The fifth installment of this mega-part series treats the very early years of the Church and how a
handful of apostles and disciples kept alive the Word and the Sacraments amidst a mounting
campaign to persecute those who called themselves Christians. This campaign was led by the
Pharisee Saul who became the great Apostle Paul and helped form the foundations of faith in these embryo years of the Church. This chapter highlights Paul's
journeys and the break with Judaism in forming the foundations of this new 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 saying the Holy Mass repeatedly, the re-enactment of Golgatha in an unbloody manner. Remember, John was there in the flesh. As they continued to convert others, additional prayers 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 our own Particular Judgements when we will see our own soul as God sees it, not man.
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
There were also language differences and customs that had to be overcome. Though Jesus spoke,
we believe as Mel Gibson's phenomenal depiction of Him illustrates so inspiringly in 'The Passion of The Christ' 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 in the Mass of the Catechumens. 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. Unfortunately that same abuse has revisited us in these times thanks to the abominable and out-of-control 'Charismatic movement' that helped spawn so many innovations and separate any semblance of the New Order with the Ancient Holy Sacrifice of All Ages. 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. Here also, abuse has been revisited by trying to adapt the "ancient customs" to something that doesn't apply. It is like putting square pegs in round holes. They don't fit.
Other practices were abrogated as the structure took permanent form. One reason for this was that
each local Church community maintained their own traditions and practices and sometimes bolted
when asked to blend with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Alas, Protestantism wasn't something that began in the 15th and 16th centuries.
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 saying of Holy Mass, 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. Thus it came to be known as the Mass of the Catechumens.
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 has become a multi-headed monster today in trying to cannibalize its own ancient traditions.
But, as always in the Church, there is one leader - a shepherd. That first leader was of course, St.
Peter, who was personally and indelibly appointed by Christ (cf. Matthew 16: 18-19). In the next
installment we will parallel this same time period on Peter the First Pope.