Cabrol F. Chapter I. The Mass, from the first to the fourth centuries. Liturgical unity
THE MASS OF THE WESTERN RITES By the Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol
THE MASS, FROM THE FIRST TO THE FOURTH CENTURIES. LITURGICAL UNITY
The Eucharistic Synaxis. — The aliturgical (non-liturgical, or without the
Eucharist) Synaxis. — The days and hours of the Synaxis. — The Eucharistic
It must be laid down from the beginning of this chapter that during this
first period the Mass has what we may call a universal character. No
regional distinctions appear; and our own divisions into Oriental and
Occidental, or Greek and Latin liturgies, had no reality in those days.
It was not until the fourth century that the geographical and political
division between the East and West was truly established. Thus during the
first three centuries it may be said that there were no liturgical
families, but only one single Christian liturgy, where, in a certain sense,
The word "unity," however, must not be taken too literally. It is true that
so far there was no division into liturgical families, but there was great
variety of usages and rites. The law was "great liberty," and it may be
said that there is more difference between the liturgy of the Didache, that
of Hippolytus, and that of Serapion than there was, later, between the
liturgies of Byzantium, of Rome, and the Mozarabic and Gallican liturgies.
The differences are rather those between church and church; the old
churches of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Carthage were great
But the differences existing between the different churches did not prevent
peace and unity from reigning amongst them. In the second century
Polycratus, Bishop of Ephesus, tells us that Pope Anicetus invited St.
Polycarp to celebrate the Mass. And a little later Firmilianus, Bishop of
Caesarea in Cappadocia, the correspondent of St. Cyprian, remarks in his
turn that the varieties of ritual then existing (in the middle of the third
century) made not the least difference to unity.
What was the Mass during this first period? How was it celebrated? What
were its principal elements and, if evolution has taken place, what were
its different stages? To answer these questions the best method seems to us
to study the following points:
1. The Eucharistic Synaxis.
2. The aliturgical Synaxis (separated from the Eucharist).
3. The days and hours of the Synaxis.
4. The Eucharistic Prayer.
1 THE EUCHARISTIC SYNAXIS. — The word "synaxis" comes from "sunaxis,"
gathering together; "sunaxein," to meet or gather together. It was early
employed in the language of Christians to designate an assembly, and
especially an assembly to hear Mass.
The Church was born in Jewish surroundings. It is a fact that the first
Christians, Apostles or disciples, were Jews by birth, or proselytes, on
the day of Pentecost, the true Birthday of the Church. So it was during the
years that followed, until the day when, by the preaching of St. Paul, the
Gentiles entered the Church, of which very soon they became a majority.
This is of the highest importance, all the more because there was never any
brutal rupture between the Church and the Mosaic religion. The Church
indeed always condemned the Marcionites and all those who, with them,
proscribed the ancient law and those who had come out from it.
Most preciously did the Church guard the Pentateuch and all the inspired
books of the Jews. This means that She preserved faith in the God of the
Old Testament; that She kept the Decalogue — that is, the laws of universal
morality and all the Old Testament theology. But at the same time She was
no Judaiser. She separated Herself from the synagogue and declared Herself
against it, as a distinct society which had its own organization,
institutions, and laws. Just as She condemned the Marcionites, so She
expelled the Judaisers from Her company, as those who desired jealously to
retain circumcision and the other Jewish practices.
It was the same thing as regards the liturgy. When the Church was born the
Temple was still standing, with its sacrifices, its highly complicated
ceremonies, its priesthood. It is true that the Apostles still went to pray
at the Temple, but here one most important fact must be noted. The first of
the faithful formed a band apart. The Jews saw in them a sect desirous of
separating itself from Judaism, against which they fought furiously, and
tried to suppress as a disloyal and dangerous body. And this separation was
more keenly accentuated day by day. We can, of course, see how natural it
was that many of the new Christians should still remain attached to the
ancient form of worship. These were the Judaisers. We find them mentioned
in the Acts. St. Paul in his Epistles fights against them; raising his
voice against those who wished to circumcise all new converts, to force
them to observe the new moons, the Jewish feasts, etc.
All that had to cease. He claims the right of liberty for these new
converts. It is not the Law and its observances which will save them; it is
the Faith in Jesus Christ, obedience to His precepts, docility to His
teaching. Naturally, between these two parties there were innumerable
shades of difference, but as time went on these shades gradually effaced
themselves. These practices of the Law were only shadows; figures reflected
in the new worship, but which in the end must give way to it, "et antiquum
documentum novo cedat ritui."
Moreover, in a few years (A.D. 70) a most important event would give the
final blow to the Jewish worship and its sacrifices. The Temple was
destroyed by the Roman armies, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem were
A new form of worship was instituted for the Christians in those private
meetings, which are many times mentioned in the Acts. (Acts ii. 42, 46. Cf.
Acts xx. 7, seq.) Prayer was offered, and the Breaking of Bread took place.
This Breaking of Bread was the Mass.
In what, exactly, did it consist? The converts met to celebrate anew that
Banquet, the Last Supper, which took place in the Cenacle on the night
preceding the death of Our Lord. This is stated in texts of the first
importance, for it is upon their witness that the whole tradition of the
Mass is based. There is first the witness of the three synoptic Gospels,
St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke, whose accounts may be summed up as
On the first day of the "Azymes," which is Thursday, the Apostles, at the
request of Our Lord Himself, prepared a room where He might celebrate the
Pasch with His disciples. It was the Jewish custom, and Our Lord had
assuredly not failed to observe it throughout the preceding years. But this
time the banquet was to have a supreme importance, for He knew that this
meal was the last He should take with His Apostles.
Now, "coenantibus eis," as St. Matthew says, during the meal, and no doubt
towards the end, Our Lord took bread, blessed it, brake, and gave it to His
disciples, saying: "Take, eat, this is My Body." Then, taking the chalice
(the cup containing wine mingled with water), He offered it to them,
saying: "This is My Blood of the New Testament" (the New Covenant) "which
is shed for many for the remission of sins." Then, "hymno dicto," the
prayer being said, they went out to the Mount of Olives. There Our Lord
entered into His Agony, and the soldiers, led by Judas, came to seize Him
(St. Matt. XXVi. 13 — 15)
We know what followed, and the story of that night whose details the
Evangelists have given us; the scenes of the Crucifixion and Death on Good
Friday. The same account which we have just quoted from St. Matthew is
found with little variation in St. Mark and St. Luke.
As for St. John, faithful to his system, he does not repeat what the three
synoptic Gospels have related; but contents himself with completing them as
occasion arises. Thus he gives us details omitted by them as to the Last
Supper, and the discourse of Our Lord during and after the meal. His
seventeenth chapter contains what is called the Sacerdotal Prayer of
Christ, which may be considered as the Divine commentary on the Eucharist.
In his sixth chapter, on the occasion of the multiplication of the loaves,
he had set forth teaching of incomparable precision upon the Eucharist.
"Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood you shall
not have life in you" (vi. 54).
Lastly, St. Paul is a fifth witness, and not the least. He, in his Epistle
to the Corinthians (I Cor. xi. 23-29) gives us a detailed account, the most
ancient in our possession, of the way in which the early Christians
celebrated the Eucharist. These different texts having been explained
elsewhere, I content myself with noting certain principal points upon which
almost every one is agreed. It is a question of a repast which was the
Paschal meal. At its close Our Lord took bread and wine, and in virtue of
His Blessing and of His words they were changed into His Body and Blood. We
use the theological term transubstantiated to mark that of the bread and
wine nothing is left but the species or appearances, the substance having
given place to the Body and Blood of Christ.
It is a new covenant in the Blood of Christ shed to wash away the sins of
the world, and to redeem us, thus it is a sacrifice in intimate union with
that of the Cross, which was to take place the next day; a sacrifice, and
at the same time a sacramental meal.
Upon this point, as upon many others, the synoptic Gospels do not enter
into great detail, they merely sum up and abbreviate. One thing, however,
is certain: the capital importance of this act in the Life of Our Lord.
This can be deduced even from the record of the synoptics, though they
relate these Divine events with a disconcerting simplicity which in reality
is Divine. The other Sacraments are not mentioned in the Gospels, or only
mentioned in a few words. But here each synoptic one after the other,
carefully relates the same history which, as has been said, St. John
completes. The room where the feast is to be held has been chosen, prepared
by Christ Himself. This meal is to be the last in His Life, it is like the
last meal of one condemned to death; for the solemnity of death hovers over
this brotherly love-feast. It is probably also the Paschal supper, which
Our Lord was accustomed solemnly to celebrate with His disciples. His
attitude, his very words, all have now a deeper meaning than ever before.
He speaks of bread and wine becoming His Body and Blood, and of offering
them as food to His Apostles.
It is the New Covenant, which is to replace the Old Covenant concluded
between God and His people in the time of Moses; the New Testament which
takes the place of the Old. A new order of things is beginning, of which we
may say with the poet: "novus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo."
Now St. Paul's text proves that the Christians obeyed Christ's precept;
they renewed their celebration of that last banquet in memory of Him, "hoc
facite in Meam commemorationem." But they introduced a new element into it.
According to St. Paul the Eucharist was accomplished at the close of
another repast, which was the "agape." This circumstance has complicated
the history of the origin of the Eucharist, but I think the difficulty may
be shortly summed up.
The agape was a repast celebrated by the Christians, and, as the word
indicates, it was a feast of love, or charity. The details given by St.
Paul make it easy to understand the possible abuses which might arise from
it. The Jews, and even the pagans, had feasts of the same kind. Is the
"agape" derived from either of these, or is it specifically Christian? My
own opinion is that this question is of little importance. But what we must
note is that, according to St. Paul and other witnesses, it was at that
time united to the Eucharist. Very soon — probably at the beginning of the
second century — the two were separated on account of abuses, and towards
the fourth century the "agape" was declining. It must not be confounded
with those repasts sometimes celebrated by the Christians on the tombs of
the martyrs, or in cemeteries, though these also had a liturgical
After the text of St. Paul, which throws great light on the question of the
Eucharist, I will quote the "Didache." The "Didache," or "Doctrine of the
Apostles," is a document discovered in 1883, which is extremely interesting
but also most obscure, and about which opinions still vary. We may, I
suppose, believe that it was written at the beginning of the second
century. It was recognized almost generally as a description of the
Eucharist from the moment of its discovery. In recent years many scholars —
and those by no means the least important — have come to the conclusion that
it describes the agape, and not the Eucharist. Others again, with, in my
own opinion, greater reason, say that part applies to the agape, the rest
to the Eucharist (Maclean, Thibaut). Here is the translation of the part
which will interest us:
"As to the Eucharist, give thanks thus.
First, for the chalice:
We thank Thee, O our Father
For the holy vine of David Thy servant,
Which Thou hast made us know through Jesus Thy Servant.
Glory be to Thee throughout all ages!
Then for the broken bread:
We give Thee thanks, O our Father
For life and knowledge
Which Thou hast made us know through Jesus Thy Servant.
Glory be to Thee throughout all ages!
As this broken bread, formerly scattered over the mountains, has been
gathered together to form a single whole,
So may Thy Church be assembled from the ends of the earth in Thy Kingdom,
For to Thee is all power and glory by Jesus Christ through out all ages!
Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist if he be not baptized in the Name
of the Lord, for it was of this that the Lord said: 'Give not that which is
holy unto the dogs.'
After you are filled, give thanks thus:
We thank Thee, O Holy Father!
For Thy Holy Name
That Thou hast caused to dwell in our hearts,
For knowledge, faith, and the immortality
Which Thou hast revealed through Jesus Thy Servant.
Glory be to Thee throughout all ages!
It is Thou, Omnipotent Master,
Who hast created the universe for the honor of Thy Name
Who hast given food and drink to man, that he may enjoy them and render
thanks to Thee;
But Thou hast given us a spiritual food and drink, and eternal life by Thy
Above all, we give thanks to Thee because Thou art powerful.
Glory be to Thee throughout all ages!
Remember, O Lord, to deliver Thy Church from all evil,
And to make it perfect in Thy love. Assemble it from the four winds, that
In Thy Kingdom which Thou hast prepared for it,
For Thine is all power and glory throughout all ages!
Come, Grace, let the world pass!
Hosanna to the God of David!
Let him that is holy, come!
Let him that is not, do penance!
Maran-Atha (The Lord comes). Amen.
But as to the prophets, let them give thanks as they will."
Besides the "Didache" there are numerous passages containing allusions to
the Eucharist in the writers at the close of the first and of the second
century. St. Clement of Rome has a prayer which is considered Eucharistic;
we shall come back to it presently. St. Ignatius gives it the names of
"eucharistia" and of breaking "ena harton klontes". He insists that this
should be accomplished by the Bishop, and that it is a sign of unity. He
uses the word "thusiasterion" to design the place of sacrifice, which
clearly points out that, to him, the Eucharist was also Sacrifice. It would
also seem that with him the "agape" is still united to the Eucharist
(Srawley, loc. cit., p. 31).
The testimony of St. Justin in the middle of the second century must be
specially noted, since it is an actual description of the Christian
" As for us, after having washed him who believes and has joined himself to
us (Justin has just described Christian Baptism), we lead him to that place
where are assembled those we call our brothers. With fervor we offer
prayers for ourselves, for the enlightened (him who has just received
light of Baptism), for all the rest, wherever they may be, in order to
obtain with the knowledge of the Truth, the grace to practice virtue, to
keep the commandments, and thus to merit eternal salvation.
"When the prayers are ended we give each other the Kiss of Peace. Then to
him who presides over the assembly of brothers are brought bread and a cup
of water and wine mingled. He takes them, and praises and glories the
Father of the universe in the Name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; then
he makes a long thanksgiving for all the benefits we have received from
Him. When he has finished his prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people
present exclaim: Amen! Amen is a Hebrew word meaning 'So be it.' When he
who presides has made the thanksgiving, and when all the people have
answered, the ministers whom we call deacons distribute to all those
present the consecrated bread, the consecrated wine and water, and they
carry them to those who are absent. We call this food the EUCHARIST, and no
one can have part in it unless he believe in the Truth of our Doctrine;
unless he have received the bath for the remission of sins and
regeneration; and unless he live according to the precepts of Christ. For
we take not that Food as common bread and common drink. Just as by virtue
of the Word of God, Jesus Christ our Savior took flesh and blood for our
salvation, thus the Food consecrated by the prayer formed of the very words
of Christ, that Food which nourishes by assimilation our own body and
blood, is the Flesh and Blood of Jesus incarnate. Such is our Doctrine. The
Apostles, in their memoirs which are called Gospels, relate that Jesus
Himself announced these things to them. He took bread and, having given
thanks, said to them:
" 'Do this in memory of Me: This is My Body.' In the same manner He took
the chalice, and having given thanks, He said to them: 'This is My Blood.'
And to them alone He gave it. The evil spirits have imitated this
institution in the mysteries of Mithra: bread and a cup of water are
presented in the ceremonies of initiation, and certain formulas are
pronounced which you know, or which you may know."
It is well to cite even the testimony of the apocryphal writings, some of
which indeed are heretical, but which often give us priceless information
as to the usages of the second and third centuries. A German author has
made a special study of all these texts on the Eucharist. For the heretics
also celebrated the Eucharist after their manner; they consecrated bread
and wine; they considered the rite as a sacrifice; some forbade wine,
declaring they would only consecrate water, whence their name of
Aquarians. Sometimes they give the text of the prayer they recited over
the bread and wine, and which produced, they thought, its change into the
Body and Blood of Christ.
At the beginning of the third century we have a text the very high value of
which has long since been recognized, and which an English scholar has
attributed to St. Hippolytus. This text is that of the Eucharistic
anaphora, or of the Canon recited at Rome at the beginning of the third
century. To this also we shall return later on. Nor must we forget the
African writers of the third century, notably Tertullian and St. Cyprian
whose testimony we shall study in Chapter III.
Lastly, in the fourth century, we have the text of another anaphora
recently discovered. It is that of Serapion, the friend of St. Athanasius,
and Bishop of Thmuis in Egypt. This we shall deal with in Chapter IV.
2. THE ALITURGICAL SYNAXIS (WITHOUT THE EUCHARIST). — The liturgic or
Eucharistic synaxis, as it is described in these texts, is a gathering
exclusively Christian, to which none but the faithful are admitted. The
names usually given to it are "Eucharistia" or "Fractio Panis," either
equally appropriate, because this rite is, above all, a Eucharistic prayer
of thanksgiving; and the breaking of bread for distribution to the faithful
is an essential act of it, an integral part.
But beyond this Eucharistic gathering there were others which may have been
connected with the Eucharist, but which are distinct from it, and in fact
are sometimes separated from it. Thus, in that room in which the
Eucharistic mystery had already been accomplished, where the Church was to
be born, we find the Apostles, after the Ascension, meeting together and
persevering unanimously in prayer (Acts i.14). Later on Peter and John,
after having appeared before the synagogue, returned to their brethren and
addressed that sublime prayer to God which is yet not a Eucharistic prayer
(iv. 23 seq.). When Peter was put into prison by Herod the whole Church
united in prayer for him (xii. 5, and further on, 12, "multi congregati et
Pliny, at the beginning of the second century, in his famous text on the
Christians, speaks of a first meeting which they held upon a fixed day,
"statuto die," probably Sunday; it took place before the dawn, and they
sang hymns to Christ as God. In the evening of the same day they met
together again for a meal in common, in which some have seen the "agape,"
but which was far more probably the Eucharist. Many other allusions to
these aliturgical synaxes will be found in Clement of Rome, Ignatius,
St. Justin also speaks, in the text already quoted, of a meeting at which
were read the Holy Scriptures and the memoirs of the Apostles, and at which
certain prayers were recited. This meeting was followed by the Eucharistic
service. Thus prayers, readings, chants all served as prelude to the
Eucharist. We have here I believe the first really precise example of what
we call to-day the Pre-Mass, or Mass of the catechumens, as to which I will
only say one word. Even in the existing liturgy we find traces of this
aliturgical synax separated from the Eucharistic service, as, for example,
in the office for Good Friday. It seems evident that this ceremony proceeds
from that used in the synagogues on the Sabbath: the singing of psalms,
reading the law and the prophets homily — all this is just the material of
the Mass of the catechumens. It also agrees with what was said at the
beginning of this chapter. From the synagogue the Church freely borrowed
those customs which would adapt themselves to her liturgy; but she
completed and made perfect such rites. Here, for example, the reading of
the New Testament has been added to that of the Old, and we have the
admirable whole of the Mass of the catechumens, which will often be
mentioned in the course of this book.
The fact to be retained is this: there were, amongst the Christians of the
first three centuries, beyond the Eucharistic synax, other gatherings which
were aliturgical, and which must be distinguished from the Mass although in
many cases the aliturgical synax was followed by the Eucharist. In the same
way the "agape," a meal quite distinct from the Eucharist, at one time
preceded its celebration. The two cases are analogous and when once this
distinction is clearly understood it becomes easier to interpret the
ancient texts on the Eucharist it is because this analogy was not taken
into account that so many writers on this subject have fallen into
confusion and error.
The pagans were not excluded from these non-liturgical synaxes as they were
from that of the Eucharist. Catechumens were admitted to them, and even
heretics; but when the Eucharistic service began all these people were sent
out, "foris canes," as was somewhat rudely said.
As to the vigils celebrated at the tombs of the martyrs, they were another
form of synaxis which borrowed not only from the aliturgical gathering but
from the agape, and from the liturgical synaxis itself. It was a local
anniversary service which took place in the cemeteries, where psalms were
chanted and the story of the passion of the martyr was read; and which was
often followed by the agape and by the Eucharist. It was sometimes called
"pannuchia," because it was celebrated at night, and was supposed to last
from the previous evening until daylight next morning. We shall say no more
about them here, as they do not exactly form part of our subject, but the
ancient writers often speak of them; abuses occasionally took place, and in
the end they were suppressed.
3. THE DAYS AND HOURS OF THE SYNAXIS. — Pliny tells us that the Christian
synaxes (liturgical or aliturgical) were held before the dawn, and in the
evening. Tertullian and St. Cyprian also speak of these early or nocturnal
meetings, as well as the different canonical documents of the third
century. In order, on days of fasting, not to break the fast, the
was kept back until the hour of None, or even till Vespers. Because these
gatherings were often held at night the pagans called the Christians a race
of night-birds — "lucifugae."
From the Acts it would seem that the faithful assembled thus daily. Pliny
speaks of a certain fixed day, probably Sunday, which, of course, has been
from the beginning the liturgical day par excellence. But from a very early
date, especially in the West, Wednesday and Friday were days of meeting;
while in the East the day chosen was Saturday. Thus was constituted the
Christian week, with its Sunday and its Station days, Wednesday and Friday.
In one sense it might be said that the Christian week preceded the
Christian, or liturgical, year. The latter, however, does in its germ
certainly date from the primitive epoch. Easter and Pentecost are as
ancient as Sunday itself; and have contributed in no small degree to the
importance of Sunday, since both Feasts were celebrated on that day. Now
Easter and Pentecost early formed the sacred Fifty Days; the two Feasts
depended on each other chronologically and liturgically. There was a
preparation for Easter, in which we see the beginnings of Lent.
The principle on which Easter was celebrated applied, from the fourth
century, to the Birth of Christ; thus we have the Feasts of Christmas and
Epiphany. From this the entire liturgical year was derived. But from the
beginning of this century Jerusalem was already ahead of all the other
churches; her liturgical year was complete; she celebrated not only Easter
and Pentecost, but also the Birth of Christ, the Presentation in the
Temple, Lent with all its exercises, Holy Week. All these anniversaries
were celebrated in the Holy Places. Thus, if we may so speak, a local
liturgical year was created, soon to be imitated in many other churches,
and first of all in that of Rome.
The anniversaries of the martyrs were also solemnly celebrated, and gave
birth to as many Feasts. The compilation of ecclesiastical calendars was in
full flower in the fourth century. But this subject leads us away from our
own, and we must return to the Eucharist.
4. THE EUCHARISTIC PRAYER. — In the texts we have quoted from the three
synoptic Gospels Our Lord pronounces no prayer for the institution of the
Eucharist: none, at least, is given us. Neither does St. Paul make any
allusion to such a prayer. There are not wanting those who have wished to
supplement this silence; and it has been said that such terms as "hymno
dicto" (St. Matt. xxvi. 30) after the institution (see St. Mark xiv. 26)
presuppose a prayer. It has been also said that, the institution of the
Eucharist having taken place after the Paschal meal, Our Lord of necessity
recited the prayers in use on that day, as well as the psalms called
"Alleluiatic." Bickell's whole thesis rests on this hypothesis; he
endeavors to discover traces of the Jewish Pasch in the ancient liturgies,
especially in the "Apostolic Constitutions;" and other scholars have
followed him along this road. Quite recently Pere Thibaut has undertaken
the same task again, in a most interesting thesis. But as has been said
other interpreters contest all relation between the Jewish Pasch and the
Last Supper of the Christians.
Some consider St. John xiv.-xvii. as a Eucharistic prayer, of which Probst
finds vestiges in the ancient liturgies. This is possible; but here we are
upon hypothetical ground. With more likelihood we may see an anaphoric
prayer, "a fragment of an evidently liturgical character" (Duchesne), in a
text of the Epistle of Pope St. Clement. This we do not translate here,
since it has so often been reproduced elsewhere. After the text of the
"Didache," which has become classic, and which has been given above, it
will be well to cite that of St. Hippolytus already alluded to, and which
under its primitive form is a prototype of all "anaphorae" and Eucharistic
prayers, which scarcely do more than develop and paraphrase its theme.
"We render thanks to Thee, O God, through Thy well beloved Son Jesus
Christ, that in these last days Thou hast sent Him as Savior and Redeemer
and Angel (messenger) of Thy will, Who is Thine inseparable Word, by Whom
Thou hast made all things, and in Whom Thou art well pleased; Thou hast
sent Him from Heaven into the Virgin's womb, where He became Incarnate and
manifested Himself as Thy Son, born of the Holy Ghost and of The Virgin;
then, accomplishing Thy Will and conquering a new and holy race, He
stretched out His Hands in His Passion in order that He might deliver from
suffering those who have believed in Thee; and at the moment when He
delivered Himself voluntarily to His Passion, in order to destroy Death, to
break the devil's chains, to spurn hell under His Feet, to enlighten the
just, to fix a term, to show forth the Resurrection, taking the bread and
giving thanks He said: Take, eat: This is My Body which shall be mangled
for you. Likewise the cup, saying, This is My Blood which is shed for you:
when you do this you do it in memory of Me. Remembering then His Death and
Resurrection we offer Thee this bread and this chalice, thanking Thee
because Thou hast deigned to permit us to appear before Thee and to serve
Thee. And we pray Thee to send Thy Holy Spirit upon the oblation of the
Holy Church, and uniting them as one, that Thou wilt give to all the Saints
who participate (in the Sacrifice) to be filled with the Holy Ghost and
fortified in the truth of the Faith, so that we may praise Thee and glorify
Thee by Thy Child Jesus Christ, by Whom to Thee is glory and honor, to the
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, in Your holy Church, now and for all ages.
We have also spoken above of the text of that "anaphora" made by an
Egyptian Bishop of the fourth century. In a sort of euchology intended for
the Bishop, Serapion has composed prayers for the blessing of oil and
water, for Baptism, for Ordinations, for the sick and for the dead. A whole
series of prayers is recited before the "anaphora" (n. xix.-xxx.) in that
part which we have called the Pre-Mass. The Mass of the faithful is
composed of the "Prayer of the faithful," of the "anaphora" properly so
called, which follows the ancient theme of the Prefaces: the mercy of God
in creation, in the Incarnation, the recital of the institution of the
Eucharist, the "anamnesis" and "epiclesis," the final doxology of the
"anaphora," and the blessing over the people.
To give an idea of the Mass at this epoch we may perhaps mention a text
which was drawn up in the fourth century, though most of its leading
features are more ancient, and to which certain liturgiologists have given
a rather exaggerated importance, as they consider that it represents the
Apostolic anaphora better than any other. Yet it has not the same value as
the anaphora of Hippolytus, though it uses his text. The liturgical design
of the Mass is as follows: readings from the Old and New Testaments,
preaching; then, prayer for the catechumens, penitents, and those in other
categories; the "oratio fidelium," the Kiss of Peace, the ablution of the
hands, the Offertory, Preface, "Sanctus," the prayer of institution, the
"Anamnesis," "Epiclesis," Memento, Communion, thanksgiving, and dismissal.
Book VIII of the "Apostolic Constitutions" is especially interesting on
account of the influence it exercised in the East, and even in the West,
and at Rome. This is a fresh argument in favor of that liturgical unity
in the first centuries, Hippolytus, Serapion, the "Apostolic
Constitutions," and even Clement of Rome and the "Didache" all exploit a
theme which presents numerous analogies.
We find one custom, which is that of the celebrated church of Antioch,
retraced in the "Apostolic Constitutions." In another church which rivals
that of Antioch in antiquity and fame — that of Alexandria — we have the
Canon of Balizeh, which appears to go back to a period less remote, and
which shows a different custom. But here, as with the different Eucharistic
prayers which we have given, we have a text with a universal tendency, in
spite of certain regional characteristics.
We must now gather a few conclusions from all these texts. The first is
From the very beginning of the Church there existed an essential rite,
distinct from that of the synagogue; a rite which, from the first moment,
seems to take the lead amongst all others, of which in a manner it is the
center. It consists of the reproduction and reconstruction of Our Lord's
last repast, of the Last Supper in the Cenacle.
This rite is found everywhere. We have quoted the texts of Clement of Rome,
of Ignatius of Antioch, of Justin, etc. But we could have multiplied our
witnesses. A Christian traveler of the third century, Abercius, who had
journeyed through the East as well as the West, tells us in a famous
" My name is Abercius: I am the disciple of a Holy Shepherd Who feeds His
flocks of sheep on mountains and on plains; Who has eyes so large that
their glance reaches everywhere. He it is Who has taught me the faithful
Scriptures. He it is Who sent me to Rome.... I have also seen the plain of
Syria and all its towns — Nisibis on the borders of the Euphrates.
Everywhere I went I found brethren. Paul was my companion. Faith led me
everywhere; everywhere it served as my food, a fish from the spring, very
great and pure, caught by a Holy Virgin; continuously she gave it to eat to
her friends; she also has a delicious wine, which she gives with the
This rite considered as a banquet and a sacrifice, has banished ail the
other sacrifices. Although the Church borrowed so largely from the Jewish
liturgy, she left them their sacrifices. Those who attempt to discover
analogies between the rites of paganism and those of the Christians cannot
deny that the peaceful and unbloody Sacrifice of the altar has put an end
to all sacrifices of blood. That river of blood which flowed through all
pagan temples has been stopped by the Sacrifice of the Lamb.
This rite was accomplished with bread and wine. (Certain eccentrics are
pointed out, such as the "Aquarians" or "Hydroparastes," who, already
prohibitionists, forbade all wine, even at Mass.) Those who partook of it
wished to renew the scene in the Cenacle in relation to the Sacrifice of
the Cross; and were persuaded that under the species of bread and wine they
received the Body and Blood of Christ.
The rite, as has been remarked, presents numerous variants when it is
studied according to the testimony of different Churches, and great liberty
of interpretation and improvisation still reigns; but the general and
essential features are the same. What is called the Eucharist, the
fraction, the "anaphora," the eulogy, the synaxis, is always and for all
the same rite as that which we call the Mass.
Through the different witnesses quoted we can find a starting-point in the
third or fourth century, whether it be the "anaphora" of Hippolytus or of
Serapion, or the Canon of "De Sacramentis;" and thus we are able to retrace
our steps through century after century till we come to the time of the
Apostles, and to Christ Himself. Thus we may say that an unbroken chain
binds our Mass to that of the Apostles, to the Last Supper. It is the proof
of the Apostolic origin of our Mass.
From that time — that is, from the first three centuries — we see, both as
regards the Mass and Baptism, a tendency to develop the very simple
original rite. To the kind of liturgic synaxis described, for example, in
St. Paul's meeting at Troas, where, after the Apostle's sermon those
present "broke bread" before separating, the heads of the Church under
whose control the liturgy was constituted, added sometimes one ceremony,
The union of the aliturgical synaxis to the Mass is, already, a
considerable fact; it is a prelude which in our own day has the same extent
as the rite of Sacrifice or of the Mass properly so called. Hippolytus
gives us an "anaphora" which is a model of precision and concision. It is a
brief, weighty sermon in a single breath; for the whole "anaphora" proceeds
without a break from the Preface to the conclusion, which is the Amen of
the faithful. The Fraction follows; the Communion, thanksgiving, and
The centuries to come had a tendency to add fresh rites to this. The "Liber
Pontificalis," on which, however, we cannot always rely in these matters,
gives us in this case an exact idea of the facts. Such a Pope added the
"Sanctus" to the Preface; another added the "Agnus Dei;" another, a
sentence to the Canon; yet a fourth has added another sentence. Then there
would be a prayer for the offering of the bread; another for the censing; a
third for the Communion. Until the day when Leo XIII ordained a series of
prayers for the Church, the Gospel of St. John was the conclusion of the
Mass. There have been those who said that all these trees prevent us from
seeing the forest; and it must assuredly be admitted that those who are for
the first time present at High Mass must find themselves rather at a loss.
But those who have studied the liturgy and its history will readily find
the great lines of the primitive Mass in the Mass of the twentieth century.
1. The text of Polycratus, P. Gr., T. XX, col. 508; that of Firmilianus,
edn. Hartel, T. III, p. 810 seq.
2. St. Mark xiv.; St. Luke xxii. These texts have been studied and
commented on with great learning by P. d'Ales, in one volume of this
series, "L'Eucharistic," p. 15 seq.; we are thus dispensed from dwelling
more fully upon them here.
3. Cf. d'Ales, "L'Eucharistie," p. 15 seq.
4. Trans. (into French), A. Laurent, in the Hemmer and Lejay collection,
"Textes et documents." A commentary will be found in Mgr Batiffol,
"L'Eucharistie," p. 62 seq. The studies of Armitage Robinson and Connolly
place the "Didache" after the epistle of ps. Barnabas.
5. The different texts of St. Ignatius-Philad. 4, Smyrn. 6 & 8, Eph. 20.
6. On the use he makes of this word, cf. J. H. Srawley, "The Early History
of the Liturgy," p. 32.
7. 1st Apol. LXV, LXVI, trans. Louis Pontigny, coll. Hemmer-Lejay.
8. Struckmann, "Die Gegenwarth Christi in der hl. Eucharistie nach den
Schriftl. Quellen der vornizan. Zeit," p. go seq. Cf. Woolley "Liturgy of
Primitive Church," pp. 53 seq. and 138.
9. Cf. the article by Mgr. Batiffol, DACL, "Aquarians."
10. Ign., Eph. 5, 13; Magn. 7; Smyrn. 6. In our "Monumenta Ecclesiae," Dom
Leclercq has gathered all the texts from the writers of the first three
centuries which concern the Eucharist and these aliturgical synaxes.
11. Cf. the "opusculum" of M. Gastoue, "Les Vigiles" (Paris, 1908).
12. Maclean, op. cit., pp. 128, 129.
13. Cf. our book, "Etude sur la Peregrinatio Silviae, les eglises de
Jerusalem au IVe siecle" (Paris, 1895) .
14. Cf. particularly Mgr. Duchesne, "Origines du culte," pp. 51, 52.
15. Trans. (into French) from the attempt to restore the Greek text made by
Dom Cagin, "Eucharistia," pp. 294-296.
16. I have analyzed this text in the article "Messe of the Dictionnaire de
Theologie Catholique." The French translation will be found in Mgr.
Batiffol's "L'Eucharistie," loc. cit.
17. Drew, and after him Fortescue (notably in the article "Mass" in the
Catholic Encyclopedia), have attempted to bring out the resemblances
between the Roman Mass and that of the Apostolic Constitutions,
18. We have analyzed this text from the A. C. in our article "Messe,"
quoted above. Cf. col. 1355.
19. We have analyzed this in DACL, art. Canon, col. 1847 seq. In Chapter
III we shall cite the text of the Canon in the book "De Sacramentis," which
brings us to the end of the fourth century.
20. On "Abercius" and his inscription, cf . DACL, under this heading.
Dom CABROL and Dom LECLERQ, "Monumenta Ecclesiae Liturgica" (Vol. I),
"Reliquiae Liturgicae vetustissimae" (Paris, 1900-1902) — (all the texts of
the writers of the first three centuries on the Mass and Liturgy).
F. PROBST, "Liturgie der drei ersten Jahr." (Tubingen, 1870); "Liturgie der
vierten Jahr." (Munster, 1897); "Die abendlandische Messe vom 5 bis zum 8
Jahr." (Munster, 1896).
G. RAUSCHEN, "Florilegium patristicum," Fasc. VII. "Monumenta eucharistica"
Dom CAGIN, "Eucharistia. L'Anaphore apostolique ou canon primitif" (Paris,
R. H. CONNOLLY, "The So-called Egyptian Church Order," in Texts and Studies
(Vol. VIII, 1916).
R. MAXWELL WOOLLEY, "The Liturgy of the Primitive Church" (Cambridge, 1910)
A JOHN MACLEAN, "Recent Discoveries" (London, 1915).
F E. WARREN, "The Liturgy and Ritual of the ante-Nicean Church" (London,
J. H. SRAWLEY, "The Early History of the Liturgy" (Cambridge, 1912).