ASSEMBLY

ASSEMBLY. The first Christians, who were often on the move, preferred to define their meetings with a verb rather than a noun: suna,gein, whence sunagwgh,; the verbs sune,rcomai, in Latin coire, convenire, congregare, sometimes qualified by o`moqumado,n, evpi. to. auvto,, in unum Acts, Paul, Ignatius. The gathered people were called evkklhsi,a, transliterated into Latin as ecclesia, which at first meant the meeting, later also the place domus ecclesiae. The Greeks preferred su,naxij Origen, Cyril of Jerusalem. Though continuing to frequent the temple, the first believers held their meetings in the upper room of a private house. The meetings are described in Acts: They devoted themselves to the preaching of the apostles and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers 2:42. To the elements of Jewish synagogue meetings readings, songs, prayers, perhaps a homily, Christians added the fractio panis, the sacrament of the Lord who was invisibly present to those who gathered in his name. The meeting was sometimes still called sunagwgh, Jas 2:2; Ign., Pol. 4,2, but Christians preferred the term ecclesia, to indicate the community of a city: structured, hierarchical, with regular meetings to express its unity 1 Cor 11:17 and its permanent state of being on the move. The church thus continued the OT liturgical assemblies, called qahal. The assembly visibly expressed the bond and unity of Christians, who, even when dispersed, formed one heart and one soul, one body, as was symbolized by the one loaf made up of many grains Didache 9,10. The assembly was so essential for Christians that the pagan Pliny the Younger could describe them as people who meet on a set day, before dawn, to raise their hymn together to Christ as to a god Ep. X, 96. In the evening too they meet again to take an ordinary, innocent meal ibid.. Pliny may also have been interested in the mixed character of the meetings, with no clear distinction between men and women. Justin Martyr describes the various assemblies to the emperor more eloquently. First, how the catechumen, having received baptism, goes to join the united brothers, who welcome him with the kiss of peace. With baptism, he enters the assembly of the new covenant. Every Sunday, the day of the resurrection, the brothers flock from city and countryside. To accentuate their unity, they send the eucharistic gifts to those who are absent through the deacons. The assembly itself has the elements described in Acts: biblical readings, a homily, collective prayer, the presider’s prayer in the name of the assembly, who approve it with a resounding amen, and finally, Communion 1 Ap. 65 and 67. Tertullian Apol. 39 says that the assembly is vital for Christians: Corpus sumus  Coimus in coetum et congregationem. The emperor Diocletian struck at the church’s heart by suppressing the holy books and prohibiting liturgical gatherings. The local proconsul reproached Saturninus for having celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Asked why he had done it, the future martyr responded: We cannot live without celebrating the Lord’s Supper Acta Sat.. Regarding the components and rhythm of the Christian assembly, the main characteristic was its being a movement toward a locus of encounter. At certain points during the celebration, the assembly changed the physical direction of their prayers. But more important than the place were the people. Clement of Alexandria says that the church is not so much a place as the assembly of the elect Strom. VII, 29,4. Augustine too specifies that the beauty comes from the living stones, not from the architecture. The assembly gathers the faithful of a given geographical area, who represent the whole church, whatever their language, occupation, social position, sex or age might be. It was not a select group or an elite, but a multitude, bringing together the baptized good, mediocre or bad. Lactantius, comparing the Christians to the pagans, says that they are spiritu fratres, religione conservi, not admitting the normal social distinctions Div. inst. 5,16. It was a mixed multitude, as Augustine repeats an assembly gathered to share in the word and the bread, that it might radiantly flourish in active charity. Out of this arose the social works agape, offerings, diaconia inspired by the fraternity lived in the assembly. Origen, in response to the pagan Celsus, compared the peaceful, orderly Christian assemblies to tumultuous civic gatherings. He adds: Every person endowed with reason will admire the one who had the will and power to cause the churches of God to arise in each city, which parallel the assemblies of the people in each city. Likewise, comparing the council of God with each city’s political assembly, you could make clear that some members of the church’s council are worthy, if there exists a city of God in the universe, to exercise their authority C. Cels. 3,30. Whether held in the morning or evening, every day or once a week, with or without the Eucharist, the assembly was convoked and directed by the hierarchy Clem., 1 Clem. 40-41; Ign., Magn. 7,1; Phil. 4 and Tral. 3,1-3. It consisted of a biblical reading, often commented upon as did Origen at Caesarea, psalms and prayers Tertull., Apol. 39,3-4; Didasc. 13; Trad. ap. 31,35. Prayer was more effective for being commonly employed Ign., Eph. 13,1; Orig., De or., 31,4: Origen explains this particular grace by the invisible presence of Christ, the angels and saints. The quality of the assembly was connected to its frequency Heb 10:25. Ignatius Eph. 5,3, the Didascalia 12 ed. Nau and many Fathers exhort the faithful to assiduousness, lamenting neglect. Origen insists that the homily not be omitted Gen. hom. 10,1; Ex. hom. 12,2. The meeting must generate unity: separate conversations, discrimination, and personal likes and dislikes should be avoided. Origen reproves the older faithful who look down on new converts Comm. in Mt. XV, 26. Various texts report exhortations to not disturb liturgical meetings with chatter or other noise during the preaching, as, e.g., Origen: Why do I bother about those who are absent? Even you who are present here in church are not attentive, but usually engage in mundane chitchat Gen. hom. 10,1. Sometimes when a large number were present, the preacher’s voice could not be heard well, and the crowd would gather around him, standing. Applause was not uncommon when the listeners were pleased. On some occasions the popular consensus was also manifested by popular acclamations. In some cases, although only in the first part of the liturgy, pagans attended, as for instance we see in Augustine’s discourse recently discovered by Dolbeau Dolbeau 25: NBA 352, 566ff.. In a coercive measure, the emperor Licinius required a separation between men and women: men could not participate in liturgical assemblies with women Eusebius, Vita Constantini 1,53,1. Gradually, however, especially in the East, the assemblies themselves established a spatial separation between men and women. The arrangement of the various categories of Christians in the worship space is also ancient: catechumens, fideles, penitents, widows and virgins, clergy. However, the assembly knew no organized separation of social classes: in theory, all were fratres. On domenica in albis the newly baptized officially entered the community; says Augustine: With today’s solemn rite your departure from these transennae takes place, which, as spiritual children, separated you from the other faithful Sermo 260C,7; Those who have been baptized in Christ and regenerated, after the solemn celebration of the sacraments, must mingle with the rest of the people of God Sermo 224,1. From the 4th c. on liturgical structures became fixed, and East and West diverged from each other. Church buildings multiplied, often modeled on civil basilicas. The forms and texts of the great liturgies were fixed. Feasts of martyrs and pilgrimages were now added to the earlier meetings. We can distinguish between sacramental assemblies baptism and Eucharist, of which the eucharistic celebration was the summit and most perfect form, and nonsacramental assemblies, which were no less liturgical and required the presence of the hierarchy. These latter always included sacred reading, singing, and prayers of the people and celebrant. Egeria punctuated the stages of her pilgrimage with liturgical meetings in the churches she visited, in company with priests, where three elements always recurred: biblical reading, psalmody and prayer Itin. Eger. 10,33; 14,4; 20,14; 24,4, etc.. A theology of assembly was born in which meeting was seen as an epiphany of the church J. Hild. Each synaxis released an evangelical, apostolic and missionary power. It was the place of dialogue between Christ and the church, i.e., Christ’s body, the two in one flesh, as Augustine loved to say in the Enarrationes In ps. 85 etc.. Every assembly had eschatalogical significance, as already announced in the Apocalypse, and a concept expressed moreover in the hymn Caelestis urbs Jerusalem. As architecture and iconography demonstrate, it anticipated in the obscurity of faith the church of the new Jerusalem. 

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