Sservice 07



The traditional western worship order, as still used in the Roman Catholic Church, consists of placing the elements described in the preceding chapters into a determined sequence, as follows. In this list, the Ordinary is in capital letters, and the parts of the propers are in italics.




Propers ORDINARY Additional parts and technical terms Bible reference
Entrance Psalm
with doxology, “Glory be to the Father …”
with “gloria patri.”
GLORY  BE TO GOD ON HIGH GLORIA Luke 2:14, John 1:29, Mt 17:15
theme prayer Collect, preceded by versicle “the Lord be with you.”
Old Testament reading Not used during middle ages, restored in twentieth century. When not used, Gradual and alleluia are sung together.
Psalm between readings Gradual Psalms
Read from Paul’s letters Epistle lesson Epistles
verse with alleluia Alleluia verse; during lent, “tract” with no alleluia
Read from four gospels Gospel lesson Gospels
Psalm at offering offertory often Ps. 51:10-12
General prayer. Not used during Middle Ages, returned to Lutheran service at reformation.
Versicles and Preface, leading up to Sanctus
HOLY HOLY HOLY SANCTUS with Benedictus Is. 6:3, Ps. 118:25-26
Communion prayer; generally omitted by Lutherans after the Reformation, options provided in the twentieth century.
Words of Institution “this is my body …” Verba 1 Cor 11:23-25
Lord’s Prayer — “Our Father” Mt. 6:9-13
Peace of the Lord (a versicle and response)
LAMB OF GOD AGNUS DEI Jn 1:29, Mt 17:15
Psalm during distribution communio
Song after communion added by Lutherans was “Lord Now let your servant depart in peace (Simeon’s song) Luke 2:29-32
Closing prayer, introduced with versicles
The Lord bless you and keep you — Benediction Numbers 6:24-26 or 2 Cor. 13:19






Here are some of the characteristics of the western worship tradition, some of which have not always been clearly seen during its development and long history:

1.  The texts consist almost entirely of scripture quotes.

2.  Practically the entire service, apart from the sermon, is sung.

3. There are two parts, reflecting the two ways God comes to us: first, in the written Word, and second, in the visible Word, holycommunion.

4.  There is a rhythm between God coming to us (sacramental), and
us responding to God (sacrificial).  For example, the reading of
the Bible is followed by the response of the creed.

5. The participation of all is called for by the dialogue of the versicles and responses.

6.  Certain Psalms, readings, and a short prayer follow a common theme each Sunday, according to a plan following the church year, providing for completeness and balance.

7.  The four Psalms which are used all have functions: entry, in between readings, collect offering, receive communion.

8.  A balance between repetition (the ordinary) and variety (the propers ).


Worship renewal means that all of us, even those who do not now use traditional services, can look again at the characteristics of the western form at its height of development, and consider its ideals.


Notice that there is no place on this chart for choral anthems or freely chosen hymns.  Only in recent centuries they beenadded.5 They are not considered part of the basic liturgical structure.  Since they are late additions, we can feel free to insert themin the service at those points we feel they would enhance the meaning of the ordinary and propers.  We don’t need to put them in thesame place every week.  When the choir is learning a piece that happens to correspond with one of the ordinary or propers, we can havethem sing it at that point, rather than have the same text appear twice in the service.


Over the centuries, texts of the traditional service been sung to many different melodies.  When you are aware of the possibilities, it becomes quite natural to look at new songs see whether they could be used as ordinary or propers. Recent song collections include anindex of scriptures, allowing you to find new melodies for Psalms or for the scriptures designated for the service.




The “western service” or “mass” is the service developed at Rome. Other places in Europe each had their own worship service, and each adopted the Roman service at different points in time. Highlights are the year 663,when the church in England agreed to accept the Roman way of calculating the date of Easter, and the late 700’s, when the court of Charlemagne requested and received worship service manuscripts from Rome.


The European services were different from one another, but are collectively termed the “Gallic Rite.” Two cities were allowed to keep their orders of worship, and from these we get an idea of what European worship was like before the Roman standard was accepted. These two cities are Milan and Toledo. In general, the European services used some of the songs and structure of the Eastern Orthodox service, and tended to proliferate the number of prayers.


The characteristics of the Roman service that differentiated it from the Gallic services, included these three elements: there were more parts that referred to a “theme for the day” than there were in the Orthodox service; the prayers in the service were fewer and briefer than in the Gallic services; and the Roman service selected different weekly songs than the Orthodox service. The following paragraphs highlight the gradual development of the service used at Rome.


The story begins around the year 250, when the church at Rome changed from using Greek to using Latin. At that point the service would have had the same elements from the Jewish synagogue that the Eastern Orthodox church had. These would have included readings, sermon, a long general prayer, and communion. There were three readings (Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel) and Psalms would have been sung in between the readings. The Sanctus (Holy Holy Holy) which had been sung in the Jewish synagogue gradually fell into disuse in the Eastern Orthodox service, but was maintained in the Roman service. The sections below trace how certain popes authorized additions to the Roman service until it achieved the form that has been described on this site, and thus became different from the Eastern Orthodox service.


Around the year 383 pope Damasus added the word “alleluia” to the Psalm sung after the Epistle, and added words referring to the season of the year to the beginning of the communion prayer (these additions are now called “proper prefaces.”)


Around 432 pope Celestine placed a Psalm at the beginning of the service, before the readings.


Around 494 pope Gelasius moved the general prayer from the second half of the service up to the beginning of the service, right after the opening Psalm. This is the prayer that had often been said in Litany form, that is, with the words “Lord have mercy” used as a response. The petitions would have been different each Sunday. From that point, there was no general prayer in the second half of the service until it was restored by Luther at the time of the Reformation.


Around 514 pope Symmachus allowed the singing of the Gloria (that is, the Glory be to God on High) in the first half of the service. It was not necessarily sung every Sunday at that point, but became a regular part of the service after the year 1000.


By the time of pope Gregory I (590 to 604) the Psalms had been shortened so they consisted of just one Psalm verse. A verse pertaining to the theme for the day was added to the opening Psalm verse, and this combination is what we call the Introit. The Old Testament reading was removed, and not restored until the middle of the twentieth century. The Psalm that had been sung after the Old Testament was combined with the Alleluia verse that had been sung after the Epistle, and this combination is called the “gradual and alleluia.” In the mid-twentieth century, the option of using complete Psalms was restored, and some liturgies also allow the options of hymns rather than Psalms.


Gregory organized and codified the traditional music for singing the Psalms, and that is why this music is called Gregorian Chant. Gregory removed the petitions from the opening litany, so that it now consisted only of the refrain “Lord have mercy,” thus creating the section we term the “Kyrie.” In the middle of the twentieth century, petitions were restored to the Kyrie, though not the idea of having different petitions each Sunday.


The “terseness” of the Latin collects in the Roman service is credited to Gregory.


Around 687 pope Sergius added the song “Lamb of God” (Agnus Dei) to the communion section.


Around 1000 the number of times to sing the Kyrie was limited to three times, to be followed by the phrase “Christ have mercy,” also sung three times, and then the opening phrase was sung three times again. This “9-fold Kyrie” was standard throughout the middle ages. At the time of the Reformation, Luther shortened it to only one repetition of the phrase, creating the “3-fold Kyrie.”


The Nicene Creed had been adopted by the church in 381, based on the terminology agreed on at the Council of Nicaea of 325, but it was not at first used during the worship service. The Eastern Orthodox church added it to its worship service after 553, and the church at Toledo added it to its service in 589, but the Roman church did not add it until 1014. In that year, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Henry IV, chided the pope for not including the creed in his church service, and it was then added.


Around 1198 Pope Innocent III shortened the Agnus Dei by limiting the number of times to sing the phrase “Lamb of God” to three times, and added the phrase “grant us thy peace” as the final refrain.



By the late middle ages, the service had already begun to move away from some of the characteristics that marked its origin.James F. White, in Protestant Worship, remarks on some of the elements of late medieval worship that influenced later developments in both Roman Catholic and Protestant worship:

The people were not much more than spectators.  This resulted largely from the strangeness of the language which was, and remained, Latin (p. 25. The association of “penance and communion, and the strong emphasis on moral fitness forcommunion” …certainly became a lasting part of Protestant piety … There was no uniformity in late-medieval rites.6


White tells us that late medieval worship was the starting point for further developments in all western churches after the  Reformation: in Roman Catholicism, which in the Council of Trent reformed and simplified the service; in the churches such as Lutheran which retained much of tradition, and even in those Protestant churches which meant to reject tradition. On the one hand, the tradition defined those things which they felt obliged to reject, and at the same time, as he points out:


“Protestantism could at times maintain some medieval practices and pieties with great tenacity … Infrequent communion, a penitential eucharist, a relish for regional practices, and other medieval characteristics survived in various segments of Protestantism”6




The service had now achieved the form that Martin Luther knew and adopted. The further developments made by Protestants will be explained the in the next chapter; here the continued use of the mass in the Roman Catholic Church will be briefly summarized. The Catholic church simplified its liturgy during the 1500’s as part of the Counter-reformation. The main problem was that certain of the songs had gotten longer. The word “alleluia” and the word “Kyrie” were sung to longer and longer chant melodies, and these then received texts of their own, called “tropes” and “sequences.” The counter-reformation removed these extra texts. The five songs of the ordinary continued to be set to music by many of the famous classical composers over the years. Sets of these five songs, called “masses,” were composed by Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and many others, including Stravinsky in the twentieth century. A liturgical revival movement began in the mid-nineteenth century, which led to a fresh appreciation for and wider use of the traditional chant melodies. This movement culminated with the Vatican Council II, which in 1965 declared that Roman Catholic churches throughout the world were to use the language of their own people for the church service rather than Latin. An increase in hymn singing by the congregation also began at this time. The idea of a three-year cycle of scripture readings also originated in the Catholic church, and has been adopted by Lutherans, Anglicans, and others.



The dates in the “How the Service was Built” section were found in The Lutheran Liturgy by Luther D. Reed (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1947) andTimeline Charts of the Western Church, by Susan Lynn Peterson (Grand rapids MI: Zondervan Publishing House: 1999).


The other Footnotes are:

5.  For example, W. G. Polack in The Handbook to the Lutheran Hymnal (St. Louis: Concordia 1942) on page 65 lists three hymns which the German people were permitted to sing in German during the late Middle Ages: All Praise to Thee Eternal God, Christ is Arisen, and Now Do We Pray God the Holy Ghost.

6. James F. White, Protestant Worship, Traditions in Transition (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1989), pp. 25 & 27.

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