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Public Worship

“O you who have attained to faith! When the call to prayer is sounded on the day of congregation, hasten to the remembrance of God.”Qur’an 62:9

Primary to the Abrahamic faiths is the notion that there should be some public and social acknowledgment of the relationship between God and the believer. Though they worship differently, each faith tradition celebrates the covenant through actions (rituals) and verbal communication (prayer).

The Jews of Temple times worshipped God through priestly sacrifice and psalms; after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, the locus of community prayer shifted to the synagogue. Christianity, initially a Jewish movement born in the Temple era, combined both priestly sacrifice (the Eucharist) and the familiar modes of synagogue prayer in its basic worship. In Islam, in lieu of a priest, the most learned congregant serves as imam, or prayer leader, and congregational worship is encouraged on Fridays and on major feasts.

Each religion measures time by its own unique calendar, but feasts and fasts are common to all of them. With the eves of days of worship often heralding the holy days themselves, the permeable nature of the borders between these sacred days becomes apparent. The final chant of the muezzin calling the Islamic faithful to prayer on Friday evening overlaps the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, and before Shabbat is ushered out on Saturday evening some Christians may be found in church in anticipation of the “Lord’s Day” on Sunday.

Image: Lectionary. Manuscript on paper of the readings for Holy Week of the Coptic Church in Egypt, copied from a 16th-century manuscript in 1948. NYPL, Spencer Collection.