Peter J. Leithart at the First Things Blog discusses a book in which Susan R. Holman presents a study on the theme of poverty and poverty relief in the fourth century (The Hungry Are Dying: Beggars and Bishops in Fourth Century Cappadocia). In his review, Leithart cites Holman making a strong connection between liturgy and social public works in the ancient church:
The “link between religious liturgy and the social leitourgia that cares for the poor body is part of the Christian liturgy from the very earliest texts, even New Testament texts where the ‘liturgy’ of Jesus’s disciples actually occurs in the Temple precincts (e.g., Acts 3:1-5). According to Justin Martyr, a collection for the poor was taken as part of the weekly worship service and the funds enabled the leader of the congregation to care for orphans, widows, the sick, the prisoners, strangers, and ‘all those in need.’ The Didache also advocated a regular collection of food as part of worship and, ‘if you have no prophet give them to the poor’” (50).
This commitment extended even to the point that some would sell themselves into slavery in order to use the purchase price to give relief to the poor. Such very radical Christian commitment to the poor and to voluntary poverty is linked to liturgy. Some food for thought!
You can find the essay here.
The book on which it is based can be found here.