How did the early Church hold Mass without being detected by the Roman authorities?

Hey everyone. I was just wondering. How did the early Church hold Mass without being detected by the Roman authorities. I am, of course, speaking of the period in the early Church before Christianity was legalized by the Edict of Milan.

I am thinking that most likely they held Mass in the houses of believers and perhaps in other secret places. From what I understand, the Catholics of Rome held Mass in the Catacombs at times as well. Am I correct in my assumptions?

Resources I have consulted also say the liturgy was celebrated in homes and catacombs. See this from EWTN for example. I believe archaeology of catacomb depictions reveal altars.

MarcoPolo is correct: the Christians gathered in the catacombs. There were many under the city and even today you can see the frescoes painted by the Christians on the catacomb walls. Interestingly, the maintenance of the catacombs is in the hands of the papacy, which I did not know until now. :slight_smile:

The VERY early Church were regarded as a Jewish faction (Jesus and the Apostles were all Jews). The Romans were at peace with the Jewish church, and did not concern themselves with internal Jewish movements.

Those entering the Church are known to this day as catechumens. This is derived from “catacombs”, in which the early converts studied in the tombs to avoid detection by civil authorities.

It’s not necessarily that the Roman’s didn’t know that the Christians were in the catacombs, although I’m sure the catacombs were extensive and had many hiding places, but rather that the Romans did not want to enter the abode of the dead. They were superstitious.

Catechumen does not derive from the word catacomb. They have entierly separate etymology. Catechumen comes from a Greek word, and catacomb from a Latin word that are not related to each others or derivitive of each other.

Catechumen comes from the Greek root word for instruction from which we get catechumen, catechize, catechesis, catechist, etc.

Catacomb comes from a compound word in Latin cata (among) and tumbas (graves or tombs)

Depends on where they were and how severe the persecution was.

They mostly met in house churches. But also in the catacombs of Rome. In Egype for example, they went out into the desert sometimes meeting in abandoned/ruins of Egyptian temples. I saw some of them when I was in Egypt. Or in caves. Or wherever they could.

My bad. Apparently, I was taught some sort of conflation of the two terms, as catechumens were sometimes taught in the catacombs for reasons of concealment.

The smell would have been terrible in the catacombs! When I was in Italy, we were told they did not meet there. Hmm.

Families did it in their own homes.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit