The Eucharist, Part 1: Introduction

Note: This is part of this series on the Eucharistic liturgy found in the patristics. The series is an expanded response to FishEaters’ “What the Earliest Christians Wrote About the Eucharist.”

The Eucharist Liturgy

The original liturgy of the Eucharist is this…

  1. Dismissal — of the unbeliever, the catechumen, and the backslider.
  2. Eucharist — The offering (or sacrifice) of praise, thanksgiving, tithes, and firstfruits for the poor.
  3. Oblation — The presentation of the Eucharist to God with prayer and spoken “Amen.”
  4. Epiclesis — The Consecration of the bread and wine: “this is my body” and “this is my blood.”
  5. Lord’s Supper — Meal; Communion; Consumption of the bread and wine mixed with water.

…while the Roman liturgy alters the order to make Christ a sacrifice:

  1. Epiclesis — The Consecration of the bread and wine.
  2. Eucharist — “Jesus” is offered as the sacrifice.
  3. Oblation — The “Amen” is spoken; transubstantiation is affirmed.
  4. Lord’s Supper — Meal; Communion; Consumption of the bread and wine mixed with water.
  5. Dismissal — Believers are dismissed

As you read the many citations in this series, you’ll see that Roman Catholics often cite cherry-picked quotes that make it seem like they fit the latter, when they more naturally fit with the former. This will be clear even in our first citation, the Didache (which Fisheaters left out of her post).

But before we begin, let’s “set the table” to prepare for what is to come.

The Roman Catholic Testimony

We begin with the Catholic Encyclopedia, which acknowledges that the ancient and Roman liturgies were different:

The origin of the Mass
“The origin of the Roman Mass, on the other hand, is a most difficult question, We have here two fixed and certain data: the Liturgy in Greek described by St. Justin Martyr (d. c. 165), which is that of the Church of Rome in the second century, and, at the other end of the development, the Liturgy of the first Roman Sacramentaries in Latin, in about the sixth century. The two are very different. Justin’s account represents a rite of what we should now call an Eastern type … The Leonine and Gelasian Sacramentaries show us what is practically our present Roman Mass. How did the service change from the one to the other? It is one of the chief difficulties in the history of liturgy.”

Citation: Adrian Fortescue, “The Origin of the Mass.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol 9. (1910)

This represents a sober and accurate summary of the evidence from history from a Roman Catholic source. And so we should be skeptical of Fisheaters’ highly selected quotations that make it appear that the Roman liturgy is older than the 6th century, rather than a non-apostolic medieval innovation.

Throughout this series, we expect that the Catholic Encyclopedia’s statement will be proven correct, and our thesis…

No writer in the first 300 years ever presented Christ’s death to the father. No writing ever instructs the church to offer Christ’s body and blood to the father. It does not exist anywhere. It simply does not exist in [early] history. It is an idolatrous anachronistic heresy.

…will be proven justified. This chief difficulty in the history of the liturgy will prove critical.

On Thanksgiving

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to historical analysis is the word eucharist (“ευχαριστειν”) which means thanksgiving. In the Roman liturgy it means something completely different than what the word itself means in its natural and biblical contexts.

1 Corinthians 14:16
Otherwise, if you praise with the spirit, how will anyone who is unlearned say “Amen!” at your giving of thanks (eucharistia; εὐχαριστία), seeing he does not know what you are saying?

Notice how smoothly Paul speaks of the (2) Eucharist followed by the (3) Oblation (with the corporate “Amen”). When we discuss Irenaeus later in the series, we will see him reference this passage in this exact context.

So when examining these ancient sources, every time the word comes up in a sentence, apologists think “Oh, there is where the consecrated body of Christ is sacrificed.” All that baggage is placed onto the lips of the ancient writers, even though those selfsame writers make no mention of those details. ‘Eucharist’ just means thanksgiving, and it refers to the thank offering of the Old Testament, in which the early church instead offered their praises and collected the tithe offering to help the poor.

Consider this article by Stephen Beale at the Catholic Exchange. There he states:

Irenaeus is a crucially important source for establishing the existence of belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist among the earliest Christians. The Eucharist, Irenaeus writes, consists of “two realities, earthly and heavenly.” He describes Christ as the “perfect bread” of the Father who enables us to enter into full communion with the being of God:

“He did this when He appeared as a man, that we, being nourished, as it were, from the breast of His flesh, and having, by such a course of milk nourishment, become accustomed to eat and drink the Word of God, may be able also to contain in ourselves the Bread of immortality, which is the Spirit of the Father.”

These are not the words of someone who views the Eucharist as a symbol—and remember this is in the second century of the Church.

Only a person who has already predetermined that Eucharist does not mean the thankgiving offering of the tithe could conclude that Irenaeus was speaking of the “Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” Anyone else would scratch their head over why “perfect bread” and descriptions of Jesus breast-feeding us are not a collection of rather obvious figures-of-speech for being taught and believing the perfect Word of God.

When we discuss Irenaeus later on in the series, we will see how truly out of context this quote is to use it to defend the Roman liturgy.

For now, suffice it to say that the presuppositions that Roman Catholics bring to the patristics are a far larger impediment than what the patristic writers themselves actually wrote.

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