I had been looking forward to reading the 2nd edition of Mike Aquilina’s The Mass of the Early Christians and I certainly was not disappointed. This is absolutely a great book and I believe required reading for anybody who wants to read on the early form and development of the Mass.
Mike Aquilina takes us sequentially through history using documented sources to give us a good idea of how the Mass was originally celebrated. We of course have some idea of this from the New Testament and the book goes thoroughly through both Old and New Testament sources in reference to the Mass and we see over and over again how the Church Fathers did the same. Part of the development of the Mass is shrouded in history, especially concerning the Eucharistic celebration. Early Christians kept the Eucharistic celebration secret and seekers and catechumen were required to leave prior to the Eucharistic celebration. Early writers pretty much kept to this tradition and so often we only have oblique references to this and it only becomes more explicit after the Edict of Milan. I think this practice is a good thing to meditate on in how sacred the early Christians viewed this celebration and how cavalier we can think of it.
Despite this lack of openness regarding the liturgy there are still a lot of good clues to give us an insight into these early celebrations and we of course find that they are not much different in structured compared to our current celebrations. Part II – The Testimony of Witnesses is the largest part of the book and starts with the New Testament, the Didache and then then chapters focusing on individuals such as Church Fathers and other historical sources including some Pagan and Gnostic ones. I really like how he laid out the book because instead of getting brief texts from multiple sources we get much fuller texts from these authors when they reference the liturgy. This book is not a listing of all the texts available on the early church, but does contain a prominent sampling of them. As Mike Aquilina mentions including all of them would have made the book twice as large and I think he came up with a great compromise. I much prefer the fuller texts along with full scriptural texts.
I found some of the Pagan sources quite fascinating along with some of the early accusations made against the Christians. I had of course heard of the cannibalism charges, but some of the other charges made makes Church reporting by the modern media quite tame in contrast. The best part those are of the Church’s witnesses and the insights they had towards the Mass and the view they give us of the early liturgies. This book can be used both for apologetics purposes and for spiritual reading. What I found most fascinating though was the texts from the Mass that still exist and the variety of them from the various geographical liturgies.
The last section of the book gives us a short and imaginative look at what it would have been like to go to a Mass in North Africa and a good idea of what it would have been like to go to one of these house Churches during the time the Church was being heavily persecuted.
Highly recommended for anybody.
Mike Aquilina also maintains an excellent blog called The Way of the Fathers which specializes in patristics.