Originally posted by darvlay
A Quick Survey of the Origins of Liturgy
I've never understood the necessity of liturgy or its biblical origins. That would be a thread I would love to read.
Originally posted by lucifershammer
Quite simply, the Mass (or liturgy) has two parts:
1. Liturgy of ...[text shortened]... ly necessary? I.e. commanded by God. If not, why does it remain?
Western Catholic liturgy (that includes Roman Catholic, liturgical Lutherans and Episcopalians,
and the [very!] rare Presbyterian, among a few other isolated denominations) derive their
liturgical structure from the basic elements of liturgy which were codified between the 5th and
Essentially, as Lucifershammer stated, the Mass is divided into two parts, 1) the Liturgy of the
Word; and 2) the Liturgy of the Eucharist. There is a brief series of Introductory Rites (Greeting,
Penitential Rite, Opening Prayer) and a closing Rite (Blessing and Dismissal), but the bulk of the
service comes from ones mentioned above.
Both of them have demonstrably ancient origins. The Liturgy of the Word resembles synagogue
practices before the time of Christ. Remembering that the earliest Christians were indeed Jewish
(some groups felt that only
Jews could be Christians; see Galatians for that debate). St
James (the brother of Jesus) headed what is known as the 'Jerusalem Church' before his
martyrdom in the 60s (I think...). He was an influential leader and, no doubt, strived to maintain
some form of Jewish practice. This practice was, no doubt, continued by his followers.
Some scholars tie this practice with the group of Christians who had a specific emphasis on what
. They felt that Jesus was the 'Divine Teacher,' the mouth of God who came down to
give humankind a message on how to live. This sort of mentality is preserved in the theoretical
source 'Q' and the Gospel of St Thomas (that is, 'Sayings Gospels'
. This group was not
particularly concerned with 'what Jesus did' or 'what Jesus represented.'
The Liturgy of the Eucharist, which derives its essential elements from the Synoptic Gospel
accounts, is (by necessity) only as old as Christianity. However, it is clear that this reenactment
of the 'Last Supper' was in effect very early on. The Didache -- a non-Scriptural source from the
early 2nd century -- makes explicit reference of a proto-liturgical Eucharist.
This nascent liturgy had a very basic format (i.e., just the 'Words of Institution'
and was called
. This derived from the word used in Johanine writings to describe the essential
nature of God (love) and, as such, it is translated as 'Love Feast.'
Some scholars surmise that, in contrast with the group above, these Christians were less concerned
with 'Jesus the Teacher' but with 'Jesus the Son of God.' They were convinced that the Parousia
was imminent and were 'celebrating' His imminent return.
Over time, these two theo-philosophies became joined; each saw the merits of the other means of
worship (that is, both 'Jesus the Teacher' and 'Jesus the Son of God' deserved attention), so they
With the legalization of Christianity in the 4th century and the writings of the Church Fathers who
began to solidify the theology of the Church, and with the subsequent 'Barbarian Invasions' (or,
Nomadic Infiltration), we begin to see our first liturgical books, such as the Verona Sacramentary
(5th century?), the Gallican and Gelasian Sacramentries (6th-7th century?), the Bobbio Missal (7th
century?) and others. With Charlemagne's reforms at the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th
century (and, to be sure, Pippin's before him and Louis after), we see the increasing unificiation of
the Western Liturgy and many more liturgical codices and manuscripts. For the most part, the
Rite of the 8th-century Church looks more or less the way it does today. Most of the variety was
in the details -- which 'chants' were used where, which saints were celebrated on what day, and
Why is Liturgy important?
Liturgy literally means 'work of the people;' the religious services are part of a Christian's duty to
God and to him/herself. For God, He deserves praise, acknowledgement and thanksgiving. For
humankind, the Christians need forgiveness, guidance, and instruction.
Liturgy provides a
means for it. That it is repetitious should not be surprising. The idea of
repeating gestures is elemental to every faith. For example, on the microscopic scale, the Buddhist
repeats a mantra over and over to focus his/her mind.
The familiar structure of liturgy is a double-edged sword. It can lead to mindlessness -- an auto-
pilot mode in which the 'faithful' are not inspired -- or it can lead to mindfulness. By utilizing a
structure which is demonstrably ancient, Christians literally touch with their forebears; through the
Liturgies of Word and Eucharist, they connect themselves to the seeds of what the first Christians
did, including Christ (if you accept that there is at least some
historicity to the Last Supper).
By hearing readings and sermons, one is ideally instructed and inspired to live a Christ-like life;
by communing in the Bread/Wine (or Body/Blood, depending on one's theology), one 'nourishes
the soul,' feeding upon the essence of God (i.e., Love).
In short, one gets out of Liturgy what one puts into it. If you are just coming to 'fulfill an
obligation,' then it's going to be relatively meaningless. If you are just coming to be 'entertained,'
then it's going to be a show. If you are coming to join in a community, to perform your 'work,'
of Penitence, Praise, Instruction and Inspiration, then you will get those things out of it.
As it pertains to Christianity, one has an obligation to gather as a group and worship in some
capacity. The early Christians -- those closest to Jesus -- had some specific ideas about the
appropriate ways to do that. While the seeds of those ways are in Catholic liturgy, but what one
specifically experiences today was neither directly authorized by Jesus nor does it resemble what
the earliest Christians were doing; it was the product of hundreds of years of development, cross-
fertilization, mandate, and refinement.
Just my 2-pence worth.
*Others may have information about Eastern Rites which are largely similar, but have lots of
minutae which I don't know about.