In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Liturgy

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Medieval Studies Liturgy
Matthew Cheung Salisbury, Andrew Hughes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 June 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 June 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0151


“Liturgy” refers to the totality of the public worship of the Christian Church. It was the authentic, authorized public expression of the Church in the world, inseparable from all aspects of life in the Middle Ages. Echoes of the liturgy are discernible in innumerable contemporary witnesses, which demonstrate the extent to which its prose, poetry, music, and ceremonials permeated medieval thought, action, and expression. The liturgy was rooted in the temporal cycles of day and year and consequently governed ordinary routine, as well as major life events such as birth, marriage, and death. As the principal means by which the Church interacted with its people, and an important means of grace through which they were sanctified, the liturgy influenced popular devotion and personal attitudes to religion and spirituality as well as politics, making it a concern for authorities, rebels, and reformers. In addition, it was the origin of all sacred music and the cause for the commissioning of some of the period’s greatest art and architecture. The surviving books of the liturgy constitute a significant proportion of the books extant from the Middle Ages. Each was the result of considerable effort and attention. It is, therefore, difficult to speak of “the liturgy” as a self-contained subject of consideration in the Middle Ages. Equally, most modern scholars of the medieval liturgy publish within their own disciplinary framework: few could be described as “liturgical scholars” alone. Consequently publications, except for introductory guides and reference material, tend to deal with specific topics. The liturgy receives disproportionate attention from art historians and others whose studies focus on the books themselves and who need to be able to navigate and interpret the contents. Equally, the large number of musicologists working on the liturgy may be explained by the inseparability of medieval sacred music and the liturgical forms that called for its creation. The list of citations in this article is, with few exceptions, restricted to those items pertaining to the liturgy of the Latin West, in large part owing to the current lack of resources in western European languages on the Eastern liturgies. This bibliography presents some of the most important resources for someone from any background embarking on a study of the medieval liturgy.

General Overviews and Introductory Works

Many resources exist for the researcher approaching the subject of the medieval liturgy for the first time. The following sections identify helpful material for the concepts and structures of the rites, as well as the medieval understanding of time, by which the patterns of worship were regulated.

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