One of the hallmarks of the Episcopal Church is its rich liturgical tradition. The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, which has its origins in the Church of England. Each geographic region, called a Province, of the Anglican Communion has a Book of Common Prayer that sets forth the worship services and sacramental rites for that Province. These Books of Common Prayer have some variations across the Provinces, but each contains important common elements that form the core of Anglican worship.
The Episcopal Church recognizes seven sacraments. Baptism and the Holy Eucharist are the two “great sacraments of the Gospel.” The other sacraments are Confirmation, Ordination, Holy Matrimony, Reconciliation of a Penitent (Confession) and Unction of the Sick. These sacraments differ from Baptism and the Eucharist in that, while they are means of grace, they are not necessary for all persons in the same way Baptism and the Eucharist are. In addition having liturgies for these sacraments, the Episcopal Church also has a liturgy for funerals. All of these sacramental rites, the funeral liturgy and many other prayers and liturgies are included in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church (the red book in St. Michael’s pews).
The Holy Eucharist, also called the Mass or Holy Communion, is the primary liturgical worship of the Episcopal Church. It is normally celebrated at all Sunday services, and usually at baptisms, weddings, and funerals, as well. The term “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving.” The community gathers to hear the Word of God in Scripture and to receive the presence of Christ, in consecrated bread and wine (the Body and Blood of Our Lord). A priest, or a bishop if present, always officiates, assisted by other clergy and lay persons. All persons of any age who have received the Trinitarian sacrament of Baptism are invited to receive Holy Communion. The Episcopal Church does not have a First Communion observance and young children who have been baptized are welcome to receive Communion at their parents’ discretion. Communion is offered to all in both bread and wine, although you may elect to receive only one or the other if you wish. You may come to the altar rail to receive a blessing from the priest if you do not want to receive Communion; please place your arms across your chest in the form of an “X” or cross to indicate to the priest that you would like to receive a blessing.
Holy Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the Church. It is a public statement of one’s intentional decision to follow the way of Jesus. In the case of infant baptism, it is the parents’ declaration of their intent to raise a child in the way of Jesus. The bond that God establishes in baptism is indissoluble, so baptism is only administered once. Baptism is especially appropriate at the Easter Vigil (which occurs in the evening on Holy Saturday), on the Day of Pentecost, on All Saints’ Day or the Sunday after All Saints’ Day, and on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord (the first Sunday after the Epiphany), as well as the Sundays on which the Bishop visits the parish. When you choose to be baptized yourself or to have your child baptized in the Episcopal Church, it means you are choosing to live out the Baptismal Covenant in the context of an Episcopal church community, taking your part in the worship, mission and ministries of the local parish. Baptism is open to all people, regardless of age or background. If you feel called to be baptized, or to have your child baptized at St. Michael’s, the first steps are to attend regularly and to talk to the Vicar about baptism. Most churches require candidates for baptism to undertake some intentional preparation. That preparation should include study of the Baptismal Covenant and what it contains, and what it can mean for your life. One should also learn about the symbol of water, about the importance of the Trinity—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in whose name the baptism is administered, and about the Scripture stories that illuminate the meaning and symbolism of Baptism. Baptism is the beginning of a spiritual path and not the culmination of one. It is not necessary that a candidate for baptism fully understand nor be comfortable with every word of the Christian Creeds and doctrines from the outset, but rather be ready to embark on the rich path of discovery into the way, truth and life of Jesus Christ. If you are new to the Episcopal Church and have already been baptized in another denomination in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you may wish to renew your faith life, which you can do by being Confirmed or Received in the Episcopal Church (see below).
Holy Matrimony/Weddings and Blessing of a Marriage is an expression of Christian community in which a couple makes their vows before God and the Church, and the priest blesses the marriage on behalf of the Church. Marriages conform to local law as well as the requirements of the Episcopal Church, with the consent of the Bishop being needed in some circumstances. If you wish to get married here, it is important to meet with the Vicar to discuss your circumstances. Normally, the clergy of the parish preside at the celebration of marriages in that parish. If you want another minister to preside at your marriage, you must obtain the consent of the Vicar. The Episcopal Church discourages weddings outside of the physical church building because having a wedding in a church asserts the importance of the Christian community in the marriage, while having it outside tends to diminish the role of the Church and to dilute its rules and traditions. Marriages are not traditionally celebrated in Advent and in Lent because these are penitential seasons during which times festal liturgies, such as weddings, are not appropriate. St. Michael’s has a Wedding Policy, which can be found on the Policies and Links tab of this website.
Confirmation. While Baptism is the sacrament by which we become members of Christ’s Body, the Church, Confirmation is the rite in which we express a mature commitment to Christ. To be confirmed by a Bishop, a person must be baptized, be sufficiently instructed in the Christian faith, be penitent for his or her sins, and be ready to affirm his or her confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. You must attend the confirmation classes that are offered prior to the Bishop’s visit before you can be confirmed. The preferred minimum age to be confirmed in the Diocese of Louisiana is sixteen.
Reconciliation of a Penitent (Confession) is the rite in which a person who repents of his or her sins may confess them to God in the presence of a priest and receive the assurance of pardon and the grace of absolution. The content of a confession is not normally a matter of subsequent discussion. The secrecy of a confession is morally absolute for the priest hearing the confession.
Unction of the Sick is the anointing of the sick with oil or the laying on of hands, by which God’s grace is given for the healing of spirit, mind and body. It can be administered for healing at any time and is not reserved solely for those who are gravely ill. St. Michael’s has a Healing Service on Wednesdays at 11:00 am at which participants may receive Unction. On the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays the Healing Service is held at St. Michael's and on the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays the Healing Service is held at The Windsor.
Ordination is the rite in which God gives authority and the grace of the Holy Spirit to those being made bishops, priests and deacons, through prayer and the laying on of hands by bishops.
Funerals. It is important to understand that many of the funeral and embalming practices that have become common currency among Americans at large are completely at odds with Christian teaching. For this reason, Episcopalians should call their priest before the funeral director is called (ideally, by the priest). It is also assumed that in requesting the services of a priest of the Episcopal Church, families accept the discipline and worship of the church in which the priest is ordained to serve. In the Episcopal Church, a funeral is primarily an act of worship, and the Book of Common Prayer Book states that "baptized Christians are properly buried from the church" (i.e. not from funeral establishments). In addition the Book of Common Prayer unequivocally states, "The coffin is to be closed before the service, and it remains closed thereafter." Photographs or paintings of the deceased are not allowed inside the worship area. Flower arrangements are allowed only in the places they are normally allowed for regular worship services. The information above comes primarily from the Book of Common Prayer, especially the Catechism found on pages 845-862. Some of the information comes from the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas, which has a wealth of information on the Episcopal Church and its beliefs, worship services and traditions at http://www.epicenter.org/the-episcopal-faith/.