The Mass we attend today is called the New Order Mass. However most of the forms that are included are themselves very ancient.

  To begin with, the early Christians being of Jewish origin would have considered Saturday the day of worship. Saturday was the Sabbath to them and still is for Jews today. However, very early on, the Christians moved the day of remembrance to Sunday to honor the day of our Lordís resurrection. The apostle Paul celebrated the breaking of the bread on Sunday (Acts 20:7) and it was already a tradition by the 2nd century (CCC 1345).

  The basic structure of the Mass has not changed in one thousand seven hundred years. Since the 3rd century the Mass has always had: opening prayers; reading of the Sacred Scripture; the Eucharistic prayer, or anaphora; and final or closing prayers.

  The "Lord have mercy" was originally from the Eastern liturgies but was added to the Roman rite in the 4th century. Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) was the one who added it but he also modified it adding the Christe Eleison with the idea of the prayer being a chant to the Blessed Trinity: Kyrie Eleison - Father; Christe Eleison - Son; Kyrie Eleison - Holy Spirit.1

  The Confiteor (I confess to almighty God and to you...) was originally a prayer used to distribute communion outside of Mass. It was added to the Mass in the Roman rite about the 10th century.2 It was shortened slightly after Vatican II, by eliminating some supplications to specific saints, such as Peter and Paul. The remainder remains the same.

  The Gloria (Glory to God in the highest...) dates to before the 4th century. It was originally used only during the Mass at Christmas. Pope Symmachus (498-514) extended its use to every Sunday and to the feasts of martyrs.3 This particular prayer has remained completely unchanged since at least 1570.

  The Scripture readings may date from the 7th century BC to about 90 AD. The early Church decided which books would be in the Bible (CCC 120). The Bible was translated from the original languages into Latin by St. Jerome around 382. The earliest list of accepted books is called the Muratorian Canon, dated around 190 AD. The Council of Rome in 382, the Council of Hippo in 393, and the Council of Carthage in 397 also drew up the same list of accepted books. In the 16th century the Council of Trent declared definitively the list of books that constituted Sacred Scripture. This was merely a declaration of what had been a fact for one thousand three hundred years.

  The Creed after the homily (We believe in one God,...) was written at the Council of Nicaea in 325. It was finalized at the Council of Constantinople in 385. Its proper name is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (CCC 195). Pope Benedict VIII added one word, "Filioque" in the year 1014 to reinforce the Church's teaching that the Holy Spirit procedes from Jesus as well as God the Father. Other than this one word, this statement of the Churchís teaching has remained unchanged for over one thousand six hundred years. The Spanish were the first to include the Nicene Creed in the Mass, starting around 597. The Roman rite did not include it until the 10th or 11th century.4

  The Eucharistic prayers that the priest says at every Mass are based for the most part on very ancient texts. The Eucharistic prayers themselves are in 4 basic parts, an opening exclamation, or preface; a memorial also known as "anamnesis"; a petition to or invocation of the Holy Spirit, also called "epiclesis"; and the concluding doxology (CCC 1352-1354).

  The first Eucharistic prayer is also referred to as the "Roman Canon". It was in use by the fourth century. Saint Gregory the Great who was a Pope and Doctor of the Church from 590 to 604 made some modifications to the prayer. This same prayer was adopted as the standard Eucharistic prayer of the Roman rite in 1570 by order of the Council of Trent, and has been used by the Church to this day.5 The only change since the Council of Trent was that St. Joseph was added to the litany of saints during the second Vatican council.

  The second Eucharistic prayer is not new either. It is based on the "Anaphora of Hippolytus" which was composed around 215 and is the earliest Eucharistic prayer that has come down to us. Hippolytus was a Roman priest who was martyred in 235. Over the centuries it gradually was used less and less in the Western Church until it disappeared altogether as a complete prayer. Its use was revived after Vatican II. The Sanctus and the intercessions were added to make the prayer identical in structure with the others.6

  The third Eucharistic prayer is definitely modern, being post-Vatican II. It was completed in 1967, based on preliminary work by a Benedictine, Father Cyprian Vagaggini, and approved by Pope Paul VI.7

  The fourth Eucharistic prayer is based on the "Anaphora of St. Basil". St. Basil was born in 330 in Caesarea of Cappodocia in the eastern Mediterranean. After he was made Bishop of Caesarea, he wrote his own anaphora (Eucharistic prayer) based on elements of previous ones. It suffered the same fate as the Anaphora of Hippolytus and was also revived by Vatican II.8

  The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) was introduced into the Roman Canon by Pope Sergius (687-701) during the Fraction, or breaking of the bread, and was repeated as long as the Fraction was taking place. Eventually it was changed so that it was only repeated three times.9

  The sign of peace was at one time the kiss of peace. It was exchanged among all the faithful in the congregation until the time of Innocent III (1196-1215). At that time the congregation was divided with men on one side and women on the other. The Council of Trent changed it so that only the clergy exchanged any sign of peace. Vatican II changed it back.10

  In the 7th century all the congregation took communion in both kinds. The Precious Blood was received through a tube, and in some places the Host was received in the hand. This practice went on until about the 14th century when only the Host was given to the congregation.11

  The blessing at the end of Mass was originally only given by the Pope or other bishops. Then in the 12th and 13th century ordinary priests were allowed to give it. The word "Mass" itself comes from the Latin "Ite missa est" which means "Go, it is ended". An alternate explanation is that it came from the Latin expression "misa facere" which means to dismiss. Whatever the origin, by the 6th century the word "Mass" began to mean the whole service.12

  The service we attend today is called the "New Order" Mass. However on close examination there is actually very little which is new. Why is it that so many people seem to harbor a grudge against the "new" Mass? Perhaps it is because of the way it was implemented, being changed virtually overnight in some parishes. Perhaps because even though prayers like the Gloria did not change even one comma, we have had to suffer through some atrocious translations into English. But most of all, people may not like the "new" Mass because of its association with Vatican II, and all the craziness that was caused in the councilís name by people who never bothered to read the documents that resulted from it or even put them on their bookshelves. Whatever the misgivings we have felt or heard about the "new" Mass we must remember that it is the Churchís Mass. It is our chance to attend the Last Supper and the sacrifice at Calvary. The Mass is as timeless and as old as these historical facts.

1 Right Rev Dom F. Cabrol, The Mass of the Western Rites.1934
2 Ibid.
3 Rev. Joseph Jungmann The Mass of the Roman Rite. Vol 1. 1950 p 356
4 Cabrol op.cit.
5 Rev. Joseph Jungmann The Mass of the Roman Rite Vol 1. 1950. p. 53-58. Vol. 2 pg. 108
6 Enrico Mazza The Eucharistic Prayers of the Roman Rite. 1986 p. 90-91 Josef Jungmann The Early Liturgy 1959. pg. 64
7 Mazza op. cit. 124-125
8 Anibale Bugnini Reform of the Liturgy 1948-1975. 1983 p. 458-460
9 Dom F. Cabrol The Mass of the Western Rites. 1934
10 Ibid.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.



Published by The Minnesota St. Thomas More Chapter of Catholics United for the Faith, March-April 1999.