When Christians worship together, in a set way, it is usually called a service. Different Christian groups however have different forms of service.
So, what do worshippers do in these services?
Roman Catholic, Anglican, and most Free Church services usually include hymns (songs of praise), prayers, readings from the Bible and a sermon. A sermon is a talk given by the clergyman leading the service. It is usually based on a biblical passage and is aimed at increasing knowledge and understanding of Christianity. Free Church groups such as Baptists and Methodists and Evangelical Christians believe that preaching is more important than official set forms of worship (“the liturgy.”) Sermons and readings are therefore usually longer in their services.
Prayers are not generally offered to the Saints or the Virgin Mary in Protestant Churches. They are in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The “Hail Mary” is a very important Roman Catholic prayer, directed to the Virgin Mary. Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that the Saints will intercede (persuade God to listen to their prayers).
Orthodox services also have readings and prayers, although there are set ones for different services. Their service is sung. The singing is usually unaccompanied by musical instruments, although the worshippers may be lead by a choir.
Orthodox services are often longer than other Christian services, however people are free to come and go during a service.
Salvation Army meetings include music, from the Salvation Army brass band, and hymn singing.
Pentecostal Church worship is more spontaneous and informal. The worshippers join in the worship to a greater extent than with most other Christian groups and there is often dancing andclapping. Worshippers may also speak about what God has done in their lives, as personal spiritual experience is important to Pentecostals.
Most services are lead by specially trained and appointed people called clergy. In most Western and Orthodox Churches the clergyman is called a priest. In the Anglican Church he or she is called a vicar. In the Baptist Church he is called the pastor or minister. Above these clergy, (in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Churches) there are bishops and archbishops (known as patriarchs in the Orthodox Church.)
The Salvation Army “clergy” have ranks like army officers. The head of the Salvation Army is the General.
The Society of Friends (Quakers) differs from other Christian groups because it does not have clergy. At their services (which are called meetings) a worshipper will speak if he feels that God has given him something to say, otherwise their meetings are silent.
The Orthodox, Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches all use liturgies in their services. A liturgy is a structured form of worship, where set words are spoken or sung, set actions made and the clergy wear set vestments (ceremonial clothes).
The liturgy is usually written down in a prayer book.
The Free Churches generally do not use a liturgy in their services, except perhaps for special services e.g. Holy Communion. Free Church services therefore tend to be simpler and more informal.
A sacrament (called a “Mystery” in the Orthodox Church.) is a religious ceremony in which a Christian believes that he receives God’s blessing. The ceremony is a visible sign of an invisible blessing.
One of the biggest differences in the way that Christian denominations worship is in their celebration, or not, of the Sacraments.
The Orthodox Church believes that all worship must centre on the sacraments. The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church celebrate seven sacraments. These are baptism; confirmation; holy communion; penance (where sins are confessed and forgiven;) extreme unction (where the sick are anointed with oil;) taking holy orders and marriage..
The Protestant Church generally celebrates two sacraments. These are baptism and holy communion. They only celebrate these, as they were the only events in which Jesus participated.
The Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Salvation Army are the only Christian groups that do not celebrate any sacraments. They do not believe that God is more present in those ceremonies.
The Orthodox, Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches all use liturgies in their services. A liturgy is a structured form of worship, where set words are spoken or sung, set actions are followed and the clergy wear set vestments ( ceremonial clothes.) The liturgy is usually written down in a prayer book.
Where a liturgy is used services follow a set pattern and so become very ritualized. This is particularly true of the Orthodox Church, where the liturgy never changes. e.g. In the Orthodox Church the Divine Liturgy ( the Orthodox Church’s name for the Holy Communion service) always begins with the Gospels [link to Holy Texts] being carried above the priest’s head as he moves, through the Royal Doors, into the Nave.
Different denominations (groups) use different prayer books. Within the same denomination; however, different prayer books may also be used. e.g. some Church of England services follow the Alternative Service Book others the Book of Common Prayer. Different liturgies are used for different services e.g. the actions and words used to celebrate a marriage differ from those used to celebrate a baptism.
The Free Churches generally do not use a liturgy in their services, except perhaps for special services e.g. Holy Communion. free Church services therefore tend to be simpler and more informal.
The Sacraments (or Mysteries)
A sacrament (called a “Mystery” in the Orthodox Church.) is a religious ceremony in which a Christian believes that he receives God’s blessing. The ceremony is a visible sign of an invisible blessing. One of the biggest differences in the way that Christian denominations worship is in their celebration, or not, of the Sacraments.
The Orthodox Church believes that all worship must centre on the sacraments. The Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church celebrate seven sacraments. These are baptism, confirmation, Holy Communion, penance (where sins are confessed and forgiven,) extreme unction (where the sick are anointed with oil), taking holy orders and marriage.
The Protestant Church generally celebrates two sacraments. These are baptism and Holy Communion. They only celebrate these, as they were the only events in which Jesus participated. The Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Salvation Army are the only Christian groups that do not celebrate any sacraments. They do not believe that God is any more present in these ceremonies.
Baptism or Christening
It is the service in which a person is given a name and joins the Christian church. It is seen as the spiritual birth of that person. The baptism ceremony usually takes place around the font. The reason the font is often near the church entrance is because it is a symbol of a person’s entry into the Christian Church on baptism. Where the font is in the centre of the Church it acts as a symbol of that person’s welcome into the centre of the church community.
In the Methodist, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches a person is usually baptised as a baby. The baby’s parents and godparents (who are friends or relatives, chosen by the parents, to share responsibility for the baby’s Christian upbringing) promise that the baby will be brought up as a Christian.
Free (or Non-Conformist) Churches e.g. the Baptists and Pentecostals wait until a person is older before they are baptised. They feel that the person being baptised should make their own promises to follow the Christian faith and should be old enough to understand the sacrifice that Jesus made. They should also be able to repent (say they are sorry for) and ask God’s forgiveness for their own sins.
All baptism ceremonies involve water. In all cases the water is a symbol of the washing away of sin. This means both the sins of the person being baptised and also anything else that can come between man and God.
In the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches the clergyman will make the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead in water and may sprinkle the baby with water from the font.
In the Orthodox Church the baby will be completely dipped underwater in the font. (After baptism and chrismation the baby will be dressed in new clothes to show that it is starting a new life.)
Baptism involves complete immersion (going totally underwater) in the Baptist and many Pentecostal Churches. The person to be baptized step into a pool; dips all of their body under the water and then leaves by a different set of steps. The steps going into the pool represent the old life of sin before baptism. The steps leaving it represent the new life with the Church. The baptised person becomes a full member of the Church when the minister extends the “right hand of fellowship” during a church service.
This is a special service, which is celebrated in those denominations (groups) where babies are baptized. The Orthodox Church calls this ceremony chrismation. There it is performed immediately after baptism. The ceremony involves the priest anointing the baby with oil.
In other churches confirmation takes place later. In the Roman Catholic Church confirmation normally happens when a person is seven. In the Anglican Church the person is usually in his early teens. The purpose of the confirmation service is so that a person can confirm, for himself, the promises, which his parents and godparents made for him when he was baptized. It is on confirmation that a person becomes a full member of the church.
In the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches a bishop carries out the ceremony. He lays his hands on the head of the person being confirmed (and in the case of the Roman Catholic Church traces the sign of the cross, in oil, on their forehead.) In some Free Churches e.g. the Methodist Church the normal church minister usually performs this ceremony.
Also known as the Divine Liturgy (in the Orthodox Church) the Eucharist, (or Holy Communion in the Anglican Church,) Mass (in the Roman Catholic Church) or the Lord’s Supper or the Breaking of Bread (in other Christian Churches e.g. the Baptists) is the most important sacrament.
It is a service during which Christians remember the last meal that Jesus ate, with his disciples, the night before he was crucified. Jesus’ last meal is known as the Last Supper.
At that meal Jesus gave thanks and then broke up some bread and gave it to his disciples (followers) with some wine, which they shared.
He then old them that the bread and wine were his body and blood and that when they ate bread or drank wine they should remember him. In effect he was asking them to remember the sacrifice of his death .
Christians believe that by taking part in the holy communion service, they are doing what Jesus told his disciples to do and they too are remembering him.
Although holy communion remembers Jesus’ death it is not a sad service. Eucharist comes from a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” It is a service of thanks because Christians are thankful for the sacrifice that Jesus made for them.
In the Roman Catholic Church Mass is usually celebrated every day. In the Anglican Church Holy Communion is usually celebrated every Sunday. Baptists usually only hold the Lord’s Supper twice a month and other Free Churches may only celebrate it a few times a year. The Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Salvation Army do not celebrate Holy Communion at all.
Whatever denomination (group) Christian worshippers belong to this sacrament always involves eating a piece of bread (or a wafer) and taking a sip of wine. During Holy Communion bread (or wafers) and wine are placed on the altar. The altar represents the table where Jesus shared the last supper with the disciples. The officiating clergyman says a prayer of thanks over the bread and wine, so that they become consecrated (holy).
In the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches the worshippers then come forward to kneel at the altar rail. There they are handed the bread or wafer with the words:
“ The body of our Lord Jesus Christ” and the shared cup of wine, from which they take a sip, with the words: “ The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In the Orthodox Church the people kneel before the Royal Doors. The priest dips the bread in the wine and feeds it to each of them with a long silver spoon.
In the Baptist Churches and in some Methodist Churches the worshippers do not move forward to receive the bread and wine. They remain in their seats, and the Church Elders or Deacons (people who are not clergy but who help the minister) bring it to them. The worshippers also receive the wine from individual glasses, rather than from a common cup (chalice.) All wait until everyone has a glass and then drink the wine together. This is to show that they are all equal before God.
For most Christians the bread and wine are symbols only of Jesus’ body and blood. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches differ. They believe in, what the Roman Catholic Church calls, transubstantiation. This means that they believe that the bread and wine change into Jesus’ body and blood, although they look unchanged.