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For other uses, see Liturgy (disambiguation).
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 beliefs, customs and 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), Catholic Mass, the Eucharist or Mass (Anglican Communion) or a daily activity such as the Muslim salah[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 was 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.


Main article: Buddhist liturgy

The term Buddhist liturgy refers to a formalised service performed by the four-fold sangha and by nearly every denomination and sect in the Buddhist world. It is often done once or more times a day and can vary amongst the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana sects. The liturgy mainly consists of reciting a sutra or passages from a sutra, a mantra (especially in Vajrayana), and several gathas. Depending on what practice the practitioner wishes to undertake, it can be done at a temple or at home. The liturgy is almost always performed in front of an object or objects of veneration and accompanied by offerings of light, incense, and food.


Jewish liturgy are the prayer recitations that form part of the observance of Rabbinic Judaism. These prayers, often with instructions and commentary, are found in the siddur, the traditional Jewish prayer book. In general, Jewish men are obligated to pray three times a day within specific time ranges (zmanim). while, according to the Talmud, women are only required to pray once daily, as they are generally exempted from obligations that are time dependent.

Traditionally, three prayer services are recited daily:

  1. Shacharit or Shaharit (שַחֲרִת), from the Hebrew shachar or shahar (שַחָר) "morning light,"
  2. Mincha or Minha (מִנְחָה), the afternoon prayers named for the flour offering that accompanied sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem,
  3. Arvit (עַרְבִית) or Maariv (מַעֲרִיב), from "nightfall."

Additional prayers:


Main article: Christian liturgy

Frequently in Christianity, a distinction is made between "liturgical" and "non-liturgical" churches based on how elaborate or antiquated 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 the participation of the people in the work of God, which is primarily the saving work of Jesus Christ. In the liturgy, Christ continues the work of redemption.[6]

The term "liturgy" literally in Greek means "work for the people," but a better translation is "public service" or "public work," as made clear from the origin of the term as described above. The early Christians adopted the word to describe its principal act of worship, the Sunday service (Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, Mass or Divine Liturgy). This service, liturgy, or ministry (from the Latin 'ministerium') is a duty for Christians as a priestly people by their baptism into Christ and participation in his high priestly ministry. It is also God's ministry or service to the worshippers. It a reciprocal service. 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 an ordained minister or a layman. The entire congregation participates in and offers the liturgy to God.


Main article: Salat

Salāt ("prayer", Arabic: صلاةṣalāh or gen: ṣalāt; pl. صلوات ṣalawāt) is the practice of physical and compulsory prayer in Islam as opposed to dua, which is the Arabic word for supplication. Its importance for Muslims is indicated by its status as one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Salat is preceded by ritual ablution and usually performed five times a day. It consists of the repetition of a unit called a rakʿah (pl. rakaʿāt) consisting of prescribed actions and words. The number of obligatory (fard) rakaʿāt varies from two to four according to the time of day or other circumstances (such as Friday congregational worship, which has two rakats). Prayer is obligatory for all Muslims except those who are prepubescent, menstruating, or in puerperium stage after childbirth.[7]

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).
  7. ^ Multicultural Handbook of Food, Nutrition and Dietetics, p. 43, Aruna Thaker, Arlene Barton, 2012

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]