The first section of our worship [remember – the Confession happens, technically speaking, outside of our worship proper] is what is known, properly speaking, as the Entrance Rite. This includes the opening hymn, the Apostolic Greeting, the Kyrie, the Hymn of Praise [Gloria or Worthy is Christ] and Prayer of the Day. All of this finds its roots in the earliest public Christian worship. In the fourth century, soon after Christianity was legalized [and even publicly encouraged] and church buildings became public spaces, worshippers would process together to church for worship and, as you might imagine, they would sing hymns on the way. Going to church for worship evolved into a large, civic event. As we sing the opening hymn its sense still is one of gathering people together for worship, with echoes that reach back 1600 years of those early Christians gathering together publicly for worship.
As the church grew in prominence and power, the church began to invest this entrance and opening of worship with symbols of dignity and power. It evolved that the ministers would enter in a formal procession with someone carrying the Book of Gospels along with candles [remember, there were no electric lights in the fifth century!] and incense. This was an echo of the entrance of civic leaders into courts and government buildings on formal occasions. As you can imagine, this displayed the newfound power and prominence of this once illegal religion. What is interesting is that it seems that the choir didn’t join this procession [as it does with us now] until sometime in the late 19th century. Previously, the choir was in place before the entrance began.
The apostolic greeting
The opening words of worship are: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion [or, fellowship] of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” What is interesting is that these opening words are actually the closing words of St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church [2 Corinthians 13:14]. The understanding in these words is that the grace of Christ gives us the ability to love God which allows us to participate in the work of the Holy Spirit, the very power that makes possible the fellowship [or, communion] between God and God’s people. These words summarize the gifts of the Holy Trinity. If you like knowing how something is going to turn out before you begin, these words are for you. These words summarize the purpose for which we have gathered together for worship; to know the grace that comes to us through the work of Jesus Christ, to learn to love God and to participate in God’s transforming work empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is to describe you when you leave worship!