Christian Observances and Rituals

Note differences between "liturgical" (emphasizing standard traditional rituals in worship) on and "non-liturgical" (emphasizing unstructured, spontaneous worship) church bodies


Sacred rituals through which God's saving power comes to believers

Fra Angelica: The Apostles Taking Communion
Fra Angelica: The Apostles' Communion
(also called: Lord's Supper, Communion, Catholic "Mass", or Divine Liturgy): Partaking in bread and wine as body and blood of Christ (Derived from "Last Supper")

Controversy over Transubstantiation

("reconciliation"): Confession and granting of forgiveness

Raphael: Baptism of Jesus
Raphael: Baptism of Jesus

(immersion or pouring of water): by adults and/or infants
Anointing the sick
Confirmation of baptized
Ordination of clergy

Not all sacraments are counted by all churches, though Baptism and Eucharist are accepted almost universally.

Daily Worship

Daily Office,
especially in monastic settings and non-Protestant denominations.

Some churches observe

(morning service) and "
("evensong'; evening service).

Click here to listen to an example of Gregorian Chant

Sunday worship

Lord's Day:

Day of Jesus' Resurrection

Liturgy of the Word:

Reading from Bible, with homily.

Liturgy of Eucharist:

Partaking of bread and wine.

Calendar cycle (symbolic reliving of life of Jesus)

Season Commemorating Jesus' birth:

Raphael: The Epiphany
Raphael: The Epiphany


Commemorating the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of Jesus (see Luke 1:26-38). The Feast of the Annunciation is observed on March 25 (estimated as nine months before Christimas).

Epiphany (or Theophany): January 6

In the Eastern Church: the anniversary of Jesus' baptism.
In the Western churches: commemorates Jesus' revelation to the Gentiles as the Savior, as portrayed by the coming of the Three Wise Men ( Mathew. 2:1-12).

In both the Eastern and Western churches it also commemorates Jesus' first miracle, at the "marriage at Cana" (see John 2:1-11).


celebrates Jesus' birth

Date adopted from Roman celebration of "the Invincible Sun" (Winter Solstice)


Month of preparation for Christmas

Season Commemorating Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection


Forty-day preparatory period of repentance, fasting and self-denial. Linked to Jesus' forty-day fast in the desert.

Begins on Ash Wednesday

Holy Week (or Passion Week; Great Week)

The week before Easter. Solemn rites are observed commemorating the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Palm Sunday:

Sunday before Easter, so called from the custom of blessing palms and of carrying portions of branches in procession, in commemoration of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Maundy Thursday (or Holy Thursday)

The Thursday before Easter Sunday, commemorating the Last Supper. The name Maundy is derived from mandatum (Latin, "commandment"), the first word of an anthem sung in the liturgical ceremony on that day.
Observances include washing the feet of twelve people, to commemorate Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples.


Good Friday:

commemorates Crucifixion, dedicated to penance, fasting, and prayer.

Holy Saturday

Commemorates the burial of Christ.

Easter Sunday:

commemorates Resurrection


Fifty days after Easter:
Commmemorates the filling of Jesus' disciples with the Holy Spirit.
A time for baptising converts.

Orthodox or Roman Catholic Holidays:

Fra Angelica: The Transfiguration
Fra Angelica: The Transfiguration
  • Transfiguration:

    August 6, recalls the revelation of the glory of Jesus on the mountain: "And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light" (Matt. 17:2). At the same time, the prophets Moses and Elijah appeared to the disciples.

  • Assumption of Mary:

    Based on the doctrine that after her death, the body of Mary was taken into heaven and reunited with her soul.It was first commemorated as the "Feast of the Dormition" (falling asleep) of Mary in the 6th century; and later developed into the Feast of the Assumption, now celebrated in the Roman Catholic church on August 15.

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