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The Canon of the Mass: The Anaphora of Theodore of Mopsuestia

The form and structure of liturgies is something that churches which employ these in worship either take for granted or argue over intensely. But very few people understand how a) these came into being or b) how they should be revised or replaced in times of liturgical change. What kind of theology is embodied in a liturgy? What attention to the rhythm and metre is given? How will a liturgy work in a language other than one the one it’s written in? How well does a liturgy communicate its message, in addition to being the setting for the “sacred pledge” of the Eucharist? All of these important questions frequently get the short shrift, either by defenders of an existing liturgy of by proposers of a new one?

Liturgical change is the time when these questions do get asked the most. Probably the most important liturgical transition of the last one hundred years took place when the Roman Catholic Church promulgated the Novus Ordo Missae, which was instituted in 1970. That mass was the result of both theological and liturgical forces that had been going on in the Church for most of the preceding century.

Many of those changes—and probably some of the process that led to the NOM—were set forth in Cipriano Vagaggini’s book The Canon of the Mass and Liturgical Reform. Published in 1967, it is a careful and thorough treatment of the subject, and probably represents the thinking of those in charge of the liturgical reform initiated by Vatican II.

The focus of his work is the anaphora, which is, by Vagaggini’s definition, “the liturgical text which accompanies and expresses the offering of the Church’s sacrifice to the Father.” The RCC had used the Roman Canon for nearly fourteen centuries and, while Vagaggini is careful to underline the importance of the Roman Canon to the life of the Church, he is also clear that it has its defects as well.

In this series (which starts here,) we will reproduce the various historical anaphorae he sets forth, plus two Projects “B” and “C” which are his proposals (or perhaps those at the Vatican in the process of formulating the then really “new” NOM) for new anaphorae to be used in the church. Vagaggini also has extensive explanations for all of this; consult the book for these.

I will reproduce the English translations of these anaphorae only. Serious liturgists would do well to consult his original Latin, as the translations look like they were taken from the Italian without consideration of the original Latin text. I have tried to winnow out errors in the OCR process but, if you find some, please bring them to my attention.

A general overview of this topic can be found here.

(Here ends the fixed portion of the introduction; the variable portion follows.)

Today we look at the “Anaphora of Theodore of Mopsuestia.” That’s a name that can get you into trouble, but here it’s an anaphora in the Edessa or East-Syrian tradition.


The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit be with all of us, now and for ever-more.

May your minds be raised aloft, to the sublime heights, to the awe-inspiring region of glory where the wings of the cherubim never cease to move and the seraphim never cease from singing the sweet praises of your holiness.

They are with you, O God.

The living and worthy offering of our first fruits, the acceptable and unbloody victim, the Son of our race, is offered for the creatures of the universe to God. the Lord of all.

That is right and fitting.

(Deacon: Peace be with us.)


It is right, Lord, every day, and fitting at all times, and good at every hour to give thanks to your holy name and to adore your divine majesty in every region and place: you, O God, Father in very truth, who exist from eternity, and your only Son our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit for ever and ever: for you are Lord and creator of all things, seen and unseen: who through your only Son, God and Word, who is the reflection of your glory, the splendour which radiates from you, and the image of your substance, have created and established heaven and earth with all they contain. And through your Holy Spirit of truth, who comes from you, Father, all rational natures, seen and unseen, are strengthened, sanctified and made worthy to offer praise to your adorable godhead.

In truth, Father, there stands before you and before your only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ and before the Holy Spirit thousands upon thousands of sublime spirits, and ten thousand times ten thousand holy angels, whose bliss in life lies in hallowing, by never-ceasing praise, your name, great and holy. Through your grace, Lord, you have once more made our frail race of mortals worthy to give praise and honour, with all the choirs of these sublime beings, to your majesty which controls all things; with those who rejoice without pause before your supreme holiness, in celebration of the glory of your glorious Trinity, exclaiming, glorifying perpetually, crying out one to another, saying and replying: Holy, holy (The priest says this prayer: Holy, holy, holy the all-powerful Lord).


(The priest says this prayer of supplication in a low voice)

Truly holy and worthy of praise, Lord for all eternity. You are holy, God our Father, unique and true, and holy is the Holy Spirit, of divine nature, not created, the founder of all things, who is by nature truly and absolutely holy: holy is his name and holy his dwelling place, he who sanctities all those who are worthy to receive the gift of his grace. And we give praise, glory, thanksgiving and adoration to you, Father and Son and Holy Spirit, now and for ever age after age.

We adore you, Lord, give you our thanks and glorify you for all your gifts to us: for you created us out of nothing, and made us worthy by honouring us with the gift of liberty and understanding: you who are solicitous at every instant to preserve in being the life of every one of us.

In the presence of your great and awesome name, we kneel and adore: and with us give praise and thanks all the choirs of the sublime spirits, because through your inexpressible favour to us, mankind, and for our salvation, your only Son, the Word, although he was the image of God, did not cling to his rank of equality with God, hut emptied himself and took upon himself the likeness of a slave, descended from heaven, put on our humanity, a mortal body and a rational soul endowed with intelligence and immortality, through the holy Virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit: he thus accomplished and completed the whole of this great and admirable dispensation which had been prepared in your foreknowledge before the foundation of the world. You have again fulfilled it in most recent times through your only Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, in whom dwells corporeally all the fullness of the Godhead: it is he who is the head of the Church and the first-born from among the dead, and he himself is the perfection of all things, because it is through him that they achieve perfection. He offered himself without spot to God, through the eternal Spirit and sanctified us through the oblation of his body, made once and for all. Through the blood of his cross he has brought peace to heaven and earth. He was delivered up for our sins and he rose again for our justification.


On the night when he was betrayed, with his apostles he celebrated this mystery, great, awesome, holy and divine: taking bread he blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying: this is my body which is broken for you so that sins may be forgiven. Likewise with the chalice: he offered thanks, gave it to them and said: this is the blood of the new covenant which is shed for many so that sins may be forgiven. Take, all of you, and eat of this bread and drink of this chalice, and do this whenever you assemble in memory of me.


We are now assembled just as he prescribed, we, your servants, humble, poor and helpless, to celebrate by your favour the great, awesome, holy and divine mystery by which the salvation of all our human race has been accomplished. (Canon)At the same time we offer praise, honour, faith and adoration to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and for evermore.

(The deacon says: Pray in your hearts, etc. The priest says this prayer: The all-powerful Lord …)

We adore you, Lord, and give you thanks and glorify you because, although unworthy on account of our sins, you have given us access to yourself through your countless mercies: and you have renewed us and sanctified us by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and made us worthy to carry out this awe-inspiring and divine mystery in your presence, for the salvation of our life: at the same time we profess our faith before you with great thanksgiving for the salvation granted to us by your well-loved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. In the presence of your glorious Trinity, and with a humble heart and penitent spirit, we offer this living and holy sacrifice, which is the mystery of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, asking and praying in your presence, Lord, that your adorable divinity may find it pleasing and that through your mercy this pure and holy oblation, by which you are appeased and reconciled, may be accepted for the sins of the world.


Now once again, O Lord, this oblation is offered-in the presence of your great and awesome name, for all your holy and catholic Church: so that your tranquility and peace may dwell in her midst for all time; and that she may remain far removed from persecutions, agitations, schisms and division, and that we may ail be united among ourselves in unanimous agreement, with pure hearts and in perfect love.

And for all our father bishops, priests and deacons, who are in this ministry of truth: in order that they may hold firm and fulfil their ministry in your presence in a pure, radiant and holy manner, and so please your will that they may deserve to obtain from you sublime blessings in the revelation of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

And for all the sons of the holy Catholic Church who are here and in every land: that they may advance in adoration of your majesty, in true faith, good works and praises for the salvation of their lives.

And for your servant, sinful and guilty: so that by your grace, Lord, you may pardon my sins and forgive the offences which I have committed in your presence knowingly or in ignorance.

And for all those for whom this sacrifice is offered: so that they may find mercies and graces in your presence, and live. And for the fruits of the earth and the calmness of the air: so that the year may be blessed in your grace and kindness.

And for the whole race of men who are to be found in sin or error: so that by your grace you may make them worthy to know the truth and adore your majesty: so that they may come to the knowledge of you as Lord from all eternity, divine nature, not created, creator of all things, Father, Son and Holy Spirit: and so that they may know that for us men, for our salvation, the Son of God, the Word of God, put on the perfect man, he who is our Lord Jesus Christ: he was made perfect and justified by the power of God and by the Holy Spirit, and be is the mediator between God and man, he who gives life age after age to those who through him have access to God the Father: to whom be praises and blessings for ever-more.

Lord our God, receive from us, by your grace, this sacrifice of thanksgiving, the worthy fruits of our lips so that they may become in your presence a happy memorial of just men of former times, of holy prophets, of the blessed apostles, martyrs and confessors, bishops, doctors, priests, deacons and of all the sans of the holy Catholic Church, of those who have de-parted this world in the true faith, so that by your grace, Lord, you may grant them the forgiveness of all the sins and errors they have committed in sinning and offending you in this world, mortal and subject to change, for there is nobody who does not sin.


We ask, beg and beseech you Lord, that your adorable divinity be pleased, and that by your goodness

(Deacon: In silence and fear)

the grace of the Holy Spirit may come down upon us and upon this oblation, that he may stay and descend on this bread and on this chalice, bless them, sanctify them and sign them with his seal in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: and that the bread may become by the power of your name-this bread I mean-the holy body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this cup, the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ: so that to all those who eat of this bread and drink of this cup in true faith, there will be given the pardon of sins and the forgiveness of offences, the great hope of the resurrection from the dead, the salvation of body and soul, and the new life in the kingdom of heaven.

And make us all worthy, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that with all those who have been pleasing to your will and directed their lives according to your commandments, we may rejoice in the kingdom of heaven in the possession of those goods which will not pass away.


And here below and there on high we will all equally and in unison profess our faith, adore and praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit now and for ever age after age.


5 Replies to “The Canon of the Mass: The Anaphora of Theodore of Mopsuestia”

  1. Interesting he included this instead of Addai and Mari. As far as I can tell, this is pretty much Addai and Mari with an explicit institution narrative.

    Can you go ahead and post a list of all the anaphorae that are included?

    Also, the best one volume source I know of for all things liturgical is a seminary staple called “The Study of Liturgy”.


  2. Vagaggini admits that the anaphora of Addai and Mari is one of this type. However, he prefers this one for, among other reasons, the fact that there is no explicit institution narrative. The lack of same indicates to him a manuscript problem.

    I have one more ancient anaphora to post (St. Mark’s) and two modern proposed ones. He also includes the Roman Canon (which is well represented enough online to allow skipping) and two corrections of same by Hans Kung and Karl Amon. I have better things to do with my time than post these.


  3. “and two corrections of same by Hans Kung and Karl Amon. I have better things to do with my time than post these.”

    Yeah, no kidding. He does not include St. James or the anaphora in the Apostolic Constitutions?

    The lack of an explicit institution narrative in Addai and Mari is apparently not a manuscript problem, but the Roman Church recently concluded, however, that for its purposes, A and M is valid, given that the elements are referred to as Christ’s body and blood. Obviously, this caused no little discomfort among RC Traditionalists.


  4. He refers to both the anaphora of St. James and that of the Apostolic Constitutions, but classifies them as part of the Antioch tradition. Since he used the anaphora of St. Basil as his representative of this tradition, he didn’t include it.

    One of the thing one “learns” from this book is that Eastern anaphoras were influential in formulating the alternative rites to the Roman Canon contained in the NOM, and that has had the RC traditionalists reaching for their antacids for four decades now.


  5. “One of the thing one “learns” from this book is that Eastern anaphoras were influential in formulating the alternative rites to the Roman Canon contained in the NOM, and that has had the RC traditionalists reaching for their antacids for four decades now.”

    Yeah, well…

    I guess I’m going to have to get this book. It sounds weirdly intriguing. Why he would use Coptic St. Basil as the representative anaphora of the Antiochian tradition is quite puzzling to me.


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