The Shape & Order of the Mass 1

This is the first of two mutterings to help introduce some minor adjustments to our order of service. There is no change in traditional liturgical English or in the prayers we use – only in the sequence and order of the service.

St Luke, in the Book of Acts, describes how the Early Church gathered for prayer: first in the Temple for a synagogue service and then at home for the ‘Breaking of Bread’, as the Mass was first called. The two forms of service were shaped like this:

Synagogue Service                                        Christian ‘Breaking of Bread’

  1. Opening Blessing                                1. Greeting of Peace
  2. Psalm of praise                                    2. Psalm of praise
  3. Opening Prayer                                   3. Bread and Wine Prepared
  4. One to three Bible readings.              4. Prayer of Consecration
  5. Sermon                                                5. Lord’s Prayer
  6. Intercessions                                       6. Breaking of the Bread
  7. Psalm of praise                                    7. Communion
  8. Final Blessing                                      8.Final prayer and Blessing

This arrangement continued for about 35 years until the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. The Jewish leadership that was left blamed the Christians for this disaster and excommunicated them from the Synagogue.

From that time, the Church combined these two services as one in their meeting places. So, at this early stage we begin to see the shape and order of the Mass

1 Psalms of praise (Introit)                           7. Greeting of Peace
2.Opening Greeting                                      8. Psalms of Praise
3. Collect                                                        9. Offertory
4. Reading of Scripture                                10. Consecration
5 Sermon                                                       11. Lord’s Prayer
6. Intercessions                                             12. Communion
…………………………….                                    13. Final Prayer and Blessing

Gradually, other items were added as they became available; Glory be to God on High, Gospels, Creed, Agnus Dei, so by the time of Pope Gregory the Great (AD 540-604) and Saint Benedict, we have the final shape and order of the Mass, which continued up to the time of the English Reformation, with some items like the intercessions that were dropped. Archbishop Cranmer in 1549 produced the first Book of Common Prayer, which followed this order, but he shifted some items around and added some extra ones – more of that is for next week. However, from around the late 19th Century scholars came to understand this original order. When the reform and changes of the new prayer books in the Anglican Church began in the 1970s, it became the aim to restore the original shape and order of the Mass. The difficulty is a division in our liturgical tradition, with the Order of the Book of Common Prayer on one hand, and the new services in An Australian Prayer Book and then A Prayer Book for Australia. The problems is, that most Anglicans under fifty years of age have no working knowledge of the Book of Common Prayer and the English Missal. We need to address this problem, but not at the expense of losing our heritage and tradition.