In all our parishes, along with our times for Mass we also schedule hours of adoration. They are divided up between parishioners who are able to come to pray in silence before the Blessed Sacrament. We didn’t have that in the first centuries. It got underway after the year 375 A.D. Let me speak about how that came about.
For our first three hundred years all we had were reenactments of the Last Supper. Sitting around a low table, as at the Last Supper, our gathering began by our recalling the favors he had received from God. Secondly, we would ask God’s Spirit to unite us and to empower us to speak to him. Thirdly, we would become aware of Jesus coming among us in the form of bread and wine, and we would join him in making a complete offering of ourselves. We were becoming part of his sacrifice by becoming a part of his pleasing gift, his Eucharist.
After the year 375 A.D. a change came about.. What happened was that with the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 315, Christianity had become legal. People were worshiping in freedom in the all the cities rimming the Mediterranean. However, people with the wrong ideas took over.
It was like our Arab Spring early in the twenty-first century. When people, longing for freedom, overthrew Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, instead of those freedom-loving people taking over, it was better organized Islamic extremists who seized control.
Something like that happened after Christianity became legal in 315. Led by a priest named Arius, control everywhere went to a sect that admired Jesus as a good man, while denying that he was the Son of God.
When Emperor Constantine died in 337, his elder son, an out-and-out Arian, took over as emperor in Constantinople; while a younger son settled in Milan as emperor of the west. In 350 A.D., that younger brother allowed his brother to appoint an Arian bishop for Milan. For twenty-four years that Bishop Auxentius led the people in regarding Jesus as only a good person.
When Auxentius died in 374 A.D., the remaining true Christians demanded that the emperor replace him with a man named Ambrose who had had good Christian training as a boy. That new bishop, our St. Ambrose, hit on a scheme for making the people show reverence to Jesus. He made everyone give to the Blessed Sacrament all the honors they gave to the emperor.
He would allow only gold and fine cloth to touch the consecrated bread and wine. He made everyone kneel on both knees. And, instead of people celebrating the Mass sitting on the floor like it was done at the Last Supper, they had it take place on a thrown-like altar at the front of an audience hall like that of the Emperor.