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History of the eucharistic celebration VIII: The barbarian invasion

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On December 30, 407, at dusk on the Rhine, the Roman sentries who were guarding the borders of the Roman Empire shudder in horror as they watch a vast swarm of barbarian warriors cover the waters of the river. On horseback and wielding their weapons, they are the advance guard of thousands of others who, on makeshift rafts, or simply mounted on logs, enter the territory of Mainz, to not only plunder and kill, but to occupy the whole heart of Europe. From the towers of the fortified line, the alarm trumpets have sounded and the legionnaires are rapidly forming to defend themselves from the invaders. It is a desperate, useless and suicidal effort, which at dawn and in the light of the palisades now turned into bonfires, reveals thousands of corpses.

Thousands of horsemen, an endless hive of rafts with carts carrying women and children, enter like an out of control, unstoppable horde into the newly conquered land. They are Vandals, Swabians and Alans, united for this attack. It was a very well planned invasion, because these barbarians really knew the weakness of the Roman Empire, defended by an army of mercenaries. The times of the legions formed by brave soldiers proud of the power of the empire have passed and very few opt for the hard and risky life of the legions.

The defenders of the "limes" can do little against the dirty, smelly Asian tribes who "scented" their long, rough hair with a mixture of stale butter and horse urine, whose smell could be sensed from a distance. News that the Rhine border had given way brought terror to the Christian West. There is no longer any defense against the barbarians’ push, and the terrified Emperor Honorius takes refuge in Ravenna, surrounded by his court, while the invaders and the empire’s former allies unite and march over Rome under the command of Alaric, king of the Visigoths.

The solid walls built by Emperor Aurelian, the strong fortified gates and the formidable magnitude of the towers, are of no use in the face of the determination and bravery of the Asian invaders. After four days of plundering, murder and fires, they have reduced the great city to ruins. Only the Christian temples and the great basilicas remain standing, protected by Alaric, an order that all Goths literally follow.

At that moment of terror and chaos, the bishops raise their voice: "It is not the end of the world. Rome has fallen and this misfortune, this catastrophe is for believers the sign of the beginning of a new world that must be built. God does not abandon us." The bishops are the great parliamentarians who raised their voices with courageous energy against the abuses in the midst of the reigning terror. However, the list of bishops who were banished, imprisoned and killed is very long.  

That Rome did not disappear from the map and from history was truly a miracle. It is estimated that the city had more than one million inhabitants at the time of Peter and Paul, and barely 20,000 inhabitants will survive the attack by the barbarians. The Church will have to initiate new pastoral and liturgical forms to welcome other cultures into her midst. In order to do so, it will have to recognize the changes and adapt to the evangelization of the new settlements where Roman Catholics live together with the invaders, the great majority of whom are Arian Christians.

These new rural communities will be called parishes. To attend to them the bishops will send priests, a clergy that is not very well prepared, whom the shepherds will help by putting in writing the prayers that they must say, the liturgical forms and the sermons. Leading the Eucharist falls into the hands of rural priests without a real aptitude for improvising correctly the liturgical prayer and the homilies. Lectionaries, hymnals and antiphonaries are organized, and with the cultural amalgamation of the barbarians, Latin is gradually lost.

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