I remember when I was about 10 years old, standing in the choir chambers to the right and left of the main passageway that led from the congregation to the altar in my beautiful church. Sacred Heart church is a stunningly beautiful church. I had been in other churches, and none were as grand as this except St. Paul’s Cathedral but that was because the bishop resided there.
The roof of the main congregation was perhaps 40 feet off the floor, the corridor far taller than wide with pointed arches lining the sides of the pews leading to the corridors with the stations of the cross. It is a stone church, and it is stone beautiful. The arches have different subtle tones of brown in each curve. Multicolored wood trusses reach to support the peak of the majestic roof far above The pews are I think dark oak with leather seats and kneelers. There is multicolored stained-glass in every direction. You can’t go very far without seeing a beautiful statue, especially in the altar area. In the altar area there is marble, silver, gold, and gorgeous fabrics.
As the choir begins to sing, the harmonies resonate in the voluminous, cavernous chamber. The whole choir is robed and I am proud that my voice joins in that awesome sound that is filling this incredible space.
The altar boys in their robes and the priest in his vestments enter from the side in a short procession, and the mass begins.
The mass is in Latin, and I understand very little of it other than it is a rite that has been going on almost 2000 years, according to my instructors. There will be reading of Scripture, which I will understand, and a short sermon along with a few announcements. But it is the Eucharist that is at the center of this rite. It is the miracle of the mass, that happening in our church and others around the world where at a point in the service the priest speaks the words, in Latin, of course, “this is my body, this is my blood”, and a miracle happens where a host and some wine become the literal body and blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Everything in this service down to the robes I am wearing are centered around that. As part of this ritual I had participated the week before in the ritual sacrament of confession, where I had confessed my sins in the confessional, and could with clear conscience receive the host.
That was my introduction to liturgy. Even though I went to Catholic grade school and high school I don’t remember anything in my early years about liturgy per se. Rather there were regular comments by the nuns and priests as to the meaning of the mass, the vestments, and the other elements related to the Roman Catholic liturgy in which I participated. In other words, I was indoctrinated as any of us raised going to church were.
However, from the Protestant side of my family, I was well aware that a lot of Christianity did not ascribe to the liturgy of the Roman Catholics. I knew there was no miracle of the mass, rather obedience to remember the sacrifice of the Lord and what it accomplished for us in the taking of communion. But communion wasn’t even at every service that my Protestant relatives participated in. There the focus was more on the preaching, a message usually with the Bible as the central focus. And like us, there was singing, but my cousins didn’t sing the same songs, and some of the songs they sang were contemporary, and to me much more fun than the albeit grand classical sounding notes that I did like but didn’t always want to sing.
And I was aware that other religions had different kinds of services from synagogues to eastern religions.
Liturgy is the form in which worship is conducted. Part of being a Christian is fellowshipping and worshiping together with other Christians. And from the get-go liturgies developed and adapted over time.
In this section of the website we are going to look at liturgy through the ages. In the Old Testament there was certainly a divinely inspired liturgy. There were feasts celebrated throughout the year. There were ceremonies including sacrifices and offerings. There was specific clothing and instruments of worship.
Remember that the original Christians were Jews, and thus still participated in the Jewish liturgy even though they were freed from the law.
We know that Gentile Christians were freed from following the Jewish liturgy by the original Christians. We’ll look at the writings that describe the incredibly simple liturgy of the original Christianity, in the bible, and in the first centuries after.
Next, we will look at the development of the liturgy that most Christians know today. Then, we’ll look at the development of the liturgical year, and some of its implications. And finally, we will look at some of the liturgical traditions that formed in the various Christian traditions that came out of the Reformation, and the implications of those.