Liturgy Matters — What is liturgy?

By Dr. Judy Bullock

Judy-Bullock-2013-wWhy do Catholics refer to church services as liturgies?

Liturgy is a comprehensive term which not only includes the Celebration of the Eucharist (Mass), the source and summit of all the activity of the church, but also all celebrations of the sacraments, daily prayer, etc.

The word “liturgy” has its origin in the New Testament formation of the church or ecclesia. It originates from the Greek word leitourgia, which means the public work of and for the people. In the world of the New Testament church this term would have referred to public works, e.g. roads, law enforcement, utilities.

This term was soon adapted by the early church to describe Christian gatherings since these were understood to have a similar purpose, the building up of the church. It is what Christians do: their prayer and good works to praise God and to benefit the people.

Why do Catholics call Sunday services “Mass?”

On Sunday, Catholics are called by God to come together for a Celebration of the Eucharist. The “Mass,” the term more commonly used to refer to this celebration, is the name given to the liturgical service on Sunday and weekdays consisting of a celebration of Word and Sacrament.

This ancient term originates from the Latin phrase for the dismissal, “ite, missa est,” a phrase meaning, “being sent forth” or “missioned.”

When Mass begins, Catholics prepare their minds and hearts to hear the word of God and celebrate God’s transformation of the bread and wine and of the people. They listen to the proclamation of the Scriptures, hear the connection of liturgy to life in the preaching of the homily, and respond in the profession of the creed and petitions.

They bring forth the gifts, offer themselves with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and engage in the prayer of blessing and consecration of the bread and wine. They share in the sacrament of Christ’s Body and Blood and are sent out to live the Gospel.

The mission of being sent out to be Christ in the world is so central to Christianity that the entire liturgical service is named in response to this mission.

What constitutes the form of a Mass?

The Mass begins with an Introductory Rite to unite the people, prepare them to listen to the word of God in the Scriptures and to celebrate the Eucharist.

The main parts of the Mass are the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Together these two make one act of worship.

The Liturgy of the Word includes the proclamation of Scripture, periods of silent reflection, responses by the people, preaching, the recitation of the creed and intercessory prayer for the world.

The main parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist include the presentation of the bread and wine and gifts for the poor, the preparation of the altar, the great Eucharistic Prayer of praise, thanksgiving, transformation and intercession, and the final preparation for and distribution of Holy Communion.

The Concluding Rite includes a blessing and a rite of dismissal or sending forth.

Dr. Judy Bullock is the director of the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Worship.

1 Comment

  • REMIGIUS NDAMINAGANI says:

    Thank you,

    for your reference which, keept me to grow spiriyually as well as I am proceeding with my formation for priesthood life! as a seminarian at kibosho major seminary East africa . Kilimanjaro Tanzania

    be blessed.

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