Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Eucharist in the Early Church

In her paper “Metaphors of Sacrifice in the Liturgies of the Early Church” Stephanie Predew writes:

“With the fall of the Jerusalem Temple to the Romans in 70 C.E., the Jewish ritual setting for sacrificial worship was destroyed, and from the ruins of the Temple, two new religions emerged: what would later become Rabbinic Judaism, and what would later become Christianity. Both nascent religions grappled with questions of what would constitute their scriptural canon and what would constitute Mishnah and Talmud (in the case of Rabbinic Judaism) or creed and doctrine (in the case of Christianity). At the same time, the liturgical practice of each religion was evolving, and neither religion adopted or re-instituted a program of animal sacrifice according to Biblical (Levitical) law.

The liturgical practice of each religion came to focus around meal, prayer and study, although in different ways. Within Rabbinic Judaism, the Sabbath meal took place in the home; prayer and scripture study took place in the synagogue. Among Christians, scripture study, prayers and meals took place first in gatherings in private homes (the earliest sites of Christian worship) and then in churches. While the ritual practice of sacrifice was abandoned by each religion, Christian liturgy took up images of sacrifice and employed them in Christian worship. These metaphors of sacrifice were taken from scripture and from prior Jewish liturgical practice, but also entered the liturgy due to influence from---and perhaps mimetic rivalry with---Greco-Roman mystery cults.”

The early Christian scripture “Didache” written in parallel with the Gospel of Matthew was addressed to the Judeo-Christians with an additional accent on rituals. The opening declaration of the Didache is “Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (or Nations) by the Twelve Apostles”

The Eucharist was understood in a more practical and esoteric way than in a pure mystical sense.

Based on recent research into Jewish prayer forms, Didache 9 seems to be based on the meal or Kiddush blessings in which a cup and bread are blessed at the beginning of a meal. The prayers in Didache 9 and 10 do not contain explicitly sacrificial metaphors in reference to the meal or to Christ himself. Jesus is referred to as God’s child (the same Greek word might also be rendered servant). Jesus is proclaimed as the agent of knowledge, faith and immortality, and this immortality is somehow bestowed in part through the spiritual food and drink of the Eucharist.

The prayer associated with the breaking of bread was:

"We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which thou hast made known to us through Jesus, thy child. Glory be to thee into the ages! Just as this broken bread was scattered over the hills and became one when it had been brought together, so shall thy church be brought together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom. For to thee belong the glory and the power through Jesus Christ into the ages..."

Ritual instruction was to exclude all who were not baptized.

"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."

The clear divergence from the current salvific sacrificial celebration to one of thanksgiving for the spiritual Gnosis made known through Christ can be seen in this early document. Apart from this intension, a prayer for unification, of the divided and broken consciousness of individuals who have received Christ wisdom, into one holistic and true understanding of the deeper mysteries of the Divine Kingdom, is also offered. The truly baptized are those who have not only received the baptism of water but also the baptism of the spirit and only they can receive this profound knowledge and partake in the ritual to truly understand its meaning.

Christ’s words are invoked to amplify this requirement when one is partaking in the true Eucharist.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces”….Matthew 7:6

Receive the Eucharist with this profound and deep understanding. It is only then that we will be able to internalize the deeper meaning of Christ’s words to elevate our spirituality to a new level.

Love to you all

1 comment :

  1. Splendid. Emmanu'el. El in Hebrew means "God" God is with us. Eucharistic really elevates to a higher level. As you rightly pointed out we need to have right paradigm to experience the fact.
    Glory to God in the Highest. Gloraia in Excelsis Deo.