What was Mass like in the Early Church?
Many Christian denominations like to claim that they are organized to reflect the pattern of the Early Church. You will also find that they are all different; primarily due to the fact that they have each relied on their individual interpretation of Scripture. Because their individual interpretations are, well, individual; it is no surprise that they are inconsistent.
How can we know what the early church believed, lived and worshiped? If you examine the early Christian writings-many of which are still in existence-you will find a picture of the early Church that is remarkably consistent; and undeniably Catholic!
Perhaps no single aspect of Christianity divides Catholicism from Protestantism as much as the Mass. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is so wholly foreign to the practice of most Protestant denominations that their very definition of worship is different from that held by Catholics. For Catholics, the Mass is a Sacrifice-a re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary. See the article Why are Catholic "Ministers" Called "Priests"? The early church believed that the Mass is a sacrifice which fulfills the prophesy of Malachi 1:11.
The Didache (Ch 14), written to be used for instruction of new Christians about the year A.D. 70: "But every Lord's day do ye gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure." The Didache was written as early as 30 years before the writing of the Book of Revelation.
Referring to Malachi, Justin Martyr writing in A.D. 155: "[So] He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist, affirming both that we glorify His name, and that you profane [it].
So what structure did the early church's worship take?
The early Christians-at least initially-considered themselves as still Jews. Naturally, they attended the synagogue on Saturday (the Sabbath); then on Sunday, they gathered together with the bishop to celebrate the agape. (This is why the Mass today is structured in two parts: The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.) St. Ignatius of Antioch, second successor to St. Peter as bishop of Antioch wrote at length in A.D. 110:
Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it…It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8).
St. Cyril of Jerusalem echoes a description of the Mass found in the Didache and provides a list of elements:
· The priest washes his hands.
· The faithful exchange the Kiss of Peace
· "Lift up your hearts." "We lift them up to the Lord." "Let us give thanks to the Lord" "It is right to give Him thanks and praise."
· The calling down of the Holy Spirit
· The Consecration of the Bread and Wine using Our Lord's words
· Pray the "Our Father."
· Distribute Holy Communion
All of these things are today found in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Worship that is - and can be proved to be - the worship of the Church from the beginning and now found only in the Catholic Church. As St. Ignatius of Antioch in said A.D. 110, "…wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."