Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. 2nd ed. London:Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005 (republished from 1945 original edition).
Chapter 1, “The Liturgy and Eucharistic Action.” pp. 1-11
Dix, writing from the perspective of an Anglican monk involved in liturgical renewal, starts out by defining terms. “‘Liturgy; is the name given ever since the days of the apostles to the act of taking part in the solemn corporate worship of God” (Dix 2005, 1). He distinguishes “the Liturgy” from individual prayers or prayers of guilds within the church. The term is applied rather to the corporate worship involving the Eucharist. By the year 96, Clement of Rome (1 Clem. 40, 41) discusses the communion as existing with a known order and roles (Ibid.). Because this central matter of historic worship is so important, Dix argues it must have a logical coherence of some sort. “It is the sequence of the rite - the Shape of the Liturgy - which chiefly performs the eucharistic action itself, and so carries out the human obedience to the Divine command, ‘Do this’” (Ibid., 2).
Dix continues by discussing the fact that by the time of composition of the first New Testament book the eucharistic worship had been a habit regularly, apparently according to a consistent pattern, for twenty years or more. This habit was well known and accepted (Ibid., 3). Dix cites a good deal of the meaningful tradition on p. 4. Though we do not have specific texts showing exactly what happened, Dix considers it very important that by the time we do, in the late 4th century, liturgy in various areas is remarkably consistent in its shape, in the eucharistic prayer, and, though different in some elements, all show a remarkable structural similarity (Ibid., 5). Yet Dix finds the similar shape but different elements in the prayer to point to a lack of a fixed text, but a concern with certain elements. The eucharist was, after all, delivered to each new church. But they seem to have largely worked out the implications later (Ibid., 6). The eucharistic prayer said by the bishop shows the most variation in form, probably because a pastor could pray for a variety of elements, leading the congregation (Ibid., 8). When the empire recognized Christianity in the 4th century comparison became possible. This comparison showed the liturgy shaped the same everywhere (Ibid., 8). In the fourth century, practice began to regularize, while in the fifth century it diverged again (Ibid., 9). Dix traces the growth and movement in brief terms to the present time, still affirming the existence of a sound original pattern.