Saturday, December 13, 2008

Priesthood in the early faith community

A Return to Liturgical Celebration of the early Church

During the years following the ascension of Jesus,

the model of community worship by the early Christians

was that of the house Church.

The followers of Christ would gather in small groups

in the home of one of the Christian believers

and celebrate a memorial service of Our Lord's last supper.

The community of believers would call forth one of its members

to preside at this memorial service.

This person could be either man or woman, married or single.

This person was a baptized member of the early Christian community

with no special designation except being chosen or called forth

to leadership by the community.

Priesthood in the house churches of the early Christian community

did not come into existence until after the year 200 A.D.

For most of Christianity's first two hundred years

there was no perceived need for a formal clerical hierarchy,

or a centralized organization to define and enforce orthodoxy.

Each gathering of Christians was nearly autonomous,

and the various communities elected one (or several) of their members

to act as spiritual leader(s) in ministering the locally interpreted teachings of Jesus.

The Eucharistic celebration that the early Christian community celebrated

was a memorial service of the last supper.

The celebration of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist

was the result of the presence of Christ in the Community.

The community members were the concelebrants

and the leader was the presider.

It was the conscious expression of the faith by the whole community

that brought about the presence of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist.

Speaking the words of consecration was not the exclusive right of anyone

but rather belonged to the whole congregation.

The presence of Christ in the community

precedes the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Karl Rahner has said that the presence of Christ in the community gathered

precedes the possibility of the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements.

Only after we probe the presence of Christ in the community

will we find the deepest meaning of the real presence in the sacred elements.

Edward Schillebeeckx stresses the importance of seeing Christ's presence

as ultimately directed not toward the bread and wine,

but toward the community.

If participants want to understand the Eucharist as sacrament,

they should understand themselves first as the Body of Christ.

The bottom line and conclusion of all this

is that in the house church of the first two hundred years

it was first in the Christian Community

where the presence of Christ was to be found

and it was the Christian Community

that brought the presence of Christ into the Eucharistic Celebration.

In view of the many closing of parish communities because of the lack of celibate priests,

the lesson for the Christian community or house churches of the 21st century

is that as Our Lord has told us:

Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am present among you.

Like the house church of the first two hundred years,

it is the community of believers who can concelebrate

and bring about the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic Celebration.

Let us embark on the journey as a community of believers

in the modern day house Church.

Let us be true Traditionalists.

Love, John Chuchman


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