Virtual Liturgies

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Traditional worship on virtual platforms

Bishop Doyle’s guidelines for the Episcopal Diocese of Texas

Taking church into virtual spaces opens the doors for more people to find church in more contexts, all over the world. You might be surprised by the depth of community online worship and programming can create.

That being said, not all innovation, please read through this information carefully. There are big differences between “you may not” and “discouraged” and "encouraged." We are aware of the pastoral reality that while The Episcopal Church has a clear Eucharistic and Liturgical theology there is room for people to have their own understanding. We are attempting to be pastorally sensitive to localized understanding while holding the center of Episcopal liturgical theology.

Much of this information was presented by Dr. Lisa Kimball and the Rev. Dr. James Farwell of Virginia Theological Seminary. Links to their presentation are in the acknowledgments.

There is a lot of material here so you can follow the links below to each section: 



The Liturgy of the Word:

Practice what our communities are already familiar with. You don’t have to do something new, don’t try to be clever. You have all the resources already in the Book of Common Prayer (BCP); we just need to adapt. Practice familiarity.

Remember the essential of each worship service and focus on that - and that essential is not always the Eucharist.

In our Eucharistic centrality (after the 1979 BCP), we might have lost something, something we can recover and re-imagine during this time.

Now is a time for us to recover around Word and to lean into the presence of The Word as we gather. Be fed by the Word (Jesus and Scripture). “You can consume the Word.”

Emphasize Word by all sorts of ways to consume the Word – African Bible Study, Lectio Divina, daily devotional materials, Godly Play methods, etc.

Priest role is: Presider and Sacramental Minister. In normal life, these two are together. Now, they can be separated. Laity can preside, in home and domestic prayer.

For leading the Liturgy of the Word, which may be done by a layperson, here are step by step instructions: Instructed Liturgy of the Word

For leading Morning Prayer, where the rhythm and content may not be as familiar to some, here are step by step instructions: Instructed Morning Prayer

Keep music copyrights in mind. is extending their copyrights for free through April 19 (possibly later). Dr. Linda Patterson (church music professional who serves on the Liturgical Commission) has offered to help with any music resources. Her email is:

Even in cities and counties where there are “stay at home” orders, our understanding is that clergy may still go to churches and lead streaming worship opportunities.


The Holy Eucharist:

• Read a pastoral letter from Bishop Doyle: A Reflection on the Eucharist During the Time of COVID-19.

This is also a time to create a sense of “holy longing” as a practice of faith. A longing in this season when we are not receiving the bread and wine. Ask, in a Godly Play manner: “I wonder: what do you miss about the Eucharist?” We can lean into more language in the Church about longing, lament, and Exile - and to name the losses. This is a better approach than: “We just aren’t having the Eucharist now.”

You may not do, or encourage, “virtual communion,” such as when a priest consecrates elements by live stream, and parishioners eat bread and wine at home.

You are not to do “drive by communion,” including taking consecrated elements and passing them out, distributing, or delivering them out. This is because of health concerns. But, such actions further isolate communion elements and promote a consumerism about the Eucharist.

If you are live streaming your worship services of a full Holy Eucharist with a celebrant and a few others, you may consider offering, as a pastoral response when our people are not able to receive communion, the Liturgy of the Word portion of the Eucharist.

The Liturgy of the Word as its own service ends with the Lord’s Prayer and the Peace and is outlined in the rubrics of the BCP pages 406-407. Plus, this is the liturgical rhythm that our people are most familiar with; the Liturgy of the Word would be excellent to use, especially on Palm Sunday and Easter Day.

Please remember we are discouraging doing full Holy Eucharist because of the pastoral concerns for your people who cannot participate. It may cause friction and concern about who is with you and unanswered questions about why they can’t be part of the “in” crowd helping with worship.

Liturgical Ordo:

Time and Space and Rite.

We know the time: Holy Week and Easter. And we know the Rites.

Holy Week and Easter are times for us to celebrate the Risen Christ and our Baptismal Covenant. In our usual Holy Week practices, too often we “play act” (i.e. making Good Friday like a funeral for Jesus, or act as if Jesus is gone). Instead we should participate in the Paschal Mystery, not just observe.

What we are dealing with is the Space as location of engagement in the Paschal Mystery.

Sacred Space:

Humans need a space that helps them set aside and connect. Now is a time to help people create continuity through space and create a worship space/altar in their homes. Help community members set up a home altar. Here is a link with helpful ideas for creating sacred space. Creating Sacred Space & Practices for Families

This can be a family practice - encouraging children/youth/all members - to shape the location and look. Some people already have a sacred space in their home, but many do not. In many homes, we have already designated space - for a Christmas tree, which is constant and “sacred.”

Use a cloth on a table (doesn’t matter what color). On the table: Bible, Cross, candles, water, etc. Children (and adults) might add art. Just don’t get cluttered; keep it simple. Crosses and religious pictures could be veiled, then removed at the Easter Vigil. Lots of ways in the home to be creative.

The sacred and set apart space can then continue with spiritual practices, long into Easter, long after this current crisis.

Make visual reference to the church building, the space people miss. Maybe as a background on Zoom calls. Pictures of the church altar, font, ambo. This is pastoral and consoling and ties the home sacred space with the corporate sacred space.

Be thinking about scale: How to do things on a scale that can be done at home?

A question which needs more exploration: How would someone who lives alone participate?

Palm Sunday:

This year, palms and palm crosses should not be delivered, picked up, or passed out to people. This is not only because of health concerns. During this season of holy longing, when we lean into things being different this year, let’s just let the palms lay fallow and dry. Then, on Shrove Tuesday next year, when we burn palms to become ashes, we can remember this time of loss, and rejoice that in Lent and Easter 2021 we will be back together and in our churches. Also, the rubrics (BCP page 270) state that “branches of other trees and shrubs” may be used; these branches may be collected from the yard, waved during an on-line service, and become a part of home sacred space.

A lay person can lead Palm Sunday from home. Online and live streaming portions can be built in, if desired.

Suggest utilizing the Liturgy of the Word and end with the Peace, because this is familiar. If your community is not familiar with Morning Prayer, now may not be the time to introduce something new.

A link to proposed Order of Service follows: PALM SUNDAY DURING LOCKDOWN. This order includes:

  • Liturgy of the Palms with Palm Gospel
  • All Glory, Laud, and Honor - with music, from home church or other source
  • Collect of the Day
  • Passion Gospel – could be recorded in parts on Zoom, or parts within a family
  • Sermon - could be recorded by priest
  • Prayers of the People, Lord’s Prayer, Concluding Prayers

Families can do a procession in their own homes, utilizing the Blessing of the Home service from the 2018 Book of Occasional Services as a guide, moving room to room calling out: “Hosanna!” and saying a prayer for the room. If the space is small, say a prayer for the purpose of each space: sleeping/eating/resting/socializing. A second version is also in the 2018 Book of Occasional Services, which is shorter.

Here is the link to the 2018 Book of Occasional Services in English: BOS 2018

In Spanish: BOS 2018 Spanish

Evenings of Holy Week:

Use what you know! If the congregation is familiar with Lectio Divina, this is a good time to provide them with the scriptures for each day of the week and have them participate in Lectio Divina at home each day.

Re-introduce the Lectionary in the BCP - share with your congregation the rich office that is found there for them to mark the days during Holy Week. Post something daily for them to participate in at home. Or point them to Forward Day by Day, etc.

Maundy Thursday:

Suggest that we shift to focusing on the John passage and the foot washing, and away from the Last Supper motif. Using the John passage and foot washing - the focus becomes on servanthood - and this can be done at home.

The stripping of the altar is a non-essential act, and it is not something central for the day. (Although some have made it so). Jesus has not been taken away from us; he is present.

There has been discussion about hand washing vs. foot washing on Maundy Thursday. If handwashing is to be done instead of feet, the message of servanthood is to be central, rather than the sanitary function of handwashing. Here is a link to a prayer for a ceremonial handwashing: Prayer for Handwashing

Agapé Meal for Maundy Thursday (from the Book of Occasional Services) has been modified for anon-Eucharistic service.Here is the link: Agapé for Maundy Thursday adaptedHere is also a link for Agapé Prayers for Meals. The setting is to be simple and the sharing of bread and wine and other foods is to be done carefully; this is not a reenactment of the Last Supper.

Please do not hold “Seder Dinners” for Maundy Thursday. Maundy Thursday is not a reenactment of a Passover meal. The Christian Passover is the Easter Vigil.This is clearly outlined in the background theology to the BCP 1979. Moreover, the authors of the ’79 prayer book reject the notion that the original meal was a Passover meal and suggest instead that it was a “chabûrah” –a friendship meal. Seethe writing of Dom Gregory Dix and LionelMitchell. Also, background material provided in the work of C. Kucharek on the liturgy of St.John Chrysostom or the work of Rick Fabian.

Good Friday:

Liturgy for Good Friday. Create time for two things: Intercession for the Whole World (Solemn Collects from theBCP are perfect for the home) and Veneration of theCross(yet not morose; celebrate the Cross as a sign of resurrection).

Here is a link to other Solemn Collects, adapted for our current situation: Adapted Solemn Collects

Stations of the Cross are perfectly adaptable to the home. Here are links to two beautiful resources, with excellent art: Stations booklet, free use during pandemic and StationsOfTheCross-booklet-Logue. Additionally, the Stations of the Cross on the walls of Camp Allen are posted on the Episcopal Diocese of Texas Facebook page for you to share as you wish.

Via Crucis is important in some of our congregations, as an outdoor and communal event.However, that kind of gathering is not possible this year. Yet this practice can be adapted to the home, with various people taking different parts and roles.

Remind people that Good Friday is about both death and resurrection. The liturgies are Paschal.

Easter Vigil:

Here is a link to an adaptation by Dr.James Farwell, with some edits for this time of crisis: Great Vigil of Easter adapted

Focus on the candle lighting.Ask the question how to connect in lighting a new fire. All of this can be done at home, with the exception of the Eucharist.

Idea: the priest can be at the church, light the fire on the lawn, and the Paschal candle. And this could be streamed to parishioners at home. Then in homes, the Liturgy continues.

In homes, individual candles can be lit(baptismal candle seven). The only Paschal candle is at the church.

Scripture lessons could be read with some creativity and participation.

Renewal of Baptismal Covenant is a key element.

Possibly use one of the ancient homilies and provide that to people toread at home.Like the Chrysostom Easter homily.

Comprehensive Resources:

“Three Days from Home”-created by a Lutheran congregation for this situation of staying home, for use on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil. The entire liturgy can be done at home and lay lead. The Three Days for Home Edited

“Holy Week at Home” –these are two resources for children: for Nursery-PreK, and for Grades 1-5. Holy Week at Home (N-PK) And Holy Week at Home (Gr1-5).

Easter Day:

If a church wishes to broadcast or stream a service, highly recommend using the Liturgy of the Word portion of the Eucharist, ending with the Peace.

People can all watch together, dress up, wear hats, have flowers in the home, a celebration meal after the on-line service. Maybe a “FB Watch Party” in each congregation.

Could utilize streamed music, with organ and instruments and voices, with the “big Easter hymns.” A great time to emphasize familiarity in the midst of difference.

If your church is not streaming a service, join in with another congregation who is, and make it a celebration of the largerChurch.

Use a “phone tree” and call parishioners and say:“Alleluia. Christ is risen.” And the recipient answers: “He is risen indeed. Alleluia.” Then they pass on the message to the next parishioner.

50 Days of Easter:

Ask questions about how to continually reaffirm our baptismal vows during the Easter Season.

Encourage Liturgy of theWord from the Eucharist.

Keep in mind that if the pandemic grows, this could, tragically, be a season with deaths. The liturgy for the Burial of the Dead could impact our Easter Season.

Your Liturgical leadership and care:

People are overwhelmed -so do not try and over function.Each leader needs to remember elements of self-care and we lead by example–if we are not caring for ourselves, we cannot ask our communities to take care of themselves.

No matter what we do, our congregations need to know we are in relationship.

This is an opportunity for us to focus on and pare back to what is essential. To teach who we are and the why of our Faith.

Now is the time to help establish new habits, and to connect formation and worship together for the community.These new habits might carry over to Holy Week next year, when we are back in our buildings.

Acknowledgements and links:

We are grateful for the webinar presented by the Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) on March 20 and March 23. The webinar was led by Dr. Lisa Kimball and the Rev. Dr. James Farwell and titled: “Triduum Under Quarantine.”

Links to the full presentation of each day of the webinar follow:

The following article from Dr. Mark Roosien titled: “Fasting from Communion in a Pandemic” can also be helpful.

A Prayer in Time of Pandemic, by the Rev. Dr. Katherine Sonderegger

This hour we turn to you, O Lord, in full knowledge of our frailty, our vulnerability, and our great need as your mortal creatures. We cry to you, as one human family, unsure of the path ahead, unequal to the unseen forces around us, frightened by the sickness and death that seem all too real to us now. Stir up your strength and visit us, O Lord; be our shield and rock and hiding place! Guide our leaders, our scientists, our nurses and doctors. Give them wisdom and fill their hearts with courage and determination. Make even this hour, O Lord, a season of blessing for us, that in fear we find you mighty to save, and in illness or death, we find the cross to be none other than the way of life. All this we ask in the name of the One who bore all our infirmities, even Jesus Christ our Risen and Victorious Lord. Amen.