Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Catholics Gather for Mass in Their Own Homes, Adopting Practice of Early Christian Community by Beverly Bingle RCWP

Followers of the way of Jesus in the early church gathered weekly for a common meal, which they shared in their homes, called “house churches.” Each meal would include a blessing prayer, the breaking of bread, and the sharing of bread and wine, remembering Jesus. Over time this Communion (a Greek word for “fellowship”) came to be called Eucharist (another Greek word, meaning “thanksgiving”), and it became the focus of the weekly celebration.

They didn’t have priests. Prayer in those house churches was led by the people—men and women—who lived in the house. As Paul traveled around converting and baptizing Christians, he didn’t hang around and say Mass for them, and he didn’t ordain anyone. The custom of ordaining priests didn’t even start until the second century. Ordinary people led the Mass, and Paul traveled on. A house church got together to share bread and wine, read the scriptures, pray, and help the needy.

Please join me again this weekend. I’ll be praying the Mass at 4:30 on Saturday and 5:30 on Sunday, alone at my kitchen table, joined in prayer with those of you who are doing the same, whether it’s at those times or other times. While we can’t get together physically, we can gather in spirit.

So please set out some bread or crackers or cookies and some wine or grape juice or some other drink, sit at your home table in your home church, alone or with your family, and say Mass with me. We will be, as Villanova’s Professor Massimo Faggioli put it, “an icon of the moments of stark loneliness of the believer in the secular world, but always in the company of the faith and of other faithful, sparsely but ever present, somewhere congregated.”

You are in my prayers. Please keep me in yours. And may God continue to bless you and keep you,

P.S. In addition to historical practice, here’s some theological support for getting together in the Spirit, from Daniel P. Horan, Franciscan friar and assistant professor of systematic theology and spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, in Communion of saints, an important tenet of our faith, can help during coronavirus times:

Theologian and St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, professor emerita at Fordham University, stated at the outset of her 1998 book, Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints, that misconceptions about the doctrine are so prevalent that any effort to talk constructively about the communion of saints requires first identifying what this belief "is not." She explains:

This doctrinal symbol does not in the first instance refer to paradigmatic figures, those outstanding individuals traditionally called "saints," but rather names the whole community of people graced by the Spirit of God. Neither does it point exclusively to those who have died; rather, the community of living persons is its primary referent. Furthermore, while obviously interested in human beings, the symbol does not allude to them exclusively but embraces the whole natural world in a "communion of the holy."

At its core, the communion of saints is an affirmation of the empowering, unifying, and healing work of the Holy Spirit among all God's people and creation.

The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, beautifully and succinctly describes the reality of the communion of saints, noting that, "all the faithful, scattered though they be throughout the world, are in communion with each other in the Holy Spirit."

How Do I Start a House Church?

See also article from Diocese of Arkansas:

In early Christianity, there were no church buildings. Eucharist was celebrated by the Church — that is, the Body of Christ — assembled together in private homes. Referred to as house churches today, in their own time, these Christians would have thought of themselves as the Church and the place where they assembled as someone’s house. Note how Paul greeted the Christians in Corinth: “The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca together with the church at their house send you many greetings in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 16:19).

The sacredness of these places did not arise from their architecture, it resided in the presence of those gathered — the assembling of the local Body of Christ — and in what they had gathered together to receive, the Body of Christ in the signs of bread and wine.

The late Father Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s masterful book, “St. Paul’s Corinth,” reveals a great deal about these early house churches. One of the more surprising revelations in his book is how few Christians comprised the Church in Corinth. With all the problems Paul had to deal with among the Corinthians, it would seem that it ought to have taken a lot more people to get into that much trouble!

Based on archeological findings in Corinth, it is very unlikely that Paul is addressing a Church of more than 50 people. It might have been even smaller. Forty may be a safer guess. These small numbers are based on the size of houses in Corinth, and the house that Murphy-O’Connor used as his primary example was the spacious abode of someone with considerable wealth.

Examining the architectural remains of that house adds color to our understanding of Paul’s criticism of the manner in which the Corinthians were attempting to celebrate the Eucharist. We know that it was common in the early days of the Church for the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated in the context of a larger meal that was referred to as an “agape,” or love feast (see verse 12 of Jude).

If 40 or 50 were to have gathered in one of Corinth’s larger houses, it would have taken at least two rooms to accommodate them. Traditionally, meals would have been served in the triclinium, a dining room where guests would recline on couches which took up a lot of room. If a crowd had come to the house for an agape meal, only the most favored guests — most likely the wealthiest — would have been served there. The others would be relegated to the atrium, a room that was open to the elements from above and where they would be seated on the floor.

Paul claims that during these gatherings, the fact that some were well-fed and getting drunk while others went hungry, proved that their meals failed the test of a genuine Eucharist (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). In a real Eucharist, they would recognize and respect each other as the Body of Christ.

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