Pat and I went to the 8 am service this morning. It was Holy Communion BCP. We both enjoyed the service. It gives one a real sense of belonging to “the body of Christ” when you participate in a service that is as old as the church itself.
Scholars have determined that there was considerable liturgical uniformity in the first two centuries of Christianity. Early Christians took very seriously Christ’s holy instructions at the last Supper. Christ, “in the same night that he was betrayed took bread; and, when he had given thanks, he brake it; and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat; this is my Body which is given for you; Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper he took the cup; and, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all, of this; for this is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins; Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Scholars tell us that the order and the general outline of this service, took on a form similar to the modern form, in those two centuries. Early Christian would have become used to doing the same thing continually and in much the same way. This is especially true as they were Jews and these were the formulas that occur in the Old Testament, and were well known in Jewish services. Examples of such forms are: "Amen," "Alleluia", "Lord have mercy", "Thanks be to God ", "For ever and ever", "Blessed are Thou O Lord our God." There was no reason for changing; to reverse the order suddenly would disturb and annoy people. The early Christians knew for instance at which moment to expect the lessons, when to receive Communion, when to stand for prayer.
Admittedly these “services” took the form of full meals in private households under the guidance of the woman of the house. Paul refers to these as “your love-feasts” in his letter to Jude. They were held on Sundays which became known as the Day of the Lord, to recall the resurrection, the appearance of Christ to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the appearance to Thomas and the Pentecost which all took place on Sundays after the Passion. These meals evolved into more formal worship services and became codified as the Mass in Catholic Church, and as the Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Churches. At these liturgies, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The name Eucharist is from the Greek word ‘eucharistos’ which means thanksgiving.
From the fourth century onwards we have very detailed information about liturgical matters. The Fathers such as St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), St. Athanasius (d. 373), St Basil (d. 379), St. John Chrysostom (d. 407) give us elaborate descriptions of the rites they celebrated. Justin Martyr described second century Christian liturgy in his First Apology (c. 150) to Emperor Antoninus Pius, and his description remains relevant to the basic structure of Christian liturgical worship:
"And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succors the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need."
Pat and I like this sense of belonging that participating in a service that is two centuries old gives and that is done under Christ’s holy instruction to “Do this, as oft as ye shall drink it, in remembrance of me". It is important to practice a ritual that developed directly from the Last Supper. I can’t understand any church that ignores Christ’s Holy instruction and does not have the Eucharist on a regular basis; they are somehow not Christian. Just as any Church that does not receive and believe the Three Creeds – Nicene Creed, Athanasius’ Creed, and the Apostles Creed – is somehow not Christian. The Creeds also come from the era of the undivided Church.