As you may know, the Catholic Faith was illegal in the Roman Empire prior to 313 AD, when the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan permitting the Christian Faith to flourish publicly. Prior to that time, Church buildings as we know them today were rare—Mass was usually celebrated in houses.
Now be careful here; these “houses” were usually rather sizable, with a central courtyard or large room that permitted something a little more formal than Mass “around the dining room table.” I remember being taught (incorrectly) that these early Masses were informal, emphasized a relaxed, communal quality, and were celebrated facing the people. Well, it turns out that really isn’t true. People didn’t just sit around a table or sit in circle—not at all. They sat or stood formally, and everyone faced in one direction: east.
In the drawing (to the right) you can see the layout of an ancient house church (actually more often called a Domus Dei (House of God)) drawn based on an excavated 3rd century house church in Dura-Europos (located in what is now today’s Syria). Click on the diagram for a clearer view. The assembly room is to the left and a priest or bishop is depicted conducting a liturgy (facing east) at an altar against the east wall. A baptistery is on the right and a deacon is depicted guarding the entrance door. The lonely-looking deacon in the back of the assembly hall is there to “preserve good order,” as you will read below. The photograph below shows the baptistery of the Dura-Europos house church.
What is remarkable about these early liturgies is how formal they were despite the fact that they were conducted under less-than-ideal circumstances. The following text is from the Didiscalia, a document written in about 250 AD. Among other things, it gives rather elaborate details about the celebration of the early Catholic Mass in these “house liturgies.” I have included an excerpt here and interspersed my own comments in RED. You will find that there are some rather humorous remarks in this ancient text toward the end.
Now, in your gatherings, in the holy Church, convene yourselves modestly in places of the brethren, as you will, in a manner pleasing and ordered with care. [So these “house liturgies” were NOT informal Masses. Good order and careful attention to detail were essential.] Let the place of the priests be separated in a part of the house that faces east. [So even in these early house Masses, the sanctuary (the place where the clergy ministered) was an area distinct from where the laity gathered. People were not all just gathered around a dining room table.] In the midst of them is placed the bishop’s chair, and with him let the priests be seated. Likewise, and in another section let the lay men be seated facing east. [Prayer was conducted facing east, not facing the people.] For thus it is proper: that the priests sit with the bishop in a part of the house to the east and after them the lay men and the lay women, [Notice that men and women sat in separate sections. This was traditional in many churches until rather recently, say the last 150 years.] and when you stand to pray, the ecclesial leaders rise first, and after them the lay men, and again, then the women. Now, you ought to face to east to pray for, as you know, scripture has it, Give praise to God who ascends above the highest heavens to the east. [Again, note that Mass was NOT celebrated facing the people as some suppose of the early Church. Everyone was to face to the east, both clergy and laypeople. Everyone faced in the same direction. The text cites Scripture as the reason for this. God is to the east, the origin of the light.]
Now, of the deacons, one always stands by the Eucharistic oblations and the others stand outside the door watching those who enter [Remember, this was a time of persecution and the early Christians were careful to allow only baptized and bona fide members to enter the Sacred Mysteries. No one was permitted to enter the Sacred Liturgy until after having been baptized. This was called the disciplina arcanis, or “discipline of the secret.” Deacons guarded the door to maintain this discipline.] and afterwards, when you offer let them together minister in the church. [Once the door was locked and the Mass began, it would seem that the deacons took their place in the sanctuary. However it also appears that one deacon remained outside the sanctuary to maintain “good order” among the laity.] And if there is one to be found who is not sitting in his place let the deacon who is within, rebuke him, and make him to rise and sit in his fitting place … also, in the church the young ones ought to sit separately, if there is a place, if not let them stand. Those of more advanced age should sit separately; the boys should sit separately or their fathers and mothers should take them and stand; and let the young girls sit separately, if there is really not a place, let them stand behind the women; let the young who are married and have little children stand separately, the older women and widows should sit separately. [This may all seem a bit complicated, but the bottom line is that seating was according to sex and age: the men on one side, the women on the other, older folks to the front, younger ones to the back. Also, those caring for young children were to stand in a separate area. See? Even in the old days there was a “cry room!”] And a deacon should see that each one who enters gets to his place, and that none of these sits in an inappropriate place. Likewise, the deacon ought to see that there are none who whisper or sleep or laugh or nod off. [Wait a minute! Do you mean to tell me that some of the early Christians did such things? Say it isn’t so! Today, ushers do this preserving of good order, but the need remains.] For in the Church it is necessary to have discipline, sober vigilance, and attentive ear to the Word of the Lord. [Well that is said pretty plainly—and the advice is still needed.]
68 Replies to “The Ancient Mass in the”House Churches”was not as Informal as Many Think”
Hello Monsignor Pope,
I’ve always heard the first Christians hid in catacombs to have Mass…
But now I know better. 🙂
Thanks for the instruction…anna
They did both, Anna, depending on the severity of the persecutions of the time. The persecutions were not constant up to the fourth century. They increased and decreased in severity depending on who the emperor was and what imperial policy was at the time.
For example, in 250-51, the Emperor Decius launched a particularly brutal persecution. Imperial policy then became more relaxed after he was killed in 251.
Then, in 257, the Emperor Valerian launched a new severe wave of persecutions. He ordered that all Christian bishops were to be executed. During this persecution, the then pope, St. Sixtus II, had to celebrate Mass in hiding. In August 258, he was celebrating Mass in the Catacombs of Praetextatus near the Appian Way because the Christians believed it was not being monitored by police. However, while he was celebrating Mass there one evening, soldiers burst in and, according to one version of the story, he and several of his deacons were killed on the spot. The greatest Church Father of the time, Cyprian of Carthage, was martyred the following month.
It’s worth noting that Valerian’s severe persecution did nothing to help his political fortunes. In 260, he was captured in battle by the Persian army [the first time this happened to a Roman Emperor] and was never seen or heard from again.
“In 260, (Valerian) was captured in battle by the Persian army [the first time this happened to a Roman Emperor] and was never seen or heard from again.”
While he was alive, in Persian captivity, he was made to serve as a footstool for the Shah; after his death, his corpse was eviscerated, stuffed and preserved as a Persian victory trophy
The Eucharist was held in a catacomb usually only for the commemoration of a martyr or one of the faithful, and then on the tomb itself if possible.
Consider that there were many exposed bodies (as can be seen in photos of the catacombs) and with no windows or ventilation, the stench would have been unbearable for a regular practice.
Catacombs only exist in Rome … most Christians have never lived in Rome
Not quite. There are catacombs throughout the mediterranean. For example, the ones in Syracuse, Sicily.
They still have arrangements like this today. They are called mosques.
Where do you think the mahometans got the idea?
Where do you think the mahometans got the idea?
that answer is a home-run!
Sorry. meant to respond to a different comment chain. Browser error.
They are not mosques. Mosques do not have altars, priests, sanctuaries, etc.
The fact that they are rooms full of people for a common purpose gives them some resemblance to any gathering place, including theatre and heavy metal concerns.
Separation of the sexes and young people makes sense to avoid unnecessary distractions.
I’m thinking he didn’t mean “mosque” but “mausoleum”….otherwise I’m totally baffled.
Thank-you Msgr. Pope and God Bless!
At least I got an idea how the early Christians/Catholics did the mass. 🙂
Good post on a fascinating topic, Monsignor. For those who are interested in the early Church, a text of the complete Didascalia in English can be found here:
Actually, the separated seating arrangement is still practiced in some places, as I witnessed in Juarez, Mexico several years ago. Also, this appears to have been the common (or at least official) practice even here in the USA up until the 1920s. Finally, it is still presumed in the rubrical manuals (even of the 1962 Fortescue) and rubrics in the OHS (1956) / Missale Romanum (1962) / Rituale Romanum (1945) that then men will receive Communion, the sacraments or venerate (the Cross on Good Friday) first, then the women.
Dear Msgr. Pope:
The early Christians were known for their beautiful singing. A motley group of people gathering on a Sunday morning singing hymns would surely garner suspicion among neighbors. Except in times of persecution could they have been secretive as to what was going on in the house?
Thank you, Monsignor. Not only is this post interesting and informative, but with accessible and authentic scholarship, it quite succinctly corrects certain popular misconceptions. You are not alone in remembering being taught some incorrect things.
They said Mass in Latin, too. 😉
While it is true that Holy Mass was indeed offered in Greek in certain places (and still is), by third century, when scholars believe the Didascalia was written and liturgies were celebrated at the Domus Dei at Δοῦρα Εὐρωπός, Latin had become the liturgical language of Christians in Rome. Of course, many words and phrases were retained (and still are) untranslated from their original languages, such as alleluia, hosanna, abba, amen, ephpheta, mammon, etc., a fact that demonstrates the tendency of tradition, both natural and supernatural, to preserve intact what is received and passed on.
But if they weren’t in Rome? It wasn’t a matter of “Greek” vs. “Latin”. It was a matter of insisting on a single language, no matter what, or adopting the vernacular. There was controversy over permitting Latin at all, because Greek was the original language, not Latin. Eventually, the vernacular/common language/daily language of Latin was adopted. If the “Latin-only” crowd were serious, they’d abandon Latin and use Greek, since Latin is an after-comer.
Sorry to contradict you, Monsignor, but they said Mass in Latin.
I am not saying that Greek was not used at all in the west, only that they did in fact say Mass in Latin.
I am not saying that they did not say Mass in Greek in the west, but only that they did in fact say Mass in Latin.
You seem to be saying that they exclusively used Greek up to about the fourth century.
But Greek, always a lingua franca in the west, never became a language with which a wide demographic had facility. Not only in Rome, but in North Africa, which was in the third and fourth centuries a more influential province for the course of the Empire as well as for the course of Christianity, and North Africa, unlike the Greek east which never embraced Latinity, was always staunchly Latin-speaking until the successive conquests of Gaiseric, Belisarius, and the Arabs, in the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries, respectively, wiped out Roman (Latin) influence there permanently.
There may have been Masses in Latin in Rome (Rome the city, I mean) from early on, but the normal language for liturgy and correspondence was Greek. It was not until the pontificate of Damasus (366-384) that the primary Mass, the bishop’s own Mass, began to be celebrated in Latin
Let us remember that many of the early Bishops of Rome were Greek.
It is good to see that, back then, ALL stood to pray, as it is today in the Novus Ordo Missae (reflecting St. Peter’s allusion to the “royal priesthood” of the faithful). That stated, it seems this section was more about order than about rubrics.
On praying toward the east, it states “ought to.” Also, it is unclear where that particular scripture verse is…?
This is good stuff Msgr Pope. Thank you.
All stand to pray in the Extraordinary Form as well.
They may stand, but they are not doing the same thing nor are they freely understanding what is being said (like they were in the early Church when the Mass was always prayed in the vernacular – with active hearts and minds engaged…in the Greek or Aramaic or whatever they spoke and understood).
Tailler, I attend the Extraordinary Form of the Mass every Sunday. How can you possibly judge whether I am praying with an active heart and mind?
I can not. I don’t even know you. I think that is obvious, correct? But, most of us who are not instructed in Latin have no clue what is going on. If we were to step back, undermine the Holy Spirit’s voice in Vatican II, we, the un-Latinized, would become like the Gentiles in the outer court again, yearning to enter but being kept outside because we are not of the Latin race.
Tailler: I’m so sorry you “have no clue what is going on.” That would have to mean that you also have trouble understanding what is going on in any Mass, in any language, since the Mass is always the Mass. The form is almost the same. The flow is similar also. Even sitting, standing, and kneeling are observed almost exactly the same. I believe it is more your refusal to learn even a modicum of Latin (and Tradition) just as all those Catholics since Vatican II who have believe the nonsensical misinformation “since Vatican II.” There are so many things that Vatican II did NOT say to do or to stop doing. The undermining of the Liturgy was done all at once, with the blessings of virtually all the local Bishops (again, against the will of Rome and the actual language of Vatican II), with the view that the more generations it could be kept going in this totally new form would cement it in everyone’s minds, and make it even more difficult to go back – either to the way it was or to the way it was supposed to be. Your insistence that you cannot function whatsoever in Latin puts you firmly in the group that has been hell-bent to destroy the Liturgy since 1974.
And since much of Mass is the same all the time and church Latin isn’t that difficult to understand , it’s not that difficult to learn over time and with a modicum of effort. Really, not having a rudimentary knowledge of the official language of the Church is like being a French citizen and refusing to learn any French. It’s willful ignorance.
+The Jewish spiritual foundation . . . (the Jews being GOD’s chosen people) . . . from which sprang forth Christianity . . . found the . . . EAST . . . a source of great holiness . . . the Jewish temple being considered as a . . . “gate to heaven” . . .
Ezechiel 43:4 drv
“And the majesty of the Lord went into the temple by the way of the gate that looked to the EAST.”
Ezechiel 46:12 drv
“But when the prince shall offer a voluntary holocaust, or voluntary peace offerings to the Lord: the gate that looketh towards the . . . EAST . . . shall be opened to him, and he shall offer his holocaust, and his peace offerings, as it is wont to be done on the sabbath day: and he shall go out, and the gate shall be shut after he is gone forth.”
“ORIENTATION OF CHURCHES
The orientation of churches is the architectural feature of orientating, or facing churches towards the . . . EAST . . . (Latin: oriens). The orientation of churches towards the liturgical . . . EAST . . . has persevered until the present day in a number of Christian denominations.
There are several possible explanations for this orientation.
The Jewish custom of fixing the direction of prayer and orienting synagogues (Mizrah) influenced Christianity during its formative years. In early Christianity, it was customary to pray facing toward the Holy Land.
Gregory of Nyssa thought that the Orient contained man’s original home, the earthly paradise.
Thomas Aquinas suggested that Our Lord lived His earthly life in the . . . EAST . . ., and that from the . . . EAST . . . He shall come to judge mankind 
Tertullian noted that places of Christian worship are always in “high and open places, facing the light”.  This led some people at the time to regard early Christianity as a form of sun worship.
The great Roman Basilicas of the Lateran, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s (originally), St. Lorenzo’s, as well as the Basilica of the Resurrection in Jerusalem and the basilicas of Tyre and Antioch, reversed the normal rule by placing the apse in the western extremity.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). “Orientation of Churches”. Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
1. (II-II, Q. lxxxiv, a. 3)
2. (Adv. Val., c. iii)
3. “Orientation of Churches”. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913.”
“THE ALTAR (Catholicism)
In the earliest church buildings, the altar was situated in a way that the priest faced . . . EAST . . . during the prayers of the eucharistic liturgy.
Depending on the particulars of the specific church building in terms of space and orientation, this usually meant that the altar was placed at the . . . EAST . . . end of the building although there are also some notable examples of churches (the Constantinian churches of St. Peter’s on the Vatican Hill and St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, for example) wherein the altar was located on the western end of the building, which meant that in order for the priest or bishop to face true . . . EAST . . . during the eucharistic prayers of the liturgy, he needed to stand on the western side of the freestanding altar and face towards the doors of the church.
IT SHOULD BE NOTED, that these are not examples of ancient churches in which the priest or bishop celebrated the eucharist “towards the people,” because THE CONGREGATION gathered for liturgies in these churches would stand in the side aisles of the church, facing the altar during the scripture readings and homily but, during the eucharistic prayer, WOULD JOIN THE PRIEST OR BISHOP IN TURNING TOWARDS THE . . . EAST . . . during the eucharistic prayer.”
Internet Link #1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orientation_of_churches
Internet Link #2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altar_(Catholicism)
. . . all for Jesus+
Thank you. Praise Jesus that the Council of Jerusalem (the first one) said that the Gentiles did not have to follow Jewish customs in order to be admitted to the Church of Christ (i.e., adult convert men to Catholicism do not have to participate in a circumcision ceremony prior to being Baptized into the Church). So, since circumcision is a much more weightier requirement than the position of the altar or the direction of prayer (or eating pork for that matter), I think that we can forgo the much lighter Jewish rubrics.
First of all the comment makes clear that it is the “Jewish spiritual foundation” and not a strict literal interpretation. Ezekial is not a legislative text, but a prophetic one. Nevertheless, it gives us insight into the significance of the direction of the East in both Jewish and early Christian contexts.
As to your comment: “since circumcision is a much more weightier requirement, etc.” I’m at a loss as to how you came to that conclusion. What was your basis for establishing the order of the “more weightier” requirements and the “lighter Jewish rubrics”? the Mishnah? the Talmud? Canon Law? some other source?
My nephew just finished a course on church architecture and liturgy at Villanova university. The professor insisted that “house churches” were the preferred style of worship because it was a more intimate setting, the laity were not shoved out of the sanctuary, women were treated better because it was a domestic setting etc., etc. The prof seemed to think that every change since this era was for the worse. So it seems that there are still theology departments teaching this stuff. He also said that this style of worship emphasized the “ekklesia” or church as being the people as body of Christ. Once Christians came out of hiding and big church buildings were constructed the big bad hierarchy took over and the altar rail went up and the “assembly” was pushed out to the hinterlands. Thank you for this clarification. I will pass it on to my nephew.
Yeah, sounds like the prof is either using dated notions, or merely projecting the notion of “house” onto the actual described reality. Perhaps the prof would like to reintroduce the Roman practice of having Christians thrown to the lions? Here too a simple question or two to the Prof might spur study by him: Can you point me to an historical source that describes the liturgy as cozy and informal? Why do you suppose that when the persecutions ended the early Church moved quickly to build on a grander scale and introduce the formality? (The second question accepts his premises for the sake of argument and asks him to ponder why the early Christians might have cast aside the cozy informal intimate and beautiful “eklesia” for a cold harsh institutions and formal reality (to use his notions)).
“Perhaps the prof would like to reintroduce the Roman practice of having Christians thrown to the lions?”
Is any useful purpose served by cheap shots like this, Monsignor?
Oh forgive a little lightheartedness you who love the church fathers, Love, and mirth, and a good humor should not be far apart. I fear you have become a curmudgeon. For your punishment, right out the smiley face emoticon 500 times
OK, fair enough. It just wasn’t clear to me that you were trying to make a joke.
I was told by a teacher at a Catholic school this past May that whoever owned the house ‘broke the bread’, implying that women priests were possible because if the owner of the house was a woman then she ‘broke the bread’. Could you address this, Msgr.?
I would ask here to show me the authoritative sources for this and also to demonstrate that “break the bread” is meant in the Eucharistic sense or just the ordinary meal sense. You might use the Socratic method of asking questions such as:
1. Hmmm…. Can you show me where you read this?
2. Did women own houses at this time? Where?
3. Does this mean that only people who owned houses could be a priest?
4. Do you think the ancient source you quote meant “Break bread” in the eucharistic sense, or in just the ordinary sense of serve a meal?
5. Are there historical examples of women who owned a house and were also priests that the Early Church recognized as such?
Make your teacher do the work rather then just pass on dubious info and make you prove or disprove it. The burden should remain with your teacher.
“Did women own houses at this time? Where?”
Some of the early titular churches of Rome were on property owned by wealthy matrons who donated their property to the church. This reflected the fact that it was perfectly legal in ancient Rome for women to own land.
Before the practice of naming churches after saints became commonplace, the churches were usually named after the person who donated the property. For example, the Titulus Crescentianae [which later became San Sisto Vecchio] was named for the matron Crescentiana. The Titulus Lucinae [later San Lorenzo in Lucina] was named for the matron Lucina.
Of course, such women were not priests, but they were justifiably highly regarded in the early Church as benefactresses. Clergy often sought to cultivate good relations with these wealthy ladies. For example, the greatest fourth century pope, St. Damasus I [for whom St. Jerome briefly worked as secretary] was dubbed “the matrons’ ear tickler”.
Orthodox Churches still face east (if purpose built) and in the vast majority men stand on one side while ladies are on the other. Which side depends on the tradition (Oriental or Eastern).
As a Protestant who is looking into the truth of Catholicism, I find this article just fascinating. My evangelical Protestant friends wouldn’t take to this particular idea of a House Church very well though. :/
Sounds so familiar, so very familiar, pretty much like the way we do Liturgy in the Orthodox Church (including in some groups separation of the genders) to the present day.
“So these “house liturgies” were NOT informal Masses. Good order and careful attention to detail were essential.”
Of course. You don’t even need ancient sources to know that- within living memory in rural Ireland, celebration of Mass in individual homes was quite common. Just ask someone who hosted one; it was considered a great honor but also a very solemn duty, and they had to thoroughly clean, decorate and organize the room in advance of the priest’s arrival. There’s no reason to think it should have been any different in the Roman Empire.
It never fails to amaze me how individuals pass along information that they have heard but not verified or that they have just plain invented to support their own political agendas. The truth will always be the same regardless of how humans may try to warp it. Thank God and put Satan behind thee!
Thank you Msgr. Pope! God blesses us through you. Thank you for saying “yes” to Him.
About 45 years ago I read that the real early Christians AD 65 and on would have services where traveling prophets would drop by to deliver messages to the assembled and that women had a vital function during the service. The reason I mention this is because I remember reading some laws that were used to ferret out these false traveling prophets, such as to invite them to leave after three days so as to avoid being taken advantage of. I’m sorry but I don’t remember the title of the book as it was long ago, but it was a 19th century tome that rested on shelves in a Jesuit college library. Does anyone have any further information on celebratory rites in the very early days of Christianity?
The Didache (teaching of the Twelve Apostles) talks about travelling prophets and gives a few criteria by which one might test the authenticity of their calling or authority. Nothing about the role of women in that regard. Check here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0714.htm
i’ve never heard they were informal. who are these ‘many’ who think so?
Their name is legion, for they are many
My graduate studies were in the 80’s, and I also don’t recall getting the idea that the liturgical practices of house churches were “informal.” We know the Last Supper was a Passover meal. We know the early disciples continued to follow Jewish prayer practices. To the degree that vestments may have been minimal, and that worship was conducted in the vernacular of the time and place, it was certainly less ritualized than the TLM. I read the Didache, a document that predates the Didascalia Apostolorum. Order and ritual were apparent in the Eucharist in the 2nd century as well as the third.
I suspect the equating of informal to house is not unlike the assumption people have these were quite the same as 3rd century Catholic Masses as they know “Mass” today.
Could be mistaken but I think that the ‘Didscalia’ is the same as the ‘Teaching of the Apostles’ previously thought to have been dated around 100 AD but now possibly dated around 50 AD.
No the Didache is different from the Didascalia.
This information was a real eye opener. Thank you so much for sharing it!
Wonderful exposition — I would only say please don’t affirm cry rooms, even in jest. Keeping the babies off to the side is different from soundproofing them away from the others. The cry room is a terrible idea. Better (and exemplified in your text): Being considerate of others, gradually integrating children into mature worship, being a part of what is going on without disrupting anything — that is what was encouraged in this writing you cite, not what we have today in cry rooms!
But otherwise, a good rebuttal to the widespread and erroneous idea that somehow the medieval church made something rigid out of a casual affair! Well done.
I was in Rome last year (March 2014) and there is important ancient artwork in some of the catacombs (Priscilla and possibly Callixtus) that clearly show a much more informal liturgical setting with both men and woman gathered around a semi-circular table (as was the Roman style) and celebrating eucharist with bread and wine. Some might want to cast this as an agape, although I don’t believe that agape’s persisted into the third century. Woman seemed to be playing a decisive role and the scrolls of scripture were present in baskets. I have a reproduction of one of the catacomb artworks showing this on my dining room wall. Sometimes art can be as informative as written sources, which were often censored and offered as an ideal-type. Sometime so is art, but why maintain it. The early church was famous for suppressing what it considered inaccurate or incorrect descriptions.
Yes koine Greek was the original liturgical language in Rome. Aramaic was only used in the east, but the Marionite Catholics and Syrian churches still to this day use a later Syriac form of this Aramaic language which they call in some cases Aramaic. The Greek Orthodox still persist in the use of Greek, but it is after all their vernacular or an earlier form thereof.
Finally just a small thought/suggestion on the East/West orientation controversy. One of the reason that Saint Peter’s basilica altar faces west may be that that it how Eucharistic celebrations may have been oriented and held at the ancient “trophy” over the tomb now below the papal altar, given its design features and context.. (c.f. John E. Walsh “The Bones of Saint Peter”). It may also explain why the orientation in Roman and later Latin churches may have been facing the altar from the congregation.
Interesting and engaging conversation by all!
For more information on this topic listen to Fr. Seraphim Beshoner’s Catholic Under the Hood Podcast. http://catholicunderthehood.com/ Episodes 309 & 310 discuss how the early Christians worshiped.
I came across the article on Facebook since it was shared by a friend. There are just a few points that I would suggest discerning. The first has to do with referring to the Church of this period as “Catholic”. If you are referring to actual definition of the word relating to the Church universal, it would be a lower-case word. The Church at this period, as it is today in the region, was one of autocephaly (αὐτοκεφαλία). The first Bishop in the area was the Apostle Peter, and his chair remains, thereby identifying the current Patriarch as his successor, as well as who sits on his chair in Rome. The liturgical language of the time in this region was Syriac. Ever since the followers of Jesus Christ in Antioch (where Peter was Bishop) were first called Christians (Acts 11:26), a culture (Syriac) that was distinctly Christian and a language that was Christian began, which not only existed in the Middle East but reached as far as India and Eastern China. It is still used today in the Liturgy of the region. To truly capture the times and to understand the impact of the teachings of Jesus Christ, these are key points. To suggest that what began to develop a thousand years later as a separate “Catholic” Church, somehow existed during this period would be like suggesting the Magna Carta was written and signed by Americans. What a rich and wonderful history we lose in that version.
Correction: The ‘Catholic Faith’ was never illegal. Christianity was illegal. Nice article, but please don’t ruin the research by trying to claim the Vatican was somehow in existence. Before the creation of the Roman Catholic Church, there was and still exists the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
Deacon Michael, you are truly confused. There is no such thing as the “Roman Catholic Church.” That is just a very modern clarification (17th century, I believe), used mostly by lay persons, to differentiate between other “communions” that have broken ties with the true Church (most notably in the English language, the Anglicans, but also Orthodox).
The term is also used in the sense of “Roman” church, but that is simply referring to the diocese of Rome, or even the Roman Rite. That is probably where your misunderstanding lies. Therefore, the “Roman Catholic Church” could not have been created after the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church, because it does not even exist, and never has. The Church you write of is the Catholic Church; the same one from the first century, created by Christ himself, which has been based in Rome since Peter, whom Christ chose to lead.
To go further, simply ask an Eastern Rite Catholic if they consider themselves “Roman Catholic.” You’ll get an answer something like, “No, we are Catholic.” I have also seen the terms, “non-Roman Catholics” and “Greek Catholics” used by Eastern Rite Catholics. Either way, because the Roman Catholic Church does not exist, and the term “Roman” is only applied to the Diocese of Rome or the Roman Rite, what you wrote is factually incorrect.
I hope this helps with your confusion.
I find it odd that you would be so intent on proving the formal character of the Mass in the early Church. I’ve been to informal Masses in certain settings in today’s world. There are pros and cons depending on how formal or informal you get, but each degree of formality can be appropriate depending on the occasion.
Why is it necessary to demonstrate that early Christians were not “just gathered around a dining room table” when Jesus Himself took his place at a table and gathered His disciples with Him at the Last Supper? Would they not have mimicked his method and strategy for some time if only out of necessity? Many early Christians were isolated socially and economically from trade guilds, etc. No doubt they would have sought out the largest house church they could procur, but the sort of house church that you lift up as an example, courtyard and all, would have been in the minority, especially considering it is from 250 AD, less than 45 years away from the Edict of Milan. What do you think most house churches looked like during the prior 200 years or so?
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