Sunday, June 27, 2010

What's with all the titles in the Church?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

I get very confused by all the titles and names used by Catholics. What is the difference between Cardinals and bishops or archbishops. You’ve got monsignors and pastors and archdeacons and mitred abbesses and protonotaries apostolic. Can you explain?

Thank you,

B. Racrasy

Dear B,

It’s really not that complicated, but, as with most things a little history is important. First let’s define hierarchy. In current language “hierarchy” means “chain of command.” This is not its original meaning. It’s a Greek word that means “sacred leadership.” The first sacred leadership was created by God at the beginning of time. It’s called “Mom and Dad.” They may be in charge, but the center of the household isn’t mom or dad. Ask any parent. It’s the kids. Real leadership is about service and if a hierarchy is doing its job it is serving. The pope is called “the servant of the servants of God.” That’s the sense of the word “hierarchy” in Catholic thought.

From the first century until now, the basic structure of the hierarchy is really very simple: bishop, priest, deacon and laity. “Bishop” comes from the Greek word “episcopos” which literally means supervisor, one who has oversight. “Priest” comes from the word “presbyteros” which means elder, one who is older in the Lord. “Deacon” comes from the Greek word “diakonos” which means table waiter or steward, and finally the word laity (or layman or laywoman) comes from the Greek word “laos” which means “the people.” So there you have it: bishop, priest and deacon, dedicated to the care of the people of God.

Are you ready for more Greek? (What’s with all the Greek? Why don’t you just use English? English!! English changes word meanings faster than Imelda Marcos changes shoes. In a hundred years English will be incomprehensible by today’s standards. Ancient Greek will still be ancient Greek. That’s why!) Where was I? Oh yes, another Greek word: Diocese. Diocese is a Greek word meaning administrative district. The Catholic Church is arranged into administrative districts served by supervisors, elder and stewards.

“Wait a minute. It can’t be that simple. The pope is a pretty big deal in Catholicism, as far as I’ve heard.” Well, the pope is the Bishop of Rome, and Rome is the city where St. Peter and St. Paul served, were martyred and are buried. The first Christians believed the role of St. Peter passed on to his spiritual descendants. Jesus had given him the keys of the kingdom and had told him to strengthen his brethren. (Matt16:19 and Luke 22:32) In particular the phrase “keys of the kingdom of heaven” refers to Isaiah, 22:15-25. In the Old Testament, the king had a kind of prime minister or vizier, called the “Albayit.” It was a hereditary position, but Hezekiah, the king threw Shebna and his family out of the job and replaced him with Eliakim son of Hilkiah. Jesus was referring to a hereditary post when he gave Peter the keys of the kingdom. The first Christians took this to mean that Peter’s successor would continue his ministry of teaching and governing. In 180 AD, St Irenaeus of Lyon, a Greek who was Bishop of a city in what is now Southern France wrote the following in “Adversus Haereses."

“We point to the tradition of that very great and very ancient and universally known Church, which was founded and established at Rome, by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul. We point, I say, to the tradition which this Church has from the Apostles...which comes down to our time through the succession of her bishops...., and so we put to shame . . . all who assemble in unauthorized meetings. For with this Church, because of its superior authority, every Church must agree.”

St. Irenaeus was born around 120AD and had been a disciple of St. Polycarp who had been a disciple of St. John, so this belief that the bishop of Rome had a unique role in the Church goes back to the first days of the faith. “Well,” you may ask, “What is the difference between the pope and the Bishop of Rome?” To which I would respond, “None at all.” The word “Pope,” or “papa” as most languages say it, means exactly that: papa. It derives from the Semitic word “abba” and means “dad,” “pappa.” It is a diminutive for Father. Hence, we call the bishop of Rome the Holy Father or the Pope, just as St. Paul thought of himself a father to the Corinthians. (I Cor.4:14,15) In the same way the Bishop of Rome has been thought of as a father to the whole Church since its first days and thus is called, the Holy Father, and “Papa,” but he is the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter.

The bishop of Rome has jurisdiction over the bishops and faithful of the whole world and appoints bishops in consultation with the local community. He can also remove bishops, but in fact this is almost never done. When a bishop needs to go, the Pope will first call him over to Rome for a chat and suggest that, for the good of the Church, he resign. If he refuses, there will be canonical process to remove the bishop (“canonical” means having to do with Church law.) If a bishop does anything that excommunicates him, automatically he loses all his status and his powers immediately without a process. One thinks of the wacky bishop a few years back who joined the Moonies and got married.)

The pope is the visible source of the unity of the bishops and of the faithful. Vatican II reaffirmed everything Vatican I taught about the papacy and infallibility, but taught that bishops are not “vicars of the Roman Pontiff," but in their local dioceses they are “vicars (representatives)... of Christ." So, it would seem that the pope is the universal representative of Christ and bishops are the local vicars of Christ. He has this role, quite simply because he is the Bishop of Rome.

Two interesting side notes: What does it mean that the pope is the bishop of Rome and why do popes change their name when they become pope?

Though the pope is the diocesan Bishop of the Diocese of Rome, he delegates most of the day-to-day work of leading the diocese to the Cardinal Vicar, who has direct oversight of the diocese's pastoral needs. The Cathedral of Rome is not St. Peter’s, it is St. John Lateran. St Peter’s is where the pope lives and works as the universal shepherd.

Originally the popes used their baptismal names. In AD 533, a man named Mercurius was elected pope. He decided that it would be wrong for a pope to be named after a Roman god, so he changed his name to John and was known as Pope John II. From that time on some popes took a new name and some kept their baptismal name. The symbolism of taking a new name at Baptism or Confirmation is the same. In Christ we become new, thus a new name. As soon as the new pope is elected, and accepts the election, he is asked, “By what name shall you be called?" The senior Cardinal Deacon, or Cardinal Protodeacon, (believe it or not, a lower ranking cardinal. I’ll explain later) comes out onto the balcony of Saint Peter's and says "I announce to you a great joy: We have a Pope! The Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord, (“Lord ," is used here in the medieval sense of “Lords and Ladies," not in the biblical sense) Lord (first name), Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church (last or family name) who takes to himself the name (name as pope)" It's quite an exciting moment. I still remember when Pope John Paul II was elected. I still remember thinking," Wotyla? That doesn't sound very Italian." And it wasn't!!!

A pope usually chooses his new name to indicate whom he wants to imitate in his papacy. The current pope chose the name Benedict, because the last Pope Benedict struggled through the crisis in Europe between the wars. Benedict XVI has a heart for the re-conversion of Europe and the revival of Christian culture. Interestingly Pope Benedict published the book “Jesus” (a wonderful bible study book) under both his baptismal and papal names. He implied by doing this that this was a book he had started as Joseph Ratzinger, and it was not to be taken as papal teaching.

(Much, much more to follow.)

Rev. Know-it-all

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Did Mary have other children?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
A question came up at Bible Study last night. One of the group insisted that the Bible says Mary had other children than Jesus, and that, though Jesus was miraculously conceived, Mary and Joseph were just like any other married couple. Also, I noticed that there is no genealogy of Mary in the Bible, and that the genealogies of Joseph in Matthew and Luke seem to contradict each other. If Joseph wasn’t actually the father of Jesus, how can Jesus be descended from David? 
Yours,
Gene E. O’Lojey
 
Dear Gene,
These are two important and interrelated questions. It is true that the Bible says Jesus had brothers. It doesn’t say that Mary had other children. One thing is not the same as the others.   
   The first question asks about something usually called “the perpetual virginity of Mary.” We believe that Mary remained a virgin her whole life. This is emphatically believed by both Catholic and Orthodox Churches and even by the first Protestant reformers, Zwingli, Luther and Calvin. Since it’s not directly mentioned in the Bible, it was not included in Protestant creeds. Only modern evangelical Protestants insist that Mary and Joseph were the parents of other children. In doing this, they try to de-emphasize the reverence that traditional Christians have for the Blessed Mother.
Well, what does the Bible say?  James and Joses are mentioned in Mark 6:3. "Is he (Jesus) not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they took offense at him."  This would make it seem that Mary had children. However James and Joses are mentioned again in Mark 15:40, which mentions among the women present at Jesus' crucifixion a "Mary, the mother of James the Less and Joses".  This would make it seem that they are cousins of Jesus, by a different Mary. Catholic tradition favors the “cousins” approach. It was taught by St. Jerome and other Church fathers that the term "brother" in biblical times had a broader meaning and included cousins and other more distant relatives as well.
The Greek and Eastern Churches follow a different but very ancient tradition that’s first recorded in the Protevangelion of St. James. It was probably written around 150AD. Here is a quote from the Protoevangelion (Book I chapter 7. Vs12,13)
“And the high-priest said, ‘Joseph, you are the person chosen to take the Virgin of the Lord, to keep her for him.  But Joseph refused, saying, I am an old man, and have children, but she is young, and I fear, for fear that I should appear ridiculous in Israel.”
Some traditions even say that Salome was the name of Joseph’s first wife who had died, leaving him a widower. This tradition was held by all the Western Church fathers until after St. Ambrose, as well as the Greek fathers. 
Fr. Bargil Pixner, the great, recently deceased Benedictine scholar and archeologist has some interesting ideas that tie together the Protoevangelion and the archeology of the Holy Land. Many authorities maintain that a vow of celibacy was unheard of at the time of Christ, and thought the Pharisees certainly  didn’t believe in permanent celibacy, there were some Jewish who did.
 In the Qumran “Great Temple Scroll,” (11QMiq), we read, “When a young woman makes a vow of continence to the Lord.... and her father hears about it....and says nothing about it.... the vow will be binding on both father and daughter. The same holds true for a married wife in respect to her husband. If he confirms the vow, both spouses will be obligated to it.”
 Fr. Pixner points out that Royal Davidic family was late in returning to the Holy Land after the Babylonian exile. They only returned in the century before the time of Christ, and when they returned and settled in places that had associations with  radical sects of Judaism, such as the Essenes, that preached the immanent coming of the Messiah. The traditional place of Mary’s early childhood in Jerusalem adjoins the temple and was an Essene neighborhood. The traditional site of the Last Supper and Pentecost are in the Essene quarter in southwest Jerusalem. John the Baptist, a close relative of Jesus seems to have been involved in one these groups, and was quite possibly the leader of one.
Fr. Pixner pays serious attention to the old stories of Mary’s childhood that are found in the Protoevangelion because they reflect the beliefs and practices of the Messianic sects like the Essenes. The Davidic family would have had common cause with these groups who longed for the Messiah to purify the temple, the priesthood and the monarchy.  It only makes sense. After all, job prospects would certainly have looked brighter if the Herod/Maccabee family were tossed out of the monarchy and the Davidic family restored. That is certainly the backdrop of the Gospel, and explains Jesus’ strained relation with some members of  His family. They wanted revolution. Jesus preached conversion.
 So, the story may go something like this. Mary was raised in the shadow of the temple and served as some young Jewish girls did with the traditional women’s tasks of sewing and weaving. (Please no politically correct grumbling. History is history and I would never dream of asking women to do that sort of thing for the Church in this enlightened age.) She may have taken a vow of virginity, with the permission of her father, Joachim and when it came time to arrange her marriage, Joachim may have found an older, widowed relative to marry her and thus protect her vow. None of that is inconsistent with the Gospel or the customs of the time. 
Though the Protoevangelion has a lot of fanciful material in it, it does seem to reflect very old stories. These traditions seem what the relatives of Jesus believed in the first century, and there were quite a few relatives around. Julius Africanus was a Christian historian born in the Holy Land around 160AD. He claims to have gotten his information from the family of Jesus, who were called the “desposyni,” that is “the family of the master.” Their identities were well known in the ancient world. Some of the relatives of Jesus claimed special distinction in the early Church. The bishops of Jerusalem all seem to have been relatives of Jesus up until 135AD when the city was destroyed by the emperor Hadrian. (By the way, none of these relatives of Jesus ever claimed descent from Him, no matter what the DaVinci Code claims.)
  The family of Jesus and the first believers didn’t forget these things. The memory of families in the traditional societies goes back centuries, even in families without famous members. Certainly, Jesus would have been well remembered and the stories about Him cherished by His relatives. These old stories don’t die out.
 It always amazes me that we in the 21st century think we know better than those who were Jesus’ close relatives in the first years of Christianity.  We have received these things from them. It is the consistent tradition of Christianity until very recent times that the relationship between Mary and Joseph was not a typical marriage, and that Mary was perpetually a virgin. The Bible witnesses to this too, when Jesus asks John to care for His mother. The Scriptures say that she lived with him from that day on. (John 19:26,27)  If she had other children, custom and family feeling would certainly have dictated that she live with them, but the evidence of Scripture is clear that Mary stood alone at the foot of the cross. Thus, we have the witness of both Scripture and very strong tradition that Mary was Ever-Virgin.
 Your second question is also very important and actually related to your first question, “Why do the Gospels not have a genealogy of Mary and why do the genealogies of Joseph seem to contradict each other?” the answer is really quite simple. The same Julius Africanus mentioned above learned it from the relatives of Jesus. (Look in Eusebius Ecclesiastical History Chapter 7.) The Jews, as many other cultures, have a way to keep family lines from dying out, if a man dies leaving  no sons to keep his name alive. This is called a levirate marriage. Deuteronomy 25:5-6 says that a brother should marry the widow of his deceased brother if his brother has no sons. The firstborn child is considered the firstborn son of the deceased brother. (In certain cases in the Middle East, adoption rather than actual marriage, is also used to keep families from dying out.) Julius Africanus claims that he was told by Jesus’ relatives Joseph’s lineage comes such levirate relationships. The Gospel of Matthew records the biological genealogy of Joseph and the Gospel of Luke records the legal genealogy of Joseph.  Eusebius of Caesarea in this same chapter 7 points out that Mary’s genealogy is essentially the same as Joseph’s because people married within families, and they still do in much of the Near East.
 How are these two things related? Simple. Your friend at the Bible study said that “The Bible says....” the Bible doesn’t say that Mary had other children. It says that Jesus had brothers named James and Joses. The text no where says that Mary was their mother. Your friend thinks he knows the bible, but he doesn’t know it very well.
The Bible when taken alone and out of its context does say that Joseph is the son of both Eli and Matthan. Look at the genealogies. They don’t match at all! The Church could have edited out difficult passages, but she never has. She kept them and guarded them as family treasures passed down through the ages. The Bible is our book. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, we wrote it, (at least the later parts) we compiled it and we have faithfully passed it on from generation to generation. It can only be read and understood in the light of the traditions we have received and that the Church has studied since the very beginning. Modern arrogance is no substitute for the authority Christ gave His Bride, the Church.
 
Yours,
Rev. Know-it-all 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Who wrote the Bible?

Dear Rev. Know it all, 
Who wrote the Bible?
Sincerely,
Solomon “Sol” A. Scriptura

Dear Sol,         
First, the simple answer. A lot of people wrote the Bible, because the Bible is not a book. It’s a library. The word Bible comes from a Greek word (of course) “biblia.”  Biblia is plural. It means “books.”  (Biblion = one book, biblia =2 or more books) There are seventy-three books in the Bible, (unless you are Protestant, in which case you only have 66 books. Pity.)
There are a lot of sacred books in the world. Perhaps you are really asking “How did some books come to be regarded as uniquely inspired by Christians?”  It starts with the Jews, or rather with the Israelites, somewhere in the Sinai Desert. Sometime between 1450 and 1250 years before the birth of Jesus. A fellow named Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt through the sea to an encounter with God at the foot of His holy mountain. Moses went up the mountain and came back with the law given by God. So it seems that God, through the agency of Moses wrote the first the sacred books of the Hebrews, as the Israelites were also called.
Over the next thousand plus years, books of history, prophecy and religious poetry and parables were added to those first books of Moses. They were a loose collection of about forty or fifty books that were respected as inspired, some more than others. About 200 years before the birth of Jesus many, perhaps a majority of Israelites — now called Judeans, from which we get the word Jew — lived outside the Holy Land and no longer spoke their ancestral language, Hebrew.
Alexandria, a Greek speaking city on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt, had a large population of Jews. The king of Egypt commissioned a Greek translation of the Hebrew holy books. It was called the “Septuagint”, or the “Books of the Seventy.” The name comes from the legends surrounding the translation, something about 70 or seventy-two scholars, or perhaps 70 days necessary for the work of translation. We really know very little about the origin of the Septuagint. Still, the Septuagint became the authoritative canon of Scripture for Greek-speaking Jews, who quite possibly outnumbered the Jews who spoke Aramaic, a language close to Hebrew. (Just a word about “canon.” Canon originally meant a measuring rod. It is related to the English word “cane.” Anything that is a canon or canonical is considered normative, something against which other things can be measured.) 
The first disciples of Jesus seem to quote the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew original when they use the Hebrew Scripture and even the Qumran documents seem often to rely on the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew originals. So the Septuagint was very popular at the time of Christ. When the disciples went out into the Greek-speaking world, both Jewish and Gentile, they used the Septuagint as normative. The majority of Jews at the time of Jesus were probably Greek speakers, just as now the largest single group of Jews are English speakers. 
There were more than a million Greek-speaking Jews living in Egypt, while less than a million lived in the Holy land. There were perhaps 4 or 5 million Jews alive at them time of Christ, and practically none used Hebrew as a first language. For many of them, the Septuagint was the Bible, and when Christianity moved out of the Greek-speaking Jewish world into the Roman empire, they regarded the Septuagint as the Scriptures.
The first followers of Jesus didn’t have a defined New Testament, but the phrase used by St. Justin Martyr around 160 AD is interesting. He speaks of the “memoirs of the apostles.” It seems that what we regard as the 27 books of the New Testament took a while to develop, though they seem to have been in place a hundred years after Jesus. They were the texts that were commonly read at Mass by the early Christians along with the Septuagint. That’s probably how they came to be regarded as Scripture.
  At this same time, (@140 AD) a man named Marcion began to teach that the God of the New Testament was not the same as the savage God of the Old Testament. He also taught that the Old Testament Scriptures were not valid. He recognized only a shortened Gospel of Luke, and ten of Paul's epistles. All other writings were rejected. This is interesting in itself because it implies that as early as 140 AD, certain books were held to be uniquely inspired. In response to Marcion, the first Christians started to list the books that they held sacred.
By the early 200's, Origen of Alexandria probably used the same 27 books we now regard as the New Testament editions. The Muratorian fragment indicates a New Testament with four gospels. The Muratorian fragment is perhaps the oldest known list of the books of the New Testament from perhaps 170 AD. It claims to be a list of all the works that were accepted by the churches. There was still debate about the New Testament canon, but the major writings were accepted by almost all Christians by 200-250 AD.
In his Easter letter of 367, Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, listed the same books that we regard as the New Testament canon, calling them “canonized" along with the Septuagint, though he rejected the book of Esther. The Synod of Hippo, in northern Africa, in 393, approved the New Testament, as it stands today, together with the Septuagint books, as did the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. St. Augustine regarded the scriptural canon as closed, as did Pope Damasus I and the Council of Rome in 382. Damasus' commissioning of the Latin Vulgate edition of the Bible, c. 383, was instrumental in the fixation of the canon in the Latin speaking world. 
There is however, a fly in the biblical ointment. Christians were not the only ones worrying about the nature of the biblical canon. As early as Rabbi Akiba who died in 135 AD, the Jews were worrying about the exact text of scripture. Rabbi Akiba also believed that Simon bar Kochba was the Messiah and seems to have encouraged his revolt against Rome in 132 AD. In the Bar Kochba revolt, all Jews who professed Jesus as Messiah were expelled from the territory controlled by the revolutionaries.
Thus began the split between Judaism and Christianity that endures to this day, though at the time a great percentage, possibly the majority of Christians were ethnically Jewish or Samaritan. The Jewish scriptures and the Christian scriptures also seem to begin their rift at this time. The Christians accepted the larger Septuagint canon, but the followers of Akiba and the rabbinic Judaism he helped to found, rejected any book for which the Hebrew original was no longer in existence. These are Tobit,  Judith,  Wisdom,  Sirach, (also called Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus) Baruch, 1 Maccabees,  2 Maccabees and sections of Daniel and Esther, 7 books plus the non Hebrew sections.
St Jerome did not think these books canonical, but he included them in the Vulgate, (Latin Bible) because the Church regarded them as canonical and had done so for three centuries. The current Jewish text called the Masorah, or Masoretic text (a Hebrew word meaning handed down), was finally completed and accepted predominantly  between the 7th and 11th centuries.
Martin Luther rejected the Catholic Canon of the Septuagint/Old Testament, in favor of the Masoretic text and attempted to remove the books of Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the New Testament  because they contradicted certain Protestant doctrines such as Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. His changes to the New Testament weren’t generally accepted among his fellow reformers. But, these books are still ordered last in the Luther Bible.
  There are more problems with the text of Scripture. Manuscripts have variant readings and there are disputes about translation and so on. What can one do to get the “true text” of the Bible? If you believe the reformation rule of Sola Scriptura, (Bible alone), you are up the proverbial creek without a text. But if you understand that these books are written by many human beings who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, you don’t really have a problem.
The question you asked at the beginning, “who wrote the Bible?” is really very easy to answer.  Around a hundred people wrote it. The more important question is "who chose these books as unique and sacred?" The Holy Spirit working through the ministry of the Church did that. She recognized these particular books as being uniquely “God-breathed” (which is what inspired means) and useful for learning the ways of God. The real author of the whole library is the Holy Spirit.
Remember what St. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 3:15 “The church is the pillar and foundation of truth,” not the Bible. When there is a variant text, or translation, we have the unbroken tradition of two thousand years to tell us the exact meaning of those things that are doubtful. We had already been saying Mass for almost fifty years when the last parts of the New Testament were set down on paper, and, in a certain sense, it was Mass that created the Bible. It was at Mass that these books were publicly read and found to be uniquely filled with the Holy Spirit.
When you think about it, for Catholics, the Church is the mother of the Bible. For Protestants, the Bible is the Mother of the Church.
I hope this helps,

 Rev. Know-it-all  

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Why do we worship on Sunday?

Dear Rev. Know it all,
A friend of mine told me that Sunday Mass proves that the Catholic Church is not the church that Jesus founded because Jesus was a practicing Jew and St. Paul and St. Peter were practicing Jews and all the first Christians were practicing Jews and they would certainly have worshiped on Saturday because Saturday, the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath, not Sunday which is the first day of the week. The very concept of the week and the imposition of Sunday worship were unknown in the ancient world until the emperor Constantine created the Catholic Church and imposed Sunday as a day of worship because he was really a sun worshiper. Is this true?
Yours,
Judy Eizer

Dear Ms. Eizer,
You friend is obviously watching too much of the History Channel. Aren’t I always telling you not get your religion, or your history for that matter, from the History Channel? These days, the History Channel is mostly about Nostradamus and UFOs. The fact that the church celebrates Mass, or more properly the Eucharist, on Sunday proves that it is the most Jewish, or more properly, Israelite, church there is.
The Jewish (originally Babylonian) 7-day week was well know in Rome and Alexandria in the first century. Both cities, especially Alexandria, the empire’s largest city, had very large Jewish communities. Perhaps as much as 10% of the empire was made up of Jews and Samaritans. The seven-day week was well known as early as the 1st century and had replaced the Roman (originally Etruscan) 9-day week by sometime in the third century. By the time Constantine made it official in 321AD, the 9-day week was a thing of the past. Constantine simply recognized a useful system already in place.
Now, on to the Eucharist! Mass is a fairly recent word, late Latin, or early middle ages, I suspect. It means “the Dismissal.” The proper name in Greek and Latin for the central act of worship in the Catholic Church is “Eucharist,” a Greek word that means “Thanksgiving.”
Your friend’s first error is to say that the Jews worshiped on Saturday. They worshiped every day, Saturday being a day of increased restrictions, not necessarily of assembly. Though Jews usually go to synagogue on Saturday, they are not required to do so. The synagogue is not mentioned in the torah. It is a late development in Judaism. That the Eucharist was celebrated on the first day of the week, and not on the Sabbath, is clear from the Biblical text. Read Acts 20:7; "On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” (the Breaking of the Bread” was an early name for the Eucharist) or 1Corinthians 16:2; On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Also, Apocalypse 1:10, On the Lord's Day I was in the Spirit. So, the first day of the week was the day of Christian Assembly.
The importance of Sunday becomes even clearer in the first non-Biblical Christian authors. In the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (also called the “Didache”, written somewhere in Syria between 80 and 110 AD) the injunction is given: "On the Lord's Day, come together and break bread. And give thanks (offer the Eucharist), after confessing your sins that your sacrifice may be pure". St. Ignatius (around 105 AD) speaks of Christians as "no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also Our Life rose again". In the Epistle of Barnabas (around 100AD) we read: "Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day (i.e. the first of the week) with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead".
Finally, St. C├Žsarius of Arles in the sixth century taught that the holy Doctors of the Church had decreed that the whole glory of the Jewish Sabbath had been transferred to Sunday, and that Christians must keep Sunday holy in the same way as the Jews had been commanded to keep holy the Sabbath Day. The observation of Sunday as a kind of Sabbath of rest was introduced gradually, but from the very beginning, the Christian community assembled and celebrated the Eucharist on Sunday, the first day of the week.
The question is not when or if this happened. It was clearly the practice of the first Christians from at least 50AD. The question is, “Why did this happen?” The answer is really very simple. The first Christians observed the Jewish synagogue and temple liturgy when they were able. They observed Sabbath. For instance, we read in Acts 16:13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. Daily morning and evening prayer in the synagogues mirrored the daily morning and evening (late afternoon) sacrifices in the temple. Christians continued these observances and we still do. They are the origin of morning and evening prayer from which the Liturgy of the Hours developed. (also called the breviary or the divine office) The Jews had a very structured liturgy and here lies the problem. The first Catholics, being observant Jews, just couldn’t do some things on the Sabbath. There are 39 melakhot (forbidden things) that surround Sabbath observance, things such as lighting fires, or bearing burdens, among which was counted the carrying of money. We have already seen that the Christians collected charitable funds at their meetings. Jews are forbidden to carry money on the Sabbath. They even try not to talk about it. There is something else forbidden on the Sabbath that is even more to the point.
The regular Jewish liturgy has certain restrictions on Sabbath. Personal petitions may not be made in the synagogue liturgy and Psalm 100 (Mizmor LeTodah, the psalm for the Thanksgiving offering), is omitted from the liturgy on Sabbath even to this day by certain Jewish communities because the todah or Thanksgiving offering could not be offered on Sabbath when the temple still functioned in Jerusalem. The Thanksgiving sacrifice was forbidden because all personal petitions and prayers were forbidden in Sabbath liturgy.
There it is. The Thanksgiving Sacrifice could not be offered on Sabbath and the Eucharist is the Thanksgiving Sacrifice par excellence. The very word means Thanksgiving and, as I’ve said above, the Didache insists that the Eucharist was a true sacrifice because it must be made pure by the confession of sins. “And give thanks (offer the Eucharist), after confessing your sins that your sacrifice may be pure". The Rabbis say in the Talmud that when the Messiah comes all the sacrifices of the temple will cease except the Thanksgiving Sacrifice.
The first Christians held that Jesus was the Messiah and that he had delivered them from death. When a person was in mortal danger and was healed or rescued from danger, he needed to bring a "Thanksgiving-offering" to the temple. Were the first Christians not rescued form death by the resurrection? Would it not be reasonable to offer the Eucharist, the finest Thanksgiving Sacrifice they knew? They couldn’t offer it on Sabbath. It is notable that the Thanksgiving Sacrifice could be eaten anywhere in the city (The met in their homes for the breaking of the Bread Acts 2:46). Their assembly would have to wait for the first day of the week which was associated in their minds with Jesus’ Resurrection anyway. It was not offered in Herod’s temple, but in the temple not made by hands, the temple of living stones, the Church Assembled! In one fell swoop we see that the first Jewish Catholics were simply practicing Jewish custom by offering Mass on Sunday. It also shows that they regarded the Eucharist as a true sacrifice.
The Eucharist belonged to the temple, not to the synagogue, because it was the Sacrifice of Calvary renewed, not just a word service. Had it been simply a word service or fellowship meal, they could have and would have done it on Saturday. Those who claim that Mass is not a sacrifice, but simply a commemorative meal, and those who maintain that Saturday is the day Christians should gather are far removed from the practice of the first Christians they claim to emulate. It is the Catholic Church that preserves the unbroken chain of worship that the Lord promises in the Law of Moses. “You shall offer bread and wine and a Lamb forever”, bread and wine, become the Lamb which is Christ.
Rev. Know-it-all