Part 5: Catholic Europe. Lesson 5 of 8.
Lesson 30. The Worship Service

Through today’s lesson, we hope you will see that while the things we do in the worship service are commands of God²,  the order in which we do them are man-made and differ from church to church.  We hope you will enjoy and appreciate this variety.

1.Sources. The worship service that developed in Europe continued to use the elements in the worship service of the Jewish synagogue, which at the time of Jesus included these parts:
1) Psalms.
2) Bible readings.
3) Sermon.
4) Prayers.
5) Offering money.
6) A Blessing at the end (Numbers 6:22-26)

To these the early church added Holy Communion.  These items are still used in most churches today.

2.Other Jewish customs. Christians of many languages still use three Hebrew words:  Amen (which means “it shall be so”);  Hallelujah (which means “Praise God”) and Hosanna (which means “save us”).  Jewish families prayed before meals; a document from 215 shows that this practice was common among believers at that time, and most Christians continue this custom today.

3.Sermon. A few hundred years before Christ, many Jewish people no longer used Hebrew in their daily life.  They used the local language of their country.  In the Jewish synagogues, someone would read the Bible in Hebrew, and then another person would translate and explain it in the local language.  This is the origin of the sermon. This custom gave Paul an opportunity. Acts 13 tells about a time that Paul attended the service in the Jewish synagogue, and that after the readings from the Bible, the leaders invited Paul to speak. 1

4.New Testament added. Paul told people to read his letters in church and to pass them along to other churches. 2  A document written in AD 150 3 shows that Paul’s letters were already in common use in church services, alongside the readings from the Old Testament.  The believers continued the synagogue custom of singing Psalms, and were also singing hymns and spiritual songs. 4  Paul does not explain the difference between those last two types.  One common practice is to use the word “hymn” to designate a song that praises God by listing His characteristics, and “spiritual song” for a song that talks about one’s experience of faith.

5.Communion. The early church created communion prayers that have some of the same phrases as the Jewish family prayers at Passover.  This shows the desire to respond to Jesus words “do this in remembrance of me” by duplicating some aspects of the night that Jesus instituted Holy Communion, for he did so while he was taking part in the Passover meal.  The communion prayer was not continued by Luther and Calvin, because in the Roman Catholic church it had gradually come to describe communion as a presentation of Jesus’ sacrifice to God again 12, but the reformers saw it as a fit from God assuring us that our forgiveness is assured because of the finished sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  In recent years some Protestant churches have begun to use communion prayers again, being careful to emphasize the Protestant understanding.

6.Sunday. Although the Jews worshipped on Saturday, the believers in Jesus added a meeting on Sunday, and gradually their use of the Saturday service died out. The following quotes from a document written around the year 150 describes the Sunday service:

“It is on Sunday we assemble, because Sunday is the first day: the day on which God transformed darkness and matter and created the world, and the day on which Jesus Christ our Savior rose from the dead.”

“On the day named after the sun, all who live in city or countryside assemble.  The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read for as long as time allows.  When the reader has finished, the president addresses us, and exhorts us to imitate the splendid things we have heard.  Then we all stand and pray.”

“When we are finished praying, bread and wine are brought up.  The president then prays and gives thanks according to his ability, and the people give their assent with an ‘amen.’  Next, the gifts over which the thanksgiving has been spoken are distributed and everyone shares in them, while they are also sent with the deacons to the absent brothers.  The wealthy who are willing make contributions, each as he pleases, and the collection is then deposited with the president, who aids orphans and widows, whose who are in want because of sickness or some other reason, those in prison, and visiting strangers.  In short, he takes care of all in need.” 4

In the quote above, note the parts that are listed in number 1 of this lesson.  Those parts are the same in the Jewish worship service and in the Christian worship service, and their use is taught in the New Testament. 5

7.Standard songs. In the early centuries, the Christians in Europe began to add other songs to the church service.  Finally, five of them became standard.  Four are quotations from the Bible.  Please read the Bible verses.

Title of Song: Bible verse: explanation:
Lord have Mercy Psalm 51:1 David confesses sins
Glory to God on High Luke 2:14 Angels sang to shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth
Holy, Holy, Holy Isaiah 6:3 Isaiah sees a vision of angels
Lamb of God John 1:29 John the Baptist points out Jesus

The fifth standard song was the Nicene Creed set to music.  It was written in 325 and refined to its present words in 381.

8.Combining together. In the early centuries, the five standard songs were combined with the parts from the synagogue service. (Technical terms are in footnote 6) The chart below shows the complete structure, most of which was already in use in the 8th century when King Charlemagne directed his officials to use the worship pattern developed in Rome for use in his kingdom’s worship services (in today’s France and Germany).  10

The reason for showing the dates is to document that even though the parts of the service quote many Bible words, the actual plan and contents of the service was developed by people.  The column at the right lists the dates when we have a document stating that this part was used on Sunday mornings; most of the items were written long before they were added to the service.

Order Words From synagogue From family prayer Added by believers Years documented as first used in Sunday worship:
1 Opening Psalm X 450
2 Lord Have Mercy X 500’s — see below, 9
3 Glory to God X Sometimes after 680; regularly after 1100
4 Short Prayer X 450
5 Bible readings X 150
6  Psalm verses in between readings X 450
7 Sermon X Assumed continuous
8 Creed X After 1100²¹
9 Offering X 150
10 Communion prayer X 150
11 Holy Holy Holy X 450
12 Words Jesus used to institute communion Bible verse: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 350
13 Lamb of God X 600’s
14 Final short prayer X 450
15 Benediction X Assumed early

9.Catholic usage. This service order above is also still used by the Roman Catholic Church, and is called “the mass,” a word popularized by Pope Gregory I.  (The Eastern Orthodox Church service outline is in footnote 7 below — it has all the items from the Jewish worship, but different added songs)  In the early church, the people were involved in singing, but after the 7thcentury the music was sung mostly by trained singers, and the people just listened.  The modern languages of Europe emerged, but the church service continued to be in Latin, the language of the Roman Empire.  The Roman Catholic Church service continued to use Latin until the 1960’s, when permission was given to translate the service into the language of each country.  At that time, the people were also invited to participate through singing of hymns and new music for the five standard songs. Many famous composers have written music for these five songs (see footnote 8).  Note which of the parts are used in the Sunday worship service that you take part in.

10.Lord Have Mercy. In the earliest centuries, those who were not yet baptized were dismissed after the first half of the service. After they were gone, the believers continued with a long prayer and with holy communion.  (After the 300’s, anyone could stay for the entire service).  That long prayer used the words “Lord have Mercy” as a response.  In the 500’s, it was moved to the beginning of the service.  In the 600’s the prayer parts were removed, and only the refrain was left.  In recent years, some church services have  added prayer requests to the Lord Have Mercy part again, restoring it to its original use as a response. Later a general “prayer for the people” was added to the second half of the service by the Catholic Church, and the reformers also used a general prayer.

11.Seasonal emphases. Already in the early centuries, certain seasons of the year began to be set aside for certain themes.  Below is a list of the main seasons:

Name Description Year documented
Advent (means coming) 4 weeks before Christmas 581
Christmas Celebrate Jesus birth 306
Epiphany (means showing) The weeks after Christmas 13 361
Lent 6 weeks before Easter 320
Easter Celebrate Jesus’ rising 154

12.Dates. The date that Jesus was born is unknown.  The custom of using December 25 developed because that date was a major Roman holiday, and using that date helped the church to focus people’s attention on Jesus rather than on their previous gods.  The date of Easter changes according to the lunar calendar.

13.Reading lists. Gradually, certain Psalms, readings, and short prayers that were on a single theme were repeated on the same Sunday year after year. In 1978 the Catholic Church developed a new list that repeated itself every three years, and this list has been adapted by the Protestant Churches that use reading lists: the Church of England and the Lutherans. (See footnote 9 for music written for readings in Lutheran churches).

14.Reformation. At the time of the Reformation, Martin Luther said that Christians were free to continue to use this service order, except that he simplified the communion section.  The Lutherans also translated the service into their own language.  In order to help the people participate in the service, the Lutherans wrote hymn melodies for the five standard songs.  In all churches from the reformation, the sermon is emphasized.

The Church of England is similar, allowing some of the weekly hymns to be optional.  There is a time of confessing sins before the communion part (In Lutheran churches the confession is more likely to be at the very beginning of the service).  It would use a complete communion prayer, including Christ’s words and asking the Holy Spirit to come down.

Most of the churches that followed Calvin’s influence did not use the five standard songs, though they maintained the items from the Jewish synagogue service.  They also do not use the international reading lists and do not emphasize all of the seasonal themes.  See a common Reformed Church worship pattern in footnote 11.

15.Hymns. Notice that the service order printed above does not include hymns.  At the time of the Reformation, Luther not only changed the five standard songs into hymn form, but also wrote many additional hymns which were could be sung during the service.  Because the Lutherans wrote so many hymns, the Lutheran church was called the “singing church.”  The people of Germany learned about “justification by faith” by singing the hymns, and so the Reformation spread and took root.  Those who followed Calvin used only Psalms at first, but later added hymns.

16.Sources. Here are some of the major sources of the songs in today’s hymnals:
1)  Latin songs originally written for monasteries.
2)  German Lutheran songs from the Reformation.
3) Psalms in rhyme prepared by the early followers of Calvin
4) Isaac Watt, the first major English hymn writer, and many other Europeans.
5) Charles Wesley.  Brother of John, he wrote over 5000 hymns.
6) Songs from 19th century revivals and evangelism meetings.
7) Praise songs from Pentecostal and charismatic writers
8) songs from countries outside of Europe

17.Instruments. The early church forbade the use of the organ, because it was associated with the gladiator contests, but in the 17th century, the organ became the main instrument for use in European churches. Trumpets and other instruments were already used in churches in the 15th century, and continue to this day.

18.Confession of sins. In the Catholic church, the confession of sins was done privately to a priest, not in the Sunday worship service, which was in Latin. But there was a public time of confession in the language  of the common people inserted after the readings. Starting in the 1800’s, some Protestant churches began to have a public confession often placed at the very beginning of the service. 14

19.Today. Today the possibilities for music in church continue to expand.  In churches without organs, the piano is often used.  Leaders look for ways to make use of the gifts of the church members.  Those with beautiful voices can form choirs or sing solos.  Today many people know how to play guitar, and they are invited to lead contemporary singing.

20.The Praise service. In recent years a new plan has been created in churches that choose not to use the pattern created in the early church, or the simpler pattern created by the followers of Calvin.  This new plan starts with a long time of singing, usually led by a band with guitars and drums; then prayer by the pastor; then a sermon.

21.China.  Most church music in China has followed western patterns. (The True Jesus church uses a different pattern that places communion near the beginning).  However, more and more churches are taking familiar Chinese folk songs and adding Christian words to them, so they can be used in worship.  Other Chinese composers and poets are creating new hymns and music for listening.  The use of music by Chinese composers is a way that the Christian church in China can truly become a Chinese church.

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1) Please read Acts 13:14-15
2) Colossians 4:16
3) Apologia by Justin Martyr, section 67
4) Colossians 3:16.
5)   In the Bible, God tells us to:
Sing hymns, songs, and spiritual songs.  Colossians 3:16
Pray for kings and others in authority. I Timothy 2:1-2
Read the Bible in public. 1 Timothy 4:13
Take the bread and wine.  1 Corinthians 11:23-26

6) The words sukng every Sunday, such as the standard songs, are called the “ordinary.” The words that change every Sunday, such as the readings and songs, are called the “propers.” Here are the Latin words for the numbered lines in the chart. 1-Introit, 2-Gloria, 3-Kyrie (Greek word), 4-collect, 6-Gradual, 9-music during offering is called offertory, 11-Sandtus, 13-Agnus Dei.

7) The main parts of the EASTERN ORTHODOX SERVICE.  The entire service is sung by a choir, and people may sing along as they are able.

1) Opening blessings with Amen
2) Great Litany (a prayer with the refrain “Lord have mercy.”
3) Antiphons (subject of prayer is announced, then leader prays)
4) One or more hymns
5) Hymn called Trisagion. A praise to God as holy, sung three times.
6) Psalm portion
7) Two Bible readings
8) Sermon and/or another litany
9) Eucharist (Holy Communion portion), starts with a prayer
10) Cherubic Hymn (about us representing the angels)
11) a litany
12) The kiss of peace
13) The Nicene Creed
14) The Holy Holy Holy (Isaiah 6:3, as in the catholic church)
15) communion prayer, including Christ’s words and asking Holy Spirit to come
16) Hymn to the mother of God
17) Lord’s Prayer
18) Prayers about communion
19) Receiving the bread and wine
20) Hymn after communion
21) Prayer of Thanksgiving
(from Robert Webber, ed. The Renewal of Sunday Worship. Nashville: Star song, 1993. Pages 142-154

8) Church service music by famous composers.  Many composers have written music for the five standard songs. The title of the composition is called “mass.” For example, Schubert’s “Mass in G” is music for the five standard  songs. The links below demonstrate how various composers have written music for the second standard song, the “Glory be to God in the Highest.”
Vivaldi     Bach     Mozart      Schubert      Bruckner

9) During the 1700’s, one of Bach’s tasks as a church musician was to write music to go along with the Bible readings for a given Sunday. These compositions are called cantatas. Bach wrote more than 300 of them. Here is a sample, the words are “Shout to the Lord, all the earth.”

10) The Nicene Creed was included in the Eastern Orthodox service from the fourth century when it was first approved, though it was not said regularly in the European churches Sunday until the 1100’s. The Eastern Orthodox churches say the original words about the HOly Spirit, “who proceeds from the Father,” while the Catholic and Protestant churches say the words added in AD 589: “who proceeds from the Father and the Son.”

11) a common pattern used in churches that follow Calvin (Reformed Churches):

1) Call to worship — an appropriate Bible verse
2)  Hymns of Praise
3) Words to affirm faith, followed by “Glory be to the Father, Son, and Spirit”
4) Hymn
5) Bible reading and sermon
6) Hymn

These churches usually would not have Holy Communion every week. When they do, they might include the hymn “Holy, holy, holy”
The words Christ used to institute communion
7) Asking the Holy Spirit to come down.
8) Handing out the bread and wine (or juice)
9) Prayer or song of thanks
10) Blessing

12) The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994) at item 1387 says that we offer to the Father the bread and wine which have become the body and blood of Christ.

13) Since Epiphany means “showing,” the Bible stories read during these weeks are about times that Jesus showed himself to be God, for example by turning the water into wine.  The Word Lent is from an Old English word that means springtime. These 40 days were originally times when less food was eaten.

14) Details at