Homily – October 16th, 2011
Eucharist #2 Second Century Eucharist October 16, 2011
Our Christian faith developed in a Jewish tradition that honored as the Word of God the scriptures setting forth the Mosaic Law and the prophets. The Christian tradition applied this honor to the message of Jesus. At first, the apostles and other disciples orally preached the life and teaching of Jesus; Christian scripture took shape. And these became a part of the Christian assembly. As the first century of our present era ends, when the Apostles disappear from the scene (I Timothy 4:1-3; Titus I: 10-13; 2Timothy 3:1-9; 4:3-4), we find several documents and people who prominently present the Eucharistic celebration. In the first place comes the Didache.
The Didache—a Greek word meaning “the teaching”—has a fuller title: The Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles. It dates from about the year 100. This book speaks of baptism and of penance and of other Church matters. About the Eucharist, the Didache says this.
Let no one eat and drink of your Eucharist but those baptized in the name of the Lord; to this, too, the saying of the Lord is applicable: “Do not give to dogs what is sacred” (Ch. 9:5).
The Didache also states this. On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and to offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: ‘In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.’ (Ch. 14)
After the Didache, others have left writings. We read of Saint Ignatius from Antioch in Syria who lived c 35-107. He became bishop of Antioch, was arrested, and was marched to Rome. On the way—the guard group stopped at Smyrna and Troas—Ignatius wrote seven letters to Christian communities. About the Eucharist Ignatius writes this.
I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible (Letter to Romans 7:3) [People holding strange doctrines] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer (6:8), because [those people] allow not that the Eucharist is the flesh of our savior Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of his goodness raised up (6:9).
When the guard reached Rome, they threw Ignatius into the Colosseum’s arena, and then the lions had their fill. The actual celebration of the Eucharist importantly changed. Soon after Jesus Christ had risen and ascended into heaven, a meal or banquet is associated with celebration of the Eucharist. We recall that the Last Supper clearly included a meal. Commonly today we pray before we begin to eat, but the Jewish meal at the time of Christ concluded with a thanksgiving prayer. As the meal ended, the diners customarily thanked God.
“The grace after meals was the given occasion for the consecration of the chalice, no matter whether the consecration of the bread had occurred earlier, at the very start of the meal, or took place here” (The
Mass of the Roman Rite; Jungmann, Trans. F.A. Brunner, Rev. C.K.
Riepe, 1958, p. 10).
Early, in the first century, consecration of the bread and wine was separated from the ordinary meal. Our Lord’s words of institution over the bread and over the wine merged into a single two-part account.
Also, we have in St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (I, 11:23-24) that instruction from the Lord. Jesus has said that all of His followers are “to do this in memory of me.” That is a natural instruction; how else could we have acted or spoken, unless in our expression we intended to commemorate Jesus Himself.
From the first days of the Christian era, up to today’s Mass, we conclude
the consecration with this prayer of remembrance.
Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our
salvation, his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven, and
ready to greet him when he comes again, we offer you in thanks
giving this holy and living sacrifice. The prayer of remembrance was an essential after the consecration.
The [Eucharist means thanksgiving] thanksgiving originally was a prayer that thanked God for the food and for all of creation. In the original Passover meal, this thanksgiving prayer eventually led into gratitude for the benefits of the grace-filled guidance of God’s people out of slavery in Egypt into religious freedom in the Promised Land. Christians naturally added thankfulness for the messianic fulfillment of redemption in Jesus Christ. This prayer of thanksgiving—the Eucharist—came to describe consecration of bread and wine as a unit.
The growing communities became too large for family table gatherings; the supper-character of the Christian gathering fell from usage. The Eucharistic celebration stood out as the proper form of divine worship. The tables disappeared from the room, except for the one at which the presider pronounced the consecration over the bread and wine. The room grew into a hall that could accommodate the congregation. Isolated instances retained connection with a meal; Holy Thursday with the washing of the feet has some association with a meal. Both the Jewish and the Hellenistic practice held a meal in the evening. But as the meal aspect of the Eucharist disappeared, so also the time of the celebration changed. Sunday, the day of Resurrection, received attention. Before sunrise Christ rose from the dead. So early Sunday has become the Christian time of celebrating the Eucharist. (Cf. Jungmann, pp. 9 & 10). Amen.