Saint Ignatius of Antioch
Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred in Circus Maximus around 110 AD for his faith. He is one of my favorite heroes of the early Church because of his writings that helped me see that the early Christians were indeed Catholics! On his way to martyrdom by the teeth of lions, he wrote 7 letters to the Churches he was presiding over.
Sure, these letter are not canonical as is Scripture, but that doesn't invalidate the historical perspective we gain from reading them. These letters are the equivalence of "little ancient webcams" that give us glimpses of what the early Christians believed and how they practiced their faith.
"Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains [i.e., a presbyter]. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2 [A.D. 110]).
When I first read this, I just about fell off my chair.( Well, actually I was sitting on my bed reading Steve Ray's Crossing The Tiber) I couldn't believe these early Christians had a hierarchical authority as seen in this statement about the Eucharist and ordination. Furthermore, it became clear to me that the Early Church was referring to itself as the universal=Catholic Church as early as the start of the second century! I had thought and been taught that the Eeeevil Catholic Church was a creation of the emperor Constantine to paganize the True Faith. (straight out of a Chick tract I must now sadly admit) And finally, the fact that Ignatius was talking about a "valid Eucharist" showed me just how important the sacrifice of the altar was to the early Christians, and still is to the Universal Church.
My favorite fact about Ignatius is that he was a disciple of the apostle John. Therefore, it would be hard to imagine that he misunderstood and misconstrued the teachings of Jesus. He was discipled by the favorite disciple of Jesus and thus he would do everything to preserve the truth and accuracy of the teachings passed on to him. I wrote a little story "The Heart Beat of God" last year to underscore the relationship of John and Ignatius and Eucharistic belief of the early Christians.