Thursday, July 13, 2006

The First Christian Worship Looks Familiar To Me

One of the things that brought me home to the Catholic Church was the fact that it was steeped in history. The more I read writings from great 1st generation Christians like Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and others, it became readily apparent that the first Christians were not beatniks, they weren't Gnostics, they weren't New Agers--they were Catholics. Doctrine, discipline, structure, and worship were distinct and not open to discussion or dissent. The first Christian worship services were very secret. As a result, the stories that were floating around pagan circles with regard to what went on there provided the first tabloid TV.

After a bout of uneasiness in remembering the Catholic Liturgy I had attended a thousand times as a child, I made my peace with the fact that the liturgy of the first Christians was the same essential liturgy that the Catholic Church prays today. If I was to be Christian, I had one option--to follow the footsteps of the first Christians or deny Christ altogether.

Christianity Today had the boldness to make this point clearly in one of its May 2006 issues. In it, they reprinted the writings of Justin Martyr, one of the Chruch's first apologists, who described in detail the Christian worship service. Below is the text of Justin's writing First Apology, and in bold are the distinctly Catholic elements that were present in Justin's liturgy circa 155 AD and commentary in blue:

How we dedicated ourselves to God when we were made new through Christ I will explain, since it might seem to be unfair if I left this out from my exposition. Those who are persuaded and believe that the things we teach and say are true, and promise that they can live accordingly, are instructed to pray and beseech God with fasting for the remission of their past sins, while we pray and fast along with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are reborn by the same manner of rebirth by which we ourselves were reborn; for they are then washed in the water in the name of God the Father and Master of all, and of our Savoir Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. For Christ said, "Unless you are born again you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven."
The Catholic Church, as Justin describes here as well, holds Trinitarian Baptism to be a sacrament. In other words, it baptizes new Christians (we will deal with infant baptism at a later time) in the name of the Father, Son, and H0ly Spirit and teaches that this baptism regenerates that person by the grace of God. Baptism was an ACTUAL rebirth, an ontological change in that person and this teaching remains in Catholicism today.

Now it is clear to all that those who have once come into being cannot enter the wombs of those who bore them. But as I quoted before, it was said through the prophet Isaiah how those who have sinned and repent shall escape from their sins. He said this: "Wash yourselves, be clean, take away wickedness from your souls, learn to do good, give judgment for the orphan and defend the cause of the widow, and come and let us reason together, says the Lord. And though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them as white as wool, and though they be as crimson, I will make them as white as snow." . . .
After thus washing the one who has been convinced and signified his assent, [we] lead him to those who are called brethren, where they are assembled. They then earnestly offer common prayers for themselves and the one who has been illuminated and all others every where, that we may be made worthy, having learned the truth, to be found in deed good citizens and keepers of what is commanded, so that we may be saved with eternal salvation.
On finishing the prayers we greet each other with a kiss. Then bread and a cup of water and mixed wine are brought to the president of the brethren and he, taking them, sends up praise and glory to the Father of the universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanksgiving at some length that we have been deemed worthy to receive these things from him. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, the whole congregation present assents, saying, "Amen." "Amen" in the Hebrew language means, "So be it." When the president has given thanks and the whole congregation has assented, those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the consecrated bread and wine and water, and they take it to the absent.
What you see here is what occurs in every Catholic Church in the world on every single day. There's no difference between a liturgy in Spain or in South Africa--the liturgy was universal in Justin's time and it remains so today. What Justin describes here is the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
This food we call Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true, and has received the washing for forgiveness of sins and for rebirth, and who lives as Christ handed down to us. For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God's word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.
Justin makes it clear that the Eucharist isn't a symbol. The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Christ under the appearance of bread and wine. It also teaches that receiving this spiritual food and drink worthily is the ONLY way to receive it. And so it forbids presenting one's self for communion while in serious sin, just as Justin describes in his early liturgy. This is because St. Paul wrote that 'those who eat this bread and drink this cup unworthily eat and drink damnation on themselves.' You don't go to Hell for drinking a symbol unworthily, which tells me the first Christians saw the Eucharis as the real body and blood of Jesus.

For the apostles in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, thus handed down what was commanded them: that Jesus, taking bread and having given thanks, said, "Do this for my memorial, this is my body"; and likewise taking the cup and giving thanks he said, "This is my blood"; and gave it to them alone. …
In the Catholic liturgy, these words are repeated verbatim and are considered the central/focal point of the entire ceremony.

After these [services] we constantly remind each other of these things. Those who have more come to the aid of those who lack, and we are constantly together. Over all that we receive we bless the Maker of all things through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.
And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president in a discourse urges and invites [us] to the imitation of these noble things.
This is called the Liturgy of the Word in the Catholic Mass. After one Old Testament reading, one New Testament epistle, and one Gospel reading, the president, or priest, speaks to the congregation preaches about their meaning and application to our lives.

Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. And, as said before, when we have finished the prayer, bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president similarly sends up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability, and the congregation assents, saying the Amen; the distribution, and reception of the consecrated [elements] by each one, takes place and they are sent to the absent by the deacons.
In the Catholic liturgy, the congregation offers prayers with the priest for the faithfully departed, our clergy, world leaders, etc. ,

Those who prosper, and who so wish, contribute, each one as much as he chooses to. What is collected is deposited with the president, and he takes care of orphans and widows, and those who are in want on account of sickness or any other cause, and those who are in bonds, and the strangers who are sojourners among [us], and, briefly, he is the protector of all those in need.
The Catholic Church then takes the consecrated gifts to the needy and sick of our city who cannot make it to Mass due to sickness, prison, etc.. Also, we can go to ANY place corner of the world and receive the eucharist. 'Catholic' means 'universal', and from the beginning, the universal church resided in the Catholic Church.

We all hold this common gathering on Sunday, since it is the first day, on which God transforming darkness and matter made the universe, and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead on the same day. For they crucified him on the day before Saturday, and on the day after Saturday, he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them these things which I have passed on to you also for your serious consideration.
Seventh Day Adventists claim that the Catholic Church changed the day of worship after Constantine 'started' the Church. They are right that the Catholic Church, after being given all authority to bind and loose by Christ, moved the day of worship to Sunday but this writing from 155 AD seems to suggest that it was done from the beginning of the Church, not some 300 years after Christ.


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