Christian liturgy

Christian liturgy
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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.[1]


Partial list of Christian liturgical rites (past and present)

Different Christian traditions have employed different rites:

Western Christian churches

Latin Catholic Church

Old Catholic Churches

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. 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
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, and the only English-language service to be finished within the lifetime of King Henry VIII.[2] In 1549, Cranmer produced a complete English-language liturgy. Cranmer was largely responsible for the first two editions of the Book of Common Prayer. The first edition was predominantly pre-Reformation in its outlook. The Communion Service, Lectionary, and collects in the liturgy were translations based on the Sarum Rite[3] as practised in Salisbury Cathedral. The revised edition in 1552 sought to assert a more clearly Protestant liturgy after problems arose from conservative mimicry of the mass on the one hand, and a critique by Martin Bucer (Butzer) on the other. Successive revisions are based on this edition, though important alterations appeared in 1604 and 1662. The 1662 edition is still authoritative in the Church of England and has served as the basis for many of Books of Common Prayer of national Anglican churches around the world. Those deriving from Scottish Episcopal descent, like the Prayer Books of the American Epsicopal Church, have a slightly different liturgical pedigree.

Eastern Christian churches

Eastern Orthodox Church

Oriental Orthodox Churches

Assyrian Church of the East

Eastern Catholic Churches

Frequent 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. Mass is the common term used in the Lutheran Church in Europe but more often referred to as the Divine Service, Holy Communion, or the Holy Eucharist in North American Lutheranism.

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 remain similar between the two traditions. Latin titles for the sections, psalms, and days has been widely retained, but more recent reforms have omitted this. 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 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. The Anglican Breviary, containing 8 full offices, is not the official liturgy of the Anglican Church.

In Lutheranism, like Anglicanism, the offices were also combined into the two offices of Matins and Vespers (both of which are still maintained in modern Lutheran prayer books and hymnals). A common practice among Lutherans in America is to pray these offices mid-week during Advent and Lent. The office of Compline is also found in some older Lutheran worship books and more typically used in monasteries and seminaries.

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

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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 earliest church used Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek in the liturgy. Over time, however, the local vernacular languages became the liturgical languages of later centuries. The Greek-speaking empire retained the mainly Greek liturgy. The West used Latin, eventually dropping most Greek usage. Egypt and Armenia used Coptic and classical Armenian, respectively. 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. The Roman, Ambrosian, and Mozarabic liturgical rites came from the Latin Tradition. These regional variations of the liturgy over time diverged into distinct branches of the Christian liturgical tradition, each retaining fundamental characteristics with external particulars influenced by local customs and traditions.

In the particular Latin Church of the Catholic Church throughout earlier centuries there was much regional variation in the liturgy due to the lack of centralisation that existed in the wastern church at the time due to the fall of the western empire. This resulted in regional variations of the Latin liturgical rite such as the Celtic rite and Gallican rite, of which today only the Mozarabic rite and Ambrosian rite remain in addition to the normative Roman rite. The liturgical rite was standardized throughout much of the Catholic Church. Standardization was enforced at the Council of Trent, which suppressed regional variations in favour of the Roman liturgical rite. The resulting form was the Tridentine mass which is currently an extraordinary form of the Roman rite; however, the resultant Mass was already in existence prior to the Council in its fundamentals and the majority of its particulars, as the usage of Rome. The Council of Trent permitted rites in existence for at least 200 hundred years to continue in use; however, practically all rites were suppressed except the rites in use in monastic orders and the fore-mentioned Ambrosian and Mozarabic liturgical rites.


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

  • A division between the first half of the liturgy, open to both Church members and those wanting to learn about the church, and the second half, the celebration of the Eucharist proper, open only to baptized believers in good standing with the church.
  • Communion
  • Sanctus prayer as part of the anaphora.
  • A three-fold dialogue between priest and people at the beginning of the anaphora or eucharistic prayer.
  • An anaphora, eucharistic prayer, "great thanksgiving," canon or "hallowing", said by the priest in the name of all present, in order to consecrate the bread and wine as the Body and Blood of Christ.
  • With one exception, that of Addai and Mari, all of the extant anaphoras incorporate some form of Jesus' words over the bread and wine at the Last Supper: "This is my body" over the bread and, over the wine, "This is my blood."
  • A prayer to God the Father, usually invoking the Holy Spirit, asking that the bread and wine become, or be manifested as, the body and blood of Christ.
  • Expressions within the anaphora which indicate that sacrifice is being offered in remembrance of Jesus.
  • A section of the anaphora which asks that those who receive communion may be blessed thereby, and often, that they may be preserved in the faith until the end of their lives.
  • The Peace or "Passing of the Peace"
  • Agnus Dei
  • Benediction

See also


  1. ^ Mother Mary and Ware, Kallistos Timothy, Festal Menaion (3rd printing, 1998), St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, p. 555, ISBN 1-878997-00-9
  2. ^ F Proctor & W.H. Frere, A New History of the book of Common Prayer (Macmillan 1905) p31.
  3. ^ Bevan, G.M. (1908). Portraits of the Archbishops of Canterbury. London: Mowbray. 

External links

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