The liturgy of the medieval Christian West (ca. 600–1500) provided the structure around which life in Western Europe was structured for almost a thousand years. Rooted in Christian antiquity, in the early central liturgical structures of Initiation and Eucharist, the private and public observance of daily prayer, and the development of a liturgical year, the long medieval period that followed saw a broadening elaboration and expansion of the liturgical life of Christians in many different directions. By the year 1200, theologians had defined seven of the Church’s liturgical rites as primary sacraments: Baptism and Confirmation (from the ancient initiation sequence); Eucharist; Penance (with the emphasis on private confession of sins); Ordination (through various minor orders to the three major orders of deacon, presbyter, and bishop); Extreme Unction (anointing of the sick, now reserved for the gravely ill); and Matrimony (as the liturgical rites for the originally domestic rituals of marriage become more elaborate and set in the church rather than the home). A more fulsome cycle of the liturgical year developed around the ancient feasts of Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and Epiphany, augmented by an elaborate calendar of commemorations and feasts of saints. Monastic influence resulted in a daily round of liturgical prayer, the Divine Office, in which various “hours” of prayer during the day and night were marked by liturgical “offices” of psalmody and scripture—some longer, others more brief. One of the major ways this liturgical growth and diversity can be studied is through an examination of the various liturgical books compiled and used during these medieval centuries, books used for the celebration of the Eucharist (the Mass), for the Divine Office, and for other liturgical rites. In addition to the volumes containing rubrics and prayers for liturgical celebrations, a separate cluster of books contained music to be used during these rites, in a style known as chant; Gregorian chant became the dominant form. The full impact of medieval liturgy as it was experienced in the Western Europe, however, extended far beyond the “bare bones” contained in these books, intertwined as it was with the development of art and architecture, law and commerce, and the political/socio-economic developments that would take Christian society and religion from the twilight of late antiquity to the dawn of early modernity.
Medieval Christian Liturgy
Joanne M. Pierce
Byzantine and Slavic Orthodoxy
The Byzantine-Slav liturgical tradition emerged as an aggregate rite from the diverse liturgical practices of the Eastern Mediterranean from the early 4th century. This tradition developed around the city of Constantinople but was also influenced by the liturgical traditions of Jerusalem and the monasteries surrounding Jerusalem. While Constantinople remained the center of this tradition, it also found its home and developed in unique ways throughout the Mediterranean and the Balkan Peninsula, into Ukraine and Russia, and eventually throughout the world. The liturgical tradition itself weaves together the diverse practices of monastic and urban worship, creating very much a hybrid rite. The daily office, primarily drawn from monastic practices, utilizes a mix of invariable texts, prayers, psalmody, and composed hymns of ancient provenance as well as a wide array of variable hymns of different origins and genre. Throughout these services, the monastic elements stand side by side with remnants of the urban cathedral worship. The Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist service, has at its core prayers that go back to the classic patristic age of the church, the 4th and 5th centuries. The entire service, however, betrays multiple layers of influence on its development, ranging from practices of the imperial cult of late antiquity to popular piety. All these elements have come together through organic development and, at times, directed reform to form a vast liturgical tradition with rich textures and complex nuances of meaning.