One of the hallmarks of the Episcopal Church is its rich liturgical tradition. The
Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, which has its origins in the
Church of England. Each geographic region, called a Province, of the Anglican
Communion has a Book of Common Prayer that sets forth the worship services
and sacramental rites for that Province. These Books of Common Prayer have
some variations across the Provinces, but each contains important common
elements that form the core of Anglican worship.
The Episcopal Church recognizes seven sacraments. Baptism and the Holy
Eucharist are the two “great sacraments of the Gospel.” The other sacraments
are Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation of a Penitent
(Confession) and Unction of the Sick. These sacraments differ from Baptism
and the Eucharist in that, while they are means of grace, they are not necessary
for all persons in the same way Baptism and the Eucharist are. In addition
having liturgies for these sacraments, the Episcopal Church also has a liturgy
for funerals. All of these sacramental rites, the funeral liturgy and many
other prayers and liturgies are included in the Book of Common Prayer of the
Episcopal Church (the red book in St. Michael’s pews).
The Holy Eucharist, also called the Mass or Holy Communion, is the primary
liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church. It is normally celebrated at all
Sunday services, and usually at baptisms, weddings, and funerals, as well.
The term “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” The community gathers to hear the
Word of God in Scripture and to receive the presence of Christ, in consecrated
bread and wine (the Body and Blood of Our Lord). A priest, or a bishop if
present, always officiates, assisted by other clergy and lay persons. All baptized
persons of any age who are present are invited to receive Holy Communion.
The Episcopal Church does not have a First Communion observance and young
children who have been baptized are welcome to receive Communion at their
parents’ discretion. Communion is offered to all in both bread and wine, although
you may elect to receive only one or the other if you wish. You may come to
the altar rail to receive a blessing from the priest if you do not want to receive
Communion; please place your arms across your chest in the form of an “X” or
cross to indicate to the priest that you would like to receive a blessing.
Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the
Church. It is a public statement of one’s intentional decision to follow the way of
Jesus. In the case of infant baptism, it is the parents’ declaration of their intent
to raise a child in the way of Jesus. The bond that God establishes in baptism
is indissoluble, so baptism is only administered once. Baptism is especially
appropriate at the Easter Vigil (which occurs in the evening on Holy Saturday),
on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’
Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the first Sunday after the
Epiphany), as well as the Sundays on which the Bishop visits the parish.
When you choose to be baptized yourself or to have your child baptized in
the Episcopal Church, it means you are choosing to live out the Baptismal
Covenant in the context of an Episcopal church community, taking your part in
the worship, mission and ministries of the local parish. Baptism is open to all
people, regardless of age or background. If you feel called to be baptized, or to
have your child baptized at St. Michael’s, the first steps are to attend regularly
and to talk to the Vicar about baptism. Most churches require candidates for
baptism to undertake some intentional preparation. That preparation should
include study of the Baptismal Covenant and what it contains, and what it can
mean for your life. One should also learn about the symbol of water, about the
importance of the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in whose name
the baptism is administered, and about the Scripture stories that illuminate the
meaning and symbolism of Baptism. Baptism is the beginning of a spiritual path
and not the culmination of one. It is not necessary that a candidate for baptism
fully understand nor be comfortable with every word of the Christian Creeds
and doctrines from the outset, but rather be ready to embark on the rich path
of discovery into the way, truth and life of Jesus Christ. If you are new to the
Episcopal Church and have already been baptized in another denomination in
the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you may wish to renew your faith
life, which you can do by being Confirmed or Received in the Episcopal Church
The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage is an expression of Christian community
in which a couple makes their vows before God and the Church, and the priest blesses
the marriage on behalf of the Church. Marriages conform to local law as well as the
requirements of the Episcopal Church, with the consent of the Bishop being needed in
some circumstances. If you wish to get married here, it is important to meet with the
Vicar to discuss your circumstances.
Normally, the clergy of the parish preside at the celebration of marriages in that
parish. If you want another minister to preside at your marriage, you must obtain
the consent of the Vicar. The Episcopal Church discourages weddings outside
of the physical church building because having a wedding in a church asserts the
importance of the Christian community in the marriage, while having it outside
tends to diminish the role of the Church and to dilute its rules and traditions.
Marriages are not traditionally celebrated in Advent and in Lent because these are
penitential seasons during which times festal liturgies, such as weddings, are not
appropriate. St. Michael’s has a Wedding Policy, which can be found on the Policies
and Links tab of this website.
While Baptism is the sacrament by which we become members of Christ’s Body,
the Church, Confirmation is the rite in which we express a mature commitment to
Christ. To be confirmed by a Bishop, a person must be baptized, be sufficiently
instructed in the Christian faith, be penitent for his or her sins, and be ready to
affirm his or her confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. You must attend
the confirmation classes that are offered prior to the Bishop’s visit before you
can be confirmed. The preferred minimum age to be confirmed in the Diocese of
Louisiana is sixteen.
Reconciliation of a Penitent (Confession)
Reconciliation of a Penitent is the rite in which a person who repents of his or
her sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest and receive the
assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution. The content of a confession is
not normally a matter of subsequent discussion. The secrecy of a confession is
morally absolute for the priest hearing the confession.
Unction of the Sick
Unction is the anointing of the sick with oil or the laying on of hands, by
which God’s grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind and body. It can be
administered for healing at any time and is not reserved solely for those who are
gravely ill. St. Michael’s has a Healing Service on Wednesdays at 11:00 am at
which participants may receive Unction. On the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays the Healing Service is held at St. Michael's and on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays the Healing Service is held at The Windsor.
Ordination is the rite in which God gives authority and the grace of the Holy Spirit
to those being made bishops, priests and deacons, through prayer and the laying
on of hands by bishops.
It is important to understand that many of the funeral and embalming practices
that have become common currency among Americans at large are completely
at odds with Christian teaching. For this reason, Episcopalians should call
their priest before the funeral director is called (ideally, by the priest). It is also
assumed that in requesting the services of a priest of the Episcopal Church,
families accept the discipline and worship of the church in which the priest is
ordained to serve.
In the Episcopal Church, a funeral is primarily an act of worship, and the Book
of Common Prayer Book states that "baptized Christians are properly buried
from the church" (i.e. not from funeral establishments). In addition the Book of
Common Prayer unequivocally states, "The coffin is to be closed before the
service, and it remains closed thereafter."
Photographs or paintings of the deceased are not allowed inside the worship
area. Flower arrangements are allowed only in the places they are normally
allowed for regular worship services.
The information above comes primarily from the Book of Common Prayer,
especially the Catechism found on pages 845-862. Some of the information
comes from the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which has a wealth
of information on the Episcopal Church and its beliefs, worship services and
traditions at http://www.epicenter.org/the-episcopal-faith/.