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Wedding ceremony at Kiuruvesi Church in Kiuruvesi, Finland

Liturgy (Greek: λειτουργία) is the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions.

The word, sometimes rendered by its English translation "service", may refer to an elaborate formal ritual such as the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy (Greek: Θεία Λειτουργία) 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.

The word liturgy, derived from the technical term in ancient Greek, leitourgia, signifies 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; in this usage, churches whose services are unscripted or improvised are called "non-liturgical". Others object to this usage, arguing that this terminology 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 Holy 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 standardised order of events observed during a religious service, be it a sacramental service or a service of public prayer. In the Catholic tradition, liturgy is considered to mean the participation of the people in the work of God and in the liturgy Jesus Christ is considered to continue the work of redemption in union with his Church.[6]

The term "liturgy" literally in Greek means "work of the people," but the correct translation is "public service" or "public work" as made clear from the origin of the term as describe above. The Christian church adopted the word to describe its principal act of worship, the Sunday service of Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, Mass or Divine Liturgy. This service/liturgy or ministry (from the Latin 'ministerium,' 'service' and 'minister,' servant) is a bounden duty and obligation of the worshippers as a priestly people by their baptism into Christ and participation in his High Priesthood. It is also God's ministry or service to the worshippers. Divine Liturgy is the 'work of the people.' It a reciprocal transaction. As such, many Christian churches designate one person who participates in the worship service as the liturgist. The liturgist may read announcements, scriptures, and calls to worship, while the minister preaches the sermon, offers prayers, and blesses sacraments. The liturgist may be either a minister or a layman. The entire congregation offer the liturgy.

See also[edit]


  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).
  6. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church 1069(London: Chapman, 1994).

Further reading[edit]

  • Baldovin, John F., SJ (2008) Reforming the Liturgy: a Response to the Critics. The Liturgical Press
  • Bowker, John, ed. (1997) Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-213965-7.
  • Bugnini, Annibale, (1990) The Reform of the Liturgy 1948–1975. The Liturgical Press
  • Dix, Dom Gregory (1945) The Shape of the Liturgy
  • Donghi, Antonio, (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
  • Jones, Cheslyn, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold, eds. (1978) The Study of Liturgy. London: SPCK.
  • Marini, Piero, (2007) A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal. The Liturgical Press
  • Scotland, N. A. D. (1989). Eucharistic Consecration in the First Four Centuries and Its Implications for Liturgical Reform, in series, Latimer Studies, 31. Latimer House. ISBN 0-946307-30-X
  • "What Do Quakers Believe?". Quaker Information Center, Philadelphia, PA, 2004.

External links[edit]

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