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The Mass of the Early Christians

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What did the first Christians believe about the Eucharist? How did they follow Jesus' command, "Do this in remembrance of me"? How did they celebrate the Lord's Day? What would they recognize in today's Mass?The answers may surprise you. In The Mass of the Early Christians, respected author, scholar, and television host Mike Aquilina reveals the Church's most ancient Eucharist What did the first Christians believe about the Eucharist? How did they follow Jesus' command, "Do this in remembrance of me"? How did they celebrate the Lord's Day? What would they recognize in today's Mass?The answers may surprise you. In The Mass of the Early Christians, respected author, scholar, and television host Mike Aquilina reveals the Church's most ancient Eucharistic beliefs and practices. Using the words of the early Christians themselves -- from many documents and inscriptions -- Aquilina traces the history of the Mass from Jesus' lifetime through the fourth century. That the Mass stood at the center of the Church's life is evident in the Scriptures, as well as the earliest Christian sermons, letters, artwork, tombstones, and architecture. Even the pagans bore witness to the Mass in the records of their persecutions. These legacies from the early Church bear witness to the same worship Catholics know today: the altar, the priest, the chalice of wine, the bread, the Sign of the Cross ... the "Lord, have mercy" ... the "Holy, holy, holy" ... and the Communion.


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What did the first Christians believe about the Eucharist? How did they follow Jesus' command, "Do this in remembrance of me"? How did they celebrate the Lord's Day? What would they recognize in today's Mass?The answers may surprise you. In The Mass of the Early Christians, respected author, scholar, and television host Mike Aquilina reveals the Church's most ancient Eucharist What did the first Christians believe about the Eucharist? How did they follow Jesus' command, "Do this in remembrance of me"? How did they celebrate the Lord's Day? What would they recognize in today's Mass?The answers may surprise you. In The Mass of the Early Christians, respected author, scholar, and television host Mike Aquilina reveals the Church's most ancient Eucharistic beliefs and practices. Using the words of the early Christians themselves -- from many documents and inscriptions -- Aquilina traces the history of the Mass from Jesus' lifetime through the fourth century. That the Mass stood at the center of the Church's life is evident in the Scriptures, as well as the earliest Christian sermons, letters, artwork, tombstones, and architecture. Even the pagans bore witness to the Mass in the records of their persecutions. These legacies from the early Church bear witness to the same worship Catholics know today: the altar, the priest, the chalice of wine, the bread, the Sign of the Cross ... the "Lord, have mercy" ... the "Holy, holy, holy" ... and the Communion.

30 review for The Mass of the Early Christians

  1. 4 out of 5

    Melody Schwarting

    An excellent resource on worship in the early church. Most of the book collects primary sources on liturgy, the Eucharist, and canon law in the first centuries of Christianity. I loved learning about how early Christians treated the Eucharist, what their actual practices were like, and seeing how close the Anglican liturgy at my church is to the early church. Both the words spoken and the practices performed were vastly more similar than I expected them to be. The Mass of the Early Christians is An excellent resource on worship in the early church. Most of the book collects primary sources on liturgy, the Eucharist, and canon law in the first centuries of Christianity. I loved learning about how early Christians treated the Eucharist, what their actual practices were like, and seeing how close the Anglican liturgy at my church is to the early church. Both the words spoken and the practices performed were vastly more similar than I expected them to be. The Mass of the Early Christians is a fantastic resource for scholars and the generally curious. While I found some very helpful material for a paper I'm writing, I was also edified by the faith of the early Christians and their reverence for the Lord's Supper. When I went into the book, I was a bit concerned that Aquilina would read too much of Roman Catholic practice into the primary sources, but that unfounded fear was quickly set aside when I began to see the continuity in church practice over the centuries. From the Rite of Communion in the Liturgy of St James: Priest: Then, O taste and see that the Lord is good; who is parted and not divided; distributed to the faithful and not expended; for the remission of sins, and life everlasting; now and always, and for ever. Deacon: In the peace of Christ, let us sing. Singers: O taste and see that the Lord is good. At the end, Aquilina includes a brief chapter imagining what it would be like to worship in a church in Roman North Africa. It was really enjoyable to read, and a nice way to pull the book together, assembling fragments to make a well-imagined whole. Take the historical paragraphs before the sources with a grain of salt. Some things are phrased awkwardly and others are incorrect. (No, Christianity was not dominant in the Roman Empire by 350 CE.)

  2. 4 out of 5

    Monica Aho

    I have always been fascinated by the early church - those Christians who were closest to the time of Christ and the Apostles. This is Christianity in its infancy, but also in its purest, unadulterated form. What this book shows, as does any reading from the first 200-300 years of Christianity, is that the early church worshiped in a liturgy, that liturgy ALWAYS centered around the Eucharist, and the belief in the true presence (flesh and blood) of Christ was fundamental and essential to that Euc I have always been fascinated by the early church - those Christians who were closest to the time of Christ and the Apostles. This is Christianity in its infancy, but also in its purest, unadulterated form. What this book shows, as does any reading from the first 200-300 years of Christianity, is that the early church worshiped in a liturgy, that liturgy ALWAYS centered around the Eucharist, and the belief in the true presence (flesh and blood) of Christ was fundamental and essential to that Eucharist. The early church fought hard against heresies that taught differently - that there was no need for a liturgy, and that communion was only a "symbol". This book, to me, was compelling reading. I also love reading excerpts from letters 2000 years old, and knowing that we as a church community say those exact words weekly - we are truly one body in Christ, regardless of when we lived in time. I would recommend this book strongly for anyone who cares to REALLY learn about what the liturgy means, and where it came from, and why it was protected so fiercely (albeit secretly) by the Early Church. These people literally DIED for the liturgy and the truths it imparted, as quotes from Pliny the elder to the emporer of Rome attest. We today need to appreciate and respect, and understand the true meaning of what we do every Sunday.

  3. 4 out of 5

    r.g. partlow

    First half 👍 second half not so much. A deeper understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist and reminder of it's importance. Made me question how my protestant church has dealt with it. First half 👍 second half not so much. A deeper understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist and reminder of it's importance. Made me question how my protestant church has dealt with it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cameron M

    Brilliant read. I picked this up because I wanted to get a better idea of the development of the Mass from the Last Supper. The book focused heavily on the Mass's development through the first few hundred years of Christianity and primarily through the eastern Church fathers. To my delight, I was able to learn how much of an influence the eastern Church fathers really did play (saints and non-saints alike) in the development of the canons of the Eucharistic prayer. I think, however, that initia Brilliant read. I picked this up because I wanted to get a better idea of the development of the Mass from the Last Supper. The book focused heavily on the Mass's development through the first few hundred years of Christianity and primarily through the eastern Church fathers. To my delight, I was able to learn how much of an influence the eastern Church fathers really did play (saints and non-saints alike) in the development of the canons of the Eucharistic prayer. I think, however, that initially, I wanted to learn more about the "why's" of certain portions of the liturgy, not so much the "how it became" portions of it. Surely I'd be better off reading and studying in depth the Old Testament as well as studying perhaps the rubrics of the liturgy of the Roman rite (as I'm a Roman Catholic). Overall a stellar book that was delightful to read to learn about the contributions of many of the early Church figures. Definitely recommend.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard R., Martin

    Most of the book are excerpts from the Church Fathers and other early documents on the what the mass was like at that time. It is a great way to hear the Church of the first 300 years speaking about the Eucharist and it is uplifting to hear that the commemoration of the Lord's Supper really has changed that much in nearly 2000 years. Most of the book are excerpts from the Church Fathers and other early documents on the what the mass was like at that time. It is a great way to hear the Church of the first 300 years speaking about the Eucharist and it is uplifting to hear that the commemoration of the Lord's Supper really has changed that much in nearly 2000 years.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Catherine Rose

    I love the subject but the book itself was very repetitive, while other interesting items weren't explored. I love the subject but the book itself was very repetitive, while other interesting items weren't explored.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    Probably one of the most important books to read for any aspiring Catholic, or any Catholic wanting to learn about the history of the faith.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Richard Grebenc

    Fr. Joseph Linck, in the foreword, comments that this book "is an excellent compendium of documents testifying to [the] earliest belief and practice" of the liturgical witness (11). I wholeheartedly agree. An introductory section gives Old Testament background to Christian liturgical practices and then discusses how Jesus used these practices in establishing a new liturgy. The meat of the book contains original writings from the New Testament through the fourth century. Short introductions provide Fr. Joseph Linck, in the foreword, comments that this book "is an excellent compendium of documents testifying to [the] earliest belief and practice" of the liturgical witness (11). I wholeheartedly agree. An introductory section gives Old Testament background to Christian liturgical practices and then discusses how Jesus used these practices in establishing a new liturgy. The meat of the book contains original writings from the New Testament through the fourth century. Short introductions provide valuable background on the early authors and the context of the excerpts. Some of the writings are lengthy, but this is appreciated -- an unedited passage or section is preferred to a lot of interspersed commentary by a contemporary author. Development of understanding and the form of liturgy is clearly apparent, but the basic elements of the Mass are seen from the very earliest Christian writings (including the New Testament). As one would expect from a solidly Catholic author, an emphasis on development of the understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is prominent in this work as well. This is the "taste" I liked so much. Finally, the book ends with a chapter describing in vivid detail what an early liturgical gathering in a hostile political environment must have been like. I have never read anything like this before. It will provide much opportunity for reflection: gratefulness for being able to celebrate our faith without fear of persecution but also highlighting the courage and zeal (not often seen today - at least in predominantly Christian nations) of early Christians under persecution. This last chapter is worth the price of the book. This is a great work for Catholics (and Orthodox) who want to understand the development of the Mass (or Divine Liturgy) from the earliest days of Christianity. For the newcomer to the Fathers of the Church, it is a great introduction and will likely have him looking for more writings from these men. For one better versed in early writings, the convenience of having these texts on the liturgy in one compact package will be much appreciated. Additionally, any study of the Mass (by oneself or in a group) would benefit from making this book a part of the curriculum. It is a book very accessible to the average reader. It is also a wonderful tool for those who want to better defend the Church in the face of charges that the Mass is an innovation or unbiblical. For Protestants this book is an opportunity to work through evidence from the Bible and early authors, one a disciple (Ignatius of Antioch) of an apostle (John), of the biblical origins, faithful transmission, and valid development of Catholic and Orthodox liturgical practices. Interested non-Christians who have an interest in the early development of the Church would also benefit from a look at the sources of the Church's liturgical practice.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Argum

    A wonderful primer on what the early Church had to say about the Mass. It is beautiful to read words that mirror or at least echo what we still use to this day throughout the world at Mass from the mouths of those who lived within a generation or two of Jesus and the Apostles. Amazing to see the preservation of Tradition that the Church Jesus established has accomplished over two thousand years uncorrupted. Mike Aquilina spends most of the book giving a chapter to a different person who lived du A wonderful primer on what the early Church had to say about the Mass. It is beautiful to read words that mirror or at least echo what we still use to this day throughout the world at Mass from the mouths of those who lived within a generation or two of Jesus and the Apostles. Amazing to see the preservation of Tradition that the Church Jesus established has accomplished over two thousand years uncorrupted. Mike Aquilina spends most of the book giving a chapter to a different person who lived during the first 300 years or so after Jesus. A summary of the person and what it is we will read in the source material starts the chapter and then actual words written so long ago. Some are early liturgies, other are pagans declaiming what the Christians were up to, others heretics speaking to the practices of the true Church. Beautiful to see as a Catholic the continuity to the times of Jesus that Holy Mother Church has preserved. I imagine this would be quite instructive to any Protestants open to reading about the early Church and seeing them profess the same dogmas of transubstantiation and importance of the Eucharist that the Protestant Reformers dismissed as unChristian 1500 years after Jesus established such practices.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's sort of a primer on the early church fathers, wherein the author draws from their writings on the mass and liturgy. I was constantly awed by his early the liturgy took form, that even in the lifetime of the apostles (or at least the end of the first century) some of the prayers and the rough outline of the mass existed. It's humbling and beautiful to reflect on just how ancient the Church is, and on the unbroken line that exists from Christ through the apostl I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's sort of a primer on the early church fathers, wherein the author draws from their writings on the mass and liturgy. I was constantly awed by his early the liturgy took form, that even in the lifetime of the apostles (or at least the end of the first century) some of the prayers and the rough outline of the mass existed. It's humbling and beautiful to reflect on just how ancient the Church is, and on the unbroken line that exists from Christ through the apostles and down through the ages to the current bishops and Pope. It was also interesting to see how the heretical texts and "pagan rumors" shed some light on the early mass, albeit I lack the scholarship to approach these texts and wouldn't want to risk confusion by exploring them on my own.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Gary

    Heavy use of patristic sources and a wonderful and easy to read account of how Eucharist was celebrated in the earliest days of the Christian tradition. The resemblance to our current liturgy is striking and certainly enriches the liturgical experience as a tradition handed down to us unbroken from its patristic/scriptural roots. The theology of this work is readable even for the casual reader and yet the scholarship is also exemplary. Highly recommended for anyone who wishes to learn more about Heavy use of patristic sources and a wonderful and easy to read account of how Eucharist was celebrated in the earliest days of the Christian tradition. The resemblance to our current liturgy is striking and certainly enriches the liturgical experience as a tradition handed down to us unbroken from its patristic/scriptural roots. The theology of this work is readable even for the casual reader and yet the scholarship is also exemplary. Highly recommended for anyone who wishes to learn more about the celebration of the Eucharist.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    I can't give a tangible reason as to why I only gave this four stars. It is solid. Rich with direct quotes from historical documents and solid. However, I found it difficult to connect with. I think, perhaps, the format was a challenge for me. It makes complete sense but it just wasn't what I was looking for at this time. Why didn't feel like there was a thread I could follow throughout the book but rather I was getting lots of four and six page miniature biographies. I can't give a tangible reason as to why I only gave this four stars. It is solid. Rich with direct quotes from historical documents and solid. However, I found it difficult to connect with. I think, perhaps, the format was a challenge for me. It makes complete sense but it just wasn't what I was looking for at this time. Why didn't feel like there was a thread I could follow throughout the book but rather I was getting lots of four and six page miniature biographies.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    Shows how consistent the early church fathers were about applying the teaching - and interesting especially with regard to the secrecy around the rites in the written accounts. They were constantly fighting heretics and schisms to keep the traditions of the apostles, as handed to them by Jesus. The references and timeline in this book are valuable, and will point to more reading.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Greg Bittner

    Fascinating history. The description of the Church in its infancy recorded by Roman magistrate "Pliny the Younger" was particularly interesting. The author demonstrates well how "liturgy is the memory of the Church," that liturgy was present from the beginning, and how little the Mass has changed in 2000 years. Fascinating history. The description of the Church in its infancy recorded by Roman magistrate "Pliny the Younger" was particularly interesting. The author demonstrates well how "liturgy is the memory of the Church," that liturgy was present from the beginning, and how little the Mass has changed in 2000 years.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    It was very interesting to find the liturgy of the very early church so similar to the practices of today. Preserving a practice, or an entire set of practices, over centuries is amazing. I feel that Catholics of today would be very much at home attending a first century mass.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kristine

    I actually enjoyed reading the last chapter of this book best, because it walked the reader through an early mass step by step. The rest of the book covered writings of early apostles, some respected and some controversial, mostly focusing on holy communion in the early church.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    Good book. Mike does a great job of presenting the Fathers of the Church and how they relayed the Mass to the faithful, and how this has been carried down through the ages.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Carter

    Pretty dry, but offers plenty of text from older church writings about the Eucharist.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael L. Witt

    Very interesting look at how early Chrisitians (Catholics!) celebrated the breaking of the bread.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Terri

    Wonderful explantion of the early church.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cassie

    I guess I'm in the minority but the book was average to me . It read more like it was an overview and not really much else I guess I'm in the minority but the book was average to me . It read more like it was an overview and not really much else

  22. 4 out of 5

    James A LeBert Jr.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

  24. 5 out of 5

    April

  25. 4 out of 5

    Josh Mattson

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  27. 4 out of 5

    Peggy Haslar

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ron Hall

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