In Johannes H. Emminghaus’s book entitled The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration, its celebration starts out as an ordinary meal which was enjoyed in the early Jewish culture. This custom was meant to call to mind the Passover that was from the days of the Exodus when the Israelites were liberated from Egypt. This story is clear – as Pharaoh’s charioteers were pursuing them, God paved a way through the Red sea where the waters enveloped their pursuers who were attempting to intercept them.
In the Old Testament God explained how they must celebrate the remembrance of the Passover. Every Jewish household had to slaughter a lamb and prepare it in a special way. They had to eat it when dressed just like when they were about to leave Egypt. The doorposts of their homes were to be sprinkled with the animal’s blood, so that God’s judgment would pass over them, and they would be saved. This rite was to be celebrated on every anniversary of their deliverance. But over time changes were made because it had become too worldly. It was therefore determined to have the Passover in a more suitable manner as a meal, giving praise, and thanksgiving to God for their deliverance.
The New Testament Eucharist
Emminghaus showed in the New Testament the Eucharist was instituted as a memorial by Jesus Christ with his disciples, before he sacrificed his life on the cross at Calvary. Christ’s salvation was to follow the customary Jewish tradition. These meals however came to be abused, for although they were communal, guests like at Corinth overdid it with debauchery. Thus the Eucharist later celebrated at the end of a meal failed to measure up to the divine standards of the sacrament.
It was later proposed that the Eucharist should stand by itself. Since partaking of the elements of bread and wine were rather brief, this celebration evolved into the formulation of a Mass with the Liturgical Word, hymns, and the offering of the bread of life (Christ’s flesh, and wine) – his blood. Early in Christian history the Mass was formulated by Justin Martyr, the Greek Hippolytus, and passed down almost verbatim to the contemporary church.
The early churches were built to reflect the nature of the Mass. Since Jerusalem was the focal point the congregation a priest faced the East. The priest who presided at these ceremonies had their backs turned to the worshipers, but eventually this changed because of the layout of some churches. Now a priest faces every direction - East, West, North, and South. Altars have shifted to central locations within parishes with the seating arrangements in concentric circles around them.
The Middle Ages
Through the Middle Ages the liturgical season of Holy Week and Eastertide were especially popular, because they gave scope for the imagination. The people celebrated Palm Sunday’s procession with singing, the washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, the veneration of the cross on Holy Friday, and the unveiling of the cross. The acclamations, reproaches, the Pascal Vigil, with the impressive lighting of the new fire, and the carrying of the “Light of Christ” into the dark church were greeted with joy. The intense emotion, the blessing of the Easter candle, the baptismal water, and Easter day with its dramatic elements developed into Easter plays with the apostles, holy women coming to the tomb, and so forth were some highlights
But Emminghaus wrote that the liturgy by the end of the Middle Ages and on the eve of the Council of Trent (1545–1563) was deficient for it failed to grasp its real nature. There were abuses and one-sided popular piety, a decadent condition of the church as a whole, the great schism, selfish political interests, and social upheavals. God’s word in the scripture was not being preached, rituals were hindering it, and this was not helping the congregation’s spiritual life. These doctrinal controversies of the Reformation led to a new Roman Missal of Pope Pius V – the Latin Rite being restored, greater centralization, and a return to “the primitive rule of prayer.” Between 1570, and the year of Pope Pius V’s calendar reform, 1914, one hundred and eleven new feast days were added. There were increased feasts for Doctors of the Church, and some thirty of these by 1959.
The 20th Century Liturgy
Since the 20th century the liturgy was restored to a more profound theological grasp of its characteristics. It was realized that it was a communal, salvific celebration of God’s people of the new covenant when the body was gathered in Jesus’ name with each member playing a distinct role. This long break through was finally achieved at the Second Vatican Council that adapted new conditions of reforms.
Before and around 1800 desires for liturgical reforms went back to the time of the Enlightenment. With these changes came better and more frequent sermons, and led to the methodical catechists in the church and school. It saw the use of the vernacular language, encouraged the faithful to take a “rational” part in the celebration, enriched the liturgy at the parish level, and reformed the administration of the sacraments. These changes promoted the continuing education of the clergy through study, and pastoral conferences. And people were now able to receive the Eucharist more frequently. The age for first communion was lowered, and there was more active participation of the community in public worship.