Extract of "Origines du Culte Chretien" by Duchesne
The congregation is gathered together, the men on one side the women on the other, the clergy in the apsidal chancel.
The readings immediately begin; they are interrupted by chants. A reader ascends the ambo, which stood in the middle of the church, between the clergy and the people, and read two lessons; then another goes up in his place to sing a psalm. This he executes as a solo, but the congregation join in the last modulations of the chant and continue them. This is what is called the "Response" (psalmus responsorius), which must be distinguished carefully from the "Antiphon," which was a psalm executed alternately by two choirs. At this early date the antiphon did not exist, only the response was known. There must have been a considerable number of readings, but we are not told how many. The series ended with a lection from the Gospel, which is made not by a reader but by a priest or deacon. The congregation stands during this lesson.
When the lessons and psalmodies are done, the priests take the word, each in his turn, and after them the bishop. The homily is always preceded by a salutation to the people, to which they answer, "And with thy spirit."
After the sermon the sending out of the different categories of persons who should not assist at the holy Mysteries takes place. First of all the catechumens. Upon the invitation of the deacon they make a prayer in silence while the congregation prays for them. The deacon gives the outline of this prayer by detailing the intentions and the things to be prayed for. The faithful answer, and especially the children, by the supplication Kyrie eleison. Then the catechumens rise up, and the deacon asks them to join with him in the prayer which he pronounces; next he makes them bow before the bishop to receive his benediction, after which he sends them home.
The same form is used for the energumens, for the competentes, i.e., for the catechumens who are preparing to receive baptism, and last of all for the penitents.
When there remain in the church only the faithful communicants, these fall to prayer; and prostrate toward the East they listen while the deacon says the litany--"For the peace and good estate of the world; for the holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; for bishops, priests; for the Church's benefactors; for the neophytes; for the sick; for travellers; for little children; for those who are erring," etc. And to all these petitions is added Kyrie eleison.
The litany ends with this special form "Save us, and raise us up, O God, for thy mercy's sake." Then the voice of the bishop rises in the silence--he pronounces a solemn prayer of a grave and majestic style.
Here ends the first part of the liturgy; that part which the Church had taken from the old use of the synagogues. The second part, the Christian liturgy, properly so-called, begins by the salutation of the bishop, followed by the response of the people. Then, at a sign given by a deacon, the clergy receive the kiss of peace from the bishop, and the faithful give it to each other, men to men, women to women.
Then the deacons and the other lower ministers divide themselves between watching and serving at the altar. The one division go through the congregation, keeping all in their proper place, and the little children on the outskirts of the sacred enclosure, and watching the door that no profane person may enter the church. The others bring and set upon the altar the breads and the chalices prepared for the Sacred Banquet; two of them wave fans backwards and forwards to protect the holy offerings from insects.
The bishop washes his hands and vests himself in festal habit; the priests range themselves around him, and all together they approach the altar. This is a solemn moment. After private prayer the bishop makes the sign of the cross upon his brow and begins,
"The grace of God Almighty, and the love of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Ghost be with you always!
"And with thy spirit.
"Lift up your hearts.
"We lift them up unto the Lord.
"Let us give thanks unto our Lord.
"It is meet and right so to do.
"It is very meet," etc.
And the eucharistic prayer goes on ... concluding at last with a return to the mysterious Sanctuary where God abides in the midst of spirits, where the Cherubims and the Seraphims eternally make heaven ring with the trisagion.
Here the whole multitude of the people lift up their voices and joining their song with that of the choir of Angels, sing, "Holy, Holy, Holy," etc.
When the hymn is done and silence returns, the bishop continues the interrupted eucharistic prayer.
"Thou truly art holy," etc., and goes on to commemorate the work of Redemption, the Incarnation of the Word, his mortal life, his passion; now the officiant keeps close to the Gospel account of the last supper; the mysterious words pronounced at first by Jesus on the night before his death are heard over the holy table. Then, taking his inspiration from the last words, "Do this in remembrance of me," the bishop develops the idea, recalling the Passion of the Son of God, his death, his resurrection, his ascension, the hope of his glorious return, and declaring that it is in order to observe this precept and make this memorial that the congregation offers to God this eucharistic bread and wine. Finally he prays the Lord to turn upon the Oblation a favourable regard, and to send down upon it the power of his Holy Spirit, to make it the Body and Blood of Christ, the spiritual food of his faithful, and the pledge of their immortality.
Thus ends the eucharistic prayer, properly so-called. The mystery is consummated. ... The bishop then directs the prayers ... and when this long prayer is finished by a doxology, alI the congregation answer "Amen," and thus ratify his acts of thanks and intercession.
After this is said "Our Father," accompanied by a short litany. ... The bishop then pronounces his benediction on the people.
The deacon awakes the attention of the faithful and the bishop cries aloud, "Holy things for holy persons." And the people answer, "There is one only holy, one only Lord Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father," etc.
No doubt at this moment took place the fraction of the bread, a ceremony which the documents of the fourth century do not mention in express terms.
The communion then follows. The bishop receives first, then the priests, the deacons, the sub-deacons, the readers, the singers, the ascetics, the deaconesses, the virgins, the widows, the little children, and last of all the people.
The bishop places the consecrated bread in the right hand, which is open, and supported by the left; the deacon holds the chalice--they drink out of it directly. To each communicant the bishop says,
"The Body of Christ";
and the deacon says,
"The Blood of Christ, the Cup of life," to which the answer is made, "Amen."
During the communion the singers execute Psalm XXXIII. [XXXIV. Heb. numbering] Benedicam Dominum, in which the words "O, taste and see how gracious the Lord is," have a special suitability.
When the communion is done, the deacon gives the sign for prayer, which the bishop offers in the name of all; then all bow to receive his blessing. Finally the deacon dismisses the congregation, saying, "Go in peace."(1)
(Duchesne. Origines du Culte Chretien, p. 54 et seq.)