Anglican Essentials, Class 2 (4 pages)

The Early Christian Liturgy

Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) described how Christian worship was carried out around 150-160 AD, as quoted by Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought (Yale University Press, 2003), pp. 28-29:

On the day called Sunday all who live in the cities or in the country gather at one place and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as long as time permits.  When the reader has finished, the one who is presiding instructs us in a brief discourse and exhorts us to imitate these noble things.  Then we all stand up together and offer prayers. … When we have finished the prayers, bread is brought forth, and wine and water, and the presiding minister offers up prayers and thanksgiving to the best of his ability, and the people assent, saying the Amen; after this the consecrated elements are distributed and received by each one.  Then a deacon brings a portion to those who are absent.  Those who prosper, and who so wish, contribute what each thinks fit.  What is collected is deposited with the presiding minister who takes care of the orphans and widows, and those who are in need because of sickness or some other reason, and those who are imprisoned, and the strangers and sojourners among us.

                                                                                First Apology, Section 67

Note the similarity to our Book of Common Prayer Eucharistic service of today.  The “memoirs of the apostles” would be the writings that were later collected into the New Testament.  The “writings of the prophets” would be from the Hebrew Bible that later came to be known as the Old Testament.

A fuller description of this passage is available from Christianity Today, as part of a series on the history of early Christian worship, which also contains source material on Justin Martyr. Justin was not raised Christian, but converted around 130 AD, and later wrote his apology, a defense or explanation of the faith to outsiders.  He and a group of Christian companions were martyred in Rome in 165 AD for refusing to venerate the Roman gods.

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