The fundamental acts of worship in early Christianity were those commanded by and acted out by Jesus. They are categorized in four liturgical acts.
- Eucharistic celebration
- Sacramental Rite
- Common prayer
- Liturgical sermon
Look familiar? If you have attended a Catholic Mass or Divine Liturgy you would recognize these liturgical parts. In fact, any Jew in the first century would have recognized these as basic liturgical elements.
When Jesus said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them,” Mt. 5:17 he most certainly was speaking of the liturgical worship of the Jewish people. Jesus was, after all, the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant – the most liturgically rich covenant.
Writings of early Christians, the Church Fathers, and sacred scripture show testament that the primitive Church continued these Jewish liturgical practices well after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. Though new practices developed over time, Christianity possesses the legacy of Judaism.
There are two major areas of continuity between Christianity and Judaism: Sacramentality and sacrifice.
By sacramentality, it is meant, the understanding that material things are used as directional pointers directing attention to something beyond itself that is of far greater importance. This sacramental mentality lends itself to effecting the potency of sacrifice.
Christian worship was adapted from Temple practices. In Temple worship the only legitimate place of worship was Israel. We find reference to this in Didache, Mishna, and Dead Sea scrolls. All sources reiterate the centrality of sacrifice in Jewish worship. Animals were typically used in sacrifice, however, they were not strictly required for all sacrifices.
Major liturgical sacrifices of Jewish worship, such as the sin offering of Yom Kippur, required an animal for the laying on of hands, transferring sin from man to animal. In order to communicate with God, it was made into a burnt offering, a holocaust. However, the holocaust was not complete until the sacrifice was eaten.
It must be noted: not all sacrifices were sin offerings. Therefore, anything that was precious could be used for minor sacrifices, so long as act was a regenerative process: offering, destruction and transformation, and acquirement of new life.
In summary, liturgical worship for Jews in the first century was an eaten sacrifice to commune with God that transformed and brought about new life.
Jesus’ fulfillment of the law and the prophets has also perfected them. Following his instruction, the early Christians preserved these perfected practices as the central act of Christian worship which we still carry out today.