The Episcopal Church – First Impressions

I was recently invited to attend an Episcopalian mass. I took the opportunity and went out of curiosity for the Anglican heritage of my ancestors. It was interesting, really rather like the Roman mass, with the exception of a female priest. Following mass, I had a nearly two hour discussion with the priest, a seminarian (female), a retired priest (male) and a lay leader. It was really quite pleasant learning the history and theology of their church beyond the typical church of England and Henry VIII “history”. I had no idea that the Episcopal church and the synonymous formation of the United States government were so intertwined. The notes that I took during the mass are below:

  • Much as the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, the service opened with a full and traditional processional. The priest, fully vested in green, the deacon, rightly and smartly attired, an altar boy in a red cassock and white surplice serving as crucifer were accompanied by the expected entrance hymn and organ music.
  • The Liturgy of the word proceeded as I am accustomed, with the exception that rather than a simple Alleluia responsa, a full multi verse hymn was sung. The readings were the same as that of the Roman counterpart. Much as in the Eastern Church, the Gospel was proclaimed not by the officiant, but by the deacon, who walked down into the midst of the people. A tradition which I was always quite fond of. All of the congregation, wherever they were, turned to face the Deacon and the Gospel, standing quietly and reverently.
  • As is expected, the priest gave the homily. An impressive one, at that. I could tell that she was filled with passion on the topic that she covered, and you could see the belief in her own words on the expressions that crossed her face. I found myself mesmerized by her words and by their expression. I remain surprised by the passion with which she delivered the homily. It was extremely unexpected.
  • I noted that a great deal of reverence was shown by the priest, the deacon and the altar boy to the altar and to the tabernacle/ark. Even the congregation was very aware of the presence of the elements, and behaved with great dignity.
  • I was unsure as to the presence of a reliquary. I spoke with Father Brian after the service, and he indicated that this Church does not have one under the altar or at any other location, but that some do. The largest factor being that they have to be obtained from Rome.
  • The recitation of the Nicene Creed was as expected, with the exception that the locations where a reciter would say “I believe”, instead, all proclaimed “We believe”. Any mention of “He” [Jesus] was replaced with “who”. It was written in full in the service booklet and recited with the Filioque. The priest, and Father Brian confirm that it is not required by the Anglican Church to recite with the Filioque.
  • The exchange of peace was shared in by all, moving about the entire church freely. Never have I felt so welcomed by a group of congregants. The pure love and open arms of Christ are clearly evident. While it was seemingly out of place, not following the Lord’s prayer as I am accustomed, it was nevertheless full of kindness.
  • The deacon (rather than the priest) carefully, and with great respect, prepared the table of offering. He prepared also the whine which was brought up before the tithes/offerings, co-mingling the water and the wine himself, rather than the celebrant. This struck me as odd, but I confirmed with Father Brian after, that the celebrant consecrated the wine (by touch rather than by intent) as well, though mingling was performed by the deacon.
  • The celebrant consecrated the elements, and the Lord’s prayer was recited by all while kneeling. Interestingly, they recited also “For thine is the kingdom…” etc. as part of the prayer, with no interruption or pronouncement by the celebrant. The altar boy enthusiastically rang the chimes at the expected times.
  • The congregants received the Holy Eucharist very reverently (though in their hands) while kneeling at the altar railing. After all had received, the chalice and paten were cleaned very reverently.
  • The priest made a point to explain what was being done, and why, for the benefit of curious younglings that were present. It made it that much more meaningful. I know someone else in history that is noted in His concern for the little ones…
  • Based upon what I heard, I believe that they, or at least those present in this church, believe in the real presence of the bread and wine becoming the physical body and blood of Christ.
  • The dismissal was as expected, in procession. All in all, the service and its components were performed as dignified and reverently as could be expected within the Liturgy of any traditional Catholic Church service.