DAILY CATHOLIC   WEDNESDAY    April 28, 1999    vol. 10, no. 83


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      In this journey on the Barque of Peter, we continue to detail the evolution of the Mass and the Church from the early Christian times to our present day so that all may better understand the true meaning of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and our faith - the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Today we cover the period in which THE BLOOD OF THE MARTYRS REPLENISHES A FLOURISHING CHURCH, part one.       We will be using various sources, but the best are four books that are out of print but provide so much solid material: "My Catholic Faith - A Manual of Religion" (1949) by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow, S.T.D. from My Mission House ; "The Glories and Triumphs of the Catholic Church" (1907) from Benziger Brothers; "The Catholic Church Alone the One True Church of Christ" (1902) from the Catholic Educational Company; and "Cabinet of Catholic Information" (1904) from Duggan Publishing Co. In addition we will be using material gleaned from "The Oxford Dictionary of Popes" by J.N.D. Kelly; The Papal Princes: A History of the Sacred College of Cardinals" by Glenn D. Kittler; "Pontiffs: Popes who shaped history" by John Jay Hughes; "The Mass of the Roman Rite" by Fr. Josef Jungmann, S.J.; "The Story of the Church" from Tan Books by Fr. George Johnson, PhD; "The Story of the Mass" by Fr. Pierre Loret; "Rubrics of the Mass" by Fr. Peter M.J. Stravinskas; "The Wonders of the Mass" by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, O.P.; and the Code of Canon Law", as well as the "Catechism of the Catholic Church"; "Baltimore Catechism"; Catholic Encyclopedia (Thomas Nelson Publishers); "Catholic Dictionary" by Fr. John Hardon, S.J.; "Dictionary of Saints" by John J. Delaney; "Butler's Lives of the Saints" from Benziger Brothers; "Saints of the Roman Calendar" by Enzo Lodi and Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP; "1999 Catholic Almanac" from Our Sunday Visitor, and numerous missals and references.

      With a better perception of what the Church stands for and what the Mass truly is, we will not so easily be swayed by new-fangled gimmicks and liturgical abuses being introduced by individual celebrants and ICEL, the International Committee for English in the Liturgy. We will discover why the basis for the use of vestments and sacred vessels, the purpose for the Rubrics of the Mass, the logic of Church Scholars and Popes through the ages for fending off changes that would water-down the faith and the Holy Sacrifice and even invalidate the greatest remembrance Christ gave to His Church.

Installment Eight

part one: The Early Popes - The Third Century

          Tertullian, the Carthaginian theologian said, "The Blood of the Martyrs is the seed of Christianity." Those first centuries indeed were the setting for a fertile field of holy martyrs who gave their very lives for their faith amidst horrific persecution by a plethora of Roman Emperors who paranoically feared these Christians were a threat to their existence. The only threat to the Roman way of life was their own pagan lifestyle! This, along with the blood of the millions of Christians who'd been put to the death was their downfall, for justice demands that such atrocities must be dealt with. Despite years of persecution, the Catholic Church survived and flourished - their faith and perseverance converting innumerable souls who in turn promulgated the faith and the Sacraments to far-reaching nations - until Constantine the Great proclaimed Christianity as the state religion. Through this nurturing time schisms and Apostasies reared their ugly heads but all the popes persevered and passed on a flourishing Church to those who would follow and reap the blessings and life-giving sacrifices of the early Christians. Because Rome had played such a pivotal role in the annals of early Church history, the city of Seven Hills became the permanent seat of Roman Catholicism. The Holy Mass flourished; blossoming liturgically once Latin was declared the official language of the Church.

          It has long been said that if something is of God it will persevere and grow, if not it will fade away. The greatest example of this is the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Consider that over five million were murdered in the first three centuries of the Church and yet, it multiplied miraculously through the blood of the martyrs.

          Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church has continued to spread all over the world until it has today reached every corner of the earth. It has done so despite the faults of humans, the mistakes of the Magisterium and even bad Popes, excluding of course our present vicar who is truly a saint in these end times. To say the Church is lily-white would be an aberration for it has gone through some very trying times - schisms, apostasies, wars, inquisitions, and massacres all in the name of the Church. Yet despite these setbacks the Church has flourished and will continue because it has rigorously obeyed the command Jesus Christ gave to His Apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world" (Matthew 28: 19-20).

          That was the inspiration the Apostles had in dispersing to different countries in order to carry out Our Lord's command. They baptized, preached, celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and ruled in some of the countries where they were dispatched. They also appointed and ordained bishops and priests to rule and minister to those who believed - the faithful.

          But there was a price to pay. And the price the early Christians paid was the greatest treasure they could give --their lives. They were forced to choose between a pagan culture where the morals of Rome were extremely depraved and the Truth, the Way, and the Life.

          This pagan evil spread from within the walls of Rome to the farthest regions of the Roman empire. There were some 30,000 different "gods" and "goddesses" which the Roman peoples worshipped a majority of them for the very purpose of debauchery and immorality. This cancer spread rapidly and those who sought to stop it, such as the Apostles and their many disciples, were considered traitors to Rome. This was the crux of the reasons why the full force of Rome was pitted against the new religion of these Christians. Those whose faith was lax faltered and they betrayed their own fellow Christians as to their location in homes, caves and forests where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated.

          The first Pope, of course, was a fisherman - Saint Peter. Christ commanded that His Apostles "become fishers of men" (cf. Mark 1:17). As a legacy to Christ, to the role Peter played, and a symbol of Christianity the fish became the mark that identified those loyal to Christ. It was their way of communicating while practicing their religion underground.

          The Liturgy of the Mass was not set in stone. Because the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated in varied places, and often "on the run," no special vestments were worn. Depending on where Mass was said the celebrant would either sit at a table as Christ did or stand at the table. Mass prayers were inspired by the Holy Spirit in the earlier days and passed on so that eventually all were striving to emulate these supplications. Though very little was written down and there was no set "apostolic liturgy", "liturgical" improvisation did not open the door to celebrants doing or saying anything they pleased" writes Fr. Pierre Loret in "The Story of the Mass." This is encouraging to offset the modernist movement within the Church today.

          Research shows that when Mass was conducted in the Catacombs, the priest often presided at the hollowed out tombs in the cave walls. Thus, he had his back to the people. This practice eventually evolved into a standard practice until the Second Vatican Council. The bread and wine were gathered from the gifts brought by the people. It is documented that in the early days this was ordinary bread and wine, not necessarily unleavened bread. Possibly, because of the diversity, the Church sought in ensuing centuries to consolidate the type of properties to be used.

          Liberals today hold to the argument that the Holy Eucharist was always meant to be given in the hand and condone wide-spread distribution to all because in the early Church the baptized were handed Holy Communion while standing and also took the consecrated bread back to their homes to give to those who could not attend the Mass. What these modern free-thinkers fail to realize is the bread was often bulky, the catacombs rocky and uneven - thus making kneeling practically impossible - and because of confinement of area, very few cold attend. It was also dangerous to attend at times for fear they might be followed and discovered, thus jeopardizing the rest of the faithful. There was also a great shortage of celebrants and thus prudence necessitated that the early Christians conduct themselves in the manner they did. Later, as the Church developed and sanctuaries were built tabernacles were created to keep the Blessed Sacrament. As more churches developed, emphasis was placed on devotion to the Blessed Sacrament by providing a quiet, reverent atmosphere which prompted kneeling and receiving Our Lord on the tongue. But in the early days of the Church, this was impossible. Many things were impossible, including regular reception of the Holy Eucharist for Masses were at times few and far between and the fear of being discovered was great.

          Despite this hindrance, Christianity grew. It is important here to note that while we all call them Christians - they were in reality all Catholics for they received the Sacraments and participated in the Mass, receiving the true Body and Blood of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Catholic in Greek is katholikos which etymologically is derived from kata meaning "thoroughly" and holos meaning "whole" - thus: universal. The Church was indeed boundless for these early Catholics spread the faith to all regions of the vast empire, clashing with the pagan culture and mores that were a direct dichotomy of everything Christ taught. They were living in the world, but not of the world. For their beliefs, they were persecuted. Sound familiar with what is happening today?

          Like what is happening in this century here in the United States and worldwide, the Roman culture became debase over a period of time. Originally, it was set up as an idealistic culture, to learn from the Greeks' mistakes and become the greatest empire ever. But as time went on, greed, lust, envy --all the deadly sins crept in and Rome began to decay from within.

          As Rome capitalized on the Greek's mistakes, they also were victimized by them for history does indeed repeat itself. Because of the tremendous Grecian influence, most of the upper class of Rome spoke Greek. Romans strove to imitate the Greeks in many ways, chief among them their worship of "gods" and "goddesses." As mentioned earlier, many of these deities stood for all that is immoral and debase. Just as Greece lost its soul, so also the carbuncle of immorality and paganism rotted the once proud Roman empire from within. As mentioned, history has a way of repeating itself, which is paralleled in today's headlines about our very country. America is losing its soul also. But back to the early days - the final days of the Roman empire from the glorious times of Julius and Augustus Caesar to the decadent reigns of Caligula and Nero. As we touched in the previous installment, it was under Nero's regime that Christians began to be persecuted and murdered by the thousands for their faith.

          The Christians had been persecuted well before that, but not to the degree that Nero accomplished. Also, harassment and persecution prior to that had not come from the Romans as much as from the Jews as chronicled in the New Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles. Peter was imprisoned in 44 A.D. and Saint Paul was taken prisoner in Jerusalem in 56 A.D. The two were not incarcerated and put to death by the Romans until 67 A.D, after the great fire of Rome perpetrated by the vile Nero. While the blood of the martyrs nourished the seeds of Christianity, the blood of idolatry sowed seeds of discontent. In past installments we saw where the first Jewish revolt against Rome occurred at the same time Nero was killing millions of Christians. While the Roman general Titus put down this bloody revolt in 70 A.D. when he destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, it was the beginning of the decline of Rome which over the next several centuries would sink into decay because of its moral malaise. In the next installment we will cover the Popes of the third century leading up to the time of Constantine and the end of persecution.



Tomorrow: Installment Nine: The Blood of the Martyrs replenish a flourishing Church part two

April 28, 1999       volume 10, no. 83


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