The word liturgy refers to the organized, public worship of the Christian church. The word itself comes from the Greek leitourgia, meaning a service performed for the community by a wealthy benefactor - in this case, the sacrifice offered to God the Father by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The word rite is used to designate a particular arrangement of divine services, and the words, actions and theology that accompany them. Thus, the organized worship of much of the Catholic Church follows the Roman Rite - historically, the liturgy of the city of Rome and its patriarch-bishop, the Pope. Of equal dignity with the Roman Rite are the various Eastern Rites, derived from liturgies of the ancient cities of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria and Jerusalem. These liturgies are used by both the Catholic Church and the various Orthodox churches. The widest-spread and most commonly used of the Eastern Rites is the Byzantine Rite, the liturgy of Constantinople.
These pages describe the liturgies of the Byzantine Rite as performed in the Byzantine Catholic Church, which came to the United States of America with Ruthenian or Rusyn immigrants from the Carpathian mountain region of Europe. (See History of Ruthenian Liturgy.) Much of what is described here also applies to the various Greek, Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches and their services.
The Cycles of the Liturgy
Christian worship is the Act by which the created universe - all things visible and invisible - is presented to God in praise and thanksgiving, and receives back in turn "all good things". This worship is an encounter with God the Father, mediated by the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. In this encounter, human beings discover both their true place in the universe, and their dignity as creatures made in the image of God -- and receive gifts to enable them to recapture the likeness to God lost in the Fall.
The liturgy takes place, first of all, in heaven, where Jesus Christ, Son of God and Lamb of God, stands before the throne, interceding on our behalf. In this heavenly liturgy the souls of the Just, and the angels of God in all their orders, take part. The Church "in pilgrimage" - that is, the body of Christian believers on earth - takes part as well, through the services established by Christ and his Apostles, and by their successors the bishops. This earthly liturgy, around the world and throughout time, is one way in which we are brought in contact with heaven.
In the Byzantine Rite, each Christian encounters the heavenly/earthly worship in a series of cycles, in which timeless realities and timebound lives cross paths:
- The daily cycle of services, as celebrated in cathedral, parish church and monastic chapel;
- The weekly cycle of commemorations, in which each day of the week is dedicated to a particular mystery, event or personage in salvation history;
- The 8-week cycle of tones, a set of hymns and prayers repeating every eight weeks through the year ;
- The liturgical year, the annual cycle of feasts and fasts, in which the Church commemorates the great events of salvation history, and honors the saints and martyrs of each age; and
- The life of each individual Christian, in which the Christian is made an adopted child of God, obtains forgiveness of sins, receives blessings for lifetime vocations, intercedes for the living and the dead, and finally, dies and is accompanied to the grave by the prayers of the Church.
These pages describe the prayers and services used in the Byzantine Rite for all the services connected with these events and commemorations.
Elements of the Liturgy
Christian liturgy consists of words (but not mere words, since Christ himself is the Word of God, the Word by which the world itself was created), the actions accompanying these words, and the chant whereby these words are sung. As rational creatures, human beings are privileged to make use of these elements of the liturgy, bequeathed to the Church as part of Holy Tradition. The liturgy is most effective when Christians not only pray, but understand the prayers and services themselves.
The services of the Byzantine Rite are found in its liturgical books, whether in Greek, Church Slavonic, English, or other languages.
for Life: Part Two, The Mystery Celebrated.
(Pittsburgh: God With Us Publications, 1996).
An excellent introduction to Byzantine liturgy. This is the second volume of a widely-used Byzantine Catholic catechism.
- Mother Mary and Archimandrite Kallistos Ware. The Festal Menaion. (South Canaan, Pennsylvania: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 1969). Contains essays on liturgy in the Christian East, an explanation of the liturgical cycles, and a summary of the elements of the liturgy.