Kitchen Catechism: Featured Articles
by Lois Donahue
Just before I send the things I write to Marilyn, I like to read them one last time in hopes that "all’s well". When I finished that final reading of "Believing the Unbelievable" some thoughts stuck with me.
I kept thinking about what Jesus ordered, commanded if you will, the apostles to do when at the Last Supper He said -- "do this in memory of me". Then I thought about what He said to the eleven faithful apostles before He ascended into Heaven. He told them He expected them to "…make disciples of all nations – teaching them to observe all that (He) had commanded them. In other words, they were to go to all nations and, beyond ‘teaching’ and ‘baptizing’, He made it very clear that they were to "do this" in memory of Him. Which obviously they did or we wouldn’t be talking about it today.
At that point my curiosity took over and I wondered about the years of guided adaptation and change which had to have taken place from that evening over 2000 years ago when thirteen men, "at table" in an upper room of a house in Jerusalem, celebrated their Jewish feast of Passover --- to this twenty first century when millions of Catholic people representing "all nations" gather, in great numbers or small, before altars in structures ranging from something as humble as a Mission Tent to the great majesty of a Cathedral, to celebrate what has come to be known as ‘the Mass’, wherein, we are still given the opportunity and the privilege, as did the Apostles, to actually receive the body and blood of Jesus thanks to the fact that His instructions to "do this in memory of me" were followed without interruption down through these many centuries and which, I might add, will continue throughout the centuries yet to come.
So I began to trace that historical process of change which affected the Roman-rite, since that is the only rite with which I am familiar. These were changes forced to struggle with the strength and weakness of human beings-with ridicule- with the attacks from heresies-with the pain and suffering of persecutions; but which, at the same time, were always blessed with the promised presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t take long for me to realize it was going to be somewhat complicated to attempt trying to reliably present the ‘when’, ‘how’ and ‘where’ of the great number of changes which have taken place in this very lengthy historical process so please bear with my sincere but obviously stumbling effort to follow the amazing work of a patient Holy Spirit who guides and cares for God’s Church and remember – I am not a theologian, a historian or anywhere near an official voice of the Church.
I would like to note here that what Jesus did at the Last Supper -- taking bread and wine, giving thanks, breaking the bread and sharing both the bread and wine were all well known as part of Jewish observances. However, on that night He gave all of those things a new significance. He not only made it possible for what continued to appear to be nothing but bread and wine to become in reality His very own body and blood but, in a way, gave to His Church the basic instruction on ‘how’ to offer His Real Presence to all future believers…thus fulfilling the promise He made to remain with us until the end of time.
STOP !!! While I was finishing the final part of this series, I was reminded of something important and I needed to back up and insert it here ---
While I often refer to ‘changes’ in the following pages, the fact is nothing has ever really changed from what God intended to happen at the Last Supper to what happened at the last Mass I attended. In both instances Jesus became actually present and offered himself, His love and His promise to anyone prepared to take Him up on His offer. Sure, His Church has authorized changes but only to the things which surround the Heartbeat of the Mass. If there were no Divine Presence there would be no Mass. It’s as simple as that. No matter what name we give it, no matter where we are, no matter what language we speak, no matter how much or how little we participate – the core of the Mass - is the core of the Mass – is the core of the Mass.
Now where was I? Oh yes -- Moving from the Last Supper to Acts 2:42-46 in the Bible, we learn that, following Pentecost, the people in the Jerusalem community who had chosen to adhere to the teachings of the Apostles’, daily devoted themselves "to meeting together in the Temple area and to breaking bread in their homes". At this point we must remember the Apostles, as well as those who followed their teaching, were practicing Jews who continued to attend regular prayers at the Temple. Only after that did they return to their homes to celebrate "the breaking of the bread".
They saw no reason not to accept the services in the Temple as a natural beginning to what followed elsewhere. Not surprisingly, the more ‘traditional’ Jews, who neither believed who Jesus really was or all that He taught, could not agree and in time their leaders forbad anyone to mention the name of Jesus in the Temple. Later all those considered not to be ‘of the Jewish faith’ were forbidden to enter the Temple, or the synagogues as one source stated. Consequently, sometime during the first century this very young Church "officially shed its exclusively Jewish character". However it evidently began to acquire an identity of its own because in Acts ll:26 we are told that during the same century, in the city of Antioch, "the disciples were first called Christians" which, according to one source, might unfortunately, have been "a contemptuous nickname". Regardless, they were identified as followers of Christ and proudly so I’m sure. From two other sources I learned St. Ignatius of Antioch, living in the first century, first used and applied to the Church the word catholic (meaning universal) and a third states that this same Bishop of Antioch is credited with first using the term "Catholic Church".
But back to the topic at hand – Now that these "Christians" had in a way declared their religious ‘independence’; we begin to see how they were guided to make changes. Several were made as early as the second century. One was, as the Bible tells us in Acts 20:7, that they now began to "gather to break bread" on "the first day of the week", the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. Later, beyond changing the day of gathering to break bread it is said that the custom also changed from meeting in the evening to doing so early in the morning so that the people could think of the rising of Christ as they greeted the rising of the sun.
It seems the very early Mass was celebrated within the context of a meal setting. Prayers, readings and preaching were added with no apparent set formula other than inclusion of the words spoken at the Last Supper. Otherwise, it would seem the priest pretty much prayed, read and preached as the Spirit moved him. Consequently there was variation throughout the Church and it became obvious there was need for standardization. In his second century writings, St. Justin Martyr took a step in that direction. By the way, one source tells us it was also St. Justin who recorded that early in the second century and continuing for several more, the faithful communicants received ‘Holy Communion’ while standing, under both species, and with appropriate responses before bread (body) was placed in their hand and before they drank wine (blood) from the cup (chalice).
Now that we’ve hit a familiar note – this might be a good place to sign off ……bye for now.