What did the Mass look like in the earliest days of Christianity?
November 22, 2020, 12:00 PM
Though the essentials never change, some of the “externals” of the Mass can change throughout time to help people in every age more effectively enter into the eternal mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ. Still, the Mass that the very first Christians celebrated looked a lot like it does today.
Early Christian worship is described in a letter written by a second-century martyr named Justin (c A.D. 100-165). In the following excerpt, we find the same elements that we see in the modern Catholic Mass: readings from Scripture, a homily, petitions from the priest (“presider”) and laity, the presentation of the gifts at the altar, a Eucharistic prayer, the great Amen, reception of Holy Communion, the Eucharist being brought to the sick, and a faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the presider verbally instructs and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray… when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the presider in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution of each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
We have been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh… are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.