Note: This post is a living document, subject to continual revision
The first part of a typical Episcopal liturgy is sometimes referred to as the “Entrance Rite”. It normally includes a Processional Hymn, an Opening Acclamation, the Collect for Purity, and a Gloria or other Song of Praise. This is then immediately followed by the Collect of the Day, designed to set the tone for that day’s selections from the Scripture Lectionary.
As Dr. James Farwell describes it in his book The Liturgy Explained, “The entrance rite serves the function of getting the leaders of the liturgy to their places, and preparing the people to hear the Scriptures together.”
The musical portions of the Entrance Rite are diverse and highly customizable. While it is always good to choose songs which align well with the themes of that day’s Scripture readings, there are no liturgical “rules” toward that end. Veteran Episcopalians may observe that the Gloria tends to be one of a small handful of selections from the Service Music section of Hymnal 1982, and yet this is not required. As a Gloria it may be any song which focuses on glorifying God, or acknowledging God’s glory. Or, it may be a Song of Praise – any musical selection imaginable which ascribes praise to God. This is a very wide berth.
The aspect of the Entrance Rite which typically involves less flexibility are the spoken prayers – namely, the Opening Acclamation and the Collect for Purity.
To paraphrase 1 John 4:19, we love God because God first loved us. All our liturgy is a response to what God has already done for us, and in us. And so it is only appropriate that we should open our worship with an exclamation of gratitude and praise.
In the most frequently spoken acclamation, the leader begins with “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” and the people respond with “And blessed be his kingdom, now and forever. Amen.”
The only major exceptions to this rule are during Easter season, and penitential seasons (mainly Lent).
During Easter season, the leader begins with “Alleluia. Christ is risen.” and the people respond with “The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”
During penitential seasons, such as Lent (or possibly Advent), the leader begins with “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.” and the people respond with “His mercy endures forever.”
Enriching Our Worship provides a few alternatives, designed mainly to offer more expansive and inclusive language. In place of the traditional patriarchal terms for the Trinity, we find “the one, holy and living God”, or simply “our God”. The masculine “Lord” is replaced with “Christ” in the Easter season acclamation. An original response is offered for Advent which does not appear in the BCP: “You come to your people and set them free.” More original language appears in the Lenten acclamation, referring to God as the “God of our salvation” and acclaiming God as not only the forgiver of our sins, but also the bearer of our burdens.
While the primary role of EOW here appears to be expansiveness and inclusivity, it does introduce a more encouraging and uplifting tone, reminding the people of God’s empathic and liberating work in history, and in our lives today.
At St. Michaels: The above alternatives should be a reminder that no specific verbiage is required by the rubrics of our liturgy. Therefore, appropriate customizations are welcome. As such, I want to propose an alternative which feels familiar, and specifically names the persons of the Trinity, but avoids patriarchal language. This includes substituting Kin-dom for Kingdom. (Although it can feel a tad contrived, I like this substitution, because it focuses on the “Beloved Community” as MLK would put it, instead of top-down authority, and because a person can still – accidentally or intentionally – say “Kingdom” without sticking out.)
Regular attenders may be aware of my favorite Trinitarian Formula: Breath of God, Word of God, Name of God. I love this terminology for many reasons, but in my opinion they are a bit obtuse for congregational recitation. Thus, I want to recommend a more popular formula in the Acclamation that we will try out for the next few weeks:
Celebrant: Blessed be God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer
People: And blessed be God’s Kin-dom, now and forever. Amen.
Collect for Purity
Less ubiquitous in Episcopal worship is the Collect for Purity. It is clearly identified in the rubrics as being optional, thus some churches use it and others don’t. Here it is, as it currently appears in the BCP:
“Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Although there are apparently congregations which recite this in unison, it is typically recited by the Celebrant alone. This may hearken to the origin of the prayers, since it can be traced back to the 8th century, when it was prayed by clergy alone, in the sacristy before services began. In effect it was a preparatory prayer for those about to offer the sacraments. Today it still functions as a preparatory prayer – now expanded to the recipients of the sacraments as well.
My best efforts at historical research revealed the reason why this prayer came to be included in the congregational ordo. When it became commonly accepted for the gathered faithful to recite the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) together at the beginning of the service, it was decided that a preparatory moment was needed prior to this recitation. This appears to be based on the assumption that the world is a dirty, sinful place, and anyone coming in here, from out there, must need a ritual cleansing before proceeding with any spiritual transaction.
Without standing in judgment over our forebears, I humbly submit that this is no longer our worldview. In the context of God’s progressive revelation, I believe we have come to a stronger understanding of the inherent goodness of God’s creation, including our own bodies, minds and hearts. We are learning not to draw such a stark distinction between the “sacred” and the “secular” but rather to see all things as holy and good, because God is the source of all things, and is in all things.
Nevertheless, a preparatory prayer is never a bad idea. Perhaps we had rambunctious children to get ready for church. Perhaps we hit a traffic jam or fought bad weather on the way. Or perhaps we’ve had a particularly stressful week, and are not arriving in the serenest of moods. We may need a prayer at the beginning that helps to set the tone for gratitude and open-heartedness – a prayer that aligns our energy with that of the Holy Spirit, and reminds us to move forward in faith to receive God’s blessing.
At St. Michael’s: It is in that spirit which I am proposing the following original prayer – not as a rewritten Collect for Purity, but as a new collect which retains the theme of openness and cleansing, while reminding us that all things are from God and in God (even our struggles). As you’ll see, it closes with my own Trinitarian Formula, which I feel free to use here because I will be reciting the prayer myself, without congregational response.
God of Love and Light, open our hearts, renew our minds, awaken our bodies and enliven our souls to worship you in spirit and in truth. Help us to release the thoughts that no longer serve us, welcome your energy of hope and healing, and overcome the walls that keep us apart. All this we pray with the Breath of God, from the Word of God, in the Name of God, Amen.