Recent decades have witnessed numerous Christian denominations reforming and renewing their communal worship structures. Well before such a venture occurred, there took place, mainly though not exclusively in Europe, a scientific study of the early development of the Church’s common prayer, a study that continues today. Both professional and amateur historians have applied and are applying their expertise to this important task, for understanding the past is not merely an intellectual exercise but offers one of the all-important keys for understanding the present.
Yet many students of worship have but little direct contact with the great literary heritage that witnesses the way Christians lived their liturgical life during the early ages of Christianity. Often a person’s acquaintance with the primitive Church’s written documentation is only by way of citations in end- or footnotes. Frequently access to the excellent English language collections of early source material is limited, since these are for the most part found only in the libraries of theological schools and major universities. The same is true of texts related to particular subjects, e.g., initiation. Furthermore, a large amount of pertinent material has simply not appeared in English. Texts in Latin, Greek, and other languages—apart from their inherent problems for many students of the liturgy—are no less difficult to obtain.
The four volumes of the present series aim to present a selection or thesaurus (representative, to be sure) of a wide selection of source material illustrating the growth of the Church’s common prayer, in both East and West, from its Jewish roots down to the end of the sixth century. Included are texts from homilies, dogmatic and spiritual treatises, letters, monastic rules, church orders, prayer formulas, conciliar and synodal legislation, inscriptions, and the like. The subject matter is not only sacramental celebration but also the liturgical year, the times of the day for personal or group prayer, music and song, the physical arrangement of the church building, times for fasting (considered to be so closely allied with prayer), veneration of the martyrs, liturgical roles, decorum within and without the church, etc.
The user of these volumes fortunate enough to have access to a major theological library may well profit from the references to patristic and other manuals, as well as from the bibliography of pertinent periodical articles and treatises.
In a few cases the most recent edition of a text was, for various reasons, unavailable to me. Also, several texts initially intended to appear in this work are, in fact, not included since a particular volume could not be obtained.
It should be noted that, unless otherwise indicated, the enumeration of the psalms follows the Hebrew.
All cited texts have been translated by the present editor from the source indicated (“Translated from …”) or are taken from a preexisting translation (“Translation from …”).
A note on format
Each subhead (author, anonymous document, synods, etc.) is assigned an identification number, which is usually followed by a letter indicating a particular work of an author or a particular synod.
The internal enumeration of paragraphs usually corresponds to that of the edition from which the text was translated. Numbers, running sequentially, are assigned to paragraphs of the text.
Cross-references are indicated by the abbreviation for Worship in the Early Church, i.e., WEC, followed by the volume number and then either the subhead number in bold text (e.g., WEC 1:17 or WEC 1:27-B) or else the marginal paragraph number (e.g., WEC 1:244).
There are three types of footnotes: daggers, letters, and numbers. Daggered notes indicate the sources from which translations have been made, lettered notes contain explanations for words and phrases used in the text, and numbered notes indicate scriptural references.
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No work of this kind can reach completion without the encouragement and assistance of many people. And thus I must express my gratitude to Mr. Peter Kearney for sharing his expertise in Latin and Hebrew. To the Rev. James Challancin, a priest of the diocese of Marquette, Michigan, and a former professor of liturgy, for his many words of encouragement. To the staff (especially Jessica) of the Escanaba, Michigan, Public Library for such gracious assistance in procuring by means of interlibrary loans ever so many volumes from libraries throughout the country. To the whole publishing team at Liturgical Press and especially to Stephanie Lancour, my copy editor, whose careful reading of the text has saved me from any number of embarrassing moments. And especially to my wife, Marlene Winter-Johnson, not only for her patience throughout this endeavor but especially for the numerous hours in researching materials found in the library of The Catholic University of America and in that of the University of Notre Dame, as well as for helping to prepare the work’s manuscript for publication.