Christian liturgy

Christian liturgy

liturgy, Christian [Gr. leitourgia = public duty or worship] form of public worship, particularly the form of rite or services prescribed by the various Christian churches. In the Western Church the principal service centered upon the Eucharistic sacrifice, but with the Protestant Reformation, the reformers generally rejected the idea of sacrifice and shifted toward the sermon as the focus of formal worship. They also adopted vernacular speech. The liturgy of the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox Eastern, and some other groups centers upon the Eucharist. In the Roman Catholic Church there are nine rites with distinctive liturgies (in various languages). The Orthodox Eastern Church has several liturgies. The ancient liturgies of the East are classified as Antiochene or Syrian (with modern liturgies in Greek, Old Slavonic, Romanian, Armenian, Arabic, and Syriac) and Alexandrine or Egyptian (with liturgies in Coptic and Ethiopic). The liturgies that arose in the West are classified as either Gallican (including the Celtic, Mozarabic, and Ambrosian) or Roman, both using Latin. In the 8th cent. the Gallican was largely superseded by the Roman, which is the principal liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church today. The language was Latin until the vernacular liturgy was introduced following the Second Vatican Council. In a broader sense, liturgy includes the divine office (given in the breviary) and also services other than the Mass. In the 20th cent. there has been a movement, called the liturgical movement, for purification and renewal of liturgy. Most of its demands were met in the Roman Catholic Church by the liturgical reformation directed by the Second Vatican Council, including the use of vernacular languages in the Mass, participation of the laity in public prayer, and an emphasis on music and song. In the Protestant churches a similar liturgical movement has gained much ground, urging the formulation and reform of service and wider awareness of the value of form itself.

See E. B. Koenker, The Liturgical Renaissance in the Roman Catholic Church (1954, repr. 1966); J. A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite (1959); D. Attwater, The Christian Churches of the East (2 vol., rev. ed. 1961); T. Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy (tr. 1969).

A liturgy is a set form of ceremony or pattern of worship. Christian liturgy is a pattern for worship used (whether recommended or prescribed) by a Christian congregation or denomination on a regular basis.

Though the term liturgy is used to mean public worship in general, the Byzantine Rite uses the word "Liturgy", especially when preceded by the adjective "Divine", in a more specific sense, to denote the Eucharistic service.

Partial list of Christian liturgical rites (past and present)

Different Christian traditions have employed different rites:

Western Christian Churches

Latin Catholic Church

Anglican Communion

At the time of English Reformation, The Sarum Rite was in use along with the Roman Rite. Henry VIII wanted the Latin mass translated into the English language. Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer authored the Exhortation and Litany in 1544. This was the earliest English-language service book of the Church of England. It was the only service to be finished within the lifetime of King Henry VIII. In 1549, the archbishop produced a full English language liturgy. Cranmer was responsible for the first two editions of the BCP. The first edition, was very Catholic in its outlook. The Communion Service, Lectionary, and collects in the liturgy were all based on the Sarum Rite as practised in Salisbury Cathedral with some minor changes. More than 450 years later, this first edition of the Prayer Book remains largely intact and authoritative for much of the Anglican world. The Episcopal Church of America developed its own prayer book after separating from the Church of England, but shares basic commonalities with the Anglican Communion. Prayer books have also been developed in Australia and New Zealand.

Protestant Churches

The liturgy of the many denominations ultimately derives from that of the western Catholic church, however most "post-Protestant" denominations (e.g. evangelicals, etc.) claim to have no need for liturgy, or else insist that their manner of worship is a full return to the days of the apostles, which claims have not been (or cannot be) substantiated by biblical or historical evidence. The descriptions that follow explain the liturgies of those traditional, mainline denominations that fully acknowledge the history of their origins and retain an emphasis on liturgy as an important part of their worship style.
Lutheran churches

Presbyterian tradition

Worship — Service for the Lord's Day (Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church), an article describing an order of worship typical of mainline English-speaking Presbyterian congregations

Some Methodist or Wesleyan traditions

Eastern Christian Churches

Eastern Orthodox Church

Oriental Orthodox Churches

See Oriental Orthodoxy.

Assyrian Church of the East

Eastern Catholic Churches

See also:Roman Catholic calendar of saints

Frequent liturgical practice

The Roman Catholic mass is the service in which the Eucharist is celebrated. When the Latin language is used in the Catholic Church, this is referred to as the Missae or the Ordo Missae. Eastern Orthodox churches call this service the Divine Liturgy. Anglicans often use the Roman Catholic term mass, or simply Holy Eucharist. In the Lutheran Church this is called either the Divine Liturgy or the Divine Service as well as Holy Eucharist.

Lutherans retained and utilized much of the Roman Catholic mass since the early modifications by Martin Luther. The general order of the mass and many of the various aspects remained similar between the two traditions. Latin titles for the sections, psalms, and days was retained until very recent reforms. Recently, Lutherans have adapted much of their revised mass to coincide with the reforms and language changes brought about by post-Vatican II changes.

Protestant traditions vary in their liturgies or "orders of worship" (as they are commonly called). Other traditions in the west often called "Mainline" have benefited from the Liturgical Movement which flowered in the mid/late 20th Century. Over the course of the past several decades, these Protestant traditions have developed remarkably similar patterns of liturgy, drawing from ancient sources as the paradigm for developing proper liturgical expressions. Of great importance to these traditions has been a recovery of a unified pattern of Word and Sacrament in Lord's Day liturgy.

Many other Protestant Christian traditions (such as the Pentecostal/Charismatics, Assembly of God, and so-called Non-denominational churches), while often following a fixed "order of worship", tend to have liturgical practices that vary from that of the broader Christian tradition.

Other liturgical offices

Matins refers to prayers generally said in the morning, without the Eucharist. Vespers refers to prayers generally said in the evening, without the Eucharist. Matins and Vespers are the two main prayer times of Christian Churches. These two prayer times are now more commonly called morning and evening prayer.

In the Roman Catholic church, these two offices were part of a more extensive collection of prayer hours. This larger collection was called the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours. The Divine Office consisted of eight parts: Matins (sometimes called Vigils), Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline. These "Hours" usually corresponded to certain times of the day. When said in the monasteries, Matins was generally said before dawn, or sometimes over the course of a night; Lauds was said at the end of Matins, generally at the break of day; Prime at 6 AM; Terce at 9AM; Sext at noon; None at 3PM; Vespers at the rising of the Vespers or Evening Star (usually about 6PM); and Compline was said at the end of the day, generally right before bed time.

In Anglican churches, the offices were combined into two offices: Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, the latter sometimes known as Evensong. In more recent years, the Anglicans have added the offices of Noonday and Compline to Morning and Evening Prayer as part of the Book of Common Prayer. There is also a full Anglican Breviary, containing 8 full offices. That is not the official liturgy of the Anglican Church.

The Eastern Orthodox Church maintains a daily cycle of seven non-sacramental services:

  • Matins (Gk. Orthros) said at dawn
  • The four services of the Hours (Gk. Hores): First (sunrise/7 AM), Third (9 AM), Sixth (noon), and Ninth (3 PM). The First Hour is an extension of Matins, and the two are generally said together.
  • Vespers (Gk. Esperinos) said at sunset
  • Compline (Gk. Apodeipnou -- "after supper")
  • Midnight Office (Gk. mesonychtikon)

Great Vespers as it is termed in the Eastern Orthodox Church, is an extended vespers service used on the eve of a major Feast day, or on the evening before the Eucharist will be celebrated.

Some Reformed Protestant liturgies include additional translation of the sermons, such as drama skits and the Children's message.

History of the Roman Catholic Mass (Liturgy)

This section will describe the evolution of the liturgical celebration known as the mass by Roman Catholics, which is similar to Anglican mass or Holy Eucharist. It is called the Divine Liturgy by many groups of Orthodox Christians.

Generally it is theorized that the Apostles obeyed the command "do this in memory of me", said during the Last Supper, and performed the liturgy in the houses of Christians. Besides repeating the action of Jesus, using the bread and wine, and saying his words (known as the words of the institution), the rest of the ritual seems to have been rooted in the Jewish Passover Seder, and synagogue services, including singing of hymns (especially the Psalms, often responsively) and reading from the Scriptures (Bible).

Until the 4th century, when the church established a Biblical canon, a manner of things were read during the liturgy besides the Prophets, including papal encyclicals from Pope St. Clement. Many elements of these liturgies began to be fixed in several popular settings, and a book called the Apostolic Constitutions, from the fourth century, shows an outline for the liturgy which is incorporated in almost all Western and Eastern rites. This includes the use of the prayer known as the Sanctus, which is prefaced by a long introduction; it also includes a fairly fixed series of prayers leading up to the consecration.

Vestments worn by the Bishops and Priests at this point were academic robes of the educated class. Later, as fashions changed the styles for the clergy remained the same and were embellished. Following the custom of the synagogue, the liturgy was normally sung. Many places divided the congregation into male and female. At some point both Western and Eastern churches adopted the use of curtains to mask the clergy at the altar at certain points; this curtain became the rood screen and altar rails in western churches, and iconostasis in the Byzantine East, while still being used in Armenian and Syriac Churches.

The language used in most of the liturgies was Greek. Later a Pope from Africa, where Latin was the vernacular, convinced the Roman Church to use Latin instead. As Christianity spread to different nations around the Mediterranean, several distinct traditions developed, each with a different liturgical language: the Alexandrine Tradition (Coptic), Syriac Tradition (Syriac), Byzantine Tradition (Greek), Armenian Tradition (Armenian), and the Latin Tradition (Latin). These basic traditions gave rise to several distinct rites. The Coptic and Ethiopic rites came from the Alexandrine Tradition; The Chaldean, Malabar, Syriac, Malankar, and Maronite rites developed from the Syriac Tradition; the Greek and Slav variants of the Byzantine liturgy emerged from the Byzantine Tradition; the Armenian rite developed from the Armenian Tradition; and the Roman, Ambrosian, and Mozarabic rites came from the Latin Tradition.

The liturgy of the western Church was heavily affected by the decisions to allow the Priests to say the mass separate from the bishops (usually almost every public liturgy was celebrated by the bishop, as Christianity spread out of the major urban centers this became more difficult). Thus much of the western rite involved paring down the ceremony to apply to a priest. This did not occur as much in the eastern churches.

By the time of Pope Gregory I (590604), the rites of the western and eastern churches had already diverged considerably. By then the Roman rite had undergone many changes, including a "complete recasting of the Canon" (a term that in this context means the Anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer), "... the Eucharistic prayer was fundamentally changed and recast."

In later centuries, the eastern rite was heavily influenced by the use of the iconostasis, a large wall with doors in front of the altar. Before the council of Trent, the western liturgy was very affected by local cultures and trends. In particular, the French had a large influence over many developments in the liturgy, so much so that it could be called a different rite, the Gallican Rite. Priests and Bishops were known to improvise and extend prayers, have long periods of silence, and other innovations. The Council of Trent called for a standardized western rite and created a system for printing missals which would have to be used by every congregation unless their rite was at least 200 years old. In the West, these rites included the Dominican, the Ambrosian rite, and the Mozarabic rite.


There are common elements found in all Western liturgical churches which predate the Protestant Reformation. These include:


External links

See also

Search another word or see Christian liturgyon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature