Connect with us
Required Weekly Observances
Thursday, January 08, 2009


Baha’i collective worship generally consists of individuals successively reading prayers and selections from scripture, while worshipers listen quietly. Community worship is not required, but Baha’is are encouraged to pray as a group, as well as individually, since this strengthens them as a group and lends force to their prayer. The only obligatory congregational prayer is praying for the dead.

Baha’is worship God through prayer and meditation; participation in devotional gatherings; and active service in their communities.

The Baha’i scriptures offer guidance on the uses of prayer and contain prayers for various purposes and occasions. Moreover, work performed in the spirit of service, according to Baha’i teachings, is an expression of worship.

No special ritual items are required for Baha’i worship, although they may use prayer books containing sacred texts for prayer and meditation.


Many Buddhist groups in America have adopted the practice of meeting weekly. Required daily practices are done together and have become group observances. Some Buddhist traditions may meet on the full moon day of each month.

Eastern Rite Catholicism

Participation in the Divine Liturgy (Mass) is required. If the Divine Liturgy is not available, participation in the Latin Rite Mass fulfills the requirement.


Hindus are expected to come together regularly to worship. The devotee prays to the Lord for granting him or her intense devotion and removing the veil of ignorance. Generally, a particular deity becomes the object of worship. Among the more popular of the Hindu deities are Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha, Vishnu, and one of his avatara, Krishna.


Public congregate prayer, called Jumu’ah, is conducted by an Imam or his designee every Friday. This prayer service takes the place of the noon prayer and is said in congregation including a sermon (Khutbah) which can be on any aspect of the life of the Muslim community. The actual prayer consists of two rak’as. Before this prayer, as before all prayers, Muslims are required to perform ritual washing (ablution) as outlined in the Qur’an. A minimum of one hour should be set aside for the prayer and make sure to schedule in enough time for the ritual ablution. Muslims line up in rows in order to make the prayers. Only Muslims should be allowed in the prayer rows since there is a ceremonial prerequisite (a confession of the Shahadah) to participating in the prayer. Visitors form a separate line behind the Muslims. The two-part sermon can be heard by all without infringing on the sanctity of prayer.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Jehovah’s Witnesses should be able to attend a weekly congregate worship to receive God’s grace through proclaiming the Word, singing songs, participating in group study, and reflecting upon the weekly Watchtower and Awake publications.

For this weekly practice, it is beneficial to have volunteers from the local community provide leadership for the detainees.


The Jewish calendar is based on a lunar/solar cycle. Therefore, Jewish holidays do not correspond to the Gregorian calendar. Published calendars which list the Gregorian and Jewish dates are readily available from local synagogues and national organizations. It is necessary for chaplains to obtain such a calendar and to become familiar with this unique aspect of the Jewish Faith.

The Jewish day does not begin and end at midnight as does the regular calendar day. In Judaism, the day begins with the onset of night, or according to several authorities, the day begins at sunset. The day ends with the onset of the next night, which is approximately one hour after sundown.

For this reason, the Sabbath begins on Friday night and ends Saturday night one hour after sundown. The same is true of the Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succos, Passover, Shavuos, Chanukah, Purim, and Tisha B’Av. Beginning the day with the night is in a sense a metaphor of life itself: life begins in darkness of the womb, then bursts into the brightness of the light and eventually settles into the darkness of the grave – which in turn, is followed by a new dawn in the world to come.

It is important to note that observant Jews from sunset Friday evening to one hour after sunset Saturday night do not use electrical appliances, do not ride in a vehicle, do not write, cook, sew, nor turn electricity off and on. Thus, an observant Jewish detainee will refuse to allow his fingerprints to be taken on Shabbos. Likewise, the use of a breathalyzer is forbidden because it activates an electric charge in order to produce a reading. If this is the case, the detainee may be tested after Sundown that day, thus completing the locally stipulated alcohol surveillance procedures.

Congregational worship takes place when there are ten adult male Jews present. The quorum of ten needed for congregational worship is called a minyan. When a minyan is present additional prayers are recited. However, even if a minyan is not present it remains preferable to pray in unison rather than to pray as an individual. It is important to note that there are no sacraments in Judaism and no liturgical distinction exists between rabbi and layman. Thus, any learned Jew may lead a service.

Two congregate services are conducted on the Sabbath: one on Friday evening and the other Saturday morning.

Ordinarily, Shabbos candles are lit eighteen minutes before sunset to welcome the Queen. They may be lit about one hour before sunset but never after. Traveling candles (candles in a metal container) are most appropriate. When candles are not approved due to security considerations a detainee may fulfill this obligation by specifically turning on an electric bulb for Shabbos use. Friday evening communal worship services should be conducted in the chapel.

Following the service, the Shabbos Kiddush (sanctification blessings) is recited. The Kiddush is normally recited while holding a full cup of kosher grape juice approximately 4.5 ounces. Ordinarily, one person may recite the Kiddush for the entire congregation.

The Shabbos communal morning service is the most elaborate of the week. Approximately two hours should be allocated, even though many detainees may prefer a shorter time for worship. After the morning service, the Kiddush is again recited over grape juice. The Shabbos concludes with a ritual called havdolah or separation. It is a ceremony that proclaims the end of the shabbos sanctity and the beginning of a new week. Materials needed for this ritual are grape juice, a special candle consisting of several wicks, and spices (usually cloves).

The expectant joy with which the Jew receives and honors the shabbos receives fondest expression in the table hymns sung at the Sabbath service. The table hymns are called zmiros. The celebratory services require two whole matzohs or challahs. The challah loaves may be small, similar to a dinner roll in size, if the Jewish congregation is small in number. Two are used as symbols of the weekly double portion of manna which the Jewish people received before Shabbos during their journey in the desert. Ordinarily, one person may take the two whole matzohs for the entire congregation in their presence.


There are no required weekly rituals. However, if it is the practice of the Religious Services Program to accommodate requests for weekly worship and study, it would be appropriate to schedule a weekly community-based meeting of Orisha seekers/devotees and practitioners. Because the rituals reflect the cultures of the regions from which practitioners and seekers have descended, the practices, rituals, and customs vary even from household to household.

Community-based celebrations generally center on the worship or study of a particular Orisha to whom household members are dedicated. Fruit is frequently offered to the Orisha. Drum music and dancing are a form of prayer and sometimes bring about an altered state of consciousness – a trance state – in initiated priests and priestesses. In the trance state, the worshiper becomes spiritually possessed and channels the Orisha, giving the community and individuals information, perform healings, etc.

Household rituals are public and open to all who are invited to attend. One’s ancestors, egun, are held in high esteem in the Orisha worshipers’ traditions. Thus, all ceremonies and rituals in the various manifestations of the tradition begin with paying homage to one’s ancestors.

In detention centers, worship or devotion dedicated to one or more particular Orishas are best observed by individuals. Scheduled group services are open to all, for the benefit of all Orisha worshipers, regardless of their particular religious and cultural differences based on their geographic and cultural origin. Seekers of various cultures may wish to participate in Orisha worship services and studies out of curiosity about the unknown, or about spiritist practices. While participation is encouraged, seekers or visitors must honor the traditions and practices of the practitioners and observe or participate respectfully, without imposing contrary practices or beliefs, or disrupting the services.

Orthodox Christianity

Orthodox Christians must attend weekly celebrations of the Divine Liturgy, if available. They are encouraged to attend other weekly services such as Vespers and Matins, as well as special Feast Day services, if possible.

Protestant Christianity

It is expected that Protestants would have the opportunity to attend weekly congregate worship in order to receive God’s grace through such various means as the proclamation of the Word, opportunity for individual reconciliation/forgiveness, and observance of the ordinances. Due to the wide variety of worship expressions among the detainee population, the chaplain must be sensitive to the diversity and incorporate a variety of worship styles in the Protestant worship service.

In addition, it might be beneficial to utilize outside volunteer groups representing different faith traditions in order to provide a variety of service styles and formats. These services, however, should not replace the Protestant, or general Christian, worship service led by the chaplain.

Worship services following the specific liturgy and faith of the chaplain will ordinarily be conducted on days other than Sunday in order to preserve the practice of providing the general Christian service on Sundays.

Chaplains are expected to provide communion under the supervision and in accordance with their respective traditions. At the same time, chaplains will need to be sensitive to and inclusive of the variety of traditions within the general Christian tradition. Communion will be provided once a month at a minimum.


There may or may not be a set time to conduct worship. Some consider Saturday a holy day to be used for celebration. Drums are used in ceremonies. The Association of Rastafarian Theologians states that “we do utilize incense and oils in our ceremonies.” What remains unclear is the type of oil used, its frequency, amount, and purpose.

Meetings are opened and closed with the prayer which has been associated with the movement for many years. The prayer is as follows (The Rastafarians, p. 125):

“Princes shall come out of Egypt, Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hand unto God. Oh thou God of Ethiopia, thou God of divine majesty, thy spirit. Come within our hearts to dwell in the parts of righteousness. That the hungry be fed, the sick nourished, the aged protected, and the infant cared for. Teach us to love and loyalty as it is in Zion.

Deliver us from the hands of our enemy that we may prove faithful to the last day, when our enemy has passed, and decayed in the depth of the sea or in the berry of a beast. O give us a place in thy kingdom forever and ever. So we hail our God Selassie I, Jehovah God, Ras Tafari, Almighty God, Ras Tafari, Great and terrible God, Ras Tafari. Who sitteth in Zion and reigneth in the hearts of men, and women, hear and bless us and sanctify us, and cause thy loving face to shine upon us thy children that we may be saved. Selah.”

Roman Catholicism

Catholics are obligated to participate in the Eucharist (Mass) each Sunday (See canon 897).

Ordinarily, the Sunday Mass is offered after 4:00 pm on Saturday or anytime Sunday. Because of the scarcity of priests, it is sometimes necessary to offer the weekly Mass at another time during the week. The appropriate time for Mass, though, is during the hours cited above. Mass should only be offered at another time if there is no priest available during the hours prescribed by the Church.

Communion services offered by a deacon or commissioned extraordinary minister of communion do not substitute for the weekly Mass obligation unless the prison is located in an area where no priests are available at any time during the week.

Media Mass is never an acceptable substitute for participation in the Mass. It may serve as a devotional experience for some, but it does not fulfill one’s obligation to participate in the Mass.

Valid performance of the Eucharistic ritual requires the use of a small amount of wine. It need only be consumed by the priest, and, hence, only a small amount is used. Although the practice of receiving communion under both species is common in the community, Catholic Church law does not require those receiving communion to receive the consecrated wine. It is sufficient to receive the communion host, for Christ is believed to be totally present in the consecrated host. The consecrated wine should be consumed by the priest at Mass. Consecrated wine is never reserved in the tabernacle.

The sacred vessels used to celebrate Catholic Mass should not be used for other purposes or by other religious groups. Once the communion hosts are consecrated at the Catholic Mass, Catholics believe that Christ is truly present in those hosts. Hence they must be treated reverently and either completely consumed at the Mass or kept in a tabernacle with a vigil light burning nearby to recall the sacred presence. Under no circumstance should those consecrated hosts be mixed back with other communion hosts that have not been used.


The Sikh worship service takes place in a Gurdwara, which means Gate to the Guru. The primary focus of worship is upon the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, the sacred writings. Covered in cloth, written in Gurmukhi, it is placed at the front of the room in an elevated position. Sikhs will bow in humility to the sacred scriptures, as it symbolizes the infinite word of God. Everyone attending worship will sit on the floor as an act of equality, humility, and respect. To facilitate meditation, persons sit with their legs crossed.

The service consists of songs of Praise (kirtan), Community Prayer (ardas), the Scripture Reading (hukan) first read in Gurmukhi then translated to English, and the Congregational Message (Sangat).

Worship protocol includes the removal of shoes, keeping one’s head covered, and washing of hands and feet prior to entry into the Gurdwara.  The washing of hands and feet purifies one before the Siri Guru Granth Sahib.


All information in this section has been compiled from the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Technical Reference for Inmate Religious Beliefs and Practices