Fratres, I have been boring everyone with little snippets that I've gleaned from reading Rev. Adrian Fortescue's The Mass. Occasionally on these digital pages, I will share some of the more interesting points of the history of the Roman Rite that we cherish & serve each week.
It is noteworthy that this was written just before the carnage of WWI began. The Western world was exploding with scientific research & discovery. This was no less true in Church matters, where, due to new discoveries about old things, the established order was beginning to be called into question - resulting in what would become known as the liturgical renewal movement.
As a priest & first-rate historian, Fortecue used his rare intellect to work refute much error that was being proposed in his day. The Mass itself was being called into question; he wrote a detailed history of the liturgy. There was a fad of preferring all things Oriental & Orthodox; he wrote a history of the Eastern Churches.
As an aside - & a confirmation - Chesterton wrote a spoof, The Flying Inn, in which the bourgeois of England had becoming prudish about the good things of Christendom (beer & brandy, especially) & faddish about Mohammedanism. He paints a picture of Englishmen strolling about London streets in fezzes instead of top hats (I'm somewhat grateful he didn't live to see it!). Ah, but I digress...
To check some of this enthusiasm for all things dusty, Pope Pius XII in 1947 penned the encyclical Mediator Dei on the Roman liturgy, in which he condemns "exagerated & senseless antiquarianism" in liturgical matters: "But ancient usage must not be esteemed as more suitable or proper... on the simple ground that it carries the savor & aroma of antiquity. The more recent liturgical rites likewise deserve reverence & respect. They, too, owe their inspiration to the Holy Spirit who assists the Church in every age..."
It is even more interesting for us to read this, since the protagonists in the liturgy wars have fought their first great battle; & when the dust of the Council cleared, the progressives - who asserted that they were merely pruning a few Medieval accretions & returning to a more authentic Roman rite - had squarely won the first round. Now we can see whether or not the Missal of St. Paul VI is really an authentic restoration, as proposed. We can further judge Fortescue's observations against our experience of the revived Missal of St. Pius V, et alia.
Fortescue begins his study of the liturgy from its earliest known sources: the Scriptures, esp. the letters of St. Paul, the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (Ignatius, Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, etc.), & various other early works, such as the Apostolic Constitutions.
The conclusion of his first section is that, until the 3rd century or so, there existed a fairly uniform Christian proto-liturgy across the entire Roman world, so that a Catholic travelling from Alexandria or Antioch would find a very familiar liturgy when visiting Rome or Valentia. Though no liturgical books survive - much of this liturgy was recited from memory or proffered extemporaneously - snippets of it are preserved in various places, including the now-familiar description of the liturgy from the 1st Apologia of St. Justin Martyr to Emperor Titus in the mid-100's:
"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..."
At this stage - with the Church spreading like wildfire through the Empire, but nevertheless, still fighting for its life - the liturgy remained simple; firstly, because it needed to be portable & discreet, & secondly, because the circumstances did not allow the kind of deep theological reflection that would later influence the liturgy. The liturgy was conducted entirely in Greek, the common tongue of the Empire.
In the coming century, the Church & her liturgy would undergo profound & unforeseeable changes that would resonate to the present day.