apostles' Creed we profess our faith in the 'communion of saints'. What is meant by this?

The smaller part of the Church is on earth (the church militant); the greater part is in resurrected glory in heaven (the Church triumphant). United in Christ in one communion we form the whole Church of God. As one community we pray for, uphold and support one another in prayer, benefiting from the prayers of our brothers and sisters who beckon us from another shore. (You can read the hymn which begins 'Let saints on earth in concert sing…') At various times holy people, heroes and heroines of faith in whose lives God's grace and peace was visible have been formally recognised and entered into the Canon of Saints (or list of saints), thus 'canonised' - as in the canonical books of Scripture.

We celebrate God's grace in the lives of all holy men and women down the ages, those known to us and those known only to God, particularly on All Saints' Day, 1st November. We are all called to co-operate in the project of God's creative love in the world as they did; and are encouraged as we recognise how the love of God, stronger than fear and death, has been shown forth in their lives through the centuries.

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Among the saints Mary was the first to receive the Lord. She bore God incarnate in her own flesh – of her flesh He took flesh. She bore him and gave him to the world. One of her most ancient titles is 'God Bearer '– in Greek, Theotokos, which is translated (not accurately, it must be said) as 'Mother of God'. Since she was chosen by God for this unique task she is accorded special honour and love among Christians. She is venerated, not worshipped, for she is not part of the Godhead, but part of redeemed humanity. Mary is reverently and affectionately called 'Our Lady'. We ask her prayers for us as we say the Hail Mary. Her role in God's saving work is celebrated in special feasts as well as Anthems and Devotions such as the Memorial of the Incarnation (The Angelus). The church bell is rung as we say (or sing) the Angelus to call us to prayer and to let those who are busy about their daily lives know that prayers are being offered for them.

We Undergo In Order To Understand

None of this can make sense in the abstract. It needs to be experienced and to be undergone over time. Christianity is not a theory to be grasped and applied, but something which happens to us over time as we expose ourselves to the influence of Christian practice and wisdom. It has a lasting effect on who we are and how we relate to one another and to God.

Liturgy is a commitment to a work of offering praise to God and prayer for one another and for the world. In this it is counter-cultural: directed towards Another and for the benefit of others. As such it requires an investment of ourselves to a long- term process and an eschewing of our need for instant gratification in order to realise our true heart's desire. It is a gradual process whereby we allow attitudes and habits of thought to be shaped in us over a life-time: chiefly, a sense of deep-felt thanksgiving to God for our lives, for all that we are and all that we receive through others. As we undergo the pattern of the liturgy over the years, we realise that it is not something constricting but something which makes available to us treasures new and old (Matthew 13:52). Our appreciation and joy in being part of it grows and deepens.

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is ultimately a multi-facetted mystery, like a jewel, God's gift, the means which has withstood the test of time, in which we encounter and express the inexpressible. For the God who is present in our midst is always Mystery and cannot be reduced to human terms and explanations.

The Liturgy conveys to us the loving Mystery of God towards us. At the same time, it is the Church's unceasing offering, a loving response to God's goodness 'in spirit and in truth' (John 4:23).

Therefore we before him bending
This great Sacrament revere;
Types and shadows have their ending,
For the newer rite is here;
Faith, our outward sense befriending,
Makes the inward vision clear.

Glory let us give and blessing
To the Father and the Son;
Honour, might and praise addressing,
While eternal ages run;
Ever to his love confessing,
Who, from both, with both is one. Amen.

The Ancient Hymn: Tantum Ergo


The Seasons and Important Feast Days of the Liturgical Year
Date Season/Feast
4 Sundays before Christmas Advent Sunday
4 weeks preceding Christmas Season of ADVENT
8th December The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Sunday after Epiphany THE BAPTISM OF THE LORD
25th January The Conversion of St Paul, Apostle
Depending on date of Easter Ash Wednesday & 5 Sundays of LENT
Depending on date of Easter PALM SUNDAY & HOLY WEEK
Thursday after the 6th Sunday of Easter THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD
Depending on date of Easter PENTECOST SUNDAY (Whitsun)
Depending on date of Easter TRINITY SUNDAY
Thursday after Trinity Sunday CORPUS CHRISTI
Friday after the 1st Sunday in Ordinary Time THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS
19th March St Joseph
25th April St Mark, Evangelist
3rd May Ss Philip and James, Apostles
14th May St Matthias, Apostle
31st May The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
11th June St Barnabas, Apostle
24th June The Birthday of St John the Baptist
29th June Ss Peter and Paul, Apostles
3rd July St Thomas, Apostle
25th July St James, Apostle
24th August St Bartholomew, Apostle
8th September The Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary
14th September The Exaltation of the Cross
15/16th September ST CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE, M, Bp & Patron
21st September St Matthew, Apostle
29th September Ss Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, Archangels
18th October St Luke, Evangelist
28th October Ss Simon and Jude, Apostles
1st November ALL SAINTS
2nd November All Souls
Last Sunday of the Year CHRIST THE KING

Fr David Cherry,
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2005