What is the Episcopal Church’s main guide to worship and liturgy?

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is the official book of worship of the Episcopal Church. The BCP provides liturgical forms, prayers, and instructions so that all members and orders of the Episcopal Church may appropriately share in common worship. 

What are the major gestures or actions in the Episcopal liturgy?

  • Standing to praise God
  • Sitting to listen to God’s Word
  • Kneeling to pray for the church and the world
  • Bowing in reverence
  • Lifting hands in prayer, or “orans”
  • Making the sign of cross, usually with the right thumb on the forehead or with the right hand on the forehead, chest, and shoulders
  • Genuflecting, or bending the knee in reverence
  • Giving and receiving a kiss of peace, a sign of greeting and reconciliation
  • Elevating the bread and wine during the Eucharist, offering them to God or showing them to the people
  • Extending hands in greeting, (e.g., when the priest says, “The Lord be with you”)
  • Laying on of hands or extending them over people as a sign of blessing and authorization at baptism, confirmation, ordination, and other sacraments.

What is the chief worship service in the Episcopal Church?

The Holy Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Mass,

Divine Liturgy, and the Great Offering (BCP, p. 859).

What are the liturgical seasons?

The Christian calendar divides the year into six liturgical seasons: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. The season after the Day of Pentecost is often called “Ordinary Time,” although this term is unofficial and does not appear in the Book of Common Prayer. Every season has a designated color, which is displayed on clergy vestments and altar veils during that season.

  • White signifies purity and joy and is used during Christmas and Easter, and on All Saints’ Day and other joyous occasions such as weddings. White is also used during funerals because death is viewed in relation to Christ’s resurrection.
  • Purple and blue signify penitence and patient waiting and are used during Advent and Lent. These colors also suggest royalty, indicating that during Advent we await the return of Jesus Christ, the King of kings and the Lord of Lords.
  • Red symbolizes the fire of the Holy Spirit and is used on Pentecost Sunday and for the ordination of bishops, priests, and deacons. It also signifies the blood of Christ and is used in the festival of martyrs.
  • Green suggests hope and growth and is used during the weeks after Epiphany, Trinity Sunday, and Pentecost.

liturgy, lectionary


The unity of the members of the church in Christ is expressed most fully through public worship (or liturgy). Liturgy expresses the Church’s identity and mission, including the church’s calling to invite others and to serve with concern for the needs of the world.

The Book of Common Prayer

Unique to Anglicanism is the Book of Common Prayer, the collection of worship services that all worshipers in an Anglican tradition follow. It’s called “common prayer” because we all pray it together, around the world. The first Book of Common Prayer was compiled in English by Thomas Cranmer in the 16th Century, and since then has undergone many revisions for different times and places. But its original purpose has remained the same: To provide in one place the core of the instructions and rites for Anglican Christians to worship together.

The present prayer book in the Episcopal Church was published in 1979. Many other worship resources and prayers exist to enrich our worship, but the Book of Common Prayer is the authority that governs our worship. The prayer book explains Christianity, describes the main beliefs of the Church, outlines the requirements for the sacraments, and in general serves as the main guidelines of the Episcopal life. It includes worship that individuals and families can use at home for Morning and Evening Prayer, collects (prayers for certain days of the church year), Eucharistic services (Holy Communion), marriage, thanksgiving for a child, a service of reconciliation (confession), ministration to the sick and at time of death, burial and ordination services.

The Psalms are reprinted followed by prayers and thanksgivings which can be used for many different occasions. An outline of the Episcopal faith and historical documents of the Church precede the table of Scripture readings for the three year cycle.


A Lectionary is a table of readings from Scripture appointed to be read at public worship.  The association of particular texts with specific days began in the 4th century.  The Lectionary [1969, revised 1981], developed by the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II, provided for a three-year cycle of Sunday readings.  This lectionary provided the basis for lectionary in The Book of Common Prayer 1979 as well as those developed by many other denominations.

The Common Lectionary, published in 1983, was an ecumenical project of several American and Canadian denominations, developed out of a concern for the unity of the Church and a desire for a common experience of Scripture.  This means that denominations that use the Common Lectionary (like the Episcopal Church) are reading the same scripture in their weekly worship services. It was intended as a harmonization of the many different denominational approaches to the three-year lectionary. 

Worship in one’s first language

Episcopalians believe that Christians should be able to worship God and read the Bible in their first language, which for most Episcopalians, is English, rather than Latin or Greek, the two earlier, “official” languages of Christianity. Yet the Book of Common Prayer has been translated into many languages, so that those Episcopalians who do not speak English can still worship God in their native tongue.

Scripture, Tradition and Reason

The Anglican approach to reading and interpreting the Bible was first articulated by Richard Hooker, also in the 16th Century. While Christians universally acknowledge the Bible (or the Holy Scriptures) as the Word of God and completely sufficient to our reconciliation to God, what the Bible says must always speak to us in our own time and place.

The Church, as a worshiping body of faithful people, has for two thousand years amassed experience of God and of loving Jesus, and what they have said to us through the centuries about the Bible is critical to our understanding it in our own context. The traditions of the Church in interpreting Scripture connect all generations of believers together and give us a starting point for our own understanding. 

Episcopalians believe that every Christian must build an understanding and relationship with God’s Word in the Bible, and to do that, God has given us intelligence and our own experience, which we refer to as “Reason.” Based on the text of the Bible itself, and what Christians have taught us about it through the ages, we then must sort out our own understanding of it as it relates to our own lives.

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