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Lift Up Your Hearts
on July 12, 2003
Among the most important developments for the Church in the last decade has been the rediscovery of the liturgical forms of the ancient Christianity. While much of the worship of Protestant Evangelicalism has become increasingly trite by appropriating the ethos of the popular culture, there has been a counter movement to find a more authentic worship by studying patterns of the early Church. This examination has been an enlightening experience to many thoughtful Evangelicals as they came to realize their own worship styles were of fairly recent vintage. Even more shocking, the worship of the early Church was liturgical in form, Catholic in outlook, and centered upon the Eucharist. As a result, many have either left the Evangelical movement for the historic Churches or sounded a call to return to more traditional patterns of worship within their own traditions.
The final piece of the puzzle is for those in the liturgical Churches to realize the treasures in their own midst and correct abuses that have detrimentally affected their own worship traditions. For those in the Roman Catholic Church who are unfamiliar with the history of early Christian worship, there may be no better starting point than The Mass of the Early Christians by Mike Aquilina. Written for a general audience, Aquilina manages to tie together liturgical styles from disparate sources of the early Church as they reflected on the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist. Although the book is primarily aimed at Roman Catholics, all Christians from liturgical traditions can read this book with profit and find comfort in the firm historical basis of their own worship. Those who have shunned liturgical worship might after reading this book reconsider their position and wonder what they have been missing. At no point does Aquilina force the Roman Catholic position but to his credit allows the ancient Church to speak for itself.
The first section of the book is a description of the origin and early development of the worship of the Church. Aquilina carefully examines the Jewish roots of the Mass and how the liturgy of the Church is a development of the ancient Jewish worship with the focus now placed on Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the establishment by Jesus of a new and everlasting covenant. The exposition of the Eucharist doctrine and liturgical forms used in the early Church is among the best introductory treatments of the subject as the reader is skillfully brought into contact with the thought of the early Church. After careful consideration of the discussion, readers who have had little exposure to the historical evidence may now see the worship of the Church with new eyes.
In the second part of the book, Aquilina provides primary evidence from the patristic period to support the veracity of his earlier exposition. Of particular interest are liturgical texts used in the early Church. It might be claimed the statements of certain patristic writers are not necessarily representative of the Church as a whole, but when the same themes are echoed in distinct liturgies used in areas separated by great distances, the weakness of this argument is exposed. If one belongs does not worship as the early Church worshipped and does not pray as the early Church prayed, it is also likely they do not believe what the early Church believed.
The book concludes with a fictional reconstruction by Aquilina of what it was probably like to worship in the early Church. This approach is quite compelling as the hard historical evidence provided earlier in the book is fleshed out in this hypothetical account of a Christian family at worship.
Many Christians from traditions not sympathetic to formal liturgy are now taking the historical witness of the early Church seriously. As a basic introduction to the richness of early Christian liturgy, The Mass of the Early Christians is a fine starting point. It is an inspiring account of the patristic mass that calls to the Church, as in the liturgy itself, to "lift up your hearts."