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St Justin Martyr (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the earliest known accounts of the Catholic Eucharistic celebration is given by the martyr, St Justin, around 150 AD. He recounts the gathering of a local Christian community for “the Breaking of the Bread”, which included the proclamation and explanation of Scripture, the Eucharistic meal, songs, prayers, and a collection for the poor.

By the fifth century, the language of the liturgy had gradually changed from Greek (which was originally the vernacular language) to Latin. Records from Rome, which date from the end of the eighth century, show that the elements of the Mass had been formalised and were almost the same as what we have now. After the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, the Church prepared for the first time a missal (prayer book for the Mass) that was universally implemented (previously many local areas produced their own missals). This missal, which collected material from the many sources available at the time, formed the foundation for the celebration of Mass for four centuries.

The liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) were far-reaching, but focused completely on the earliest traditions of the Church. Ritual elements named by St Justin (such as the Prayer of the Faithful and Rite of Peace) were restored. Our current missal now uses prayers from many of the previous missals, including ancient texts only rediscovered in more recent times.

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More Resources

Scripture references

from Together at One Altar

What Are You Doing? The Assembly’s Guide to Mass

Writings of the early Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Next: The Introductory Rites >