Interesting Facts about Celtic Christianity
1) The practice of Lent originated in the Gallican Church in the 4th century and was later adopted by Rome. It was a 40 day period of fasting that can be traced to the writings of St. Irenaeus, a student of Polycarp who in turn had been a student of St. John. The idea was to prepare candidates for baptism by fasting as Jesus had fasted in the wilderness in preparation of His ministry. In the Gallican and Celtic churches Lent begins on Monday and not Ash Wednesday.
2) Bishops could be consecrated with only one bishop present, instead of the three required in the Roman Church. In most ordinations it was not uncommon for more than one bishop to be present. Abbots sometimes passed their succession on one on one to their son or grandson.
3) The Celtic Church was organized around monasteries and not parishes like the Roman church. The parish system was modeled after the Roman government’s territorial system which was given to that church by the Roman Emperor Constantine. No single bishop was the head of the Celtic Church, rather the church leadership was made up of bishops and abbots with equal authority as stated in the early church councils, ie, Ephesus. Their bishops were viewed as successors to the apostles and keepers of the apostolic faith.
4) The Celtic Churches had two altars (Gildas’ writings describe this as do St. Adamnan’s), one in the far east end of the church and one in the front of the church. The one in the east was a larger alter and known as the Heavenly altar (representing worship in heaven). The other one was known as the Jerusalem or worship altar (representing Jesus’ life on earth). Early Christians were Jews who believed Jesus was the Messiah, so they adopted Jewish liturgical forms of worship and modeled the early churches after synagogues. Hence the two altars are representative of the Tabernacle and the Ark in Old Testament worship. The liturgy begins with the priest facing the rear altar with his back to the congregation. This recalls worship in the temple with the priest before the tabernacle. “David left Zadok the priest and his fellow priests before the tabernacle of the LORD at the high place in Gibeon” (1 Chronicles 16:39).
5) The Celtic Church was strongly Trinitarian. It was the only church that prayed to the Father, the Son and to the Holy Spirit. There were also some liturgical prayers to Michael the Archangel.
(courtesy of Rt. Rvd. John Dillard of Saint Andrews Church)