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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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denotes all the ceremonies in general belonging to divine service. The word comes from the Greek, λειτουργια , public service, or public ministry; formed of λειτυς , public, and εργον , work. In a more restrained signification, liturgy is used among the Romanists to signify the mass; and among us the common prayer. All who have written on liturgies agree that, in primitive days, divine service was exceedingly simple, clogged with very few ceremonies, and consisted of but a very small number of prayers; but, by degrees, they increased the number of ceremonies, and added new prayers, to render the office more awful and venerable to the people. At length, things were carried to such a pitch that a regulation became necessary; and it was found needful to put the service, and the manner of performing it, into writing; and this was what they called a liturgy. Liturgies have been different at different times and in different countries. We have the liturgy of St. Chrysostom, of St. Peter, the Armenian liturgy, Gallican liturgy, &c. "The properties required in a public liturgy," says Paley, "are these: it must be compendious; express just conceptions of the divine attributes; recite such wants as a congregation are likely to feel, and no other; and contain as few controverted propositions as possible." The liturgy of the church of England was composed A.D. 1547, and established in the second year of King Edward VI. In the fifth year of this prince, it was reviewed, because some things were contained in that liturgy which showed a compliance with the superstitions of those times; and exceptions were taken against it by learned men at home, and by Calvin abroad. Some alterations were made in it, which consisted in adding the general confession and absolution, and the communion service, to begin with the commandments. The use of oil in confirmation and extreme unction, was left out, and also prayers for souls departed, and what related to a belief of the real presence of Christ in the eucharist. The liturgy, so reformed, was established by the acts of 5th and 6th of Edward VI, chap. 1. However, it was abolished by Queen Mary, who enacted that the service should stand as it was commonly used in the last year of King Henry VIII. That of Edward VI, was reestablished, with some few alterations, by Elizabeth. Some farther alterations were introduced, in consequence of the review of the Common Prayer Book, by order of King James, in the first year of his reign, particularly in the office of private baptism, in several rubrics, and other passages, with the addition of five or six new prayers and thanksgivings, and all that part of the catechism which contains the doctrines of the sacraments. This Book of Common Prayer, so altered, remained in force from the first year of King James to the fourteenth of Charles II. The last review of the liturgy was in the year 1661. It as an invidious cavil, says Dr. Nichols, that our liturgy was compiled out of popish books. Our reformers took nothing from them, but what was taken before from the oldest writers. We have many things out of the Greek liturgies of Basil and Chrysostom; more out of the litanies of Ambrose and Gregory; very much out of the ancient forms of the church dispersed in the works of the fathers, who wrote long before the Roman Breviary, and Canon of the Mass. Our Reformers added many prayers, and thanksgivings, and exhortations, to supply the defect.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Liturgy'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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