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The Southern Episcopal Church

Clinging to:


"An unchanging faith, in an ever-changing world"




CHRISTIAN CUSTOMS


REVERENCE- In our worship of Almighty God, it is both natural and right that we should give outward expression to the feelings of reverence and devotion which arise in our hearts. It is not necessary that all should express themselves in the same way, nor that the same usages should prevail in every parish; yet certain customs have so approved themselves to Christian sentiment that they are looked upon as normal ways of devout expression.

KNEELING- We kneel in prayer, both public and private. Early Christians sometimes prayed standing, particularly on Sundays. and this usage still prevails in Eastern Orthodox Churches today. Both postures are correct, but the prevailing sentiment of western Christendom has favored kneeling as the natural expression of reverence when addressing Almighty God. For sitting in prayer, or for other negligent attitudes, there is neither reason nor authority.

BOWING- We bow the head at the sacred Name of Jesus when. ever it is mentioned, but particularly in the recitation of the Creeds. Christians also bow out of reverence for the Cross, which is the symbol of God’s love and of our redemption, and in passing before the altar, which represents the great altar of the Cross upon which Christ was offered. It is also the place where we meet our Lord “face to face” in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

GENUFLECTING- It is a reverent custom to genuflect, or kneel momentarily upon one knee, when approaching or passing before the Blessed Sacrament, in devout recognition of our Lord’s Presence. A genuflection is made also in the Nicene Creed at the recitation of the words, “And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man.” This is in honor of the great mystery of the Incarnation. We kneel upon both knees to receive the Sacrament.

STANDING- We stand out of special reverence at the reading of the Holy Gospel in the Eucharist or Holy Communion. We stand also to sing praises to God, and at the confession of our Faith in the Creeds.

SITTING- For instruction and for ordinary lessons, and sometimes for the recitation of the Psalms, the congregation remains seated.

SIGN OF THE CROSS- In Holy Baptism we were signed on our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross, in token that we “should not be ashamed to confess the Faith of Christ crucified.” Again, in Confirmation, the Bishop signs us with the sacred sign; and when a Priest or Bishop blesses or absolves the congregation, he traces a cross with his uplifted hand. As a token of personal devotion, also, Christian people sign themselves upon the forehead or breast. As St. Ambrose said, “The Sign of the Cross is on our brow and on our heart and on our arm. It is on our brow that we may always confess Christ, on our heart that we may always love Him, on our arm that we may always work for Him.”

RITUAL AND CEREMONIAL- Ritual is the manner of performing a rite or ceremony, and as the Book of Common Prayer is made up, in large part, of “rites and ceremonies,” it is apparent that some kind of ritual or ceremonial is necessary for the proper rendering of the services. It may be plain and simple, or very expressive and beautiful; but whichever it is, it should be characterized by the deepest reverence, and should truly express the devotion of the worshipers.

TYPES OF SERVICE- The manner in which the services of the Church are celebrated may vary in different parishes, or in the same parish, without any departure from the requirements of the Prayer Book. Such variations are usually due to purely local conditions, to the nature of the occasion, or to the temperament and devotional needs of the people; but whatever the cause, it is the part of a loyal Churchman to recognize in others that liberty which is the common heritage of us all, and to conform as nearly as may be to the local custom-provided always that it can be done with reverence, and without violating the substance of our most holy Faith.
A “low” celebration of the Holy Eucharist is one in which there is no music whatever. A “high” or “solemn” celebration is one that is characterized by much music, with assistant ministers, and other features which add to its dignity and solemnity. A sung” or “choral” celebration is one with music, but without the more imposing ceremonial features which belong to the Solemn Eucharist.

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