Some Circumstances of the Sacrificial Celebration. Part 2.
The Time of Celebration.
Probably each of those churches had a priest attached. For it is a suggestive fact that in an epistle of Pope Cornelius there are also enumerated forty-six Roman priests, 1 corresponding to the number of basilicas named by Optatus of Mileve.
We have very early evidence for the fact that Sunday was the day of the regular Eucharistic celebration. This is , suggested in the Acts of the Apostles, where the Christians are said to have a special gathering on the first day of the week. 2 The Didache speaks of the " day of the Lord " as that on which the assembly and sacrifice were to take place. 3 There can be little doubt that this referred to the day of the Lord's resurrection, or Sunday. Justin also speaks of Sunday in immediate connection with the Eucharistic feast. 4
As to the time of day when the Mass was celebrated Justin is silent. When the Agape was joined to the Eucharist, in Apostolic times, it is most likely that the Eucharistic sacrifice was celebrated in the evening in exact imitation of the Last Supper. But very soon afterwards there is indication of a change. Pliny, in his famous letter to Trajan, refers most likely to the Eucharist, as celebrated in the small hours of the morning. 5 For, according to him, at such a time there was convoked a meeting, at which the Christians bound themselves by an oath (sacramentum). The use of the word " oath," shows that there was a misunderstanding in Pliny's mind, for it is incredible that the early Christians—so observant of Christ's counsels —should have made an oath a regular feature of their assemblies. The sacramentum, of which he heard and which he misinterpreted as an oath, was most likely the Mysteries (sacramenta) or the Eucharist.
Tertullian expressly says that the Eucharist was celebrated before dawn. " We receive (the Eucharist) in our assemblies before dawn (antelucanis coetibus), and from the hands of no others except our presidents." 6 Cyprian explains the reason why the Eucharist was celebrated in the morning, unlike Christ's celebration which took place in the evening. " It behoved Christ to offer about evening, that the very hour of sacrifice might betoken the evening and setting of the world, as it is written in the Book of Exodus, ' and the whole assembly of the congregation shall celebrate in the evening.' And again in the Psalms: ' Let the elevation of my hands be an evening sacrifice.' But we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord in the morning." 7 Besides this motive, it is probable that very natural ones were present to effect the change from evening to morning. We must remember that in Apostolic times the celebration likely took place in the evening after a supper which was no other than the Agape. In the Acts, we find St. Paul celebrating at midnight. 8 Since preaching formed a necessary instrument for the instruction of those assembled, it is easy to see how the " breaking of Bread " which occurred last of all, came to be postponed until after midnight. In the course of time it would have been celebrated in the small hours of the morning. It would seem that in some places, even in Cyprian's time, opinion favoured an evening celebration. For the Bishop of Carthage, in the passage quoted, is arguing against such an opinion, which may have been carried into practice. Though a morning celebration was the rule towards the end of the second century, there was at least one exception. Tertullian, in speaking of the difficulties which confront a Christian wife with an infidel husband, implies that not the least was the fact that she could not attend the midnight celebration of the Easter Eucharist without incurring grave suspicion. 9
As to the frequency of the Eucharistic celebration, a fair amount of evidence is at hand. Justin, indeed, mentions only the Sunday gathering for the Eucharistic worship. Tertullian testifies that it was the practice to have the Eucharistic sacrifice celebrated on those Wednesdays and Fridays which were days of fasting, 10 and on the anniversaries of martyrs. 11 He states that Paschal time, or the days from Easter to Pentecost, comprised one long feast,—a statement which likely implies that on each day the Eucharist was celebrated. 12 This supposition is confirmed by the fact that he gives a Eucharistic interpretation to the petition in the Lord's prayer—" Give us this day our daily bread." 13 At least, it was the custom in Tertullian's time to receive daily Communion, and the presumption is that for this object the sacrifice was celebrated every morning. The evidence for a daily reception of the Eucharist is increased by another statement of Tertullian regarding a certain class of unworthy clergy. M The Jews once laid their hands on Christ; they (i.e., the unworthy clergy) daily harass His body. . . What hands should be cut or? more than those in which the body of the Lord receives offence." 14
The Minister of the Rite.
About the beginning of the second century the regular minister of the Eucharistic sacrifice was the bishop. At this early time, there is no reference to any minister inferior to the bishop, as competent for this important office in the Church. This is not to be wondered at, since, before the time of Ignatius Martyr, there was no nice distinction formed between the order of bishop and of presbyter. Accordingly the Didache implies that the bishop was the minister of the Eucharist. Having spoken previously of the Eucharistic sacrifice, it gives in logical sequence the command—" Appoint therefore bishops and deacons." 15 Plainly, the bishops had the principal part in the function, the deacons acting as inferior ministers. Clement of Rome, 16 too, speaks only of bishops and deacons in connection with the offering of gifts. Even in the time of Ignatius Martyr, who has the threefold distinction of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, it would seem that the bishop alone was the principal personage at every Eucharistic celebration.
" It is not lawful," writes Ignatius, "apart from the bishop, to baptize or hold an Agape." 17 The important place assigned to this Agape, the fact that it is mentioned in the same context with Baptism, and that it is reserved to the bishop alone, implies that it included, at this time, the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The Canons of Hippolytus, which were drawn up, presumably, about the end of the second century, 18 show that the practice still continued of having the bishop as regular minister, though time had wrought the change of permitting the presbyter to take his place in exceptional cases. " Let the deacons bring the elements of the Mysteries, and then let the bishop begin the oblation." 19 According to these Canons, laymen were regarded as absolutely powerless in regard to liturgical functions. " It is not fitting for laymen to make the sign of the cross over the bread (of the Agape)." 20 It would be over-ingenious to attempt to reconcile this powerlessness of laymen to make even the sign of the cross in a liturgical function, with a common theory that the power of the priesthood was resident in the whole body of Christians. It is true that early writers, like Justin 21 and Irenaeus, 22 speak of all Christians as priests, but the rest of the evidence in those times indicates that this is an ordinary metaphor. The Canons of Hippolytus, as far as words go, make the single exception that " those who suffered for the faith deserve the rank of presbyter in the sight of God, not in the way of episcopal ordination, confession standing for ordination." 23
1 In Euseb. H.E, vi.. 43, M.P.G., xx, 621.
3 Did. xiv.
4 Apol, i. 67.
5 Epp, 1. x. No, 97 (Ed, Frankfort 1611) p, 364.
6 De Corona Mil,, c. 3.
7 Ep. 63.
8 Acts xx., 7.
9 Ad Ux I. ii., c. 5. P. L. i., 1302.
10 De Orat., c. 19., P,L, i., 181.
11 De Cor Milit,. chap, 3. P, L. ii. 79,
12 Eodem loco.
13 De Orat„ vi. P.L.i, 1160.
14 De Idololat., c. vii. P. L, I.. 669.
15 Ch: xv.
16 Ad. Corinth, i. c xl-xlii,
17 Ad. Smyrn, c. viii.
18 Cf. Keating, The Agape p. 110.
20 C. H. iii. 17.
21 Dial., 116.
22 Adv, Haer. iv. 18-4 and iv. 17-5.
23 C. H. vi.