One of my most prized books that is never likely to be thrown into a pulping machine is a 1946 edition of Ritual Notes: A Comprehensive Guide to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Book of Common Prayer. The first edition was published in 1894. The book came into my possession a few years ago and was formerly gathering dust on the bookshelf of the Reverend Lewis R Thring of Cheltenham. Anyway, this remarkable tome goes into the minutest of detail regarding the naming of Church accoutrements (for want of a better word) and what we do in the liturgical life of the Church.

As it happens, I spend quite a bit of time examining these ecclesiastical aspects with candidates during their confirmation preparation classes; I am of the firm conviction that we should understand and know why we do what we do. I think that this is especially important, and the knowledge of such things brings a depth and understanding to our physical actions in Church that may often appear to the outsider as frankly a bit odd. So, over the next few months I shall examine aspects of Church liturgical life that may get you thinking, and hopefully not send you to sleep!

  1. Standing for the Gospel. Most obviously we do this because we are listening to the words of Jesus himself. It is a gesture that engenders respect for the authority of what Jesus is saying. Sometimes individuals make the sign of the Cross on their forehead, their lips and over their heart. The symbolic intention is clear – “Let Jesus’ words be in my mind, upon my heart and deep within my soul every day of my life.”
  2. Making the Sign of the Cross. (a) This is not the preserve of any “wing” of the universal Church and here at St Anne’s some people do and some people do not. It is not a requirement one way or another. For those who do however, it is a physical reminder of the Cross of Jesus and an visible statement that they are Christians. Some people make the sign when they come into Church and before they sit down to say their prayers, others before or after making communion, others at the point of absolution and the blessing. Interestingly, I always make the sign of the Cross if I am passed by a funeral procession; I do this as both an acknowledgement and an unspoken prayer of hope.
  3. Making the Sign of the Cross. (b) Priests do things differently at the final blessing. My low Church brethren sometimes hold their stretched out right hand above them as they make the pronouncement. The five outstretched digits on their hand represent the five Wounds of Jesus and the redemption that he has won for mankind on the Cross. I, on the other hand (forgive the pun) put thumb and small finger together expressing Jesus as both God and man, leaving the other three in the middle representing the One true God, the Holy Trinity who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That done I then make an enormous sign of the Cross under which all Christian people live and find in it their hope and joy.

More to come…….Vicar