Ancient Rites and Customs

   Even the most cursory study of the first eight centuries of the Church's history brings to light innumerable rites and customs which were subsequently abandoned. Candidates for Baptism were required to present themselves for "scrutinies" on seven successive days; to prostrate themselves while lengthy exorcisms were read; the priest anointed their lips and ears with his saliva; they were anointed from head to toe with exorcised oil . . . after Baptism the candidates were anointed with perfumed unguents; after their First Communion they were sometimes given a draught of milk and honey. During the Mass catechumens were ordered to leave the church after the Liturgy of the Word [the Mass of the Catechumens]; babies who were Baptized were given Holy Communion under the form of wine. Long and arduous public penances were imposed for certain sins-----penitents were excluded from the churches and had to remain outside in sackcloth and ashes begging for prayers; Lent was truly a time of severe penance, of fasting and abstinence; widows and virgins in particular were exhorted to fast often and pray for the Church. There were very strict rules for anyone wishing to invite a widow for a meal. "Let them be ripe in years," wrote St. Hippolytus, "and let him send them away before evening." Among those who could not be accepted as candidates for Baptism were sculptors, painters, actors, or anyone who gave theatrical performances, charioteers, profligates, eunuchs, charmers, mountebanks, cutters of fringes of cloth, and soldiers. Concubines were acceptable if they had remained faithful to their master. Christians were urged to rise at about midnight, wash their hands and pray. If they signed themselves with their moist breath, and caught their spittle in their hand, their bodies were sanctified right down to their feet . . . So great was the veneration of the primitive Christians for the Blessed Sacrament that It was placed in the grave with the dead, in order to safeguard him or her from the wiles of the devil and serve as a companion for the body in death, as in life. This practice was condemned by the first Council of Carthage, in A.D. 393.

      The attitude of the early Christians towards schism and heresy is certainly relevant today, in view of the prevailing indifference to truth masquerading under the name of 'ecumenism'. Those who quote St. Cyril's description of the distribution of Holy Communion would certainly not wish the faithful to learn of his views on heresy:

    "Let us hate them who are worthy of hatred, withdraw we from them whom God withdraws from; let us also say unto God with all boldness concerning all heretics, 'Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?" 20

    There is no lack of quotations from other Fathers of the Church expressing similar sentiments.

    The list of ancient customs could be extended indefinitely. It is of no little interest to examine those that have been revived, or later developments that have been reversed, and look for a common denominator in them. This common denominator is not hard to find -----it is the aim of bringing Catholic worship into conformity with that of the Protestant sects. The replacement of altars by tables, communion under both kinds, an audible vernacular liturgy, the abolition of black vestments, of explicitly sacrificial prayers, of wafer-like altar breads. I will not go into detail here, but will simply refer readers to my book Cranmer's Godly Order. I provide more than enough evidence there to prove that the present liturgical revolution, while not identical with Cranmer's, has more than sufficient parallels to outrage any Catholic who loves the Faith. There is, however, no little irony in the fact that Cranmer was sufficiently conscious of the solemnity of Holy Communion, even in his own version denuded of our Lord's Real Presence, to restrict its distribution to the ordained clergy. There were no lay ministers of Communion for him!

20) Catechesis mystagogica, xvi, 10.