Friday, May 29, 2009

We Lift Our Hearts up to the Lord

Consider with me the following paragraphs from Saint Justin Martyr's (100-165) First Apology:

Chapter 65. Administration of the sacraments

But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized [illuminated] person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

Chapter 66. Of the Eucharist

And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

Chapter 67. Weekly worship of the Christians

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. 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 succours 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. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.


Any one who has been to a symphony concert knows the impulse that occurs when the entire audience stands for the applause. If you are in the audience, you want to stand with them. The urge is almost irresistible, because we sense that in some way, we are part of a single social unit at that moment--a social community that is expressing through posture its pleasure at the performance.

Along these lines, I have been thinking about an account of the Mass offered by Justin Martyr, which describes how after the readings and homily, the congregation stood to offer the prayers of their eucharistic sacrifice. It occurs to me that, today, almost two thousand years later, we as a Church still stand as we "lift our hearts to the Lord" at the beginning of the liturgy of the Eucharist. Our worship is, in fact, just as Catholic as our beliefs.

If we took a bird's-eye view of history, looking along the line of history synchronistically as if all times were present in a single moment, then we can imagine millions and millions of Christians, of all different times, languages, and cultures, standing at the exact same point in the Mass, as if they are celebrating one great, universal, Catholic liturgy--one miraculous "making present" of Jesus's once-for-all sacrificial offering that is constantly being presented before the father on the alter before the throne in heaven (see Rev. 5:6 and 8:3). The urge to stand with such a large community of believers and faithful witness is--one would think--quite strong indeed.

Yet, if we take a closer synchronisitic look at the worship of all Christians, we might notice a strange thing: as of late, there seem to be pockets of Christians that do not stand when the rest of us do. Yes, they are a minority, but they seem strangely resistant to joining in the common gesture associated with the beginning of the Eucharistic liturgy. (Some of them do not even have a Eucharistic liturgy.)

Why is this?

Who are these Christians that seem so disconnected in their worship from all the rest?

Entering back into the flow of time, we realize that the Protestant reformers started a revolution that not only did away with many truths that had been passed down from the apostles, but with the structure of Catholic worship that was passed down through the generations as well.

But isn't the Bible clear?

Did not the first Christians meet every Lord's Day (Sunday) for the readings (the apostle's teachings that were transmitted by word of mouth and by letter as in 2 Thess. 2:15), prayers, and the breaking of the bread? Did not they celebrate the Lord's Supper every time they met? Weren't these first Christians truly "Bible-Christians," since they lived while the Bible was being written and learned their faith and worship from the apostles themselves? Does Justin's description of the worship of the first Christians give us a better idea of what Luke is describing in Acts 2:42-45? Is Acts 2:42-45 somehow no longer a relevant model for Christian worship?

So, we ask, why do these small pockets of later Christians so rarely celebrate the Lord's Supper? Why do they not join and stand together with Christians throughout history in the great liturgy of God's people, the Mass?

And, what will it take for Christians today to "lift our hearts up to the lord" in one common act of worship and belief? May the Lord grant that this day come quickly!

We as Catholics invite our separated brothers and sisters in the Lord to accept all the gifts he left with his church, and then to join us at the banquet of the Lamb. Let us together lift our hearts to the Lord!

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