What is Liturgy?

Liturgy is what we sing every week! No, it’s the sentences we sing at the beginning of communion! No, it’s the parts we say together, like the Creed and Lord’s Prayer! It’s the whole service! Who lit whose tree?!

You’ve probably heard this word used before in conversations at church. “What a great liturgy!” we say. Have you ever wondered what this word means? It comes from an ancient Greek word, Leitourgia, that is often translated to “work of the people.” Sure. That makes sense. … huh? It may seem like a terrible way to read a book, but as we look at this word we’re going to start by looking at the end of that translation, “the people.”

Liturgy is what all of us do together as a people of God.

Exactly who are those people? Sure, some of us gather at St. Peter’s on Sunday mornings to worship God and receive God’s word of grace in our lives. We may gather at different times or in different places, but the important thing is that we, who are from all walks of life, gather together. However, it doesn’t stop there. People all over the city, county, state, country, and world gather together in their places of worship for the same reasons we do. That’s just it. Worship is a community-oriented event. It is the community of faith who make up the “people” part of liturgy, not only those who are still with us, but also the saints who have gone before.

But what about the work? Sure, when we get together on Sunday morning we have a pattern for our worship. As some of the work we do, that pattern (sometimes called the Ordo, stay tuned!) has variations and flexibility built-in to “work” for the people who are gathered. Yes, we sing, we praise, we recount, we pray the story of God’s grace. However, in a glorious turnaround, God’s grace, embodied by the words and actions we share, also works on us.

And yet, as Christians we are called to a life outside of the church building’s walls. Called to serve our neighbors and love our enemies, perhaps it is the work we do outside of Sunday morning that is even more important. Indeed, we could interpret the word liturgy, “the work of the people,” to mean our loving service to others stemming from a place of gratitude for the grace received through Jesus’ death on a cross.

We may come to church on Sunday morning for the liturgy, but in a sense the true “work of the people” happens outside these walls as we follow Jesus’ command to go and do likewise.

See you at the liturgy!

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Dr. Adam Lefever Hughes

Director of Music

Adam served as Director of Music at St. Peter’s from 2015 to 2022.

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