Ask Alice about Catholicism
Why does the liturgy change?

“Do this in memory of me,” Jesus told his disciples—but he never told them exactly how to do it liturgically. The rituals of our Eucharist have been in flux ever since. The history of the Mass is one of nearly continual evolution.

Why does just about every generation make changes? To serve the community of faith. Some developments are fundamental, as when the Greek liturgy shifted into Latin in the 4th century, leaving only the Kyrie behind; Latin had become the language of the marketplace. The Mass entered the vernacular in 1970, acknowledging that a dead language might not be the best choice for a living celebration. Those offended by the appearance of guitars (a vehicle for rock music!) in church in the 1960s should be reminded that others were similarly horrified when the organ first entered the building in the 700s, replacing stringed instruments. Organs had previously had a vulgar association with gladiatorial combat.

Some changes simplify: The expert advisors at the Second Vatican Council eliminated repetitious gestures and prayers. Other changes clarify: Host and chalice were elevated in the 13th century to emphasize the consecration. Customs change: We no longer bless oil, cheese, and olives after the Eucharistic Prayer as they did in the 3rd century. For most of church history the community handed over food and livestock at the offering; by the 12th century they were encouraged to bring money.

Parts of the Mass predate Christianity: singing psalms, swinging incense, and the use of “Amen,” “Alleluia,” and “Let us pray” are rooted in Jewish prayer. By the 2nd century, scripture, the homily, and petitions of the people were standard. Yet the homily disappeared by the 8th century, as did the Prayer of the Faithful by the 1500s. While the Kyrie, Gloria, Creed, Eucharistic Prayer, and many dialogues (like “The Lord be with you” and “Lift up your hearts”) were in place by the 4th century, other familiar elements like praying for the dead weren’t regular until the 8th century. Kneeling for the Eucharistic Prayer started in the 13th century. Before Vatican II, only 1 percent of the Old Testament and 17 percent of the New were heard at Mass. Now 14 percent of the Old and 71 percent of the New Testament are proclaimed.

Mark 14:22-26; Matthew 26:26-30; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Corinthians 12:23-26; Colossians 3:16-17; 1 Timothy 2:1-4; Hebrews 9:11-28

Resources on the new Roman Missal

At the Supper of the Lamb: A Pastoral and Theological Commentary on the Mass by Paul Turner (Liturgy Training Publications, 2011)
From Age to Age: How Christians Have Celebrated the Eucharist by Edward Foley (Liturgical Press, 2008)

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Alice L. Camille
Alice Camille is a gem among contemporary writers on scripture and Catholic teaching. She has received numerous awards for her books, columns, and exegetical reflections. She received her Master of Divinity degree from the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley, where she also served as adjunct faculty in ministry formation, preaching and proclamation. Alice is an author, religious educator, and parish retreat leader. Learn more at

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