The Episcopal Liturgy


Too often, the word catholic is made to carry meanings that are not its own, usually by people who are driving a particular cause, but it does not mean "universal" in the sense of being all-encompassing, accepting everything. Rather it means something more akin to "of the whole", internally complete, lacking nothing. The Catholic Church is not anything like "the worldwide church", and is indeed not limited to this world, but rather it is the Church in its wholeness, in the fullness of its sacramental life, with the people of God, adopted children of the Father, baptised into Christ's name, and sealed with the Holy Spirit, believing and living the faith that has come to us from the Apostles, in union with and under the care of their high priest.


The basic unit of Christian life is not the individual. It is not the family or even the parish. No. The most fundamental unit of Christian life is the diocese - the local and full expression of the Catholic Church. Too often we forget this. People become isolated in their parishes, or worse yet, simply "go to church", and then go home again, not even being aware of their fellow parishioners. Yet growing into the likeness of God, which is the entire purpose of our Christian life, involves growing into loving communion with our brothers and sisters, reflecting in some way the communion of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.
Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...' So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
- from Genesis 1
We forget that the eucharistic celebration with a priest is a mere shadow of the Church's sacramental ideal, and that our repeated commemoration of the bishop in our services is no mere pandering to worldly authority but an attempt to express at least in words what is lacking in physical presence, which is the gathering of the diocese around its bishop to make eucharist to God. In some mystical way, each of the parishes, monasteries, and missions in a diocese, offering the services to God, does so as a single offering with each other under the common bishop who is commemorated.

However, the Episcopal Divine Liturgy is the eucharistic celebration par excellence, for there is the fullest expression of the Catholic Church. There is the bishop, who rightly divides the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), with his priests as extensions of his sacramental care for his people, and his deacons entrusted with assisting him in serving God in the liturgies, as he leads the gathered people of God in making supplication to their Lord, offering thanks and praise, and being imbued in return with the grace of God which is from on high.
Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.
- St Ignatius the God-bearer
It is our duty as Christians to fervently pray for our bishop, and to take the opportunity to pray with him as he offers prayer and worship to God with us and on our behalf. We should take part in diocesan events, for these are events in the life of our family in God. We should know and love each other, and pray and serve with each other under our bishop, according to our particular order within the Body of Christ. Then we shall see the services of the Church as they are intended to be, without the curtailments and concessions that have to be made in the absence of a bishop but to which we have become accustomed in the parishes and perhaps come to accept as normal. This is itself fascinating and enlightening.



It is not every time that we shall be able to pray with the bishop - distances are long, fares and fuel are expensive, episcopal visitations are perhaps fewer than we would prefer - yet we must make the effort in humility and joyful expectation, for when we do so, properly disposed, we become more fully what we are to be as members of the Church, and we open ourselves just that little bit more to participation in the life-creating energies of God.
Be eager to do everything in God's harmony, with the Bishop presiding in the place of God, and the Presbytery in the place of the council of the Apostles, and the Deacons, most sweet to me, entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ.

Each of you must be part of this chorus so that, being harmonious in unity, receiving God's pitch in unison, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father.
-St Ignatius the God-Bearer
Kamilavka-tip to my friend, Reader Gregory Soloviev, for the video clip.

4 responses:

Anonymous said...

Fabulous clip. Did they get the music from Rocky the Movie?

Good article Michael.

John Konstantin

Jon Marc said...

Will you get to go to services with Pope Theodore while he's in the country?

Michael said...

Subdeacon John, it is indeed a fantastic clip. It actually reminded me of the music from The Day After Tomorrow, which is perhaps quite apt, given the eschatological nature of the eucharist. :-)

Jon Marc, why do you always seem to know what's going on in UK Orthodox circles before I do? :-) When is he to be here?

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Michael, that clip was magnificent - where was it filmed, and for which special event ?

I can't read Cyrillic script at all :-(

PS I loved the music :-)

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