“The liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the font from which all her power flows.” (Vatican Council II, Sacrosanctum Concilium)
“The word ‘liturgy’ originally meant a ‘public work’ or a ‘service in the name of/on behalf of the people.’ In Christian tradition it means the participation of the People of God in ‘the work of God. Through the liturgy Christ, our redeemer and high priest, continues the work of our redemption in, with, and through his Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1069)
Liturgical Prayer is public prayer that follows prescribed ritual formulas. Liturgical prayer is prayer for the salvation of the world. It can be distinguished from Devotional prayer, which is intended to unite the individual with God through Christ.
The ritual of public prayer includes not only prescribed texts, but also gestures, garments, symbols and materials such as bread and wine, candles, ashes, palms, oils and other symbolic elements. For Catholics, liturgical prayer includes the Scriptures, the seven Sacraments (especially the Eucharist), the Divine Office, and prescribed prayers and services for special occasions.
The liturgy of the Catholic Church had its origins in the liturgical practices of the Jews in the first century. When Luke tells us in Acts 3:42 that the earliest Jewish followers of Christ in Jerusalem “devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” it is most likely that this “breaking of the bread” was an adaptation of the Jewish shabbat which was a thanksgiving prayer celebrated with bread and wine in small groups, usually families, on Friday evenings. And when later Eucharistic practices were developed in the early centuries, they drew their formulas from the Synagogue services—especially from the Passover Seder services.
In the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries, liturgical prayers and formulas were developed in the various languages throughout the middle East: Greek, Syrian, Latin, Alexandrian, Antiochean, etc. These were the origins of the various Eastern rites, which have fluorished in the Middle East ever since. The Latin rite, which was the basis for Western liturgy today, grew out of services in Rome and Alexandria.
Although the earliest versions of these liturgical prayers drew upon the Jewish berakah (thanksgiving) formulas, they quickly became embellished with Christian themes based on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Samples of Liturgical Prayers
You can find additional information about Liturgical Prayer in these resources:
- Sacrosanctum Conculium, The Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, from the Second Vatican Council, in The Conciliar and Post-Consiliar Documents, ed. by Austin Flannery, O.P., Costello Publishing, 2004.
- The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer, ed. by Brian Spinks, Liturgical Press, 2004.
- Liturgical Prayer: Its History and Spirit, by Fernand Cabrol, 1925, republished by Scahuffler Press, 2008.
- Daily Liturgical Prayer: Origins and Theology, Gregory Woolfenden, Ashgate Publishing, 2004.
- Pope Francis and the Liturgy: The Call to Holiness and Mission by Kevin W. Irwin, (Paulist Press 2019)
- Read Ron Rolheiser’s distinction between liturgical prayer and devotional prayer in the website above. This understanding should enhance your experience of both kinds of prayer.
- Volunteer to serve on your parish’s liturgy or worship committee, both to learn more about excellent worship and to assist with planning worship services.