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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 22 Jun 2001

Liturgy QUESTION from David Khan November 6, 2000 1.What are the historical stages of the liturgy with particular reference to the eucharist.
2. What if any practices from the different period should inform present day worship.
ANSWER by Mr. John Miskell on November 9, 2000 Dear David,
Thank you for your questions. Almost every action in the liturgy has some theological and or historical significance. There is so much that we could discuss but I'll limit my comments to those involving the Liturgy of the Eucharist beginning with the Offertory.
For the first 900 or so years it was the practice of the Church for people to bring bread and wine from home to be consecrated. Whatever was not consecrated was distributed to the poor. By the 5th century this took on the form of a solemn procession. Sometime in the 10th century the Offertory Procession was discontinued and the bread and wine for consecration were put in the sanctuary before the Mass began. The changes adopted by the Second Vatican Council restored the practice.
The practice of the priest washing his hands, the Lavabo, has been the practice since the very beginning.
Next comes what's known as the secret or the secret prayers over the gifts. Since the beginning this prayer is said by the priest silently. Since Vatican II, whenever there is no music the priest says these prayers audibly.
The earliest reference to the Sanctus (Holy, holy, holy…) dates to Pope St. Sixtus I (117 AD – 126 AD)
The canon has been with us since the beginning with several re-arrangements over the centuries. New Eucharistic Prayers were added since Vatican II which are all very historical and faithful to the ancient rites. In spite of the claims made by some of the so-called Traditionalist groups the words of consecration have not changed since 33 AD.
The Our Father and sign of peace has been part of every liturgy since the beginning although they may have been set at different times during the Mass.
The Fraction Rite has evolved from a more complicated rite to it's current form over the centuries. This is a very meaningful part of the Mass for me. The priest breaks the Host while the people pray, Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world… At the same time that Jesus was hanging on the Cross the Jews were sacrificing the lambs in the Temple. I find this to be very significant and moving.
Then comes Communion. The practice of the priest receiving before the congregation has been left unchanged since 33 AD. The first practice of the Church was for the people to receive Communion in the hand but women covered their hand with a cloth. The practice of receiving on the tongue didn't appear until sometime in the early 6th century and by the 10th and 11th centuries receiving on the tongue was the universal practice. Kneeling to receive became the norm in the Latin Rite. For a number of reasons Communion under one species became the universal law in the early 15th century and remained so until Vatican II. V2 also restored the option of receiving in the hand and while standing.
I'm not sure if all of this answers your questions. A great on-line liturgical history resource that I use is found at the Catholic Liturgical Library.
Yours in Christ,
John Miskell
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