An Anglican Sunday Worship Service

By |2018-08-27T10:40:20+00:00May 10th, 2016|Categories: Anglican Life|Tags: , , , |4 Comments

Need help explaining worship on Sundays? New Anglican who is wondering what’s going on? Considering visiting? I’ve put together some notes, with Scripture references, for each aspect of our worship service for use by all of the above. Please feel free to incorporate these notes into a Sunday bulletin, visitor’s guide, or website materials.

Word and Sacrament

Our worship service consists of two parts, the Service of the Word, and the Service of the Sacrament. These two elements are equally important as the Word of God reveals Jesus and prepares us to receive him in the Sacrament. This pattern follows the early Church of the Book of Acts, who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

The Service of the Word

Hearing God’s Word read and proclaimed, praying together, and preparing for Holy Communion.

The Procession and Acclamation

We prepare our hearts for worship in quiet prayer and song. The ministers process behind the cross, reverencing the cross because everything we do is under the Cross of Christ. The People may also bow the head as the cross passes. We name and bless the object of our worship, the God of the Christian Faith, revealed in Scripture as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Collect of the Day and the Collect for Purity

A ‘Collect’ is a prayer that “collects” the intentions of all the people and sums them up by acknowledging God’s work, asking of him, ending with a doxology of praise. This collect sets a theme for the day and week.

The Scripture Lessons

Holy Scripture is at the heart of our worship and faith. We read from a lectionary, a common pattern of Scripture texts.  This helps us to worship together with other Christians, even though we are in different places. St. Paul wrote that we should continue in the public reading the Scriptures. (I Timothy 4:13).

The Holy Gospel

The gospel is read “among the people” because Christ came into he world to live among us, and so the Gospel is the center of our parish life (See John 1:1-14, and 1 Corinthians 3:11). The “little” sign of the cross may be used with the thumbnail over the forehead, the lips, and the heart, signifying our prayer that the Gospel would fill our minds, be upon our lips, and in our heart.

The Sermon

Everything we learn about our Faith in Christ is embodied. It is sacramental, in that there is a means through which every aspect of the cure of our souls is effected. We need to hear a human voice speaking. We need that human voice to speak through personal experience and personality. We need to hear the Gospel, explained and illustrated, out loud. (Romans 10:14).

The Creed

The Apostle Jude taught us that we should “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” The Nicene Creed was produced by Christians from East and West at a time when the Church was undivided and is an expansion of the earlier Apostles’ Creed. By “catholic and apostolic” we mean the faith and order of the early Church and the Faithful throughout history and around the world today.

The Prayers of the People

Paul wrote to Timothy that, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” (1 Timothy 2:1).

We pray for those who have departed this life in faith because together with them we await the final Resurrection of our bodies (I Thessalonians 4:17 and 5:10).  They rest in him now in peace, and yet cry out “how long, O Lord?” (Revelation 6:10). As One Body of Christ, we share communion with the faithful on earth and in heaven (I Corinthians 12:12) . Our prayers remind us of their example of faith and call us to follow it.

The Confession of Sin and the Absolution

We are forgiven in Christ at our baptism, but not yet perfected. As St John wrote, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The absolution, or pronouncement of forgiveness, makes present to us the truth that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

The Passing of the Peace

The passing of the peace is a renewal of our obedience to the command of our Lord in Matthew 5:24, “First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” and the admonition of St Paul to the Corinthians, “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

Holy Communion

Baptism is the initiation into the Christian life, a one-time moment of promise in which the people of God stand on his new covenant of grace to freely welcome a new member into the Body of Christ. Holy Communion is the on-going sacrament, the continually sustaining provision of God to nourish our faith and to regularly and constantly remind us of his mercy and to provide us his grace.

The Offering

The offering of our resources to God by giving to our local parish is a tangible expression of God’s ownership of all things, including our whole selves. Visitors are never required to give money during the offering.

The Great Thanksgiving

The prayers of the Eucharist service, which acknowledge that our Lord instituted this table for his people to commune with him together as his people.The Great Thanksgiving is the name for the cluster of prayers that surround the Lord’s Supper, or Communion. These prayers are based on ancient Christian prayers and the pattern of prayer from the earliest days of the Church, which are derived from Holy Scripture.

The prayers are not identical, but they follow a pattern which includes a recitation of salvation history, an ‘oblation’ or declaration of the continuing power of Christ’s one time sacrifice on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. The include ancient hymns and songs such the Sanctus or “Holy, Holy, Holy”. They always include the words of institution, that is, the words Jesus said when he instituted the Lord’s Supper.

The Celebrant (a presbyter/priest who leads these prayers) takes bread by placing it on the table. He gives thanks along with the people. He breaks it, signifying both Christ’s body broken and the shared nature of communion. And then he gives it, administering the body and blood of Christ to the people of God.

The Words of Institution

St Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first epistle, chapter 11:23-26, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”  He then adds an exhortation, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” We re-present this every week.

The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord himself gave it to us, and it is the outline and basis of all Christian prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).

Receiving Communion

All baptized believers are welcomed to receive at the Lord’s table. Fold hands flat together to receive the bread. Guide the chalice to your own lips. Many will make the sign of the cross before receiving each kind, and after receiving say, “amen.” You may also choose to receive by intinction (dipping) the bread into the wine and consume both together. See more on How to Receive Communion.

Those who are not baptized, or are not receiving communion for some other reason, but would like to receive a blessing by a priest, may indicate so by crossing your arms on your chest, with hands at each shoulder. Unbaptized children are welcomed to receive a blessing as well.


Having received from our Lord Jesus Christ in Word and Sacrament, we are sent forth into the world as ministers of reconciliation in his name (2 Corinthians 5:18).

The Blessing

The blessing is rooted in Aaron’s blessing (Numbers 6:22-26). It also reflects Paul’s doxologies in his Epistles, most notably Romans 15:13,33 and Philippians 4:7.

Want to Learn More?

Check out the following posts:

Photo inset by Andrew Gross, used by permission.

Greg is the founder of Anglican Pastor. He is an Anglican Priest of the Anglican Church in North America. He served in a non-denominational church before being called into the Anglican church in 2003. He has served as an Associate Pastor, Parish Administrator, and Rector. He currently serves as the Canon to the Ordinary for the Anglican Diocese of the South.


  1. Revd Chris Probert May 10, 2016 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    Hi Father, I put a comment earlier which you welcomed but which has now disappeared. Sorry, did I say something wrong? If so tell me what, and I won’t say it again!

    • Greg Goebel May 10, 2016 at 3:31 pm - Reply

      Hey Revd Chris, we had a technical difficulty with the first posting, and had to re-post this article. Here is your original comment for our readers:

      “A very useful summary Father, thank you – the Bible ‘clues’ are especially helpful.

      Years ago I served a parish which enjoyed traditional worship, but was not very ‘literary’. We put all the essentials of our Mass on to two sides of A4, cards colour-coded according to the season. We used traditional terms in the instructions, but also provided very simple non-technical headings for newcomers from the wider community. For example the instruction said ‘The celebrant sings the Collect of the Day’, but the heading simply said ‘Prayer of the Day’.

      Regulars and traditional Anglicans didn’t need the headings because the service was familiar, while newcomers had plain terms to guide them until they learned the pattern and the traditional terms for themselves. It proved quite helpful in a growing traditional church – ‘bridging the gap’ without ‘dumbing down’.

  2. Ashley Null May 30, 2016 at 9:44 pm - Reply

    Dear Greg,

    Many thanks for this thoughtful presentation of Anglican liturgy from the perspective of the Anglican Catholic tradition. May I, however, present a few points that were integral to Cranmer’s thoughts about liturgy which laid the foundation for all subsequent Anglican prayer books?

    Firstly, Cranmer would have rejected the notion that Word and Sacrament had two different functions in the service of Holy Communion. For Reformation Anglicans, they were the two-sides of the same coin. With God’s Word went forth his Breathe/Spirit, transforming our affections through writing his promises on our hearts and drawing our wills towards him in loving gratitude. By joining the scriptural Words of Institution with the creaturely elements of bread and wine which we bodily receive, the Gospel promise of free reconciliation was incarnated sacramentally in our lives, supernaturally strengthening Christ’s presence in our hearts and, therefore, our union with him and one another. In short, the Spirit working through God’s Word throughout the service was at work to draw us into his presence so we could receive anew Christ’s life-giving power.

    Second, since Cranmer understood the whole service of Holy Communion as the highest form of the church’s proclamation of the Gospel, his emphasis was on the people of God first receiving the divine gift of reconciliation and fellowship with God as well as one another through the sacrament, and then offering their sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving as the fruit of the gift, not its grounds, as in the medieval period. For Reformation Anglicans, liturgy is God’s work for the people, not the people’s work for God.

    Third, since the transforming power of Scripture was fundamental to Cranmer’s understanding of the Christian life, the whole point of the lectionary, according to the Preface, was to inflame the hearts of the people with divine love. Cranmer wanted the people regularly to sit under the whole counsel of Scripture, so that the divine gracious love it proclaimed would gradually birth in them grateful human love. Consequently, at the very heart of his service of Holy Communion were the Comfortable Words, the “Four Spiritual Promises” that summarized the Gospel for Reformation Anglicanism: 1. Human longing for release; 2. Divine longing to rescue; 3. Salvation from our perspective: Sin as the source of our bondage, Jesus as our only Savior from it; 4. Salvation from God’s perspective: The death of God’s Son as an atoning sacrifice so that he could become our defense lawyer, rather than our judge. Cranmer was convinced that as we heard these promises our hearts would be supernaturally drawn in gratitude towards God and, thus, be able to fulfill the priest’s next command to “Lift up your hearts.”

    I would be grateful to know whether you thought these essential principles of the 1662 Prayer Book are still helpful today and, if so, how we might communicate them to our congregations?

    Once again, many thanks for your thoughtful description of Anglican liturgy.


    Ashley Null

    • Greg Goebel June 1, 2016 at 7:08 pm - Reply

      Dr Null, thank you for taking the time to comment. Very much appreciate the encouragement and the points you address.

      I’m not a scholar so probably don’t have as thorough an answer as your comments require. But I will share my thoughts from my pastoral experience and reading in this area.

      I find that the 1662 book is a wonderful and important standard. Cranmer’s theology of worship and approach to Word and sacrament are likewise important. But I also appreciate the way the theology of the Fathers and recently discovered early liturgies are also important. I don’t mind us tempering some of Cranmer’s thinking by putting it in context of the wider Christian theology of worship.

      So with that in mind, I find the Word and Sacrament not to be different in the sense of opposing one another. But I do think that they should be seen as equal and yet different in some profound ways. I think Paul points to this in writing that in Eucharist we “participate in Christ.” We hear and then we receive. Word/gospel are sacramental and sacrament is Word/Gospel and yet identifiable as distinct.

      Would the average parishioner not interpret Cranmer’s thinking today as meaning that all worship is merely intellectual? I don’t believe he meant that. But if instead of fully subsiding sacrament within Word, we present Word and Sacrament as different and yet intertwined would that not help people embrace both the hearing of the Gospel in word and the receiving of Christ’s presence in sacrament?

      Please let me express how deeply I appreciate your work and ministry and that you’ve responded here.

      Blessings to you.

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