Episcopal Liturgy

Liturgy (meaning “Work of the People’) is what we do when we gather to worship. The chief liturgy of Episcopalians is the Holy communion, the weekly Lord’s Day event when we (1) hear the reading and proclamation of Scripture and (2) act out the gospel in the ritual drama of the meal. We believe that God Acts in our words and in our ritual drama making the Gospel happen.

Our Episcopal identity is evident in our liturgy:

We are catholic.

The Holy Communion liturgy follows the form of the universal church, a form which probably goes back to the apostles:

  1. Scripture Reading and Preaching
  2. Prayers of intercession
  3. Confession and Forgiveness
  4. Peace sharing
  5. Offering
  6. Thanksgiving prayer
  7. Lord’s prayer
  8. Meal

Our catholic identity is also evident in the creeds we confess and in the hymns and prayers we use.

We are Evangelical (we spread the Good News).

The liturgy proclaims the center of our faith—God is gracious. Coming with unconditional love, mercy, and forgiveness, God gathers us to himself and sustains us in his inclusive family. This is Good News!

We are Evolving/Re-forming.

While following the catholic form, (see above) led by our Bishop and our Priest, we can change the way we sing or speak or dramatize the Tradition, if a new way will enable the liturgy to proclaim the Gospel more clearly.

Recent examples: the use of contemporary language, the inclusion of laity in liturgical functions, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the ministry of word and sacrament, the spirit of joy and the cultural diversity evident in more recent hymnals.

Important Note: Change does not mean altering the Tradition, the ancient catholic form. We change only Conventions—the musical instruments we use, the visual arts we use, the way we speak, sing, move, and arrange our worship space.

The Nave is the central and principal part of a Christian church, extending from the entrance (the narthex) to the transepts (transverse aisle crossing the nave in front of the sanctuary in a cruciform church) or, in the absence of transepts, to the chancel (area around the altar).



The word “nave” comes from the Latin word for “ship”, navis, because people in the Middle Ages thought a nave looked like the bottom part of a ship turned upside-down. You can see the two rows of columns, and the three naves (or one nave and two aisles) between the columns, and the apse (semi-circular piece) at the other end.

The narthex is an architectural element typical of early Christian and Byzantine basilicas and churches consisting of the entrance or lobby area, located at the west end of the nave, opposite the church’s main altar. By extension, the narthex can also denote a covered porch or entrance to a building.

The many cross shapes and images in the Nave are a constant reminder that we proclaim and celebrate Christ crucified—the wisdom and power of God.

An ordained minister presides at the meal.

An assisting minister may be a lay person to remind us of the priesthood of all believers.

Others serve as readers and acolytes, special actors and actresses in the great drama.

The Choir’s function is not to perform but to lead the liturgical responses, sing special elements of the liturgy, and offer special songs of praise within the liturgy.

The Ushers smile, welcome, and help people.

The altar is the central visual object in the worship room because it is here that Christ makes himself present in the meal. The altar table is free standing to make possible a sense that we are a people gathered around Christ.

The Pulpit or reading stand is the location of the first great event in the liturgy—the reading of the lessons and the proclamation of the Good News.

  • Preaching and Meal never compete. They are both Word—one verbal and the other visual. The Meal is the seeing, the tasting, the receiving of the Christ proclaimed in the sermon

Note: Although a national flag may be present in an Episcopal worship hall following local custom, it should be remembered that we gather as a part of the whole Anglican Communion and Christian Church on earth, not as members of a particular nation.

The Pascal Candle symbolizes the risen Christ and burns during the Easter Season and during Baptisms, and funerals.

The Baptismal Font is prominent in the Nave to remind us that we are people of God by Baptism. We may turn toward the font for the confession of sin and absolution to remind ourselves that confession is a return to Baptism. There is Holy Water near the entry to the Nave that we may use to bless ourselves with the sign of the cross to remind ourselves that we first entered the church and became members of the Body of Christ by our Baptism.

The Congregation is not an audience but a group of actors and actresses who take part in the Great Drama. The congregation offers Praise in Word and Song, actively Listens to the reading and preaching, shares in the Creed, the Prayers of the church, and the Confession and Forgiveness of sin, portrays the church as Family of Reconciliation by passing the Peace, and takes part in the Drama of the Gospel by offering the Gifts and sharing in the Meal.

  • The Liturgy is filled with songs and prayers of Thanksgiving. Therefore, we often call the Holy Communion the Eucharist which comes from the Greek word for “Thanksgiving.”

After sharing the body of Christ, we leave the worship room (The Nave) to be the body of Christ in the world, living according to his example to bring peace and healing to all humanity. This is our Daily Liturgy, the work of God’s holy people.