Friday, 3 July 2015

The Mass In The Infant Church By Rev Garrett Pierse Part 20.

Some Circumstances of the Sacrificial Celebration. Part 3.

When the Church gradually spread, when it was no longer a select community that could conveniently assemble in an upper room, but a great organization requiring the celebration of its principal function in divers centres, the presidency at the Eucharistic celebration would, naturally, have devolved on priests of the second order. " If, in the absence of the bishop, a presbyter is present, let all turn to him ; and let them honour him as the bishop is honoured." 1

When Justin Martyr, whose writings belong to the middle of the second century and to the beginning of our period, speaks of the Eucharist as celebrated by " the president " of the congregation, he means, in all probability, the bishop. 2 On the other hand, when Tertullian says, at a much later date, that the Eucharist was received from the hands of no others except the presidents, 3 the expression may include even priests of the second order, if there was question of the absence of the bishop.


The inscription of Pectorius of Autun shows that in this early period the communicants received the sacred Elements into their hands—" holding the Fish in your hands.'' This ancient rite of communicating rendered necessary much caution in guarding the Sacred Elements from falling. The rite of receiving Communion into the hand continued in the much later days of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who speaks of the custom of placing the left hand, as a throne, under the right, which directly received the Holy Communion. 4

The Eucharistic Elements, taken in the hand, were much larger than the present-day particles if, as is likely, they are represented by the baskets of large loaves, so often seen in the Catacombs.

The chalice, also, was handed around in those early days. " How do we teach or encourage men to shed their blood in the confession of His name, if, as they are about to start on their warfare, we deny to them the blood of Christ ? Or how do we fit them to drink the cup of martyrdom, if we do not first admit them, with the right of communicants, to drink the cup of the Lord in the Church ?" 5 It is unnecessary to point out to anyone believing that Christ's body is whole and entire in any part of the Eucharist, that reception under both species is not necessary for the substantial fruit of the Sacrament.

Reservation of the  Communion.

The Eucharist was utilised not merely during the celebration of the Sacrifice, but, like other food of a much inferior nature, it was stored up. Origen regarded  as a symbol of the Eucharistic mysteries the command in Leviticus to eat the remnant of the sacrificial food the day after the sacrifice, and to reserve nothing until the third day. 6 This passage, while strongly insinuating the sacrificial nature also of the Eucharistic food, indicates that in Alexandria the Sacrament was reserved only for one day. The primary object of this reservation seems to have been its reception at a later date. Dissuading a Christian woman from marriage with a heathen husband, Tertullian writes : " Your husband will not know what you are taking secretly before all other food.'' 7 The mind of Tertullian seems to have been that the husband had opportunities of seeing, if not of fully realising what the wife was secretly taking. The secrecy implies that there was question of a home reception of the reserved Eucharist. It will be also observed how it was said by Tertullian to be received before all other food. The Canons of Hippolytus, also, are witnesses of the fasting reception of the Eucharist. " Let not any of the Faithful taste anything before he has partaken of the mysteries, especially, on the day of the holy fast." 8 St. Cyprian rebuked Christians, who attended objectionable heathen games, because carrying the Eucharist according to custom after having just left the Church, they exposed it to profane surroundings. 9 The Eucharist was reserved in a small casket. " When a certain woman tried to open her box, in which was contained the holy thing of the Lord, she was deterred from touching it, fire rising therefrom." 10

This miraculous story associated with the box containing the Eucharist, whatever be its truth, shows the reverence with which the Sacrament was regarded. The worship, paid to the reserved Eucharist according to those testimonies, may be taken to be the germ of the more fully evolved worship of later days, manifesting itself in Benediction, or in regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament.

It was seen in Justin's writings that another purpose of reserving some Eucharistic elements during the Sacrifice was to take them to the absent brethren. 11

A curious purpose of reservation was to send it to strangers, or to foreign churches as a token of unity or of common faith. Thus, Irenaeus wrote to Pope Victor that his predecessors in the Roman See saw their way to send the Eucharist to foreign bishops, even though the latter had a different way of celebrating Easter, and that Pope Anicetus yielded " the Eucharist" to Polycarp in spite of a difference on the Paschal question, showing thereby that communion between the Churches could be preserved in the face of a difference in customs. 12


As to the vestments used in the Eucharistic celebration, there is but meagre evidence in this period. The Canons of Hippolytus are almost the only source of early information. "As soon as the bishop wishes to celebrate the mysteries, let the deacons and presbyters come together to him, clad in white vestments, more beautiful than those of all the people, and as splendid as possible. But good work excels all vestments. Let the lectors also have festive garments.'' 13 Later, therefore, than the end of the second century, the clergy, officiating at the Eucharist, wore a distinctive dress. Polycrates tells us that St. John wore a golden ornament or mitre. 14 As to the authority of Polycrates, and as to whether this dress may have been exceptional, we cannot have certainty. Without much evidence, some have theorized that the Christian vestments were borrowed from Judaism ; others, that they were derived from Paganism itself. On philological grounds, it seems more likely that they were at first merely the ordinary dress of the time, which became definitely stereotyped. The alb (alba) was the early tunic or shirt. It had to be fastened with a cincture (cingulum). The cope (capa) was the outer garment of a Roman citizen. The chasuble (casula, or little hut) was the name for a cloak. Probably, these simple and ordinary articles of attire comprised the dress worn by the celebrants in the second century down to the time of which the Canons of Hippolytus speak. The idea is suggested by the picture of the "President" in the Fractio Panis in the Greek Chapel of the Catacombs. His dress differs not from that of the ordinary citizen of those days. It was believed that the cloak, covering the figure near the tripod table in the Chambers of the Sacraments, was also a Christian vestment. But the fact that it leaves the right shoulder and right side entirely nude, if coupled with the theory that the figure is a representation of Christ, renders the supposition most unlikely.

1 C. H. xxxiv.

2 Apol i., 65.

3 De Corona Milit. 3

4 Catech. xxiii,, c. 22.

5 Cyprian, Ep, 54.

6 In Levit. Hom, v., c. 3.

7 Ad Uxorem, ii„ 5, P.S.I., 1296.

8 xxviii.

9 De Spectaculus, 38.

10 De Lapsis, c. 26.

11 Apol. 1, 67.

12 Eusebius H E. v. 24, 16.

13 xxxvii.

14 Letter to Pope Victor, Euseb, H,E. v. c. 24