The Eucharist, Part 2: The Didache

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 original liturgy:

The Roman liturgy:

Didache

FishEaters does not cite The Didache, most likely because it describes a Eucharistic liturgy that is mutually exclusive with the Roman liturgy.

Chapters 9, 10 and 14 of The Didache describe the Eucharistic thank offering (the offering of praise and tithes), which concludes with the prayer and the “Amen”. No one could participate that was not baptized or had unconfessed sins. The Didache includes the (1) Dismissal, (2) Eucharist, (3) Prayer and Amen (in that order), but no mention of the (4) Consecration (described in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17) or (5) the Lord’s Supper. However, by logical deduction, both (4) and (5) must have occurred after the (3) “Amen”, because the food for the Lord’s Supper was taken out of the Eucharistic tithe offering, which was not itself sacrificed (i.e. ‘the eucharist’) until the (3) “Amen” was complete. This is more evident in “Part 2: Justin Martyr,” but even without his writings, logic still dictates our course.

The Didache describes a banquet taken out of the Eucharist offering, a meal to ensure the poor were fed, which is itself a eucharistic sacrifice and had to be concluded with prayer and “Amen”. The church thus took Paul’s instructions—in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17 and 14:16—literally. It could not be the Lord’s Supper, for that was a solemn occasion that contained only bread and wine, not a feast. This is also why Part 12: Hippolytus talked of offering olives, cheese, and oil in the Eucharist: the eucharist was, properly, the tithe offering. The banquet was a regular meal sourced from the eucharist (or tithe), which fed the congregation.

In this way, the early church ensured that everyone, whether poor or rich, were fed—from the eucharist—prior to eating the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. The word eucharist could not have referred to the offering of consecrated bread and wine (i.e. Christ’s body and blood).

As with Ignatius of Antioch, Clement of Rome, and other patristic writers, the Didache treats the (1-3) offering of the Eucharist as distinct from the (4-5) celebration of the Lord’s Supper. This is precisely how most modern Protestant liturgies work: where the collection of the tithes and offerings are separated—sometimes by completely different gatherings for that purpose—by a service of Communion. This separation of the offering from the communion is simply not possible in the Roman liturgy, so Roman Catholics just assume that it is present by unstated “apostolic” agreement.

The presence of the Eucharistic banquet and the absence of the Lord’s Supper in the Didache has led Roman Catholics, like Odo Casel, to conclude that any part of the eucharistic prayer—not just the words of institution “this is my body; this is my blood” which are missing from the Didache—must qualify as a Consecration. But this anachronistic attempt to avoid the logical conclusion—that the Didache is evidence against the Roman liturgy—is circular reasoning: attempting to take current Roman doctrine and apply it in reverse to history.

Lastly, the Didache notes that the tithe (or firstfruits) offering—to support those in need—includes more than merely bread and wine:

The Didache
Every first-fruit, therefore, of the products of wine-press and threshing-floor, of oxen and of sheep, you shall take and give to the prophets, for they are your high priests. But if you have not a prophet, give it to the poor. If you make a batch of dough, take the first-fruit and give according to the commandment. So also when you open a jar of wine or of oil, take the first-fruit and give it to the prophets; and of money (silver) and clothing and every possession, take the first-fruit, as it may seem good to you, and give according to the commandment.

Citation: “The Didache.” Chapter 13

The (2) Eucharist includes many agricultural products, out of which, after it is (3) sacrificed, are sourced the bread and wine for (4-5) the Lord’s Supper.

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  1. Pingback: The Eucharist, Part 6: Irenaeus of Lyons

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