Ceremonial in Worship
The sign of the cross is used at the reading of the Gospel.
As Euery Mans Devocion Serveth Without Blame
The following statement from the first Book of Common Prayer (1549) summarizes the Anglican position on ceremonies:
As touching kneeling, crossing, holding up of handes, knocking upon the brest, and other gestures: they may be used or left as euery mans devocion serueth without blame.
Most ceremonies, however useful, are inessential and should not become causes for dispute. Nevertheless, the 1928 Prayer Book does mandate a few ceremonies, such as the sign of the cross after baptism (page 280), standing for the gospel (page 70), kneeling for communion (page 82), and giving a ring at marriage (page 302). These ceremonies, along with the use of vestments, were bitterly opposed in the 16th and 17th centuries by the English Puritans, but they became universal in Anglican churches.
Aside from these few Prayer Book ceremonies, almost the only ceremony traditionally enforced by the Anglican Church is bowing at the name of Jesus. The 1603 Canons of the Church of England mandate that
...when in time of Divine Service the Lord Jesus shall be mentioned, due and lowly reverence shall be done by all persons present, as it hath been accustomed; testifying by these outward ceremonies and gestures.. .inward humility, Christian resolution, and due acknowledgment that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, is the only Saviour of the world....
This generally is interpreted to mean that if one is standing or sitting he or she should bow the head when the word ‘Jesus’ is said in the course of worship.
Common Ceremonies and the Occasions of Use
The most common ceremonies used in Anglican churches are as follows:
Bowing: At the name of Jesus, at mention of ‘Trinity’, and when the three persons of the Trinity are mentioned together (‘Father, Son, and Holy Ghost’); when the cross or the celebrant passes in procession; when passing an altar on which the Sacrament is not reserved; when someone bows to you; at certain points in the Gloria in excelsis, the Creed, and other prayers and canticles; during the Words of Institution in the Canon, but looking up for the elevations.
Genuflection: At the Incarnatus in the Creed (not because of mention of St. Mary, but because we remember then that Christ came down from heaven); when passing or being passed by the Blessed Sacrament (e.g., when entering or leaving a pew before the high altar); when the Bishop Ordinary passes in procession or when greeting him formally. Our Lord gets a genuflection on the right knee, the Bishop gets the left knee. A ‘double genuflection’ is one on both knees, which is done especially at veneration of the Cross on Good Friday.
Sign of the Cross: In general this is done when receiving a blessing, when ending a great prayer, and when hearing or speaking the gospel.
When receiving a blessing would include: the grace at the end of Morning or Evening Prayer or before a meal; absolution after confession; the blessing at the end of the Eucharist; when the Bishop gives a blessing in procession; when the congregation is blessed with the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction; when blessing oneself with holy water on entering the church; before receiving holy communion.
When ending a great prayer includes the end of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and the Gloria in excelsis and often when ending private prayer on entering the church or at the beginning and end of the day.
When hearing or speaking the gospel includes: the beginning of gospel canticles at the Daily Offices (the Benedictus Dominus Deus in Morning Prayer and the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis in Evening Prayer – all from St. Luke), the beginning of the gospel lection at the Eucharist, at the Benedictus qui venit (‘Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord’ after the Sanctus – perhaps because these are words from the gospel, though perhaps because of the word ‘blessed’).
The sign of the cross in the Western Church is made with the finger tips of the right hand moving from forehead to chest to left shoulder to right shoulder (and sometimes then back to the chest). At the beginning of the gospel the sign is made with the thumb upon the forehead, lips, and heart, to show that we should receive the gospel into our minds, proclaim it with our lips, and love it with our hearts. The general meaning of this ceremony is that whatever we are doing or saying or receiving in conjunction with it is a blessing from God to us in virtue of the power of the holy Cross.
Knocking upon the breast: This ceremony, mentioned in the 1549 list, is performed as a sign of humility or repentance at the words ‘although we are unworthy’ in the Eucharistic canon; at ‘have mercy upon us’ and ‘grant us thy peace’ in the Agnus Dei; and at the words ‘Lord, I am not worthy’ before communion when the Centurion’s Prayer is said. It is done at the words ‘by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault’ at the private Preparation at the Foot of the Altar when that is said by servers and priest.
Posture: The missals and Prayer Books give some instructions for posture during divine worship, as in rubrics mandating that all stand for the gospel in the Eucharist and that holy communion be received kneeling. Otherwise there is considerable liberty and variety of practice.
One common rule used to be: Stand to praise, sit to listen, kneel to pray. This rule, however, always had many exceptions (e.g., one stands to listen to the gospel and kneels for hymns during holy communion). In some places the rule was to stand for a sung mass (except for sitting for the epistle and sermon and kneeling for the absolution, blessing, and from the consecration through the ablutions) and kneel for a low mass (except for standing at the gospel and sitting for the sermon).
The People’s Anglican Missal provides precise ceremonial instructions for the Eucharist.