First century synagogue liturgy?


Can anyone point me to research done on synagogue liturgy of the first century? Temple liturgy from the same period might be interesting as well, but I’m specifically looking for information on synagogue liturgy.


I’ll include the background on my inquiry as some of you might find it humorous. About a year ago while enjoying some couch time and channel surfing, I stopped on a broadcast of an Easter service from the Notre Dame church. At one point they picked up a highly decorated book (Gospel book I’m guessing) and began parading it around the room… and if I remember correctly - kissing it. I snarfed, thought something like “those crazy Catholics, where do they get this stuff!? Why don’t they stop kissing it and start reading it?” and changed the channel. I know, incredibly uncharitable.

This happened during a time when we were heavily exploring different churches. I was really intent on visiting as many different kinds of churches as I could find. Up on the list soon after the couch surfing episode we visited a “Messianic Synagogue.” The whole service was incredibly liturgical. I didn’t expect that. My jaw dropped when they pulled a Torah scroll from the wall, paraded it around the room… and everyone was kissing it! A kind older gentleman was quick to point out to me - an obvious visitor - that this was an ancient synagogue practice and by kissing the scroll they were simply showing a sign of respect… it wasn’t idolatry. “Oh. Opps.” I thought, “So that’s where that practice came from… it wasn’t something sinister after all?”

And that, friends, is what made me take up an interest in liturgy and wonder if all of those assumptions I had about the Catholic Church were indeed accurate.

In any case, kindest regards and thank in advance to anyone that can help me with the original question.

I think you will find that there are many liturgical elements from Judaism that made it into Catholicism. After all, for those of the Jewish faith who accepted who Jesus was, it was a fairly seamless transition from Judaism to Catholicism and it stands to reason that many practices carried over. It wasn’t until 1500 years later, when Protestantism emerged, that many liturgical practices were dropped altogether in an unfortunate dilution of Christianity. I supposed part of the reason Protestants would see things like kissing a book of Gospels as “idolatry” is that they have lost the memory of Judaism after 1500 years!

My favourite element from Judaism that carried over into Christianity is the Liturgy of the Hours, the practice of chanting psalms at specific hours of the day. Judaism did this every morning and evening. St Benedict expanded this to 7 times a day for monastic communities based on Ps. 118(119) v. 164:

164Seven times a day I have given praise to thee, for the judgments of thy justice.

. The modern Catholic practice of chanting psalms at fixed times in the day, is thus a tradition, a golden thread linking us to our Jewish heritage, going back thousands of years.

I believe the Jewish tradition was seven times even at the time of david. Or such it is written in a history of the Liturgy of the Hours that I have.

The evidence comes from various parts of the new testament.

Jesus uses the Morning and Evening prayer blessings (Shema etc).
Peter and Paul retreat to pray Terces and Nones in Acts (retiring to the rooftop to pray)

---- on the original topic —
Most of the Liturgy of the Word is based on synogogue worship and most to the Liturgy of the Eucharist is based on the Seder meal (last supper). Together they form the Mass.

Our Lord and Sts. Peter & Paul frequented the Temple in Jerusalem. This we know from the Gospels and from Acts. Unquestionably they kept what was good from Jewish liturgy (i.e., what Our Lord himself accepted from Jewish Temple worship or the synagogue) and undoubtedly established these practices in the standard worship of the Christian Churches they oversaw. Sts Peter and Paul were fundamentally involved in raising up the Roman Church. One was extremely familiar with Our Lord and St Paul was awash in Jewish liturgical practice; its reasoning and meaning. Let us remember that ultimately it was God himself who established and approved the liturgy of Israel, normally through his Prophets (mainly Moses) and Priests (Aaron and the Levites).

Thanks to those two and most illustrious of the Apostles, we can say the Roman Church was given the full body of Christian Revelation, and the full deposit of Faith.

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