« السابقةمتابعة »
These words contained, in principle, the discipline of secrecy, which was observed in the Church till the conversion of the Western world was completed. The holiness of the Sacraments, the sublimity of the Christian doctrines, necessitated an extreme reserve on the part of the Faithful, living, as they had to do, amidst people, whose moral degradation and brutal corruption rendered them what our Saviour had told us men would sometimes make themselves. But there was nothing, which it was so imperative to hide from the stare and sacrilege of pagans, as the most holy Eucharist,—that "great pearl of the sacred "Body of the Lamb," as Venantius Fortunatus calls it.1 It was this that gave rise to the essential distinction, into two classes, of a Christian assembly when met for divine worship; there were the initiated, and the uninitiated, the Faithful and the Catechumens. The distinction began with the apostolic age, and was kept up till the 8th Century. A few weeks before the solemn administration of Baptism, there took place, as we have elsewhere explained,2 the giving, or, as it was termed, the Tradition of the Symbol, to the future members of the Church; but the eucharistic mystery, the arcanum by excellence, was, even then, kept back from the fortunate candidates for holy Baptism. This explains the varied precautional expressions, the reticence, the studied obscurity of phraseology, used by the Fathers in their discourses to their flock, and this for years after the times of Constantine and Theodosius. The Catechumens were admitted whilst the holy Scriptures were being read, or whilst the Psalms were being chanted; but, as soon as the Bishop had given his discourse on the portion which had been read, either of the Gospel or other passages of the sacred Volume, these Catechumens were dismissed by the Deacon; and this misaa, or missio, gave its name to that first portion of the Liturgy; it was called "Mass of the Catechumens;" just as the second part, which was from the oblation to the final dismissal, was called the "Mass of the Faithful."
1 Venant. Fortun, lib. ii. carm. 25.
2 Volume for " Lent;" Wednesday of ths 4th Week, p. 356.
And yet, this same holy Mother Church, which kept so jealous an eye to her treasure, as not to let it be fully known, except to her true children, made such by Baptism,—with what delight did she not, at the feasts of Easter and Pentecost, reveal to her newborn children, as soon as they came from the font, the ineffable secret hitherto kept in her heart as Bride, the full mystery of the Icthus! Incorporated to Christ by the saving waters, enrolled in his army, and marked with the sign of his soldiers by the anointing received from the Bishop,—with what maternal fondness did she not lead them, from the Baptistery first, and then from the Chrismarium to the hallowed precinct of the Mysteries instituted by the Word Incarnate! Yes, it was there that Jesus, their Head, was awaiting his new members, that he might draw all the more closely the bonds which already knit them to his mystic Body, and unite them to himself in the infinite homage of that one great Sacrifice, which himself was offering to the Eternal Father.
This wondrous unity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which, in its ever the same one oblation, included both Head and Members; this unity of Sacrifice which kept alive and strengthened the union of each Christian community and of the whole Church, was admirably expressed by the magnificent forms of the primitive Liturgy. After the Catechumens had been dismissed, and the unworthy expelled, all the Faithful, without exception, from the Emperor and his Court, down to the poorest cottager, whether man or woman, advanced towards the Altar, each one offering their share of bread and wine for the sacred Mysteries. Themselves a kingly priesthood, as St. Peter calls them,1 a living victim figured by the gifts they brought, they assisted, standing, at the immolation of the divine Victim, whose members they truly were; then, united in the kiss of peace, the external sign of their union of heart, they received in their hands, and still standing, the sacred Body, their spiritual nourishment; the Deacons offered them the Chalice, and they drank of the precious Blood. Even babes, in their mothers' arms, were eager for the divine drink, and received some drops, at least, into their innocent mouths. The sick who could not leave their rooms, and prisoners, were not deprived of being united, with their brethren, in the sacred banquet; they received the precious Gifts at the hands of ministers, who were sent to them, for the purpose, by the Bishop. The Anchorets in their deserts, Christians living in the country, and all such as could not be present at the next assembly, took the Body of our Lord with them, that thus they might not, because of distance, be deprived of uniting at the coming celebration of the Mysteries of salvation. Those were ages when Christian unity was continually being attacked by persecution, schism, and heresy, all three at once; and the Church, to counteract the danger, had no hesitation in facilitating, by every lawful means, the use and application of the venerable Sacrament, which.is the sign of unity, and the innermost centre, and the strongest tie, of the Christian community.
vOL. x. N
It was from the same principle of unity, that, although, in each city, there were generally several churches, or centres, for the assemblies of the Faithful, and a greater or less number of Clergy yet all the Faithful and Clergy came together, for the collect, or synaxis, into some one place, fixed upon by the Bishop. "Where the Bishop shall show himself," says St. Ignatius of Antioch, "there let the multi"tude be; just as, where Christ Jesus is, there is "the catholic Church. It is not lawful, either to "baptise, or to celebrate the agape" (the Eucharist) "without the Bishop.1 Do all of you assemble, for "prayer, in the one same place; let there be unity "of common prayer, unity of mind, unity of hope. . . "Do all of you come together, as though you were one "man, into the temple of God, as to one altar, as to "one Christ Jesus, the great high-priest of the "unborn God.2 Let us enjoy the one Eucharist; "for one is the Flesh of our Lord Jesus, and one "his Blood which was shed for us; one also is the "Bread which was broken to us all, and one the Cup "which was distributed to all; one altar to the "whole Church, and one Bishop, surrounded by the "Presbyterium and the Deacons."3
1 1 St. Pet. ii. 9.
The Presbyterium was the college of Priests of each city; they kept near the Bishop, were his council, and celebrated the sacred functions together with him. It would seem, that, at the beginning, they were twelve in number, the closer to represent the Apostles; but, in the great cities, that number was soon doubled. "We find that, towards the close of the first century, there were, in Rome, five and twenty Priests, who were, respectively, set over twenty-five Titles, that is, Churches, of the metropolis. The Pontiff took first one, and then another, of these Titles, for the celebration of the Mysteries. The twenty-four Priests of the other Titles united with the Pontiff in the solemnity of one and the same Sacrifice, and concelebrated at one and the same Altar. In their respective places, the seven Deacons, and all the inferior clerics, each according to his rank, co-operated in the thrice holy Mysteries. We have already seen the active part, taken in the same, by the faithful People.
1 Ad Smjrn. viii. 2 Ad Magnes. vii. 3 Ad Philadelph. iv.
It was the very time when the Eagle of Patmos. St. John the Evangelist, was being favoured with his inspiration and vision of the gorgeous ritual of heaven. He beheld the Lamb that was slain, yet standing in the midst of the four and twenty Elders who were seated on thrones encircling the throne of God,— which is also the throne of the Eternal High Priest. Clad in white garments, and wearing golden crowns, these four and twenty Elders held harps in their hands, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of Saints. Then came the seven Spirits, who were before the throne of God, like so many burning lamps; and then, thousands of thousands of Angels, who were round about the Throne, singing praise to the Sacrifice and triumph of the Lamb; and then, every creature, which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, all cried out, giving benediction, and honour, and glory, and power,—to him that liveth for ever and ever.1 This admirable vision represented the fulness and unity of the Sacrifice, which was offered once, but to last for ever, and was offered by him who is the Head of all created beings. The Church on earth, the exiled Bride of that Jesus, did her best, when offering that same Sacrifice, to repeat the sublime ritual of heaven. And as, in heaven, the divine Lamb, the eternal High Priest, drew after him the celestial hierarchy, so likewise, on earth, all the Churches came round the officiating Pontiff, and united with him in the holy Sacrifice, each one according to the sacred Order he held.
It was impossible for the universal Church, subject as she is to the conditions of place and time, to meet
1 Apoc. iv, v.