Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Welcome to our frequently asked questions: all you ever wanted to know and were afraid to ask about the Anglo-Catholic tradition.
1. WHAT IS ‘ANGLO-CATHOLIC’? At St Barnabas, you may see, hear, and smell things not quite typical of every Anglican church – things like incense, careful ritual, or the priest and people facing God together rather than facing each other. These are all part of our rich inheritance of sacred worship. Anglo-Catholicism grew as a movement of spiritual renewal in the Church of England in the mid-1800’s. The movement looked to the spiritual gifts of the past to breathe new life into the present. Anglo-Catholicism is awake to the mystery of Christ’s presence amongst us and to the unfathomable riches of God’s grace. It has always been a counter-cultural movement. It has always stood in witness against forces of division and injustice in our modern world; and against everything that destroys the beauty of God’s image alive in all of God’s creatures.
2. WHY ALL THE RITUAL? Rituals have the bad reputation of being ’empty and meaningless.’ But people at all times (including our own) have relied on countless rituals to bring meaning and order into every aspect of their lives. Think of the simple handshake, which not only signifies but also actualizes the friendship that it symbolizes. The ritual of worship engages us in the fullness of who we are as human beings alive in the grace of God.
3. WHY THE FANCY OUTFITS? When priests and servers put on the sacred vestments, it is a sign that they are stepping into a defined role in worship. The vestments obscure them as individuals so that we may concentrate on their function in the service, so helping us to concentrate on the service and not on the individuals involved in it. At another level, sacred vestments serve as a reminder that the ministers of the Mass are engaged in no mundane activity but rather are treading on holy ground and handling holy things.
4. WHY DOES THE PRIEST PRAY WITH HIS or HER BACK TO THE PEOPLE? In fact, the priest is not turning away from the people, but turning with the people to face in the same direction. St. Barnabas is built in the traditional manner, facing east, toward the rising sun, which symbolizes Christ’s rising from the dead and our hope for his return at the end of time. When the people and priest turn to the east, they are addressing God in Christ as one together. Sometimes, the priest faces the people, in order to address them ‘on behalf of God’ (for blessings, e.g.).
5. WHY THE INCENSE? Jesus would have been familiar with the use of incense in Temple worship. In the ancient world, when expecting an important guest into one’s home, people would purify the air by burning incense. Since we believe that Jesus Christ comes into our midst during the celebration of the Mass, we cense the altar, the ministers, and the whole congregation as a symbolic purification anticipating his arrival. The rising smoke, furthermore, is said to symbolize the rising up of prayer. Lastly, we come to associate the smell of incense with the joy of worship. If we are to engage the whole of ourselves in prayer, it is good to ask, ‘what does prayer smell like to you?’
6. WHY DOES THE CHOIR SING PARTS OF THE SERVICE THAT THE PEOPLE SAY OR SING IN OTHER ANGLICAN CHURCHES? To worship is to listen for God. Patient listening is an art that we are in danger of forgetting in our hurried times. An important part of the mission of our parish is a retrieval of the spiritual gifts of the past to aid us in learning to listen again. From the late Middle Ages, composers have set the texts of the Mass to music to be sung by a choir. We are invited to meditate on the texts as the choir sings them. The beauty of this music very often brings depths of meaning to us that the words alone would not.