Places and Forms of Worship

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History of Christian Places of Worship

  • Jesus’ first disciples were Jew and would have been familiar with both Temple and synagogue worship
  • The first Christians worshipped in each other houses
  • In the first three centuries Christians were often persecuted and were forced to meet in secret
  • Sometimes Christians met underground in burial chambers called ‘Catacombs’
  • After the Edict of Milan (313 CE) Christians started meeting in public
  • Christians adopted the style and architecture of Roman public buildings e.g. magistrate courts called ‘Basilicas’

Main Features of an Anglican Church

  • Nave – main part of the church
  • Pews – benches which the congregation sit on
  • Chancel – front of the church containing the choir and the high altar
  • Choir – place where the choir sits
  • Table/Altar – table on which the minister celebrates the Eucharist
  • Transept – part of the building forming a cross shape in the floor plan
  • Aisle – walk way between the pews
  • Rood Screen – a screen which separates the nave from the chancel
  • Font – a raised bowl which is used for Christenings
  • Lectern – stand from which the Bible is read during the service can be in the form of an eagle
  • Pulpit – place where sermons are given

Church of England Holy Communion Service

There are three authorized prayer books and so there are three possible Communion services:
  • Book of Common Prayer (BCP) – very similar to the Roman Catholic Mass
  • Alternative Service Book (ASB) – broadly similar but with modern language
  • Common Worship – re-organised, offering more flexibility for the priest
  • Entrance - Minister (priest and any deacons, readers…etc assisting him/her) enter without any ceremony, and take their places. Bibles…etc are already in place.
  • Greeting and Preparation - Priest welcomes the congregation, and leads a general confession of sin, after which he/she pronounces a general absolution of sins. Gloria may be sung or said. The collect of the day is said. The children may leave the congregation for Sunday School.
  • Ministry of the Word - Members of the congregation read from the Bible on a lectern at the front of the church. There are two readings: the first from the Old Testament or one of the letters in the New Testament (occasionally both may be read from, but this is rare). The congregation then stands for the Gospel.
  • The sermon follows the gospel reading. It may be given by the priest or another licensed minister (deacon or reader), and can be on any topic, but usually explains one or more of the readings.
  • The Nicene Creed follows the sermon. The congregation stand and recite it together.
  • The Prayers – Intercession Prayers led by the priest or another minister. Then Prayer of Humble Access.
  • The Ministry of the Sacrament - The children return to the congregation. The priest invites the congregation to exchange a sign of peace. The bread and wine are then brought to the table by the members of the congregation during which the collection is taken and presented. The priest then takes the bread and wine in his/her hands and recites a Eucharistic Prayer. The prayer is not recited in order to effect any change in the bread and wine. Anglicans believe that Communion is a ‘remembrance’ of the Last Supper and “we celebrate…his (i.e. Jesus’) one perfect sacrifice”.
  • The congregation recite the Lord’s Prayer, and the priest invites them to approach the table to receive the bread and the wine. The priest and all the ministers (and often one or two members of the congregation) distribute the bread and wine. Music is played and/or hymns are sung.
  • The Dismissal - A short time of prayer is followed by the words of blessing, said by the priest, and then: Priest: Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord All: In the name of Christ, Amen
  • The priest and other ministers walk to the church door to meet the congregation as they leave.

Main Features in a Catholic Church

  1. Water stoop – used to bless oneself when entering the building
  2. Stations of the Cross – 14 pictures depicting Jesus’ journey to Calvary
  3. Sanctuary – front of the church which contains the altar, tabernacle and lectern
  4. Tabernacle – small safe in which the Eucharist is kept for the sick
  5. Sanctuary Lamp – lamp placed close to the tabernacle as a sign of the real presence
  6. Confessional – sometimes called the ‘reconciliation room’ – place where the priest hears confession
  7. Sacristy – place where the priest and altar servers prepare for mass by putting on vestments
  8. Presbytery – the priest’s house usually attached to the church

St Austin's Roman Catholic Church, Stafford

Floor Plan of the Church

Interior of the Church looking towards the Sanctuary

Exterior of the front of the Church


The Sacraments

A sacrament is often defined as an outward visiable sign of an inward invisiable grace ordained by Jesus Christ for the benefit of the soul.

There is some disagreement between Catholics and Protestants as to the number of sacraments. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches claim seven:

  • Baptism – the rite of initiation into the Church involving the sprinkling of water
  • Confirmation – the rite of confirming one’s faith involving the laying on of hands and evoking the Holy Spirit
  • Eucharist – service of thanksgiving involving the re-enactment of the Last Super with bread and wine
  • Reconciliation – sometimes called Confession, an act of seeking God’s forgiveness by telling a priest one’s sins
  • Marriage – the commitment a couple makes before the eyes of God and the Church to one another
  • Ordination – the rite of becoming a priest by taking Holy Orders
  • Unction – the blessing of the sick with holy oils
Many Protestants only accept two sacraments:
  • Baptism
  • Eucharist

The Eucharist/Holy Communion

  • The Roman Catholic Church believes that at the moment of consecration (praying over the gifts) the bread and the wine (elements) actually become Jesus’ body and blood. This is known as the ‘real presence’. It is also known as ‘transubstantiation’
  • Most Catholic Churches have a tabernacle (a small safe) close to the altar where the consecrated hosts (wafers of bread) are kept for private devotion to pray before and to enable the sacrament to be taken to the sick in times of emergency.
  • At the time of the Protestant Reformation many reformers came to believe in ‘consubstantiation’ whereby the bread and the wine remain bread and wine but are also the body and blood of Jesus.
  • In recent times some people have come to believe in ‘receptionism’ whereby the elements only become the Jesus’ body and blood when they are received by a Christian.
  • Some Christians reject all of this and believe that the Eucharist is simply a ‘memorial’ following Jesus’ instructions to ‘…do this in memory of me’.
For many Christians the Eucharist is at the centre of their worship. In the Roman Catholic Church and some Anglican Churches the Eucharist is celebrated everyday. For some traditions the Eucharist is celebrated weekly or even only monthly.


Non-Eucharistic Worship

As well as the Eucharist many Christians come together to worship in other services. The main feature of these services tends to be prayer, bible readings, hymns and a sermon. Some Evangelical services tend to be very informal and interactive with singing, music and even drama and dance.

In the Pentecostal and Evangelical traditions there may sometimes be people speaking and singing in tongues. This is known as ‘glossolalia’. This recalls the first day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down on Jesus’ disciples enabling them to preach and spread the Gospel (see Acts 2).

The Society of Friends (Quakers) have a completely different form of worship. Their meeting rooms are sparsely decorated and furnished with only a table in the centre of the room surrounded by chairs. There is no service as such. The meeting sit around the table, often with a Bible on it, in silence waiting for someone to be moved by the Spirit to speak. The meeting ends with the shaking of hands.


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