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A History Of The Mass And Its Ceremonies In The Eastern And Western Church -Rev John O'Brien A.M.

As a general rule, the preacher stood while delivering his sermon, and this generally in the sanctuary. The custom of preaching from the ambo, where the Gospel used to be read, is said to have been introduced by St. John Chrysostom (Socrates, Hist. Eccles., lib. vi. c. v.; Sozomen, Hist. Eccl., viii. v.) When, through feebleness of health or other causes, the preacher could not stand, he was allowed to sit upon a chair. This practice was often resorted to by St. Augustine in his declining years, and many of the early Fathers rather favored it, even when there was no special need of having recourse to it, in memory of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. Bishops of the present day observe this practice yet in many places. But, whether the preacher stood or sat, the general rule was, as we learn from St. Gregory Nazianzen, Eusebius, and St. Chrysostom, that the people of the congregation should stand. Whenever the preacher said anything that deserved special approbation slight indications of appreciation used to be manifested, such as bowing the head, making gestures with the hands, sometimes even clapping the hands or waving the garments. The people were so carried away upon one occasion by the golden eloquence of St. Chrysostom that they cried out with one acclaim: “Thou art worthy of the priesthood; thou art the thirteenth apostle; Christ hath sent thee to save our souls” (Riddle, Christian Antiquities, p. 455).

The custom of offering up a short prayer before the sermon was observed by the early Fathers. Sometimes this was nothing more than an ejaculation or a salutation to the people, under such forms as “Peace be to you,” “May God bless you,” “The Lord be with you” (ibid.) The custom now in vogue in many countries, especially in France, of saying a “Hail Mary,” or some other prayer to Our Blessed Lady, was introduced by St. Vincent Ferrer in the fifteenth century as a protest against the indignities offered the Mother of God by the heretics of that time (see Manahan’s Triumph of the Catholic Church).

Regarding the delivery of the sermon the ancient Fathers were very exact. Earnestness on the part of the preacher and sympathy with his people were looked upon as the great redeeming features of every discourse. Too much gesticulation was always severely reprehended; and if the preacher manifested any signs of levity in the pulpit, or indulged in any actions which were not considered entirely in keeping with the dignity of the place and occasion, he was at once commanded to desist, and silence was imposed upon him ever afterwards. It is said of the heretic Paul of Samosata that he carried gesticulation so far as to stamp the pulpit with his feet, beat his thighs with his hands, and act while preaching in a most unbecoming manner, for which reason the Council of Antioch, in A.D. 272, bitterly complained of him to Pope Dionysius, the reigning pontiff.








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