Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Brief History of the Roman Rite

Two weeks ago I posted the first of this series, The Extraordinary Form of Mass. There I discussed various titles for this usage of the Liturgy. In this present entry, we will discuss the first stage of the history of the Latin Rite's development. Any who want to argue a particular point, the comment box is always open. All are welcome!


From the outset of this part, let us clarify some terms. The Latin Rite refers to those Catholics and that cultural and liturgical tradition which has come largely from Rome and currently yet comprises the vast majority of Catholics; one characteristic of this group (our group) is their (our) standard language, Latin. The Gregorian Rite refers to the particular usage and form of the Mass which, by and large, is very similar to that which was codified by Pope St. Gregory in the 7th-8th centuries and is allowed within the Latin Rite yet today; it is also properly called the Extraordinary Form of the Latin Rite. The Pauline Rite will refer to the particular form and usage which was developed and promulgated under and by Pope Paul VI around 1970 and is yet allowed within the Latin Rite today; this is also properly called the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite.

There is difficulty in discussing the history of the rite of Mass beginning with the very beginning, for in a way, one must begin even before the time of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, that would make this unduly long. There is further difficulty, however. To a certain (some would say large) extent, we do not know exactly what the liturgy looked like in the earliest days of the Church. Some would propose that it looked very much like it looks in the Gregorian Rite pretty much right from the beginning. Others would argue that it looked quite a bit like the Pauline Rite. It would seem that both of these positions are ideologically biased and erroneous. Were there readings from the Scriptures (for first century Jewish Christians this would have been the OT in the Septuagint formulation)? Yes. Were the Psalms sung? Almost undoubtedly. Was there a homily? Of course, though it was merely the interpretation of the Scripture in the light of Christ, as it ought to be today. Was there the recitation of what we now call the Words of Institution/Consecration over bread and wine? Yes, though likely not in the exact verbiage we have today and it probably varied from community to community (cf.Mt 26:26-29, Mk 14:22-24, Lk 22:19-20, I Cor 11:23-25).

Was there the Penitential Rite? Doubtful, though it's not implausible that they would have specifically called to mind their unworthiness. The Kyrie? Nope. The Gloria? Doubtful. The collect? Well, definitely not the formulas we have today, but did they do a prayer to gather their thoughts into one at the beginning of their liturgy? Very possibly. The Creed? Highly doubtful (definitely not Nicene for it didn't exist). Were there intercessions? Possibly. The kiss of peace? Likely. The Our Father? Very possibly, within some communities.

The offertory? Absolutely; there were gifts presented particularly for the poor, but also the bread and wine would be brought as well. Also, there very possibly were the prayers, "Blessed are you, Lord God of the universe . . . " since these come from Jewish prayers; they were the customary prayers which Jesus himself always used, including at the multiplications of the loaves. Did they have a hand-washing? Very possibly, for this was Jewish custom (even though Jesus tells us that only that which comes from without makes us unclean) and their hands were likely dirty, though this didn't necessarily happen at the offertory (and who's to say the offertory didn't happen at the very beginning of their gathering?). Did they have the commemoration of the saints? Highly doubtful, unless they referred to Old Testament greats (Abraham, Melchizedek, Moses, Elijah). Memorial acclamation? Maybe; perhaps something similar to what we have, confessing the tri-fold death, resurrection and expectation of return. Yet, in the same spot and with the same mentality (i.e., just after the consecration)? Doubtful. Did they have the distribution of communion? Undoubtedly. Under both species? Good question, and very debated. For the bishops and celebrant, undoubtedly. For everyone present? In the Corinthian community it seems likely (again, cf. I Cor 11:26-29); we have little evidence for those communities which were not fathered by St. Paul. A dismissal? Almost assuredly. A meal? In the Corinthian community, obviously. In other communities? Saint Paul so quickly deters the Corinthians from it, it seems to be such a specifically Corinthian problem, and he never references the practice (especially a praiseworthy practice) of another community that it is quite possible that other communities did not have a meal with the liturgy or just after.

There's some other details, some of which are highly debated. Let me just present the issues and leave the debate open. Less questionable is the issue of language. For the most part, the language used would have been their common language, Aramaic (a derivative of Hebrew) or Greek, depending upon the community. For some of the prayers (if they were derived from Jewish prayers) may have been in Hebrew. The Scriptures may have been in Hebrew or Greek, though there is some evidence that Jesus used the Greek Septuagint and his disciples likely would have as well. A highly debated issue is the question of location and direction. Where, exactly, did the apostles and first disciples do all of these various parts? Was all of it done in the same room? If not, did they have a separate room with special preparations for the "breaking of the bread"? Who went into this special room? Either way, were they simply gathered? Did they use a table? Did they think of the table as an altar? If so, gather all around it, or did they separate onto two main sides? If so, did they face one another? Did they all face Jerusalem, or the Temple? Did they all face the East? With these issues, we can see from Saint Paul that there most likely was a table used - he refers to the "table of the Lord" and the "table of demons" (cf. I Cor 10:21). As well, the "table of demons" would obviously be the altars used for pagan sacrifice. The question then becomes, however, "Does this mean that Saint Paul understood table and altar synonymously, i.e., the table of the Lord is, for Saint Paul and the Corinthians (at least) an altar?" That's open to debate. These are but two of various issues that are debated.

So, in the beginning, the Mass may have looked different from what we have today in either of the two forms of the Latin Rite. However, the most important elements were always there: readings from Scripture, a homily, the "breaking of the bread" with the words of the Lord, and communion. That these key elements were there and always have been in the Mass will be critical later on in this series. Though, this isn't to say all of these elements happened uniformly among the first Christian communities. Nor even from Mass to Mass within the same community. Nevertheless, as each community began to find its own identity while maintaining that universality which belonged to the Gospel and Christ's body, there would have been a uniformity which did develop. A quote from the 1910 Catholic Encyclopedia article "Liturgy"can be of some help here:

So we must conceive the Liturgy of the first two centuries as made up of somewhat free improvisations on fixed themes in a definite order; and we realize too how naturally under these circumstances the very words used would be repeated -- at first no doubt only the salient clauses -- till they became fixed forms. The ritual, certainly of the simplest kind, would become stereotyped even more easily. The things that had to be done, the bringing up of the bread and wine, the collection of alms and so on, even more than the prayers, would be done always at the same point.

We shall continue with the history in the later Apostolic and Patristic period in the next post.


Anonymous said...

I thought you had said a brief history?

Deacon Gregory. said...

Well, my friend (and you very possibly are a friend whom I know, since it appears that this comment posted automatically), if you think of books like The Church at Prayerby Martimort or The Mass of the Roman Rite by Josef Jungmann, the history that I will provide here will be very brief.

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