Christian Roots of Apostolic succession

By Jeff Hedglen

North Texas Catholic

6/27/2016

I recently had the pleasure of visiting my wife’s family in her home country of Germany. They live in a quaint village of about 5,000 people near France. The town is in a region that is filled with hills and vineyards; it is extremely picturesque. 

One day when we were hiking through the forest of her childhood, where there are not one, but two castles, we started talking about family and home, and she mentioned how walking these trails really makes her feel rooted and grounded because of the memories and history they evoke. 

In the days that followed I began to think about my own family history. An uncle of mine has been working to trace our lineage and it has been discovered that there is a good possibility that, on my father’s side we might have had family fight in the United States Revolutionary War. One of them may have actually been at Valley Forge with George Washington. 

This summer my Mother’s side of the family will gather for our once-every-three-years reunion. This time we are going back to South Dakota where this family has its origins after coming from Ireland, France, and Germany more than 130 years ago.

There really is something about family and the past that grounds me and gives me stability. I have never been someone who moved around a lot. I have lived in the same part of Fort Worth since 1981, gone to the same parish for the same amount of time, and have worked with youth and young adults in the Church for over 30 years. Stability is something I really enjoy, and I think part of the reason why is the comfort that comes from being connected to a community. 

When it comes to the spiritual life, being rooted is taken to another level. There is nothing like watching people walk by me during Communion and knowing most of them, or at least being familiar with their faces. Additionally, having been the youth minister for someone and then 20 years later their children is frightening and awesome at the same time. 

But the time when I felt the most rooted in my entire life is when I read this passage from St. Justin Martyr:

On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. 

Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. 

And they, who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president. 

This is from his First Apology written around 150 AD. It is a letter of defense of the faith and in this section he is explaining the typical Sunday ritual. What we discover in this passage is that this particular order of Sunday worship was normative just over 100 years after Jesus' death, and is pretty much exactly what we do every Sunday, including the collection!

The first time I read this I imagined roots sprouting from the bottom of my feet and going back 1900 years. I knew we are a Church of Apostolic succession, but I didn’t know it was so specific. 

Being rooted means we are a part of something bigger than just us. Others have walked these trails and t traditions before us and many more will do so after us. Each step we take and each prayer we make is a thread that weaves us deeper into the tapestry that is the plan of God.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting my wife’s family in her home country of Germany. They live in a quaint village of about 5,000 people near France. The town is in a region that is filled with hills and vineyards; it is extremely picturesque. 

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