Summary and Keywords
Contrary to the assumptions often held by previous scholars, contemporary liturgical scholarship is coming increasingly to realize and emphasize that Christian worship was diverse even in its biblical and apostolic origins, multi- rather than monolinear in its development, and closely related to the several cultural, linguistic, geographical, and theological expressions and orientations of distinct churches throughout the early centuries of Christianity. Apart from some rather broad (but significant) commonalities discerned throughout various churches in antiquity, the traditions of worship during the first three centuries of the common era were rather diverse in content and interpretation, depending upon where individual practices are to be located. Indeed, already in this era, together with the diversity of Christologies, ecclesiologies, and, undoubtedly, liturgical practices encountered in the New Testament itself, the early history of the “tradition” of Christian worship is, simultaneously, the early history of the developing liturgical traditions of several differing Christian communities and language groups: Armenian, Syrian, Greek, Coptic, and Latin, We should not, then, expect to find only one so-called “apostolic” liturgical tradition, practice or theology surviving in this period before the Council of Nicea (325 ce) but, rather, great diversity both within the rites themselves as well as in their theological interpretations. This essay highlights the principal occasions for Christian worship in the first three centuries for which the textual and liturgical evidence is most abundant: Christian initiation, the eucharistic liturgy with its central anaphoral prayer, daily prayer (the liturgy of the hours), and the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year.
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