Information on the Masses of the EARLY Christians

Does anyone have any information on the masses of the earliest of Christians? I mean specifically the Masses of the first 500-1000 years of Christianity. I would be interested in seeing the rubrics of the Masses of the first millenium … basically, how did they do it way back then?


It was less formal, but the early Christians would gather in a particular place and have dinner together. At the meal, they would read scripture passages or passages from the memoirs of the apostles (the Gospels). Then the elder of the community would explain the passages and give the rough equivalent of a homily.

From what I can recall, the whole meal was the Eucharist at first, but as the Church grew, it became impractical to make a meal for the entire congregation, so the Eucharist was reduced to the essential elements, just the bread and wine, as opposed to an entire meal.

This may not be entirely accurate, but I vaguely remember something like that from a class I took. Anyone with more accurate information or with a citable source would be most welcome.

In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there is a description of the format of the Mass by Justin Martyr in the section on the Eucharist.

Just so happen to own a copy … .I’ll take a look. thanks!!

Thank you. I think that may have been the source used in the class I took.

Also look for the book The Mass of the Early Christians by Mike Aquilina.

To say that the mass was ever a conventional “meal” would be rather inaccurate, especially in light of St. Paul’s words regarding gluttony and drunkeness at mass. I will agree though, that it was far more “meal-like” in the early years.

However, the document by Justin Martyr, which I believe is from the year 160 AD, shows some real similarities to the Tridentine mass. As I recall, it contains descriptions of parts of the mass such as the Kiss of Peace, and the Consecration. The Institute of Christ the King Soverign Priest has a blurb about the development of the mass on their website, explaining how from the time we see the first missals c. 600 AD up until 1500 AD, when the mass was standardized, changes were very few, and of an evolutionary nature. The changes since then, they say, have been similarly slow, minimal, and mostly pragmatic.

I like to think that, as someone familiar with the Tridentine mass, if I were to, hypothetically, travel back in time and hear St. Augustine say mass, I would be capable of at least following along.

I haven’t seen the blurb but if this is what they wrote then they would really be sadly mistaken. The changes from AD 600 were not few at all. The Prayers at the Foot of the altar, the Offertory, the Creed, Over half of the Communion rite and the parts after Ite Missa Est- these are all additions made after c. 600 A.D. As are a lot of the Propers.

I like to think that, as someone familiar with the Tridentine mass, if I were to, hypothetically, travel back in time and hear St. Augustine say mass, I would be capable of at least following along.

But it would still not really be the same…St. Augustine has many elements not found in the Tridentine and vice versa. And there is no direct evidence that he used the Canon- the general phrases that bear similarities in his sermons are general. Arguably then, a person used to the NO could go back and follow St. Augustine, no?

This site might be of some interest:


For the East, the divine liturgy of St John Chrysostom is roughly 1700 years old and still used every day. That’s well worth a look. :thumbsup:

Hmm, I read a book titled Why Do Catholics Do That, and the author stated that the Pauline Mass was closer to the earliest liturgys than the TLM was. He didn’t elaborate further in the book.

I didn’t dwell on it, but after looking at that time line on the link you provided, I see what the author meant. Communion standing/ in the hand, Prayers for the Faithful, etc.

Interesting :slight_smile:

Please forgive my pedantry.

Maybe older! (the anaphora not all the other parts. Fr. Taft, SJ, has written quite interestingly on various aspects of the Byzantine liturgy, and their development and it is largely the anaphora that is the part attributed to St. John Chrysostom.

If you would like to see earlier forms of the Byzantine liturgy such as the forms of the prothesis there is a book on called “Liturgies, Eastern and Western” which has it in an appendix)

Fr. Taft’s conclusions I’ve taken from an article he wrote for Bradshaw’s Essays on Early Eastern Eucharistic Prayers.

CHR = Anaphora of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (Byzantine)
APSyr = Anaphora of the Apostles (Syriac)
ApJAS = Anaphora of St. James (Syriac)

From what we have seen of the text of the presanctus of CHR in relation to APSyr and the writings of Chrysistom, I would draw the following conclusions:

  1. Because CHR has textual elaborations dictated by theological concerns that cannot antedate the anti-Eunomian polemic in Antioch from c. 355, and these additions are not found in APSyr seem to present an older redaction of CHR of an earlier Antiochene Greek anaphora, which I have called AP
  1. For the same reason, this no longer extant AP without the anti-Eunomian emendations most probably dates form the start of that crisis c. 355
  1. Conversely, the present redaction of the Greek CHR that does have those additions must, perforce, be later than that date.
  2. The authentic wirtings of John Chrysostom have numerous exact doublets to precisely these later emendations, but not to passages of AP. Hence this redaction of CHR is most probably the work of John Chrysostom himself.
  1. Chrysostom probably did this revision of AP between 398-404 as bishop of Constantinople. Accordingly to this admittedly hypothetical scenario, he would have introduced into the rite of the Great Church an existing Antiochene Greek anaphora, AP, inserting it, with his own redactional emendations, into the already existing anaphoral setting of the Great Church.
  1. APSyr is a Syriac translation of the same anaphora, adaptedto the tradiional Syro-Antiochene anaphoral setting modeled on SyrJAS. No one challenges this. The only issue is whether APSyr is a later, abbreviated translation of CHR itself, or a translation of what I have called AP, independent of CHR, and for that reason lacking CHR’s later emendations of AP.
  1. I have opted against Wagner, for the latter hypothesis - i.e. that Chrysostom is the redactor of CHR on the basis of AP, but not the author of AP-become-CHR because (snip cause I’m feeling lazy :o :stuck_out_tongue: but if you want it I’ll type it)
  1. All this when joined with a total silence of all sources before c. 750 concerning a Chrysostom liturgy and with the explicit mention by Leontius of a Liturgy of the Apostles, makes it more plausible, it seems to me, to conclude John Chrysostom took an already existing Antiochene anaphora, which I have called AP, and reworked it into what we know as CHR

This may be helpful: for an idea of what the Masses were like at Rome.

Some good information is getting out there, but I would suggest narrowing your time frame to get a good answer as to what the Roman rite was like in a certain century or two. Waaay too much happened between a.d. 34 and a.d. 1034 to be able to say “This was the Mass of the early West.”

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