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The Eucharist 2. The Eucharist as a Meal

PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format) and .ppt (Microsoft PowerPoint Format) files of the presentation for this session are available for download from the Eucharist Home Page and the Download page.

 

Topics

1. Meals in the Ancient World

1.1. Introduction

1.2. The Blessing over the Bread at the Beginning of a Jewish Meal

1.3. The Blessing over the Wine at the End of a Jewish Meal

 

2. Meals in Jesus’ Ministry

2.1. Introduction

2.2. Food Miracle Stories

2.3. The Last Supper

2.3.1. Four Accounts of the Words of Institution

2.3.1.1. Introduction

2.3.1.2. Paul

2.3.1.3. Mark

2.3.1.4. Matthew

2.3.1.5. Luke

2.3.2. The Two Traditions for the Words of Institution

2.3.2.1. Introduction

2.3.2.2. The Words Over the Bread

2.3.2.3. The Words Over the Wine

2.3.2.4. Remembrance Versus the Eschatological Banquet

2.4. John's Eucharistic Theology

 

3. The Eucharist in the Early Church

3.1. Introduction

3.2. The Eucharist and the Community Meal

3.2.1. Introduction

3.2.2. Problems in the Combination of Eucharist and Community Meal

3.2.3. Teaching During the Community Meals

3.2.4. Separation of the Eucharist from the Community Meal

3.3. The Structure of the Early Liturgy

3.3.1. Account of Justin Martyr

3.3.2. Account of Hippolytus

 

4. Eucharist as a Meal Today

4.1. Vertical and Horizontal Bonding

 

References

 

 

1. Meals in the Ancient World

1.1. Introduction

Meals for the Jews in the ancient world were more than an occasion for eating and drinking: they were a sacred time, a time for thanksgiving to God.

 

 

1.2. The Blessing over the Bread at the Beginning of a Jewish Meal

A Jewish meal began when the father or presiding member of community

  • took bread

  • broke the bread

  • blessed it with the beraka (= blessing, thanksgiving)

    •  “Blessed be you, LORD, our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth”

  • and then distributed the bread

 

 

1.3. The Blessing over the Wine at the End of a Jewish Meal

On holy days, at the end of the meal:

  • A lamp was brought in, lit, and blessed

  • Hand washing was done;

    • water was brought first to the father or one presiding by a servant or the youngest at the table

  • The father or one presiding then took a cup of wine mixed with water and said:

    • “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”

    • All would reply: “Blessed is he whose generosity has given us food and whose kindness has given us life”

  • The father or one presiding then recited several beraka (= blessings, thanksgivings): The following three beraka predate the time of Jesus, and were almost certainly known by Jesus in very similar form to the following:

    • 1. Blessed be You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, who feeds the world with goodness, with grace and mercy, who gives food to all flesh, for You nourish and sustain all beings and provide food for all Your creatures. Blessed be You, LORD, who gives food to all.

    • 2. We thank You, LORD, our God, for a desirable, good and ample land which You were pleased to give to our fathers, and for Your covenant which You  have marked in our flesh, and for the Torah which You have given us, and for life, grace, mercy, and food which You have lent us in every season. And for all this, LORD, our God, we thank You and bless Your name. Blessed be Your name upon us continually and for ever. Blessed be You, LORD, for the land and for the food.

    • 3. Have mercy, LORD, our God, upon Your people Israel, upon Your city Jerusalem, upon Zion, the abiding place of Your glory, upon the kingdom of the house of David Your anointed, and upon the great and holy house that was called by Your name. Feed us, nourish us, sustain us, provide for us, relieve us speedily from our anxieties, and let us not stand in need of the gifts of mortals, for their gifts are small and their reproach is great, for we have trusted in Your holy, great and fearful name. And may Elijah and the Messiah, the son of David come in our lifetime, and let the kingdom of the house of David return to its place, and You reign over us, You alone, and save us for Your name’s sake, and bring us up in it and gladden us in it and comfort us in Zion Your city. Blessed be You, LORD, who rebuilds Jerusalem.

 

 

2. Meals in Jesus’ Ministry

2.1. Introduction

Unlike the acetic John the Baptist, Jesus mingled with the people, eating and drinking and sharing meals with his disciples and others -- including the outcasts of society: sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes

 

 

2.2. Food Miracle Stories

There are six miracle stories in the gospels of Jesus providing food for crowds:

 

“the focal point . . . is not so much the miracle as the marvelous abundance that comes into play when Jesus offers his fellowship at table.”

- Schillebeekx

 

 

2.3. The Last Supper

2.3.1. Four Accounts of the Words of Institution

2.3.1.1. Introduction

We have four accounts of the words of institution (listed here from the earliest to the latest):

  • Paul: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

  • Mark (20 yrs. after Paul): Mark 14:22-25

  • Matthew (20+ yrs. After Mark): Matt. 26:26-29

  • Luke (20+ yrs. After Mark): Luke 22:14-20

 

 

2.3.1.2. Paul

 

…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

Paul: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 (NRSV)

 

 

2.3.1.3. Mark

 

While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, and gave it to them, and said, “Take, this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God”

Mark 14:22-25 (NRSV)

 

 

2.3.1.4. Matthew

 

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Matt. 26:26-29 (NRSV)

 

 

2.3.1.5. Luke

 

When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. He said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, “Take this and divide it among yourselves; for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Luke 22:14-20 (NRSV)

 

 

2.3.2. The Two Traditions for the Words of Institution

2.3.2.1. Introduction

The four accounts of the words of institution in Paul and the three synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew,  Luke) suggest the writers had access to two traditions:

  • a tradition used by Mark and Matthew

  • a tradition used by Paul and Luke

 

 

2.3.2.2. The Words Over the Bread

In the words over the bread:

  • All four agree Jesus said: “This is my body”

  • but only Matthew has Jesus giving an explicit command to eat

 

 

2.3.2.3. The Words Over the Wine

In the words over the wine:

  • Mark and Matthew have Jesus saying: “this is my blood of the covenant”

  • Paul and Luke have Jesus saying: “this cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

    • This is more likely the original language (Macquarrie)

 

 

2.3.2.4. Remembrance Versus the Eschatological Banquet

One tradition of the words of institution has Jesus commanding his disciples to repeat his Eucharist in remembrance of him. The other tradition has Jesus speaking of the future Eschatological banquet he will someday share with them:

  • Paul and Luke have Jesus saying: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

  • Mark and Matthew have Jesus saying that he will not drink wine again until he drinks it in the heavenly banquet to come of the Kingdom of God. No command given to “do this” in the future

 

 

2.4. John's Eucharistic Theology

John's gospel is believed by scholars to be the last gospel written, perhaps some 10-20 years after the gospels Matthew and Luke.

John does not describe the Last Supper. However, after the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand (John 6:1-15), John’s gospel does contain a long passage that might be described as “eucharistic theology”

 

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

- John 6:48-58 (NRSV)

 

 

3. The Eucharist in the Early Church

3.1. Introduction

Eucharist from from the Greek word eucharista meaning thanksgiving

 

 “virtually from the beginning of the church, the eucharist was part of its life” (Macquarrie)

 

In the early days of the Church, the Eucharist appears to have been called the “breaking of the bread.” At first, wine was used only on festival days, as most people were too poor to afford it

 

 

3.2. The Eucharist and the Community Meal

3.2.1. Introduction

Originally the Eucharist was part of a community meal, typically in the evening. As in Jewish meals of the time, and as in Jesus' Last Supper:

  • the breaking of the bread was done before the meal

  • the blessing over the wine was done after the meal

 

The breaking of the bread was soon moved to the end of the community meal with the blessing over the wine, so that the community could better appreciate the parallels between the two parts of the Eucharist by having them side by side.

 

 

3.2.2. Problems in the Combination of Eucharist and Community Meal

There were problems with the combination of the Eucharist with the Community meal:

 

“when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. . . When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?”

- 1 Cor. 11:17, 20-22 (NRSV)

 

The custom at meals was to eat in groups, one group to a table, each with a common dish and a common cup. The size of a “table group” limited by need for each diner to be within an arm’s length to the common dish and cup.

One can speculate that the problems described by Paul in Corinthians may have arisen because the table groups would tend to sort themselves out by social status or common interests. The well-off may have eaten at home (the community food not sufficiently to their taste) and instead they may have spent the meal drinking (too much) wine rather than eating

 

 

3.2.3. Teaching During the Community Meals

Teaching, and instruction apparently took place during these community meals:

 

On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn.

- Act 20:7-8 NRSV

 

 

3.2.4. Separation of the Eucharist from the Community Meal

The Eucharist soon became separated from community meal. At the beginning of the second century, the Roman Governor Pliny the Younger, in a letter to Emperor Trajan (111-113 AD) described Christians as gathering before dawn for worship, then meeting later in the day for an ordinary meal

 

The separation of the Eucharist from the community meal had many important consequences:

  • The time of Eucharist was moved to the morning.

  • The many tables of the table groups became one table (the altar) about which the community gathered as one group.

  •  A “service of the word” was added

    • based on the liturgy of the synagogue worship service

 

 

3.3. The Structure of the Early Liturgy

3.3.1. Account of Justin Martyr

Writing about 150 AD, Justin Martyr, in his First Apology gives us a picture of the structure of the early Christian Eucharistic liturgy:

  • Readings

    • “on the day called Sunday an assembly is held in one place of all who live in town or country, and the records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as time allows”

  • A Sermon

    • “Then, when the reader has finished, the president in a discourse admonishes and exhorts [us] to imitate these good things”

  • After the Sermon: Prayers, Greetings

    • “Then we all stand up together and send up prayers”   “When we have ended the prayers, we greet one another with a kiss”

  • The Sharing of the Eucharist

    • “Then bread and cup of water and [a cup] of mixed wine are brought to the one who presides over the brethren, and [the presider] takes them and sends up praise and glory to the Father of all in the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and gives thanks at some length that we have been deemed worthy of these things from him. When he has finished the prayers and thanksgiving (eucharistia), all the people give their assent by saying ‘Amen.’   ‘Amen’ is the Hebrew for ‘So be it.’ And when the president has given thanks and all the people have assented, those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the bread and wine and water over which thanks have been given, and take them to those who are not present.”

 

 

3.3.2. Account of Hippolytus

Hippolytus, writing in his book, Apostolic Traditions, 225 AD records an early Eucharistic Prayer that contains many of the Christian beliefs later formalized in the creeds:

 

Bishop: The Lord be with you.

All: And with your spirit

Bishop: Up with your hearts

All: We have [them] with the Lord

Bishop: Let us give thanks to the Lord

All: It is fitting and right

Bishop: We render thanks to you, O God, through your beloved child Jesus Christ, whom in the last times you sent to us as a savior and redeemer and angel of your will; who is your inseparable Word, through whom you made all things; and in whom you were well pleased; whom you sent from heaven into a virgin’s womb; and who, being conceived in the womb, was made flesh and was manifested as your Son, being born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin; who, fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people, stretched out his hands when he should suffer; that he might release from suffering those who have believed in you; who, when he was betrayed to voluntary suffering that he might destroy death, and break the bonds of the devil, and tread down hell, and shine upon the righteous, and fix a term, and manifest the resurrection, took bread and gave thanks to you, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body, which shall be broken for you;” who also [took] the cup, saying, “This is my blood, which is shed for you; when you do this, you make my remembrance.” Remembering therefore his death and resurrection, we offer to you the bread and the cup, giving you thanks because you have held us worthy to stand before you and minister to you. And we ask that you would send your Holy Spirit upon the offering of your holy church; that, gathering her into one, you would grant to all who receive the holy things [to receive] for the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the strengthening of faith in truth; that we may praise and glorify you through your child Jesus Christ; through whom be glory and honor to you, to the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit, in your holy Church, both now and to the ages of ages.

All: Amen.

 

 

4. Eucharist as a Meal Today

4.1. Vertical and Horizontal Bonding

One aspect of a meal that the Eucharist continues to evoke is the bonding among those sharing a meal.

 

There are two facets to the "bonding" evoked for us by the Eucharist:

  • the "horizontal" bonding among the participants

    • This Includes the entire Church, for all the many separate Eucharist within the Church are really all part of one great Eucharist

  • a "vertical" bonding

    • a bonding with Jesus Christ and so to God, who presides over the one great Eucharist

 

Both the horizontal bonding and the vertical bonding aspects of the Eucharistic meal are inseparable.

 

This create a challenge in creating liturgies and planning Church spaces. To emphasize the horizontal bonding the gathered community, one might conceive of the church as very domestic, inviting, informal space. But to emphasize the vertical bonding with God, one might conceive of great cathedral-like spaces that inspire awe, a sense of unworldly mystery and grandeur

 

The "vertical" bonding (the mutual indwelling of Christ and the faithful as a benefit of the Eucharistic meal), derives from the passage of Eucharistic theology in John’s gospel (John 6:48-58).

 

The sense of "vertical" bonding is also expressed in the "Prayer of Humble Access" of many editions of the Book of Common Prayer:

 

“Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood”

 

 

References

The information in these notes comes from the following references:

  • A Guide to the Sacraments. Chapters 1-5, John Macquarrie. Continuum. New York. 1998 ISBN 0-8264-1100-2.

  • Eucharist. Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer. Louis Bouyer, translated by Charles Underhill Quinn. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 1968. ISBN 0-268-00498-6

  • The Eucharist: Essence, Form, Celebration. Second Edition. Johannes H. Emminghaus, Theodor Maas-Ewerd (Editor), Linda M. Maloney (Translator). Liturgical Press, 1997. ISBN 0814610366

 

 

 

 

The Eucharist

 

1. Introduction to the Sacraments

2. The Eucharist as a Meal

3. The Eucharist as the Real Presence of Christ

4. The Eucharist as Sacrifice

5. The Practice of Reservation. Conclusions