For anyone looking for a short history of the Mass, this is a good place to start. Fr. McBride suggests that after finishing his book, the reader can go on to Mass of the Roman Rite by Joseph Jungmann, S.J., which is a more intense study of the Mass. Fr. McBride, who had contemplated writing a book on the history of the Mass for many years, was finally inspired by Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia to actually do it.
In his introduction, Fr. McBride discusses what various people have written on the study and celebration of the Mass, or the Eucharist, over time. In chapter one, he discusses the institution of the Mass at the Last Supper of Jesus Christ. He discusses how Jesus did this, demonstrating that Jesus followed the service for the Passover meal then added some new elements. He took bread and said “this is my Body,” and he later took a cup of wine and said “take and drink for this is my Blood” and that they should do so in remembrance of him.
During the period from the Apostles to the middle of the third century, the Church was persecuted, so there were no public churches as we have today. Christians celebrated the Mass in secret in a member’s home. Here the ceremony of the Mass began its development. McBride moves on to examine the development and celebration of the Mass before the Middle Ages. At this time, vestments and other objects were being used. McBride also discusses the various heresies that the Church had to deal with.
In the Middle Ages, Christians began receiving the Eucharist less often, until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 finally legislated that all Christians receive communion at least once a year, especially during the period from Easter to Trinity Sunday. The celebration of Mass became something for Christians to watch and not to participate in. Most did not know what was being said, and even if they could understand the language, they probably could not hear it. Private devotions or public adoration of the Eucharist became popular.
When the Constitution on the Liturgy of Vatican II was voted on, it passed 2,147 to 4. McBride examines the liturgical movement that started with the Benedictine Prosper Gueranger and in Germany with another Benedictine, Odo Casel. St. Pius X also had a part to play in the development of the Mass; he authorized children to receive communion at the age of seven, and he also encouraged frequent communion. In the United States, Benedictine Virgil Michel founded the journal Orte Fratres, now known as Worship. Others like Roman Guardini, Joseph Jungmann, S.J., and Pope Pius XII encouraged active participation in the Mass.
Fr. McBride provides several black-and-white illustrations along with a brief presentation of a person or event from the time period the particular chapters are concerned with. He concludes each chapter with a prayer and some discussion questions that can be used by a study group or an individual. He has two pages of endnotes and an index.
Fr. Alfred McBride is a member of the Norbertines and the author of The Holy Eucharist Prayer Book (2005), Teen Guide to the Bible (2004), Catholic Beliefs, A to Z (2001), Complete Bible Study (2001), Ten Commandments (2001), Celebrating the Mass (1999), and many other books. A Short History of the Mass is highly recommended to those interested in knowing more about the Mass and its history and development.