Sacramental Celebrations

“The sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857)

Saint John’s is a liturgical church, which means that sacraments play a central role in our worship. There are seven sacraments which shape the life of our church. The two we celebrate most often are Baptism and Eucharist, sometimes known as the “biblical sacraments.”  We also celebrate Confirmation, Marriage, Anointing the Sick, Reconciliation, and Ordination from time to time.  Please scroll down for more information on these sacraments.

In his book, Holy Baptism: A Guide For Parents And Godparents, Episcopal priest John Westerhoff says: “The purpose of a sacrament is to make us aware of a truth that is not self-evident so that we might benefit from it. Sacraments are symbolic, ritual acts of revelation. Sacraments, importantly, make something that is already true and available, real for us so that we might fully benefit from it. When an invisible reality is realized, or made real, that is a sacrament. Or to put it another way, a sacrament is a point of connection between the invisible and visible – an outward and visible material sign of an inward and invisible nonmaterial reality.”

Frequently asked Questions about Holy Baptism

Q. What is Baptism?

A. It is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Body, the church.  It the initiation/welcome of any person into God’s family and into a parish community who pledges to walk the Christian journey with them.

Q. Who may be Baptized?

A. Anyone who feels so called into a new life in Christ and is ready to test that call is welcome to be baptized. It does not matter how old or young you are. Infants, children, youth and adults can be baptized.

Q. How do I learn more about Baptism at St. John’s

A. Please contact the parish office or a member of the clergy.

Q. When do baptism happen at St. John’s

A. Baptisms are celebrated during either the Saturday or Sunday community Eucharist and generally speaking on the following feasts: Easter, Pentecost, All Saints Day (November 1st) and the Baptism of our Lord (January).  Baptism is generally also celebrated once during the summer months.

More on the Sacrament of Baptism

When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, God spoke these words: “This is my beloved on whom my favor rests.”  God speaks these words every time someone is baptized, loud enough so that everyone can hear: “You are my beloved!” At our baptism, we hear just how God feels about us, that we are loved and beloved!  We are embraced by God’s love and called into “covenant”, a close relationship with God for all eternity.

God has felt this way about you or your child long before the waters of baptism.  God has loved you even “before you were knit in your mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139)  However, baptism is God’s way of keeping us close to his love. You see, when we are baptized that “voice” gets into our hearts – nothing can take it away. There will be competing voices, make no mistake. Others will say we are not “beloved”.  The journey of life is a struggle and it can not be made alone, so God gives us the gift of community to help stay “keep close to his love.”  We call this community, “The Church”.

The community of the church helps remind us that we are beloved and that God is with us, in good times and bad.  In the church we remember and affirm that God is with us through sacramental ritual worship, such as the Eucharist (the Bread and Wine), by listening to the ancient and living stories of our faith (Sacred Scriptures or The Bible), and by living in a loving way, by reaching out with caring hearts to a hurting and broken world, just as Jesus did.

Baptism is a journey that begins at the font but takes our whole life to live and figure out.  It is a sometimes challenging journey, but always full of grace, “grace upon grace” in which we discover again and again that we are caught up in a great love and that we are not alone, God is with us always.

Symbols from the Ritual of Baptism

Community – Christ is present in the community gathered.  “Where 2 or 3 are gathered I am in their midst.” Here at St. John’s, the community shows up for baptism to pledge our support to our newest members. We are there when the newly baptized emerges from the font to warmly proclaim, “Welcome into the household of God.”

Water – Water is perhaps the most common symbol known to humanity.  Most of our bodies and most of the earth are comprised of water. We use it all the time, we drink it, bathe in it, work in it and recreate in it.  At Jesus’ baptism he was dunked in the River Jordon.  Here at St. John’s blessed, cleansing, renewing waters are poured over the person being baptized as a symbol of new life, Christ’s life now springing up in them. When water is poured we say: “I baptize you, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

Oil – In ancient days oil was used to anoint kings, athletes and the like. It was a commonly understood symbol that affirmed the importance of an individual in the community.  One who was anointed with oil was considered special and everyone knew it.  We anoint the newly baptized with a special kind of fragrant oil called chrism (from the word Christ, meaning the anointed one) using these words, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever. AMEN!”  The newly baptized are strengthened by God’s spirit, “set apart”, named and claimed as Christ’s own forever.  It is here that God says, “this is my one-and-only beloved.”

Light – The Paschal Candle or the Easter Candle is lit during the ceremony. It is a symbol of the resurrection.  Christ suffered death on the cross but the journey did not end there.  He rose on the third day.  In baptism we die with Christ so as to live with him in his resurrection. Christ, who died and rose from the dead, dies and rises in us.  Thus the light of the resurrected Christ companions and comforts us on our journey.  Simply put, no darkness, not even death itself can separate us from the light of Christ!  In Baptism, we are bathed in the light of Christ forever.

White Garment – Those of us who are familiar with Christian burial know that the body of the deceased is clothed with a white cloth called a pall.  The white cloth is a reminder that the person is “beloved”, loved by God, bathed in the love of Christ and is embraced by God forever.  On the day of Baptism, after we have been washed in the waters and anointed with oil we are clothed in a white garment, called an Alb.  The white garment symbolizes that we are now Christian, that we are God’s beloved, clothed in God’s love for all ages, even unto death.  The white cloth that covers the body of those who have died is the very garment in which we are clothed at Baptism.  It is God’s promise of unconditional steadfast love forever.  The white garment is thee Christian garment.

Frequently Asked Questions About Children and the Eucharist

 

Q. How did the Early Church understand the relationship between Holy Eucharist and children?

A. For the first several centuries, the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist otherwise known as The Sacraments of Initiation, were always intrinsically connected and administered at the same time. A person of any age would be baptized, confirmed and admitted to the Table of the Lord at the same celebration, usually the Great Vigil of Easter.  It was not until the Middle Ages that these three sacraments began to drift. The liturgical reforms of the past 50 years have sought to regain a sense of these three sacraments living together. Our Eastern Orthodox sisters and brothers are baptized, confirmed and receive Holy Eucharist on the same day – even infants.

Q.  What do the scriptures say about the relationship of children to Holy Eucharist?

A.  While there are no concrete answers on this front, there are two sources for our reflection. When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes and shared with all there was every reason to believe that children were present.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and let no one hinder them”. Our children are full members of the parish community and they crave this nourishment as much as we do.  The Eucharist is a mystery that must be received with the innocence of a child.

 

Q. At St. John’s many young children receive Holy Communion Each Week. What is the rationale for young children receiving Holy Eucharist?

A. The Book of Common Prayer says, “All baptized persons are welcome to receive Holy Communion.”  Accordingly, The Book of Common Prayer suggests that, readiness ought to be based on a given individual’s faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ, spiritual instinct and love for God and neighbor.  Some of the best thinkers in the area of child spiritual development including Sophia Cavalletti and James Fowler suggest that children have an innate spirituality that ought to be tapped and supported early on.  Here at St. John’s we take the Prayer Book at its word, welcoming “all the baptized” including children.

Q.  When I was growing up all the kids waited until Second Grade to receive Holy Communion.  If that is no longer the case, how will know when my child is ready?

A. Early this century local custom emerged suggesting that that children are ready to  receive Holy Communion when they have reached the “age of reason”, about age 7 or 8 or following Confirmation because it was felt they had a greater intellectual capacity for understanding the nature of the Eucharist.  The church has rethought this notion. Intellectual/cognitive abilities alone do not determine ones readiness for the Eucharist.  If we were to base readiness on intellectual ability, we would not only limit small children but also the mentally retarded and those suffering from dementia.  In fact, we may even eliminate ourselves, for who can truly comprehend this great mystery.  Though some parents may decide to wait until their children are older to receive, there is no data to suggest that “the age of reason” determines readiness.

 

Q. How will I know when my child is ready?

A. Ask yourself, “Does my child demonstrate a spiritual instinct and a capacity for loving God and neighbor?”  When your child comes to the altar with you for blessing, does she or he ask about receiving communion?  Is she reaching out her hands?  Is she asking about the bread and the wine? Does your child have some vocabulary for talking about Jesus and some of the basic story of our faith?   These are all signs that your child is probably ready to receive.

Q. What do I do when my child is ready?

A.  Talk with your child.  Tell them about Jesus.  Tell them about how he broke bread and shared a meal with his friends on the night before he died and how he has asked us to do the same.  Tell him that the bread and wine we share is Jesus.  Tell them that Jesus is our food and gives us strength to live “holy” lives.  Tell them that the bread and the wine is important to you. Tell them that is gives you strength, that it’s important to you, that you want them to also have this strength.  Tell them that the more they receive the more they will understand. Allow the clergy of the parish to support and assist you through the process by telling them that your child is ready.  Simply bring your child to the altar on the Sunday she begins receiving and we will help her to extend her hands and guide them through the ritual right then and there.

Q. What do I do when my child wants to receive and I do not regard him as ready?

A. It seems there are three possible responses here. 1) You could say, “This is very important to me and I want you to be sure you are ready to receive the bread and the wine.”  2) It may be an indication that you need to take a more active role in your child’ preparation. 3) It might be your time to ask, “Is my child ready?”

Q. How will our children be formed/educated?

A. First off, all of God’s children are formed in community and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  There is no better formation than regular Sunday worship. Secondly, parents are the primary spiritual teachers of their children.  There is no substitute for parents actively engaged in the spiritual formation of their children.  This being said, we have an outstanding religious education program here at St. John’s and we are here to support all our families as they grow in relationship to the Lord. Our Religious Education curriculum and our children’s liturgies throughout the year spend time acquainting our children with the Holy Eucharist and the liturgy.  In Springtime we offer an intensive Eucharistic Formation Program for children who have been receiving but are in need of further formation or have been waiting and will receive Holy Communion for the first time.

Q. Where can I find resources to help in my child’s formation?

 

A. We have many resources in our parish library that will help you continue educating your children at home.  The clergy and/or religious education director are willing to help and be a resource for your questions.

Q. What about “First Communion”?

A. Each year in springtime we will provide a special celebration for our children called First/Early Eucharist. On this day, families and extended families can gather with their children.  For some this will be a “first communion day” for others it will be an affirmation and celebration that children during the year began receiving Holy Eucharist.  This celebration will dignify the individual circumstances of your family.  If it is culturally important for you, feel free to call this a celebration of “First Communion”.

Frequently Asked Questions about Confirmation

 

Q. What is Confirmation?

A. Confirmation is reaffirmation of the promises made at Baptism.  With Confirmation comes the strength of the Holy Spirit to live as a mature Christian in the world.

 

Q. Who may be confirmed?

A. Any youth or adult who is high school aged or older who feels called to be confirmed and has committed herself to a time of preparation.

 

Q. How are candidates prepared for Confirmation?

A.  Preparation for youth confirmands occurs through the Journey To Adulthood Program. Any young people who wish to be confirmed need to demonstrate a commitment to the J2A Program.  All confirmands, youth and adult, are expected to attend a preparation program led by the rector in the months prior to Confirmation (TBA).

Q. When does Confirmation happen?

A.  Confirmation is celebrated by the Bishop several times a year in various sections of the diocese including the Worcester are and generally when the Bishop comes to the parish for his biannual visitation.

Q. What are the Bishop’s and St. John’s expectations for those who are to be confirmed?

A.  The bishop expects that a confirmand will demonstrate “at least the following.”

  • Minimum of 16 hours of Catechumenal formation
  • Evidence of daily prayer and regular participation in weekly Sunday worship.
  • A relationship with  Holy Scripture
  • A connection to the members of our faith community and a visible commitment to a ministry of the church.
  • Acts of social justice and service to those in need
  • Must be able to answer the following questions: What have you learned from your preparation that has been most important to you? Why do you want to confirm your baptism vows? How do you plan to live as a mature and faithful Christian in the Church and in the world after you are confirmed?

The Sacrament of Marriage

Services

Saturday 5:00pm
Holy Eucharist (Come as You Are)

Sunday 10:00am
Holy Eucharist (Community Eucharist)

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