What Is Worship?

Worship is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. An act of worship may be performed individually, in an informal or formal group, or by a designated leader. Such acts may involve honoring. Worship means fulfilling God‘s commands in one’s daily life and fulfilling the obligations of being His servant, while servanthood is interpreted as living in the consciousness of being a servant.

Worship means to prostrate oneself before God, bow down, humbly beseech, and do obeisance or reverence. When we do this, we are demonstrating that compared to God we are as nothing.

“Knowing God entails worshipping Him. Since He pro­vides every blessing to us, service is owed to Him. … We who need to worship God; not God who needs to be worshipped. He is free of all need. May He grant us the favor and honor to worship Him rightly and with sincerity.”

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi


The word is derived from the Old English weorþscipe, meaning to venerate “worship, honour shown to an object, which has been etymologised as “worthiness or worth-ship”—to give, at its simplest, worth to something.

Worship Spirituality Religious Spiritual Silhouette

Modern Worship

The Four Classes Of Beings Worship God

Main article: How Do The Four Classes Of Beings Worship God?

The Lord of the Worlds, Who is the All-Majestic Lord of the heavens and the earth and the All-Gracious Builder of this world and the next, employs—not out of need, for the Creator of everything is He, but for certain instances of wisdom like the requirements of His Might and Honor, and Greatness and Lordship—both angels, and animals, and inanimate objects and plants, and human beings in this palace of the universe, in this realm of causality. He has charged these four classes with different duties of worship particular to each.

  • The first class are his slaves (the angels). The angels in this class have no wages, no salaries. They are content with the indescribable enthusiasm and thrills of joy coming from every item of work they do to please their lord by carrying out his orders. As they praise their lord and enumerate his virtues, they derive more and more pleasure and grow in enthusiasm. They have no further demand than their connection with their noble lord which they know to be a great honor for them. Also they receive spiritual pleasure from supervising in the name of their lord all that is done in his dominion, and watching it from his viewpoint. They feel no need for wages or ranks or promotion.
  • The second class consists of ordinary servants (plants and inanimate objects). They are also unaware of what kind of universal purposes their employment is for and what sort of significant results it yields. Some of them even imagine that they are employed for the small wage that the lord has determined for them as appropriate and gives them regularly.
  • The third class comprises the animals belonging to the lord (animals). He employs them in various works in the construction of that city or palace, and gives them fodder. Also, since they work at jobs fitted to their abilities, they too derive some sort of pleasure. This is why there is a certain pleasure in all activities. The servants in this class are content with their fodder and that pleasure they receive as wages.
  • The fourth class are those workers who know what they are doing (Human beings), and why and for whom they are working, and why the other workers are working, and what purpose the lord pursues in employing them. Workers of this class also have the duties of supervision over the other workers. They get wages in accordance with their ranks.

Types of worshipping

Main article: Types of worshipping

Worship can include a wide range of practices and the boundaries between worship, service, glorification, etc. The types of worship is extraordinarily rich and varied. Three types may be distinguished: corporate exclusive worship; corporate inclusive worship; and personal worship.

Corporate exclusive worship

Exclusive corporate worship is worship that belongs to the group alone. Such exclusive groups may understand their distinct status over against other groups on the basis of a divine mission in the world (e.g., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), of clan, social, or initiatory distinctions (e.g., totemic societies, gnostic groups), or by reference to certain ritual or ethical commitments and practices (e.g., Seventh-day Adventists) characteristic of the group. Study of contemporary religious groups discloses many similarities of belief among these exclusive communities, and distinctions considered unique by the group may not be unique at all—but they are perceived to be unique.

Corporate inclusive worship

The second type is corporate inclusive worship, which probably has been numerically the largest throughout human history. Members of a society are, in virtue of birth, included as members of the worshipping community (e.g., the Lutheran churches of Scandinavia) or at least potential members. Though there may be rites of entrance that are to be observed, these frequently become no more than conventional acts, placing few demands upon the initiate. The ancient ancient Greek and Roman city-states observed acts of worship that were open to the entire populace, since they were a fixed part of the ceremonial and political life of the state. The sanctuaries and ceremonies often were cared for at state expense, and the leaders of worship were officials of the state.

Personal worship

The third type of worship is that on the individual level. The individual’s worship may centre in public events and ceremonies, but there is ample place in most religious communities for the devotions, prayers, and religious exercises of the individual, either lay or religious. In corporate acts of worship, fixed prayers, confessions, ritual acts, processions, and participation by empathy in the acts of the leader of worship all enrich the individual’s own worship.

Forms of Worship

Main article: List of Forms of Worship

The forms of worship – not specific religions or belief systems, but rather terms that denote a specific object of worship, be it saints, snakes or whatever.

“The nature of man and his spiritual being demonstrates that he is created to worship God. He is even slighter than a little sparrow as far as his merely physical powers and competence necessary for the life of this world are concerned. But in respect of his knowledge, understanding of his need, supplication and worship—which are necessary for his spiritual life and the life of the Hereafter—he is the king and commander of all animate creatures.”

Bediuzzaman Said Nursi

Times and places of worship

Main article: Place of Worship 

Further readings: Church Building, Buddhist Temple, Hindu Temple, Jain Temple, Mosque, Synagogue, and Monastery

Worship takes place at appointed seasons and places. The religious calendar is thus of great importance for the worshipping community, since communities associate worship with critical times in the life of the society. The hunting, planting, and harvesting seasons are of special importance. The beginning of the year (at the time of the spring or fall equinox or of the summer or winter solstice, normally), of the new moon (occasionally, the full moon), or of the week is viewed as an especially auspicious time for acts of worship. Special festivities peculiar to the community’s geographical or historical existence also provide fixed occasions for worship.

Worship has its appointed places. A place of worship became sacred and suitable by virtue of the holy’s appearing at that place. Sacred places were also sites of natural and historical significance for the community: springs, river crossings, threshing places, trees or groves where the community gathered for public business, hills or mountains where there was safety from enemies, and other such areas. Mountains were of particular importance, since they were understood to bring the worshipper into closer relationship with the heavenly realm.

Worship in various religions

Common way of worships in Indian religions: Abhiṣeka, Aniconism, and Japa.


Further information: Buddhist devotion

Worship in Buddhism may take innumerable forms given the doctrine of skillful means. Worship is evident in Buddhism in such forms as: guru yogamandalathankayantra yoga, the discipline of the fighting monks of Shaolin, panchamrita, mantra recitation, tea ceremony, ganacakra, amongst others. Buddhist Devotion is an important part of the practice of most Buddhists. According to a spokesman of the Sasana Council of Burma, devotion to Buddhist spiritual practices inspires devotion to the Triple Gem. Most Buddhists use ritual in pursuit of their spiritual aspirations. In Buddhism, puja (Sanskrit & Pali: pūjā) are expressions of “honour, worship and devotional attention.” Acts of puja include bowing, making offerings and chanting. These devotional acts are generally performed daily at home (either in the morning or evening or both) as well as during communal festivals and Uposatha days at a temple.

Buddha Devotees Prayer Buddhism Religion Temple

Buddha follower meditating

Meditation (samādhi) is a central form of worship in Buddhism. This practice is focused on the third step of the Eightfold Path that ultimately leads to self awakening, also known as enlightenment. Meditation promotes self-awareness and exploration of the mind and spirit. Traditionally, Buddhist meditation had combined samatha (the act of stopping and calming oneself) and vipasyana (seeing clearly within) to create a complete mind and body experience. By stopping one’s everyday activities and focusing on something simple, the mind can open and expand enough to reach a spiritual level. By practicing the step of vipasyana, one does not achieve the final stage of awareness, but rather approaches one step closer. Mindful meditation teaches one to stop reacting quickly to thoughts and external objects that present themselves, but rather to peacefully hold the thought without immediately responding to it. Although in traditional Buddhist faith, enlightenment is the desired end goal of meditation, it is more of a cycle in a literal sense that helps individuals better understand their minds. For example, meditation leads to understanding, leading to kindness, leading to peace, etc.


Further information: Puja (Hinduism)YajnaBhajanfasting, Aarti, and kirtan
See also: Śrauta, Yajurveda

Worship in Hinduism involves invoking higher forces to assist in spiritual and material progress and is simultaneously both a science and an art. A sense of bhakti or devotional love is generally invoked. This term is probably a central one in Hinduism. A direct translation from the Sanskrit to English is problematic. Worship takes a multitude of forms depending on community groups, geography and language. There is a flavour of loving and being in love with whatever object or focus of devotion. Worship is not confined to any place of worship, it also incorporates personal reflection, art forms and group. People usually perform worship to achieve some specific end or to integrate the body, the mind and the spirit in order to help the performer evolve into a higher being.


Main articles: Christian worshipAnglican devotionsChurch serviceMass in the Catholic Church, and Catholic devotions
See also:Eucharist

Worship Body Of Christ Monstrance Pray Christ

Christian meditation, worship

In Christianity, a church service is a formalized period of communal worship, often but not exclusively occurring on Sunday (or on Saturday in the case of those churches practicing seventh-day Sabbatarianism). The church service is the gathering together of Christians to be taught the “Word of God” (the Holy Bible) and encouraged in their faith. Technically, the “church” in “church service” refers to the gathering of the faithful rather than to the building in which the event takes place. In Christianity, worship is reverent honor and homage paid to God. The New Testament uses various words to express the concept of worship. The word proskuneo – “to worship” – means to bow down (to Gods or to kings).

Mass is the central act of divine worship in the Catholic Church. The Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican publishes a Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy. Roman Catholic devotions are “external practices of piety” which are not part of the official liturgy of the Catholic Church but are part of the popular spiritual practices of Catholics. They do not become part of liturgical worship, even if conducted in a Catholic church, in a group, in the presence of a priest.

Anglican devotions are private prayers and practices used by Anglican Christians to promote spiritual growth and communion with God. Among members of the Anglican Communion, private devotional habits vary widely, depending on personal preference and on affiliation with low-church or high-church parishes.

Adoration versus veneration

Main article: Adoration and Veneration

The New Testament uses various words translatable as “worship“. The word proskuneo – “to worship” – means to bow down to gods or kings.

Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Eastern Orthodoxy make a technical distinction between two different concepts:

  • adoration or latria (Latin adoratio, Greek latreia[λατρεία]), which is due to God alone
  • veneration or dulia (Latin veneratio, Greek douleia [δουλεία]), which may be lawfully offered to the saints

The external acts of veneration resemble those of worship, but differ in their object and intent. Protestant Christians, who reject the veneration of saints, question whether Catholics always maintain such a distinction in actual devotional practice, especially at the level of folk religion.

According to Mark Miravalle the English word “worship” is equivocal, in that it has been used (in Catholic writing, at any rate) to denote both adoration/latria and veneration/dulia, and in some cases even as a synonym for veneration as distinct from adoration:

As St. Thomas Aquinas explains, adoration, which is known as latria in classical theology, is the worship and homage that is rightly offered to God alone. It is the manifestation of submission, and acknowledgement of dependence, appropriately shown towards the excellence of an uncreated divine person and to his absolute Lordship. It is the worship of the Creator that God alone deserves. Although we see in English a broader usage of the word “adoration” which may not refer to a form of worship exclusive to God—for example, when a husband says that he “adores his wife”—in general it can be maintained that adoration is the best English denotation for the worship of latria.

Veneration, known as dulia in classical theology, is the honor and reverence appropriately due to the excellence of a created person. Excellence exhibited by created beings likewise deserves recognition and honor. We see a general example of veneration in events like the awarding of academic awards for excellence in school, or the awarding of olympic medals for excellence in sports. There is nothing contrary to the proper adoration of God when we offer the appropriate honor and recognition that created persons deserve based on achievement in excellence.

We must make a further clarification regarding the use of the term “worship” in relation to the categories of adoration and veneration. Historically, schools of theology have used the term “worship” as a general term which included both adoration and veneration. They would distinguish between “worship of adoration” and “worship of veneration.” The word “worship” (in a similar way to how the liturgical term “cult” is traditionally used) was not synonymous with adoration, but could be used to introduce either adoration or veneration. Hence Catholic sources will sometimes use the term “worship” not to indicate adoration, but only the worship of veneration given to Mary and the saints.

Orthodox Judaism and orthodox Sunni Islam hold that for all practical purposes veneration should be considered the same as prayer; Orthodox Judaism (arguably with the exception of some Chasidic practices), orthodox Sunni Islam, and most kinds of Protestantism forbid veneration of saints or of angels, classifying these actions as akin to idolatry.

Similarly, Jehovah’s Witnesses assert that many actions classified as patriotic by Protestant groups, such as saluting a flag, count as equivalent to worship and are therefore considered idolatrous as well.


Main article: Ibadah

In Islam, worship refers to ritualistic devotion as well as actions done in accordance to Islamic law which is ordained by and pleasing to Allah (God). Worship is included in the Five Pillars of Islam, primarily that of salah, which is the practice of ritual prayer five times daily.

According to Muhammad Asad, on his notes in The Message of the Qur’an translation on 51:56,

Thus, the innermost purpose of the creation of all rational beings is their cognition of the existence of Allah and, hence, their conscious willingness to conform their own existence to whatever they may perceive of His will and plan: and it is this twofold concept of cognition and willingness that gives the deepest meaning to what the Quran describes as “worship”. As the next verse shows, this spiritual call does not arise from any supposed “need” on the part of the Creator, who is self-sufficient and infinite in His power, but is designed as an instrument for the inner development of the worshipper, who, by the act of his conscious self-surrender to the all-pervading Creative Will, may hope to come closer to an understanding of that Will and, thus closer to Allah Himself.


Further information: Jewish services

Jewish services

Jewish services

Worship of God in Judaism is called Avodat Hashem. During the period when the Temple stood, the rites conducted there were considered the most important act of Jewish worship. However, the most common form of worship was and remains that of prayer. Other forms of worship include the conduct of prescribed rituals, such as the Passover Seder and waving the Four Species, with proper intent, as well as various types of Jewish meditation.

Worship through mundane activities

Jewish sources also express the notion that one can perform any appropriate mundane activity as the worship of God. Examples would include returning a lost article and working to support oneself and one’s family.

The Code of Jewish Law (Orach Chayim, Chapter 231) cites Proverbs (3:6), “in all your ways, know him” (Hebrew: בכל דרכיך דעהו (b’chol d’rachecha dei’eihu)), as a biblical source for this idea.


Sikhism, worship takes place after the Guru Granth Sahib, which is the work of the 10 Sikh Gurus all in one. Sikhs worship God and only one God, known as “One Creator”, “The Wonderful Teacher” (Waheguru), or “Destroyer of Darkness”.

Worship is an essential part of a Sikh’s life. The main purpose of worship is to praise the one, true God, referred to as Waheguru. According to Sikh belief, God is the creator of everything, is immortal and is without form. Worship in the gurdwara takes place in a hall called a diwan, meaning ‘court of a ruler’. See Sikhs worship


Wiccan worship commonly takes place during a full moon or a new moon. Such rituals are called an Esbat and may involve a magic circle which practitioners believe will contain energy and form a sacred space, or will provide them a form of magical protection.

Modern worship

In modern society and sociology, some writers have commented on the ways that people no longer simply worship recognised deities, but also (or instead) worship consumer brands, sports teams, and other people (celebrities). Sociology therefore extends this argument to suggest that religion and worship is a process whereby society worships itself, as a form of self-valorization and self-preservation.


See also

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