What is the oldest liturgy still in use? What church could I walk into and see something that would be very much the same as what the Apostles and the very early Christians were seeing?
I’ve asked this before myself. I didn’t have much luck. I’m still interested in the answer.
I am blessed to have a recording of this liturgy celebrated by Dionysus Behnam Jajjawi, Metropolitan of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Lebanon, made sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. It is absolutely breathtaking.
There are various clips on Youtube of this liturgy being celebrated, but they just leave me frustrated that they’re usually under 10 minutes a piece and generally of poor audio quality.
And just because I love Fr. Aju Philip Matthews’ voice… (Not sure if this is also the Liturgy of St. James, but…man…wow! Better sound quality, too)
Yes, it’s it.
Since no liturgical service was written down during the age of the Apostles, nobody really knows what their religious services were like. The earliest Mass parts that we know of date from approximately the 4th century The Kyrie is the oldest known part of the Mass, other than the Consecration).
There are some descriptive documents, that show that most early services were held in people homes. The ONLY real parts that we know existed back then are the Consecration of the Eucharist, since those words are taken directly from the Bible.
Anything else has been added on. Some folks like to pretend that they know, but when asked to back that up with written evidence dating from that period, they simply can not do it.
Right. The Liturgy of St. James is believed to be written by St. James of Jerusalem himself. Some people would place the original writing of the Liturgy to 60AD. While some even claim it was made as late as the 400s. But its the predecessor of all the Liturgies of the East and is older than any known Roman Liturgy.
Archaeologists have found “parts” of much earlier worship from the ruins of Pompeii.
In addition to the Liturgy of Saint James, there is the Liturgy of Saint Mark, from Alexandria, modified later and known as the Liturgy of Saint Cyril. Both James and Mark liturgies date to the first century and are greatly similar.
Do any Churches still use these liturgies?
The Syrian Orthodox Church uses the liturgy of St. James. The Wiki article I linked earlier seems a bit vague as to which Orthodox churches use it in Jerusalem, but it seems to be commonly used in the Syrian Orthodox church no matter where we’re talking about (the videos I posted earlier were from one of the Indian Orthodox churches of the Syriac tradition, for instance).
The liturgy of St. Cyril is one of the three liturgies used in the Coptic Orthodox Church. The others are the liturgy of St. Basil (the most often celebrated), and the liturgy of St. Gregory (the “Gregorian liturgy”). Previously used but now not allowed is the “Habesha” liturgy, which was an Arabic version of the Ethiopian Orthodox liturgy. Even though it’s no longer used, there is still somehow a video of it on YouTube, of course…
The Liturgy of St. Cyril is the Liturgy of St. Mark (Greek) translated into Coptic (444 A.D.), plus some additional prayers and is traditionally prayed during the Great Fast and on the feasts of St. Mark the Evangelist and of St. Cyril. This is used by the Copts. The Anaphora of St. Mark (# 16) also is translated into Ge’ez and used by the Ethiopians.
We have no proof that any anaphoras come from the first century as the first evidence we have of these texts come from the third or fourth centuries as far as I can remember from my Liturgical History and Eucharist courses. The first description of a Eucharistic Prayer comes from Justin’s First Apology and he basically just describes the Eucharistic Rite without a text. The Didache gives a bit more detail as to what can be said, but the earliest prayers followed a pattern but, in a nutshell, were prayed extemporaneously by the priest. I have my texts and notes at work and we have a snow day today but I can look it up when I get to work tomorrow. Both texts however are most likely the oldest that are still used in some form today.
Interestingly, the Anaphora of Adai and Mari, of which we have extant texts from I believe the 6th or 7th Century, is still in use today in Iraq. What makes this text unique is that there are no words of Institution, yet the Vatican has proclaimed that it is a valid Eucharistic Prayer.
All liturgies still in use have undergone development over time, but the core elements in the liturgies of St James and St Mark may be very old. The core of the Roman canon is also thought by the most recent scholarship to be perhaps pre Nicene.
Probst in “Liturgie der drei ersten christlichen Fahrhunderte” (Tubingen, 1870) gave the opinion that the Roman Liturgy was ancient as that of Clementine*, St. James, and St. Mark. (See: The ante-Nicene fathers, Volume 7 By Donaldson, Coxe, Richardson, Pick, Menzies, p. 533)
- of the Apostolical Constutions which seems to not have been used publicly.