I am rather reflexively conservative when it comes to change in the Church — particularly liturgical change. I often associate change with an old hymn which includes the line “change and decay all around I see.” So, I can imagine the existential dread with which some of you might be anticipating liturgical changes at St. Philip’s. As we have celebrated together on Sundays and weekdays a couple of things have emerged that I would like us to try on over the coming months.
My sense is that we could better differentiate the 9:00 and 11:15 a.m. services. A number of conversations with many here seem to point toward this as a genuinely desirable goal. People come to church looking for a range of ways to encounter God. For some, this will happen through a horizontal, or immanent, sense of God made present in the community all around them. For others, this experience of God is found in what I would call a more vertical, or transcendent, way — looking upward and being drawn in by the glory of God revealed in music, incense, and candlelight.
Most people experience God through a mix of these and their awareness will even shift from day to day or with different seasons in their lives. With this in mind I would like us to try to give more of a sense of both the horizontal and the vertical experience of God with greater intentionality
Here is a summary of some of the changes you will see beginning in October:
- At all services, the Celebrant, Deacon, and Sub-Deacon will be together at almost all times. This is a somewhat subtle yet profound shift. This “Altar Party” represents all of the orders of ministry (laity, deacons, and priests) present locally in our parish — orders which all serve in this place for the Bishop. So when the Creed is said, or prayers offered, or sins forgiven, or bread and wine transformed into Body and Blood, or any other liturgical action happens, each order of ministry represented by the Celebrant, Deacon, and Sub-Deacon is vital, present, and gathered together.
- At 9:00 we will welcome children into the Altar area during the offertory (after bread and wine have come up but before other gifts) so that they can better see what is happening at the Altar. We will ask some of our ministers serving around the Altar to help keep them focused and to learn to be present in holy ways for holy things.
- At 9:00, at the beginning of the Prayers of the People, we will welcome those celebrating birthdays or anniversaries of any kind to come forward for a blessing from one of our priests. When the invitation is made by the reader, they will simply come forward and gather just outside the Altar rail, where they will be joined by clergy. The congregation will all say a prayer together to conclude the Prayers of the People while those blessings are given.
- At 11:15 we will sing various parts of the liturgy with much greater frequency. Nearly all parts of the service will be sung at some point or another, including the Gospel and even the Nicene Creed and Lord’s Prayer (which I believe there is some experience of here). Liturgy is one song of unending praise to God — it is why we mention singing with Angels and Archangels and all the company of Heaven. Song and praise is the one constant thing that we know is unfolding in Heaven. So we will sing more regularly — and we will train ministers to do so who express an interest.
- At 11:15 we will use incense with regularity in a moderated way. Rather than entering in procession, the thurifer will enter from the side doors and meet the Celebrant at the Altar, and then the Altar will be censed. The smoke will not be carried through the congregation on Sundays other than on major feast days. I have procured a hypo-allergenic incense, used by a growing number of parishes, that met with great success when we switched to it at the Denver Cathedral.
These are relatively minor changes and are not about any one person’s preferences but about how we can offer praise and adoration at each service that does what worship is intended to be — an encounter with the Living God who reveals himself in the community around us and at the Altar. Paired with these liturgical changes, you will undoubtedly notice changes in the arrangement of furniture in the Altar area. This is designed to focus the eye on the Altar and make it possible for ministers of all orders to sit together facing toward the center.
The pulpit is being reworked so that we can use it where the lectern has been — this will give greater dignity to the proclamation of the Word of the Lord and let us use the pulpit with greater frequency and intentionality, while also reducing the number of pieces of furniture that must be moved around for Communion. With a better “flow of traffic,” Communion can be administered with greater reverence and less attention to not bumping into things or one another.
Receiving Communion at 9 and 11:15
Finally, the use of the split chalices is going to change a bit at 9 and 11:15. Many are used to receiving Communion on the tongue, after the priest intincts (dips) the Host into the consecrated Wine. To do this the priest needs to use a split chalice, which has small sections that contain Host and Wine. This option will continue at the 7:45 a.m. service.
Receiving Communion on the tongue is the historic way of receiving. However, the practice of intincting the Host first is something of a liturgical aberration that evolved during various health scares. The historic practice is to receive the Host (either on the tongue or more recently in the hand) and then share from the Cup. We who are many are one because we share one Bread and one Cup. If you would like to continue to have the Bread intincted I would ask that you receive the Bread and hold it until the Chalice Minister comes along, and she or he will intinct it for you and place it on your tongue.
Recent studies have shown that the most unsanitary practice is for many people to be putting their hands in the Cup to dip the Bread. All of the ministers serving Communion will have washed hands beforehand.
At 9 and 11:15, you will be able to either receive the Bread in your hand or on the tongue and then drink from the Cup or allow a Chalice Minister to intinct it and place it on your tongue. Changing the use of the split chalices at these larger services will greatly reduce the spillage and wastage at the Altar that result from trying to fill and empty the tiny segmented parts of those chalices and will greatly aid in the preparation and cleanup around Communion.
Many of those used to the current way of receiving with the priest intincting and placing it on the tongue are part of our 7:45 service. With that in mind, we will maintain the current practice at 7:45 and use the split chalices as people are used to without change.
There is not the space here to give every reason for every change, but I hope that if you have thoughts or questions that you will call or write. Please share with me what is on your mind and deep in your heart. I look forward to having more liturgical conversations like the one we had last week to which many were invited (and around 70 showed up), so we will have lots of opportunity for sharing how God is using these shifts in our liturgical life to speak to us in new ways or how we are suddenly aware of things we did not realize that we would miss.
Of course, if we cannot do all of this together with gentleness and love then it really just becomes a choreographed kind of blasphemy with a lovely soundtrack, rather than a gathering of a community of faith for the reverent adoration of God. Liturgical change and practice can quickly become “the golden calf in the room” if we let it create unkindness, frustration, or anger. We must always keep in mind that we worship together because we love God, this place, and one another.
—Your in Christ, Fr. Robert