Christian Worship = The Mass

By Graham Glover

Our churches are falsely accused of abolishing the Mass. The Mass is held among us and celebrated with the highest reverence (Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV: The Mass, 1).

Christians have in different places and at different times referred to their worship in different ways. Some call it the Mass, others the Divine Liturgy. Some refer to it as the Divine Service, some simply call it “worship”, while still others as their “meeting time” or “time of praise”. One that I’ll never grammatically understand is the modern American term “worship service”.

But no matter what the churches have called their worship over the centuries, the proper makeup of it has remained the same. This isn’t to suggest that on the Day of Pentecost a perfect order of Christian worship was divinely given to the apostles by the Holy Spirit that was to be passed down in purity to their successors. The content of Christian worship was, like many things in the Early Church, a work in progress. But over time there clearly came to be a distinct form of how Christians worship the Triune God.

For Christians in the West, this worship was and remains properly called the Mass. The Lutheran reformers affirmed this in their Augsburg Confession. Granted, the Lutherans stripped out the sacrificial language of the Mass, the Canon of the Mass that had evolved in such a way over the centuries as to distort the purpose and benefit of Christian worship. But the Lutherans most assuredly did not abolish the Mass. They did not redefine Christian worship in ways that those who preceded them would not have recognized. In short, Lutherans affirmed how the church had worshiped for nearly 14 centuries, confirming that Christian worship is and will reverently remain, the Mass.

People in Church Service

So what?

Who cares?

What does any of this mean?

Does it really matter for those of us living and worshiping almost 500 years after the Reformation what we call Christian worship? To that end, does is it matter how Christians worship? I mean, don’t we have the freedom to decide what worship is and how we want to worship God?

In a word, no.

For worship is not our own. It most assuredly is not something we are given the freedom or flexibility to change or adjust because we think we have a better idea/way on how God’s people can/should worship Him. The Mass is a gift of God given to His Church for the benefit of His people. It is His. His gift for us. God is the giver and the doer of our worship, and His Church is the means by which we are given these bountiful gifts.

So yes, what we call worship matters. It matters because words matter. But more importantly, it matters because our worship is connected not simply to this day and age, but our worship is part of the church catholic that extends to the sainted holy ones who await our Lord’s return as well as those children of God yet to be born. Worship is the litany of the church that transcends time and place.

Which is why it matters how we worship. When we carelessly and flippantly change the ordo, when we completely or even partially presume the authority to rewrite/redesign how Christians worship, we are guilty of a self-righteousness that is hard to beat. When our worship does not at least include the Invocation, Kyrie, Gloria, Collect of the Day, assigned Readings, sermon, Creed, Preface, Sanctus, Lord’s Prayer, Words of Institution, Pax Domini, Agnus Dei, Nunc Dimittis (or another appropriate Canticle) and Benediction, it is not properly worship. It may have elements of Christian worship. It may resemble Christian worship. But it is not truly worship. It is our doing – our design. And this is not the way of Christian worship.

Christian worship is the Mass. The Mass given by God to His Church for His people.


8 thoughts on “Christian Worship = The Mass

  1. I don’t think Martin Luther got your memo. “The Mass vestments, altars, and lights may be retained till such time as they shall all change of themselves, or it shall please us to change them: though, if any will take a different course in this matter, we shall not interfere. But in the true Mass, among sincere Christians, the altar should not be retained, and the priest should always turn himself towards the people as, without doubt, Christ did at the Last Supper. That, however, must bide its time.”

    The Deutsche Messe does not meet all of your requirements and there are Lutheran innovations (good ones, don’t get me wrong) to the Mass. E.g. Nunc Dimmitis, “This is the feast…”. You also neglected to include the Confiteor in your listing.

    And then there’s Luther on the “third” sort of worship: “But the third sort [of Divine Service], which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry. Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practice other Christian works. In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii.”

    For Luther, it would seem, form served function and was not synonymous with it. Tradition is fine but, outside of 1 Corinthians 11 and the clear commands on celebrating the supper, we do not have much scripture to guide us in the specifics of worship.

    Crazy old Brother Martin might have even promoted electric guitars, if that was what it meant to be all things to all men: “But, above all, the Order is for the simple and for the young folk who must daily be exercised in the Scripture and God’s Word, to the end that they may become conversant with Scripture and expert in its use, ready and skilful in giving an answer for their faith, and able in time to teach others and aid in the advancement of the kingdom of Christ. For the sake of such, we must read, sing, preach, write, and compose; and if it could in any wise help or promote their interests, I would have all the bells pealing, and all the organs playing, and everything making a noise that could.”

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    1. HLewis, fair enough, but I’ll take the AC over Luther any day!
      Your points are well received, especially to what must be in the Mass. While the article suggested otherwise, I’m not that dogmatic on this. My concern however is that if we start stripping the service of some, why not all? In other words, why not just junk the whole thing and come up with something on our own? This I cannot accept.
      My concern is not so much with music (although I have some strong preferences/opinion on that!), but with the substance and order of the service. The Mass, I think, is not our own. It is Christ’s, given to the Church, for us. And when we start tinkering with it, nothing good typically happens.
      Luther and electrical guitars…now that’s an article worth pondering!


      1. “Nor is it necessary that human traditions, that is, rites or ceremonies, instituted by men, should be everywhere alike.” (AC VII)

        Believe me, I have no love for the contemporary. I just have to remind myself that there is a difference between the practicality of tradition and the rule of traditionalism. Our ways serve Word and sacrament or they do not. This does not mean that churches not practicing a Latin-derived rite cannot place a proper focus on worship. I think our Lutheran fathers were more honest than we have become. We cannot place orthodoxy in practice, it lies in doctrine. I have seen ELCA worship take high-church turns where most LCMS churches would not. Episcopalians are barely Christian in my part of the country but their masses sure are pretty. For my Greek neighbors, the RC Church is plain and nouveau and, I’ll add, growing up with Catholics, I know very few who can tell you why they do or say things, just that they are supposed to do so. How has tradition served them?

        It might be a good idea to “junk the whole thing” in the sense that we ought to not do things that we don’t understand. Imagine stripping things down to the earliest known forms and, then, adding in the elements that followed in sense of chronological order with explanation of why and when they came in. Get into the heads of our early brethren who barely had a notion of the Trinity and rediscover it. Might forge a real appreciation for our heritage. Just a thought. We could end with “A Mighty Fortress” in a style Jack White could get behind!


  2. When our worship does not at least include the Invocation, Kyrie, Gloria, Collect of the Day, assigned Readings, sermon, Creed, Preface, Sanctus, Lord’s Prayer, Words of Institution, Pax Domini, Agnus Dei, Nunc Dimittis (or another appropriate Canticle) and Benediction, it is not properly worship. It may have elements of Christian worship. It may resemble Christian worship. But it is not truly worship..

    There goes all the ‘contemporary worship services’ I’ve ever attended. And that IS why I left them. Go to one of those and then go to an Orthodox church. You are on two different planets. The form of worship developed from the beginning for good reasons. Who are we to throw things away just because we ‘feel’ like it. If/when I attend one of those (CoWo) now I can hardly stand it — and want to get up and walk out. Once I went in, sat out in the hallway because I couldn’t bear to go in. It’s like fingernails on chalkboard. For all the flash and money spent, it is just not good. And what do you get from sermons? Joel Osteen motivational types. Jesus and the Cross only come around on Good Friday. If you’re lucky you might get the Resurrection on Easter. I am speaking, not from 1 or 2 experiences, but from a number of years worth. I go to church now for the proper elements. I get more from one good service than I ever did from a year’s worth of the other kind. I go for Confession/Absolution and Forgiveness of sins. Oh, and I also want the Pastor to do the appropriate parts as the person who is functioning ‘in the stead of Christ’. Some Pastors don’t even serve Communion. They let the lay people do it. I don’t appreciate being given a lame substitute by a worship leader who may or may not even belong to the church or the denomination. And between both kinds of churches? — the singing is way better in a traditional service. Heck, the singing is better in an Orthodox church! — and they don’t excel in that! In a megachurch, maybe 40 out of 300 might actually try to sing with the worship band. The rest are just watching. Sometimes I stop singing because I’m tired of singing the same phrase 10 times.

    Yes, I know. These churches aren’t going away anytime soon. Maybe not until the Lord returns. I am eagerly waiting for that.


    1. Abby, I resonate with much of what you say. While worship may be experiential, it is first and foremost an objective reality of what Christ is doing for us. This is why the Mass transcends time and place. It is not a subjective thing, open to the winds of change of each generation. It is, if I may be so bold, eternal.


  3. I replied to Graham, too, like your excellent comment! Except you know me – I get flippant real easily!


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