Would we recognize the Mass in the year...500?


So a thread in the back fence brought up time travel and I got to thinking about Mass in the really early church. Let’s say you went back to the year 500, what would the Mass be like? Would it look anything like we’re familiar with now? I thought I heard somewhere that they actually used to have a whole meal back then. What would be the same? What would be different? I’ve been looking for a website or articles that would give a good description of the Mass back then, but my google-fu seems to be weak today. :stuck_out_tongue:



The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in 500 would remind you of the TLM/EF. There are obvious developments over time that are explained in this book that I highly recommend.


The Mass in 100 A.D. would remind you of the Mass now.

Check the Didache.


I am talking about organic development. Trying to return the Mass to the way it was done by the early ages is called antiquarianism.

Pius XII wrote (Mediator Dei)
60. The use of the Latin language, customary in a considerable portion of the Church, is a manifest and beautiful sign of unity, as well as an effective antidote for any corruption of doctrinal truth. In spite of this, the use of the mother tongue in connection with several of the rites may be of much advantage to the people. But the Apostolic See alone is empowered to grant this permission. It is forbidden, therefore, to take any action whatever of this nature without having requested and obtained such consent, since the sacred liturgy, as We have said, is entirely subject to the discretion and approval of the Holy See. 61. The same reasoning holds in the case of some persons who are bent on the restoration of all the ancient rites and ceremonies indiscriminately. The liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper, either in its own right or in its significance for later times and new situations, on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence and respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit, who assists the Church in every age even to the consummation of the world.[52] They are equally the resources used by the majestic Spouse of Jesus Christ to promote and procure the sanctity of man. 62. Assuredly it is a wise and most laudable thing to return in spirit and affection to the sources of the sacred liturgy. For research in this field of study, by tracing it back to its origins, contributes valuable assistance towards a more thorough and careful investigation of the significance of feast-days, and of the meaning of the texts and sacred ceremonies employed on their occasion. But it is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device. Thus, to cite some instances, one would be straying from the straight path were he to wish the altar restored to its primitive tableform; were he to want black excluded as a color for the liturgical vestments; were he to forbid the use of sacred images and statues in Churches; were he to order the crucifix so designed that the divine Redeemer’s body shows no trace of His cruel sufferings; and lastly were he to disdain and reject polyphonic music or singing in parts, even where it conforms to regulations issued by the Holy See. 63. Clearly no sincere Catholic can refuse to accept the formulation of Christian doctrine more recently elaborated and proclaimed as dogmas by the Church, under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit with abundant fruit for souls, because it pleases him to hark back to the old formulas. No more can any Catholic in his right senses repudiate existing legislation of the Church to revert to prescriptions based on the earliest sources of canon law. Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation. 64. This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the “deposit of faith” committed to her charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn.[53] For perverse designs and ventures of this sort tend to paralyze and weaken that process of sanctification by which the sacred liturgy directs the sons of adoption to their Heavenly Father of their souls’ salvation.


While Dom Guéranger was one of the pillars and a great founder of modern day liturgical scholarship, many texts were found after his death which more recent liturgical scholars have advanced the study of the Sacred Liturgy on. Fr. Fortescue, and Fr. J. B. O’Connell where not simply writers on the Rubrics but good scholars on the history of the Liturgy, Fortescue on both Eastern and Western Liturgical Rites. Jungmann was a good historian on the Subject and while Ellis and Parch both sort of shot low and close to the hip, encoraging some ideas that I don’t find practical or prudent, and others like Gambler and Bouyer were among supporters of their ideas, but later retracted some of their progressive ideas after seeing what abandoning some of the older praxis could do.

Much of the Mass would be recognized by those familiar with the EF, the Prayers at the foot of the Altar and the Last Gospel would be private prayers of the priest and servers as they processed in and out of the sancturary, the Sanctuary would have been a bit more simple, as the Post-Reformation reaction of the Counter Reformation would not have yet occured, But the Litugical actions would be the primary liturgy we see in the EF today.

That being said there would be a bit more variation which local customs would have dictated as there were many more local uses which did vary by time and place.


I’ve been to a chapel that was built in 600; I can’t imagine they had “full meals” in there.

The altar stone is still there; it looks much like one you would see now.

There is space for people to kneel and to receive Communion, but not nearly enough for tables, etc.

I’d imagine that the liturgies held there resembled those held in our world ante-V2.



Not really… Every Celebration of the Mass at that time was ad orientem. Everyone faced east, to the extent that in some places, the altar was behind the People and the People faced away from the Altar. The Mass would resemble the Tridentine Mass much more than the Novus Ordo Mass, which was more or less created on the spot rather than developed through the ages.

The very Early Missals, and even the Celtic Missals began Mass with the Deacon chanting the Litany of Saints. And the vesting would take place on the Sanctuary. (This would have been a bit later than 100 AD)

The Prayers at the Foot of the Altar were there from the beginning - Just because it doesn’t say it in the Didache doesn’t mean it isn’t true. There is historical proof that St. Paul used such a practice also. The Psalm that is recited at the foot of the altar (Psalm 42) is the same one that the Jewish Priests would recite before entering the sanctuary.

The Glory to God would have been more or less the same. This prayer is ancient and essentially unchanged.

There is also historical evidence that multiple collects were recited rather than simply one. More still, there was only one epistle and one gospel reading.

The Offertory Prayers were completely different from the Novus Ordo Mass, that I can guarantee. The offertory prayers in the current Novus Ordo Missae actually originated from the Anglican BCP. However the Tridentine Offertory prayers are a bit more in touch with the Didache.

The Canon would essentially have been the same, considering that most Provinces of the Church maintain a similar consecration prayer (until the introduction of the other Eucharistic Prayers).

The Ablutions after Communion (Purifications) would have been done with wine rather than water, similar to the Tridentine Mass again, this is a custom that the Jews held for the ablutions also.

The “Ite, Missa est” (Go, the Mass has ended or Go, it is sent.) would surely have been there. This is where the word “Mass” comes from.

I would have been interesting, yes, but the definite lack of seating would have been slightly unsatisfactory for me. There was no kneelers or seats. On Sundays and Feasts, the witnesses (they were referred to as witnesses of the sacrifice) would stand during the Consecration, whereas on other days, one would kneel on the ground - Sounds Fun! :stuck_out_tongue:

Pax vobis,
Deus, Salus Nostra :gopray2:


Yes and no. Antiquarianism is what Pius XII called the “indiscriminate]” restoration of old things just on the theory that everything older = better. When, however, after study one concludes that something older actually was better on independent grounds, then restoring it is not antiquarianism. Psalmody sung by the congregation, and the use of the vernacular, would be examples

Nor does antiquarianism refer only to the desire to revive practices from the first centuries of the Church. The desire for indiscriminate restoration of things from 1950 (or 1750) by wholesale discarding of “new patterns introduced . . . to meet the changes of circumstances and situation” is an error as well.


I know it would be only speculation but everything that Jesus did after His resurrection and before His ascension is not mentioned in the bible.

Let me ask this: is it possible that Jesus would have taught something about the mass to the apostle’s in those days?

Would Jesus not have celebrated the mass with them during those days because He had said that He would not drink of the vine again until He were drinking it with them in His Kingdom–in other words will Jesus one day eat with us again in Heaven?

If Jesus didn’t give the disciples any instructions during that time on exactly how to carry out the Supper of the Lord then would it be fair to say that the Spirit led them into all the truth and very early on Peter approved of whatever form they initially used?


The Divine Liturgies used in the Eastern Churches today are from around that time.




I see a distinction since if the error of antiquarianism already took place, it would not be antiquarianism to desire to get back to before the error occured. That is IF such an error had occured.


If your thinking were correct, then it would apply just as well to people who thought that the Middle Ages introduced errors and infelicities and said they merely wanted “to get back to before the error occurred.” Which, in fact, is exactly what the antiquarians Pius XII was refuting did say. Of course, if one can identify a specific error, then it is not antiquarianism to wish do undo it.

I am not aware, however, of any change to the liturgy that took place after Vatican II due to antiquarianism. Often there is confusion on this issue because people justify the change by citing historical practice. That is fine; the error of antiquarianism occurs when the historicity of a practice is the only thing that motivates reviving it. For instance, the propriety of Communion in the hand is often upheld by showing that it was practiced in the early Church. Is that antiquarianism, then? No, because it was revived in the latter day for independent reasons (which may or may not be any good; that’s a separate point), not merely out of a sense that we ought to receive Communion like early Christians did.


There are various schools of thought on this. Many Masses could have been celebrated in catacombs. And then Masses back then could have been Christianized pagan services performed by the Romans. Archaelogists have found some evidence for these. St. Paul found a significant number of Christians in Rome when he arrived there.

Also keep in mind the Gospels and Scripture weren’t finalized till well into the 2nd century.


Also remember that the Church was an “underground” Church until Constantine’s edict of toleration in the 4th century. Many practices of the Church came from the imperial pomp of the empire.


If such people were to think that way, they would be claiming the vast majority of our Saints and Doctors worshipped incorrectly and in turn would be incorrect. Most of the changes were very mild and obvious organic developments.


I haven’t been around for the past few days, but thank you for that information. The thing about the people facing away from the alter is interesting. :slight_smile:

I chose the year 500 because by then they would have had the bible and Christianity would have been around for a few centuries so I figured they would have had things sort of normalized by then. What I’m looking for if there is anything that they did back then that isn’t found in the Novus Order or the EF. I’m not looking to cause and argument or anything, it’s just my own curiosity. :slight_smile:


Early Masses would’ve been closer to the OF than the EF. That was intentional and something some traditionalists complain about. They claim the OF wasn’t an organic development but a rejection of organic developments in an attempt to restore a more primitive Mass.


I agree… of course much would be quite different (naturally) than nowadays, yet there was already a ‘lithurgy of the word’ where they read scriptures and of course the Eucharist.

The lithurgy back then perhaps was simpler than now, but the basic idea was already present.

I think a contemporary catholic would especially recognize it in the ‘breaking of the bread’, i. e. the Eucharist


Read Justin’s Apology to see what the earliest masses were like. They also were most likely in Greek until about the 5th century.

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