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date: 15 November 2019

Liturgy and liturgical bookslocked

  • Joseph Dyer,
  • Kenneth Levy
  •  and Dimitri Conomos


Liturgy understood as a framework for the communal worship of God has a history in the Christian tradition (the scope of this entry) that stretches back to New Testament times, viz. the apostle Paul’s description of a communal agapē (1 Cor xi:20-26). The development of the liturgy during the first centuries of the Christian era is poorly documented; modern understanding of ritual and prayer formulae depends on references in patristic writings and the ‘church orders’ that emerged in the late 4th century. The latter are preserved, often fragmentarily, in their original languages and in multiple translations (Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Georgian, Ge’ez [Ethiopian], or Latin). They describe rites for baptism, ordination, and the Eucharist, as well as codes of ecclesiastical discipline.

What one might call ‘juridical’ definitions of liturgy emphasize its public and officially sanctioned status as something approved by competent ecclesiastical authorities, international, national, or local. A certain level of structural or verbal fixity is implied. Even those Reformation traditions (Calvinist, Presbyterian, Baptist) that favour spontaneous prayer inspired by the Spirit over ‘set’ forms of prayer situate these within a conventional structure that admits degrees of flexibility. A juridical definition of liturgy tends to separate it from other manifestations of piety, whether private or public....

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