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Christ with the Eucharistic figures
Confirmation celebration in Hildesheim
Liturgical Kaddish prayer in Jerusalem to commemorate the dead at the grave

The term liturgy (from ancient Greek λειτουργία leiturgía , German 'public service' , from λαός / λεώς / λειτός laós, leōs, leitós , German 'people' , 'crowd' and ἔργον érgon , German 'work' , 'service') denotes the Order and totality of the religious ceremonies and rites of the Jewish and Christian worship . In an analogous way of speaking, the term is sometimes used for the order of religious celebrations and practices of other religions .

The celebration of the liturgy serves to worship God and to deepen the church's faith. The liturgy encompasses the entire worship service: prayer , reading and proclamation , singing , gestures , movement and vestments , liturgical implements , symbols and symbolic acts, the dispensing of sacraments and sacramentals .


The Judaism understands liturgy all designed worship of the three daily prayers Shacharit (morning prayer), Mincha (afternoon prayer) and Maariv (evening prayer) on the Sabbath services to the holidays . The Jewish liturgy includes the cantillation of the Torah (see Teamim ), singing and prayer.

The center of the Jewish liturgy is the reading of the Torah, which is divided into 54 sections, so-called parashot. On the last day of the week, during the Sabbath service, a parasha is read aloud.


Originally the word referred to the service of wealthy citizens to the poor, which included both feeding the poor and the establishment of public entertainment. Cultic services could also be called this way. In the Septuagint , both the Jewish temple service and the pagan cult are referred to as leitourgia . From here the term found its way into Greek Christianity , although the term has only been used as a designation for Christian worship since the 9th century. The Latinized liturgia did not come into use in the Western Church until the late Middle Ages. Against this background, liturgy is not to be equated with the talk of cult and ritual , although from a religious and scientific perspective the liturgy is to be assigned to these as a special form.

The separation of liturgy on the one hand and worship on the other hand is problematic, as there are a number of historical, theological and simply regional reasons for using these two terms either synonymously or differentially. Martin Luther , who had a decisive influence on the German language, translated the Greek word leitourgia as 'God's service'. His translation also expresses that worship for man means first and foremost God's service to man, i.e. first gift and grace from God himself. Liturgy only means in a second step man's response to God's service to man. “We want to love because he first loved us” ( 1 Jn 4:19  EU ).

Mainly in Protestant circles and congregations, a talk of the liturgy has become established for those parts of the service that have their place before and after the sermon - as if the sermon were less liturgical. This means that a more ritualized reference is made to liturgy , a distinction that the Catholics do not understand. Here, on the other hand, a factual differentiation would have to be made between the talk of “worship” as a colloquial custom and liturgy as the standard language of the officials.

Liturgy is never of a private nature, but rather a celebration and the life of the Church . It is therefore to be distinguished from profane gatherings and private prayer . In addition to the Sunday and weekday church liturgies and the casualia ( baptism , marriage and funeral ), parts of the congregation, communities (e.g. convents ) or groups celebrate other forms of liturgy such as the prayer of the hours .

Early Christianity

No complete divine service orders are known from early Christianity , as the design of the celebrations was still in development and also varied depending on the congregation. Early Christian worship was probably influenced to a greater or lesser extent by Jewish worship in the synagogue and also included reading and interpreting the canonical scriptures and breaking bread . There was also a tradition of the liturgical washing of feet .

By means of literary criticism , common liturgical stylistic elements can be worked out in the New Testament texts: for example, songs of Christ (e.g. Philippians 2.5–11  EU ) or elements of a creed in 1 Corinthians 15  EU ; Paul also quotes in 1 Corinthians 11  EU traditional words of institution for the Lord's Supper . In the early writings of the Church Fathers (e.g. Justin the Martyr ) and in the Didache there are numerous references to the processes of liturgical acts or instructions.

Catholic liturgy

Celebration of Holy Mass
Good Friday liturgy in Heiligenkreuz Abbey

The liturgy arose from the historical development of the Church; one of the first lines leads to the Old Testament . One motive for the exodus of the people of God from captivity in Egypt was not only to reach the promised land, but also God's command to the Pharaoh:

“Say to Pharaoh: Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you and lets you say: Let my people go, so that they can worship me in the desert. Until now you didn't want to hear. "

- ( Ex 7.16  EU )

The Pharaoh then allowed an unspecified sacrifice ceremony. But Moses insisted - executing the command of God - that an excerpt was necessary for the cult, since he could not place the cult under the formula of political compromises. Israel eventually set out not to be a people like everyone else but to serve their God . After the exodus, the people on Mount Sinai received from God not only a first comprehensive legal and life order, but also cult instructions.

Claims that the Catholic Church understands liturgy primarily as the order of Holy Mass fall short of the mark. At the Second Vatican Council , the Council Fathers promulgated the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium . There it says:

"In the liturgy, especially in the holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, the work of our redemption takes place, and so it contributes in the highest measure to the fact that the life of the faithful becomes the expression and revelation of the mystery of Christ and the very essence of the true Church."

As a result, the Catholic understanding of liturgy is not primarily concerned with the precise regulation of individual rite sequences, but with the essential execution of the church. The Codex iuris canonici (CIC) formulates this in the following way:

“The Church fulfills the sanctification service in a special way through the sacred liturgy, which is to be regarded as the exercise of the priestly ministry of Jesus Christ; in it the sanctification of people is designated by sensual signs and is effected in their own way, as well as the mystical body of Jesus Christ, head and members, and the unbreakable official worship. "

- CIC 1983, Can. 834 § 1

Statements about the liturgy can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church under numbers 1066 ff.

The forms used in the Latin Church for the individual celebrations can be found in the liturgical books of the Roman rite ( Missale Romanum , Rituale Romanum , large book of hours ) that were revised as part of the liturgical reform (and translated into the national languages ). The Catholic liturgy also includes the liturgies of the various Eastern Churches associated with Rome , which follow their own oriental rites .

Order liturgy

Religious liturgies are the special historical forms of the Roman rite in various orders, for example the Carthusian , Dominican , Premonstratensian , Cistercian .

Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox liturgies

The liturgies celebrated by the various Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches are divided into different liturgical families ( rites ): Byzantine Rite , West Syrian Rite , Chaldean Rite , Alexandrian Rite (divided into the Coptic and Ethiopian Rite ), and Armenian Rite .

The Eastern Church rite best known in the West is probably the Byzantine Rite, which goes back to the Church of Constantinople ( Byzantium ). For the celebration of the Eucharist , the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom ; there is also the liturgy of St. Basil ( Basilius-Anaphora ), which until the turn of the first millennium was more important and is still celebrated in unchanged form ten days a year, namely on the day of St.Basil (January 1), on the eve of Christmas (25. December) and the festival of Epiphany (January 6th), on five Sundays of the great Lent , Maundy Thursday and Holy Saturday . A communion celebration is also known: the liturgy of the pre-consecrated gifts (mainly on Wednesdays and Fridays during the great Lent).

Of course, the other sacramental celebrations customary in churches of the Catholic type are not missing: baptism, priestly ordination, marriage, etc., as well as the hours of prayer and festive divine services and blessings of all kinds. What all Eastern rites have in common is that they originated before the middle of the first millennium and have been practical since then have remained unchanged. In fact, however, its history is no less eventful than that of the Western liturgies before the Reformation . The Eastern Churches united with Rome generally celebrate the liturgy, albeit with more or less noticeable deviations, in their traditional Eastern Church rite.

Evangelical liturgy

Last Supper in the Evangelical Dreikönigskirche in Frankfurt am Main

For the member churches of the VELKD and the former EKU there is a common divine service order in Germany, which is contained in the Protestant divine service book. The service book is based on the "principle of a fixed basic structure in variable form", which is intended to guide the use of the agenda independently (Evangelisches Gottesdienstbuch, p. 17). The starting point for these variants are two different historical basic forms: the type of Protestant mass and the Upper German sermon service.

On the same historical basis, other German regional churches have their own divine service orders and agendas, such as the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau , the Evangelical Church of Kurhessen-Waldeck , the Evangelical Church in Baden , the Evangelical Church of the Palatinate .

In the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church ( SELK ), the services are celebrated liturgically according to the Evangelical Lutheran Church Agenda, which is a decidedly Lutheran, i.e. based on the Protestant mass.

The evangelical reformed churches have developed their worship structure on the basis of the Upper German sermon worship service, in which there are hardly any chants between liturgists and congregations. It is only in the last few decades that the term “liturgy” has been used here again. In the Swiss Reformed tradition, the liturgy was repeatedly redesigned. In the past few decades a five-part structure has developed which - with all the creative freedom - seems to have proven itself. This structure can be easily compared with that of the Latin rhetoric ( Cicero ) as well as with the structure of the classical Aristotelian theater and essentially comprises: collection - praise and worship - reading and sermon - intercession (Lord's Supper) - mission and blessing. The comparison with the Latin or Greek tradition can be seen in the fact that a comparable form of dramaturgy can be observed from the introit to the redeeming, blessing conclusion. This (binding) structure of the liturgy allows a multitude of design options. For this reason, models have recently been developed according to which church services are also understood as communicative occasions and are designed accordingly.

In some free churches the word liturgy is frowned upon because the term is too closely related to tradition , but most of them still have an order for the sacrament service (with a few exceptions such as the Quakers ). Nevertheless, a ritualized process can be recognized in almost all communities, which is what characterizes the liturgy: as a service to the community.

The central position of the sermon is a characteristic of all main Protestant forms of worship. Whether this is understood in relation to the liturgy or as a part of it differs in the various directions. The upgrading of the community in terms of participation in the worship service was also historically significant.

New Apostolic Liturgy

The liturgy of the New Apostolic Church initially (until around 1885) corresponded to that of the Catholic Apostolic congregations , which contained elements of the rite of the Catholic and Anglican churches.

Under the influence of Dutch Calvinism , the focus of worship shifted to word worship around 1885. Even today, the sermons usually make up the largest part of the service. Occasionally there are still rudiments of the Catholic-Apostolic tradition in the New Apostolic liturgy, for example the “triple amen” (liturgical chant at the end of the service). Until 1998 the Lord's Supper was only celebrated on Sundays and church holidays; since 1998, the Lord's Supper has also been celebrated in other church services.

On the 1st of Advent 2010 an extension of the liturgy of the New Apostolic Church came into force. One of the goals of this reform was to make the celebration of Holy Communion more worthy. For this purpose, the liturgical texts were also revised and standardized, some of which had previously shown regional differences.

Modern crisis and liturgical renewal

In view of the increasing appreciation of spontaneity and authenticity, many scholars speak of the incapacity of modern man to liturgy. On the other hand, new community rituals and paraliturgies are developing in many areas of life (sporting events, media) .

However, there is also a liturgical renewal and rediscovery. This includes, for example, the Berneuchen movement (“Michaelsbrüder”) or the chants of Taizé .

Liturgical science and rubricistics

The aim of liturgy or liturgical science ( scientia liturgica ) is to penetrate the liturgical celebrations and actions spiritually, to explain their origin, their history, their meaning and to promote their proper and lively implementation by the ruler and the community. The rubricistics or ceremonial doctrine, i.e. the rite of worship, aims to explain the external ceremonies and rites and to explain the form according to which the liturgical acts should take place. These explanations are called rubrics because they are mostly written in red in liturgical books to distinguish them from liturgical texts.

See also


Protestant churches

  • Albrecht Grözinger : The Church - Can It Still Be Saved? Incitement for Christianity in postmodern society. Kaiser, Gütersloh 1998, ISBN 3-579-01902-3 .
  • Martin Peier-Plüss: Liturgical dramaturgy. Dialogical aspects for church services. In the S. (Ed.): Taken at the word. Communication in worship and media. TVZ, Zurich 2007, ISBN 978-3-290-17420-0 .
  • Ralph Kunz : Church service reformed evangelically. Liturgy and liturgy in the Zwinglis Church . Pano-Verlag, Zurich 2006, ISBN 3-907576-89-6 (plus habilitation thesis, University of Bonn 2000).
  • Alfred Ehrensperger: Divine service. Visions, experiences, pain points. Theological Verlag, Zurich 1988, ISBN 3-290-10026-X .
  • Alfred Ehrensperger: Lively Divine Service. Contributions to the liturgy. TVZ, Zurich 2003, ISBN 3-290-17254-6 .
  • Karl-Heinrich Bieritz : Liturgy. DeGruyter, Berlin 2004, ISBN 978-3-11-017957-6 .

Roman Catholic Church


English-language literature

  • Archdale A. King: Liturgies of the religious orders. Longmans, Green & Co, London 1956. Reprint: Nova et Vetera, Bonn 2005, ISBN 3-936741-31-X .
  • Rainer Schacke: Learning from Willow Creek? Church Services for Seekers in German Milieu Contexts. Cuvillier, Göttingen 2009, ISBN 978-3-86955-104-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Liturgy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Cyrus Adler, Ludwig Blau:  Liturgy. In: Isidore Singer (Ed.): Jewish Encyclopedia . Volume 8, Funk and Wagnalls, New York 1901-1906, pp.  132-140 .
    Salomon Almekias-Siegl: Spirituality: The power of smells. In: Jüdische Allgemeine . February 22, 2018, accessed October 9, 2018 . Elischa Portnoy: Prayer: Out there. In: Jüdische Allgemeine. March 17, 2017. Retrieved October 9, 2018 .
  2. ^ Nora Zender, Annett Martini: Jewish liturgy, Torah and festivals. November 11, 2014, accessed October 9, 2018 .
  3. ^ Albert Friedlander : Jewish and Christian Liturgy: Encounter or Opposition? In: Albert Gerhards , HH Hendricks (ed.): Dialogue or monologue? On the liturgical relationship between Judaism and Christianity . Freiburg 2004, p. 50-69 .
  4. Origen mentions the washing of feet, which "the bishop performed on certain days following the example of Christ" in Hom. 6.3 (GCS 33, 269).
  5. Georg Galitis u. a .: Faith from the Heart - An Introduction to Orthodoxy 2nd Edition, TR-Verlagsunion, Munich 1988, p. 130
  6. The Reformed Liturgy of the Evangelical Reformed Churches in Germany dates from 1999.
  7. ^ The liturgy of the New Apostolic Church from 1st Advent 2010. In: New Apostolic Church International. November 8, 2010, accessed October 29, 2014 .