The Development of the Liturgy

The liturgy arrives to us in its present form after development over 2,000 years. During the early days of the Church, the rites were not harmonized in any standard format. They were a fluid group of elements, often practiced with different customs according to local preference. It wasn't until the Council of Nicaea in 325 that the liturgy of worship started taking on a formalized order and shape.

Since then, the rites and customs of public worship have been fine-tuned, adapting to the changes of history and the modifications in Church canon law. The two councils that were especially significant in implementing official shifts in emphasis were the Council of Trent and the Second Vatican Council, commonly known at Vatican II.

The Council of Trent ruled that Christ is actually present in the sacrifice and celebration of the Eucharist. Furthermore, the council's decisions led to the publication of a missal that standardized the prayers and rites of the Mass.

The great blossoming of musical liturgy in the Catholic Church is attributed to Pope Gregory I (540–604). Under his leadership, monks developed the printing and use of sheet music and began a tradition known as Gregorian chants. Another of Pope Gregory's achievements was the implementation of a system of music covering the liturgies of the feast days.

Notable changes to the liturgy made by the Vatican II included introduction of the vernacular during the service of the Mass (although Latin still plays a major role in the liturgy). The Holy See also redirected emphasis to interior worship, reminding Catholics that they must celebrate Mass in a “right form of mind.” This ruling was made in reaction to a misconception that observing the rituals is enough to get salvation. The Church wanted to impress on the faithful that they needed to pair observance of the rituals with interior prayer to achieve a state of grace.

Within Catholicism, the Mass, or Eucharistic celebration, is the central liturgical service. But because of the sacramental nature of Catholicism, Catholics can worship through all things. So, for instance, the administration of the sacraments is also considered a great part of the liturgy of Catholicism, as are other formalized rituals, such as the Liturgy of Hours.

In addition, the liturgy of the Church is attuned to the year, or seasons, as they pertain to Christ's life. Indeed, each day holds a special significance in the Church, although there are certain high points that take place in the course of a year. The most important is the Easter cycle, but a number of solemnities, feasts, and memorials also have special significance.

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