All of us have heard people comparing the “old Mass” with the “new Mass,” often expressing criticism of one or another, or concentrating on the changes of the “new Mass”. I thought it would be interesting to look again at just what the “old Mass” was really like.
St. Justin Martyr wrote the following account of the Mass which was said in Rome during the year 150 A.D.:
“On the day called Sun Day, all who live in cities or in the country assemble in on place and the memoirs of the Apostles, which are called Gospels, or the writings of the prophets are read. Then, when the reader has ceased, the one who presides instructs us with his word and admonishes and exhorts us to imitate these good things. Then we all rise together and pray.
When the prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought forward then the one who presides in like manner offers the thanksgiving (Eucharistic) prayer, and the people respond saying Amen. Then there is a distribution to each and a sharing in that over which thanks has been given. Those who are rich and willing give as seems right, and what is collected is deposited with the one who presides in order to help the needy.
This food we called Eucharist, which no one is allowed to share except the one who believes that our teaching is true, has been baptized and who lives as Christ has handed down. We have learned that the food over which thanks has been given by the prayer is the Flesh and Blood of the Incarnated Jesus.”
If we read carefully, we can see (1) the reading from Scripture, (2) the sermon or homily of the priest, (3) the prayer of the faithful, (4) the Offertory and the bringing of the gifts to the altar, (5) the Eucharistic Prayer which includes the words of institution which change the bread and wine into the Lord’s Body and Blood, (6) the “Great Amen” at the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, (7) the reception of Holy Communion, and (8) the collection.
The language may have changed from the Greek of St. Justin’s time but it is easy to see that the Mass is very much the same Mass - centered on the same mystery: Christ giving his own Flesh and Blood as our food.