As a Catholic, I can’t help but be blown away by some of the verses in today’s reading. Paul takes on directly some of the other preachers who have lead the Corinthians astray. This is what he says:
4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. 5 Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super- apostles. 6 Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.
He calls these people “super apostles”. What is there chief characteristic? They are skilled in speaking whereas Paul is not. However Paul has the superior knowledge. When I read this I can’t help but think of your prototypical evangelical pastor who is valued and admired for his stirring high energy sermons compared to your average Catholic priest who are universally known form their boring homilies. According to Paul your ability to preach doesn’t qualify you as a legitimate minister of the gospel.
What then does?
Paul tells us in the first sentence, if someone proclaims another Jesus other than “the one we proclaimed” they are a false teacher. In other words, we must be faithful to not only the words of scripture but what the Apostles taught. This is a warning from Paul to us that comes to us by the Holy Spirit through the Scripture. What Gospel is the true Gospel? It is the one the Apostles proclaimed. How do we know what the Apostles taught? It was recorded by the first Christians who are known as the Church Fathers. They recorded the teachings of the Apostles in their written works. Their writing are not scripture but they are historical evidence of that was normative teaching in the first few centuries of Christianity. When we have questions about things we can study their writings and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit keep our beliefs consistent with what the Apostles taught and what Christians first believed.
For example, there is a document called the Didache (pronounced did-A-Kay). It was written in A.D. 70. It is referred to as “the teaching of the Apostles”. It can be found online. Here are some interesting things it says:
Chapter 2. The Second Commandment: Grave Sin Forbidden. And the second commandment of the Teaching; You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born. …
So 2,000 years ago, the first Christians prohibited abortion.
Here is what the Didache says on Baptism:
Chapter 7. Concerning Baptism. And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit. But before the baptism let the baptizer fast, and the baptized, and whoever else can; but you shall order the baptized to fast one or two days before.
So, 2,000 years ago, the first Christians did not require baptism by immersion.
Here is what the Didache says about Christian worship:
Chapter 14. Christian Assembly on the Lord’s Day. But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one who is at odds with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: “In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations.”
Notice, from the first century Christians are talking about worship on “the Lord’s day”, which is Sunday (no longer Saturday). They do not speak of a worship service the focus of which is a sermon, they speak of the breaking of the bread. And they do not consider it a symbol they consider it a sacrifice.
But lest you think this is the only place this information is conveyed, we have another document from approximately A.D. 150 for Justyn Martyr, who was asked to write a defense of Christianity to the Emperor of Rome. In his “First Apology”, Justyn writes:
Chapter 66. Of the Eucharist
And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. …
Chapter 67. Weekly worship of the Christians
And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs [the priest gives a homily or sermon], and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
Justyn Martyr describes the Mass in substantially the same manner as it is performed today. The accoutrements have changed. We meet in Churches instead of houses. There are gold cups instead of wooden ones, etc. But those things are superficial. What matters is that we do things the same as the first Christians did. This tradition is the tradition of a family, the family of God. The same way your Sunday dinner traditions or Thanksgiving dinner traditions create a historical narrative for your family is the same way the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, the Mass, makes the Christian family. At the Last Supper, Jesus said to his Apostles, “I have LONGED to eat this meal with you.” That Last Supper before his passion, death and resurrection is what Jesus tells us he was building towards and waiting for. Would the Lord have LONGED to establish a new meaningless symbol or is it like the Didache and Justyn Martyr say, a sacrifice that is the Lord’s sacrifice itself?