An Early Witness to the Mass
The following text is an excerpt from the First Apology, composed by Saint Justin the Martyr around A.D. 150. A defense of the faith addressed to the Roman Emperor, it describes the form of worship practiced by the early Christians, which was essentially identical to today’s Catholic Mass.
65 But after we have thus washed [i.e., baptized] him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized person, and for all others in every place [i.e., the Opening Prayer], that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss [i.e., the Sign of Peace]. There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water [i.e., the Offertory]; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks [i.e., the Consecration] at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings [i.e., Greek, eucharistia], all the people present express their assent by saying Amen [i.e., the Amen]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced [i.e., Holy Communion], and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.
66 And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My Body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My Blood;” and gave it to them alone. …
67 And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all these things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits [i.e., the Liturgy of the Word]; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things [i.e., the Homily]. Then we all rise together and pray [i.e., the Prayers of the Faithful], and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability [i.e., the Consecration], and the people assent, saying Amen [i.e., the Amen]; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons [i.e., Holy Communion]. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need [i.e., the Collection]. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn [i.e., Saturday]; and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.