Senn, Frank C. "Chapter Four: The Patristic Liturgical Synthesis." Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997, 109-172.
While the earliest Christians tended to avoid publicity, Senn notes that the Edict of Milan, making Christianity a religio licta, paved the way for Christians to be more public about their faith (Senn 1997, 109). At the same time, as Christian leaders gained in social status, many of them accepted the ceremonies such as processions normally given to important people. Some of these ceremonies were adopted into Christian liturgy (Senn 1997, 110). As the culture influenced Christian observances, the Christian customs also influenced the broader society. Care for the poor in particular spread as a societal concern.
The fourth century saw the rise of numerous church orders, some of which retained portions of Apostolic Tradition or the Didache (Senn 1997, 111). Senn provides a brief description of several church orders and additionally notes that bishops tended to comment on the rites in their sermons (Senn 1997, 112). While the material at this point of Senn's work is interesting, my research focus is on an earlier period, so I will comment relatively briefly. Many of the sermons and homilies which commented on liturgy were preached shortly before Easter (baptismal homilies) or in the week after Easter (mystagogical homilies) (Senn 1997, 112-113). By the late 4th century we also begin to see lectionaries detailing biblical passages associated with different dates in the Church year (Senn 1997, 114).
By the early fourth century, Roman government was tending to decentralize, allowing different regions to express their local cultures (Senn 1997, 115-116). This pattern held true for liturgy, as well. Senn observes the fourth century sees different regional liturgies developing (Senn 1997, 116ff). He describes the East Syrian in detail (Senn 1997, 1116-119), followed by the West Syrian (Senn 1997, 119-133). Within this family there are many variants, all tending toward a high level of logical erudition. Senn nex reviews the Alexandrian family of liturgy (Senn 1997, 133-136), before moving on to the Roman and North African forms (Senn 1997, 136-144). Senn notes that the Roman material in early times is fragmentary and that there were many later developments. This makes it difficult to trace the origins (Senn 1997, 137-138). Senn finally discusses the Gallican and Mozarabic liturgies, also in Latin (Senn 1997, 144-146).
Baptismal rites were discussed a great deal, particularly in sermons and homilies. Senn says, "it is remarkable how similar these rites of initiation were throughout the churches of the Roman Empire and beyond" (Senn 1997, 147). Across geography the rites tended to agree. However, from the third through fifth centuries the rites did change. Senn notes the consistent pattern of converts asking to be baptized, procuring sponsors who were already Christians, and being accepted into catechetical studies. Before baptism, catechumens were taught to confess a creed (which differed in East and West), then were to receive baptism (Senn 1997, 149). While some of the rituals differ, the catechumens are baptized, confessing their faith, and leave with a new white garment, anointed with oil (Senn 1997, 150). Baptism would then lead directly to reception of first communion (Senn 1997, 157).
Senn observes that the rituals surrounding repentance and forgiveness developed early in the Christian period. This was inspired by the New Testament teachings about binding and loosing sins (Senn 1997, 153). The issue rose to greater importance during times of persecution. Senn notes that the Church would typically distinguish between the penitential attitude Christians were expected to have on a daily basis and the public penance and reconciliation which was applied to grievous sins such as denying the faith under torture. These more serious situations called for a public period of repentance and restoration (Senn 1997, 155).
In 321, Senn notes, "Constantine made Sunday an official day of rest" (Senn 1997, 156), which created more freedom for Christians to participate in worship. It also resulted in an association between the Sabbath and the Lord's Day, as well as emphasizing attendance at church services as the mark of Christian character. From that time, additional observances of days and seasons, as well as a more clear system of pericopes associated with different Sundays became more publicly evident (Senn 1997, 157). Senn describes some of the traditional observances around Easter, then around Christmas, all showing signs of development in the fourth century and after (Senn 1997, 157ff). Senn makes a persuasive argument that Church leaders were careful to distinguish between the Christian observances of Christ's birth and the pagan holiday dedicated to the Invincible Sun, celebrated about the same time (Senn 1997, 159-160). The Christians were not attempting to adapt paganism for their own purposes. Rather, the Christians used credible historic and scientific tabulations to establish dates of significant events.
While there is some evidence for buildings adapted for and possibly dedicated to Christian worship, it is not until after Constantine's actions that we see substantial church buildings (Senn 1997, 163). Senn describes the development of architecture which reflects Christian symbolism (Senn 1997, 164ff). Not surprisingly, decorations were a controversial matter, as some were more accepting of use of images than others.
Senn briefly discusses adaptations made to funeral and marriage celebrations. It is important that the Christians did not entirely do away with such cultural rituals, but made them comport with a Christian view of life and death (Senn 1997, 166-167).
Divine offices and liturgical hours grew up in Christian communities. Though they may have had private elements, there were also public gatherings available in larger cathedrals at the various hours of the day (Senn 1997, 169). By the fourth century the morning and evening prayers were well defined and had become an assumed way that Christians would worship together whenever possible (Senn 1997, 169). Senn observes that these offices were taken over by the monastic movement. They were not adopted to the church as a way of imitating monasticism. Senn describes the adaptation made to the prayer hours in the fourth century, emphasizing that it was monasticism which was making modifications to liturgy (Senn 1997, 170-171).