The Price of Our Faith- What the Early Christians Paid

  1. It is important to understand the quotes of our apostolic and patristic fathers within the realities of their day. Our forefathers and mothers paid a very high price for the faith we enjoy today.

A particularly gifted writer and historian of ancient church liturgies is an Anglican monk, Dom Gregory Dix.

One of Dom Dix’s seminal assertion, “Small ritual changes (in the liturgy, Eucharist Rite) are linked to great social changes. It is a demonstratable historical fact that they are linked and that the ritual change can always be historically detected before the social one.”[1]

So, the importance what we are doing in celebrating the liturgy together has a major impact on our families and thus the world.

However, I want to draw our attention to the risks that and rewards of the liturgy before the Niceaen Council 325 well before the Canon of Scripture was settled.

Dom Dix rightly notes, “The Eucharist at the heart of the religion of Christianity for 20 yrs before first New Testament documents were written. It trained and sanctified apostles and martyrs for over a 100 years before the collected and canonized scriptures beside and above the Jewish scriptures.”[2]

“Eucharist worship not based on scripture at all, whether Old or New Testament, but solely on tradition. The authority for its celebration was the historical tradition that it had been instituted by Jesus, cited incidentally by Paul 1 Cor 11, and attested in the second-generation Christians by written Gospels.”[3]

Our faith is primarily an apostolic one, handed on from the Apostles, who received it from Our Lord.

The following quotes support earlier scholarship discussed.

“Good reason to think the Shape of the Liturgy is of genuine apostolic tradition … Different traditions of prayer revolve around the same essential action and it is possible, even probable, they were all originally rooted in a simple type.”[4]

Josef Jungmann, another pre-Nicene scholar summarizes Dom Dix and thus gets to the heart of what the early Christian community endured for celebrating the Holy Mass in common.

Fr. Jungmann writes, “Gregory Dix, the Anglican monk, in his book, The Shape of the Liturgy pages 141-155, esp 151 ff has a fine chapter on the pre-Nicene background of the liturgy. In this work he shows definitely with what firmness the early Christians held to their common worship, and this in spite of persecution. It was precisely their attendance at worship which constituted their great crime in the eyes of the pagan state. Anyone and everyone could believe what he pleased, but that the Christians should shun official state worship in favor of their own cult- that was the reason for the persecution. This hostile attitude towards special Christian gatherings was aggravated by the numerous and widespread calumnies of which these gatherings become the object: Christians held forbidden and secret meetings, where they had meals at which human flesh was eaten and infants’ blood was drunk. Nevertheless, the Christians held fast to their assemblies, even though they could have prayed at home and even though they received the Eucharist in their own dwellings. Every Sunday they went to celebrate the Eucharist in common, though this endangered their lives. Even at this early period, the Christians must have had the same thought that was expressed by the martyrs of Abitina during the Diocletian persecution: We cannot survive without the Eucharist: Sine Dominico (esse) non possumus. The Eucharistic celebration cannot be superseded: Intermitti Dominicum non potest.”[5]

The great apostolic and patristic quotes find their historical setting with this backdrop of real danger and intense hatred. Christian worship itself was a capital crime where accusations (true or not) were met with harsh torture and immediate sentencing. sometimes the accused Christian was sent to the Sardinian mines at other times one was sentenced to death within 3 hours. And at the storm center persecution throughout the whole period (up to the Edict of Milan 313) was undoubtedly the Eucharist.

It was with good reason that Our Lady repeatedly calls us to the Holy Eucharist to show it the respect and honor it deserves. Our forefathers and foremothers knew its worth and the substantial risk participating at the liturgy posed to their lives, fortunes, and families.

John Paull II sees the same theme of sacrifice, joy, and apostolic tradition in this quote from his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharista[6]  #56- 57

In her daily preparation for Calvary, Mary experienced a kind of “anticipated Eucharist” – one might say a “spiritual communion” – of desire and of oblation, which would culminate in her union with her Son in his passion, and then find expression after Easter by her partaking in the Eucharist which the Apostles celebrated as the memorial of that passion.

What must Mary have felt as she heard from the mouth of Peter, John, James and the other Apostles the words spoken at the Last Supper: “This is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19)? The body given up for us and made present under sacramental signs was the same body which she had conceived in her womb! For Mary, receiving the Eucharist must have somehow meant welcoming once more into her womb that heart which had beat in unison with hers and reliving what she had experienced at the foot of the Cross.

“Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19). In the “memorial” of Calvary all that Christ accomplished by his passion and his death is present. Consequently all that Christ did with regard to his Mother for our sake is also present. To her he gave the beloved disciple and, in him, each of us: “Behold, your Son!”. To each of us he also says: “Behold your mother!” (cf. Jn 19: 26-27).[7]

Dear Lady, on your birthday, give us a true understanding of the Most Blessed Sacrament handed on to us from the apostles. Do not let us be dissuaded from its proper worship and efficacious help in our day of trouble.

[1] Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of Liturgy, new Edition (Bloomsbury: London 1945) xxxiv

[2] Dix, 3

[3] Dix, 3

[4] Dix, 5

[5] Josef Jungmann & Francis Brunner, The Early Liturgy to the Time of Gregory the Great (Univ of Notre Dame Press: Notre Dame, IN 1959) 12

[6]   accessed August 16, 2022

[7]  accessed August 16, 2022