When was the first church service and what was it like? “Church” comes from two Greek words, one of which is still heard in our Roman Catholic Services. “Kyrie.” We know the other word from eating yogurt. “Oikos,” brand yogurt. “Oikos,” is the Greek word for a house. “Kyrie Oikos,” translates, “God’s House.
In the first reading for Memorial of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, we read from Nehemiah 8, the first church service. Ezra and Nehemiah, being Jewish, not Greek, did not use that term. The liturgy looks much like the liturgy we use today.
“The whole people gathered as one in the open space before the Water Gate.” As we gather for church, we pass the baptistery, our Water Gate. We sit in the pews and listen as the readers read from the Torah.
“Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly of men, women, and those children old enough to understand.” Some send our children off to Catechism Class before they start the readings. Protestants call it, “Sunday School.”
“All the people listened attentively to the book of instruction.” We all wish our readers would read to allow this to happen for all, and the readers wish all would pay attention, as they should.
“Ezra the grammarian stood on a wooden platform, made for the occasion. He opened the scroll so that all the people might see it.” Mass begins with the processing in, with the lectionary held high for all to see. Before Father reads the Gospel, he holds the book high. The original platform is still called a Bema. Catholics call it the Ambo.
Ezra blessed Kyrie, the great God, and all the people, their hands raised high, answered, “Amen, amen!” Father begins the reading with a blessing and we still end, “Thanks be to God.”
“They bowed down and prostrated themselves before Kyrie, their faces to the ground.” This is our bowing during Mass. For the Gospel, we stand.
“Ezra read plainly from the book of God’s Torah, interpreting it for all to understand.” The Jewish people of the time spoke Aramaic; the Torah was in Hebrew. This is like our Latin Mass, where the word is proclaimed but not understood. The homily has the purpose of making it clear for all to understand.
““Go, eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks, and allot portions to those who had nothing prepared; for today is holy to our Kyrie. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in Kyrie must be your strength!” Here is the Jewish beginnings of our Eucharist.
All the people went to eat and drink, distributing portions, and celebrating with great joy, understanding the words that had been expounded to them.” This is coffee and doughnuts after Mass. It should be considered an integral part of Mass. Father should be there, helping the people celebrate, representing how he is one of us, and learning how to represent God better to the people in the future.