Easter 2024

11 April 2016
Word - in the beginning was the

The Center for Liturgy and Music at Virginia Theological Seminary and Ellen Johnston should be commended for their recent guide to designing service leaflets for the service of the Holy Eucharist in the Episcopal Church ("A Resource on Designing Service Leaflets" PDF)

This kind of attention to detail is sorely needed, and I hope it sparks close examination of printed service leaflets in many parishes.

But there is a widespread discrepancy in service leaflets in the Episcopal Church that this guide does not address: the question of when the service begins.

It's quite common to see various locations in the service leaflet for the printed subtitle "The Word of God".

Often the prelude, introit (if there is one), and hymn are all listed prior to the subtitle "The Word of God". This makes it appear as though the Acclamation ("Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit") is the beginning of the liturgy.

In other cases the subtitle "The Word of God" appears after the Collect of the Day and before the first Lesson.

I would respectfully suggest that both of these approaches confuse the shape of the service and the place of church music in our worship.

The subtitle of "The Word of God" is the first thing given on p. 355 of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. After this, the first item is a rubric: A hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung.

It is apparent from this order that the first hymn of the service (and the introit, if there is one) qualify as the beginning of the service and fall under this heading of "The Word of God". To be clear: the only thing that should appear before "The Word of God" is the Prelude (if there is one).

If a subheading is desired before the lessons themselves, it should simply be "The Lessons" as seen on p. 357. This should not rise to the level of the subtitle that we see on p. 355 of the Prayer Book.

Why is this important?

Because listing the subtitle after the hymn affords this piece of church music second class status. The Prelude music before the service is precisely that: before the service. But church music which reflects the both the historic tradition of the church and careful selection by those persons called to a ministry of church music (propers, hymns, psalms, anthems, motets, etc.) is rightly a genuine part of the community's worship.

And getting this distinction right is the responsibility that we take on with printing the content of the Prayer Book in a service leaflet: faithfulness to the Book of Common Prayer. Reprinting the liturgy in a disposable leaflet is not an excuse to alter the liturgy as we see fit. This is contrary to the Anglican spirit of common prayer.

It is surely for this reason, among others, that the esteemed bloggers of Sed Angli, advocates of "straight up" Anglicanism, advocate for a minimal bulletin.

Reprinting the whole service obviates the need to have the Prayer Book around, and we are well not only to have the Prayer Book, but also to use it. Page numbers will suffice, thank you.

How it’s done, VI, 21 March 2012

Now for those who disagree with my assertion about the liturgy beginning with the first hymn, surely some will quote the puzzling statement by Marion Hatchett in A Manual for Clergy and Church Musicians: "The real beginning of the liturgy is the first lesson." (p. 106)

I would beg to differ.

If your service starts at 11:00 a.m. the "real beginning" of the service is 11:00 a.m. It is surely not a "fake beginning".

In the vast majority of places, this means the music before the service is ended, and the first hymn (or the introit) begins the service proper.

In order make a "real beginning" with the First Lesson, one would simply read it at the start of the service without fanfare. This kind of logic dismisses the historic pattern of the entrance rite of the liturgy–a rite that is designed to honor the Word of God. Not surprisingly, the Prayer Book doesn't allow for it; the Acclamation, Kyrie/Trisagion or Gloria, and Collect of the Day are all required elements.

And though we should cherish this historic pattern of entrance we should not make the mistake of elevating the entrance rite to a capital letter "Entrance Rite" in the service leaflet. The Prayer Book avoids this designation and so should we. Worship in the Episcopal Church can be convoluted enough without superfluous monikers.

We are indeed well to use the Prayer Book, whether in its hardbound format, on our iPad, or reprinted in a parochial service leaflet.

I implore my brothers and sisters in the Episcopal Church to utilize the very clear outline of the Holy Eucharist provided in the 1979 Prayer Book.

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