Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning or the equivalent of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials, online learning, videoconferencing, or supervision. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit studies the origins and historical development of Christian liturgy, focusing on the Western tradition but also considering the liturgies of the Eastern churches. It considers key time-periods including: biblical origins; the Apostolic age; the Patristic period; early Medieval and high Middle Ages; the period of the Reformation and the Council of Trent; the beginnings of modern liturgical studies and the origins of the Liturgical Movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; the lead-up to the Second Vatican Council and the initial implementation of conciliar liturgical reforms, and the connections between liturgical history and ongoing liturgical reform. It will also consider discrete topics such as: the development of Eastern liturgies and methods for studying liturgical history (e.g., textual criticism, structural analysis, comparative liturgiology).

This unit aims to provide students with a broad understanding of the major developments in Christian liturgical history, investigating theories and methodologies for interpreting historical data used to determine how liturgies emerged initially, were handed down over time, and were adapted in light of various historical influences and cultural circumstances.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome Description
LO1Exhibit an understanding of the pluriformity of early liturgies, the emergence of basic liturgical units, and the interpretation of liturgical sources
LO2Demonstrate an understanding of the nature of historical documents and the differences between liturgy as found in a liturgical book or manuscript and liturgy as enacted ritual.
LO3Articulate an understanding of the key liturgical developments and available evidence of liturgical praxis across each of the major liturgical time-periods.
LO4Demonstrate familiarity with major theories, methodologies and approaches used in the study of liturgical history.
LO5Evidence a basic understanding of the development of liturgies in the Eastern churches and Reformation traditions and identify their distinguishing characteristics and reciprocal relationship with liturgy in the Western Catholic tradition.


Topics will include:

  • Methodological introduction to historical liturgical study
  • Principles for reading and interpreting ancient liturgical sources
  • Jewish liturgy and sources
  • Worship in the New Testament
  • Liturgy in the pre-Nicene period
  • Liturgical sources in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Period
  • Early-Medieval liturgical developments
  • Liturgical divergence of East and West
  • The emergence of the Byzantine Liturgy
  • Medieval liturgical developments (sacramentaries, ordines Romani, Breviary, Pontifical, Lectionary, Ritual)
  • Liturgical impact of the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation
  • Outline of Protestant liturgical developments (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Methodist)
  • The Council of Trent and Tridentine liturgical books
  • From Trent to Vatican II
  • The Liturgical Movement
  • The Reforms of Vatican II

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

The unit is normally offered in interactive online mode which enables students to engage in both synchronous and asynchronous learning activities through live online-class interactions and according to their self-devised schedule as individual learners. Online materials are carefully structured and sequenced in modules with built-in exercises and activities designed to support the achievement of the learning outcomes. Through live-online classes students are provided with the opportunity to work collaboratively in groups with the guidance of the lecturer to apply principles in practical activities which enable them to reflect critically on key information, analyse and integrate new information with existing knowledge, draw meaningful new connections, and then work individually to apply what they have learned to analyse and report on investigations into historical documents and texts in context. 

Students are encouraged to reflect critically on their observations, theories and analyses in light of materials covered in the unit. Assessment tasks are integrated into and built upon modular unit materials but extend students beyond the modular materials to engage in analysis and research tasks which require them to apply the knowledge they have gained through completion of the unit’s reading, analyses and exercises.

The interactive online mode of this unit requires students to be independent learners, responsible for managing and modifying their own learning journey in response to frequent constructive feedback provided to them on their learning progress evidenced in exercises and assessment tasks. Students are encouraged to establish a regular study schedule for individual reading and online participation. Key to success in the online mode is regular reading and interaction with fellow students – through online forums and live-classes students are provided with the opportunity to build a supportive and encouraging learning community so that even when studying at a distance they feel connected to their fellow learners and the lecturer as they proceed through the unit together.

Assessment strategy and rationale

To pass this unit students are required to attempt all assessment tasks and achieve a cumulative grade of Pass (50% or higher). The assessment tasks for this unit are designed to enable students to demonstrate their achievement of each learning outcome.

Assessment Task 1: Students will choose one option:

  • Option 1: Timeline. Synthesizing the major developments in a specific era of liturgical history, students will create a detailed multi-media timeline with commentary utilizing
  • Option 2: Book Review. Students will read in detail a crucial work in liturgical history and write a critical book review summarizing the contents of the text, analyzing its major findings and offering informed comment on its overall contribution to the field of liturgical history.

Assessment Task 2: Critical Analysis. Drawing on principles for the interpretation of historical data, primary liturgical sources, and specific unit readings, students will write a report analyzing what is involved in the effort of liturgical scholars to [re]construct tradition.

Assessment task 3: Research Essay. Utilizing the knowledge gained through lectures, exercises, unit materials and readings (along with relevant additional primary and secondary bibliographic references) students will research and write a major essay which enables them to engage in an extended investigation and critical consideration of a topic central to the unit. This assessment offers students the chance to demonstrate a synthesis of knowledge and insight gained throughout the unit.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Practical Exercises with Critical Reflection: requires students either to create a multi-media timeline on a specific era of liturgical history or to write a critical book review of a crucial work in liturgical history.


LO1, LO5

Critical Analysis: requires students to analyse what is involved in the [re]construction of liturgical tradition.



Research Essay: requires students to research and write an essay on the critical developments of a particular era in liturgical history and their theological significance for liturgical celebration.


LO2, LO3

Representative texts and references

Austin, Gerard, ed. Fountain of Life. Washington D.C.: Pastoral, 1991.

Baldovin, John F. Reforming the Liturgy: A Response to the Critics. Collegeville: Liturgical, 2008.

Bugnini, Annibale. The Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975. Trans. Matthew J. O’Connell. Collegeville:

Liturgical, 1990.

Johnson, Maxwell E. Sacraments and Worship: Key Readings in the History and Theology of

Christian Worship, from the New Testament to the Present.  London: SPCK, 2012.

McGowan, Andrew B. Ancient Christian Worship: Early Church Practices in Social, Historical and

Theological Perspective. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014.

Palazzo, Eric. A History of Liturgical Books from the Beginning to the Thirteenth Century. Trans.

Madeleine Beaumont. Collegeville: Liturgical, 1998.

Senn, Frank. The People's Work: A Social History of the Liturgy.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010.

Taft, Robert F. The Byzantine Rite: A Short History. Collegeville: Liturgical, 1992.

G. Wainwright and K. Westerfield Tucker, eds. The Oxford History of Christian Worship. Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1996.

White, James F. Protestant Worship: Traditions in Transition. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1989.

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