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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Overview of Church Worship from 2-14th Century









This paper is an overview of the progression and changes to the elements and style of worship present in the 2nd-15th century church. This will encompass such components as the physical buildings for worship and their architecture, the use of pictures, images, relics, and icons, views on the Lord’s supper, liturgical books and music, initiation ceremonies, church discipline, corporate worship, preaching and teaching styles, prayers, festivals, and fasts. Time periods will be broken up into three main segments- The first to third centuries, the fourth to seventh centuries, the eighth through eleventh centuries, and the twelfth century to the time just prior to the Protestant Reformation.
            The primary reference material was Oscar Hardman’s most helpful A History of Christian Worship, which was comprehensive enough to have stood as the only source. Supplementary materials, particularly in the areas of the use of relics, icons, and the Eucharist, come from Images of the Divine by Ambrosios Giakalis, and Medieval Piety From Relics to the Eucharist by G.J.C. Snork. The online Roman Catholic encyclopedia New Advent was helpful as well.
            The first through third centuries were a time of uncertainty and development for the church. Christianity had to emerge from Judaism’s shadow, attempt to spread across the Empire, and begin its own forms of worship.[1] Faithful believers preached the gospel boldly, initially finding more positive response from the poorer people in the East.[2] Christians retained much of the worship style from Judaism, which Christianity inevitably broke from. It also built upon Judaism’s example, coming up with its own practices and incorporating philosophical thoughts of the secular culture as well.[3] The most striking feature of worship during this period was how the Church came together corporately to worship as one. They saw it as an important command, and took the time to practice it, even at the risk of persecution.[4]
            In the early church, deacons and the men they ordained began to construct the order of worship, with some initial variance. Deacons were also the ones to administer the elements to the laity, though later they would only administer the chalice.[5] In time, bishops, and in some cases the deacons as well, were called to a higher ascetic standard, particularly celibacy.[6] In the first half of the 3rd century a group of minor orders emerged, members who were appointed to their office through prayer but not the laying on of hands. This included the subdeacon and acolyte, who at first performed the more menial offices/duties that were originally part of the deacon’s work. The exorcist prepared catechumens and the reader took care of the public reading of Scripture. Also there was the doorkeeper, who tended some of the less important duties of the deacons.[7]
            Christians eventually worshiped in churches built like household chapels. The use of relics and icons at this time, the early second century, was frowned upon, but the wall paintings of the catacombs suggest that some decorating was done. Glass mosaic was used in the third century, and Christian sculpture is traced back to the fourth century.[8]
            The only liturgical writings were Old Testament Scriptures, portions of the New Testament by the second century, and a few hymns, doxologies, and prayers. By the second century, Church Orders were written, providing regulation to liturgy.[9] By the fourth century the official forms to be used were dictated by books such as the Apostolic Church Order (c. 300). The music was unaccompanied, in the simple form of unisonal singing of psalms, canticles, and hymns. This was likely an adaptation of Jewish and Hellenistic musical forms.[10]
            Initiation was always a process, a ritual or rite. Bishops administered the rite by the laying on of hands, and sometimes baptism (administered by the pouring of water on the head and immersion). They also used oil and prayers, and those who wished to become members had to submit by faith to a work of the Holy Spirit, which conferred forgiveness of sins and spiritual awakening. This was applied to households of whom the head was a believer, including children and infants, to secure their place in the covenant. Starting in the second century, adults went through a process called the catechumenate, lasting three years, to ensure they learned the ways of the Lord before becoming a faithful member. [11]
            Grave sins initially brought excommunication, without possibility of reconciliation. The church's posture softened in time, and by the second century even post-baptismal sins like murder could be reconciled and forgiven, though only once.[12]
            Eucharist was practiced initially in private houses, associated with a sacred meal. With time the meal and Eucharist were divided, long prayers and singing mixed between them. The order of the service was: The Prayer of the Faithful, The Kiss of Peace, The Offering of Oblations, The Eucharistic Prayer, and finally Communion.   Deacons initially distributed both the bread and wine, saying, “The Body of Christ,” “The Blood of Christ,” and the people replied Amen. Later the deacons administered only the wine, and the bishop  administered the consecrated Bread.[13]
The Didache recommended recitation of the Lord’s prayer three times a day. Anyone could expound the gospel at a service, but it was the bishop’s job to preach and teach, who did so from his seat. The preaching was expository and homiletic. Outside church preaching was mostly evangelistic, and it combated competing philosophies.[14]
Fasting was done for several days prior to Easter. Then following Easter there was a fifty day feast. By the second century it was decided Easter should be celebrated on a Sunday. The only other festivals and acts of worship were celebrating the death of martyrs on their anniversaries.[15]
Fourth to Seventh Centuries
This period saw a remarkable growth in Monasticism, which influenced worship and especially helped reiterate the importance of prayer, solitude, and personal devotion. There was also much nominal Christianity as church membership swelled, and a noted advance in church architecture, art, and the ordering of public worship; church leaders formed many doctrinal statements, especially regarding the Person of Christ and Being of God, and much missionary activity occurred as well.[16] Preaching unfortunately became entertainment, and people took Communion less frequently. Transformed pagan temples, called basilicas by the seventh century, often hosted church services.[17]
Relics became a growing cult, leading to extra altars placed in basilicas. By the seventh century many icons and pictures were used, with occasional protest. Interiors of the churches were decked with mosaic panels and many-colored marble columns and walls. Liturgical books continued to be organized, including those with psalms, hymns, canticles, and Scripture writings for readers. Antiphonal singing superseded responsory singing by the fourth century.[18] Pope Gregory formed choir schools, and churches utilized musical instruments.[19]
During the 4th century, the catechumenate grew exponentially, due to pagans seeking admittance and catechumens deferring their graduation as long as possible in order to not forfeit participation in the sacrament due to sin or not desiring to follow the more strict moral rules placed on church members. The new converts were now clothed with white robes, and candles or torches were placed in their hands during the initiation rite. In some locations, the bishop washed their feet at the conclusion of the reception.[20] During the fifth and sixth centuries, private penance replaced public penance, and the Church further softened its stand, allowing reconciliation more than once.
There were four types of liturgy, two in the East (Antiochene and Alexandrian) and two in the West (Gallican and Roman). The chief difference between the Eastern and Western liturgies were that the East had a richer amplification and suggestiveness of rite and ceremony than in the West, the performance of the rite and entire procession moves more slowly/dramatically, and there was a poetic and devotional flavor about the language used. The Western Mass had more portions/parts than Eastern.[21] Elements were still served in both kind, the lay people kneeling to receive it, the clergy standing. In the fourth century, private and family prayers, community prayers of monastics, and vigils observed by congregations in preparation for Eucharist began to produce an ordered scheme of daily worship offered in monasteries and parish churches alike.[22] Litanies came into vogue in the fourth century, led by priest and answered by congregation.
Advent season is recognized as preparation for Christmas by the sixth century, and Christmas is celebrated and standardized on December 25th in the West and January 6th in the East. Believer’s happiness and confidence in dying waned during this time, replaced with gloom and fear, foreshadowing the doctrine of purgatory.[23]
Eighth to Eleventh Century
During the Dark Ages, superstition begins affecting faith and practice of laity. Participation and frequency of Communion and Eucharist continues to wane. Architects built churches in a style called Romanesque, and the growing cult of the saints and their relics invoked the practice of placing relic chests at right angles to the east side of the altar.[24] A cross and light were often placed on the altar. The East used pictures and icons and venerated them in an unhealthy manner, leading to their destruction and reform in 726, sparking the Iconoclast controversy.[25] The origin of the controversy is shrouded in mystery, but it is generally believed that it occurred as a result of a crisis within Byzantium and as a response to the shock of Muslim invasions.[26] The success of the Muslims prompted Christians to search the Old Testament to find ways to purify themselves and gain God’s favor and mercy again. They found that the Israelites purged themselves of idolatry. Thus, it was determined that the modern idolatry was the worship and love of icons and images.[27]
Liturgical form remained similar to previous centuries, with new books being written that compiled information together. Gallican and Roman forms of liturgy began to influence one another. Christians wrote many hymns and prayer books, and the Roman Gregorian chant was introduced in the eighth century.[28] The West used harps and other instruments, but the East still sung without accompaniment.
The rite of initiation remained unchanged, but the Church was admitting a greater number of children, requiring the focus to be on youth education. People used money to count as penance, thus earning forgiveness of sins, in the eighth and ninth century. This was the beginning of the evil system of indulgences.[29]
Low Mass was introduced, a shortened version that did not include singing. In litanies, calling on the name of saints invoked their aid, furthering the superstition. During this time, the quality of preaching was poor and the laity was uneducated. There was little exposition of Scripture and most were concerned with extravagant teachings and paying homage to the Virgin Mary.[30] The Festival of the Blessed Virgin was added as well.
Monks developed home remedies for sickness, but the church still emphasized prayer and sacramental healing, while some resorted to magical superstitions. Gloom and sorrow had now become the norm when someone became sick or died, replacing the joy and confidence of salvation of previous generations. Prayers and Masses for the dead and somber burials were more frequent as well, casting a penitential and dreadful mood over the time period.[31]
Eleventh to Fourteenth Century
During this time, the papacy rose to great power, both in the church and the state. The Bishops of Rome claimed to have authority over the Universal church, but the East rejected this, ultimately leading to the split between the East and West Church. Indulgences were used with great regularity, and the laity rarely attended church. By the twelfth century the chalice/wine was no longer served to the laity. The priests believed they could forgive sins and pour out the Holy Spirit at the end of mass through the laying on of hands.[32]
Liturgical books continued to be complied, and the congregation now sung in parts, called organum. Believers were initiated much like before, but the bishop would not give the completion of the rite for infants for up to seven years, or however long it took the bishop to come by at his convenience. The Church now required members to confess their sins once a year to their bishop. By the thirteenth century the Church punished crimes and moral offenses with beatings, fines, imprisonment, and excommunication.[33]
The modern concept of mass developed as well. By the thirteenth century the theology of Mass had changed to Transubstantiation. This meant that the Elements were the literal body and blood of Christ, and when the bishop had them distributed and offered them, he was literally sacrificing the body of Christ for sin once again. This led to frequent mass, almost daily, since the bishop could give forgiveness of sins and atonement to whomever partook of the body and blood of Christ.[34] Clergy and laity alike would pass around a pax-board to kiss for good fortune.[35] People observed more festivals, and they instituted the Office of the Virgin Mary.
Preaching quality remained poor during this time, and the focus was on wacky allegories, fables, and parables, damaging the laity. The laity came to enjoy them though, as a sort of misguided entertainment, and thus the popularity of these preachers grew.[36] The idea of anointing to heal the sick was replaced with the belief that anointing forgave the sick’s sins. Priests gave many prayers and read many psalms for the sick during this time, giving a downcast and sorrowful hue to the masses. Church wall paintings and windows depicted purgatory’s sorrows, increasing the payment of indulgences that could free loved ones and allow them entrance into heaven.[37] Relics were in high demand and sold for high prices. Believers would take pilgrimages to churches with relics, hoping to find favor and receive healing from the saints. They would pray to the saint, paying homage by going from altar to altar within the church.[38] Mary was further venerated and worshiped, and by the 13th century Ave Maria was practiced, where many prayed and fasted for Mary, thinking she would give them special rewards. Illiterate monks implemented rosaries.[39]
In conclusion, it is clear that the state of the church started off fairly well, but quickly declined into superstition, nominalism, fear, sorrow, and corruption. The gospel was lost, replaced by the worship of icons, saints, and Mary. Mass was transformed into a time where the body of Christ was blasphemously sacrificed once again, and the bishops and Pope became the one who could offer salvation and forgiveness of sins rather than Christ Himself. Thankfully, the end of our study leaves us on the Eve of the Protestant Reformation, where the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and thusly the gospel itself was recovered. Soli Deo Gloria.

[1] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948),  11-12
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948),  14
[5] Ibid 15-16
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid. 17
[8] Ibid. 20
[9] Ibid.
[10]Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948),   20-21
[11] Ibid 23
[12] Ibid. 27
[13] Ibid 34
[14] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948),  37
[15] Ibid. 39
[16] Ibid. 42-44
[17] Ibid. 48
[18] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948),  50-52
[19] Ibid.
[20] Ibid. 54
[21] Ibid. 59
[22]Ibid.  65
[23] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948), 73
[24] Ibid. 83
[25] Ibid 84
[26]Ambrosios Giakalis, Images of the Divine: the Theology of Icons at the Seventh Ecumenical Council, rev. ed. (Boston: Brill Academic Pub, 2005), 3
[28] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948),  90
[29] Ibid. 93
[30] Ibid. 104-5
[31] Ibid. 107
[32] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948),  113-4
[33] Ibid. 126
[34] Ibid. 129
[35] Kevin Knight, ed., New Advent (New York: Robert Appleton Compnay, 1911), s.v. “Pax,” (accessed December 15, 2011).
[36] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948), 133
[37] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948),  139
[38] G.J.C. Snoek, Medieval Piety from Relics to the Eucharist: a Process of Mutual Interaction (Leiden: Brill Academic Pub, 1995), 241-2
[39] Oscar Hardman, A History of Christian Worship, (Nashville: Cokesbury Press, 1948), 140

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