THE HISTORY OF THE MASS AND HOLY MOTHER CHURCH

chapter five

The Embryo Years: Forming the Foundations of Faith

    As we indicated in the last issue, with Saint Peter's proclamation in Acts 4 and 5, the open persecutions began...persecutions that still continue nearly 2000 years later. The first persecutor of the Christians was, of course, Saul, a Pharisee who made it his personal crusade to flush out and convict these radical people who persisted in a religious zeal that threatened the Jewish order of things. Saul's first "trophy" was the martyr Saint Stephen who was stoned to death as "he cried out with a loud voice, saying, 'Lord, do not lay this sin agaist them" (Acts 7: 59-60).

    There were persecutions both from outside and within. Vicious slander was spread that these Christians were cannibals - practicing human sacrifice.

    Meanwhile many of the apostles had began to scatter abroad preaching the Word away from Jerusalem. Sts. Philip, Peter and John were evangelizing in Samaria and other regions, all the while baptizing and celebrating the Eucharist with additional prayers that were being added to the liturgy over time. So possessed was Saul with destroying this new "cult" that he would do anything he could to bring them into bondage. Little did he know at the time that the only one in bondage was Saul himself. This realization hit home when, on his way to Damascus, he was struck by "a light from Heaven" (cf. Acts 9) and saw his soul as only God can, which was a forerunner of the great illumination - the "Warning" - which we will all soon encounter.

    Through supernatural phenomena and the disciple Ananias, Saul became one of the greatest saints and crusaders for Christ this world has ever known. After convincing the Apostles that he was truly converted, he was sent first to Tarsus, then Antioch and to Cyprus where he became Paul. Though converted to Christianity, Paul maintained his Jewish teaching showing how Jesus had employed the Old Covenant to uphold the New Covenant. Through Paul's teaching, many Jews were transformed. Yet, upon returning to Jerusalem, Paul broke completely from the Jewish law when he said in Acts 13: 46-47, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first, but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we now turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord commanded us, 'I have set thee for a light to the Gentiles, to be a means of salvation to the very ends of the earth'."

    Thus Paul made it evident there was no need to continue Jewish rites and liturgy to be a disciple of Jesus. In addition, in Jewish law women were not allowed to participate in worship in the synagogue, where in the New Sacrifice there was no segregation save that they be baptized and be sincere in the state of grace. All were equal in the eyes of God (cf. Galatians 3: 27-28). Yet, in keeping with tradition and as Christ had passed on, only men were allowed to officiate as celebrant of the New Sacrifice.

The New Sacrifice begins to take form as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass

    There were also language differences and customs that had to be overcome. Though Jesus spoke, we believe, in Aramaic, most of those who the Apostles and disciples ministered to in the other regions outside Israel spoke Greek. In 1 Corinthians 14: 18-19, Paul makes clear it is vital to reach people in their native tongue so that they understand the Word. Thus, Greek first became the dialect of the New Sacrifice in order to reach more converts and communicate the purpose of their mission. Even to this day some remnants of the Hellenic language remain such as the Kyrie eleison in which we implore God's Mercy at the beginning of every Mass. Also, the Greek word for meal is agape, which means "love feast" and, with the institution of the Mass in Greek, became the memorial of the Last Supper. However, through abuse it became more of a social event rather than the purpose for which it was intended and was soon abolished. The earliest Christians received Jesus under both species of bread and wine. In addition, the Holy Viaticum was carried by deacons to the sick, infirm and those who could not be present at the Mass for legitimate reasons. Many Christians were permitted to have the Blessed Sacrament reside in their homes under great care and protection and even to carry with them, reverently concealed, when they traveled.

    Other practices were abrogated as the structure took permanent form. One reason for this was that each local Church community maintained their own traditios and practices and sometimes bolted when asked to blend with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

    One practice that remained steady in the early years was the Didache which was a treatise in two parts called the "Doctrine of the Twelve Apostles" written between 65 to 80 AD by Paul, but many attribute its fulfillment to the 2nd Century. Whenever it came to be, it seemed to be a manual for those missionary disciples who were ministering to believers. Because it was a prayerful groundwork for the celebration of the Eucharist, many perceived it as a manual for the Mass - the first missal, if you will. The Didache was divided into two parts, the first being a moral treatise and the second disciplinary, keying on the administration and ministry of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. It was not only highly regarded by the early Fathers of the Church, but also provided insight into how the early Church was governed and the liturgy practiced and perceived as an initiation rite to be highly guarded from unbelievers.

    Even among the Gentiles there were differences regarding the direction the Church should go. Just as there is today, so also in the early days there were arguments over liturgical aspects of the Mass. These controversies even threatened to split Christ's Church during the embryo stages...an element that still exists today in so many circles within and outside the Church.

    But, as always in the Church, there is one leader - a shepherd. That first leader was of course, St. Peter, who was personally and indellibly appointed by Christ (cf. Matthew 16: 18-19). In the next issue we will parallel this same time period on Peter the First Pope.;