Hermeneutic of Continuity – Constantinian Edition

I ran across this article through a friend’s link.

The author makes some strong assertions about 5 so-called myths about early liturgical practices.

His statement at the beginning gives the impression that those who do not support the new translation want “banal” language “that even the muppets on Sesame Street can understand.” I am not sure this snarky introduction captures the reality of the situation. The statement does set the tone (and agenda) for the rest of the article, which gives some broad (but not cited) statements about communion under both kinds, lay ministers, and the use of vernacular.

I would like to know more about women receiving Holy Communion with covered hands since that was not discussed in my study of the liturgy.




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68 responses to “Hermeneutic of Continuity – Constantinian Edition”

  1. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    This is from a Patristics scholar? He seems interested only in scoring ideological points. He gives no indication of the sources one might consult for any of these topics. And what a ridiculous phobia about communion in the hand! (something Chrysostom, for one, takes for granted).

    1. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

      He gives no indication of the sources one might consult for any of these topics.

      Not true. And even if it was, not every article is a footnoted scholarly treatise.

      1. Joe O'Leary Avatar
        Joe O’Leary

        True, he references Pius XII and Benedict XVI. But he talks as if it were obvious that communion in the hand, worship not ad orientem, etc were self-evidently foreign to the ancient church, suggesting that Benedict XVI has the same view. But he gives no indication of the state of the historical evidence, probably because it does not at all support his view.

  2. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    Widespread opposition may not materialize, though it seems to have flared up initially at least in South Africa. But, my claim is, that the absence of opposition is more a sign of indifference to the language of the liturgy than of a positive, warm appreciation of the new texts. If the latter materializes I will be genuinely surprised.

  3. Joyce Donahue Avatar

    I saw that article this morning and it gave me heartburn. “Snarky” is a kind word for this author’s name-calling and mockery of Novus Ordo language and practices. And pure vitriol does not equal logic, truth or good argument. This is an attack, pure and simple, speaking from an obvious agenda.

    Personally, I took issue with the assertion that the first (and therefore most desirable) practice of liturgy was for the presider to face “ad orientam.” The Acts of the Apostles 2:48 refers clearly to the followers of Jesus devoting themselves to “meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes”, which would imply gathering around a table for the Eucharistic meal – at which the leader certainly faced the other participants. The leader was unlikely to have turned his/her back on the other people at the table to lead them in prayer since the original gathering to break the bread would have mimicked the Passover meal. (I believe this practice is also mentioned in the 2nd century Didache.)

    Why would the practice of facing the East in the later patristic era cancel out a scriptural and historical understanding of the original way the people gathered for the Eucharistic meal rooted in the traditions of the Jewish Passover? Because for this writer, the Church and its values were somehow “purest” at that point in time. By the 4th century, however, there were many outside influences (most importantly the Roman concepts of authority and hierarchy) brought to bear on the Church. I find the author’s concept that somehow the later practices represent original intent of the liturgy fallacious. Just saying. It’s all part of his agenda. For him anything NOT Roman and hierarchical is obviously the “liberal agenda” and therefore subject to attack.

    1. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      Hellenistic-Roman banquets (sumposia, triclinia) were often arranged in a C-shape (lunate, the cursive Greek sigma). The website Römische Tishkultur offers a variety of triclinia reconstructions and late antique triclinia depictions under the heading große Speisesäle.

      The guest of honor often reclined on the couch in the middle of the “C”. Other guests reclined according to honor, with the most honored on the guest of honor’s couch. Less esteemed guests reclined on the side couches. Slaves served by circulating within the open space created by the lunate.

      Jesus’ gaze at the Last Supper was probably not directly fixed on the apostles. He might not have been looking at anyone when offering the eucharist. He might have glanced side to side, but he probably did not face another person directly face-to-face during the institution of the eucharist. Early eucharists likely followed this same seating arrangement. Early modern dining furniture arrangements do not accurately reflect dining in late antiquity.


      Regardless of its history, “communion in the hand” has proven disastrous in our modern day. More than once I’ve seen people pocket our Lord. I’ve been to Masses where the priest had to hand the ciborium to the server and almost tackle a person who ran off with the Blessed Sacrament. I could hear the priest say, audibly and firmly, “consume It now!“. Should we stand idly by and permit profanation?

      The pastors of the churches I attend cannot force people to receive on the tongue at the OF, but they’ve made it quite clear that this is the preferred method. In fact, both pastors invite communicants to kneel at the altar rail. If all truly believed that the Sacrament is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, no one would permit communion in the hand to continue given the grave risks involved.

      1. Dunstan Harding Avatar
        Dunstan Harding

        There are several murals in Roman catacombs which
        depict either the eucharist or agape being observed in
        the manner of everyone on couches radiating from a central serving area, or radiating from a round table.

        Archaeological digs in north Africa and Syria also suggest a liturgical towards the people. The claim is frequently made that the congregation as some point turns around in order to face east in St. Peter’s basilica (since the pope is at the altar facing the people and the east) , but there is no evidence for this practice.

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur


        “Round” is an ambiguous word. Many people might assume that necessarily means 360 degree round. As opposed to round in the sense of a triclinium, or curved adaptation thereof.

        This ambiguity is probably why everyone gets to talk past one another in their effort to claim closest alignment with the tradition.

  4. Joe O'Leary Avatar
    Joe O’Leary

    And his confidence that Constantine brought no great change in the life of the Church is to my mind in contradiction with signal facts such as the career of Eusebius of Caesarea, the proceeding of Nicaea, the realization of the Constantinian legacy under the Spaniard Theodosius who brought in the system of religious intolerance that would later blossom in the Inquisition.

    His talk of the laity could do with a little vetting by considering what Tertullian had to say on their role.

    The fifth alleged myth is the use of the vernacular. Well, the Roman Canon is proof that the Vernacular triumphed in Rome (at a time when Greek speakers were in decline there); and of course Greek was both the vernacular and the liturgical language in the region of Christianity’s first massive expansion up to 200AD, namely Asia Minor.

    The “Besserwissen” of those who think they have outgrown Vatican II leads them into troubled waters — into the pages of Crisis Magazine to begin with.

    1. Dunstan Harding Avatar
      Dunstan Harding

      Has this man been granted tenure yet?

      I hope Professor Foley does a better job of preparing for scholarly colloquia than he has in making this

  5. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

    The five major points that Foley highlights are the basis that most of us were taught as for the reasons for post-Vatican II liturgical changes. Apart from any reactionary agenda, if in fact these points are wrong as Foley alleges then it would be important to reassess what was done under a corrupt understanding of early Church history or at least give new reasons for the liturgical changes. While I don’t do it today, in the first few years of my priesthood when there were still a considerable number of people quite familiar with the pre-Vatican II liturgy and questioning more the reasons for some of the specific changes referenced in the article, I would have used each of the points that Foley explodes.

  6. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
    Anthony Ruff, OSB

    Thanks for posting, Timothy – I was about to put it up this morning myself.

    The article is overstated nonsense. Everyone one of his so-called “myths” has some truth to it. For example, it’s not true that the presider always faced the people for Eucharist. But nor is it true, by a long shot, that the presider always faced East.

    One wants to ask what era is early church for him – 4th and 5th centuries? How would his ‘myth’ claims stand up in, say, the two or three generations immediately after the Resurrection?

    It is shocking that scholarship of this level is being put forward to support a conservative liturgical agenda.


    1. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

      What this article does do is to force those who know the history to state what it is factually. If there are partial truths, then what are they and clearly say so. In other words, explode his myths but also indicate where the history he cites is correct.

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        If the article were written with a semblance of care or accuracy, we wouldn’t have to do what you’re asking – go through and sort out what is accurate and what is dead wrong in it. Why was it published in this state?

      2. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

        You write, though, “It is shocking that scholarship of this level is being put forward to support a conservative liturgical agenda.” So if this happens with conservatives and their agenda, it is not too much of a stretch to say that it also happens to liberals and their agenda. That is what needs to be sorted out. We can shame people and their “scholarship” but that doesn’t really move the conversation forward much.

      3. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        Two wrongs don’t make a right.

        We don’t have before us a case of bending facts by a liberal. I’m sure it happened 30 years ago. But do you have an example of anything so egregious in the last couple years?

        You’re struggling to defend the indefensible.


      4. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

        No defenses offered, just avoiding “dismissiveness.”
        No, nothing in the last couple of years, but if asked in a class or by someone why the changes (now that we are celebrating the EF once again) I would still use the five points as I thought them to be true. Are they or are they not? I often tell people that the way we celebrate the OF today is perhaps more “ancient” than the EF including, “communion in the hand” Eucharistic Ministers, facing the people, etc. So where is the scholarship today?

      5. Bill deHaas Avatar

        Fr. Allan – surprises me that your liturgical education did not give you the knowledge to see the “exaggerations” and “over-generalizations” of this article?

        Vatican II presented a liturgical and ecclesiological paradigm shift – by your own statements, Fr. Allan, you seem to have resisted this paradigm shift since your days in the seminary. Part of education is the ability to listen and learn with an “open mind” – again, from your our statements you seem to have fairly quickly made up your mind – based on what? your childhood? your emotions? your antagonism towards certain professors and classmates?


      6. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

        Bill, there are exaggerations and generalizations on both sides of the spectrum and yes it occurred in the 1960’s and 70’s and until this day. You certainly express it as well in terms of your theology of rupture between Vatican II and what preceded it. That’s your right! There is nothing “reactionary” in my pastoral practice in the parish and it would be seen as very much formed by my days in the seminary of the 1970’s. Comments on a blog, though, are of a different nature to create discussion. But if you visited my parish you’d see Post Vatican II ecclesiology in practice not only in the Liturgy but in the life of the parish. We’re a stewardship parish with many paid and volunteer ministries, male and female (although the females way out number the males as in most parishes).

      7. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

        from your our statements you seem to have fairly quickly made up your mind – based on what? your childhood? your emotions? your antagonism towards certain professors and classmates?

        Bill, isn’t this a bit ad hominem?

    2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      Unfortunately, it’s not shocking but quite predictable. Cherry-picking is common in religious history discourse, especially when ideologically inflected (left or right). The rigorous epistemological humility of the latest generation of historians reaching their maturity (which is a *wonderful* thing to see) does not seem to have reached Catholic liturgical history, at least what’s accessible to non-scholars.

      1. Chris McConnell Avatar
        Chris McConnell

        Thanks to the contributions of people like Taft and Bradshaw, anyone seriously doing early liturgical history today DOES show quite rigorous epistemological humility, of a sort not reflected either in this article or in its straw-men.

        It’s true that in the past, conclusions tended to extend beyond the evidence. This article, however, not only misrepresents that tendency, but then does the same thing!

  7. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    “It is shocking that scholarship of this level is being put forward to support a conservative liturgical agenda.”

    Or it could be that scholarship of this level is all that can be put forward to support a conservative agenda.

    “I would have used each of the points that Foley explodes.”

    I think Professor Foley was playing with artillery in an abandoned field.

    1. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

      Or it could be that scholarship of this level is all that can be put forward to support a conservative agenda.

      Or it could be that it’s not “scholarship”!

      It’s an article in a web magazine folks, it’s not a peer reviewed journal, it’s not even a paper magazine.

      There’s another kind of cherry picking that takes place when something like this is held up for ridicule, there’s plenty of this kind of informal writing going on all over the place on all sides of the issues.

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB


        I’m glad (and I really mean that) that you keep coming back to PTB and contributing, though you state rather often your objections to what the editors or contributors put up.

        Crisis magazine? Hello! This is not nothing. It’s a magazine of real influence in some circles, with name contributors like Weigel and Novak and Sirico. If they are using shoddy scholarship to advance particular liturgical views, I think it’s worthy citing. I’m glad TJ called our attention to it.


      2. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        This is not nothing.

        I don’t think it’s “nothing”, but I also think it’s not all that important and I don’t think it’s scholarly work that should be held to scholarly standards.

        It’s a magazine of real influence in some circles, with name contributors like Weigel and Novak and Sirico.

        The Crisis Magazine that had real influence ceased publication in 2007. But even then it was fading from prominence.

        Novak was a founding editor of Crisis, but does not appear to be currently associated with it. I don’t see evidence that he’s currently contributing, though I didn’t do an exhaustive search. They are reposting stuff he wrote for Crisis years ago.

        The other founding editor, Ralph McInerny, is dead.

        George Weigel’s contributions appear to be reprintings of his syndicated column. That doesn’t really make him a contributer.

        I even agree that this is not a particularly good article, but holding up this article for criticism of it’s “shoddy scholarship”… well it seems that only one set of “particular liturgical views” gets this treatment.

  8. Stephen Manning Avatar
    Stephen Manning

    Whatever the oversimplifications or such in the article, it does remind me of two things. First, the tendency among some to describe the preConciliar liturgy and church as some kind of horrible fall from a primitive paradise, either in worship or structure. And second, when you set about reforming either rites or governance or beliefs in reference to some earlier period, you run into the problem of which period, and where, and how much of that you really want to idealize. The first century? And where? The fourth? And where? And how much of that, etc.

    A half serious scholar of liturgy once said, Why do we worship as we do? Because that’s how the Fathers did it. And why did the Fathers do it that way? Because that’s how they liked it.

  9. Cecelia Flitwick Avatar

    My favorite quote from the article:

    ” In 1947, Pope Pius XII prophetically warned against archeologism, an ‘exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism’ which presumes that the older is better than that which has developed organically over time and with the approval of the Church (Mediator Dei 64). ”

    Here I have to agree wholeheartedly. 😉

  10. Henry Edwards Avatar
    Henry Edwards

    Actually, contrary to what the author says, we do now have a pretty good idea of how “communion in the hand” was practiced in the early centuries. Thanks to the research of Bishop Athanasius Schneider and his influential book Dominus Est–It is the Lord!.

    Bishop Schneider emphasizes that communion in the hands as we know it today bears no resemblance to communion in apostolic times. Back then, the Host was placed on the open palm of the right hand of the communicant; curiously, he says that its touching the left hand would have been unthinkable, as would touching the Host with one’s fingers. So no lay person picked it up off the palm and “placed it in his mouth himself”.

    Instead, the communicant bowed profoundly toward his extended hand and took the Host directly into his mouth. This way might better be described as “communion in the mouth” (if not on the tongue) rather than “communion in the hand”.

    The communicant’s hand was purified both before and after communion. The Host was placed on a corporal that covered a woman’s hand — so her own hand never touched the Host itself — and the corporal was purified afterwards.

    So Bishop Schneider’s research indicates that communion in this manner from the very beginning of apostolic times exhibited the deepest reverence for the Blessed Sacrament that one might imagine. If communion in the hand were carried out in this manner today, perhaps there would not be increasing doubt that the Church should continue to indult this exception from the universal norm of communion on the tongue.

    1. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

      Given that some sources indicate that Christians took the Eucharist home with them for communion during the week, the kind of procedure that Schneider seems to present as normative seems unlikely, unless the priest made the rounds during the week to administer communion to people from the Eucharist that they had taken home with them.

    2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      What may not be obvious to modern readers is how the left hand in pre-modern societies was typically used to cleanse private parts after evacuation (no toilet tissue, folks) and women’s hands were associated with menstrual blood. Until one has an account that addresses those kinds of issues, and whether they are relevant today, it remains an argument whose worth has yet to be proved.

    3. Dunstan Harding Avatar
      Dunstan Harding

      Taking the host in the right hand and going down to your palm or bringing your palm to your mouth is standard
      operating procedure in the Anglican and most Lutheran
      churches (some Presbyterians do too).
      We don’t know enough about the practices for showing reverence to the eucharist as it was unfolding throughout the Christian world then. So bishop Schneider’s thesis bay be faulty. Like Copts, should women also be expected to refrain from communion during certain times of the month?

      Schneider seems to be another adherent to the Gamber/Ratzinger school of liturgical history. He’s often quoted on the more traditional blogs.

    4. Jordan Zarembo Avatar
      Jordan Zarembo

      I apologize for the strident tone of the previous post. There are those who believe in the orthodox dogma of the Eucharist and accept communion in the hand.

      I am also well aware that early Christians and the early institutional Church permitted the laity to not only receive the Eucharist in their hands but also reserve the Sacrament in their homes. This is well-established.

      What I do not understand is the insistence of some Catholics that the older method for the administration of the Communion must prevail, even if the newer method reduces incidences of abuse. We all receive the same Eucharist, whether one touches the Host or not. The ability to touch the Host does not gain any of us, clergy or layperson, a unique pelagian righteousness. Rather, the very same grace is available to all who partake of the sacrificial banquet.

      It’s time to move away from the notion that the clergy cannot minister during any part of the Mass without direct lay participation.

  11. Don Johnson Avatar
    Don Johnson

    Mr. Edwards — Thanks for your comment #21. This is what I learned in the Episcopal parish I attended for a few years before becoming Catholic. We never grabbed or picked up the host once it was placed in our hands. Rather, we put our left hand on bottom, right hand on top, palms up, and made a cradle for the host. Then the palm and mouth were brought together, the mouth covered the host and it was consumed.

  12. John Farley Avatar
    John Farley

    Do Prof Foley’s academic and theological peers at Baylor realize he is defending the liturgical (ie superstitious) practices of the Roman Catholic Church pre and post Reformation? The world is about to end, or Hell must be freezing, or Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane.

    1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
      Anthony Ruff, OSB

      Baylor asks every applicant if they’re an active Christian, what Christian community they’re worshiping in, and how this affects their teaching.

      Some years ago a friend in Hymn Society told me that in that particular year, the largest number of new hires were Catholic.

      So, Catholic does count for them. (Makes me wish a few Catholic colleges did some version of what Baylor does. But that’s another topic…)


    2. Fr. Allan J. McDonald Avatar

      I had a parishioner who was a professor at Mercer University, a Southern Baptist School, who told me that his Catholic beliefs were more welcome there than at a some Catholic colleges.

  13. BRIGID M RAUCH Avatar

    I point out this phrase :”the Last Supper took place during the Passover”, by which I presume the author is referring to a Seder. While this is a ritualistic meal, it takes place in a family home. I don’t know how a Seder would have proceeded in Jesus’ time, but my understanding is that today the Seder belongs to the participants; that each family proceeds according to its own custom within the greater framework. There are specific rituals to involve children, Asking the Four Questions and various games involving the Afikomen.

    If we want to go back to the Last Supper, we are far from concern over gold vessels and corporals! Indeed, the actual “hosts” may have been pieces from a something resembling pita bread made from barley!

    On another note, while Kumbaya isn’t the most sophisticated hymn, it is a series of prayers to the Lord for those with various needs. I presume a “kumbaya Church” is one in which we care for and pray for each other, not to mention treat each other with courtesy and respect. Exactly what is wrong with that?

    1. Jack Wayne Avatar
      Jack Wayne

      I hope you would agree, however, that one could still be a “kumbaya Church” in the manner you describe (caring about each other) and still be rather formal and traditional in worship practice.

      Placing formal and traditional against welcoming and caring as if they are mutually exclusive, IMO, gets tiring. I imagine that many families who practice the Seder use nice things for it (good dishes, tablecloths – the domestic equivalents of “gold vessels and corporals”).

      1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        Well, first, the modern ritual of the “Seder” is a post-Temple development, so we have to put aside some of our pre-conceptions that come along with that word.

        And most scholars today would tend to see the Last Supper as preceding the first night of Pesach (the Pope has lent his personal, not definitive, support, to this privileging of the Johannine tradition), so it would not necessarily have been a full-family affair the way the first meal of Pesach would have been.

        And, as Jack rightly notes, the Jewish people, even of the poor, were known to gather together their finest things for use in these festal celebrations, so we also have to put aside our preconceptions that the meal necessarily excluded finery.

        And, finally, there is the lived tradition of the Church that is not bound to historical re-creationism of any sort. Our liturgies re-present more than the Last Supper or Calvary (the typical poles into which comboxers tend to sort themselves these days).

      2. BRIGID M RAUCH Avatar

        My perception is that often formal and traditional is code for dividing us into clergy and laity, men and women. Some of us are worthy to touch the Host and approach the altar, others of us aren’t. Toss in a priest who prays for the people instead of with the people and you get some real teeth gnashing going on.

        On the other hand, it all depends on what you consider formal and traditional. Many parishes have traditions that are 30 years old. Are these traditions to be discarded in favor of an older tradition simply because one is older than the other?

      3. Jack Wayne Avatar
        Jack Wayne

        I’d be curious how much you have worshiped with advocates of “formal and traditional.” Maybe sometimes it is code for what you say, but often it is not.

        Perhaps it comes down to personal experience – I know people for whom “kumbaya” liturgy is anything but welcoming, loving, etc. You seem to come from the unfortunate experience of a more progressive parish merging with a more traditional one, with the traditional group having more sway and driving folks away. I can think of at least two parishes in town where a more progressive priest drove folks away. My parish received an influx of people when a church in town forbade kneeling, and the church known for being “traditional” is half empty now that its pastor forbade many of the traditional (but still within the rubrics of the OF) practices they had worked to institute and retain over a forty year period.

      4. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        What kind of customs are eligible to get the benefit of canonical deference goes beyond how many years they’ve been practiced. There are other conditions in the canonical tradition. I am not sure that that they are properly analyzed at the parochial level, for example, but at least at the diocesan level.

  14. Dunstan Harding Avatar
    Dunstan Harding

    Perhaps, the Utube liturgies are growing in popularity because if you don’t like the traditional or liberal practices in one church, you can always find another liturgical experience more to your liking.

  15. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    The Second Church: Popular Christianity A.D. 200-400 by Ramsay MacMullen centers around the archeological evidence for churches of that period. Archeology presents challenges to historical scholars who focus upon the written evidence. However one evaluates the written liturgical evidence for that period, this book argues that evidence may describe a limited upper class sector of Christianity

    The city churches, where the cathedral liturgies were celebrated were just too small (e.g. 500 people) to serve any substantial numbers of Christians. These were the churches of the elite. They had large sanctuaries for the many clergy, sometimes stretching down the nave; not a lot of space devoted to laity.

    The only larger churches were the cemetery churches. MacMullen argues that a very different Christianity related to pagan communion with ancestors was partially “Christianized” here. He suggests something like the mixture of Catholicism and indigenous religious practice in Latin America. This is where the martyr cults were practiced and likely shaped the religion of the majority of the people more than the “cathedral” rites. Of course MacMullen is reconstructing this popular Christianity from as little evidence as what happened before “cathedral” liturgies.

    Without negating what MacMullen says about the cemetery churches, I imagine that household gatherings continued to take place even after the cathedrals and cemetery churches were built. I suspect the many presbyters and deacons moved from cathedral gatherings to cemetery gatherings to household gatherings, as the glue of Christian social networks. The many household gatherings probably had far simpler but more diverse liturgies, perhaps as many Liturgies of the Word, or Agapes (ritual meals) as there were Eucharists.

    The possibility that most of the liturgies of which we have records were liturgies of the elite may have some implications about our use of the past as a model.

  16. Jack Rakosky Avatar
    Jack Rakosky

    The reconstruction of pre-Constantinian Christianity is difficult because of the lack of direct evidence.

    Monasticism arising at the same time as the Constantinian Church gives a social scientist a way of looking into the pre-Constantinian Church. In the Economics of Monasticism , Nathan Smith argues that monasticism arose spontaneously from personal, free market type initiatives of Christians rather than top down initiatives of religious leaders. (This article contains many mathematical formulas, just skip over them).


    Therefore, one can argue that monasticism gives some evidence of earlier grass roots Christianity free of elite agendas. I suggestion the following.

    1. Since monks organized themselves in various different ways from solitaries who had rare contact with others through clusters of solitaries to military like communes, this probably reflects the diversity of grassroots Christian organizational experiences in pre-Constantine days.

    2. The main worship of the monks was the continuous reading of the psalms and other books of Scripture. Since few Christians had books and only a minority could read, being invited to a house to hear the Scriptures was probably common for both small and large Christian groups.

    3. The hospitality of sharing a meal, and spiritual conversation was also common among monks, so likewise among early Christians.

    4. Monks organized themselves around lay rather than ordained ministers. This suggests that ordained roles became more important as church membership and organizational structures grew larger.

    5. Monasticism downplayed the appealing rituals of “cathedral” churches, probably because they were meant to impress uncommitted and partially committed Christians and/or satisfy social status needs.

    Despite differences in liturgy and organizations, bishops promoted monasticism aided by the common earlier heritage.

  17. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
    Anthony Ruff, OSB

    Something just happened that bears emphasizing for its liturgiological significance.

    At 10:01 am today, June 15, Henry Edwards cited the research of Bishop Schneider, putatively a trustworthy authority on liturgical history. Thanks to Bishop Schneider, we pretty well know how communion in the hand was practiced in the early Church, and it bears little resemblance to today’s practice. As the laity received from clergy, and only clergy, they were very reverent about it.

    At 10:49 Fritz Bauerschmidt easily discredited this by citing a commonplace of liturgical history – the laity took the Eucharist home according to some sources, so they presumably gave it to themselves as they received it during the week.

    Here’s the significance: Bishop Schneider is being cited in some circles as a real source. His book is seen as credible. People believe him.

    But his scholarship is sloppy and his conclusions are way off the mark.

    This is a problem today, in my view: lots of conservative and reactionary positions are being advanced, even when scholarship doesn’t support them. My sense is that this problem is on the increase. Surely that’s because of internet, but not only. People with unsupportable views feel the wind in their back, and they charge forward without bothering to get their facts right. History is being distorted. That always happens somewhat, and no read of history is 100% objective. But in my judgment, it’s on the rise now.


    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      Fr Ruff,

      To use an even more common example: if you search for arguments in favor of the silent canon, you will find lots of copying and pasting of what might be charitably called “incomplete” arguments but that are better characterized as rationalizations.

      There’s a lot of rationalization that is reverse-engineered with partial evidence. In fact, one can argue that that there is a strong human cognitive tendency to reverse-engineer principles from rationalizations via evidence that is flawed by selection and confirmation bias. We might rightly see much of what passes for “rational” argument as a Potemkin village for something much messier.

      And the Internet has shed much more light on this, if only we had the time and patience to wade through the vast miasma of it.

    2. Henry Edwards Avatar
      Henry Edwards

      Fr. Ruff, perhaps you can favor us with any historical proof you possess, that

      –the practice in an early era of holy communion in the manner Bishop Schneider describes

      coexisted at the same time and place as

      –the admittedly common practice that Deacon Bauerschmidt describes, of taking the consecrated species home, together with proof that it was not consumed there in some correspondingly reverent manner

      thereby substantiating your inference that Bishop Schneider’s claim is inconsistent with known historical data.

      Or perhaps you can offer historical proof that the reverent manner of communion that Bishop Schneider describes did not degenerate later—perhaps in association with the practice Deacon Bauerschmidt describes—into more lax practices, with the result that communion on the tongue developed historically as a corrective to abuses.

      Just as the abuses and loss of belief associated in our own era with communion in the hand may lead once more to the corrective of universal communion on the tongue.

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        I’m not sure the burden of proof is on me as you propose.

        The point is that what Bishop Schneider documents is not universal practice. His followers cite it as if it were. And they cite it to discredit what we do now, though it also may have been the practice of the very, very diverse early church.

        As for abuses and loss of belief, I’m not sure how we can measure this. One poll on Real Presence is hardly convincing. And of course our goal is not merely orthodox affirmation of Real Presence – we’re talking about the Eucharist which is much, much broader than Real Presence. Sharing in Christ’s self-offering? Sense of community (Aquinas said unity of the Mystical Body is the res of the Sacrament, the highest purpose – not the Real Presence!)? Sense of mission to serve the poor and see Christ in them? Sense of integral connection between active participation with the Christian community and reverence to Christ in the Sacrament? Sense of connection between self-offering in the Sacrament and self-offering in the moral life, which is much more and much richer than following external rules (according to Popes JP2 and B16)?

        I can’t see into others’ hearts. We’re all limited in our perception of what we see around us, and which anecdotes are for us indicative of wider trends. I see, at the level of Eucharistic orthodoxy, such a complex mix of growth and decline, deepened understanding and loss of faith, that I’m hesitate to make judgments about the Catholic church today. Or how it compares to the Catholic Church 50 or 100 years ago. I tend to think there is much more progress than decline, but I can’t be too sure about that.

        In our (large) abbey church, we have communion under both forms every day of the year (except Good Friday). It appears that about 95% receive the Host in the hand. Most monks now bow before receiving the Sacrament (I’m among them). Not all do. I don’t see a patent connection between the holiness or lack of holiness between the two group. Hard to know what is showing off, what is humility, what is real reverence, and so forth.

        As for liturgical abuses around reception of Communion, I honestly don’t recall seeing any in the 23 years I’ve been a monk. Maybe I’m missing it.


      2. Henry Edwards Avatar
        Henry Edwards

        Fr. Ruff: “Maybe I’m missing it.”


        My own experience has been in a variety of Catholic parishes in different dioceses. I wish I were missing it.

        I infer from Pope Benedict’s statements and actions that he has not missed it either.

      3. Samuel J. Howard Avatar

        I’m not sure the burden of proof is on me as you propose.

        I think when you write that a Bishop’s work is “sloppy and his conclusions are way off the mark” the burden of proof is on you. If your claim was less strident, perhaps that you simply don’t agree with him, people wouldn’t immediately demand that you prove it, but just ask you what your reasons for disagreeing are.

        As for liturgical abuses around reception of Communion, I honestly don’t recall seeing any in the 23 years I’ve been a monk. Maybe I’m missing it.

        In a year of Sundays at an urban parish (with an attendance that it not that large as parishes go), I’ve personally seen two or three people start to walk off with the host without consuming it (i.e. they’re already 20 feet away from the priest by the time someone intervenes) in the past *ONE* year. I also know other people who have witnessed similar problems at their parishes.

      4. Henry Edwards Avatar
        Henry Edwards

        Fr. Ruff: “I’m not sure the burden of proof is on me as you propose.”

        At 4:17 pm yesterday, June 15, you wrote

        “Bishop Schneider is being cited in some circles as a real source. ….. But his scholarship is sloppy and his conclusions are way off the mark.”

        Assuming that you would not make a reckless and unfounded charge against a widely respected bishop, it seemed to me that you would want us to know the basis for this charge.

    3. Claire Mathieu Avatar
      Claire Mathieu

      Fr Ruff, this has been happening for many years in climatology circles debating man-induced global warming. But there are fewer and fewer deniers, as the signs of what is happening are more and more visible in the present reality. Scientific bogus claims have been patiently and repeatedly debunked over the years at realclimate.org, a web site started by a handful of climatologists.

      I doubt that liturgical bogus claims (about distant or recent history or other) receive as much funding, so they won’t be quite so resilient. But what will be the reality that will force everyone to take notice and abandon their silly theories?

      1. Paul Inwood Avatar
        Paul Inwood

        I don’t know anyone who denies the reality of current global warming. The question which no one is asking is “Does it matter?”, given that climate change is cyclical and we have been through both warm and cold cycles many times before.

        Here, too, so-called scholarship on both sides is highly selective and presents distortions of the truth in order to bolster whichever argument is being supported.

  18. Paul Inwood Avatar
    Paul Inwood

    Foley and Schneider both exhibit the syndrome of wishful thinking presented as if it were fact. Scholarship is noticeably lacking in their writings.

    Gamber is at least more of a scholar, but his writing is so coloured by anger that his arguments lapse into incoherent rage.

    Don Johnson on this thread reminds us of the classic Anglican method of receiving Communion — the so-called “smothering” technique whereby both hands are brought up to cover the mouth. Unfortunately this method is highly dangerous and results in hosts falling to the ground quite frequently.

    Henry Edwards asks if Communion on the tongue developed as a corrective to abuses with Communion in the hand (what abuses?, one wonders). It did not. It was left as the aftermath of the period when the practice of intinction flourished (briefly) in the history of the Church.

    The timeframe runs roughly as follows:—

    First nine centuries: Communion in the hand for all, Communion from the chalice for all.
    Next two centuries: Communion from the chalice taken away from the laity, replaced by intinction (necessarily received on the tongue) before that too rapidly dies out.
    Next nine centuries: Communion on the tongue under the form of bread alone is the only thing left when intinction has disappeared as a normative practice.
    1960s-70s: Paul VI paves the way for a resumption of the practice of the first nine centuries.

    1. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
      Karl Liam Saur

      Let’s not forget that, at some point, the reception of Communion by the faithful at large became more notional than real in the West, so that by Lateran IV, the Church insisted on every Easter at least. What a “tradition”….

      1. Jack Rakosky Avatar
        Jack Rakosky

        Not to mention the tradition of private Masses where the priest was assisted by one server at the most.

        Infrequent communion and the private Mass establish for me the potential that many well established practices may be unwise and should be changed.

      2. Karl Liam Saur Avatar
        Karl Liam Saur

        And that the issue of “continuity” is often more notional than real.

  19. Mike Burns Avatar
    Mike Burns

    I wonder if Professor Foley would accept such a paper from a graduate student? My professor Foley, Fr. Edward Foley , OFM, would never accept such a paper without citing critical sources. Trust me I learned how to write a thesis.

  20. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Fritz – wasn’t meant as an “ad hominem”. Fr. Ruff has reframed my points in a more helpful way rather than frustration – “…..what we are seeing is an increased number of so-called experts rewriting history but not based on facts or using their own ideological basis to rewrite history”. The whole EF-OF is a reflection of this and many here seem to be searching for a “historical justification” for the EF while at the same time plowing ahead pastorally. Not sure that this is helpful. And to believe that it has no impact on folks and their ecclesiology? Seems to be a rejection of lex orandi, lex credendi or a loose reinterpretation.

    Some other historical examples during the time period being highlighted. From Paul Bernier’s “Ministry in the Church”:
    – note that “priest” is not a term used until the late 4th or 5th century. It is presbyter in each community
    – priestly or cultic language only emerges in the late 3rd century
    – bishops, deacons (in the early centuries you will find reference to deacons almost constantly vs. presbyters or bishops) focused on building up the community vs. liturgical prayer leader functions
    – by the late 5th century, what emerged was the role of presbyter shifting from function to a recognized state – this impacted liturgy

    Not trying to misdirect the discussion but there were a number of early church developments that significantly impacted liturgy. Your discussion point on communion in the hand – fit that into the time periods above.

    One great example story – in 411, Augustine held a meeting in Carthage with 268 catholic and 279 donatist bishops. (more than in the US today) Gregory attended that meeting – he came from a “diocese” with 17 catholics. So, in that period you had bishop-parish set up; now we have priest-parish set up. So, when you look at liturgical development, this impacts what you study and conclusions/interpretations that you reach.

    1. Jack Wayne Avatar
      Jack Wayne

      Regarding the position of the priest at Mass- what was more common? I’ve heard both facing the people and facing with the people were used (with many of the earliest Masses being at U-shaped tables – more evocative “eastward” worship, IMO).

      Perhaps it’s better to decide whether or not a practice from the second century works as well in a modern liturgical context as it would have back then – a vested person standing behind an altar on raised steps ten feet away from everyone else doesn’t have the same communal connotations as a small group gathered around a table, for example. It becomes more evocative of a college lecture than a family meal.

      IMO, there’s more than enough historical justification for the EF without having to reach towards what may or may not have been done in the first three centuries of Christianity. I doubt that either the OF or EF is really all that close to the earliest practices, and they need not be. We don’t live in the same context as the early Christians so it wouldn’t have the same meaning anyway.

  21. John Nolan Avatar
    John Nolan

    Uwe Michael Lang in ‘Turning Towards The Lord’ (2004) makes a strong case for a common orientation and his scholarship is not in question. One interesting point he makes is that the rubrics of a Low Mass required the Epistle and Gospel to be read from the altar missal, and the only way this could be done facing the people, as the Liturgical Movement desired, was to celebrate the entire Mass versus populum, which was entirely licit, if unusual. The introduction of the ambo (and the vernacular) in 1964 made this no longer necessary. The other argument for versus populum was to reclaim the ‘sacred meal’ aspect of the Eucharist.

    On balance there is a case for celebrating the opening and concluding rites as well as the Liturgy of the Word facing the people, but facing (liturgical) east for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. On more than one occasion at a Solemn Mass in the EF I have seen both Epistle and Gospel proclaimed facing the people, rather than the subdeacon facing the altar and the deacon facing north.

    1. F C Bauerschmidt Avatar
      F C Bauerschmidt

      Uwe Michael Lang in ‘Turning Towards The Lord’ (2004) makes a strong case for a common orientation and his scholarship is not in question.

      Does Lang’s case for common orientation advance things well beyond Gamber? I found Gamber’s case pretty weak, filling in gaps in our historical knowledge with fanciful possible reconstructions of early Christian practice — not unlike what he accuses earlier liturgical scholars of doing in arguing for versus populum.

      I would add that I don’t feel like I have a dog in this fight, since I place the direction that the priest faces pretty low on my list of important issues in liturgical practice.

      1. Henry Edwards Avatar
        Henry Edwards

        Lang appears to utilize a new generation of historical research that was unavailable at the time of Gamber (and in the aftermath of the Council), and thereby to replace speculation and inference–as to whether versus populum celebration was common in ancient times–with citation of specific historical evidence. It’s a thin volume and and a fairly quick read, so you can judge for yourself.

      2. Fritz Bauerschmidt Avatar

        I did go back and look at an article by Lang on this topic that I read a couple of years ago and it looks to me that he mainly draws on scholarship available mainly in the 20s and 30s.

        Reviewing his article, I think he makes a good case that the claim that versus populum was the universal or even wide-spread practice of the early Church is simply false. This is not entirely novel; Jungmann was saying that decades ago.

        I think, however, he (like Gamber) is far weaker when it comes to discussing the practice in the city of Rome, where churches are oriented in all sorts of ways and often have altars that require the celebrant to face toward the nave. He is rightly (though perhaps not sufficiently) dubious about the suggestion of Gamber (and Bouyer) that the people turned their back on the altar during the anaphora, so as to face the same direction as the celebrant, but then seems to say that it makes no difference that there was no common orientation, since the early Church placed little emphasis on the face-to-face orientation of celebrant and people. So he seems to be saying that physical orientation is vitally important, except where it isn’t.

  22. Mark Miller Avatar
    Mark Miller

    For 13 years I have celebrated/presided at our little Episcopal Church in Washington State with the original Altar unchanged, facing the “East” window. I came believing that this form should be preseved in some places; and the congregation had never been that keen to see it changed. (Now, maybe more inclined to see such a change)
    Observations: the biggest thing that separates is the “distance” from the pews to the Altar. There is a mini-chancel (with *no* choir pews now) betweeen the front pews and the Altar. This distance is relative, ’cause its a small church, but it makes it harder for the congregation to experience being part of the EP- epsecially the younger ones. So I have the children come nearer on mumerous occasions. And added bells in all the old familiar places.

    Having been a priest for 19 years prior to this, I was not so comfortable with facing this way- it seemed pretty odd. But having the servers, and Extr. ministers (as you say) stand nearer the steps during the EP, etc, I try to convey that the Great Thanksgiving is not an action separated from the body of the congregation. And at some times, if there are 25- or less in the church, I have them come up to the rail (which in Episcopalian style is right up at the Altar steps) from the offertory.
    Mark MIller

  23. John Nolan Avatar
    John Nolan

    @ FC Bauerschmidt

    I assume this is a rhetorical question; if not, you have to read him and make up your own mind. BXVI certainly concurs with him, as do many younger priests who obviously think it is important.

    It is somewhat anomalous to go into a church in Bavaria where the guidebook describes in detail the symbolism of the Baroque high altar, only to find the Holy Sacrifice being offered on something whose dimensions and appearance resemble a coffee table. Fortunately most of these gimcrack structures look very temporary.

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