What were the first Masses like?

Does anyone know if there are any early church documents or any other documemts, that shed any insight into how the VERY first Christians celebrated the Holy Eaucharist? And where they were celebrated?

Is there any history of the Mass that shows how the Mass changed throughout the ages?

When do traditional Catholics understand to be when the Mass they prefer was finally formalized? And what makes it special over any other celebration today? The Mass they prefer had to start somewhere and sometime. So there has to have been many traditions prior to the current “traditional Mass”.


The short answer to your statement is this: throughout the ages, there has been an organic development of the liturgy. The Mass, prior to Vatican II, had a history of very gradual change for the previous 1500 years. A priest from the 800’s could pick up a 1962 Missal and not see a drastic difference form what he was accustomed to. The reason traditionalists, have a concern about the Novus Ordo is that it created sweeping changes in a few months/years.

So, Traditionalists don’t say, “The further back you go, the purer the Mass.” What they say is, the current Missal did not grow as seamlessly out of the older versions.

Windmill makes several good points. While the Traditional Latin Mass is often called the Tridentine Mass, after the Counvil of Trent, it is very similar to what had already been going on in the Roman Rite for centuries before Trent (1570). The biggest alteration in the history of the liturgy wasn’t that, but the Missal of 1970.

I’d refer you to these volumes, and there are others (notably by author Klaus Gamber):

Lang, U.W. Turning Towards the Lord : Orientation in Liturgical Prayer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.

Ratzinger, Joseph: The Spirit of the Liturgy. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000. Translated by John Saward.

Mosebach, Martin. The Heresy of Formlessness. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006

There are also numerous websites where you can read more, especially my favorite, The New Liturgical Movement.


You are correct in saying that the Liturgy has changed since the Early Church. However, all Liturgical change prior to Vatican II was organic evolution- that is to say, the Liturgy was never outright created or composed, but developed and changed gradually over the centuries.

Depending where he was, he well could, I think.

Justin Martyr was an early CHristian, though converted at about AD 130. Here is his description of the mass in the 100’s:
On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give assent by saying, “Amen”. The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.*


“The Mass through the Ages” could be th title of avery interesting book. I am sure someone must have written one already, but I can’t think of an example.

The Traditional Mass was formalised at Trent. It was felt important to standardise the liturgy completely, probably, though don’t quote this as an informed view, to protect the priest from accusations of deviation towards Protestantism, or superstition or laxness, if he as much as added a “good morning” in English.

However Trent basically standardised existing practise. The other big change was in about the 11th century, when the Precious Blood was no longer distributed to the laity. At some time around the late Middle Ages, I think, it became the tradition to sit rather than to stand, previously only the sick and infirm had sat, on benches laid at the side of the church, hence the expression “the weak go to the wall”.

Same basic structure then, if a little less ritualized. The scriptures are read, then the Priest (Presbyter) gives a sermon, after which the Eucharist is consecrated and recieved by the congregation.

St. Justin Martyr describes an early liturgy. There are also examples of early ones (like the Liturgy of St. James, the Liturgy of the Holy Apostles, those found in the Apostolic Constitutions, etc.). Likewise, St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catechetical Lectures explains the Mass to neophytes and catechumens–it’s a good read for the basic understanding of the Mass held by the early Church as well as the customs and practices they embraced (I always found it intereting what they did after receiving the Precious Blood–they took their finger, touched it to the moisture on their lips, and then annointed their eyes and ears to purify them).

The Roman rite is a bit of an enigma. There’s a foggy time period in the fourth or fifth centuries where the liturgy before that period and after are radically different, but no one really knows what happened in that period. It was much more austere and simple before and it emerged with a lot of Gallician elements and complexities afterward. St. Gregory also made some relatively substantial changes after that. I recommend the articles at New Advent concerning liturgy, the Mass, the Canon, etc. Just do a search there for those terms and you should get a lot of informative articles :thumbsup:

The first Mass of course was in the Upper Room. the liturgy was taken from the liturgy used in the synagogue. You can see the similarities today if you attend a synagogue service. Much of the structure and wording were taken directly. this makes sense, since all the first Christians were Jews and attended synagogue until they were ejected. Here are some of the wordings from the early fathers.


Here is a good site with resources:


This is generally true, but it wasn’t necessarily unheard of. If you read St. Bede’s ecclesiastical history of England, St. Gregory told St. Augustine of Canterbury he could compose a liturgy for the people of England. Of course, St. Augustine simply decided instead to use the Roman rite of the time.

This is great stuff.

Thanks you guys!

Precisely, this is the fundamental beginning of organic development, and the reason why we shouldn’t try to “go back to the beginning,” as some like to think we should. If that were the case, then we should go back to the synagogues and then breaking bread at home. I don’t think so.

For those who know the story of Hewlett Packard, I will give an analogy. They started out their business as two men in a small garage. Today it is a huge corporation. They were one of the most admired companies into the 80s and then things sort of went wrong. What to do? Go back to the beginning? Have the thousands of employees try to cram into the garage and act like a 2-man company? Of course not. But, it doen’t hurt to back-up a little bit to the way you did things when you were the admired corporation in the 80s…:wink:

In order to answer that question you have to have some idea of the history of the early Church. To start with it was completely different than it is today. No two individual churches did things exactly the same way, so the earliest documents quoted usually pertain to whichever church the writer attended or which churches the writer, if a Bishop, had under his control. There was very little in the way of uniformity during the first several hundred years of the Church.

During that time, the Roman Church gradually became the lead Church so to speak. Sanctified by the blood of two of the Apostles, Peter and Paul , as well as the countless others martyred there, the Roman Church was looked to as the center of the faith and the Bishop of Rome given honor and respect as the First among Bishops. The Rite celebrated by the Roman Church gradually became the predominant Rite within the Church probably between the years of 800-900 or so.

There were several other Rites, Ambrosian and Gallician come to mind as well as several Rites peculiar to certain religious orders that grew organically and thus co existed with the Roman Rite. As the Roman Rite spread it swallowed up some of these and retained some of the elements found in them, notably those of the Gallician Rite. The Ambrosian Rite remained basically distinct until 1970 when it too was changed. I believe that the other distinct Rites of the Orders, Cistercian, Carthusian etc also changed at that time. As time went on other rites sprang up that in many cases were completely different than the standard rite. Some of them were blatantly heretical while others were merely adapted to suit local customs and strangely enough politics.

In a nutshell and very very simply put that was the situation up to the Council of Trent.

Trent:eek: beloved by some, hated by others and misunderstood by many. It was held during the confusion that existed as a result of the reformation and was the action taken by the Church to solidify, consolidate and re-affirm the faith and to protect it from the heresies that were being preached by the reformers. Part of that was to codify the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and set standards for its celebration. To do so, Trent abolished those rites and local adaptations that did not meet a certain criteria, namely longevity and impious practices, and insisted on a rigidity of formula that existed pretty much unchanged until the 20th century.

So while the Council of Trent codified the way the Mass was to be celebrated, it did not as many believe create what we call today the Traditional or Tridentine Mass. In its form and substance the Mass had existed as Trent decreed from oh I would guess based on the documents that are around, since about the year **600 or so and St Gregory the Great **

Gregory the Great was Pope from 590 until 604. Among the many important reforms that he undertook was that of the liturgy. His reform was primarily the simplification and orderly arrangement of the existing Roman Rite. His principal work was the definitive arrangement of the Roman Canon.

The Order of Mass in the 1570 Missal of St. Pius, apart from minor additions and amplifications, is very very close to the order established by St. Gregory. And so it remained basically unchanged until 1950 when Pope Pius XII authorized a revision, chiefly concerned with the calendar.in 1951. That restored the Easter Vigil from the morning to the evening of Holy Saturday, and, in 1955, he approved the Decree Maxima redemptionis, reforming the Holy Week ceremonies.

So we can say with some authority that the Traditional Mass adheres fairly closely to the Masses celebrated around the year 600, or approximately 900 years earlier than most of the Traditional bashers would have you believe:thumbsup: .

Hope that answers your question…


I heard that archaeologists have found Latin in the Mass texts among their findings in the ruins of Pompeii but haven’t been able to find more credible sources.

I hope this doesn’t come across as pomposity, but In the interest of clarity the following are absent form the order of St. Gregory:

Everything before the Introit
Half of the prayer before the Gospel and the Creed
The whole Offertory (except for the antiphon and the Secret)
All the prayers of the priest immediately before and for communion
The prayers at the ablutions
The blessing [for priests] and Last Gospel.

Were all the early Church Masses in the vernacular? When did that change?

I enjoy going to the Tridentine Mass because of the great reverence, but I couldn’t go all the time because I want to hear Mass in English. (I get far more out of it and put more into it.) Nearly all other traditional changes I could embrace with ease. I also believe that Latin is a major obstacle to conversion for many folks. I doubt I would have converted to the faith if that were the case.

Yes, but you should know that much of the TLM is said in a low tone, so having it in vernacular (unless it’s the readings from the pulpit) is a moot point, isn’t it?

My question was concerning the Early Church in the vernacular.

No, I think especially the readings should be in the vernacular. I would personally prefer to hear the entire thing, but other changes I would find easy to embrace.

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