The services in a church can be confusing and a little odd for those who are not used to them. This is a brief guide to what happens how and when in Church!
The most important service in church is The Eucharist (from the Greek meaning ‘Thanksgiving’). This service is also sometimes known as The Mass, The Lord’s Supper or the Holy Communion. Whatever it is called, it recalls Jesus instruction to his disciples on the night of the Last Supper, before his Crucifixion. He told his disciples to break bread and drink wine, which he called his Body and His Blood, ‘in remembrance’ of Him. Churches have disputed quite what exactly He meant by this ever since, which partly explains the divisions in the church. Nevertheless, the Eucharist remains at the heart of the Church of England’s offering.
The service consists of two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Sacrament. The first part consists of an Introduction, Confession and readings from the Bible, including a reading from one of the Gospels. The second part consists of the Blessing of the Bread and Wine and the sharing of Holy Communion. On a Sunday, and on special occasions, this is all augmented with hymns and other music.
The robes that the Priest wears during the Eucharist derive from formal Roman dress and are ‘colour coded’ according to the Season of the Year.
The Seasons, in order, are:
ADVENT. This is a period of four weeks leading up to Christmas. The liturgical colour is purple to reflect a time of anticipation and repentance as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus
CHRISTMAS. Christmas, in the church, is not one day, but a season! It lasts until Epiphany (the famous 12 days of Christmas), and it is when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. The liturgical colour is the white or gold of celebration
EPIPHANY is on January 6, though it is sometimes transferred to the nearest Sunday. It celebrates the visit of the ‘Magi’ (the wise men, or three Kings of the popular carols) to the child Jesus. The colour remains white and there are a number of Sundays of Epiphany.
After Epiphany, we have a short period of what is called ‘ordinary time’, when the colour reverts to green.
LENT follows. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and commemorates Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness (in the Bible, ‘forty days’ just means ‘a long time’) It is a time of penance and abstinence (the reason we have pancake day on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday is to use up luxury goods before Lent!) Lent climaxes in
HOLY WEEK. Holy Week is the most important week of the year for Christians and recreates the last week of Jesus life on earth. It is packed with events. It begins with
PALM SUNDAY. We remember Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with a procession, and everyone receives a palm cross to remind them of the palm branches that the crowds threw in front of Jesus as he entered the Holy City on a donkey. The clergy all wear red.
On MAUNDY THURSDAY, we recreated the events of the Last Supper, when Jesus washed his disciples feet and instituted the Holy Communion. The clergy wear white.
GOOD FRIDAY. The darkest day of the Christian year. We remember Jesus death on the cross, with a long, solemn service. The priest wears red.
EASTER, which means Spring, begins on Easter Day, when we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important event in human history. Children receive eggs, we all receive Easter cake (and champagne!) and the celebrations last for six weeks, bathed in gold and white.
After 40 days, we celebrate ASCENSION DAY, when the Resurrected Jesus takes His place (and his humanity) to heaven. Shortly afterwards, we celebrate
PENTECOST, the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. The Spirit is sometimes described as a fire, so the liturgical colour is red.
After this great rush of the first half of the Christian year, things are quieter. The colour returns to the green of ‘ordinary time’ and we study the scriptures and what it means to live out the Christian life in the light of Jesus Resurrection. During this period, we also celebrate Harvest, Remembrance and All Souls and All Saints, before it all begins once more with Advent.
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