In the Christian religion, acts of public worship set out in an authorized liturgy, or pattern of service. Liturgies are often very formal, elaborate, and colourful, and include many rituals. The same prayers will be said on each occasion, although there may be time set aside for free or private prayer. Worshippers become familiar with the services and learn to recite long prayers. Some of the prayers are very old, and Christians feel that by repeating them they are continuing a long and devout tradition.
The Acts of the Apostles describes how the very first Christians worshipped, devoting themselves to the apostles' teachings, prayer, fellowship, and the breaking of bread (Acts 2:42).
Sacramental worship Liturgical worship is used in Christian denominations that have a high regard for the sacraments, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches. Worship regarded as ‘sacramental’ uses outward signs, actions, and symbols to express deep religious feelings and belief – a sacrament is an outward visible sign of an inward spiritual grace. The sacrament of the Eucharist, the most important act of worship for Christians, has been celebrated with the same liturgy since the time of the Early Church.
Acts of worship Acts of worship have different meanings for Christians, but all centre on belief about Jesus. The liturgies enable Christians to express their faith, and they inspire and strengthen believers in their daily lives. Taking part in an act of worship can provoke responses such as praise, thanksgiving, joy, love, awe, wonder, commitment, and repentance. Worship can be expressed through a combination of objects and actions, including art, music, incense, clapping, bells, prayers, icons, lighting candles, creeds, communion, silence, Bible reading, sprinkling holy water, making the sign of the cross, offerings, and the wearing of special clothes.
Service books Some Christians prefer to worship by using a service book that follows a set service. Roman Catholics use an order of service printed in a missal; these were formerly in Latin but have now been translated into other languages. Orthodox Christians have their own service books in Greek or Latin, some with translations in them. From 1980 most Church of England services follow the Alternative Service Book, which is more modern in its language than the Book of Common Prayer.
Non-liturgical worship Other churches prefer to have more freedom in their worship. In some there will be no set prayers or times for prayer. At any time during a meeting, a member of the congregation can spontaneously start a prayer or a hymn. Some Free churches have very lively meetings; people sing, clap, or even dance in praise of God. Others, such as the Society of Friends (Quakers), have a quieter service, and spend a lot of time in silent reflection.