History of the Liturgy Metzger

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How great the differences between the Last Supper celebrated by Jesus and a pontifical High Mass at St. Peter's in Rome! And also, between the early baptisms by immersion described in the Acts of the Apostles and the baptisms of newborns in our parishes today. Why such a change in the celebration of the Christian mystery? Why the recent reforms, often misunderstood? In History of the Liturgy, Marcel Metzger answers such questions and offers an understanding of this evolution through a carefully documented historical survey.

The essential forms of the liturgy were fixed very early according to the tradition received from the apostles. But the place given to biblical readings, teaching, singing, and ritual has varied in the course of the centuries.

In History of the Liturgy, Metzger describes the most important phases of these changes. In describing the first millennium, he focuses on liturgy's essentials common to the Eastern and Western Churches. In describing the second millennium, he explains the deviations of the Western Churches which called for the effort of reform and renewal begun by Vatican II.

Metzger studies the development of the liturgical institutions and distinguishes liturgy's five main stages that correspond to the situations of the Churches in ancient, medieval, and modern societies. He begins by focusing on the apostolic period, roughly the first century of our era, until the death of the apostles. He follows by studying the period of minorities and semi-clan destiny until the beginning of the fourth century. He then focuses on the Peace of the Church," which grants public status to the churches in the Empire, fosters their growth, and organizes the collaboration between Empire and Church. The work concludes by studying the stability, rigidity, renewals, and reforms of the Roman liturgy, from the end of the Middle Ages to Vatican II.

This clear and accurate survey of the history of liturgy is designed to awaken readers' interest, on a solid yet introductory level, in the realities that have made and still make up the Church's liturgical life: assemblies, Eucharist, baptism, reconciliation, dally praise, the Church's calendar, and its architecture.

In History of the Liturgy, Metzger stresses that if history is the teacher of life, the eyes of Christian faith allow us to recognize in it as well the mysterious presence of God, who, through the Spirit, guides his people. And this happens, above all, in the liturgy.



  • Therefore, the term "liturgy" designates this vast and deep movement which begins with Abel's sacrifice and culminates with Christ's and by which God renders present the Covenant with God's people. In human history, liturgy appears from the beginning because the whole of God's enter[rise - what is called the economy of salvation - has for its goal communication between God and God's people, the very reason God created humankind.
  • For this reason, the Church celebrates in the liturgy above all the Paschal mystery by which Christ accomplished the work of our salvation.
  • The liturgy is the actualization of the New Covenant, accomplished by the ecclesial community through Christ, mediator between God ad humankind, in the Holy Spirit, under the appearances of efficacious signs and according to a legitimate order.
  • Since the time of the Apostles, community leaders have taken initiatives, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in order to innovate, to create new institutions and to adapt the celebrations to the concrete circumstances of their communities.
  • The Periods
    1. The Apostolic period roughly 1st century
    2. The period of minorities and semi-clandestinity - until the beginning of the 4th cent.
    3. The Peace of the Church
    4. The period of conversion
    5. The period of Stability, rigidity, renewals, and reforms of the Roman liturgy - from the end of the middle ages to Vatican II

1. The Historical Study of the Liturgy

  • The Oral Tradition
    • The order of celebrations was decided upon by each local church; Thus liturgies of the first centuries prolaimed the instructions and prayers in a living manner, according to schemes that had become traditional and wer transmtted from memory.
  • Ancient Witnesses of the Tradition in the Liturgical Domain
    • Basil the Great (d. 379) - Concerning the teachings of the Church, whether publicly proclaimed (kerygma) or reserved to members of the household of faith (dogmata), we have received some from written sources, while other have been given to us secretly, through apostolic tradition.
    • During the first three centuries, Christian institutions, including the liturgy, develop in parallel fashion in different churches.
    • Greek was the common language of the the first churches, including that of Rome, until the third century.
  • The Archeological Vestiges
  • The Written Sources
    • The Church Orders. The Didache We have no knowledge of the sort of reception these rulings met with, that is in what measure the communities applied them.
    • The Commentaries on Rituals
  • We must avoid projecting back to the past more recent preoccupations and usages. Not only the sacrament of penance but also the eucharistic celebration is liable to the same risk,
  • During the whole first millennium in the west (and it is still the case in the East), the Eucharist was perceived as a common action which did not place one celebrant facing the assembly, but united several ministers and the assembly in an dialogue

2. Apostolic Times: The First Century

3. The Liturgy in Christian Minorities during Times of Relative Clandestinity

4. The Liturgy in the Roman Empire after the Peace of the Church

5. Christendom: The Conversion of Nations and the Administration of the Common People

6. Stability, Fixity, and Restorations of the Roman Liturgy from the Twelfth Century to Vatican II

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