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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

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.

Old Catholic Churches
  • Liberal Rite

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.

Methodist or Wesleyan traditions

Many Methodist Churches have official liturgies. In most cases these are derived from The Sunday Service of the Methodists in the United States of America, a service book prepared by John Wesley for the Methodists in the American colonies who became separated from the Church of England by the American Revolution. The Sunday Service is itself a simple revision of The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, so that Methodist liturgies tend to resemble Anglican liturgies.

Liturgies may differ depending on the denomination. The United Methodist church, specifically in High Church Methodism, resembles the Episcopal liturgies.

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.

Lutheran prayer books and hymnals provide for the offices of Matins or Morning Prayer and Vespers or Evening Prayer. A common practice among Lutherans in America is to pray these choir offices mid-week during Advent and Lent. Matins may be sung on Sundays in place of the Eucharist in Lutheran parishes as well as Vespers on special holy days or events. The office of Compline is also found in Lutheran worship books and more typically used in retreat centers and seminaries. "The Daily Office" Concordia Publishing House, 1965 of Matins and Vespers is used by clergy and laity alike as a prayer resource.

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. 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."[4]

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:

  • 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. 
  4. Catholic Encyclopedia, "Liturgy of the Mass")

External links

Some or all of this article is forked from Wikipedia. The original article was at Christian liturgy. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.