THE MASS OF THE WESTERN RITE
By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol
Abbot of Farnborough Abbey
THE MASS, FROM THE FIRST TO THE FOURTH CENTURIES. LITURGICAL UNITY
It must be laid down from the beginning of this chapter that during this first period the Mass has what we may call a universal character. No regional distinctions appear; and our own divisions into Oriental and Occidental, or Greek and Latin liturgies, had no reality in those days.
It was not until the fourth century that the geographical and political division between the East and West was truly established. Thus during the first three centuries it may be said that there were no liturgical families, but only one single Christian liturgy, where, in a certain sense, unity reigned.
The word "unity," however, must not be taken too literally. It is true that so far there was no division into liturgical families, but there was great variety of usages and rites. The law was "great liberty," and it may be said that there is more difference between the liturgy of the Didache, that of Hippolytus, and that of Serapion than there was, later, between the liturgies of Byzantium, of Rome, and the Mozarabic and Gallican liturgies. The differences are rather those between church and church; the old churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Carthage were great liturgical centers.
But the differences existing between the different churches did not prevent peace and unity from reigning amongst them. In the second century Polycratus, Bishop of Ephesus, tells us that Pope Anicetus invited St. Polycarp to celebrate the Mass. And a little later Firmilianus, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, the correspondent of St. Cyprian, remarks in his turn that the varieties of ritual then existing (in the middle of the third century) made not the least difference to unity.
What was the Mass during this first period? How was it celebrated? What were its principal elements and, if evolution has taken place, what were its different stages? To answer these questions the best method seems to us to study the following points:
1. The Eucharistic Synaxis.
2. The aliturgical Synaxis (separated from the Eucharist).
3. The days and hours of the Synaxis.
4. The Eucharistic Prayer.
1 THE EUCHARISTIC SYNAXIS
The word "synaxis" comes from "sunaxis," gathering together; "sunaxein," to meet or gather together. It was early employed in the language of Christians to designate an assembly, and especially an assembly to hear Mass.
The Church was born in Jewish surroundings. It is a fact that the first Christians, Apostles or disciples, were Jews by birth, or proselytes, on the day of Pentecost, the true Birthday of the Church. So it was during the years that followed, until the day when, by the preaching of St. Paul, the Gentiles entered the Church, of which very soon they became a majority. This is of the highest importance, all the more because there was never any brutal rupture between the Church and the Mosaic religion. The Church indeed always condemned the Marcionites and all those who, with them, proscribed the ancient law and those who had come out from it.
Most preciously did the Church guard the Pentateuch and all the inspired books of the Jews. This means that She preserved faith in the God of the Old Testament; that She kept the Decalogue--that is, the laws of universal morality and all the Old Testament theology. But at the same time She was no Judaiser. She separated Herself from the synagogue and declared Herself against it, as a distinct society which had its own organization, institutions, and laws. Just as She condemned the Marcionites, so She expelled the Judaisers from Her company, as those who desired jealously to retain circumcision and the other Jewish practices.
It was the same thing as regards the liturgy. When the Church was born the Temple was still standing, with its sacrifices, its highly complicated ceremonies, its priesthood. It is true that the Apostles still went to pray at the Temple, but here one most important fact must be noted. The first of the faithful formed a band apart. The Jews saw in them a sect desirous of separating itself from Judaism, against which they fought furiously, and tried to suppress as a disloyal and dangerous body. And this separation was more keenly accentuated day by day. We can, of course, see how natural it was that many of the new Christians should still remain attached to the ancient form of worship. These were the Judaisers. We find them mentioned in the Acts. St. Paul in his Epistles fights against them; raising his voice against those who wished to circumcise all new converts, to force them to observe the new moons, the Jewish feasts, etc.
All that had to cease. He claims the right of liberty for these new converts. It is not the Law and its observances which will save them; it is the Faith in Jesus Christ, obedience to His precepts, docility to His teaching. Naturally, between these two parties there were innumerable shades of difference, but as time went on these shades gradually effaced themselves. These practices of the Law were only shadows; figures reflected in the new worship, but which in the end must give way to it, "et antiquum documentum novo cedat ritui."
Moreover, in a few years (A.D. 70) a most important event would give the final blow to the Jewish worship and its sacrifices. The Temple was destroyed by the Roman armies, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were dispersed.
A new form of worship was instituted for the Christians in those private meetings, which are many times mentioned in the Acts. (Acts ii. 42, 46. Cf. Acts xx. 7, seq.) Prayer was offered, and the Breaking of Bread took place. This Breaking of Bread was the Mass.
In what, exactly, did it consist? The converts met to celebrate anew that Banquet, the Last Supper, which took place in the Cenacle on the night preceding the death of Our Lord. This is stated in texts of the first importance, for it is upon their witness that the whole tradition of the Mass is based. There is first the witness of the three synoptic Gospels, St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke, whose accounts may be summed up as follows:
On the first day of the "Azymes," which is Thursday, the Apostles, at the request of Our Lord Himself, prepared a room where He might celebrate the Pasch with His disciples. It was the Jewish custom, and Our Lord had assuredly not failed to observe it throughout the preceding years. But this time the banquet was to have a supreme importance, for He knew that this meal was the last He should take with His Apostles.
Now, "coenantibus eis," as St. Matthew says, during the meal, and no doubt towards the end, Our Lord took bread, blessed it, brake, and gave it to His disciples, saying: "Take, eat, this is My Body." Then, taking the chalice (the cup containing wine mingled with water), He offered it to them, saying: "This is My Blood of the New Testament" (the New Covenant) "which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Then, "hymno dicto," the prayer being said, they went out to the Mount of Olives. There Our Lord entered into His Agony, and the soldiers, led by Judas, came to seize Him (St. Matt. XXVi. 13--15)
We know what followed, and the story of that night whose details the Evangelists have given us; the scenes of the Crucifixion and Death on Good Friday. The same account which we have just quoted from St. Matthew is found with little variation in St. Mark and St. Luke.
As for St. John, faithful to his system, he does not repeat what the three synoptic Gospels have related; but contents himself with completing them as occasion arises. Thus he gives us details omitted by them as to the Last Supper, and the discourse of Our Lord during and after the meal. His seventeenth chapter contains what is called the Sacerdotal Prayer of Christ, which may be considered as the Divine commentary on the Eucharist. In his sixth chapter, on the occasion of the multiplication of the loaves, he had set forth teaching of incomparable precision upon the Eucharist. "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood you shall not have life in you" (vi. 54).
Lastly, St. Paul is a fifth witness, and not the least. He, in his Epistle to the Corinthians (I Cor. xi. 23-29) gives us a detailed account, the most ancient in our possession, of the way in which the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist. These different texts having been explained elsewhere, I content myself with noting certain principal points upon which almost every one is agreed. It is a question of a repast which was the Paschal meal. At its close Our Lord took bread and wine, and in virtue of His Blessing and of His words they were changed into His Body and Blood. We use the theological term transubstantiated to mark that of the bread and wine nothing is left but the species or appearances, the substance having given place to the Body and Blood of Christ.
It is a new covenant in the Blood of Christ shed to wash away the sins of the world, and to redeem us, thus it is a sacrifice in intimate union with that of the Cross, which was to take place the next day; a sacrifice, and at the same time a sacramental meal.
Upon this point, as upon many others, the synoptic Gospels do not enter into great detail, they merely sum up and abbreviate. One thing, however, is certain: the capital importance of this act in the Life of Our Lord. This can be deduced even from the record of the synoptics, though they relate these Divine events with a disconcerting simplicity which in reality is Divine. The other Sacraments are not mentioned in the Gospels, or only mentioned in a few words. But here each synoptic one after the other, carefully relates the same history which, as has been said, St. John completes. The room where the feast is to be held has been chosen, prepared by Christ Himself. This meal is to be the last in His Life, it is like the last meal of one condemned to death; for the solemnity of death hovers over this brotherly love-feast. It is probably also the Paschal supper, which Our Lord was accustomed solemnly to celebrate with His disciples. His attitude, his very words, all have now a deeper meaning than ever before. He speaks of bread and wine becoming His Body and Blood, and of offering them as food to His Apostles.
It is the New Covenant, which is to replace the Old Covenant concluded between God and His people in the time of Moses; the New Testament which takes the place of the Old. A new order of things is beginning, of which we may say with the poet: "novus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo."
Now St. Paul's text proves that the Christians obeyed Christ's precept; they renewed their celebration of that last banquet in memory of Him, "hoc facite in Meam commemorationem." But they introduced a new element into it. According to St. Paul the Eucharist was accomplished at the close of another repast, which was the "agape." This circumstance has complicated the history of the origin of the Eucharist, but I think the difficulty may be shortly summed up.
The agape was a repast celebrated by the Christians, and, as the word indicates, it was a feast of love, or charity. The details given by St. Paul make it easy to understand the possible abuses which might arise from it. The Jews, and even the pagans, had feasts of the same kind. Is the "agape" derived from either of these, or is it specifically Christian? My own opinion is that this question is of little importance. But what we must note is that, according to St. Paul and other witnesses, it was at that time united to the Eucharist. Very soon--probably at the beginning of the second century--the two were separated on account of abuses, and towards the fourth century the "agape" was declining. It must not be confounded with those repasts sometimes celebrated by the Christians on the tombs of the martyrs, or in cemeteries, though these also had a liturgical character.
After the text of St. Paul, which throws great light on the question of the Eucharist, I will quote the "Didache." The "Didache," or "Doctrine of the Apostles," is a document discovered in 1883, which is extremely interesting but also most obscure, and about which opinions still vary. We may, I suppose, believe that it was written at the beginning of the second century. It was recognized almost generally as a description of the Eucharist from the moment of its discovery. In recent years many scholars-- and those by no means the least important--have come to the conclusion that it describes the agape, and not the Eucharist. Others again, with, in my own opinion, greater reason, say that part applies to the agape, the rest to the Eucharist (Maclean, Thibaut). Here is the translation of the part which will interest us:
"As to the Eucharist, give thanks thus. First, for the chalice: We thank Thee, O our Father For the holy vine of David Thy servant, Which Thou hast made us know through Jesus Thy Servant. Glory be to Thee throughout all ages! Then for the broken bread: We give Thee thanks, O our Father For life and knowledge Which Thou hast made us know through Jesus Thy Servant. Glory be to Thee throughout all ages! As this broken bread, formerly scattered over the mountains, has been gathered together to form a single whole, So may Thy Church be assembled from the ends of the earth in Thy Kingdom, For to Thee is all power and glory by Jesus Christ through out all ages! Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist if he be not baptized in the Name of the Lord, for it was of this that the Lord said: 'Give not that which is holy unto the dogs.' After you are filled, give thanks thus: We thank Thee, O Holy Father! For Thy Holy Name That Thou hast caused to dwell in our hearts, For knowledge, faith, and the immortality Which Thou hast revealed through Jesus Thy Servant. Glory be to Thee throughout all ages! It is Thou, Omnipotent Master, Who hast created the universe for the honor of Thy Name Who hast given food and drink to man, that he may enjoy them and render thanks to Thee; But Thou hast given us a spiritual food and drink, and eternal life by Thy Servant. Above all, we give thanks to Thee because Thou art powerful. Glory be to Thee throughout all ages! Remember, O Lord, to deliver Thy Church from all evil, And to make it perfect in Thy love. Assemble it from the four winds, that Holy Church, In Thy Kingdom which Thou hast prepared for it, For Thine is all power and glory throughout all ages! Come, Grace, let the world pass! Hosanna to the God of David! Let him that is holy, come! Let him that is not, do penance! Maran-Atha (The Lord comes). Amen. But as to the prophets, let them give thanks as they will."
Besides the "Didache" there are numerous passages containing allusions to the Eucharist in the writers at the close of the first and of the second century. St. Clement of Rome has a prayer which is considered Eucharistic; we shall come back to it presently. St. Ignatius gives it the names of "eucharistia" and of breaking "ena harton klontes". He insists that this should be accomplished by the Bishop, and that it is a sign of unity. He uses the word "thusiasterion" to design the place of sacrifice, which clearly points out that, to him, the Eucharist was also Sacrifice. It would also seem that with him the "agape" is still united to the Eucharist (Srawley, loc. cit., p. 31).
The testimony of St. Justin in the middle of the second century must be specially noted, since it is an actual description of the Christian assembly:
" As for us, after having washed him who believes and has joined himself to us (Justin has just described Christian Baptism), we lead him to that place where are assembled those we call our brothers. With fervor we offer prayers for ourselves, for the enlightened (him who has just received the light of Baptism), for all the rest, wherever they may be, in order to obtain with the knowledge of the Truth, the grace to practice virtue, to keep the commandments, and thus to merit eternal salvation.
"When the prayers are ended we give each other the Kiss of Peace. Then to him who presides over the assembly of brothers are brought bread and a cup of water and wine mingled. He takes them, and praises and glories the Father of the universe in the Name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; then he makes a long thanksgiving for all the benefits we have received from Him. When he has finished his prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people present exclaim: Amen! Amen is a Hebrew word meaning 'So be it.' When he who presides has made the thanksgiving, and when all the people have answered, the ministers whom we call deacons distribute to all those present the consecrated bread, the consecrated wine and water, and they carry them to those who are absent. We call this food the EUCHARIST, and no one can have part in it unless he believe in the Truth of our Doctrine; unless he have received the bath for the remission of sins and regeneration; and unless he live according to the precepts of Christ. For we take not that Food as common bread and common drink. Just as by virtue of the Word of God, Jesus Christ our Savior took flesh and blood for our salvation, thus the Food consecrated by the prayer formed of the very words of Christ, that Food which nourishes by assimilation our own body and blood, is the Flesh and Blood of Jesus incarnate. Such is our Doctrine. The Apostles, in their memoirs which are called Gospels, relate that Jesus Himself announced these things to them. He took bread and, having given thanks, said to them:
" 'Do this in memory of Me: This is My Body.' In the same manner He took the chalice, and having given thanks, He said to them: 'This is My Blood.' And to them alone He gave it. The evil spirits have imitated this institution in the mysteries of Mithra: bread and a cup of water are presented in the ceremonies of initiation, and certain formulas are pronounced which you know, or which you may know."
It is well to cite even the testimony of the apocryphal writings, some of which indeed are heretical, but which often give us priceless information as to the usages of the second and third centuries. A German author has made a special study of all these texts on the Eucharist. For the heretics also celebrated the Eucharist after their manner; they consecrated bread and wine; they considered the rite as a sacrifice; some forbade wine, declaring they would only consecrate water, whence their name of Aquarians. Sometimes they give the text of the prayer they recited over the bread and wine, and which produced, they thought, its change into the Body and Blood of Christ.
At the beginning of the third century we have a text the very high value of which has long since been recognized, and which an English scholar has attributed to St. Hippolytus. This text is that of the Eucharistic anaphora, or of the Canon recited at Rome at the beginning of the third century. To this also we shall return later on. Nor must we forget the African writers of the third century, notably Tertullian and St. Cyprian whose testimony we shall study in Chapter III.
Lastly, in the fourth century, we have the text of another anaphora recently discovered. It is that of Serapion, the friend of St. Athanasius, and Bishop of Thmuis in Egypt. This we shall deal with in Chapter IV.
2. THE ALITURGICAL SYNAXIS (WITHOUT THE EUCHARIST)
The liturgic or Eucharistic synaxis, as it is described in these texts, is a gathering exclusively Christian, to which none but the faithful are admitted. The names usually given to it are "Eucharistia" or "Fractio Panis," either equally appropriate, because this rite is, above all, a Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving; and the breaking of bread for distribution to the faithful is an essential act of it, an integral part.
But beyond this Eucharistic gathering there were others which may have been connected with the Eucharist, but which are distinct from it, and in fact are sometimes separated from it. Thus, in that room in which the Eucharistic mystery had already been accomplished, where the Church was to be born, we find the Apostles, after the Ascension, meeting together and persevering unanimously in prayer (Acts i.14). Later on Peter and John, after having appeared before the synagogue, returned to their brethren and addressed that sublime prayer to God which is yet not a Eucharistic prayer (iv. 23 seq.). When Peter was put into prison by Herod the whole Church united in prayer for him (xii. 5, and further on, 12, "multi congregati et orantes").
Pliny, at the beginning of the second century, in his famous text on the Christians, speaks of a first meeting which they held upon a fixed day, "statuto die," probably Sunday; it took place before the dawn, and they sang hymns to Christ as God. In the evening of the same day they met together again for a meal in common, in which some have seen the "agape," but which was far more probably the Eucharist. Many other allusions to these aliturgical synaxes will be found in Clement of Rome, Ignatius, etc.
St. Justin also speaks, in the text already quoted, of a meeting at which were read the Holy Scriptures and the memoirs of the Apostles, and at which certain prayers were recited. This meeting was followed by the Eucharistic service. Thus prayers, readings, chants all served as prelude to the Eucharist. We have here I believe the first really precise example of what we call to-day the Pre-Mass, or Mass of the catechumens, as to which I will only say one word. Even in the existing liturgy we find traces of this aliturgical synax separated from the Eucharistic service, as, for example, in the office for Good Friday. It seems evident that this ceremony proceeds from that used in the synagogues on the Sabbath: the singing of psalms, reading the law and the prophets homily--all this is just the material of the Mass of the catechumens. It also agrees with what was said at the beginning of this chapter. From the synagogue the Church freely borrowed those customs which would adapt themselves to her liturgy; but she completed and made perfect such rites. Here, for example, the reading of the New Testament has been added to that of the Old, and we have the admirable whole of the Mass of the catechumens, which will often be mentioned in the course of this book.
The fact to be retained is this: there were, amongst the Christians of the first three centuries, beyond the Eucharistic synax, other gatherings which were aliturgical, and which must be distinguished from the Mass although in many cases the aliturgical synax was followed by the Eucharist. In the same way the "agape," a meal quite distinct from the Eucharist, at one time preceded its celebration. The two cases are analogous and when once this distinction is clearly understood it becomes easier to interpret the ancient texts on the Eucharist it is because this analogy was not taken into account that so many writers on this subject have fallen into confusion and error.
The pagans were not excluded from these non-liturgical synaxes as they were from that of the Eucharist. Catechumens were admitted to them, and even heretics; but when the Eucharistic service began all these people were sent out, "foris canes," as was somewhat rudely said.
As to the vigils celebrated at the tombs of the martyrs, they were another form of synaxis which borrowed not only from the aliturgical gathering but from the agape, and from the liturgical synaxis itself. It was a local anniversary service which took place in the cemeteries, where psalms were chanted and the story of the passion of the martyr was read; and which was often followed by the agape and by the Eucharist. It was sometimes called "pannuchia," because it was celebrated at night, and was supposed to last from the previous evening until daylight next morning. We shall say no more about them here, as they do not exactly form part of our subject, but the ancient writers often speak of them; abuses occasionally took place, and in the end they were suppressed.
3. THE DAYS AND HOURS OF THE SYNAXIS
Pliny tells us that the Christian synaxes (liturgical or aliturgical) were held before the dawn, and in the evening. Tertullian and St. Cyprian also speak of these early or nocturnal meetings, as well as the different canonical documents of the third century. In order, on days of fasting, not to break the fast, the meeting was kept back until the hour of None, or even till Vespers. Because these gatherings were often held at night the pagans called the Christians a race of night-birds--"lucifugae."
From the Acts it would seem that the faithful assembled thus daily. Pliny speaks of a certain fixed day, probably Sunday, which, of course, has been from the beginning the liturgical day par excellence. But from a very early date, especially in the West, Wednesday and Friday were days of meeting; while in the East the day chosen was Saturday. Thus was constituted the Christian week, with its Sunday and its Station days, Wednesday and Friday. In one sense it might be said that the Christian week preceded the Christian, or liturgical, year. The latter, however, does in its germ certainly date from the primitive epoch. Easter and Pentecost are as ancient as Sunday itself; and have contributed in no small degree to the importance of Sunday, since both Feasts were celebrated on that day. Now Easter and Pentecost early formed the sacred Fifty Days; the two Feasts depended on each other chronologically and liturgically. There was a preparation for Easter, in which we see the beginnings of Lent.
The principle on which Easter was celebrated applied, from the fourth century, to the Birth of Christ; thus we have the Feasts of Christmas and Epiphany. From this the entire liturgical year was derived. But from the beginning of this century Jerusalem was already ahead of all the other churches; her liturgical year was complete; she celebrated not only Easter and Pentecost, but also the Birth of Christ, the Presentation in the Temple, Lent with all its exercises, Holy Week. All these anniversaries were celebrated in the Holy Places. Thus, if we may so speak, a local liturgical year was created, soon to be imitated in many other churches, and first of all in that of Rome.
The anniversaries of the martyrs were also solemnly celebrated, and gave birth to as many Feasts. The compilation of ecclesiastical calendars was in full flower in the fourth century. But this subject leads us away from our own, and we must return to the Eucharist.
4. THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER
In the texts we have quoted from the three synoptic Gospels Our Lord pronounces no prayer for the institution of the Eucharist: none, at least, is given us. Neither does St. Paul make any allusion to such a prayer. There are not wanting those who have wished to supplement this silence; and it has been said that such terms as "hymno dicto" (St. Matt. xxvi. 30) after the institution (see St. Mark xiv. 26) presuppose a prayer. It has been also said that, the institution of the Eucharist having taken place after the Paschal meal, Our Lord of necessity recited the prayers in use on that day, as well as the psalms called "Alleluiatic." Bickell's whole thesis rests on this hypothesis; he endeavors to discover traces of the Jewish Pasch in the ancient liturgies, especially in the "Apostolic Constitutions;" and other scholars have followed him along this road. Quite recently Pere Thibaut has undertaken the same task again, in a most interesting thesis. But as has been said other interpreters contest all relation between the Jewish Pasch and the Last Supper of the Christians.
Some consider St. John xiv.-xvii. as a Eucharistic prayer, of which Probst finds vestiges in the ancient liturgies. This is possible; but here we are upon hypothetical ground. With more likelihood we may see an anaphoric prayer, "a fragment of an evidently liturgical character" (Duchesne), in a text of the Epistle of Pope St. Clement. This we do not translate here, since it has so often been reproduced elsewhere. After the text of the "Didache," which has become classic, and which has been given above, it will be well to cite that of St. Hippolytus already alluded to, and which under its primitive form is a prototype of all "anaphorae" and Eucharistic prayers, which scarcely do more than develop and paraphrase its theme.
"We render thanks to Thee, O God, through Thy well beloved Son Jesus Christ, that in these last days Thou hast sent Him as Savior and Redeemer and Angel (messenger) of Thy will, Who is Thine inseparable Word, by Whom Thou hast made all things, and in Whom Thou art well pleased; Thou hast sent Him from Heaven into the Virgin's womb, where He became Incarnate and manifested Himself as Thy Son, born of the Holy Ghost and of The Virgin; then, accomplishing Thy Will and conquering a new and holy race, He stretched out His Hands in His Passion in order that He might deliver from suffering those who have believed in Thee; and at the moment when He delivered Himself voluntarily to His Passion, in order to destroy Death, to break the devil's chains, to spurn hell under His Feet, to enlighten the just, to fix a term, to show forth the Resurrection, taking the bread and giving thanks He said: Take, eat: This is My Body which shall be mangled for you. Likewise the cup, saying, This is My Blood which is shed for you: when you do this you do it in memory of Me. Remembering then His Death and Resurrection we offer Thee this bread and this chalice, thanking Thee because Thou hast deigned to permit us to appear before Thee and to serve Thee. And we pray Thee to send Thy Holy Spirit upon the oblation of the Holy Church, and uniting them as one, that Thou wilt give to all the Saints who participate (in the Sacrifice) to be filled with the Holy Ghost and fortified in the truth of the Faith, so that we may praise Thee and glorify Thee by Thy Child Jesus Christ, by Whom to Thee is glory and honor, to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in Your holy Church, now and for all ages. Amen.
We have also spoken above of the text of that "anaphora" made by an Egyptian Bishop of the fourth century. In a sort of euchology intended for the Bishop, Serapion has composed prayers for the blessing of oil and water, for Baptism, for Ordinations, for the sick and for the dead. A whole series of prayers is recited before the "anaphora" (n. xix.-xxx.) in that part which we have called the Pre-Mass. The Mass of the faithful is composed of the "Prayer of the faithful," of the "anaphora" properly so called, which follows the ancient theme of the Prefaces: the mercy of God in creation, in the Incarnation, the recital of the institution of the Eucharist, the "anamnesis" and "epiclesis," the final doxology of the "anaphora," and the blessing over the people.
To give an idea of the Mass at this epoch we may perhaps mention a text which was drawn up in the fourth century, though most of its leading features are more ancient, and to which certain liturgiologists have given a rather exaggerated importance, as they consider that it represents the Apostolic anaphora better than any other. Yet it has not the same value as the anaphora of Hippolytus, though it uses his text. The liturgical design of the Mass is as follows: readings from the Old and New Testaments, preaching; then, prayer for the catechumens, penitents, and those in other categories; the "oratio fidelium," the Kiss of Peace, the ablution of the hands, the Offertory, Preface, "Sanctus," the prayer of institution, the "Anamnesis," "Epiclesis," Memento, Communion, thanksgiving, and dismissal. Book VIII of the "Apostolic Constitutions" is especially interesting on account of the influence it exercised in the East, and even in the West, and at Rome. This is a fresh argument in favor of that liturgical unity in the first centuries, Hippolytus, Serapion, the "Apostolic Constitutions," and even Clement of Rome and the "Didache" all exploit a theme which presents numerous analogies.
We find one custom, which is that of the celebrated church of Antioch, retraced in the "Apostolic Constitutions." In another church which rivals that of Antioch in antiquity and fame--that of Alexandria--we have the Canon of Balizeh, which appears to go back to a period less remote, and which shows a different custom. But here, as with the different Eucharistic prayers which we have given, we have a text with a universal tendency, in spite of certain regional characteristics.
We must now gather a few conclusions from all these texts. The first is this:
From the very beginning of the Church there existed an essential rite, distinct from that of the synagogue; a rite which, from the first moment, seems to take the lead amongst all others, of which in a manner it is the center. It consists of the reproduction and reconstruction of Our Lord's last repast, of the Last Supper in the Cenacle.
This rite is found everywhere. We have quoted the texts of Clement of Rome, of Ignatius of Antioch, of Justin, etc. But we could have multiplied our witnesses. A Christian traveler of the third century, Abercius, who had journeyed through the East as well as the West, tells us in a famous inscription:
" My name is Abercius: I am the disciple of a Holy Shepherd Who feeds His flocks of sheep on mountains and on plains; Who has eyes so large that their glance reaches everywhere. He it is Who has taught me the faithful Scriptures. He it is Who sent me to Rome.... I have also seen the plain of Syria and all its towns-- Nisibis on the borders of the Euphrates. Everywhere I went I found brethren. Paul was my companion. Faith led me everywhere; everywhere it served as my food, a fish from the spring, very great and pure, caught by a Holy Virgin; continuously she gave it to eat to her friends; she also has a delicious wine, which she gives with the bread."
This rite considered as a banquet and a sacrifice, has banished ail the other sacrifices. Although the Church borrowed so largely from the Jewish liturgy, she left them their sacrifices. Those who attempt to discover analogies between the rites of paganism and those of the Christians cannot deny that the peaceful and unbloody Sacrifice of the altar has put an end to all sacrifices of blood. That river of blood which flowed through all pagan temples has been stopped by the Sacrifice of the Lamb.
This rite was accomplished with bread and wine. (Certain eccentrics are pointed out, such as the "Aquarians" or "Hydroparastes," who, already prohibitionists, forbade all wine, even at Mass.) Those who partook of it wished to renew the scene in the Cenacle in relation to the Sacrifice of the Cross; and were persuaded that under the species of bread and wine they received the Body and Blood of Christ.
The rite, as has been remarked, presents numerous variants when it is studied according to the testimony of different Churches, and great liberty of interpretation and improvisation still reigns; but the general and essential features are the same. What is called the Eucharist, the fraction, the "anaphora," the eulogy, the synaxis, is always and for all the same rite as that which we call the Mass.
Through the different witnesses quoted we can find a starting-point in the third or fourth century, whether it be the "anaphora" of Hippolytus or of Serapion, or the Canon of "De Sacramentis;" and thus we are able to retrace our steps through century after century till we come to the time of the Apostles, and to Christ Himself. Thus we may say that an unbroken chain binds our Mass to that of the Apostles, to the Last Supper. It is the proof of the Apostolic origin of our Mass.
From that time--that is, from the first three centuries --we see, both as regards the Mass and Baptism, a tendency to develop the very simple original rite. To the kind of liturgic synaxis described, for example, in St. Paul's meeting at Troas, where, after the Apostle's sermon those present "broke bread" before separating, the heads of the Church under whose control the liturgy was constituted, added sometimes one ceremony, sometimes another.
The union of the aliturgical synaxis to the Mass is, already, a considerable fact; it is a prelude which in our own day has the same extent as the rite of Sacrifice or of the Mass properly so called. Hippolytus gives us an "anaphora" which is a model of precision and concision. It is a brief, weighty sermon in a single breath; for the whole "anaphora" proceeds without a break from the Preface to the conclusion, which is the Amen of the faithful. The Fraction follows; the Communion, thanksgiving, and dismissal.
The centuries to come had a tendency to add fresh rites to this. The "Liber Pontificalis," on which, however, we cannot always rely in these matters, gives us in this case an exact idea of the facts. Such a Pope added the "Sanctus" to the Preface; another added the "Agnus Dei;" another, a sentence to the Canon; yet a fourth has added another sentence. Then there would be a prayer for the offering of the bread; another for the censing; a third for the Communion. Until the day when Leo XIII ordained a series of prayers for the Church, the Gospel of St. John was the conclusion of the Mass. There have been those who said that all these trees prevent us from seeing the forest; and it must assuredly be admitted that those who are for the first time present at High Mass must find themselves rather at a loss.
But those who have studied the liturgy and its history will readily find the great lines of the primitive Mass in the Mass of the twentieth century.