A Course on Liturgy and Justice

One of the courses I am teaching this fall at Villanova University is “Liturgy, Cultures, and Justice.” I have reproduced below the course description and the books that the course will use. An overarching theme for the theology department at Villanova is “faith engaging culture” and ideally all courses in the department address that theme. In this course, we look at the implication of liturgical practice for the practice of justice in the various times and cultures of Christian experience. The course focuses on Western / North Atlantic Christianity. I would welcome suggestions for readings outside that ambit as well as comments on the course in general.

In a very small nutshell I would say that among other things, the course treats Paul’s rebuke in 1 Corinthians 11, the emphasis on forgiveness in Matthew’s Last Supper, the inclusion of Gentiles in Mark, Justin Martyr’s account of distributing foodstuffs to the needy, etc. We will look at how changing conceptions of hierarchy and Eucharist affected understanding of the relationship between sacred and profane as well as notions of active participation. We will look at the 20th century liturgical movement with its emphasis on participation and, especially in the U.S., on social justice.

Description and book list follows.



This course will trace the historical development of Christian worship and prayer, beginning with its roots in Jewish thought and practice and in that of the early Church.  We will seek to understand how Christians have prayed and worshiped in different periods, analyzing both their practice and their theology.  We will give special attention to the time of origins; we will also direct attention to the periods of Roman and Frankish influence, to developments in medieval Eucharistic theology, to the Tridentine response to the Protestant Reformation, and finally to the liturgical reforms of the twentieth century.  Throughout the course we will attend to cultural influences on liturgy and how Christians have understood the connection between worship and the pursuit of justice.


Books for this course will be available in the UShop in Kennedy Hall.

  • Walter Brueggemann, Worship in Ancient Israel. Nashville: Abingdon, 2005. ISBN 0-687-34336-4
  • Edward Foley, From Age to Age. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8146-3078-5
  • Eugene LaVerdiere, The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8146-6152-1
  • James F. White, Roman Catholic Worship: Trent to Today. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8146-6194-7.
  • Barry Hudock, The Eucharistic Prayers: A User’s Guide. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8146-3287-1


Dennis Smolarski, Eucharist and American Culture: Liturgy, Unity, and Individualism. New York: Paulist, 2010. ISBN: 978-08091-4670-3.


  1. I would recommend two resources:

    Anne Koester, Ed., Liturgy and Justice: To Worship God in Spirit and Truth.
    Liturgical Press, 2002. This is an excellent resource.

    John Pawlikowski, OSM, and Donald Senior CP, Eds. Economic Justice:CTU’s Pastoral Commentary on THe Bishops’ Letter on the Economy. Pastoral Press.1988. Edward Foley OFM Cap. has a great article on Liturgy and Social Justice.

  2. We will seek to understand how Christians have prayed and worshiped in different periods, analyzing both their practice and their theology.

    Reading this reminded me of the first chapter of Brian Wren’s “Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song” where the reader is taken on a backwards-running, fast-paced tour of congregational singing, from 1970s London to 1860s South Carolina to 1740s New England and England to 1659 Berlin to . . . you get the idea . . . going back to Israel of 1100 BCE. In some 40 pages of snapshots, Wren treats the reader to glimpses of God’s people at song.

    Good luck!

  3. Here’s another suggestion, though it may be too historical. In Keither Pecklers’ The Unread Vision: The Liturgical Movement in the United States of America 1926-1955, chapter 3 is “The Liturgical Movement and Social Justice.”

  4. I was surprised not to see the Lit Press book, edited by Mark Searle, called Liturgy and Social Justice — until I saw that it was out of print!

    In that volume, there is a must-read essay by Walter Burkhardt about preaching the just word. I’d recommend it as a handout, even if the book is out of print. Burkhardt’s essay is one of the best things I’ve ever read for both laying out the issues vividly, and making a case. I think students will find it readable and intense.

    Searle’s own introduction is very fine as well.

  5. One more suggestion: The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells (2004). The whole book is an exploration of ethics through the experience of worship: “The aim of this volume is to stretch, inspire, and develop the reader’s conception of Christian worship in order to challenge, enrich, and transform the reader’s notions of the form and content of Christian ethics” (3).

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