August 30, 2004
In days of old

I was going to link to a long book excerpt that the Pontificator put up last week, but he seems to have taken it down. (Maybe he had copyright trouble?) The book is called The Mass of the Early Christians, and the excerpt described a third-century Mass from the point of view of an imaginary artisan.

The structure was similar to Masses today, but I noticed a few interesting things. One, everybody brought their own bread and wine for communion. The elders went and gathered them up during the time now reserved for the collection of money (the early churches gathered money as people were leaving). They then consecrated your bread and wine and fed you a bit at Mass, but you took the rest home for daily communion with your family through the week. I guess daily Masses later superseded that, as Christians were able to go to church out in the open (the folks in this excerpt were still sneaking around). Still, it's curious given how some people today emphasize that communion must come from a common cup and loaf -- that aspect of the Last Supper was ignored pretty early!

Another interesting thing was how the congregation was grouped into various divisions. There were regular church members in one area, catechumens in another, widows and orphans in their own section, and penitents in the back. There was another group mentioned whose existence I wasn't aware of -- the "hesitants." They'd gone through the catechumenate, apparently, but were still wavering about actually getting baptized. Apparently a lot of this had to do with the fact that Donatism hadn't been declared a heresy yet, so people were afraid of what would happen if they fell into serious sin after baptism. (The presence of the penitents suggests that some sins were forgivable, anyway; maybe it depended on the severity.) But when I read it I thought, hey, there's a group I can relate to. I guess some things haven't changed much.

(Via Dappled Things.)

Posted by Camassia at August 30, 2004 05:33 PM | TrackBack

With respect to penance, as I understand matters, there are various principles at various points in history and at various places. It does seem that two occupations disqualified one from membership in the ecclesia -- viz., prostitute and soldier. There were various structures in place to return one to fellowship if he or she violated the community's life, hence "penitents." There was a general sense, however, I think that once one was baptized, one wouldn't sin.

Thanks for raising that question (even if it wasn't the core of your post): Now I have to do lots more reading to see if I understand things correctly.

One thing that gets highlighted is the vast generalization in the term "early Church." One must be careful to distinguish among the various generations and the various locales when one speaks of "early Church," since almost anything existed at some point some where. Isn't that correct?

Posted by: Dwight on August 31, 2004 10:08 AM

Yes, one thing I didn't mention was that this was set in North Africa, where the Donatist movement first appeared. So the idea might have been more prevalent there than in Asia Minor or some such place.

Certainly the baptized are expected not to sin, but I think the question here was whether you could ever come back after serious sin, even if you repent. I gather the Donatists, Montanists and others took the attitude that "once fallen, always fallen," so to speak.

Posted by: Camassia on August 31, 2004 10:18 AM

I wonder why the orphans and widows had to sit separately from everyone else?

Posted by: Jennifer on August 31, 2004 12:24 PM
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