I found a copy of this classic by Gregory Dix at a used book stand at the Chesterton Conference last year and am only now getting around to reading it. In one section he reviews the terrible persecution of the church from 65 to 260 AD. What was interesting to me was that it was not illegal to believe in Jesus Christ. It was illegal to attend worship. To worship another God but Caesar was treason and punishable by death.
Therefore the true sign of Christian faith was to attend Mass. Thus the early discipline that to miss Mass was a mortal sin. The choice was stark: attend Mass and risk death or don’t attend Mass and risk death.
At Eucharistic Adoration yesterday I had a moment with the altar servers and told them about the terrible persecutions and said, “For hundreds of years the mighty Roman empire vanquished every tribe and nation, crushing all rebellion. Only the Christians survived and eventually it was the Christians who conquered Rome.
When you see the priest vested for Mass he is wearing the robes of a Roman citizen of the first century, and saying–this is what is left of ancient Rome: the Catholic Church.