Rejoice in Worship - Symbols in Worship
For a long time some Hispanic churches felt a certain reticence about the use of symbols in worship. For some in the congregation, this resembled Roman Catholic practices and, in the minds of many, that was the reason they had left the Roman Catholic Church. Another, probably more obvious reason, has been the lack of adequate instruction on the meaning and biblical background of symbols. This article is designed to clarify the meaning of some of the primary symbols utilized in the liturgy.
- Baptismal Font: This area needs to have high visibility. Baptism is a rite of initiation and should never be considered a private ceremony; rather, the whole community participates in this sacrament.
- Altar or Communion Table: Usually the center of worship, the table holds the Communion utensils, the candles, and the cross. Sometimes a Bible is placed on the table, although the proper place for it is the pulpit.
- Candles: Symbolizing the presence of Christ who is the light of the world, candles are to be lit by the acolytes at the beginning of worship and extinguished at the conclusion.
- Cross: The central symbol of our faith, the cross must be displayed in every sanctuary. It is not a crucifix but an empty cross – a constant reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for our sake.
- Paraments (ornaments): These are cloths that are displayed in front of the Communion table, the pulpit, and the lectern. They are coordinated in color and design. Designs and colors that reflect the culture are encouraged. On occasion "sarapes" and "Guatemala" stoles have been used for this purpose.
- Banners: As with the paraments, banners may be created in a variety of colors to fit the seasons of the liturgical year. They may feature Christian symbols or short Bible verses, and are placed in highly visible locations.
- Vestments: This is the official attire of the clergy and of those
leading in worship. In the Protestant tradi-tion, the most common has been the
"Geneva" gown or the "Wesley" robe. The stoles symbolize ordination and vary in
color, according to the liturgical year:
Advent – purple or blue
Christmas – white
Epiphany – white
Lent – purple
Easter – white
Pentecost – red
Season after Pentecost – green
- The Peace: This is a symbol of love, reconciliation, and unity. In the Hispanic tradition, we have the "abrazo" (embrace) which is included as part of the liturgy, especially when there is celebration of the eucharist.
- Anointing: This is particularly appropriate during healing services and confirmation of new members. Pure olive oil is recommended. The leader anoints the person’s forehead, simply with a touch, or by making the sign of the cross and repeating appropriate words, such as, "In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit," or some other word for a specific purpose.
- Liturgical Dance: This is a symbolic expression of praise, comparable to the choir. When it is done properly, a liturgical dance can enhance the worship experience.
Dr. Roberto Escamilla is Associate Professor of Evangelism at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio. He resides in Delaware, OH.