An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


The church’s public worship of God. The term is derived from Greek words for “people” and “work.” The church’s public worship of God is the work of the Christian people. The life of Christ active in the church by the Spirit is expressed through liturgy.

In ancient Greece, liturgy indicated work done for the public at private expense. Such public works were not necessarily religious in nature. The Septuagint uses the term for divine worship. In the NT, the term is identified with an act of service or ministry (Phil 2:30).

The unity of the members of the church in Christ is expressed most fully in liturgy. Liturgy expresses the church’s identity and mission, including the church’s calling to invite others and to serve with concern for the needs of the world. Whether the liturgy is done by many or few, it is the corporate liturgy of the whole church. Liturgy does not include private devotions or acts of piety by individuals and groups. For example, saying the Rosary is not a liturgy.

Liturgy is sacramental. Outward and visible realities are used to express the inward and spiritual realities of God’s presence in our lives. Liturgy reflects the belief of incarnational theology that tangible and finite things may reveal divine grace and glory. By the Spirit, through liturgy, the church manifests the love of God and the unity we share in Christ. This loving unity was shared by the Father and the Son, and it is offered to all Christian believers. Liturgy is a public and social event. It engages our lives and faith, our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and needs-especially our need for salvation in Christ. Liturgy includes actions and words, symbols and ritual, scriptures and liturgical texts, gestures and vestments, prayers that are spoken or sung. It is also shaped by the seasons, feasts, and fasts of the calendar of the church year and the lectionaries for the Holy Eucharist and the Daily Office (BCP, pp. 15-33, 888-1001). Liturgy is to involve the various members and ministries of the church so that all are drawn together into one living expression of divine worship. It expresses what we believe and know about God, including belief and knowledge that cannot be completely stated in words.

The term “liturgy” may refer to the rites or texts that order the church’s worship. It may indicate in particular the eucharist, which is also known as the Divine Liturgy (BCP, p. 859). In eastern Christianity, the term is applied more narrowly to the eucharist and not to other rites of divine worship. In the west, it includes all public rites and offices of the church.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.