Undergraduate Course: Christian Liturgy, Prayer, Sacrament

This Fall, I am teaching a 1000-level course on liturgy for undergraduates, a fundamental survey of liturgy, prayer, and sacrament. I’m teaching the course as part of the core curriculum at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles. I have taught a version of this course at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, but significantly revised the course to make it work well at LMU.

The course is designed to introduce students to fundamentals and provide an environment for thinking about liturgy as theology. Many students register for this course with no background in Christianity, and among the Christians in the course, we usually have a mixture of backgrounds.

Topics: the course begins with an introduction to ritual studies, a brief survey of liturgical history, and several sessions devoted to prayer (language, structure, context), and symbolism. I use Marcel Metzger’s book on liturgical history for the survey and a variety of primary texts for the sessions on prayer. I also devote an entire session to the Jesus Prayer and will be using Frederica Mathewes-Green popular book along with segments from John McGuckin’s outstanding documentary.

We then discuss the sacraments, beginning with Baptism. I use selections from Everett Ferguson’s collection of primary texts, the mystagogical catecheses of Cyril of Jerusalem, and much of Michael Witczak’s book on baptism as an introduction. We will also view “Come to the Water” to explore the RCIA with greater depth.

For Eucharist, we read some of Jerome Kodell’s book on the New Testament, and selections from Paul Bradshaw’s and Max Johnson’s survey of liturgical history. I also have them read my recent essays on Eucharistic theology published in Worship. I have chapters from an ecumenical collection of essays on penance by Claudia Rapp and Kevin Uhade. For ordination, we read Yves Congar’s essays on priesthood, statements on ordination from the American Baptist Church, and primary texts taken from the Roman and Byzantine traditions.

The discussion on priesthood leads to treatment of active participation, for which we read Mark Searle’s short book.

At this point, I shift gears and briefly cover the essentials of the liturgical year with readings from Adolf Adam, John Baldovin, and Lizette Larson-Miller, not to mention the survey of fasting from Kallistos Ware (taken from the Lenten Triodion). I also have contemporary primary source reading on the meaning of Lent from Pope Francis and Nadia Bolz-Weber.

I end the course by considering the contemporary environment of worship, so we will read Bryan Spinks’ book, The Worship Mall. The course features several primary source readings as well, including Eucharistic and ordination prayers, and the blessing of baptismal waters.

Assessments were designed to have students learn the fundamentals of reading and writing with some engaged learning. Our college recent shifted from a 3-unit to a 4-unit course with the goal of maximizing academic rigor, and promoting learning in depth. The assessments are designed to deliver. Engaged learning components include a paper based on liturgical observation at an Eastern Orthodox parish, a critical analysis paper requiring students to engage a series of course readings, and a semester-long research paper project which includes an initial annotated bibliography, a rough draft, and a final revision. I outline five topics from which students can select their topic because experience has taught me that most students at this level are not prepared to select their own matter. The course also has a midterm and a final, and I use rubrics to assess all written work. In class, we will spend most of our time discussing readings, and I will distribute the students into 5-6 small groups. Each small group will prepare a short presentation on the assigned reading (on a rotation requiring me to build a schedule).

The academic year begins tomorrow, August 31. I did not mention every detail covered by the course and am anticipating some trepidation from students as they digest the workload. I am confident that they will be pleased with their learning in this course and will update everyone here around Christmas.


  1. Thanks, Nick. I hope you will also check in to tell us how it’s going throughout the semester.

  2. This course sounds fascinating! It’s the kind of thing I wish I’d have had the opportunity to take in college.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *