Suppose you saw this in a Woman’s Guild Newsletter: “Join us at 3:00 on April 30 for the liturgy of the Rosary. We will pray the luminous mysteries.” Can you spot the error? If not (and even if you did), read on.
The word liturgy came into our common Catholic vocabulary with the Second Vatican Council. Originally it was a Greek word that meant public service and referred to any job that served the people, such as being in the military and feeding the hungry. Eventually the word came to mean public worship for the sake of others. Today liturgy refers to the official public worship of the Church: the people of God along with Christ their head, celebrating the mysteries of Christ and expressing the nature of the Church. The “public” part of the liturgy is the whole assembly gathered together to worship.
The rites and prayers of liturgy are drawn up by the Holy See and under its direction. The rituals, texts, and norms found in the Church’s liturgical books are to be carefully followed.
So what does liturgy encompass? The seven sacraments, especially the Eucharist; the liturgical celebration of what was formerly called Benediction; the Liturgy of the Hours (also called Christian Prayer or the Divine Office); rites of religious profession; blessings (in the Book of Blessings); and funeral rites. Liturgy is a generic term and not a synonym for Mass.
Notice that the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, prayer services, and novenas are not found in the list of liturgical prayers. They are not liturgy but devotions and are encouraged. Liturgy, however, is the greatest sacred action of the Church. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states that devotions should “harmonize with the liturgical seasons, accord with the sacred liturgy, are in some way derived from it, and lead the people to it, since in fact the liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.” (#13)
The liturgy is described as the source of all the Church’s power and the summit toward which all our activity is directed. This official worship gives glory to God, builds the faith of the people, sanctifies and instructs them. As we engage in liturgy, we remember our past, express our faith today, and anticipate the future when we will participate in the heavenly liturgy. . . forever.