Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 1.djvu/234

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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 tabulæ 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,