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A Bishop celebrating the Divine Liturgy in a Greek Catholic Church in Prešov, eastern Slovakia.

A liturgy is the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions. The word, which especially among Protestants is sometimes rendered by its English translation "service", may refer to an elaborate formal ritual such as the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy and Catholic Mass, or a daily activity such as the Muslim salat[1] and Jewish services. As a religious phenomenon, liturgy is a communal response to the sacred through activity reflecting praise, thanksgiving, supplication, or repentance. Ritualization may be associated with life events such as birth, coming of age, marriage, and death. It thus forms the basis for establishing a relationship with a divine agency, as well as with other participants in the liturgy. Methods of dress, preparation of food, application of cosmetics or other hygienic practices are all considered liturgical activities. Repetitive formal rites, in some ways similar to liturgies, are natural and common in all human activities such as organized sports venues.

The familiar sense is an extension of the technical term in ancient Greek, leitourgia, signifying the often expensive offers of service to the people, and thus to the polis and the state.[2] Through the leitourgia the rich carried a financial burden and were correspondingly rewarded with honours. The leitourgia became both mandatory and honorific, supporting the patron's standing among the elite. The holder of a Hellenic leitourgia was not taxed a specific sum, but entrusted with a particular ritual, which could be performed with greater or lesser magnificence. The chief sphere remained that of civic religion, embodied in the festivals: M.I. Finley notes "in Demosthenes' day there were at least 97 liturgical appointments in Athens for the festivals, rising to 118 in a (quadrennial) Panathenaic year."[3] Eventually, under the Roman Empire, such obligations, known as munera, devolved into a competitive and ruinously expensive burden that was avoided when possible.


Frequently in Christianity a distinction is made between "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" churches based on the elaboration and/or antiquity of the worship, but this obscures the universality of public worship as a religious phenomenon.[4] Thus, even the open or waiting worship of Quakers is liturgical, since the waiting itself until the spirit moves individuals to speak is a prescribed form of Quaker worship, sometimes referred to as "the liturgy of silence."[5] Typically in Christianity, however, the term "the liturgy" normally refers to a standardized order of events observed during a religious service, be it a sacramental service or a service of public prayer.

See also


  1. Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, p. 582–3
  2. N. Lewis, "Leitourgia and related terms," Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies 3 (1960:175-84) and 6 (1965:226-30).
  3. Finley, The Ancient Economy 2nd ed., 1985:151.
  4. Underhill, E., Worship (London: Bradford and Dickens, 1938), pp. 3-19.
  5. Dandelion, P., The Liturgies of Quakerism, Liturgy, Worship and Society Series (Aldershot, England and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005).

Further reading

  • Donghi, Antionio, (2009) Words and Gestures in the Liturgy. The Liturgical Press
  • Johnson, Lawrence J., (2009) Worship in the Early Church: An Anthology of Historical Sources. The Liturgical Press
  • Baldovin,SJ, John F., (2008) Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics. The Liturgical Press
  • Marini, Piero, (2007) A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal. The Liturgical Press
  • Bugnini, Annibale, (1990) The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975. The Liturgical Press
  • Bowker, John, ed. (1997) Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-213965-7.
  • Jones, Cheslyn, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold, eds. (1978) The Study of Liturgy. London: SPCK.
  • "What Do Quakers Believe?". Quaker Information Center, Philadelphia, PA, 2004.

External links

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