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What Is Liturgical Theology?

By Emily Daw
Updated May 17, 2024
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Liturgical theology is the study of Christian doctrines as related to historical and present worship practices. It refers the study both of standardized liturgy found in Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican traditions as well as the less formal worship of most other Protestant groups. The ways that people interact with worship and the ways that worship and theology influence one another are major subjects of discussion in liturgical theology.

The study of formal liturgy is a subset of liturgical theology. This study involves, among other aspects, tracing the development of liturgical practices throughout history and their relationship to historical theology. The liturgy of the Anglican church, for instance, tends to have less overt doctrinal teaching than the liturgy of other churches. Some theologians argue that this is due to its historical role as a middle ground between Protestants and Catholics in England. By avoiding explicit teaching about such issues as transubstantiation, the Anglican church could accommodate those with Catholic or Protestant sympathies.

Liturgical theology also involves the relationship between theology and the sacraments or ordinances performed in worship services. The theology of some traditions, especially the Catholic tradition, views rituals of worship, such as baptism and the Eucharist sacraments, as the means through which God gives grace to believers. In many Protestant churches, however, these same rituals may be present, but are referred to as "ordinances" and are seen as symbols or reminders of grace, but not the means through which grace is received.

Another concern of liturgical theology is the mutually influential relationship between worship services and the views of God that various types of worship promulgate. Many churches offer "contemporary" services that might feature informal teaching and rock music. Other services might have more ritualized worship with traditional church instruments, such as a piano or organ. These surface differences in worship may also reflect deeper differences in views of God. Proponents of traditional worship services might argue that they promote a more reverent attitude toward God, while contemporary worship advocates might say that their more informal style makes God seem more approachable and relevant to daily life.

Liturgical theology may also examine the relationship between popular and scholarly theology. The theology taught in seminaries influences what is taught to and believed by church members. A seminarian might have a more complex view of the Trinity than a layperson, but the scholarly theology is to some extent imparted to the layperson through worship. Theological teaching might occur directly through preaching or Bible studies, or indirectly through song or prayer.

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