The Most Important Period in the History of the Catholic Church Vol.5 No. 5

It is on record, beyond every reasonable doubt, that the period from Constantine to Pope Leo the great (d. 461) was one of decisive importance in the history of the Catholic church. This is predicted on the fact that many of the basic features of Catholicism were fixed during these years in the form they were to retain, for the next 1500years, except with relatively few modifications.
Such features include the chief act of worship, the Mass, which was highly standardized and ritualized. The chief dogma, belief in Jesus Christ, God and man, was affirmed and clarified in lasting terms. The clergy took on the character of a sacred caste and began to submit themselves to the law of celibacy. Monasticism took root in Egypt and spread across Christendom. Finally, the basic principles of its code of social and personal ethics achieved nearly permanent form and many practices fundamental to its discipline and life were incorporated into its canon law. We shall highlight briefly on these features.
Towards the middle of the second century, the mass, originally called the Lord’s supper, the breaking of bread, or the Eucharist, which was celebrated by the first Christians in the late afternoon became an independent rite and was now celebrated on Sunday morning and combined with a service of reading and preaching.
In those days, they had no special holy place or temples, it was usually just a large room in one of the member’s homes. The whole focus was on the worshipping and praying community itself, for St. Paul had already assured them that they are the temple of the living God. But, under the auspices of Constantine, Christianity flourished and graduated from a simple, spacious buildings to a splendid, public and imposing house of God.
The liturgy itself was considerably influenced by the constantinian revolution. Consequent upon these, millions of pagans suddenly entered the church and some of their customs inevitably crept into the liturgy: the use of the kiss as a sign of reverence for holy objects, the practice of genuflection, devotion to relics, and the use of candles, incense and other ceremonial features. Under this pagan influence, Christians began to face the east while praying, which made it necessary for the priests to lead prayers with his back to the congregation.
The formation of liturgical calendar began with the special significance accorded to Sunday as the day of Christ’s resurrection and hence as the day Christians ordinarily gather for their weekly liturgy. But it did not become a public day of rest until the fourth century, when Constantine forbade all official litigation on that day.
Easter was celebrated very early by the beginning of the second Century. But its date was calculated differently in the East and in the West. At Rome (west), it was observed on the Sunday after the Jewish Passover, but in Asia (east) it immediately followed the fourteenth day of the Jewish month of Nisan (Friday) the beginning of the Passover. The difference resulted because there was much emphasis on the death of Christ in the East, as there were much emphasis on His resurrection in the West. Pope Victor (d. 198) tried to make the Asians conform to Western usage but failed. However, the Roman custom finally prevailed everywhere.
Pentecost and Epiphany were the next feast added to the calendar. The later on January 6 coincided with pagan festivals celebrating in birth of the new year. Christmas originated in the fourth century, when Constantine joined it with a pagan feast celebrating the birthday of the sun as December 25.
As regards the institution of sacraments, Eucharist and baptism were accorded special importance, but other rites of the church were also considered Sacraments instituted by Christ. By the Middle Ages, seven sacraments were officially listed. By next edition, we shall discuss the chief doctrine of faith which is the divinity of Christ! Stay tuned!!!

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