church service

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A worship service is a gathering of people with the purpose of coming into contact with God , of having fellowship with him, of making sacrifices , of receiving sacraments or of fulfilling an imposed religious duty. It can take place in a specially designated space ( church , synagogue , mosque , pagoda , temple , Kingdom Hall, etc.), as well as in the home or outdoors.

The German word Gottesdienst corresponds to the Latin term cultus ( cultus , "worship") and primarily refers to religious celebrations in Christianity , but is also used for other religious communities that pray together, such as in Judaism and Islam .

A divine service often follows a rite that is predetermined by a traditional process or by determination by a spiritual authority, such as the liturgy of the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches or the evangelical agenda . However, if the objective is set, spontaneous or poorly structured gatherings are also referred to as divine services.

Sign indicating regular church services of various denominations at the entrance to Ilmenau


Morning prayer ( Shacharit ) in the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City

In Judaism , what is commonly referred to as worship services are common prayers by Jews according to a given order. The German term worship is not really applicable, since the entire traditional (orthodox) Jewish life is a service to and before the one and only God, a worship service. The prayer book is called Seder Tefilah (Hebrew: 'order of prayer') or Siddur (Hebrew: 'order'), Machsor for the holidays .

With the destruction of the Jerusalem temple at the end of the Jewish War in 70, the character of the worship services in Judaism changed permanently. Instead of temple sacrifices and pilgrimages to Jerusalem, under the supervision of the priests and Levites , there is communal prayer, with the main prayer being the Schemone Esre, which was codified from the 9th century . The destroyed temple is being replaced by synagogues in the diaspora , both in the Roman Empire and in the Persian Empire .

The common prayers can take place in a synagogue or in a prayer room set up for this purpose, or at home. The order of prayer varies depending on the Jewish denomination and region. A distinction is made, for example, between orthodox and liberal , Ashkenazi and Sephardic , but also between German and Polish rites . In Orthodox Judaism , only adult men who keep and observe the Shabbat are traditionally counted in the prayer community, but women can also pray in a separate box or gallery. In the worship services of conservative and liberal reform communities , women are often on an equal footing with men; there are also female (reform) rabbis and chasanot .

Certain prayers require a quorum ( minyan ) of ten adult males who keep and observe the Shabbat . Boys come of age at thirteen, girls at twelve. In orthodox, exceptionally also in conservative and liberal communities, traditionally only men count as minyan. In most conservative and in all reform and reconstructionist congregations in North America and in many liberal congregations in Europe, women now count as minyan and observance and observance of the Shabbat is no longer required. Communities belonging to German progressive Judaism often forego a quorum entirely.

In all denominations and movements of Judaism, prayer congregations can be found on Shabbat and on the holidays on the evening before and in the morning, usually also for the evening out, on Yom Kippur , the day of atonement and the highest holiday in the Jewish annual cycle, also in the afternoon. In Orthodox and some conservative or liberal congregations, common prayers are also held three times a day on weekdays.

The communal prayers are divided into evening prayer ( Maariv ), morning prayer ( Shacharit ) and afternoon prayer ( Mincha ), on Shabbat and public holidays the Mussaf prayer is switched on in the morning , and on the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the Neilah prayer as a conclusion in the late afternoon .

On Shabbat and on public holidays, in some congregations also on Mondays and Thursdays, the earlier Israeli market days, there is a reading from the Torah in the morning , on fasting days also in the afternoon, and in some congregations the Torah is read from the Simchat Torah the evening before Torah read.


Historical developments

Religious gatherings of the Christian community have existed from the beginning of Christianity. Various forms are already mentioned in the letters of Paul and in the Acts of the Apostles . An example of early Christian worship can be found in 1 Cor 14:26  EU : “When you come together, everyone has brought something with them: One sings a song, another interprets the holy scriptures . Another speaks in tongues of the Spirit , and another has an explanation. ”The term“ worship ”(Greek λειτουργία leitourgia ) is not used for these meetings of the congregation. When worship is spoken of in the New Testament , it is either about the temple worship of the Old Testament or about the invitation to understand all of life as worship ( Romans 12 : 1-2  EU ).

In the 2nd century there was a liturgical training for worship meetings. Justin the Martyr († 165), for example, described a Christian worship service with reading order , sermon , intercessory prayer and Eucharistic celebration . From this, special priestly offices developed over time , which ultimately led to a distinction between the community in clergy and lay people . The architecture of the worship service rooms in the Middle Ages reflects this separation; the chancel  - separated from the rest of the church by a rood screen - was reserved for the clergy, while the other parishioners became more and more spectators and listeners of the worship service. With the Tridentine Mass , the form and course of the divine services with the Eucharist were integrated into a detailed rite. Late antiquity and early medieval special forms of church services ( station worship ) live on today in processions .

The Reformation tried to reverse this development. The Reformation Anabaptists and free church movements of modern times such as Baptists , Free Evangelical Congregations and many Pentecostal congregations completely abolished the divine divine service between clergy and lay people. The Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church also gave the laity an active place in the worship service. In the Orthodox churches this return to the early Christian worship has not yet been followed.

The number of participants in Sunday church services is decreasing in the Federal Republic of Germany and, according to the German Bishops' Conference (DBK), was only 3.98 million people in 2003, compared to 6.19 million in 1990. Statistically , a third was down in 2005 of those surveyed never go to church, another 30 percent only at Christmas, Easter or family celebrations. Only 17 percent said they were regular churchgoers, the proportion being higher in the west than in the east, higher among women than among men and by far the highest among those over 60. Internationally there are great cultural differences: in much of the United States as well as in some parts of Europe, e.g. In Poland and Italy, for example, attending Sunday services and making a donation to support the priests and church buildings and facilities is much more widespread and is practiced by more than half of the population.

Orthodox churches

Orthodox service in the Maria Obhut church in Düsseldorf

The Orthodox Churches refer to their celebration of the Eucharist as the Divine Liturgy .

Roman Catholic Church

Procession after a confirmation in Mužlja

In the Roman Catholic Church , the divine service, the Sacra liturgia ( Latin for "holy liturgy"), is understood as the priestly action of Jesus Christ, who is constantly present in his church and includes it in his work. In the liturgy of the church, Jesus Christ himself speaks from the biblical readings, brings about the salvation of people through sensible signs and, united with his community, performs the public worship (cult) of the one and triune God.

The Second Vatican Council , in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium , passed on December 4, 1963, determined the contemporary form and understanding of the liturgy.

The direction of some forms of worship is reserved for a priest , such as the celebration of Holy Mass , the administration of the sacraments and certain blessings and ordinations. Laypeople take part in given roles, such as cantors , acolytes or lecturers . Consecration is not necessary to lead hourly prayer or divine services , but in most cases a special assignment is required. All the faithful are called to participate fully, consciously and actively in liturgical celebrations.

Forms of Roman Catholic worship are:

The so-called Sunday commandment , one of the church commandments , obliges the faithful to devoutly attend Holy Mass on Sunday and on the required holidays.

Lutheran churches

Sermon in a Protestant church in Württemberg

In his Reformation work, Martin Luther was primarily concerned with emphasizing the grace of God and the seriousness of Christian life. He assumed that the old church had been restored by the Reformation . For the divine service, this meant that Luther first tried to achieve the greatest possible continuity in the liturgy . Luther's first liturgical drafts therefore provided for a mass celebration that was almost unchanged compared to the Roman Catholic service : the so-called "swept (= cleaned) mass". Luther only erased those passages that made the performance of the Lord's Supper understood as a renewed sacrifice of Jesus Christ and introduced the German language. Further changes were made in later writings of Luther. Compared to the traditional mass celebrations, the greatest changes occurred in the Eucharistic prayer. Luther himself says about the service on the occasion of the inauguration of the Torgau Castle Church in 1543, "that our Lord speaks to us through his holy word and we in turn with him through prayer and hymns."

The Lutheran churches are based on this understanding and on the language of Martin Luther to this day, so that they speak of both “worship” and “ mass ”. Divine services in all their elements - scripture readings , prayers, sermons , chants , confessions - are generally only celebrated in the national languages; Exceptions only apply to the established liturgical chants - Gloria Patri , Kyrie , Gloria , Sanctus , Agnus Dei - which are sometimes intoned in their ancient church form and language, as well as to newer songs , which also follow certain fashion trends in linguistic terms and are therefore currently often has English texts. The divine service readings follow the pericope order .

Types of worship in Lutheran churches:

Church agendas of the SELK

Baptisms , ordinations, etc. are usually carried out as part of a Sunday service. Exceptions are possible.

Reformed churches

The divine service in churches of the Reformed tradition in Germany is word-heavy, its essential component is the sermon . The liturgy is simple. The Lord's Supper is understood as a memorial meal . Bread and wine are referred to as “signs” of Jesus' devotion on the cross and “seals” of the redemption from sin and eternal death guaranteed by them. Under Zwingli's guidance, the Lord's Supper in Zurich was only celebrated at Christmas, Easter, Whitsun and Parish Fair. Based on this tradition, many congregations plan to celebrate the Lord's Supper only four to five times a year; The usual dates are for the first celebration in the church year Christmas, for the second Maundy Thursday, Good Friday or Easter, as well as for the further Pentecost and Thanksgiving; In some places there is also an invitation to the Lord's Supper in the confirmation services. The proclamation of the word is also at the center of the whole in the sacrament service .

The basic model of the Reformed liturgy is based on the Upper German preaching service . It begins with a Trinitarian vote (in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit) , a biblical vote (often Ps 124,8  LUT , hence also called Adjutorium) and greeting as well as a church song . This is followed by Psalm , which is sometimes sung as eröffnendes community song in a paraphrase, opening prayer with confession , Bible reading , preaching , confession , song, discontinuations , intercession prayer , Our Father , starting song and blessing. - The order between the vote / greeting and the song, between the sermon and the creed and between the starting song and the blessing is regulated differently in the different congregations.

The divine service readings in many congregations follow the pericope order . In addition, "Continua sermons" have also been in use since the Reformation, especially in the Lower Rhine communities. The sermons follow the continuous text of a biblical book. Finally, in other communities neither continuous readings nor pericopes can be observed as an established tradition.

Society of Friends (Quakers)

The interior of the Quaker meeting house at Pardash Hall in England

Quakers , like almost all Protestant denominations, start from the priesthood of all believers . While there were and female preachers among the early Quakers , there are currently pastors in the evangelical directions of Quakerism (especially in the United States and Africa), while there are in liberal directions in Quakerism (especially in the States and in Europe) there are usually no more preachers. In their devotions they want to open themselves to the presence of God. During a mostly one-hour, silent meditation  , anyone who feels driven to do so can take the floor. Devotions by evangelical communities, on the other hand, have a specific sequence; in addition to meditation, they also include prayer, song and sermon.

Old Catholic Church

The service in the Old Catholic Church follows the tradition of the Western Church ( Roman rite ). The same applies to the Anglican Church .


The old Catholic Church celebrates worship - apart from a few minor differences - in the form that corresponds to the regular form of the Roman rite . Since the national language has been used in the liturgy since 1885, the form of the German parish answers is usually older and was retained while other things were changed. These include the following answers:

  • after the first two readings: "So much for the words of the first (second) reading." - "Thank God the Lord!"
  • on the peace greeting: "The Lord's peace be with you always!" - "Peace with us all!"
  • After preparing the gifts: "Pray, brothers and sisters, that our gifts will be accepted by God, the Almighty Father!" - "For his glory and for the salvation of the world."
  • during the dialogue before the Eucharist : "Lift up your hearts!" - "We lift them up to the Lord!"
  • according to the institution report: “Christ died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again! "
  • before communion : “Lord, I am not worthy of you entering under my roof. Just speak one word and my soul will be healed. "
  • on release: “Go in peace!” - “Praise and thanks be to our God!”

In the German Old Catholic Church washing hands and mixing the wine with water are optional when preparing gifts . The priest does a squat only after the Eucharist has finished . The peace greeting can follow the intercessions at the end of the word service . Acolytes are common in congregations with children and young people . What is understood by a high mass in the Roman Catholic Church is rather the exception in the Old Catholic Church, since the parishes are usually of a manageable size and the majority of them prefer simple forms.

Another form of worship is especially the Vespers , which is celebrated regularly in the old church form, as evening praise with light celebration and incense psalm , in some parishes.


The structure of the Eucharistic celebration in the Christian Catholic Church in Switzerland is as follows:

  • The mass is preceded by prayers in preparation (Psalm 24.27 EU ; 122 EU with each closing oration ), followed by the entrance (with versicle ) and confiteor, including absolution.
  • The creed does not follow the homily but the intercession.
  • The Nicano-Constantinopolitanum is exclusively used as a creed .
  • The peace greeting is exchanged before the preparation of the gifts.
  • In memories, the names of those for whom special prayer is given are read out as an intercessory memorial in front of the verses “Pray, brothers and sisters” - “Orate, fratres”.
  • The Lord's Prayer follows the breaking of bread.

The structure of the celebration of Mass in the Christian Catholic Church shows a number of parallels to the Ambrosian rite , while the reading of the noun defunctorum / offerentium in the Western Church can only be found today in the Toledo rite . A prayer for gifts is not provided. The anamnetic acclamation after the institution report is declaratory and therefore not addressed to Christ himself:

"We proclaim the Lord's death and we praise his resurrection until he comes in glory."

Then a bell is given to kneel down during the epicreading . The following acclamation is provided before the doxology , for which the bell rings three times:

"Grant us this, merciful, holy God, that we may praise and praise you through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord."

After the dismissal call , the blessing will be given.

Free Churches

Free church congregations often do not have a formalized liturgy. It comes about by agreement. Exceptions are e.g. B. the Methodist churches and the Moravian Brethren . In many congregations, a relaxed greeting and an information section is followed by a longer time of worship , which is characterized by many songs , readings of biblical texts and freely formulated prayers . Musically, it is not only the organ that takes center stage, but also other keyboard and rhythm instruments . Personal experience reports, so-called “testimonials” , are also common. Many congregations have choirs , singing groups or music bands that help shape the weekly church service. The sermon is the focus. Intercession and blessings conclude the service. In charismatic churches, glossolalia (prayer in tongues) and prophecy also belong to the elements of worship. The Lord's Supper is celebrated regularly - in some free churches weekly ( Brethren congregations ), in some quarterly ( Advent congregations ), in others mostly monthly. In some free churches, however, meals are occasionally held at home. A children's church service is usually offered in parallel for children .

The worship services of some free churches also include regular prayer meetings (such as so-called worship services ). In some free church congregations, the Bible studies also have a divine service character. In some of the younger free churches, such as Willow Creek (USA), Hillsong (Australia) or International Christian Fellowship (Europe), church services are consistently celebrated with the possibilities of current event culture (music, light, sound, video projection). The tradition of the main weekly service borrows heavily from the culture of worship services.


The Islam meant by worship ( Ibada ) subordination and submission to the will of God. The Islamic ritual prayer takes place five times a day.

The Friday prayer (Arabic: ṣalāt al-ǧumʿa) is compulsory for adolescent and adult male Muslims and is performed collectively in the mosque. Compared to the ritual prayers that take place on other days, it is expanded to include a sermon ( Chuṭba ). In traditional Islamic communities, there is a separate women's section in the mosque for women to take part in Friday prayers, which is usually not or only with difficulty for men to see.


Hindu worship ( puja ) in front of a house altar of the elephant god Ganesh in Odisha . The drawing on the floor made of white rice flour is called kolam .

Since the Puranas , an additional yoga emerged in Hinduism: the bhakti , the loving devotion to a personal God, became the most important element of religiosity for many Hindus. The most popular form of worship is worshiping God in a picture or emblem as part of a puja , the traditional worship ceremony that often takes place in the home. The believer can choose in which of the many forms he wants to worship the divine, although family traditions play a role here. Pujas can basically be performed by anyone. A formal, public puja follows a strict rite, which is mostly based on the Samhitas (belongs to the Vedas ), Agamas, Tantras , and ritual manuals. The procedure of a puja varies according to school type and region. There are also Yajnas, fire ceremonies for the worship of ancestors and ancient Indian gods, which are reserved only for Brahmins and are carried out, for example, at a Hindu wedding .

There is also the possibility of worship in the temple. The beginning and the end are open, each temple develops its own process. The central aspect of Hindu worship is darshan , the mutual sight of believers and God. Usually the visit to the temple is connected with an offering.


See also

Different forms of worship

Technical terms


  • Catholic:
    • About the appropriate arrangement of the ancient Catholic worship service and the salutary use of the Latin language in it: a familiar, peaceful letter from an old Catholic clergyman to a young friend who, misled by TS Grachus, would also like to reform. Schreiner, Düsseldorf 1832 digitized
    • Adolf Adam : floor plan of the liturgy. 3. Edition. Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) et al. 1988, ISBN 3-451-20489-4 .
    • Romano Guardini : From the spirit of the liturgy (= Ecclesia orans. Bdch. 1, ZDB -ID 569840-6 ). Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) 1918, (21st edition, unaltered reprint of the 19th edition in 1957. Matthias-Grünewald-Verlag et al., Ostfildern et al. 2007, ISBN 978-3-7867-2684-5 ).
    • Hans Bernhard Meyer , Hansjörg Auf der Maur , Balthasar Fischer , Angelus A. Häußling, Bruno Kleinheyer (eds.): Church service. Handbook of liturgical science. 8 volumes. Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 1983–1999, ISBN 3-7917-0884-8 (complete edition).
    • Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger : The Spirit of the Liturgy. An introduction. 4th edition. Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) et al. 2000, ISBN 3-451-27247-4 .
    • Thomas Schumacher: The celebration of the Eucharist. Liturgical processes - historical developments - theological significance. Pneuma-Verlag, Munich 2009, ISBN 978-3-942013-00-0 .
  • Evangelical:
    • Evangelical service book. Pocket edition. Evangelical Main Bible Society, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-7461-0141-7 .
    • Peter Bukowski , Arend Klompmaker, Christiane Nolting, Alfred Rauhaus , Friedrich Thiele (eds.): Reformed Liturgy. Prayers and ordinances for the community gathered under the word. Foedus, Wuppertal 1999, ISBN 3-932735-36-6 (also: NeukirchenerVerlag, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1999, ISBN 3-7887-1777-7 ), therein: Alfred Rauhaus: Introduction. Pp. 23-32.
    • Mathias Christiansen (Ed.): Almanac of the good news. A companion through the church year. Monsenstein and Vannerdat, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-86582-219-3 .
    • Gerhard Hennig: The Protestant church service in Württemberg. Evangelical Upper Church Council, Stuttgart 1989.
  • Free Churches
    • Heinrich Derksen: Understanding of divine service in Russian-German free churches. EVA, Leipzig, 2016, ISBN 978-3-374-04558-7 .
  • Missional:

Web links

Commons : Christian Worship  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Divine service  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Mauricio Manuel Dessauer, Ulrich Michael Lohse: Everything you always wanted to know about Judaism - and didn't dare to ask . Pelican Pub., Fehmarn 2006, ISBN 978-3-934522-13-8 , pp. 48 .
  2. Annette Böckler: Jewish worship. Essence and structure . Jüdische Verlagsanstalt, Berlin 2002, ISBN 3-934658-19-9 , pp. 17-20 .
  3. Minyan . In: Michael Berenbaum, Fred Skolnik (Ed.): Encyclopaedia Judaica . 2nd Edition. tape 14 . Macmillan Reference USA, Detroit 2007, pp. 302 ( Online: Gale Virtual Reference Library ).
  4. ^ Jonathan A. Romain, Walter Homolka, Annette Böckler: Progressives Judentum. Life and teaching . Knesebeck, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-89660-046-X , p. 128 ff .
  5. Leo Trepp: The Jewish service. Shape and development . 2nd Edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-17-018079-7 , pp. 43-91 .
  6. Eduard Kopp: Lots of trends and figures from the two big churches in Germany. In: . April 30, 2010, accessed May 27, 2020 .
  7. ^ Mass liturgy and hymn book of the Christian Catholic Church. 2nd edition, Christkatholischer Schriftenverlag, Allschwil 1984, pp. 6-55.
  8. ^ Marianne Stirnimann: Handout for altar boys. (pdf; 879 kB) Office for Catechetics of the Christian Catholic Church in Switzerland, November 26, 2008, accessed on May 27, 2020 .
  9. Handbook for Congregation Congregation. 2nd edition, 2006.
  10. Axel Michaels: Hinduism, past and present . CH Beck, Munich 1998, p. 266.
  11. Axel Michaels: Hinduism, past and present. CH Beck, Munich 1998, p. 254.