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Home : Faith/Spirituality : The Question Box
Much of 1st century liturgical life is unknown

Deacon Owen Cummings

Q — We all know Christ performed the first consecration, but there is little written about who said the first actual Mass as we know it.  I’ve read about the road to Emmaus, but I am looking for the type of Divine Communion we experience today.

A — Basically, the answer to your question, “Who said the first actual Mass as we know it?” is “We don’t know.” Our earliest Christian sources are silent on this issue. One 20th century liturgical scholar, Arthur Couratin precisely said: “The liturgical scholar is ignorant of the liturgical practices of the early church, with which both the writers and their readers were familiar. There may therefore be allusions in the New Testament text to liturgical practices and even to liturgical phrases which escape the modern reader… But it is generally agreed that in these matters the first century keeps its secrets to itself.”

From such passages as the Acts of the Apostles 2:42 we surmise that there was a regular celebration of the Eucharist, most probably on a Sunday: “(The apostles) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The apostles’ teaching at this time would probably have been the whole event/narrative of our Lord Jesus Christ in summary form. “The breaking of bread” was a term commonly used for the celebration of the Eucharist. Who celebrated the Eucharist? It makes sense to maintain that the church was never without ministry, but who those ministers were we simply do not know. The celebration of the Mass — in terms of an unscripted, abbreviated Eucharistic prayer — most probably took place within the course of a community meal. That seems to be presupposed by the account we have in 1 Corinthians 11: 17-34. More than that in the first century of the church’s existence we cannot really say.

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