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THE LITURGY IN THE FIRST THREE CENTURIES OF THE CHURCH

17 Apr

The Roman Pontiffs of the first three centuries regulated the Liturgy with various interventions. Unfortunately, with the passing of time most of these have been lost. It is certain, nonetheless, that some of these were norms solely for the Church in Rome, others were updates of the most ancient Canons, and others still regarded the Church throughout the world.

The regulation of Pope St Victor I on Easter is not the only one which the Roman Pontiffs had expressed during the first three centuries. Recourse was had to them in all grave circumstances, as in the case of Eusebius, St Cyprian and St Irenaeus. Given the importance of liturgical matters, coupled with the sovereignty of their authority, such recourse must have given them frequent occasions for offering decrees and responses about the Sacred Rites. The text of these regulations has been lost with the passing of time. Nothing is left for us except a faint outline of them in the very short notes of the ‘Liber pontificalis’.

St Linus ordered that women enter Church with their head veiled.
St Cletus constructed the memorial and tomb of St Peter and fixed the place of the burial of the Bishops of Rome.
St Evaristus divided the titles and churches of Rome among the priests and established that the Bishop, in announcing the Word of God, be assisted by seven deacons.
St Alexander I ordered that the memory of the Passion of the Lord be inserted into the prayers of Sacrifice and that water for the aspersion of people’s homes be blessed with salt.
St Sixtus I established that the sacred vessels should not be touched by ministers and confirmed the use of singing the hymn ‘Sanctus, Sanctus…’ during the liturgical action.

St Telesphorus established that there be celebrated the Sacrifice on the night of Our Lord’s Birth, something which, on other days, should not occur before Ora Tertia. He also established that at the beginning of the same celebration there be sung ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’.
St Anicetus prohibited clerics to let their hair grow long.
St Pius I, for the prayers of the virgin St Praxedes, consecrated the Baths of Novato (vicus Patricius) as a place of worship; he made large offerings to this new sanctuary; he frequently offered the Lord’s Sacrifice there and had a baptismal font constructed there where, with his own hand, he baptised many catechumen in the Name of the Holy Trinity.
St Soter prohibited the deaconesses from touching the sacred palls and placing incense in the thurible.
St Zephyrinus established that the ordination of priests, deacons and the simple clerics be done in the presence of both the clergy and the Faithful.

St Callistus I fixed the Saturday fast four times a year in the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months. He consecrated the Basilica of St Mary in Trastevere. He enlarged and decorated, along the via Appia, the famous cemetery which bears his name.
St Urban had sacred vessels made of silver and offered twenty-five patens of the same material.
St Fabian commissioned many constructions in the cemeteries.
St Cornelius removed the bodies of Ss. Peter and Paul from their resting place in the catacombs and relocated them: one in the valley of the Vatican, the other along the via Ostiensis.
St Stephen I prohibited priests and deacons from wearing, for common use, the vestments used at the altar.
St Felix I recommended that the Sacrifice be celebrated above the remains of the Martyrs and built a Basilica along the via Aurelia.
St Eutychian established that only the first fruits of wheat and the grape be blessed at the altar. He buried the Martyrs with his own hands and ordered the Faithful to cover the bodies of these courageous athletes of Christ with ornate vestments when they placed them in the ground.

We terminate, then, this enumeration of the laws of the early Roman Pontiffs on liturgical matters, as incomplete as it may be, and we content ourselves with underscoring that some of these regulations must be considered as norms only for the Church of Rome, others as updates of the most ancient Canons, and still others directed to all of the Churches, such as the decree of St Victor I on Easter.
– This article by the Servant of God Prosper Gueranger (part of a series) was published in “De vita Contemplativa”, Monthly magazine for Monasteries, Year VI, Number 12, December 2012

 

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