Frequently Asked Questions
What does the word “Mass” mean?
Following the custom of the early Church, the service of Holy Communion is the primary worship service in the Episcopal Church on the Lord’s Day (see Acts 20:7). The term “Mass” was used in the early centuries of the Church, although the origin of the term is obscure.
The Mass has two parts: the proclamation of the Word of God (Scripture) and the celebration of Holy Communion.
In the first part of the Mass, lessons from the Bible are read in a pattern that follows a three-year cycle offering a balanced perspective in the numerous books, authors and genre of the Bible. A sermon follows, always as an application of the lessons to people’s daily lives and to encourage growth in Christ and living in a healthy community of believers
In the second part of the Mass, bread and wine are offered by the people, brought to the altar where we invoke the Holy Spirit to transform them — and us — into the living, caring and reconciling Body of Christ. These gifts are then distributed to all believers for their spiritual strength, nourishment, and progress.
Why do people genuflect?
Genuflection (briefly dropping to the right knee) is done as an act of homage and reverence to God.
A genuflection is the customary act of humility, reverence, and homage offered in worship to Jesus who humbles himself in this way for our sake. It is customary to genuflect when entering and leaving a pew and when passing in front of the tabernacle. Like all external devotions, this devotion is optional, but worship with the body is a fitting extension and expression of the worship offered by the mind and heart.
Why do you use incense?
From the earliest days of worship in Judaism and Christianity, incense was a sign of a “pleasing offering.” The Christmas carol “We Three Kings” included the words, “incense owns a deity nigh”—meaning that the use of incense indicates the presence of God.
The use of incense in worship is found throughout the Bible. (For example, see Exodus 30:1, Luke 1:9-11, and Revelation 8:3-4.) The cloud suggests mystery and “otherness”, and the scent makes it possible for worshipers to devote themselves to God with their senses rather than just their mind. Its use also appeals to most children and is one of the ways we make it possible for them to participate in the worship more than if the service were limited mostly to words.
During the Mass, the altar is censed, the offering on the altar is censed, and all the people are censed as signs that all are offered to God as a “pleasing offering”. The censing of the people is a special way of saying that everyone present in the church is counted as family and has a vital part to play in worship. We tell children that incense is a kind of “gift wrapping” of the things we offer to God—especially ourselves.
Why is there so much ritual?
The services of the Church are traditional and ritualistic as an expression of having a broad view of the Church, its life, and its mission. While many people are impressed with the richness of the vestments, the beauty of the music, and other aspects of the worship, first-time visitors can be a little confused or even put off.
The meaning of the rituals and ceremonies can be learned, and we encourage people to ask and to learn what they mean. However, worship is much more than an activity of the mind; we believe that the heart and body and all the senses are involved in good worship also. Such things as bells, vestments, statues, incense, processions, and other aspects of church worship are intended to involve the worshiper much more than listening to a sermon. In addition, such things make it possible for children and those who speak English as a second language, for example, to participate fully in worship at their own level.
We at Blessed Sacrament believe that ritual in worship meets a great need in western culture today. In a society which is very transient and which “lives for today,” we deliberately choose most often to use traditional language, and music which has been used in worship for many generations, to show our connected-ness with our forebears. We do not live in the past, but neither can we ignore it if we want to take our place in the present and be prepared for the future.
In a society whose thrills are often very shallow, short-lived, or even dangerous, it is important that worship be intimate, deep, and sensuous, and be grounded in the unchanging truths of Christian doctrine. In a culture which thrives on entertainment, it is vital on the one hand that worship be as beautiful as possible with features which have inspired generations, as well as reach far beyond entertainment to challenge people to follow Jesus as the only Way to joy.
Of course, there are many other ways to achieve these ends. High churches do not believe that their way is the only way; the outward rituals are optional. Visitors will find a great variety of preferences in the individual members of Blessed Sacrament. We believe that this is good.
Why do people bow, make the sign of the cross, etc.?
Worship in the church not only involves the externals of ritual in the service, but also offers individual worshipers the option of using time-honored personal external devotions. These are completely optional, but many grow to find them meaningful once they learn what they mean.
People bow for the same reason they genuflect: to show reverence to Christ, represented in the symbols of the altar, the cross when it is procession, etc.
The origin of the sign of the cross is lost to history, but one tradition is that it was one way the Christian martyrs, during the time of the persecutions in the Roman Empire, showed that their “shield” was the cross of Christ when they were put unarmed into the arena for execution. Every personal devotion has a reason behind it, usually either to proclaim the Christian faith to others or to express reverence for Christ.
What do the Vestments (clothing) mean?
The use of vestments takes the focus off of the ministers’ individuality, and emphasizes the office they are filling. Therefore the choir members, acolytes, clergy, etc., are shown to be part of a longer tradition and larger community than just the “here and now”.
The Gospel Book—The book from which the Gospel is read is marked out with special signs of importance since the Gospel lesson is the one that speaks most directly of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Explain the symbolic items in the church.
The Stations of the Cross—This is a ritual devotion to the Reconciliation between us and God done by Jesus – most especially when he carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem to the place of crucifixion.
The Candles—Originally, candles were needed simply because they shed light in an age before electricity, but they also represent the proclamation that Jesus brings light to a world which is in confusion and pain.