St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Early Christian Tradition
Session Three: The Eucharist in the Early Church
Led by and Summary Supplied by Mike Kreutzer
Sunday, November 23, 2003
We examined some of the factors that influenced and set the direction for Christian worship in the first few centuries. We looked especially at Baptism: at some of the ways that it was understood and some of the ways that it was celebrated.
We will examine the Holy Eucharist, and the ways that it was understood and practiced during the first few centuries of the Christian era, as well as how it evolved from its simple beginnings in private homes to elaborate ceremonies in great public buildings.
(Chadwick, op. cit., page 32): “The unity of the scattered Christian communities depended on two things – on a common faith and on a common way of ordering their life and worship. They called each other ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’ Whatever differences there might be of race, class or education, they felt bound by their focus of loyalty to the person and reaching of Jesus. The pattern of worship derived all its meaning from its reference to him. The rite of baptism by which they were admitted to the Church was both a commemoration of the events at the river Jordan when Jesus was filled with the Spirit for his life work, and a once for all renunciation of evil, which St. Paul in a powerful metaphor described as “being buried with Christ.” Each Sunday they met for their ‘thanksgiving’ in which the baptized ate bread and drank wine in a sacred meal which they spoke of as ‘eating the body’ and ‘drinking the blood’ of Christ. To share in the sacred meal was so deeply felt to be the essential expression of membership of the society that fragments of the broken bread were taken round to any who were absent through illness or imprisonment.”
Originally took place during a meal.
A Jewish practice imbued with new meaning; (Paul Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship,
page 40) Jewish ritual pattern: on behalf of all who were present, the head of the household
1) at the beginning of the meal, he took bread into his hands
2) said a short blessing
3) broke the bread
4) shared it with all present
5) at the end of the meal, he took a cup of wine into his hands
6) said a longer form of blessing over it
7) shared it with all around the table
Jesus’ actions, therefore, were not creating something new, but were giving new meaning to
a familiar ritual: i.e. “When you do this from now on, do it in remembrance of me.”
Bradshaw: “ritual meals like this were powerful expressions of the concept of the
participants’ communion with one another and with God. Their presence at this meal was of sign of their reconciliation with God and their membership among the elect who would one day feast together in God’s kingdom, and the intimate fellowship with one another that they experienced around the table was a foretaste, an anticipation, of the union that they would enjoy for ever with God. The whole meal was thus both a prophetic symbol of the future and also a means of entering into that future in the present.”
Anamnesis and epiclesis: the core of the prayer; “remembering” (not just mental; a solemn
calling upon God to act now in accordance with God’s saving actions in history; an entering into God’s saving works); then calling upon God to continue those saving works today
Didache, Chapters 9 and 10:
“Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:
We thank You, our Father, for the holy vine of David your servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever..
And concerning the broken bread: We thank You, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom; for Yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.
But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”
But after you are filled, give thanks this way: We thank You, holy Father, for Your holy name which You have made to dwell in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality, which You made known to us through Jesus Your Servant; to You be the glory for ever. You, Master almighty, created all things for Your name’s sake; You gave food and drink to men for enjoyment, that they might give thanks to You; but to us You freely gave spiritual food and drink and life eternal through Your Servant. Before all things we thank You that You are mighty; to You be the glory for ever. Remember, Lord, Your Church, to deliver it from all evil and to make it perfect in Your love, and gather it from the four winds, sanctified for Your kingdom which You have prepared for it; for Yours is the power and the glory for ever. Let grace come, and let this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any one is not so, let him repent. Maranatha. Amen.
But permit the prophets to make Thanksgiving as much as they desire.”
Justin Martyr, First Apology:
Chapter 67: “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, as long as time permits; 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…, 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, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
“But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things.”
Chapter 66: “This food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the one who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone.”
The Apostolic Tradition provides descriptions of two celebrations of the Eucharist in 4th-century Rome: one at baptism and one at the ordination of a bishop. This second provides the complete text of a Eucharistic Prayer which includes the opening dialogue, a thankful recital of the saving work of Christ (including the Last Supper narrative), a summary of what we now recall, an offering, an invocation (“epiclesis”) of the Holy Spirit on the offerings and on the people, a concluding Trinitarian doxology, and an “Amen” by the people.
> North African family: strong ties to the practice at Rome; some information on Lectionaries remain, although most was lost in the 7th-century Muslim conquests
> St. Mark or Alexandrian family: still apparently in the churches of Egypt and Ethiopia; includes many petitions particular to local needs (e.g. the cycles of the Nile)
> West Syrian or Antiochene family: includes Liturgy of St. James of Jerusalem; probably developed chiefly in Antioch and Jerusalem; special emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit; greatly influenced the development of Orthodox liturgies
> East Syrian family: originated on the border between the Roman Empire and Persia; ancient Semitic influence; may have reached as far east as parts of India and China
> Byzantine family: Liturgy of St. Basil, which includes two Eucharistic Prayers (the first of which forms the basis of our Eucharistic Prayer D); the second is much longer; patterns are similar to those of the West Syrian family; Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom includes great poetic flourishes; follows West Syrian structure; focuses on consecration as the work of the Holy Spirit; basis of much of the worship of eastern churches today
> Roman family: (Edmond Bishop: “Mystery never flourished in the clear Roman atmosphere, and symbolism was no product of the Roman religious mind… The genius of the Roman rite… [is] soberness and sense.”)
> Ambrosian or Milanese family: emphasis on the Second Person of the Trinity; the Spirit virtually disappears; still used throughout Archdiocese of Milan
> Mozarabic family: originated in Spain and Portugal; wide variety of texts; used today only in one chapel in the cathedral in Toledo
> Celtic family: developed by the monks of Ireland and brought to the Rhineland and northern Italy; has not been used for many centuries
> Gallican family: relishes variety, imagination, speculation and florid language; no longer exists independently, but its influence (and some of its prayers) have been incorporated into modern Episcopal, Methodist and Roman Catholic liturgies