Thursday, August 14, 2008

Liturgical Order

I've been on-again-off-again picking away at Jurgens' The Faith of the Early Fathers. I was riveted last night while reading the First Apology of St. Justin the Martyr, penned some time between 148 and 155 A.D. To put this in chronological perspective, Justin was born as little as four years after the Book of Revelation was written (but no longer than within one generation). I was struck in particular by Justin's account of Christian worship (which Tim Troutman noted a while back is the earliest record of the order of a Christian service). [Note: I realize I'm not covering new ground with this post, but still want to make note of it.]

He describes a Christian baptism before beginning his discussion of the liturgical order of his day. "We, however, after thus washing the one who has been convinced and signified his assent, lead him to those who are called brethren, where they are assembled. They then earnestly offer common prayers for themselves and the one who has been illuminated and all others everywhere, that we may be made worthy, having learned the truth, to be found in deed good citizens and keepers of what is commanded, so that we may be saved with eternal salvation. On finishing the prayers we greet each other with a kiss. Then bread and a cup of water and mixed wine are brought to the president of the brethren and he, taking them, sends up praise and glory to the Father of the universe through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and offers thanksgiving at some length that we have been deemed worthy to receive these things from him. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, the whole congregation present, saying, "Amen." "Amen" in the Hebrew language means, "So be it." When the president has given thanks and the whole congregation has assented, those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the consecrated bread and wine and water, and they take it to the absent."

He then describes the Eucharist, how it is only for members of the believing community who have been baptized, and how "the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by [Christ], and by the change of which our blood and flesh is nourished [i.e., our assimilation of food into our being], is both the flesh and the blood of that incarnated Jesus."

He then continues, with some repetition, "And on the day called Sunday there is a meeting in one place of those who live in cities or the country, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits. When the reader has finished, the president in a discourse urges and invites [us] to the imitation of these noble things. Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. And, as said before, when we have finished the prayer, bread is brought, and wine and water, and the president similarly sends up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability, and the congregation assents, saying the Amen; the distribution, and reception of the consecrated [elements] by each one, takes place and they are sent to the absent by the deacons."

I have summarized the two overlapping accounts of the liturgical order of Christian worship:

1) Prayers for perseverance unto salvation;
2) Greeting with a kiss;
3) Bread and Cup of Water and Wine taken to the "president";
4) President offers praise and thanksgiving for these things;
5) Congregation assents with an "Amen"; and
6) Deacons distribute elements (and take some away to those absent).

1) Memoirs of Apostles [Gospels] and Prophets read;
2) President delivers discourse on what is read;
3) All stand and offer prayers;
4) Elements of bread and cup of water and wine brought forward;
5) President offers thanksgiving and prayers for these things;
6) Congregation assents with an "Amen"; and
7) Deacons distribute elements (and take some away to those absent).

Without speculating about the precise order of the first few things in each list, we can see the general pattern of a) Scripture reading, b) Homily, c) Prayers, d) Eucharistic elements presented, e) elements consecrated, f) elements distributed. This seems remarkably close to the Mass, as I recall it, and less similar to anything I experience on any given Sunday.

But St. Justin the Martyr is not without problems. Jurgens notes some questionable Christological language (which he is willing to excuse on account of the primitive state of Christological doctrines at that time). Also, I do not believe I could distinguish Justin's statements on works and righteousness from at least semi-Pelagianism (but the same excuse would be availing). It is also interesting how central the "Amen" of the congregations assent seemed to be for the consecration. I do not know if that survived in some form in the mass.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Yes, we say what is known as 'the great amen' at the end of the Eucharistic prayer. It is usually sung.

Justin was also a millenarianist (1000 year earthly reign) and certainly was not perfect in his doctrine. I would agree with Jurgens and say that it was because the issues were not settled yet.

David Waltz argued that before Nicaea, subordination was "orthodoxy". I disagreed that it was "orthodoxy" but he does make a good argument.

On semi-pelagianism, I think all the fathers before Augustine leaned in that direction (certainly more that direction than the other). Origen is especially so, even Chrysostom follows Origen to a large degree.

Origen was willing to argue his way almost entirely out of the face value reading of Romans 9 in order to preserve the doctrine of free will and individual culpability. It's a fascinating subject.

Thos said...


Wow, that's fantastic to know (that the great amen remains). It seems that very little has changed -- maybe just the position of the greeting (and we don't kiss)? And I heard tell that B16 may put it back where it was... I wonder if that's where it was in Justin's time.

Thanks for more info on other doctrinal problems with Justin (at least with reading him through today's understandings). Predestination and Free Will are fascinating. I love, love, love Garrigou-Lagrange on it, on Aquinas in particular (how solid!). My admiration stems from his ability to repeat himself over and over again, and to define fancy terms every single time he uses them, which is so helpful for a confusing topic like predestination.

Peace in Christ,

Tim A. Troutman said...

I'll have to check him out.

On the kiss of peace: We do sometimes kiss at the sign of peace. Usually for strangers (especially in our Western culture) its a solemn handshake instead. But with my wife and son, I kiss them both and I make sure to say "Peace of Christ be with you" so as to remind ourselves this is a liturgical motion and not kissing for the heck of it.

My experience is that many families exchange a literal kiss.

Canadian said...

Here are the Amen's in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy as well.
The Amen's toward the end are not marked here-- (People: Amen)
however, everyone says them.

Priest: Take, eat, this is my Body which is broken for you for the forgiveness of sins.

People: Amen.

Priest (in a low voice): Likewise, after supper, He took the cup, saying:

Priest: Drink of it all of you; this is my Blood of the new Covenant which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

People: Amen.

Priest (in a low voice): Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming.

Priest: We offer to You these gifts from Your own gifts in all and for all.

People: We praise You, we bless You, we give thanks to You, and we pray to You, Lord our God.

Priest (in a low voice): Once again we offer to You this spiritual worship without the shedding of blood, and we ask, pray, and entreat You: send down Your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts here presented.

Priest: And make this bread the precious Body of Your Christ.


Priest: And that which is in this cup the precious Blood of Your Christ.


Priest: Changing them by Your Holy Spirit.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Thos said...


Thanks! I dig the ancient pedigree -- it's very impressive to me.

Peace in Christ,

Adam Roe said...


Without being presumptuous, I'm very excited for where you seem to be headed. God bless you as you traverse the "hows," "whens," and "whys."

Blessings in Christ,

contrarian 78 said...

I just read excerpts from Justin's description of the Mass as quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Like you, I was amazed.
Thanks for sharing this.


Thos said...


Thanks for checking in. I am very excited too, and nervous, and sad, and happy, and frustrated, and all the rest. This may be familiar to you. I suspect the negative feelings will subside with time. Maybe I can pick up on the old Orthodox / Catholic debate with you (not 'debate', maybe 'discussion'). I'm of the mind that it's a secondary problem in the West to the primary questions raised by the Reformation.

Peace in Christ,

Thos said...

Contrarian 78,

Thanks for commenting. I don't think I've gotten to that part of the Catechism. I *said* I wasn't positing anything new!!

Peace in Christ,

Adam Roe said...


Yes, I'm familiar with all of the reactions. You are in my prayers.

I don't precisely recall where we left off, but feel free to drop me a line. Take care, my friend!

In Christ,

George Weis said...


What an excellent post. Simple and clear! I will also admit, that upon reading Justin (which was one of my first reads... uncompleted at this time). But I hit this part and I was stunned for a moment.

It still lingers with me even now, and I often go back thinking of his accounts. I just wonder if I am getting wrapped up in process rather that the principle behind worship. However, then again I always remember that as well!

Thanks for posting this. I think I will return soon to finalize my reading of Justin's writings. I have a tendency to do alot of stop and start reading. It is an annoying trait this is tough to shake!


Thos said...


Good to hear from you, and thanks for being complimentary. I agree that this is challenging stuff.

Peace in Christ,