Please help support the mission of New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
This liturgy was in use not only in the old Roman province of Africa of which Carthage was the capital, but also in Numidia and Mauretania; in fact, in all of Northern Africa from the borders of Egypt west to the Atlantic Ocean. Christianity was introduced into proconsular Africa in the latter half of the second century, probably by missionaries from Rome, and then spread rapidly through the other African provinces. The language of the liturgy was Latin, modified somewhat by the introduction of many Africanisms. It is probably the oldest Latin liturgy, since it had been in use long before the Roman Church changed her official language from the Greek to the Latin idiom. A study of the African liturgy might thus be very useful to trace the origin and development of the different rites, and to determine what influence one rite had upon another. Since the African Church was always dependent upon Rome, always devoted to the See of St. Peter, and since there was constant communication between Africa and Rome concerning ecclesiastical affairs, it may easily be supposed that liturgical questions were raised, different customs discussed, and possibly the customs or formulas of one church adopted by the other. At a later date the African liturgy would seem to have exercised some influence upon the Mozarabic and Gallican liturgies. The great similarity in some of the phraseology, etc., would show a common origin or a mutual dependence of the liturgies. The African liturgy may be considered in two different periods: the ante-Nicene period, when the Church was suffering persecution and could not freely develop the forms of public worship, and when the liturgical prayers and acts had not become fixed; and the post-Nicene period, when the simple, improvised forms of prayer gave way to more elaborate, set formularies, and the primitive liturgical actions evolved into grand and formal ceremonies.
It is a difficult matter to reconstruct the ancient African liturgy since there are so few available data; for instance, owing to the ravages of time and of the Saracens, no liturgical codices now survive; in the works of the early Fathers or ecclesiastical writers, and in the acts of the councils there are but few quotations from the liturgical books, and not many references to the words or ceremonies of the liturgy. In the first, or ante-Nicene period, it may be said there were only two writers who furnish useful information on the subject--Tertullian and St. Cyprian. The writings of Tertullian are especially rich in descriptions of ecclesiastical customs, or in clear allusions to existing rites and usages. Some additional information may be gained from the acts of the early martyrs, e.g. the Acts of St. Perpetua and St. Felicitas, which are quite authentic and authoritative. Finally, the inscriptions on Christian monuments give much confirmatory evidence on the beliefs and practices of the time. From these various sources one may learn some of the customs which were peculiar to the African Church, and what formularies and ceremonies were common to all the Western churches. The prayers of the Christians were either private or liturgical. Privately they prayed every morning and evening, and many of them prayed frequently during the day; for example, at the third, sixth, and ninth hours, before meals, and before undertaking any unusual work or enterprise. The liturgical prayers were said chiefly during the reunions of the faithful to observe the vigils, or to celebrate the agape and the Holy Eucharist. These Christian assemblies in Africa seem to have been modelled on the same plan as those in other countries. They imitated, in a certain measure, the services of the Jewish synagogue, adding thereto the Eucharistic sacrifice and some institutions peculiar to Christianity. In these reunions three elements are easily distinguishable: psalmody, the reading of passages from the Old and New Testaments, and prayer, to which a homily on the Scripture was generally added. Such meetings were sometimes distinct from the Mass, but sometimes they formed a preparation for the celebration of the divine mysteries. The elders of the Church presided over the assembly, instructions and exhortations were given, prayers recited for the needs of the Church, the necessities of the brethren were considered and provided for, and various business pertaining to the Christian community was transacted; and finally, the agape was celebrated as a fitting conclusion to a reunion of the disciples of Christ. The agape seems to have been celebrated in Africa in the same manner as in other countries, and to have degenerated into an abuse to be suppressed here, as well as elsewhere.
These liturgical meetings generally took place at night, or just before dawn, and hence Tertullian speaks of such an assembly as a coetus antelucanus, a "meeting before the dawn" (Apol., ii), while others speak of it as a vigil. Possibly the hour was chosen to commemorate the time of the Resurrection of the Lord, or perhaps it was selected to enable the Christians in times of persecution to evade their persecutors. The true Christian liturgy, in a strict sense of the word, is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, the sacrifice of the New Law. This generally followed the long prayers of a vigil, and even today some traces of the vigil survive, since a similarity may easily be noticed between the prayers for the ancient vigils, and the first, or preparatory part of the Mass; or perhaps even more clearly in the first part of the Masses for the Ember days, or the Mass of the Pre-sanctified on Good Friday. Thus the Holy Eucharist was celebrated very early in the morning ordinarily, and the regular day chosen for assisting at the sacrifice and partaking of Holy Communion was the Sunday, in commemoration of the Resurrection of Christ. The Sabbath was not observed by the Christians in the Jewish sense, and the Jewish festivals were also abandoned, as is evident from the words of Tertullian (De idolatria, xiv), speaking of the observance of festivals by Christians, "to whom Sabbaths are strange, and the new-moons and festivals formerly beloved by God". The Sunday was now the Lord's day, a day of rejoicing, on which it was forbidden to fast and to pray in a kneeling posture. "We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord's day to be unlawful". (Tert., De corona, iii.)
When Sunday was thus kept in honour of the Resurrection it was only natural that Friday should be considered the appropriate day for commemorating the passion and death of Christ and hence the early Christians met for prayer on Friday. There was also a reunion on Wednesdays, whose origin cannot be satisfactorily accounted for. The Wednesday and Friday meetings were known to Tertullian by the name of stations (stationes). In Africa it appears to have been the custom to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on station days, although it does not seem to have been the practice in other churches. Everywhere these were days of fasting, but as the fast lasted only until the ninth hour, the liturgy would be celebrated and communion distributed about that time in the afternoon. Of all the Sundays, the feast of Easter was the greatest, and was celebrated with special solemnity. Good Friday, called by Tertullian "Pascha", was a day of strict fast, which was prolonged through Holy Saturday. This latter day was only a day for the preparation for the feast of Easter; but still it was the most solemn vigil during the year, and the one on which all the vigils were modelled. Holy Saturday does not seem to have had any special liturgical service assigned, the present service being the ancient Easter vigil anticipated. Possibly the vigil of Easter was observed so solemnly on account of the tradition that the Lord would return to judge the world on the feast of Easter, and the early Christians hoped He would find them watching. Easter in Tertullian's time was followed by a period of fifty days' rejoicing until Pentecost, which was considered as the close of the Easter season rather than as a solemn feast with a special significance. In the third century Lent, as a period of forty days' fasting, was unknown in Africa. Of the greater immovable feasts the earlier writers appear to know nothing; hence Christmas, the Circumcision, the Epiphany, the festivals of the Blessed Virgin and the feasts of the Apostles do not seem to have been celebrated. The festivals of local martyrs seem to have taken precedence over what are now regarded as the greatest feasts of the Church, and their anniversaries were celebrated long before the great immovable feasts were introduced. Such celebrations were purely local, and it was only at a much later date that commemorations of foreign saints were made. The early Christians had a great devotion towards the martyrs and confessors of the faith, carefully preserved and venerated their relics, made pilgrimages to their tombs, and sought to be buried as near as possible to the relics of the martyrs, and hence the anniversaries of the local saints were celebrated with great solemnity. Thus the calendar of the African Church in the ante-Nicene period was rather restricted, and contained but a comparatively small number of feast days.
Among the liturgical functions, the celebration of Mass, or of the Holy Eucharist, occupies the most important place. Although the early writers speak in a guarded manner concerning these sacred mysteries, still they give much precious information on the liturgy of their age. The Mass seems to have been divided into the Mass of the catechumens, and the Mass of the faithful, and among the orthodox Christians the catechumens were rigidly excluded from assisting at the sacrifice proper. Bread and wine are used as the matter of the sacrament, but a little water is added to the wine to signify the union of the people with Christ. St. Cyprian severely condemns certain bishops who used only water in the chalice, declaring that water is not the essential matter of the sacrifice, and its exclusive use renders the sacrament invalid. Both Tertullian and St. Cyprian have passages which seem to give the form of the Eucharist in the very words of Christ as quoted in the Holy Scripture. Sometimes there is great similarity between their words and the phraseology of the Roman canon. There are allusions to the Preface, the Sanctus, the commemoration of Christ, the Pater noster, and to different acclamations. Tertullian speaks often of the kiss of peace, and considers the ceremony very important. References are also made to a litany which was recited during the Mass, but no precise information is given concerning its place in the liturgy. At Mass the faithful received communion under both species, under the species of bread from the bishop or priest, and under the species of wine from the deacon, and each one, after receiving communion, answered "Amen" to profess his faith in the sacrament. Sometimes the faithful carried the Host home, and there communicated themselves, especially in times of persecution. Communion seems to have been received fasting, as Tertullian implies when he inquires what a pagan husband will think of the food of which his Christian wife partakes before any other food. The early Christians appear to have communicated frequently, even every day, especially during a period of persecution. The greatest reverence was shown to the Sacred Species, so the faithful strove to be free from all stain of grievous sin, and deemed it a serious fault to allow any of the consecrated elements to fall to the ground.
Baptism, as the initiatory rite of Christianity, is mentioned frequently by the early writers; Tertullian wrote a special treatise on this sacrament, describing the preparation required for it, and the ceremonies accompanying it. The catechumens should prepare for the reception of baptism by frequent prayers, by fasts, and vigils. Although he usually speaks of the baptism of adults, still he admits the baptism of infants, but seems to be somewhat opposed to this practice, which was commended by St. Cyprian. The time set for the solemn administration of baptism was Easter, or any day between Easter and Pentecost, but Tertullian declares that as every day belongs to the Lord it might be conferred at any time. He holds that it should be administered by the bishop, who, however, may delegate a priest or deacon to act in his place, although in certain cases he would permit laymen to baptize. Any kind of water may serve as the matter of the sacrament, and the water is used to baptize the catechumen "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost". The mode of baptizing was by triple immersion in the font, which had already been blessed. Many beautiful symbolical ceremonies accompanied the rite of baptism. Before the candidate for baptism entered the font he renounced the devil with his pomps and his angels. There was also a creed to be recited by the candidate for baptism, probably an African form of the Apostles' Creed. Tertullian gives several different forms of this rule of faith. After the neophyte ascended from the font he received a drink of milk and honey, and was then anointed with consecrated oil. Tertullian also states that the neophyte was signed with the sign of the cross, that he received the imposition of hands with the invocation of the Holy Ghost, and that the newly baptized Christian then partook of his first holy communion. Tertullian explains many of these ceremonies in his treatise on the Resurrection (viii). "The flesh indeed is washed in order that the soul may be cleansed; the flesh is anointed, that the soul may be consecrated; the flesh is signed (with the sign of the cross) that the soul too may be fortified; the flesh is shadowed with the imposition of hands, that the soul also may be illuminated by the spirit; the flesh feeds on the Body and Blood of Christ, that the soul likewise may fatten on its God."
The testimonies relating to the Sacrament of Penance describe principally the public penances imposed for grievous sins, and the absolution of the penitents after the public penances had been performed to the satisfaction of the Church. Tertullian at first asserted that the Church had the power of forgiving all kinds of sins, but after becoming a Montanist he denied that this power extended to certain most heinous crimes, and then ridiculed the practice of the Pope and the Roman Church, who denied absolution to no Christian that was truly penitent for his sins. In writing sarcastically of the mode of procedure in use at Rome in the time of Pope St. Callixtus, he probably gives a good description of the manner in which a penitent sinner was absolved and readmitted into communion with the faithful. He narrates how the penitent, "clothed in a hair-shirt and covered with ashes, appears before the assembly of the faithful craving absolution, how he prostrates himself before the priests and widows, seizes the hem of their garments, kisses their footprints, clasps them by the knees", how the bishop in the meantime, addresses the people, exhorting them by the recital of the parable of the lost sheep to be merciful and show pity to the poor penitent who asks for pardon. The bishop prayed for the penitents, and the bishop and priests imposed hands upon them as a sign of absolution and restoration into the communion of the Church. Although Tertullian in these words wished to throw ridicule on what he deemed excessive laxity at Rome, still he describes faithfully rites which seem to have been in use in the Church of Africa also, since elsewhere in his writings he mentions doing penance in sack-cloth and ashes, of weeping for sins, and of asking the forgiveness of the faithful. St. Cyprian also writes of the different acts of penance, of the confession of sin, of the manner in which the public penance was performed, of the absolution given by the priest, and of the imposition of the hands of the bishop and priests through which the penitents regained their rights in the Church.
Tertullian speaks of the nuptial blessing pronounced by the Church on the marriage of Christians, asking "how he could sufficiently extol the happiness of that marriage which is cemented by the Church, confirmed by the oblation, sealed with the benediction, which the angels proclaim, which is ratified by the Heavenly Father". Christian marriage thus seems to have been celebrated publicly before the Church with more or less solemnity, but the nuptial blessing would appear to have been optional and not obligatory, except perhaps by force of custom.
Both Tertullian and St. Cyprian mention ordination and the various orders in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, but unfortunately do not give much information which is strictly liturgical. Tertullian speaks of bishops, priests, and deacons whose powers and functions are pretty well defined, who are chosen on account of their exemplary conduct by the brethren, and are then consecrated to God by regular ordination. Only those who are ordained, says St. Cyprian, may baptize and grant pardon of sins. St. Cyprian distinguishes the different orders, mentioning bishops, priests, deacons, sub-deacons, acolytes, exorcists, and lectors, and in describing the election of St. Cornelius at Rome declares that Cornelius was promoted from one order to another until finally he was elected by the votes of all to the supreme pontificate. All the orders except the minor order of ostiary are enumerated by the early African writers. Both exorcists and lectors appear to have occupied a much more important liturgical position in the early ages than in later times. The exorcist, for example, was frequently called upon to exercise the power he had received at ordination. Tertullian speaks of this extraordinary power which was exercised in the name of Christ. Sometimes the exorcist used the rite of exsufflation, and sometimes, as St. Cyprian states, adjured the evil spirit to depart per Deum verum (by the true God). Lectors also had many liturgical functions to perform. The lector, for example, recited the lessons from the Old and New Testaments, and even read the Gospel from the pulpit to the people. In later ages his duties were divided, and some were given to the other ministers, some to regular chanters.
Among other liturgical ceremonies the early writers often allude to the rites accompanying the burial of the dead, and particularly the entombment of the bodies of the martyrs and confessors. From the earliest times the Christians showed great reverence to the bodies of the faithful, embalmed them with incense and spices, and buried them carefully in distinctively Christian cemeteries. Prayers were said for the repose of the souls of the dead, Masses were offered especially on the anniversary of death and their names were recited in the Memento of the Mass, provided that they had lived in accordance with Christian ideals. The faithful were taught not to mourn for their dead, but to rejoice that the souls of the departed were already living with God and enjoying peace and refreshing happiness after their earthly trials and labours. Tertullian, St. Cyprian, and the Acts of St. Perpetua, all give testimony to the antiquity of these customs. The cemeteries in Africa (called areae) were not catacombs like those in Rome, but above ground in the open air, and often had a chapel (cella) adjoining them, where the reunions of the faithful took place on the anniversaries of the martyrs and of the other Christians who were buried there. The inscriptions on the tombs often state that the departed had lived a life of Christian peace, in pace vixit, or often beautifully express their faith and hope of the faithful in a future life of happiness together with the Lord--spes in Deo--in Deo vivas.
Finally, some ceremonial acts might be considered to which reference is often made by the early writers. Prayers were said sometimes kneeling, sometimes standing; for example, on Sundays, and during the fifty days following Easter, it was forbidden to kneel, while on fast days the kneeling posture was considered appropriate. The Christians prayed with the arms stretched out somewhat in the form of a cross. The sign of the cross was made very frequently, often on some object with the intention of blessing it, often on the forehead of Christians to invoke God's protection and assistance. Tertullian in his "De Corona" writes: "At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign of the cross". The early Christians were also accustomed to strike their breasts in sign of guilt and contrition for sin. Tertullian believed that the kiss of peace should be given often; in fact, that it should accompany every prayer and ceremony. Not only are there many ceremonial acts such as those just mentioned which existed in the third century and have been preserved even to the present in the liturgy, but there are also many phrases and acclamations of the early African Church which have found a permanent place in the liturgical formularies. These expressions, and perhaps also the measured style in which they were composed, may have had considerable influence in the development of the other Latin liturgies.
After the edict of Constantine granting freedom of worship to the Christian religion, and especially after the Council of Nicaea, there was a great development in the liturgy of the Church. It was only natural that for some time after the foundation of the new religion, its liturgy should contain only the essentials of Christian worship, and that in the course of time it should develop and expand its ritual according to the needs of the people. Moreover, the first period was an age of persecution and hence the ceremonial was necessarily curtailed. But when persecution ceased, the Church began immediately to expand her ceremonial, changing and modifying the old forms and introducing new rites according to the requirements of public liturgical worship, so that the liturgy would be more dignified, more magnificent, and more impressive. In the beginning great liberty was allowed the individual celebrant to improvise the prayers of the liturgy, provided that he adhered to the strict form in essentials and followed the theme demanded, but at a later date the Church felt the need of a set of formularies and fixed ceremonies, lest dogmatic errors should find expression in the liturgy and thus corrupt the faith of the people. In the fourth century all these tendencies to expansion and development are very noticeable in all the liturgies. This is true, also, of the Church in Africa in the second period of the history of the African liturgy which embraces the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries to the beginning of the eighth century, when Christianity in Africa was practically destroyed by the Mohammedans. No liturgical books or codices belonging to this period are extant, so the liturgy must be reconstructed from contemporary writings and monuments. Of the writers of the period St. Augustine is richest in allusions to ceremonies and formularies, but St. Optatus, Marius Victorinus, Arnobius, and Victor Vitensis give some useful information. The inscriptions, which are more numerous in this period, and the archaeological discoveries also furnish some liturgical data.
The beginning of a real ecclesiastical calendar, with definitely fixed feasts and fasts, now appears. The great feast of Easter, upon which all the movable feasts depended, is celebrated with even greater solemnity than in the time of Tertullian. Before Easter there was a period of forty days' preparation, devoted to fasting and other works of penance. The vigil of Easter was celebrated with the usual ritual, but the length of the offices seems to have been increased. The Paschal solemnity was followed by a season of fifty days' rejoicing until Pentecost day, which, in the fourth century, appears to have a distinctive character as the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles rather than as the close of the Easter season. In Holy Week, Holy Thursday commemorated the institution of the Holy Eucharist, and according to St. Augustine, besides the morning Mass, a Mass was also celebrated in the evening in order to carry out all the circumstances of the institution at the Last Supper. Good Friday was observed by attending the long liturgical offices, while Holy Saturday was celebrated in about the same manner as in the time of Tertullian. Ascension Day seems to have been introduced in the fourth century, but in the time of St. Augustine it was universally observed. As for the immovable feasts, Christmas and Epiphany, which were unknown to Tertullian, were celebrated with the greatest solemnity in the fifth century. The first of January was observed not as the feast of the Circumcision, but as a fast day which had been instituted for the purpose of turning the people away from the celebration of the pagan festivities which took place at that time of the year. Feasts of other than local saints were introduced, for instance, immediately after Christmas, the feast of St. Stephen, of the Holy Innocents and of Sts. John and James, and later in the year, the feasts of St. John the Baptist, of Sts. Peter and Paul, of the Maccabees, of St. Lawrence, St. Vincent, etc. The festivals of the local martyrs were celebrated with even greater solemnity than in early times, and were often accompanied by feasting which was frequently condemned in the sermons of the time, on account of abuses. When such a large number of feasts was annually observed, it was to be expected that a list or calendar would be drawn up, and, in truth, a calendar was drawn up for the use of the Church of Carthage in the beginning of the sixth century, from which very important information concerning the institution and history of the great feast days may be obtained. When Christianity received legal recognition in the Empire, the Christians began to construct churches and adorn them fittingly to serve their purpose. Most of these were built in the old basilica style, with some few differences. The churches were dedicated in honour of the holy martyrs frequently, and relics of the martyrs were placed beneath the altars. The inscriptions of the period mention the dedication to the martyrs and also the fact that the relics were placed in the church or in the altar. The altar itself, called mensa (table), was generally made of wood, but sometimes of stone, and was covered over with linen cloths. There was a special rite for dedicating churches and also for consecrating altars, in which blessed water and the sign of the cross were used.
The Mass became a daily function celebrated every morning when the Christians could meet frequently without fear of persecuting, and when the increased number of feasts required a more frequent celebration of the liturgical offices. Little is known with precision and certitude of the composition of the different parts of the Mass, but still there are many allusions in various authors which give some valuable information. The Mass of the catechumens consisted of psalms and lessons from the Scriptures. These lessons were chosen from both the Old and New Testaments, and it would seem that there were three lessons as in some of the Oriental liturgies, one from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles in the New Testament, and one from the Gospels. The Third Council of Carthage decreed that only lessons from the canonical books of Scripture or from the acts of the martyrs on their feast days might be read in the churches. Between the Epistle and Gospel a psalm containing some idea in harmony with the feast of the day was recited, and corresponded to the gradual or tract in the Roman Mass. An alleluia was also sung, more or less solemnly, especially on Sundays and during the fifty days' prolongation of the Easter festival. The lessons from the Scriptures were generally followed by a homily, after which both the catechumens and the penitents were dismissed, and the Mass of the faithful commenced. This rule of dismissing the catechumens, etc., seems to have been strictly observed, since nearly all the African writers in their sermons or other works use expressions which indicate that their words would be intelligible only to the initiated, and that the catechumens were ignorant of the mysteries celebrated in the Mass of the faithful. The litany may have been recited after the Gospel, although its precise position cannot be determined with certainty. The litany consisted of short petitions for the various needs of the Church, resembling somewhat the petitions in the present Litany of the Saints, or perhaps the prayers for different classes of persons, or necessities of the Church which are now recited on Good Friday. The people very probably responded with some acclamation like Kyrie eleison, or Te rogamus audi nos.
In the time of St. Augustine a chant for the Offertory was introduced in the Church of Carthage; it consisted of a psalm having some reference to the oblation, and was sung while the people were making their offerings. Each of the faithful was supposed to bring an offering for his communion. The offerings were received by the bishop and placed upon the altar, with the appropriate prayers, and then the bishop proceeded with the Mass. The Dominus vobiscum preceded the Preface, which properly began with the words Sursum corda, Habemos ad Dominum, Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro, Dignum et justum est. The canon of the Mass was known in Africa as the actio, or agenda, and was mentioned but very seldom on account of the "discipline of the secret". There are, however, some passages in the African writers which show that there was a great similarity between the African actio and the Roman canon, so much so that some of the texts when put in juxtaposition are almost identical. The actio contained the usual prayers, the commemoration for the living and the dead, the words of institution and sanctification of the sacrifice, the commemoration of Christ, the Pater Noster, and the preparation for Communion. The Pater Noster seems to have held the same position that it now has in the Roman canon, and it was said before the Communion, as St. Augustine states, because in the Lord's Prayer we beseech God to forgive our offences, and thus we may approach the communion table with better dispositions. The kiss of peace followed shortly after the Pater Noster, and was closely connected with the Communion, being regarded as a symbol of the fraternal union existing between all those who partook of the Body and Blood of Christ. The faithful received communion frequently, and were encouraged in the practice of receiving daily communion. At the proper time the communicants approached the altar and there partook of the Eucharist under both species, answering "Amen" to the formula pronounced by the priest in order to profess their faith in the sacrament just received. During the distribution of communion the thirty-third psalm was recited or sung, because that psalm contained some verses considered appropriate for the Communion. Prayers of thanksgiving were then said, and the people dismissed from the church with a benediction.
The prayers accompanying the administration of the other sacraments seem to have become more fixed and to have lengthened since the time of Tertullian. For the more decorous and convenient administration of the Sacrament of Baptism, large baptisteries were erected, in which the ceremony was carried out with great solemnity. The African Church seems to have followed practically the same ritual as the Roman Church during the catechumenate, which lasted for the forty days preceding Easter. St. Augustine, for instance, speaks of teaching the catechumens the Apostles' Creed and the Lord's Prayer, and of the rites for the Vigil of Easter, as if they were in accord with those in use at Rome; but there appears to be only one unction, that after baptism, and the kiss of peace after baptism is still given as in the days of St. Cyprian. Victor Vitensis asserts that the African Church admitted the feast of the Epiphany as a day appointed for the solemn administration of baptism according to the custom prevailing in Oriental churches. The neophytes were confirmed after baptism through the imposition of hands and the unction with chrism on the forehead in the form of a cross, and on the same day they seem to have received their first holy communion with about the same ceremonies as in the ante-Nicene period. The rite for the Sacrament of Penance shows few peculiarities in Africa, so public penances were imposed and the reconciliation of penitents was effected in the same manner as in the age of Tertullian.
Matrimony is often mentioned, especially by St. Augustine, who speaks of the nuptial blessing and the various other ceremonies, civil and religious, connected with it, as for instance the tabulae nuptiales, etc.
As the Sacrament of Holy Orders had a more public character like the Eucharist, it is frequently alluded to in the writings and inscriptions of the time. Allusions are made to the various orders and to ordination, but there is scarcely ever a description of the rite of ordination, or an explanation of the formulas. It might be noted that the archdeacon now appears and has special functions assigned to him. Clerics began their ecclesiastical career as lectors often at a tender age, and the lectors formed a schola (school), which sang the ecclesiastical offices. Later on, the lectors became chanters, and their duties were given to the other ministers. St. Augustine also speaks frequently of the ceremony of the consecration of virgins, which seems to have been reserved to the bishops. The veil might be received at a much younger age in Africa than at Rome.
The faithful showed the same loving care and respect to the bodies of the departed as in the ante-Nicene period, but now the funeral rites were longer and more solemn. Prayers were said for the dead, Mass was offered for the souls of the faithful departed, and special rites took place while the funeral procession was on the way and when the body was entombed. The names of the dead were recited in the diptychs, and Mass was offered for them on the anniversaries of death. Moreover, the inscriptions of this age contain beautiful sentiments of hope in a happy future life for those who had lived and died in the peace of the Lord, and beseech God to grant eternal rest and beatitude to those who trust in His mercy. Many of these expressions are very similar to the phrases now used in the obsequies of the dead.
The Divine Office was gradually developing, but was still in a very rudimentary state. It consisted of the recitation or chanting of psalms and canticles, of versicles and acclamations, and the reading of portions of the Scriptures. There was a special collection of canticles taken from the Old Testament in use in the African Church, and perhaps, also, a collection of hymns composed by uninspired writers, in which were the hymns of St. Ambrose. Many of the versicles quoted in the writings of the time may be now found in the present Roman liturgy. St. Augustine was evidently opposed to the growing tendency to abandon the simple recitative tone and make the chant of the offices more solemn and ornate as the ceremonial became more formal. Gradually the formularies became more fixed, and liberty to improvise was curtailed by the African councils. Few, however, of the prayers have been preserved, although many shorter verses and acclamations have been quoted in the writings of the period, as for example, the Deo Gratias, Deo Laudes, and Amen, with which the people approved the words of the preacher, or the doxologies and conclusions of some of the prayers. The people still used the sign of the cross frequently in their private devotions as in the days of Tertullian. Other ceremonial acts in common use were striking the breast as a sign of penance, extending the arms in the form of a cross, kneeling during prayers, etc., all of which had been handed down from primitive times. Such are some of the most important data furnished by the early writers and inscriptions concerning the liturgy of the African Church, and they are useful to show the peculiarities of the Latin rite in Africa as well as the similarity between the African and other liturgies.
Cabrol in Dict. d'arch. chret. (Paris, 1903), 591; Duchesne, Christian Worship, tr. McClure (London, 1903); Probst, Liturgie der drei ersten christlichen Jahrhunderte (Tübingen, 1870); Idem, Liturgie des vierten Jahrhunderts und deren Reform (Munster, 1893); Mone, Lateinische und griechische Messen aus dem zweiten bis sechsten Jahrhundert (Frankfort, 1850); Cabrol et Leclercq, Monumenta Ecclesiae Liturgica (Paris, 1902), I.
APA citation. (1907). African Liturgy. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01194a.htm
MLA citation. "African Liturgy." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01194a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by R. Wiemann. Dedicated to all the African Martyrs and Saints.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.