Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Mass of the Early Christians

I recently finished Mike Aquilina's book, The Mass of the Early Christians. I've been sufficiently busy that I haven't had a chance to write even this short review until now, much to my chagrin. Suffice it to say, Mike has done it again - the book is fantastic.

If you're looking for an exhaustive source review of every single patristic source, this slim volume won't give you what you want. If, however, you want a good, solid overview of the writings of many of the Church Fathers on the Mass - and even some heretical and pagan writings - this is the book for you. Unlike some of Mike's other books he doesn't just let the Fathers do the talking in this tome, he also takes up the opportunity to do some instruction of his own. I simply can't say how necessary that is if in no other area than that surrounding the Discipline of the Secret whereby the early Fathers would be (at best) elliptical in their remarks on what happened during the Mass. Without Mike's most helpful commentary the reader would feel lost reading the early writers' statements and could easily conclude that they really didn't see the Mass in the same fashion we do today, and a horrible mistake that would be.

One other tribute to this book is Mike's foresight to include not just the Church Fathers but also heretics and pagans. We so often know, or at least have an inkling, what the Church has believed and said, but yet we rarely it seems look to see what others said about the Church. That insularity was hardly a mark of the early Church, even during the persecutions. Since this dialog necessarily had two sides it is critical to know what the "other" side had to say in order to understand the Fathers' responses. It would be, in a way, like trying to explain the transition from the Apostles' Creed to the Nicene Creed without mentioning Arianism - possible, but so desperately much more shallow.

I can virtually guarantee I didn't get the full depths of what I read in this book the first time. That first time, however, will not be the last. If you like patristics or liturgy or history or just the Church herself buy the book. If you don't like patristics when you start the book, you're likely to by the time you're done.