Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Faith Seeking Understanding for January 21, 2007

Having examined the Didache in last week’s article, I would like to explore another work of the early Church that also bears the name of the Apostles: The Apostolic Constitutions. Unlike the second-century Didache, however, the Constitutions are clearly of later origin and never seem to have been regarded as authentically connected directly to the Apostles themselves. Nevertheless, the Constitutions do present a view of fourth-century Church life and practice.

The work is divided into eight books, covering the whole of the Christian life: the first book, on the laity; the second, on bishops, priests, and deacons; the third, on widows and some sacramental life; the fourth, on public works of charity and family life; the fifth, on the martyrs and the liturgy; the sixth, on heresies and the law; the seventh, on the Christian life, the Eucharist, and the Sacraments of Initiation; and the eighth, spiritual gifts and ordination.

Since it would be impossible to cover all the material in this extensive work, I will just present a few pertinent quotations that exhort the early Christians (and us) to greater holiness. To begin, we are encouraged to read Scripture: “Read the books of the Law, of the Kings, with the Prophets; sing the hymns of David; and peruse diligently the Gospel, which is the completion of the other” (Bk. 1, n. 5).

For family life, we read: “Let the husband not be insolent nor arrogant towards his wife; but compassionate, bountiful, willing to please his own wife alone, and treat her honorably and obligingly, endeavoring to be agreeable to her” (Bk. 1, n. 2). And further, “Let the wife be obedient to her own proper husband, because ‘the husband is the head of the wife’” (Bk. 1, n. 8). The expectation is clearly to sacrifice, each spouse for the other, out of reverence for Christ.

In the next book, the character of a bishop is described: “Let him also be merciful, of a generous and loving temper… Let him be also ready to give, a lover of the widow and the stranger; ready to serve, and minister, and attend; resolute in his duty; and let him know who is the most worthy of his assistance” (Bk. 2, n. 3). Why is this? “For you bishops are to be guides and watchmen to the people, as you yourselves have Christ for your guide and watchman” (Bk. 2, n. 6).

In this same book, we also read a brief description of what the church building ought to look like: “Let the building be long, with its head to the east, with its vestries on both sides at the east end, and so it will be like a ship. In the middle let the bishop’s throne be placed, and on each side of him let the presbytery sit down; and let the deacons stand near at hand, in close and small girt garments, for they are like the mariners and managers of the ship: with regard to these, let the laity sit on the other side, with all quietness and good order” (Bk. 2, n. 57).

It seems that even 1600 years ago, human nature was the same: “Let the deacon oversee the people, that nobody may whisper, nor slumber, nor laugh, nor nod; for all ought in the church to stand wisely, and soberly, and attentively, having their attention fixed upon the word of the Lord” (ibid.).

In addition, the importance of common prayer was stressed: “Assemble yourselves together every day, morning and evening, singing psalms and praying in the Lord’s house. In the morning saying the sixty-second Psalm, and in the evening the hundred and fortieth…. And on the day of our Lord’s resurrection, which is the Lord’s day, meet more diligently” (Bk. 2, n. 59).

Finally, we are reminded that our first and most important work is the worship of God: “Follow therefore your trades as by the by, for your maintenance, but make the worship of God your main business” (Bk. 2, n. 61).

We will continue to explore the remaining books of the Constitutions in the next few weeks. Hopefully, we have all been inspired by the tremendous presentation that Fr. J-Glenn Murray offered this past week; I am certain that it will help improve our celebration of the Sacred Liturgy here at St. John Neumann! Have a blessed week.