Saturday, 11 July 2009

Offshore Mass Near Malta

I was reading in Acts yesterday and was surprised to notice something I had never noticed before. It looks like, during Paul's shipwreck incident, the day before they abandoned ship and swam for Malta, Paul offered the Mass onboard. Take a look.

And when he had said these things, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all; and when he had broken it he began to eat. (Acts 27:35)

If the parallelism between this and the Last Supper and every other description of Masses in the New Testament were not enough to clue you in, it is worth pointing out that the Greek word used for "thank" here, as in those other descriptions, is ευχαριστησεν (eucharistesen). What interests me particularly about this is that it was done "in the presence of all", and Luke tells us exactly how many that "all" was - 276 people (v37).

Now, any student of the early Church will tell you about the "discipline of the secret", according to which non-Christians and those preparing for baptism were permitted to attend the first part of Mass, including the Scripture readings and the sermon, but only baptised Christians were permitted to be present for the offering of the Sacrifice and for Communion. The question arises, of course, whether this practice was apostolic in origin or whether it arose shortly after their deaths (perhaps in response to the persecutions). In this connection, the fact that Paul offered the Sacrifice "in the presence of all" is very interesting. If the "discipline of the secret" was apostolic, this is a clear exception, and one wonders why Paul would have made an exception (and why on this particular occasion? - Paul and his companions spent months on ships and presumably he celebrated other Masses, albeit probably not on deck with the whole crew watching). On the other hand, if the "discipline of the secret" was not apostolic, this incident provides evidence of that.

Another point (and no doubt the Maltese have noticed this) is that, since they are lying just offshore from Malta, this is, arguably, the first Maltese Mass. That's kind of cool. Apart from the Holy Land (obviously), I don't think there are any other countries that could claim to find their first Mass mentioned explicitly in Scripture.


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