Monday, November 19, 2007

Early Christians and the Sacrifice of the Mass

In reply to Thos from my previous discussion:

Didn't have time to elaborate any more last night but i also wanted to add that forgiveness of sins found in Christ's sacrifice replace the temple sacrifice.

We have some evidence that the earliest Christian liturgies celebrated the 'liturgy of the Word' in the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath and celebrated the Eucharist on the Lord's day. Mike Aquilina's book "The Mass of the Early Christians" discusses this briefly. Also see this helpful article on the subject.

But that the earliest Christians celebrated the Eucharist as we celebrate it today is uncontested. The specific act of Eucharistic adoration is a fairly recent (recent as in only as old as Protestantism) but this isn't a typical part of our liturgy.

The centrality of the Eucharist in even the earliest of Christian liturgies is uncontested historically. It has been called many names - almost all having to do with the Eucharist. "Breaking of the bread" etc.. Some of the early fathers referred to the mass simply as "the Sacrifice".

As the early Christians were all Jews - naturally they would see the Eucharist in sacrificial terms - the True Sacrifice - replacing and fulfilling the sacrifices of Judaism.

This is the entire reason why Jesus was crucified - He set Himself in place of the temple. It was in Christ that the Jews "escaped" the temple sacrifice - proclaiming and representing the True sacrifice at every mass in perpetuity.

Let us also not forget that God told Moses that the Passover sacrifice was to be perpetually celebrated. As the Church fathers taught us, the Old Testament pre-figures the New and the NT fulfillments always exceed their Old Testament prefigurements. Jesus is the new Adam - greater than the first. Mary is the new Eve, greater than the first.

Christ was the new Passover Lamb - greater than the first. The Eucharistic celebration was both a fulfillment of the temple cult and the passover liturgy. Christ's sacrifice was much greater than the sacrifices of the temple, and since the Passover liturgy was a mere commemoration of the one-time passover sacrifice, the Eucharistic celebration by default must be greater. No longer did the Church consider it to be merely a commemoration (though we do it in memory of a one time event) but instead we understand it as a non-bloody representation of the True Pascal Sacrifice.

So then it should come as no surprise that within one generation , if there were separate liturgical celebrations in the early Church, they were combined well before the end of the first century. The mass structure has stayed identical ever since. Justin Martyr's detailed overview of the mass in his first apology matches exactly what we've described - First the liturgy of the Word following the traditions of the Synagogues and then the liturgy of the Eucharist - proclaiming and representing the Sacrifice in perpetuity according to the commands of God and the traditions of our Church fathers.

4 comments:

Thos said...

Thanks, Tim. And thanks for the link to Liturgica.com - good stuff on the early service. That's a topic that seems unneccessarily shrouded by mystery. I would love to see Protestants come to a better (and more accurate) appreciation of how the early church conducted its services. I've heard much in Reformed Circles of the Fellowship Meal - but the discussion has all been that IT was the "Lord's Supper" (aka communion, aka eucharist). This link indicates otherwise - that there was a separate fellowship meal and communion.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Joseph said...

The Jews also only traveled to Jerusalem to offer their sacrifices at the hands of the priest on the altar of sacrifice in the Temple. Synagouge worship could take place anywhere (reading of the Torah). Sacrifices, however, could only take place in the Temple.

The Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and now a couple of Muslim shrines sit atop Temple Mount. Jews will not offer sacrifices anywhere but the Temple, so the Temple has to be rebuilt before they do so again. To rebuild the Temple will obviously require eradication of Muslims in Jerusalem and a suppression of any potential Muslim "threat" in surrounding areas.

japhy said...

Perhaps the current liturgy of Eucharistic Adoration is "recent" (but not as recent as the Reformation, since St. Thomas Aquinas penned Pange Lingua in the 13th century), but the personal adoration or contemplation of the Eucharist is nearly as ancient as the Church itself.

Augustine wrote in his commentary on Psalm 99:

“O magnify the Lord our God” (ver. 5). Magnify Him truly, magnify Him well. Let us praise Him, let us magnify Him who hath wrought the very righteousness which we have; who wrought it in us, Himself. For who but He who justified us, wrought righteousness in us? For of Christ it is said, “who justifieth the ungodly.” [Rom. iv. 5] ... “And fall down before His footstool: for He is holy.”

What are we to fall down before? His footstool. ... But consider, brethren, what he commandeth us to fall down before. In another passage of the Scriptures it is said, “The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool.” [Isa. lxvi. 1] Doth he then bid us worship the earth, since in another passage it is said, that it is God’s footstool? How then shall we worship the earth, when the Scripture saith openly, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God”? [Deut. vi. 13] Yet here it saith, “fall down before His footstool:” and, explaining to us what His footstool is, it saith, “The earth is My footstool.” I am in doubt; I fear to worship the earth, lest He who made the heaven and the earth condemn me; again, I fear not to worship the footstool of my Lord, because the Psalm biddeth me, “fall down before His footstool.”

I ask, what is His footstool? and the Scripture telleth me, “the earth is My footstool.” In hesitation I turn unto Christ, since I am herein seeking Himself: and I discover how the earth may be worshipped without impiety, how His footstool may be worshipped without impiety. For He took upon Him earth from earth; because flesh is from earth, and He received flesh from the flesh of Mary. And because He walked here in very flesh, and gave that very flesh to us to eat for our salvation; and no one eateth that flesh, unless he hath first worshipped: we have found out in what sense such a footstool of our Lord’s may be worshipped, and not only that we sin not in worshipping it, but that we sin in not worshipping.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Japhy: Thanks for the clarification.