Five Myths About Worship in the Early Church

As the forthcoming new translation of the Roman Missal debunks the myth that liturgical language must be so banal that even the muppets on Sesame Street can understand it, it’s a good time to examine five other untruths that have been wreaking havoc on the Church’s worship in recent decades.

 

1. Mass facing the people. After studying free-standing altars in early churches, liturgists in the 1930s concluded that priests once celebrated Mass “facing the people,” and that it was only under the influence of decadent medieval clericalism that they “turned their backs” to them. This myth was much in the drinking water at the time of Vatican II (1962-1965). Later, some scholars began to reexamine the evidence and found that it did not support their thesis at all, and that in fact there had been an unbroken tradition — both East and West — of priest and congregation celebrating the Eucharist in the same direction: eastward.

Pope Benedict XVI, who endorsed the most recent book refuting the versus populum error, has been trying to make the facts of the case better known. But in the past generation, millions of dollars have been spent destroying exquisite high altars and replacing them with altar-tables, all in conformity to “the practice of the early Church.” Would that this myth were busted earlier.

 

2. Communion in the hand and under both kinds. Myths about Holy Communion follow a similar pattern. Fifty years ago, the claim that “Communion in the hand” was the universal practice of the early Church was believed by everyone, even by those who didn’t wish to see the practice resuscitated. Now we’re not so sure. What we can say is that some early Christian communities practiced Communion in the hand, but Communion on the tongue may be just as ancient. And when Communion in the hand was practiced, the communicant received from a priest (and only a priest), most likely by putting It in his mouth without his other hand touching it. And in some places, a woman’s hand had to be covered with a white cloth!

We are more certain that the Roman Church once administered Holy Communion under both species (just as the Eastern churches have always done), but we don’t know exactly how. One interesting practice, which was in use by the seventh century, had the deacon distributing the Precious Blood with the use of a golden straw. Some think he dipped the straw in the chalice (which only he or a priest or bishop could touch), closed one end with his finger, put it over the communicant’s open mouth, and then lifted his finger to release the contents.

In other words, Holy Communion was probably not administered in the fast-food manner we have today, with a “grab-and-go” system of multiple efficient lines that move from one station to the other, and the communicant touching the Host or Precious Cup with his own hands. Our current arrangement may have more in common with the Protestant than the patristic. Significantly, Benedict XVI, a careful student of the Church Fathers, no longer administers Communion in the hand.

 

3. The vernacular. Another widespread myth is that the early Church had Mass “in the vernacular.” But when Jesus worshipped in the synagogue, the language used was Hebrew, which had already been dead for 300 years. And for the first three centuries in Rome, the Mass was mostly celebrated in Greek, not Latin, which was only understood by a minority of the congregation.

When the Mass was eventually translated into Latin, it retained foreign elements such as the Hebrew amen and alleluia, and even added some, such as the Greek Kyrie eleison. Moreover, the Latin used in translating was deliberately different from what was being spoken at the time: It had curious grammatical usages and was peppered with archaisms. In other words, even when the Mass was celebrated in a language people could understand, it was never celebrated in the “vernacular” — if by that term we mean the common street language of the day.

The reason for this is simple: Every apostolic Church — to say nothing of every major world religion — has always had a sacred or hieratic language, a linguistic toolbox different from daily speech specially designed to communicate the transcendence and distinctiveness of the gospel.

 

4. Lay ministry. Another perduring myth is the idea that the laity were “more involved” in the Mass than they were in later ages. In our own day, this has spawned a multiplication of liturgical ministries for lay folk, such as lector, etc. The reality is that in the early Church, all of these roles were administered by the clergy. In fact, the early Church had more ordained clerical offices (the former minor orders) than it does today. The Council of Nicea in 325, for instance, talked about fine-tuning the office of “subdeacon.” This tells us one thing: that subdeacons were already a fixture in the landscape before the council was convoked. Lay Eucharistic ministers were not.

 

5. The pre- vs. post-Constantinian Church. Lurking behind all of these myths is a powerful “meta-myth,” the claim that there was a rupture in the life of the Church after the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the fourth century. The Church before Constantine, the meta-myth goes, was simple and pristine, a Church “of the people.” After Constantine, however, the Church became clericalist, hierarchical, and corrupted by the desire for grand buildings and highfalutin’ ceremonies.

The truth is that although the Church did indeed change — in some ways for the better and some for the worse — there was far more continuity than rupture. The Church before Constantine already had firm distinctions between clergy and laity, and she already recognized the importance of beautiful art, architecture, symbolism, and solemnity. After all, the Last Supper took place during the Passover, which was itself highly ritualized, and every Mass is a consummation of the ornate liturgies of synagogue and Temple. Indeed, a Eucharistic liturgy in the second or third century was longer, more hierarchical, and more symbolically brocaded than a Sunday Mass today. And since pews are a Protestant invention to accommodate long sermons, you either stood or knelt on the floor the entire time.

Like a bad virus, the myth of a utopian, pre-Constantinian, kumbaya-singing Church continues to impair. A typical example is the 2001 video A History of the Mass, produced by Liturgy Training Publications, one of the more influential purveyors of information about Catholic worship in the United States. After describing an idyllic, egalitarian community in which bishops gave up their seats for poor widows at the Eucharistic table, the narration shifts with the ominous words: “But then… the Emperor Constantine became a Christian.” You can imagine what follows (see here and here).

Moreover, even if every one of these myths were shown to be true, it would still not justify returning to the patristic era. In 1947, Pope Pius XII prophetically warned against archeologism, an “exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism” which presumes that the older is better than that which has developed organically over time and with the approval of the Church (Mediator Dei 64). The pope was worried about liturgical innovators who would leapfrog over 1,900 years of sacred tradition and divine inspiration. He was right to worry, but not even he foresaw the extent to which that targeted Golden Past would be a reconstruction of dubious accuracy.

By

Michael P. Foley is an Associate Professor of Patristics in the Honors College at Baylor University. (Image courtesy of Diane Korzeniewski)

  • brian

    While older is not always better, there has been a long standing movement to return to the ways of old. In Protestant churches, this takes the form of rejecting church gathering and forming house churches, which to me vastly stretches Jesus’ lessons about the church, as well as Paul’s writings in Romans and Colossians. I was Catholic as a child; I do not think, whether in a Catholic or Protestant church, that I would accept communion from someone who was not at least licensed.

  • http://blogsofasoul.blogspot.com Nick

    What local Catholic churches need to return to is not traditional forms of Catholicism but obedience to the Church. Only love, and therefore obedience, can bring about spiritual fruits, because God is Love, because, Christ was obedient unto death, even death upon a cross, and because the Church is His Mystical Body.

    What these churches need is greater devotion, not greater nostalgia. They will not get it by changing the Mass, exaggerating the Rosary, demanding tiaras and veils, but only obedience to God, and so to Christ, and so to the Church: Whereby, as if paradoxically, they will see more holy Masses, devotion to the Rosary, and loving devotion to Christ and to His Vicar the Pope.

    • Catherine

      Yes we need to return to traditional forms of Catholicism which IS OBEDIENCE TO THE CHURCH. As St Paul teaches us. .2 Thessalonians 2:14 Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.

      Jesus said: If you love me keep My Commandments. Love is a much misunderstood and much misinterpreted word in the Catholic Church these days.

      Yes going back to greater reverence at Holy Mass with the faithful kneeling, women wearing the veil which has a meaning of modesty, proper liturgical music which is the traditional sacred chant of our Church, will produce greater reverence and worship.

      For almost 50 years we have had enough heretical and ambiguous teaching all in the name of “Love”
      It’s not changing the Mass it is going back to our roots as the writer of this article points out so clearly and correctly. Nick don’t be afraid of the traditional Mass.

  • sam

    Nice article! I enjoyed it.

    Looking back through the most ancient liturgical texts in the Eastern Semitic Church that go back to the Apostolic age, I have found that they would agree more with the liturgical practices of the pre-VII Council.

  • Janet

    I totally agree with Nick about greater devotion vs. greater nostalgia. But I do think about this a lot these days – when the Church demanded adherence to the traditional forms of Catholicism, you couldn’t find a seat in church if you arrived late and the schools were bursting at the seams.

    Did this kind of attendance mean people had greater devotion? I honestly don’t know . I have always wondered why there were more practicing Catholics when the rites and rituals that are considered archaic were being used.

  • Jacob

    The most effective forms for me are those that give due reverence to God. Traditional forms that have grown from authenticity to the Faith and recognition of my forebears makes me a better, more loving person. When I have my Latin and Greek and Hebrew the process of translation takes place as an intimate dialogue in my heart. When I am not afforded this privata with the Lord it is as though I have been stripped bare. Each and every vernacular celebration has become for me a scourging trial. Despite the vapid wasteland my being becomes during a rough-shot Mass, my consolation is that Christ is still truly there in the Eucharist.

  • Daniel Latinus

    And for the first three centuries in Rome, the Mass was mostly celebrated in Greek, not Latin, which was only understood by a minority of the congregation.

    Not so fast…

    During the first three centuries of the Christian era, there were old Greek communities scattered all over the Mediterranean. The Greeks were heavily involved in commerce and trade, and like their descendants, loved to travel. Hence anybody who was involved in commerce and trade picked up at least a smattering of Greek just to be able to do business.

    Among more affluent Romans, a study of Greek language and literature was part of their education. Roman youths of the highest ranks went to Greece to study.

    I am not against retaining and reviving the Latin Liturgy. I am only saying that in the early years of Roman Christianity, Greek was more commonly used and understood than the author of this article realizes.

    • David Philippart

      Daniel is correct. And when Greek stopped being a vernacular for the majority of Roman Christians, Pope Damasus had the canon of the Mass prayed in Latin–the vernacular, vulgate tongue. I also suggest that the author’s irreverent description of the communion procession misses the mark. Holy communion is received in a procession to the altar, one of several such processions in the early church.

  • Thomas Mallon

    The blame game is tiring. It is up to us to faithfully express the Church’s traditional devotion which is not confined to externals, otherwise the ancient church would have to be viewed as inferior to the Tridentine era.

    Yes, there are myths. But innovation (or variations on the themes of the ancient church) is not to be faulted per se. The medieval mendicant friars innovated in many areas compared to the older forms of monasticism and were suspected and even denounced by many on account of it. But freedom and grace and charisma are hallmarks of Catholic history too. It is up to us to be real, and also to quietly urge reforms of the reform without inciting people to discouragement. Our hearts can express a truly eucharistic faith in any way the Church sees fit. I expect we will continue to see more balance in the years ahead. But the Tridentine era is gone.

  • http://bovinabloviator.blogspot.com The Bovina Bloviator

    Interestingly, Anglicans (at least in the old days before they went soft) receive the host (while kneeling at the rail, not standing) on the right palm, raise the palm immediately to the mouth and ingest the host; no picking it up with the fingers. With the chalice, the priest brings it near the lips of the receiver who gently pushes the base of it with his right hand and brings it into contact with his lips; the chalice never leaves the priest’s hands (and in no Anglican church I ever attended were civilians ever permitted to administer the elements).

    The process is far more reverential (and much faster) than the clumsy, undignified manner in which communion is administered in Novus Ordo. I wish along with the the new translation there would be a revision of communion rites. Holy Church could do a lot worse than to adopt the practice of the Anglicans.

    • Jean

      BB–I’m thinking that I agree with you. As an old cradle Catholic, I grew up receiving Holy Communion at the Altar Rail. I agree it was a much more reverential way of receiving Holy Communion and certainly seemed to proceed in a more orderly fashion. I only remember receiving the Host–it was some time before the Chalice made it’s way down off the Altar!! And, one never touched the host–the priest placed on your tongue. And you never let the host touch your teeth either. My how times have changed. I watch people at Comunion time and I wonder whether or not they’ve received Communion or are chewing gum.
      Anyway, I was very moved by what you had to say.

  • http://blogsofasoul.blogspot.com Nick

    Janet,

    You inspired me to find this: http://www.mar-yousip.com/FatherKando/Kando03.htm

  • http://moderncomments.wordpress.com Dave Pawlak

    Those who cite Constantine as the change agent neglect the worship of the Armenians and Ethiopians (among others), who were not part of the Roman Empire

  • Bob G

    Maybe someone can answer this. In his book “What Jesus Said,” Garry Wills claims Jesus founded no church, and the early ecclesia had no priests. He believes what we translate as “presbyter” from the Greek did not mean ordained ministers, and the main presiders over the Eucharistic meal were women. What is the answer to the presbyter issue, if any? (Forget about whether Jesus intended to found a church.)

    Wills oddly claims to be a Catholic–a member of a church that never properly existed. How he squares this with reason I have no idea.

  • John

    A recent quote from Pope Benedict on Communion in the hand.

    “I am not opposed in principle to Communion in the hand; I have both administered and received Communion in this way myself.

    “The idea behind my current practice of having people kneel to receive Communion on the tongue was to send a signal and to underscore the Real Presence with an exclamation point. One important reason is that there is a great danger of superficiality precisely in the kinds of Mass events we hold at Saint Peter’s, both in the Basilica and in the Square. I have heard of people who, after receiving Communion, stick the Host in their wallet to take home as a kind of souvenir.

    “In this context, where people think that everyone is just automatically supposed to receive Communion — everyone else is going up, so I will, too–I wanted to send a clear signal. I wanted it to be clear: Something quite special is going on here! He is here, the One before whom we fall on our knees! Pay attention!

    As found in Peter Seewald’s: Light of the World.

  • kelso

    I do believe that the early Christian Jewish community in Rome did speak Greek as their common tongue. In the catacombs, on the tombs that are closest to Saint Peter’s, the words are etched Petros prosuke hemon, Greek for “Peter pray for us.”

  • Bender

    **debunks the myth that liturgical language must be so banal that even the muppets on Sesame Street can understand it**
    _____________

    The only ones who believe in that myth are the rad trads and apparently you because that does not describe the current language used in the Mass.

    Why do people believe that it is ever acceptable or even witty to yet again whine about how crappy they think the Mass or the Church is?

  • Bender

    Yeah, about that myth of “facing the people” —

    In fact, when the priest is on the other side of the altar, he is not facing “the people.” Rather, both he and the people face in the same direction — toward the altar.

    And Pope Benedict advocates just that.

  • Bill Russell

    Greek would have been understood by far more than a “minority” of the early Christians in Rome. Anyone with some claim to basic education or engagement in commerce could manage at least some of it, and possibly more who spoke Vulgar Latin had more Koine Greek than Classical Latin. Greek was not unlike Spanish in most of our cities, though it was not really considered “foreign.” Then there was a distinction between classical and vulgar Latin. Seutonius and Plutarch claim that Julius Caesar had no dying words, but if he did say something it was almost certainly not “Et tu Brute” and quite possibly, as some attested, “καὶ σὺ τέκνον.”

  • richard

    An interesting take on the fifth myth.

  • Howard

    When the Pope celebrates Holy Mass he does so at the High Altar facing the people! The important part of coming to the Lords’s Table is to have a right heart and to be union with Chirst and His Church and to be living a good holy life.

    Pax!

  • John Michael Akers

    John XXIII and Paul VI were two of the most insightful and visionary (not to mention holy) leaders the church has ever had. Vatican II and it’s teachings far supersede any other council. I feel it behooves all of us to be properly informed of it’s teachings.

  • John Michael Akers

    As an interesting PS: I find the majority of comments on here meaningless dribble, but historically interesting.

  • Tapestry6

    Well Alleluia just what I have been saying since the ‘changes’ began in the late 60s and early 70s.
    We also had nuns dancing down the aisle at Offertory time;thank God that didn’t catch on either.
    We were required to read all the Vatican II letters when we were in Catholic High School, and none mentioned turning around the altar, Holy Communion in the hand, devotions to our lady played down, statues removed and the tabernacle hidden in a separate room…
    all the crazy stuff that happened made me wonder who was making this all up!

  • Deacon Jim Stagg

    Oh, maybe a C+ article. No references to the Didache, the Early Fathers, to Justin Martyr.

    All this turns out to be is more myth, on your part…..your opinion, no less.

    Many wish to forget The Pope and Councils are guided by the Holy Spirit……when the results don’t match their personal preferences. Is that a denial of the Spirit? Is that a sin?

    • Sam Schmitt

      Where does Vatican II contradict any of what the article says?

  • Sue

    I am a convert, and converted while living in Japan (where I still live). I didn’t live through whatever changes happened in the Church in my youth, other than going to Mass at my brother-in-law’s church in the late 70s and being shocked that I was the only girl in a dress. All of the other kids had on cuts offs and flip-flops!

    A Japanese priest told me that the reason the Church started allowing receiving of the Host in the hand was because Japanese bishops petitioned Rome for permission to do it that way. It was, and is, very distasteful for a Japanese to stick his tongue out in the direction of one he is supposed to respect (the priest) and/or adore (Our Lord). That is why, my priest informed me, it was allowed in Japan, and then universally. I have never heard or seen anything about that on any American sites, so I thought I’d throw it out there.

  • Beth

    Our pastor says the Real Presence is an idea the later church developed and was not part to the early church. Since the gospels state it I know this isn’t true but which theologians are promoting this heresy? And is this something widespread in the liberal church?

  • http://moderncomments.wordpress.com Dave Pawlak

    When the Pope celebrates Holy Mass he does so at the High Altar facing the people!

    That’s because the altar is facing eastward.

    Vatican II and it’s (sic) teachings far supersede any other council. I feel it behooves all of us to be properly informed of it’s teachings.

    Then you should take to heart what the Council documents say about the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant. You should also note that Bl. John XXIII was himself liturgically conservative. As it is, V2 does not alter any doctrine or dogma, despite the contentions of both radical extremes.

  • Michael PS

    “But in the past generation, millions of dollars have been spent destroying exquisite high altars and replacing them with altar-tables, all in conformity to “the practice of the early Church.”

    Fortunately, not in France, where all pre-1905 churches are state property, the congregation being allowed the use of it rent-free. A table is often placed at the foot of the alter steps, but, at least, the beautiful Gothic and Baroque reredoses, often masterpieces of sculpture, have not been destroyed.

  • Jay Everett

    Myths are a part of the human story in that we are subject to what people tell us and too lazy to discover the truth. We must remember that “to error is human but to blame it on someone else is AMERICAN”. The USCCB is a collection of WHIMPS who are more concerned with being popular (another American trait) than being an authority on the truth. Politics my friend (celebrity status) is the number one goal of most of them. They ignore and do not follow the leadership of the POPE. Looks a great deal like American politics doesn’t it?

  • http://www.dominusest.us David Homoney

    This is spot on analysis. These, amongst other reasons, is why I have started going to the Mass of the Saints, the Extraordinary Form, where this stuff doesn’t happen. Hoc Est Enim Corpus Meam

  • Charlie

    It doesn’t matter if some early communities had communion by the tongue-Jesus said, “Take and eat,” not “stick out your tongue.” That doesn’t mean communion by the tongue should be banned, but it is a strong argument that communion by the hand should be the norm. And at the last supper, do you think Jesus, with St. John resting his head on Jesus’s chest, was facing away from the apostles? Of course not. (If he did, St. John would also be facing away from the other apostles). Again, that doesn’t mean that mass with the priest facing away should be banned, but since the priest is in personam Christi, I think that the norm should be the priest facing the people, as Jesus faced the apostles. And even if synagogue services were in Hebrew, that doesn’t mean that our masses should be in Latin. Except for some prayers that had always been in Hebrew in seders, the conversations they had during the Last Supper, and the prayers that Jesus introduced were probably in Aramaic. Certainly Greek was adopted in the Eastern Church because it was the language of the people. And synagogue services being in Hebrew doesn’t mean that the last supper was in Hebrew. Latin was adopted in the Western Church because most people spoke it. It was kept through Vatican II because up til the 19th century, most educated Westerners, even in Protestant countries, learned Latin. But it’s completely legitimate to use the Vernacular, especially now that so few people learn Latin. But much, much more importantly, these arguments condemning someone else’s liturgical practices are 100% against the spirit of unity in the church that St. Paul wrote to the Romans (Chapter 14). He said that you shouldn’t even condemn someone else for not observing Sundays, because they are the Lord’s servant, not yours. If Saint Paul could tolerate as wide a range of customs as described in Romans 14, who are we to demand Latin or English, communion by the hand or the tongue?

    • Catherine

      Charlie,

      At the Last supper, Jesus was surrounded by His Apostles who He had just conferred the Sacrament of Ordination on, giving them the command to offer up to God the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They were His priests as He is their and our High Priest.

      The Anointing of Hands of the priest
      After the first verse of the hymn the bishop rises and sits on the faldstool (wearing the mitre). He removes his gloves but puts the episcopal ring back on his finger. The gremiale is placed over his knees.

      The ordained come forward and one by one kneel before the bishop. He then takes the oil of catechumens and anoints both of their hands which they hold together palms upward. First he anoints the inside of the hands, tracing a cross from the thumb of the right hand to the index finger of the left, and from the thumb of the left hand to the index finger of the right. Next he anoints the entire palms. He says as he performs the anointings:
      May it please you, O Lord, to consecrate and sanctify these hands by this anointing and our blessing.

      All: Amen.

      And having made the sign of the cross over the hands of the ordained he continues:

      That whatever they bless may be blessed, and whatever they consecrate may be consecrated in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
      To the above form each of the ordained adds:
      Amen.

      Then the bishop closes or joins together the hands of the ordained. The latter, keeping his hands joined, goes to the side of the altar where one of the assistants of the bishop binds the consecrated hands together with a white cloth, leaving the fingers free. Each of the ordained goes back to his place. The bishop cleanses his fingers with a piece of bread.

      Presentation of the Host and Chalice
      The bishop now presents each of the ordained with a chalice containing wine and water and a paten upon it with a host. The ordained touches with the fore and middle fingers both the paten and the cur of the chalice. During this ceremony the bishop says:

      Receive the power to offer sacrifice to God, and to celebrate Masses for the living and the dead, in the name of the Lord.
      All: Amen.

      We the laity are not sacramental priests. Just as the ordained priest is to offer the Sacrifice of Holy Mass, the priesthood of the laity is to offer to God our daily sacrifices, joys and sorrows united to Christ’s within the state of our vocation we are called to.

      The laity should receive Holy Communion on the tongue. Less occasions for desecration. A year ago a person was selling the sacred host for $25.00 soon after Mass outside the church I go to. A friend of mine paid the guy $25.00 and bought the consecrated host from him.

      What do you think of that?

    • Catherine

      Charlie,
      St Paul also teaches us. .2 Thessalonians 2:14

      [11] That all may be judged who have not believed the truth, but have consented to iniquity.
      [12] But we ought to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, beloved of God, for that God hath chosen you firstfruits unto salvation, in sanctification of the spirit, and faith of the truth:
      [13] Whereunto also he hath called you by our gospel, unto the purchasing of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.

      • Charlie

        Catherine: As to the Thessalonian quote, St. Paul is talking about Tradition, not liturgical practices. What I never understand about people who want to return to the Tridentine Mass for everyone is why the gradual changes in liturgy up to 1962 should all be accepted, but then all the changes since then are irreverent or bad or something.
        As to receiving communion on the tongue, if you feel that’s more reverent you should, and I, in accordance with church teaching would do it for you so as not to scandalize you. But in general, there is lots of room for diversity of practice within the one true faith. The fact that the Gospels and the Epistles give differing accounts of the Institution indicates that there was a diversity of liturgy even in the time of the Evangelists. Certainly, Paul describes that in Corinth. We accommodate the Eastern Rite, the Ambrosian Rite, now Anglican use, the Tridentine Mass, and the Mass of Paul VI. We also have room for the various forms of prayer developed by saints over the centuries, and the various orders, who have different callings, different traditions, and different ways of praying. Different gifts but the same spirit and all. This is one of the great strengths of our true church. It’s what separates us from the Protestants, where every change in liturgy means schism.
        Now, personally, I don’t think receiving by the tongue should be the norm. It wasn’t used by the Lord at the Last Supper or the road to Emmaus (where the two disciples were NOT ordained, because by all indications the Last Supper had been only the 12, and obviously the Apostles weren’t ordaining people during their doubts in the triduum. It’s debatable whether that “breaking of the bread” was a Mass or just breaking bread, but many saints have interpreted it as a Mass). It wasn’t the norm in the early church. It only gradually became the norm starting with the few churches cited by the article. But just as liturgical practice evolved for that to become the norm, it can continue evolving so that it no longer is the norm. As far as I can tell, the argument for it is that it expresses our humility in the Real Presence. But by that logic, why don’t we walk up to communion on our hands and knees? Why not receive communion prostrate, just lifting up our head enough to receive? To me, it goes against what JPII described in Crossing the Threshold of Hope as the heart of Christianity that distinguishes us from Islam-we believe in Emmanuel, that the Word became flesh and came among us. He gives himself to us. So as much as we might think it is holier to say, “No, Lord, I am not worthy to touch you,” that’s not what Jesus wants. He comes among us and gives himself to us. If he didn’t want you to touch him, he certainly wouldn’t have chosen the accident of appearance and allowed us to consume him. In the Gospels, Jesus praises those who touch him, whether it is the woman with the hemorrhage (Luke 8:48) or the sinful woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36 ff). In both cases, touching him is a sign of their faith.
        As to the Host Desecration, obviously that’s horrible, but that’s on their conscience. There were plenty of accusations of host desecration in the Middle Ages, when obviously no laity were receiving by the hand, so I don’t think that’s a good way to stop it. Anyway, if we’re going to be paranoid about people desecrating the Host, we’re going to have to stop a lot of practices. We shouldn’t have tabernacles because someone might break in and desecrate a Host. We open the doors of the church because some bad person might spit out the Host after receiving it. Also, an evil priest who wants to sell hosts can do so just as easily as an evil layman. If people want to be evil, that’s on them.

        • Charlie

          By Tradition, in the first sentence,
          I mean the unwritten word of God

          • Charlie

            More corrections: I meant to say, “the appearance of bread” or “the accidents of bread,” but I couldn’t decide which and accidentally wrote “the appearance of accidents.”
            And I meant to say that if you think receiving on the tongue is more reverent, you should continue to do so, and if you asked me to, I would so as not to scandalize you, just as if someone asked you to abstain from meat on Tuesdays, you should, even though it’s not irreverent to eat meat on Tuesdays (also Romans 14). Certainly, I would do so at a Tridentine Mass

        • Ben Dunlap

          “What I never understand about people who want to return to the Tridentine Mass for everyone is why the gradual changes in liturgy up to 1962 should all be accepted, but then all the changes since then are irreverent or bad or something.”

          Because the changes in 1970 were not gradual. Read Benedict/Ratzinger on this — it’s easy to find, almost any book published under his name includes at least a brief discussion of the unprecedented nature of the changes to the missal in 1970.

          This is coming from someone who doesn’t want to return to the Tridentine Mass for everyone — but the more I learn about this issue, the more painfully clear it is to me how much superior the usus antiquior is to the ordinary form. Read Aidan Nichols’s “Looking at the Liturgy” if you dare — not a hint of polemic in it but it may change the way you think about these things.

  • http://www.azoic.com/ Irenaeus of New York

    I dont think the goal is to mimic in dress and action every historical detail of the last supper that can be extrapolated post mortem. We should trust the Sacred Tradition as passed down, to guide us in our practice. That is why 2000 years of organic growth in the liturgy produced the Mass. It is more than just prayer and sacrament. It is also the greatest evanglizing tool the world has ever known. It certainly did not start out as such. Each accretion to the liturgy was an instrument of thought and prayer by which people could learn something about our Lord. The latin/greek or other sacred languages were in themselves “veils” that demonstrated the profound mystery of our encounter with the Eucharist.

  • Matthew

    It is interesting that these five myths never affected the Eastern Churches. Raised Eastern Orthodox myself I was smitten by the difference between the strong dogma and devotion of the Roman Church on paper and the actual liturgical practice spread abroad by Vatican 2. And of course there is no need “to justify returning to the patristic era” if a right practising ekklesia has never left it. I hope that Papa Ben helps your Roman Catholic Church, the Latin mass is beautiful and reverent.

  • http://kiwicute.com ger

    bring back the latin mass!

  • http://theworldandtheword.wordpress.com John R.

    With regards to number 2 above: I was recently at the Cloisters Museum in New York and ran across several displays with “liturgical straws” exhibited. I had never seen such a contraption before and just ran across this article. Serendipity! It seems like a reasonable alternative to something like intinction – perhaps a little less of a chance of profanation this way. It would be interesting to see this still in use in some forgotten monastery tucked away in the mountains of northern Africa…

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