The third installment of this multi-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. As Christians they re-enacted Christ's Sacrifice on the Cross in the New Sacrifice. Through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass they relived, just as we do today, in an unbloody manner, the Sacrifice on the Cross on which the Lamb offered Himself up for the redemption of all who believe in His words "FOR THIS IS MY BODY" - HOC EST CORPUS ENIM MEUM and "FOR THIS IS THE CHALICE OF MY BLOOD OF THE NEW AND ETERNAL TESTAMENT. THE MYSTERY OF FAITH: WHICH SHALL BE SHED FOR YOU AND FOR MANY UNTO THE REMISSION OF SINS " - HIC EST ENIM CALIX SANGUINIS MEI. NOVI ET AETERNI TESTAMENTI: MYSTERIUM FIDEI: QUI PRO VOBIS ET PRO MULTIS EFFUNDETUR IN REMISSIONEM PECCATORUM Jesus gave His followers the greatest gift He could leave - Himself Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Thanks to the grace of God, the guidance of the Holy Ghost and the perseverance of the early Christians, who shed their blood, the Church grew in holiness and numbers.
Much of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass evolved from Old Testament Law, but Jesus Christ introduced a New Covenant at the Last Supper and, by intermingling Judaic traditions, laws and customs, a new rite was born - the New Sacrifice.
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 Sanctifier, 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.
Does this not sound similar to the plight of Traditional Catholics today who are 'basically outsiders with no access to the inner chambers of the temple'? Like the Apostles and early disciples, today's Traditional Catholics are not daunted or defeated. No, they press on knowing, like the Apostles knew, that they have the truths and it has set them free - free to convert others to what Christ passed on through His Holy Church from Peter through Pope Pius XII.
What is happening today with the growing persecution of denying the true Sacraments from the faithful by offering a counterfeit ritual can be assimilated to the early Church. Just as the early Christians could not accept pagan Rome's gods, so also Catholics today cannot accept modern Rome's humanist leanings and ecumenical bent toward man evolving into being more like a god - all being Christs - when what is needed is an emphasis on being more Christ-like in humility, penance and prayer - not peace, justice and human dignity and 'religious freedom.' If the Apostles didn't cave to the lures of the Romans, then we today cannot cave to the carrots offered by the modern Romans.
These Apostles who are our role models were not learned men with umpteen academic letters, awards and plaudits from man-made institutions. No, 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" - a Divinely-made institution. Without the guidance of the Holy Ghost and the Gifts of the Advocate, they would have been lost and afraid. Oh, there was still the human fear - the 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."
One of these added to their company was the very persecuter himself Saul who, as we celebrate this weekend, converted from his murderous ways to become the great "Apostle to the Gentiles" Saint Paul. No one convinced him of the errors of his ways. No, it came from Divine intervention - by God knocking him off his horse on the way to Damascus to persecute more Christians. In the symbolic tomb of three days of blindness Saul realized in the depths of his heart the wrong path he was on and turned his back forever on his sinful ways. So also today the Sacrament of Penance remains available for souls to abandon their sinful ways - as Christ showed, to provide just a few examples, in John 5: 14 and 8: 14 the healing effects of repentance. "Sin no more."
Because of their Jewish roots the Apostles and early disciples 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 then became the essense of the Mass of the Catechumens for they needed the Word to better understand what this 'new' Faith was all about which had been given to Jews to take to the Gentiles because the vast majority of Jewish hierarchs and the people had refused Christ and His ways.
To assure that no one could sabotage this 'New Sacrifice' and in keeping with ancient customs, those who had not been baptized, who had not sworn loyalty to Christ, were asked to leave after the Mass of the Catechumens. For the Mass of the Faithful followed in which the confection of the bread and wine took place. Something so mysterious and miraculous could not be left to the curious or lurkers, but only the committed - those who believe and were baptized (cf. Mark 16: 16). Yes, even at the very beginning the axiom held: Lex orandi, lex credendi. It is too bad this has been so lost on the past few generations who have embraced the liberality of Vatican II and abandoned the reverence and essence of the 'New Sacrifice' in favor of a Protestantized 'Eucharistic Celebration' - a meal, a commemoration. No, it was and remains always the HOLY SACRIFICE of the Mass. Accept no substitutes!
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.