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.
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.