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The Mass: circa 150 A.D.

As we read in the Gospels the description of the Last Supper, and compare the simplicity of that scene with the Mass as it is offered in our churches today, we are conscious of the great development that has taken place in the ceremonial of the holy sacrifice over two thousand years. It is a development that is easy to understand. The eucharistic sacrifice which Jesus instituted on Holy Thursday night was like a precious gem which he presented to his Church. It was a perfect and flawless jewel, but it needed an appropriate setting, as does every jewel, to make its beauty and its grandeur evident to all. It is not surprising then that the Church, through several hundreds of years, should fashion and embellish that setting which continues the ceremonial of the mass as we know it today.

The elaboration of the Mass ceremonies developed very rapidly. The pattern of the Mass as it is offered today was pretty well established by the year 150 A.D. A Christian writer of that time, St. Justin Martyr, describes for us the Mass as it was offered in Rome in his day: “On that day, which is named after the sun, all those who live in the city and in the country come together, and then the memoirs of the apostles (meaning the Gospel) or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president (meaning the preist) makes an address (this was the sermon) in which he earnestly admonishes us to practice the beautiful lessons which we have just heard. Then we all rise and pray.”

“Then the bread and a chalice with water and wine are brought to the president of the brethren. He receives these and offers praise to the Father of all in the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and continues at some length with a prayer of thanksgiving (this is what we today call the canon of the Mass or eucharistic prayer which includes the consecration) because we have been made worthy by him to partake of these gifts. When he has finished the prayer and the thanksgiving, all the people present answer: Amen” (This is the Great Amen of our own Mass, which comes just before the Our Father.) “After the thanksgiving of the president and the answer of the people, the deacons, as they are called among us, distribute the bread and the wine over which the thanksgiving has been pronounced… we do not receive it as common food and common drink, since we are taught that even as, by a word of God, Jesus Christ our Savior became flesh, so, too, this food over which has been spoken his word of prayer and thanksgiving, is the true flesh and blood of that Jesus who became man, an enters our flesh and blood when we receive it.” (chapters 65-67 of St. Justin’s First Apology).

—from The Faith Explained by Leo J. Trese, Ch. 27: The Mass

The Faith Explained

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