Did You Know?

Crypt of Callisto in the Roman Catacombs

There Was a “Law of Secrecy” in the Catholic Church

Discipline of the Secret, a.k.a. Disciplina Arcani, a.k.a. the Law of Secrecy

“It was not lawful for those initiated in the doctrine of Christianity to speak of, or publicly represent certain of its tenets and usages, for example ... the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass... Hence also the exclusion of even the Catechumens from the ‘Mass of the Faithful’. This caution the early Christians were compelled to observe to guard themselves against intruders [spies, infiltrators, and saboteurs] among the Catechumens and their holy faith against base misrepresentations.  The Discipline of the Secret, which lasted during the first five centuries, accounts for the guarded language of the early writers... and explains why the Fathers [of the Catholic Church] of this period write so cautiously concerning the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist” (Rev. J. A Birkhæuser, “History of the Church”, Fr. Pustet & Co., 1893, p. 118, ¶ 309; emphasis added).

Original Basis for the Discipline of the Secret

The original basis for the Law of Secrecy, a.k.a. the Discipline of the Secret, can be found in the Holy Bible where Christ admonishes us: “Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest perhaps they trample them under their feet, and turning upon you, they tear you.” (Matthew 7:6).

Reasons for the Law of Secrecy, a.k.a. the Discipline of the Secret

This “turning upon you” obviously refers to dishonest and insincere people who have their own agenda such as infiltrators and spies where one reads that “it was desirable to bring learners slowly and by degrees to a full knowledge of the Faith. A convert from heathenism could not profitably assimilate the whole Catholic religion at once, but must be taught gradually. It would be necessary for him to learn first the great truth of the unity of God, and not until this had sunk deep into his heart could he safely be instructed concerning the Blessed Trinity. Otherwise tritheism would have been the inevitable result. So again, in times of persecution, it was necessary to be very careful about those who offered themselves for instruction, and who might be spies wishing to be instructed only that they might betray” (“The Catholic Encyclopedia”, Volume 5, 1909, Discipline of the Secret, (1) Catechumens, page 32-b; emphasis added).

That this kind of thing actually did happen explains why the Fathers of the Catholic Church are very careful when writing about the Holy Sacrifice of the Catholic Mass, and also the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist.  They write carefully using expressions like: “I shall be understood by the Faithful” and others “My meaning is clear to the initiated”.

Despite this, spies and infiltrators did manage to work their way into the Catholic Church and thereupon to eventually discover some of the Sacred Mysteries of the Catholic Faith.  This is why the pagans mentioned the Sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist in vile terms such as “drinking blood” and “eating of the flesh of a child concealed in bread”, etc.

Despite such deliberate errors, by which pagan propaganda tried to condemn Catholics, such propaganda constitute part of the undeniable proof of the antiquity of the Holy Sacrifice of the Catholic Traditional Mass and of the Dogma of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, Who is truly present both under the appearances of the Consecrated bread and the Consecrated wine.

Use of the Discipline of the Secret

The use of this Secret is well known to other historians as well.  For example:  “There arose at a rather early period the Discipline of the Secret, already alluded to, embracing all the mysteries of the Faith, but surrounding with tenfold strictness the great Mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, at which not even the catechumens might be present, and of which no profane ear might as much as hear the mention.  A studied cryptic expression was therefore used regarding it, intelligible to the initiated alone.  Yet that tremendous secrecy is in itself the best evidence of the belief in the Real Presence.  Else why should anyone have surrounded with such unspeakable sacredness and mystery a mere figure [i.e., a sign or symbol or type]” (Joseph Husslein, S.J., Ph.D., “The Mass of the Apostles”, Imprimatur by Patrick Cardinal Hayes, Archbishop, New York, September 10, 1929, Christ and the Eucharist, The Consecration and the Real Presence, p. 29).

Uniformity of the Mass Used by the Apostles and of their Successors

“Abercius was Bishop of Hierapolis, a city in Phrygia.  Living at about the same time as St. Irenæus, [c. 150  A.D. - c. 215 A.D. to 220 A.D.] he was noted like him as a champion of the Faith against heresy.  He had traveled far and wide, east and west, in Italy and Mesopotamia, and everywhere, he tells us, found that the Christians partook of exactly the same Eucharistic Food in exactly the same way.  We possess in him therefore the most notable witness to the Catholicity of the Eucharistic Faith in the first ages of the Church” (Ibid., pp. 306-307).

“It all shows the persistence of these traditions.  It certainly would most perfectly account for the almost incredible uniformity of type in the primitive rite, unless indeed the Apostles themselves should have come to an agreement under the direction of St. Peter” (Ibid., pp. 320-321).

“That the Mass of the Apostles would be faithfully copied by their successors was sufficiently clear.  Christ had made known to the Apostles,  [Clement of Rome, a.k.a. Pope] St. Clement I [c. 88 - c. 97]  writes in the Epistle referred to [First Epistle to the Corinthians] - and let us remember that he lived in the days of the Apostles - that contentions would arise regarding the Episcopal office.  In view of this foreknowledge,  [Clement of Rome, a.k.a. Pope] St. Clement continues, the Apostles ‘appointed the above-mentioned Bishops and provided for the future by establishing a rule of succession according to which well-tried men should succeed them in their office after their death.’  The point here is that these ‘well-tried’ men would have been intimately associated with the Apostles, and so would naturally have closely imitated them in their manner of performing the most sacred Episcopal function, the Offering of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.  So it was possible to secure that sameness of type which we know characterized the early Masses”  (Ibid., pp. 321-322).

“Book VIII of the ‘Apostolic Constitutions’ is especially interesting on account of the influence it exercised in the East, and even in the West, and at Rome. This is a fresh argument in favor of that liturgical unity in the first centuries;  Hippolytus, Serapion, the ‘Apostolic Constitutions,’ and even Clement of Rome and the ‘Didache’ all exploit a theme which presents numerous analogies” (Right Reverend Dom Fernand Cabrol, “The Mass of the Western Rites”, pp. 19-20).

Even as late as the 13th Century, a reference is made to what We call “The Missal of 60 A.D.” which implies that this was the first liturgical book used by the Apostles themselves for offering Mass.  “60 A.D.” is an approximate date and is based on what the Angelic Doctor writes:

“We find it stated in De Consecr., dist. 1, that ‘James, the brother of the Lord according to the flesh [i.e., the Apostle, Saint James the Just, a First Cousin of Christ, the Patriarch of Jerusalem], and Basil, Bishop of Caesarea, edited the rite of celebrating the Mass’: and from their authority it is manifest that whatever words are employed in this matter, are chosen becomingly” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P., [b. 1225 A.D. in Rocca Secca, Naples, Italy - d. Wednesday, March 7, 1274 A.D., in Fossa Nuova, Italy], Doctor of the Church, “Summa Theologica”, Part III, Question 83, Article 4).

Because Greek was the universal language up to about the 4th Century A.D. in the West, these “Missals” would most probably have been written in Greek.  Note that Saint Thomas does NOT say that they “rewrote” anything, only that they “edited” - or, to use a more modern term - “reformatted” - the text to make it easier to be used by the newly Ordained Priests and the newly Consecrated Bishops of that time period.

Saint Thomas seems to indicate that many copies of what We call “The Missal of 60 A.D.” were being made for the new Priests and Bishops.  The text obviously would have been copied from the original text for Offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which was probably written during part of the 40 Days Christ remained on earth after His Resurrection and before His Ascension because only Christ Himself could have taught the Apostles exactly how to Offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and how to Administer the Seven Sacraments.

Those who would doubt that Christ Himself would have dictated the actual words for the original text should consider this observation by Saint Augustine, quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P.:

“As Augustine says in the same book: ‘Christ is the head of all His disciples who are members of His body. Consequently, when they put into writing what He showed forth and said to them, by no means must we say that He wrote nothing: since His members put forth that which they knew under His dictation. For at His command they, being His hands, as it were, wrote whatever He wished us to read concerning His deeds and words’  (Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P., “Summa Theologica”, Part III, Question 42, Article 4 - Whether Christ Should Have Committed His Doctrine to Writing?, Reply to Objection 1).

It should be noted that part of “His deeds and words” would automatically also include, in addition to the Gospel, the words to use, not only in Offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Catholic Traditional Mass, but also in Administering the Seven Sacraments, and most probably even important rubrics as well, because Jesus Christ perfectly instituted these Liturgical Rites and hence they are part of the official Doctrine of Christ which Christ Himself taught to His Apostles who obviously received these Liturgical Rites with great reverence.  This is only one of a number of reasons why Christ did not Ascend into Heaven immediately, or at least within a few days or even a week, after He rose from the dead.

It should be noted that all of the Liturgical Rites, not only for Offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but also for Administering the Seven Sacraments, were deliberately kept top secret, as the Angelic Doctor explains:

The Evangelists did not intend to hand down the forms of the Sacraments, which in the primitive Church had to be kept concealed, as Dionysius observes at the close of his book on the ecclesiastical hierarchy.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P., “Summa Theologica”, Part III, Question 78, Article 3, Reply to Objection 9; emphasis added.)

Here it seems that not only does Saint Thomas have in mind the actual FORM of words for each Sacrament, but also “form” in the sense of the entire liturgical “shape” or “format” of each Sacrament and also the actual FORM of words for the Double Consecration during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  In others words, what was the equivalent in the Primitive Church of what today is called the Ritual and the Missal.

This explains why Saint Thomas also teaches that “...if the [Double] Consecration was not performed then [i.e. by the Apostles] by these words, neither would it be now”  (Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P., “Summa Theologica”, Part III, Question 78, Article 1, Reply to Objection 1).

But the Apostles themselves did not make up their own Liturgical Rites for Offering the Holy Sacrifice and Administering the Seven Sacraments.

Why not?

“Since, therefore, the sanctification of man is in the power of God Who sanctifies, it is not for man to decide what things should be used for his sanctification, but this should be determined by Divine institution” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, O.P.,“Summa Theologica”, Part III, Question 60, Article 5, Body).

In conclusion, these historical facts, quotations, etc. not only prove the existence of the Law of Secrecy, a.k.a. the Discipline of the Secret, a.k.a. Disciplina Arcani, but prove the necessity for it because it proves the Wisdom of the Catholics in those early days who “were compelled to observe [this Secret in order] to guard themselves against intruders [spies, infiltrators, and saboteurs] among the Catechumens and their holy faith against base misrepresentations” thereby becoming the basis of a prudent and wise rational solidity concerning the exegent reasons for the Disciplina Arcani which, historically, various non-Catholics have not only disingenuously, but also irrationally, illogically, unhistorically, and yet consistently, assailed in their desperation to disprove historical, theological, and liturgical irrefutable facts which deny their basis for their various errors and heresies concerning not only the Holy Sacrifice of the Catholic Traditional Mass, but also the Seven Sacred Sacraments of the Catholic Church.


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