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Order of the Mass and the Roman Canon

"The order of the Mass is arranged upon a plan so well conceived, that everything done by Jesus Christ or concerning Him, from His Incarnation to His Ascension, is therein largely contained either in words or in actions, and wonderfully presented." — Pope Innocent III

Parts of the Mass

This discussion of the Order of the Mass considers both the Novus Ordo and Traditional Latin versions of the Roman Rite. There are significant differences between them but much in common. One of the reasons they appear different is because the Missal for the new mass refers to parts of the mass by different names than they had traditionally been called by. Also several of the prayers of the TLM were shortened and converted to English so they are no longer identifiable by their old Latin names. In spite of these differences in naming conventions, the essential organization of the two rites is similar.

The Mass begins with Introductory rites, followed by Scripture lessons, the Eucharistic service, and the concluding rites. The heart of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is composed of three parts. In the outline below, both Novus Ordo and TLM names for parts of the mass are given.

  • The Introductory Rites of the Tridentine Rite were called Prayers at the foot of the Altar. These prayers included Psalm 42 and the Confiteor (Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa). The modern version is usually shortened to a Greeting and a Penitential rite.
  • The Liturgy of the Word was traditionally called the Mass of the Catechumens, because in early times unbaptized Christians were only allowed to attend the first part of mass. The Liturgy of the Word includes opening prayers, scripture readings, prayers of the faithful, the Gospel reading, the homily. The Liturgy of the Word ends with the Creed.
  • The Liturgy of the Eucharist, known in the TLM as the Mass of the Faithful, is the main part of the mass. It consists of three parts.
    • Preparation of the Gifts, also known as the Offertory, is the part of the mass where the priest prepares for the Consecration. On Sundays or feast days the Eucharistic liturgy may be preceeded with the collection and an Offertory hymn while the bread and wine are brought to the altar. The priest mixes water with the wine, washes his hands, and prays that the gifts prepared for sacrifice may be acceptable. The Offertory concludes with the Sanctus, or Holy, Holy, Holy which indicates the time for the communitiy to kneel for the Consecration.
    • The Consecration is the most solemn part of the mass. It is known in the new mass as the Eucharistic Prayer and in the Traditional mass as The Canon of the Mass. The essential components of a Eucharistic prayer include a Thanksgiving, prayers calling upon the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis), the Words of the Consecration, prayers in rememberance of Christ's sacrifice (Anamnesis), requests for Intercessions, and a Doxology (prayer to the trinity). These prayers are called the Canon of the Mass because they are the oldest and most firmly established part of the mass.
    • The Communion prayers begins after the minor elevation of the consecrated host and ends with the Communion of the people. The three best known prayers associated with the Communion rite are the Pater Noster (Our Father), Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), and Domine non sum dignus (Lord I am not worthy).
  • The Mass concludes with a Blessing and Dismissal. In the TLM, the Concluding Rite also includes a Gospel reading and prayers to Michael the Archangel.

Ordinary, Propers, and Commons

Many of the Prayers of the Roman mass are repeated very time a mass is said. Those prayers that are an essential, unchanging part of the mass are called the Ordinary of the Mass. Certain opening prayers, the Roman Canon and much of the Eucharistic liturgy is part of the Ordinary.

The scripture readings and selected prayers that vary according to the season, feast-day, and type of mass are called the Propers of the Mass. In addition to the scripture lessons, the Propers include certain prayers read before and after scripture readings, and during the Offertory. In the TLM the Proper prayers include the Introit, Collect, Gradual, Preface, and the Secrets. In the Novus Ordo the Propers include the Opening Prayer, Collect and Responsorial Psalms.

There are several types of Propers. Propers of the Season refer to those prayers and scripture readings said for Sundays and Holy Days. The Propers of the Season are used for all feast days of the Church that occur during specific liturgical seasons, including all movable feast days.

The Propers of the Saints refer to those prayers and scripture passages that are read on feast days of saints that are celebrated during Ordinary time. Prayers and scriptures that are shared between saints with similar attributes, (bishops, confessors, martyrs, virgins, etc.) are referred to as Common of the Saints. The Propers of the Saints are mainly celebrated by daily mass attendees and religious communities who recite daily prayers.

The Ordinary of the Mass is typically in the middle of the Roman Missal; the Proper of the Seasons is in the first half of the missal, and the Proper of the Saintsis in the second half of the missal.

Order of Mass: Novus Ordo vs. TLM

A precise comparison between the Novus Ordo and TLM is difficult because many of the prayers in the new mass are significantly shortened. One reason for this is that many prayers said silently in the TLM are said aloud in the new mass. Another reason is that the Novus Ordo also offers three rather than two scripture readings and prayers of the faithful were added. Nevertheless, most traditional prayers still exist in the new mass, although some are in abbreviated form.

The table below shows the order of mass for both the new and traditional Roman rites. The parts of the mass in Green boldface consist of prayers and scripture passages that vary by type of mass and liturgical season. These are known as the Propers. Most of the other prayers are invariable, and are said in the same way every time mass is offered.

Introductory RitesPrayers at the Foot of the Altar
Greeting Psalm 42 - Judica Me
Penitential RiteConfiteor
Priest Approaches the Altar
Liturgy of the WordMass of the Catechumens
Opening Prayer Introit
Lord Have MercyKyrie
First ReadingEpistle
Responsorial Psalm
Second Reading
Prayers of the Faithful
Liturgy of the EucharistMass of the Faithful
Part 1: Offertory
Offertory Hymn/CollectionOffertory Hymn/Colection
Presentation of GiftsOffertory Prayers
Prayer over the GiftsIncensing of Gifts (high mass)
Washing of HandsWashing of Hands
Prayer to the Holy Trinity (epiclesis)
Pray Brethren . . Orate Fratres
Part 2: Consecration
Lift up your hearts . .Sursum Corda
It is right and just . .Preface
Eucharistic Prayer Canon of the Mass
Thanksgiving, EpiclesisCommemoration, Oblation
Words of InstitutionWords of Institution
Commemoration, AnamnesisAnamnesis
Epiclesis, Intercession, DoxologyEpiclesis, Intercession, Doxology

The Canon is the most sacred part of the Mass and it is governed by particular traditions. Changes between the NO and TLM versions are discussed below.

Part 3: Communion
Lord's PrayerPater Noster
Sign of Peace
Breaking of BreadBreaking of the Bread
Lamb of GodAgnus Dei
Prayers Before CommunionPayers Before Communion
Ablutions (Washing)Ablutions
Prayer After CommunionPrayers After Communion
Concluding RitesConcluding Rites
Final BlessingDismissal
DismissalFinal Blessing
Last Gospel
Prayers After Mass (Low Mass only)

There are significant differences between the New Mass and the Traditional rite that relate to customary usages and rubrics, but do not directly effect the order of the mass. For example, orientation of the priest and location of the altar, music, language of the mass, dispositon on receiving communion, lay participation in the liturgy, etc. All of these factors affect the presentation of mass significantly but do not change the Order of Mass.

Consecration — Prayers and Parts

The Consecration is the most sacred part of the mass, and it is governed by traditions dating to the earliest Christian liturgies. The Roman canon devised by Gregory the Great in 600 A.D. is similar to the very first known version of the Roman Canon, and has been passed down for 14 centuries with its essential parts unchanged.

The Consecration as a whole is referred to by several different terms, depending on the rite it is associated with. All of the following terms refer to the part of the mass during which the host is consecrated. The canon is generally understood as the part of mass beginning with the "Sanctus", ending with the minor elevation and "Doxology".

  • Eucharistic Prayer — used in new Rite of the Roman mass to describe the Consecration. There are four variations of the Eucharistic prayer authorized for use in the Novus Ordo. The term Eucharist Prayer is often used in Protestant services.
  • Roman Canon — used in the Tridentine Rite to describe the Consecration. It is essentially a fixed prayer, allowing variation in only the Preface.
  • Anaphora — used to refer to the Consecration in the Divine Liturgy of most eastern rites. In Eastern rites several prayers within the Anaphora vary by the rite and type of celebration. Anaphoras are typically named after a great saint they are associated with, such as the Anaphora of John Chrysostrom, or the Anaphora of St. Basil.

Two prayers generally provide the transition between the Offertory and the Consecration.

  • The Preface is the prayer of thanksgiving the preceeds the consecration, beginning with the Sursum Corda dialog, Priest: "Lift up your hearts", Response: "We lift them up to the Lord".
  • The Sanctus prayer is a prayer of praise known as the "Thrice Holy" hymn of the Angels. It signals the time for the congregation to kneel in preparation for the consecration.

The prayers of the consecration follow a particular order, and have specific meanings. Together, they make up the "Form" of the Sacrament of the Eucharist. These terms are used to describe specific parts of the Eucharistic prayer that contain the key elements of a valid consecration.

  • Oblation — This word means 'sacrifice' and it refers to the offering of the Eucharistic bread and wine and of the prayers and thanksgiving of faithfuls
  • Epiclesis — This is the "invocation" wherein the priest calls down the blessing of the Holy Spiritu upon the Eucharistic bread and wine.
  • Institution narrative — These are the words of Jesus Christ taken from the Gospel account of the Last Supper, which are spoken by the priest to change the bread and wine into his body and blood.
  • Anamnesis — This is the statement, following the consecration, in which the priest refers to the Eucharist as a memorial to the passion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ.
  • Intercessions — These are prayers in which the priest asks for God's help for all the faithful, living and dead through the grace given by the Eucharist. When mass is offered for a specific person, their names are included along with the saints, leaders of the Church, and others.
  • Doxology — This is a hymn of praise to the trinity, prayed while the priest elevates the consecrated host at the close of the Anaphora.

Consecration — Novus Ordo vs. TLM

Changes in the Roman Rite between the traditional and Novus Ordo masses include both rubrics and texts. Rubrics determine the style, gestures, and appearance of the mass. The most significant change to the rubrics relate to the fact that in the new mass, the Eucharistic prayers are said aloud rather than inaudibly. In addition the priest has the option of facing the congregation rather than the high altar, and in many churches the high altar no longer exists.

The most significant change to the text of the Consecration is that in the new mass there are four different options for the Eucharistic prayer. In contrast, the Roman Canon of the Tridentine has been fixed and invariable for centuries.

One motivation for the change in the text of the Eucharist prayers had much to do with the change to the rubrics. In the new mass the Eucharistic prayers are intended to be said aloud and understood by the congregation, so shorter prayers seemed desirable. In the Traditional Latin Mass the entire Eucharistic liturgy was prayed in silence, so longer prayers did not seem cumbersome or repetitive.

Because the idea of changing the Canon was controversial, the first of four Eucharistic Prayers permitted in the new mass is a straight-forward translation of the Tridentine canon. The other three Eucharistic prayers were written based on other existing or ancient rites. The idea of providing a selection of different Eucharistic prayers was that priest would have options to select the most appropriate prayer for the occasion, audience, and type of mass.

  • Eucharistic Prayer I is based on the traditional Canon of the Tridentine mass.
  • Eucharistic Prayer II is a significant abridgment of the traditional Roman Canon with reductions and a few additions based on the ancient 'Anaphora of Hippolytus'.
  • Eucharistic Prayer III is an original composition, containing elements of the Roman, Alexandrian, Byzantine, and Marionite anaphoras.
  • Eucharistic Prayer IV is based on the Anaphora of St. Basil, one of the most common Anaphoras used by Eastern rite Catholics.

A side be side comparison of all parts of the four Eucharistic prayers, can be found on the Catholic Resources website.

Order of Mass from the Baltimore Catechism

Q. 932. What are the chief parts of the Mass?

A. The chief parts of the Mass are:

  1. The Offertory, at which the priests offers to God the bread and wine to be changed at the Consecration.
  2. The Consecration, at which the substance of the bread and wine are changed into the substance of Christ's body and blood.
  3. The Communion, at which the priest receives into his own body the Holy Eucharist under the appearance of both bread and wine.

Q. 933. At what part of the Mass does the Offertory take place, and what parts of the Mass are said before it?

A. The Offertory takes place immediately after the uncovering of the chalice. The parts of the Mass said before it are: The Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Prayers, Epistle, Gospel and Creed. The Introit, Prayers, Epistle and Gospel change in each Mass to correspond with the feast celebrated.

Q. 934. What is the part of the Mass called in which the Words of Consecration are found?

A. The part of the Mass in which the words of Consecration are found is called the Canon. This is the most solemn part of the Mass, and is rarely and but slightly changed in any Mass.

Q. 935. What follows the Communion of the Mass?

A. Following the Communion of Mass, there are prayers of thanksgiving, the blessing of the people, and the saying of the last Gospel.