With Christ's Ascension into Heaven, the Apostles may have felt like they were "on their own," so to speak, but Jesus had promised in Matthew 28:20 "Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world." Indeed He is with us. To confirm His Presence of speaking through, to, with and for them was the invaluable Triune Divinity Emissary bestowed on the feast of Pentecost - the Holy Spirit, Third Person of the Blessed Trinity - to carry on what the Second Person of the Trinity had established on earth -- His Church and His Sacraments.
Strengthened by this, the Apostles began to establish a ritual around this Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, which they called the Mass. Within a very short time they had developed a rite which was both distinctive and meaningful. But it wasn't easy to maintain or spread for the disciples were living in an antagonistic atmosphere. Why the hostility? Simple. Here were twelve men and their disciples who were growing in numbers. Most of them had come from Jewish roots but among them were no Jewish priests, no leaders of the synagogue. They were basically outsiders with no access to the inner chambers of the temple. Their only training had been as heads of their families presiding over the Sabbath meals, Seders and Passover meals in their own homes. Yet they had been asked to celebrate a ritual "in remembrance of Jesus." Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Sanctifier, they would have been lost and afraid. Oh, there was still the human fear and apprehension. It still exists in everyone of us today. But the Apostles and those newly baptized believers went forward with perseverance in maintaining and sharing the New Sacrifice.
The accounts documented in the Acts of the Apostles verify this. Early on in Acts 2:46-47 we read, "And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread in their houses, they took their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and being in favor with all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their company such as were to be saved." Because of their Jewish roots they continued with the traditions they'd been raised with, but because of their conversion to Christ they also continued with the Eucharist in breaking of the bread in their homes. As their ranks swelled they realized more and more they were being called to break the liturgical bonds of Judaism and establish this new religion which their Master had instituted. Therefore, the Sabbath, originally Saturday, gradually was observed the next day for that was the day they broke bread together and celebrated the Eucharist. It was also a remembrance of the day Christ rose from the dead and shared His first post-resurrection meal with His disciples that evening. This became a tradition the following Sunday when Christ showed His wounds to Thomas, the doubting Apostle. From that time on, though they gathered together often, Sunday was the focal point for celebrating the Eucharist.
In those early days the Mass was quite primitive -- "And they continued steadfastly in the teaching of the Apostles and in the communion of the breaking of the bread and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Prayers were added to the celebration and, as is the custom, repetition took form creating a ritual.
Through the years a liturgical structure took shape. First, drawing from the old rite, the Apostles established a time for reading the Word just as it had been Jewish tradition to read from the Law and the Prophets in the synagogue. The Apostles and disciples borrowed from this by establishing the reading of lessons which became the Didache and eventually the Collect. Since they were no longer part of the Jewish faith, they still felt it was important to carry on this important aspect. As more writings of the New Covenant became available they were added permanently with first the epistles and then a passage from one of the four evangelists who were, for a time, with them first hand. This became the essense of the Liturgy of the Word.
Next issue, we will delve further into the transition from the Jewish customs of the Old Sacrifice to the growing Christian traditions of the New Sacrifice.