FAQ

Q. Why does the Episcopal Church have communion every Sunday?
A.  Because this is what the early Church did. In the New Testament, Christians met together every Lord’s Day to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to be nourished on his body and blood. The Church celebrated the Holy Eucharist (Communion) every Sunday for centuries. It was not until long after the Protestant Reformation that some Christians decided that it was not necessary to do so.

Q.  Why do many of the people bow or genuflect (kneel briefly on one knee) upon entering or leaving their pew?
A.  There are many reasons. Two basic ones are:

(1) The altar is the place where Jesus comes to us in the elements of consecrated bread and wine. The altar is therefore a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross just as the American flag is a symbol of our country and those who sacrificed their lives for it. Just as Americans salute the flag by placing their hands over our hearts, Episcopalians honor Christ at the altar by bowing our heads toward it.

(2) Many churches reserve the sacrament (the consecrated bread and wine) on or near the altar so that it may be taken to those who are ill. When the sacrament is reserved, out of reverence for the real presence of Christ, it is customary to bow deeply or genuflect (kneel briefly on one knee) as a symbol of respect for our Lord’s presence.

Q.  Why do people in the congregation kneel in prayer upon entering their pew?
A.  To prepare themselves for worship. They pray for themselves that they might worship our Lord in spirit and in truth; they pray for the congregation; they pray for the priest and other ministers who will be leading the worship; they pray for any other matter may be weighing on their mind; they pray in silence to settle their spirits and be open to encounter God in the forthcoming worship.

Q.  Why does the congregation remain quiet before the worship begins?
A.  There are two reasons.
(1)  They remain quiet out of reverence for the house of God and the Lord’s presence upon the altar. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” (Habakkuk 2:20)
(2)  They remain silent so as not to disturb others who may be praying around them.

Q.  Why is there so much getting up and down during the services?
A.  The Episcopal Church is well known for its physical as well as its oral worship of God. Generally speaking, we kneel or stand to pray; we stand for hymns, the creed, and the reading of the Gospel; we sit for instruction. Some people call these movements, “praying with the whole body.”

Q.  Why does the congregation say “amen” at the end of prayers?
A. The word “amen” literally means “so be it” or more casually, “Yes, I agree with that, and I offer that as my prayer too.” When we answer “amen” at the end of prayers, we are simply saying that the prayer was our prayer as well as the prayer of the one who uttered it.

Q. Why do we share the peace in the middle of the service?

A.  The sharing of peace with our neighbors immediately follows the confession of sin and absolution (forgiveness) and precedes Holy Communion. This token gesture is a symbolic way to affirm that – having been forgiven together – we are now at peace with each other and able to join together in Christ’s meal, the foretaste of the Peaceable Kingdom.

Q.  Why does the congregation stand for the reading of the Gospel?
A.  The Gospel is composed primarily of the words of Jesus himself. Out of respect for our Lord and the good news he brought us, we stand.

Q.  Why do many in the congregation cross themselves at various places in the service?
A.  The sign of the cross was originally used as a mark of identification as Christians. It was probably first used at baptism on the foreheads of those being baptized to mark them as “Christ’s own forever.”  It still has that significance today, and in the baptismal service the Prayer Book directs the baptizer to mark the baptized one with the sign of the cross. Over the centuries other meanings have been attached to the sign. (1) It may be a silent prayer. (2) It may mean that the Christian acknowledges receipt of the sacrament or of a blessing of some sort. (3) It may be an acknowledgement of the Holy Trinity. (4) It may be used as a reminder of the Christian’s baptism, thereby reminding the person that he/she is indeed a Christian and must behave in a Christian manner. (5) It may be a way of indicating that the salvific merit of Christ’s death has been applied to their life. The sign may have other uses as well; but however it is used, it is important that it be used in a reverent and prayerful manner.

Q.  Why is the cross carried at the head of many processions?
A.  As Christians, we are followers of Christ whose love for us and all creation was demonstrated most profoundly by his death on the cross. We follow a crucified Lord. We also recall his words to take up our own cross and follow him – knowing that the Jesus Way is one of sacrificial love.

Q.  Why do many in the congregation bow as the cross passes them in procession?
A.  Just as the altar is a symbol of our Lord’s sacrifice, so is the cross. We bow when it passes us as a sign of humility, gratitude, and obedience.

Q. Why do the choir, clergy, and other ministers wear vestments (special robes) during the service?

A.  By wearing the clothing of the church, the ministers (lay and ordained) demonstrate the role they are serving in the liturgy, rather than their particular personalities or fashion sensibility. It also identifies them as part of ongoing worshiping community through the ages, since ministers have worn outfits such as these since the earliest days of the church.

Q.  Why does the Church celebrate the various holy days of the Church?
A.  In recognition of the important events in the life of our Lord, his saints, and his church. We recognize the coming of Christ in Advent, Christ’s birth in Christmas, Christ’s manifestation to the gentiles in Epiphany, our repentance and Christ’s suffering and death in Lent, Christ’s resurrection in Easter, Christ’s ascension into heaven at Ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit in Pentecost, and the spreading of Christ’s kingdom in the time after Pentecost. In addition we recognize individual outstanding Christians of the past and hold them up as examples on the various saints’ days of the church calendar. In celebrating these days we get to symbolically walk with Christ during his life and ministry and with the saints of yore in their journey toward Christ and his heavenly kingdom.

Q.  Why does the Church use different colors to highlight the various seasons of the church year?
A.  As symbols of what we are celebrating on any given season or day. Blue is used in Advent to symbolize the coming of royalty–the King of kings. Purple is used in Lent to symbolize repentance. Red is used to symbolize fire on Pentecost and blood on feasts of the martyrs. White is used to symbolize purity on any feast related directly to our Lord. These colors remind us visually of what we are celebrating spiritually.

Q.  Why does the congregation say the creed during the service?
A.  It is important that we re-affirm our faith in whom we believe. The creeds confirm our faith in God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Q.  Why does the Church use candles on or around the altar?
A.  Originally lights were used for utilitarian purposes: to see by. Gradually they came to symbolize Christ as the light of the world, to symbolize the prayers of Christ’s people, and to add to the beauty and dignity of our worship.

Q.  Why does the congregation pray out of a book?
A.  For the same reason most Christians sing out of a book–so we can sing and pray together. The Eucharistic prayer and the other great prayers of the church are the congregation’s prayers too, and the congregation should share in them.

Q.  Why does the Church use assigned readings from the Bible for each Sunday and holy day in the church year?
A.  So that most of the Bible can be covered in a three-year period. The use of a lectionary keeps us from harping on favorite passages over and over and helps us to discover and re-discover the gems of the whole Bible.

Q.  Why do Episcopalians have so much symbolism in the church buildings?
A.  Symbolism is a part of all of our lives whether we recognize it or not. The American flag is symbolic of our country and our patriotism, a photograph of a loved one in our home is symbolic of the real presence of our loved one, and a school song is symbolic of our alma mater. Symbols help us to recognize the truth behind those symbols and keep us in touch with the significance of those symbols.

Q.  Why is the altar rather than the pulpit the center of focus in the church?
A.  The Episcopal Church is a sacramental church. The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the principal act of worship on the Lord’s day. The altar is symbolic of our Lord’s presence in the Holy Eucharist. What could be a better symbol of focus than a table around which we gather to commune with our Lord and with each other.