Teaching Undergraduates (continued) – Introduction to Liturgy in 585 minutes

When I started teaching Liturgical Studies at the University of Innsbruck (Austria) as an assistant professor in 2006, I had to create a new lecture course for one very secular reason: my teaching load was one course short.

As there was no introductory course in Liturgy or Liturgical Studies – which made the main lecture on Baptism and Eucharist quite tough for many students –, the professor and I decided to start such an introductory course. This was meant to bridge the gap between what students know about liturgy at the beginning of their studies and what the academic courses really expect from them in order to keep pace with the current state of research.

This new course was not obligatory for anyone. It is officially called “Basic Liturgical Acts, Terminology of Liturgy – a ‘Crash Course’”, but simply known as “Crashkurs Liturgie” (“Crashkurs” is familiar to German speakers, nevertheless I once got a very angry mail by a German language purist).

I see four different groups of students in this course:

Some are students of theology who use the course just as a refresher (and to get a certificate easily).

The second group is students from completely different fields who want to widen their academic horizon, some of whom are regular churchgoers. In the forthcoming semester I will have students from geoscience, architecture, mathematics, sociology, law, etc. Working with these students can be very pleasant, because they take a theological course with very few preconceptions or prejudice.

The third group is students of theology who are regular churchgoers (some of them seminarians or religious) who love liturgy very much from their own experience. They use the course to deepen their personal field of interest. It can be tough for them to realize that the academic terminology or some critical remarks on current liturgical practice differ a lot from the way things are seen in parishes (e.g. using the word Eucharist instead of Holy Mass, or preferring presbyter over priest, or arguing why everyone should receive Communion from the chalice, or why it is not at all evident to determine a certain moment of consecration during the Eucharistic Prayer). You could say these students are somehow on the more conservative side, but they are always eager to learn new things, even when the lectures leave them a bit puzzled sometimes.

The forth group is students who study theology with no (or with very little) personal liturgical experience. They sense that they need a sort of extra tutoring. For me liturgy has always been one of the most fascinating things about religion, so it is not easy to put myself in these students’ position. I do my best to understand what terminology they might already know and which parts of the course might need further clarification, and I am always open for questions and short discussions.

I use maps and images whenever needed, a lot of handouts (mostly with patterns of certain liturgies so that I can explain them step by step), and since the course has meanwhile been published as a book, almost all students use the book to follow the lectures and to prepare for the exam.

Here is a short look at the 13 lessons:

1) The term liturgy (how the Greek word liturgia was used over the centuries, how the Second Vatican Council made a different between liturgy and other popular devotions, and how we use the word in the field of Liturgical Studies);

2) A brief look at the history of liturgy (how the church in the Roman Empire had different geographical areas which later became the patriarchates and eventually split into Catholic and the Orthodox church, how there are different rites in the Catholic Church today, what some specifics of the Roman liturgy are, and how there are even more traditions such as the Protestant and the Oriental churches);

3–5) The Eucharist (Mass) (a look at the pattern in general, how collects and Eucharistic Prayers have a certain and meaningful structure, how we can (or cannot) understand the idea of transsubstantiation, how the Liturgy of the Word is structured, and what terms the Council used to describe the Eucharist)

6) Liturgical offices (bishop, presbyter/priest, deacon, lector, acolyte, lay minister (as a lay presider of a liturgy), preacher, minister of the Eucharist, cantor/choir/musician, and how liturgy used to be misinterpreted as a purely clerical act before the Council eventually changed that viewpoint);

7) Sanctuary and vestments (the basilica in ancient times, how the Western world developed the high altar, what happened in the 20th century, what an altar and an ambo is; what the alb has to do with baptism, and what vestments deacons, priests, and bishops wear);

8–9) Liturgy of the Hours (how the Roman Office contains monastic and cathedral patterns, how the Office was only recited by clerics and religious for centuries, what the Council did to change that, what Hours there are today, and finally a closer look at Vespers and Compline);

10) Liturgical calendar (Easter and everything around it, Christmas and everything around it, how the Sunday is the root of everything, how there are different ranks of feasts, how a solemnity/feast/memory is celebrated in Mass and LotH);

11) Sacraments (how we can [or cannot] understand the list of exactly seven sacraments, a closer look at the current pattern of Baptism, how Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist belong together as Christian Initiation, and a short look at the other four sacraments);

12) Everything else (Benediction, funeral, Liturgy of the Word, ecumenical services, popular piety, new developments, why all that is done and what patterns we can identify);

13) Closing remarks (the pattern of katabasis-anabasis and in what liturgical acts we can identify katabatic and anabatic elements, how the Council described Liturgy in general [mainly in Sacrosanctum Concilium 7]).


  1. Would it be pop possible to get a copy of what ever you would be willing to share? I am a music and liturgy major from way back when and am still at a parish. I love to read all new approaches to the subject. This strictly for my use only. Email me if you wish.

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