Postures in worship
Sit, stand, kneel, stand, sit, kneel. There is a fair amount of movement during an Anglican worship service. Why these pew aerobics? Worship at St. Nicholas does involve your whole body and all of your senses. Whether you sit or stand depends on what is going on in the service. We sit to listen, but we stand to sing, pray, or otherwise to respond to what is going on in the service. We kneel also to pray, and have kneelers to use for this purpose. You may stand or kneel during prayer, whichever is more comfortable for you or whichever is your tradition.
The clothes ministers wear in an Episcopal worship service are called vestments. Why do they wear that stuff? First, vestments lend dignity to a worship service. The clothes then are about the role the person fulfills in the worship service rather than their personal taste in clothes, this is as true for the acolytes and other servers as for the pastor. What do the items signify and where do they come from? The main items worn are:
- Cassock and Surplice: Strictly speaking, a cassock is not a vestment as they were for quite a long time traditional street wear for priests. The long black robe (sometimes red for acolytes and for special services) are usually worn in a service under a white garment called a surplice. The photo at right shows acolytes (kids assisting with the service) in red cassocks with white surplices, the Lay Eucharistic Ministers (non-ordained members of the congregation assisting in servings communion) in albs and the pastors in albs with stoles.
- Alb: This is the white robe worn by those serving during a worship service. Wearing robes is not just a quaint custom, it allows people who have come to worship without concern for the clothes the pastor and others who are serving are wearing. It is about the role in the service, rather than the whims of fashion.
- Stole: This is worn over the shoulders of the pastor and other ordained persons. Historically it comes from the Jewish prayer shawl and is a sign of leadership in the service. Both deacons, priests, and bishops all wear stoles. A deacon wears the stole over the left shoulder, across the chest and tied under the right arm. Priests and bishops wear stoles around the neck with the ends hanging in front. The color and design are selected to go with the season of the church year.
- Chasuble: This is a poncho like an overgarment worn by priests during a communion service. Historically it was the type of cloak or overcoat worn during the time when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. The color and design of the chasuble, like the stole, depending on the season.
During the year, we take a deeper look at different understandings of God and his son Jesus Christ that we learn in scripture. The information below tells of human traditions that have built up over the centuries. They are helpful ways of marking time and focusing church attention on different aspects of the Christian story. The practice of keeping the church year dates back to fifth century Jerusalem. Here are the seasons with a brief word about each:
- Advent: From the Latin word Adventus, meaning “coming,” Advent is the first season of the church year. It begins four Sundays before Christmas and is set aside as a season to prepare for Christmas, Christ’s first coming, and to remember that he will come again. The color for this season is royal (sarum) blue.
- Christmas: This is the eleven days from Christmas Day until January 6, the start of Epiphany. It is a time for remembering Jesus’ birth and the idea of the Incarnation—God becoming human. The color for the season is white, often trimmed in gold.
- Epiphany: From January 6 until Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent, is the season of Epiphany, which means “revealing” or “showing forth.” Epiphany is the season for remembering that Jesus came to be the savior of the whole world. The color of the season is green.
- Lent: This is the season of preparation for Easter, which starts on Ash Wednesday and goes 40 weekdays and six Sundays to Easter. Lent is a time for self-examination. Many people take on an additional study in Lent, while others deny themselves of something as an ongoing reminder of the season. That practice can be helpful, but Lent is not a time for punishment, just reflection. The seasonal color is purple or lavender, though unbleached cloth is sometimes used as well.
- Easter: This is the oldest and greatest day of celebration in the Christian Church. Easter is the day and season for remembering that Jesus not only died but that he was raised from the dead. The color is white, trimmed in gold. The season of Easter lasts 50 days from Easter Day to the Day of Pentecost.
- Pentecost: The day of Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Christian Church as it is the day when the disciples felt the Holy Spirit come upon them and empower them to go out and tell Jesus’ story. The season lasts all through the summer until Advent. During this season, which the Roman Catholic Church calls ordinary time, we recount the stories of Jesus’ ministry along with readings from the Old Testament and the letters of the early church. The color of the day of Pentecost is red, as red is the color associated with the Holy Spirit. The color for the season of Pentecost is green, appropriate for the season of growth.