Elsewhere in this series, it has been noted that Anglicanism is known for the orderly and structured form of its worship. That structure is based, as all Christian worship should be, on four main elements. These are penitence, prayer, praise and proclamation. In some combination, all four of these elements are found in all three of the great worship services of Anglicanism, namely, the Holy Communion, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. They are also found to some degree in the Ministration of Holy Baptism, the Order for Confirmation, and the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony. Other services and devotions, such as, for example, the Litany, concentrate on one of the other of these elements, but complete worship contains all four.
PENITENCE: The Christian approaches the worship of God with regret for his errors and disobedience and a conscious desire to amend his ways. This is an age in which “anything goes” and people do not like to admit the possibility of anything so disagreeable as even minor sin. But Christians know that there is sin in every life and that the worst thing they can do is to deny it. “I came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” said the Lord. And so we begin Morning and Evening Prayer with a General Confession. And before we dare approach the Holy Table in Communion, we also join in a General Confession. Only as we inwardly cleanse ourselves by penitence are we prepared to worship God.
PRAYER: Along with penitence, prayer is the establishment of communication with God. Worship is not a one-way broadcast but a two-way communication. Prayer may of course be silent and wholly private between the worshipper and God. Or it may be corporate prayer, said or sung by the worshippers together, or may be the collected prayers of the people, gathered up and offered by the Minister in the form of a “Collect.” Prayer is an opening of our hearts to God, a baring of our souls and inmost thoughts, a conscious acknowledgement that from God “no secrets are hid.” Prayer may be for ourselves or for others. It may seek God’s mercy and protection or invoke His all knowing will for us and the world. It may include penitence and it may include praise and thanksgiving. Whatever it says, it is our manner of reaching out to establish contact with God, of admitting that we are finite and He is infinite, that we are creatures and He the Creator, that we live only in, by and through Him.
PRAISE: God sent us here; he will take us back. He is the author and Creator of all that is. “We are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of His hand,” as the Venite puts it. He is all-wise, all-seeing, all-powerful. He is the source of all that we have. Therefore, it is natural to praise Him, to extol Him, to pour out our respect and thanks and awe in praise. This may take the form of a song, such as the Venite, the Benedictus, the Jubilate Deo and other canticles. It may be expressed by a hymn or by a loud Amen or Alleluia. It may be expressed by the Sursum Corda and the Sanctus, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” or the Gloria in excelsis, in the Holy Eucharist. It may be expressed in prayer. But it should come from a heart full of reverence and love and thanks. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
PROCLAMATION: Christian worship is also marked by the proclaiming of the Christian message, the Gospel. This proclamation is done by various means. It is done by selected Scripture readings -- the Lessons in the Daily Offices, the Epistle and Gospel in the Holy Communion. It is also done through the singing of hymns, which carry some part of the message from God to us. It is very directly accomplished through the sermon preached by the Minister, for this should expound the Gospel and the moral and religious and supernatural teachings of our faith. By proclamation, by teaching, by learning, we understand God’s purpose better and draw closer to Him.
These, then, are the four component elements of worship: penitence, prayer, praise and proclamation. All four are present in any full and complete service of corporate worship and all four should be present in some measure or form in our private worship. Worship is the individual’s approach to God, God’s response to him, and the resulting mystical union of man with God.