Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. 2nd ed. London:Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005 (republished from 1945 original edition).
Chapter 2, “The Performance of the Liturgy.” pp. 12-35
Dix opens this chapter with consideration of what the Eucharist is. Typically we think of it as something spoken to which an action is attached. In the period prior to the fourth century, he suggests the concept was of something done, to which words were attached. In the modern era we speak more of the “saying” of Mass, while in the ancient Church the emphasis was on the actions (Dix 2005, 12). “It was in the Latin middle ages that the eucharist became for the first time essentially something ‘said’ rather than something ‘done’ (the East has never accepted such a change)” (Ibid., 13). Dix observes that the speaking of the liturgy has also moved from interchange between priest and congregation to the point that congregation is a listening spectator (Ibid., 14). He observes that in the East the consecration also happens behind the ikonostasion so as to be invisible.
Not only is there a distinction between speaking and doing, but Dix draws a divide between the modern church in which the service is public and the early church which was very private and did not allow outsiders even to attend the eucharist (Ibid., 16). The private nature of worship was based not on the desire for secrecy of the gospel but based on the exclusive nature of communion (Ibid., 17). Dix traces the decline in confessional allegiance and worship to the development in the fourth and fifth centuries of the automatic baptism and confirmation of children of Christians, resulting in nominalism (Ibid., 18). The overwhelming Christianization in Europe may have resulted in the laity taking communion for granted. In recent years, with a decline in Christian culture, those who are active in the Church seek out communion more (Ibid., 19).
Dix then distinguishes between the assembled church with its bishops, deacons, etc., and other gatherings. The liturgical functions are what define the actual church. Dix goes on to illustrate this from Justin Martyr and other examples. The Roman villa was well suited to gatherings of the church as a whole. Using excerpts from official documentation of a persecution in 303, Dix shows (Ibid., 24-27) the kind of household atmosphere of the Church and how the villa could develop into a church building.
Dix goes on to discuss the diversity of gifts within the early Christian church. The very arrangement of people in worship was universal and remained so for centuries (Ibid., 28). Ignatius describes the setting in some detail, further comparing the church as a whole to Christ on earth (Ibid., 29). The body worked as a body, not as a collection of individuals. Bishops, then, serve very much in the role of a father (Ibid., 30). This is a prophetic role of teaching and a priestly role of interceding on behalf of the people (Ibid., 32).