What a beautiful way to pray together: Fr. Todd explained the Mass while we celebrated the Mass! He mentioned that our Mass has its traditions and roots in both ancient Jewish and early Christian worship. Hearing that reminded me of an earlier Deacon’s Corner I wrote about St. Justin Martyr describing the Mass to a Roman emperor almost 2000 years ago. I would like to share some of that with you again this week.
St. Justin Martyr was a scholar and converted to Christianity after years of studying various pagan philosophies. He adamantly defended the Christian faith from attacks by pagans, Jews, and heretics. In 155 AD, Justin wrote a letter to the Roman emperor appealing for justice and mercy for Christians by clarifying the Christian worship liturgy. At that time, Christians were being falsely accused of engaging in cannibalistic rituals. Justin’s letter described what we call today the Mass. He wrote:
“On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place. The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read…When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things. Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves…and for others…so that we may be found righteous by our actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation. When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss. Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren. He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and…gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts. When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying “Amen.” When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent” [from The Lamb’s Supper, Scott Hahn, pages 34 & 35].
How many parts of today’s Mass can you find in Justin’s letter: the Readings? Homily? Petitions? Preparation of the Gifts? Eucharistic Prayer? The Amen? Sign of Peace? Communion in both forms? Communion to homebound parishioners? Even the day, the “day of the sun,” or Sunday, shows that our Mass has been celebrated on the weekday of Jesus’ Resurrection since the beginning of the Church.
About 10 years after St. Justin Martyr wrote this letter, he was tried, convicted, scourged, and beheaded for refusing to worship Roman gods. As we walk into church for Mass today, may we take a moment to remember St. Justin Martyr and the early Christians who endured hardships, persecution, and martyrdom for this liturgy that is our highest form of prayer. May we find joy in the Mass, as they did, by experiencing God in our hearts. After all, it’s been that way for almost 2000 years.