What Are We Doing on Sunday Mornings?
Right now in the sphere of Episcopal priests, the question we ask one another is “what are you doing and how are you doing it?” Are you doing Morning Prayer, Ante-Communion, Spiritual Eucharist, Agape Meals, or some other daily devotion? Are you online? Delivering via mail and email? Are you on Zoom, Facebook, YouTube? Are you having Sunday School, Bible Study, office hours? Do you have a phone tree? I could go on and on with the list, but I think you get the idea.
Liturgy, our order for worship, literally means the “work of the people” which seems odd when we are sitting at home filming. But the question remains, what are we doing and how are we doing it? Why aren’t the words the same as the ones we always say? At St. Cross the clergy have talked a bit about what liturgy to use on a Sunday morning. We have settled on Morning Prayer as our regular service. The service of Morning Prayer comes from the Daily Office in our Book of Common Prayer. Daily Offices come from our monastic tradition of praying on certain hours of the day. Our prayer book has Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer and Compline. On Sundays we are doing Morning Prayer, and nightly we do Compline. The rhythm of Morning Prayer is indeed different from what we would see on a Sunday morning before a Eucharist. We don’t have a Gloria, but we do have the Jubilate, Venite or Christ our Passover. We often say a canticle after the readings (OK, we cut the second canticle in Easter for those of you who are wondering). We use the Apostles’ Creed not the Nicene Creed. We have inserted our Prayers of the People into the service where prayers may be offered. We still say the Lord’s Prayer, but at the end we recite a General Thanksgiving together.
Morning Prayer is typically the liturgy, the worship service, one would do if not doing a daily Eucharist. Another option, and where the clergy are leaning for the season after Pentecost is Ante Communion. You would know it from you Book of Common Prayer as the Liturgy of the Word. This is the first half of our Sunday service when we are doing a Eucharist, which when in the sanctuary we do every week. We might say the Gloria, not say any canticles, use the Nicene Creed, etc. The rhythm of Ante Communion is more familiar to us and that is why we used it for our first week or so online and also for Easter.
Why aren’t we doing Eucharist, Communion, Mass? The easiest answer is that our bishop will not allow it. THAT is a conversation for a different letter (though feel free to call any of the clergy to ask them about this). In short, these weeks of quarantine mixed in with social media has begun to challenge 2000 years of theology about the Eucharist. It will take the Episcopal Church some time to figure this all out. However, we can do an agape meal, the kind we would do during Holy Week, when we bless the food in front of us and share a meal together. In Eucharist we are consecrating the bread and wine to make it the body and blood of Jesus. In an Agape Meal we are blessing the food before us as we remember Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. We are hoping to have an Agape Meal on Pentecost in just a few weeks as Pentecost is a special occasion. We will be sending out more information about the Agape Meal in the weeks to come.
Regardless of what words we say and in what order we say them, what is most important is that we pray together. Worshiping together, even if online each in our own home, builds us up to be the body of Christ. The reason we worship together isn’t to make us church, rather to strengthen us to go out and BE church in the world around us. Church isn’t what we do on Sunday, church is what we do with what we learn from the scriptures on Sunday. The hope of the clergy, as they work on services that we hope draw you deeper into your faith, is that you will hear the scriptures, the Word of God speaking to you. And that God’s Word will urge you on to be God’s people to those most in need, especially in this time of quarantine.