The Catholic Mass in 155 A.D., Described by St. Justin Martyr [Video]

The early Christian Mass

Today, many non-Catholic Christians claim that the Mass is not biblical. They deny that it was a practice of the early Church.

But when Christianity was new, misunderstood, and outlawed, St. Justin Martyr—a philosopher and Christian convert—gave a rigorous defense of Christian doctrine (called an “Apology”) to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, arguing that Christians should not be persecuted.

This powerful defense contains one of the earliest descriptions of the Mass.

Justin also included one of the earliest descriptions of how the bread and wine consecrated at Mass become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. This account proves that belief in the Holy Eucharist has always been the belief of the Church.

Watch this video to see Justin’s description of the Mass presented with music and imagery:

When Jesus established the New Covenant at the Last Supper—changing bread and wine into His own flesh and blood—He commanded His Apostles to “Do this in remembrance of me.”

The action He commanded was the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, also called the Divine Liturgy for Eastern Rite Catholics.

Justin Martyr understood this.

That’s why he explained the Mass in its essence (as taught by Christ and handed down to His Apostle) in 155 A.D.—the same Mass that continues today, just as it always has since the Last Supper.

The Institution of the Eucharist by Joos Van Wassenhove
The Institution of the Eucharist by Joos Van Wassenhove, painted 1473-75 A.D.

Excerpts from St. Justin Martyr’s Apology

The video above gives highlights from the First Apology of St. Justin Martyr. Here are the words in text form.

The Holy Mass, as described by St. Justin Martyr

“And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.”
—St. Justin Martyr

Belief in the Actual Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, as described by St. Justin Martyr

“And this food is called among us Eucharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, ‘This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;’ and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, ‘This is My blood;’ and gave it to them alone.”
—St. Justin Martyr

When we read these words from an early Christian, and keep in mind the early date at which they are written, we cannot claim that Holy Communion is merely a symbol—or that the Mass is a late, “corrupt” invention.

If you want to learn more about the Holy Mass (what really happens at Mass, where the Mass can be found in Scripture, how the Mass developed over the years, and more) you will be fascinated by our series The Holy Mass: 30 Days to Unlock the Most Powerful Prayer on Earth. Sign up today, and start your journey into the heart of the sacred liturgy.