Introduction to the Liturgy of the Mass
The rite given here reflects the general format of the western-rite Orthodox Liturgy of the Mass as celebrated at Christminster. Its essential form is that of the early Roman liturgy, influenced by the monastic uses of the early medieval period in Europe.
In its sung or solemn form, much of the Mass is chanted by priest, choir, and congregation. Those chants, commonly in the Gregorian or Ambrosian traditions, are available in musical editions of the Liturgy. The text here simply reflects the entire words and general rubrics of the Ordinary of the Mass, whether said or sung.
Among the glories of Orthodoxy is the rich variety of her liturgical traditions. The genius of Orthodoxy has never (until fairly modern times) held conformity or homogeneity of rites as an ideal — uniformity in the faith being her goal. Thus — in addition to numerous eastern rites — she numbers among her treasures the ancient rites of the West in that first Christian millennium when the western church had not yet separated itself from Orthodoxy.
These western rites — Roman, Gallican, Ambrosian, Mozarabic, as well as other local uses like Sarum and Braga and Lyons — represent authentic Orthodox tradition and (sometimes with slight revisions, e.g. removal of the filioque from the Creed) proclaim and express the one Orthodox faith. The idea of “rite” includes not only liturgical ceremonies (the Eucharist and other sacraments), but devotional observances, fasting rules, and festal calendar. Under the wise direction of numerous Orthodox hierarchs, these rites are being reclaimed and restored to their rightful and original place within the Orthodox Church.
The western-rite Liturgy of the Mass presented here represents this restoration within the historic Russian Orthodox Church. In 1962 the monastic community using this recension of the western rite was received into the patriarchal Russian church with full blessing and authority to continue and maintain its rite and observances. In 1975 the community with its rite was received into the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad (now the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia), where it presently remains, again with the full blessing and authority to continue its work and mission in the western rite. In 1993, with the blessing of Metropolitan Hilarion (then Bishop of Manhattan), Christminster was established in Rhode Island as an expansion of that mission.
It is precisely in the celebration of the Eucharist that each local Orthodox community manifests its catholicity — its fullness of Orthodoxy — and its communion with all Orthodox believers. In the present western rite — as in every Orthodox rite — Orthodoxy manifests itself as the living body of Christ and proclaims the one apostolic faith of the Church.
Those coming to this Liturgy for the first time will find it marked by a sober dignity and restraint that have generally been a distinctive feature of most western rites — a heritage from the earliest Roman Church. The spirit of this liturgy — especially when celebrated in Latin — is a powerful and living link with the ancient Church of the west in the days when Cæsar still ruled the world. Most often today — as in most Orthodox rites — the Mass is celebrated in the vernacular (in the present case, traditional English), but the use, in whole or in part, of Latin, the liturgical language of the west, is a living reminder of our ancient tradition and of our links with the undivided Orthodox Church of east and west.
The normal celebration of Mass is Solemn Mass, sung with chant and hymns (drawn from various hymnals), and with assisting deacon, subdeacon and ministers. In the absence of any of these, Mass may be sung by priest and congregation alone (Missa Cantata, or Sung Mass) or said (Missa Recitata, or Low Mass). In every case, whether sung or said, the Mass should be offered with an unhurried reverence as it lifts us out of the flow of time into that eternal Sacrifice wherein God is perfectly glorified and the world is transfigured and made new in Christ.
In the first Christian millennium — when the west was still fully Orthodox — the western Liturgy nurtured and formed some of the greatest saints of Christendom: Agnes, Aidan, Ambrose, Bede, Benedict, Boniface, Cuthbert, Gregory, Hilda, Martin, Monica, Patrick, Scholastica, and thousands more. This ancient Orthodox Liturgy is still capable of producing holy men and women strong in the Orthodox faith yet western in their culture, expression, and tradition.
The western Orthodox rite is under the heavenly patronage of the two great Russian saints who championed it while here on earth: St. Tikhon, as Archbishop of America and later as Patriarch of Moscow; and, St. John (Maximovitch) of San Francisco who once remarked to Dom Augustine Whitfield, “Never, never, never let anyone tell you that in order to be Orthodox you must also be eastern. The west was Orthodox for a thousand years, and her venerable Liturgy is far older than any of her heresies.”
Herein is one form of that venerable Liturgy: