From The People’s Anglican Missal

The Eucharist is celebrated in obedience to the divine command, Do this in remembrance of me. Hence it is an action carried out in imitation of what our Lord did and said. One of the ancient names for the essential part of the Eucharist is The Action. Liturgical prayer combines action, or ceremonial, with words, and even with silence, all of which makes one complete act of prayer.

The Action, which is also called the Anaphora (that is, the Offering), has from earliest times been preceded by a preparatory service known as the Proanaphora, or in the Anglican colloquial phrase; the “Ante-Communion Service.” The Proanaphora seems to have originated as follows. In the first days of the Church, when paganism prevented any proper observance of the Lord’s Day, most Christians could find no opportunity in daytime for corporate worship, and hence it was customary for them to assemble for corporate worship at night when other folk were asleep.

Necessity may have dictated the hours at which the early Christians worshipped, but if so, they made a virtue of that necessity by the explanation which they gave to it. The fact that in the midst of the night our Lord was born into the world, and rose again from the dead, and was, as he had said, to come again in judgement, seemed to the first Christians to make these hours of darkness a time of special grace. They then explained that they proposed to be in the midst of his worship if he came in judgement in their time, as he had foretold, like a thief in the night.

Hence, as early at night as possible on the last day of the week, they congregated for a vigil of prayer which issued in the celebration of the Action in the early morning hours of the morrow. From this vigil service, which was based upon the Jewish Synagogue service of prayer, Psalms, Scripture-reading and instruction, there developed the Proanaphora, which was designed to be a service of instruction for those who were looking forward to Baptism (that is, for the Catechumens), and as a means of preparation for the Faithful who alone were permitted to be present at the Anaphora to receive the Holy Communion.

Hence the Proanaphora came to be known as the Mass of the Catechumens and the Anaphora as the Mass of the Faithful, and the Catechumens were always dismissed, along with any of the baptized who were under discipline for sin, just before the Mass of the Faithful was begun.  Continue Reading