Church History

The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church, by Steve Ray

The word “Eucharist” was used early in the Church to describe the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. Eucharist comes from the Greek word for “thanks” (eucharistia), describing Christ’s actions: “And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you’.” From the first century the Apostolic Fathers referred to this Blessed Sacrament as the Eucharist, emphasizing that it was both the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Sacrifice of the New Covenant.

6a29d71314e8119903342fe7ef723835Our Lord taught the Apostles the meaning and liturgical form of the Eucharist and the apostles in turn passed the tradition on to the early Church. Many Christian sects deny apostolic tradition and attempt to derive details of the sacrament from the Bible alone.

However, the NT was never intended as a manual with detailed sacramental instructions—the Blessed Sacrament was learned by apostolic instruction and the faithful transmission of that tradition through the bishops. The final canon of Scripture was not recognized for almost four centuries after Christ, yet the Christians faithfully celebrated the Eucharist as taught by the apostolic tradition deposited in the Church.

Confusion about the Eucharist abounds in non-Catholic Christian circles. But, for the first twelve or thirteen centuries, with the exceptions of Ratramnus (d. ad 868) and Berengarius (d. 1088), both of whom affirmed the Real Presence in the end, there was a universal understanding and a consistent practice of the Eucharist throughout the Church, but only fifty years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door there was a book published entitled Two Hundred Definitions of the Words ‘This is My Body’. The Fathers of the Church knew no such confusion.

Screen Shot 2016-12-18 at 11.09.45 AMOne of the earliest usages of the word Eucharist is in the Didache which was written as early as ad 60—before many NT writings. In the Didache we read: “Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one” (Didache 14). In the fourth century, St. Athanasius used the Didache as a catechetical text for his students.

Malachi’s prophecy helps understand the Fathers’ grasp of the Eucharist. St. Paul uses Malachi’s technical term “the table of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 10:21. Referring to the “table of the Lord”, used in the context (Malachi 1: 7, 12), the prophet Malachi wrote, “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts” (KJV).

eucharistThis reference to “a pure offering” offered on “the table of the Lord” was interpreted repeatedly by the Fathers, from the first century onward, as a reference to the Eucharist. Even the Didache alludes to Malachi: “For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’(Didache 14).

Clement of Rome (AD 96), a fellow-worker with the Apostles, relates the new priesthood to that of the Old Testament Levites, emphasizing the distinction between the service of the priest and the laity: “In the same way, my brothers, when we offer our own Eucharist to God, each one should keep to his own degree (calling)” (Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, 41).

St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 106), another associate of the Apostles, wrote of “one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice” (Epistles to the Philippians, 4). St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165) cites Malachi 1:11:  “[God] then speaks to those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist” (Dialog with Trypho the Jew, 14).

St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred 106 AD St. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred 106 AD

St. Ignatius of Antioch, though writing around ad 106, clearly represents the theology of the first century. He warns, “But look at those men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus Christ which has come down to us, and see how contrary to the mind of God they are . . . . They even abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7).

St. Ignatius speaks nobly of the Eucharist: “Share in one common breaking of bread—the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ evermore” (Epistle to the Ephesians, 20).

Screen Shot 2016-12-18 at 11.16.20 AMThe Catholic Mass continues the theology and liturgy of the first centuries. St. Justin Martyr offers a glimpse of the Eucharistic sacrifice in the mid-second century. “And this food is called among us Eucaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (First Apology, 1, 62).

The word “Transubstantiation” was commonly used in the 12th century and given classical formulation by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. Though the early Fathers did not use this exact terminology, the teaching was essential to their theology. The Fathers unanimously held to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Some Protestants (e.g., William Webster, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History) tend to approach the Church Fathers in one of two ways. First, they may just ignore or disregard the Fathers as “uninspired” or irrelevant—why study the Fathers when we have the Bible? Second, they may search for perceived contradictions. The perceived contradiction is then presented as a false dilemma. This false dilemma forces an either/or dichotomy.

For example, “The Eucharist is either a “symbol” of the Body of Christ or it “is” the Body of Christ. The Fathers rejected such contrasts and espoused the both/and approach, understanding that the Eucharist was both a symbol (but never merely as a symbol) and the Real Presence.

Screen Shot 2016-12-18 at 11.17.33 AMIf the Real Presence was an illicit teaching or unorthodox teaching we would expect to find early orthodox Christians condemning it? Instead, we see the earliest and most respected Christians consistently promoting both the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the reality of the Real Presence. Never is this teaching condemned or forbidden. The Catholic doctrine is the result of the organic development of the doctrine taught by the apostles and faithfully preserved by the bishops in the apostolic succession.

As an example of such false dilemmas, Fundamentalists Protestants may claim that St. Augustine rejects the Real Presence and refers to the Eucharist as a mere symbol (“eaten spiritually, drunk spiritually”). With such words, St. Augustine is exhorting believers to eat and drink the Eucharist in faith.

However, the Fundamentalists fail to disclose that St. Augustine taught that “[Jesus] took flesh from the flesh of Mary. He walked here in the same flesh, and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless he adores it” (Sermon 174, 7). St. Augustine certainly does not see any contradiction; in fact, his teaching is foundational to the dogmas of the Catholic Church.

With glorious harmony, the Fathers of the Church proclaimed the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrifice of the Altar. Opposition was virtually nonexistent until the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. The confusion began with the Reformers, who could form no doctrinal consensus on the Eucharist.

Luther and Zwingli heatedly disagreeing on the Eucharist Luther and Zwingli heatedly disagreeing on the Eucharist

At the Marburg Conference in 1529 they were sharply divided and departed the conference in utter disarray. In contrast, the Catholic Church has maintained unity and the fullness of the apostolic teaching by unabashedly proclaiming for two thousand years that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) writes, “This is the Body which He gave us, both to hold in reserve and to eat” (Homily on 1 Cor 24, 4).

St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376?444) concurs, “[Jesus] states demonstratively: ‘This is My Body,’ and ‘This is My Blood,’ lest you might suppose the things that are seen are a figure. Rather, by some secret of the all-powerful God the things seen are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, truly offered in a sacrifice in which we, as participants, receive the life-giving and sanctifying power of Christ” (Commentary on Matthew, 26:27).

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Sources:

Didache quote: “On Sunday Worship,, Early Christian Writings, trans. Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Books, 1968, p. 197.
Second Didache quote: ibid.
St. Clement’s quote: Early Christian Writings. trans. Maxwell Staniforth. Penguin Books, 1968, p. 39.
St. Ignatius’s first quote: Early Christian Writings. trans. Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Books, 1968, p. 66.
Justin Martyr’s first quote: Ante-Nicene Fathers. Roberts and Donaldson, Eerdmans, 1985, vol. 1, p. 215.
St. Ignatius’ second quote: The Early Christian Writings, p.102?103.
St. Ignatius’ third quote: Early Christian Writings, p. 66
St. Auqustine’s first quote: Faith of the Early Fathers, William Jurgens, Liturgical Press. 1979, vol. 3, p. 20.
Chrysostom’s quote: The Faith of the Early Fathers, 2:118.
Cyril of Alexandria’s quote: The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3:220

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Recommended Reading:

Crossing the Tiber,  Steve Ray, Ignatius Press, 1987 (Whole section on the Eucharist).
The Real Presence through the Ages, Michael Gaudoin-Parker, Alba House, 1998.
The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church, Eugene LaVeriere, Liturgical Press, 1996.
The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist. James T. O’Conner, Ignatius Press, 1988.
The Faith of the Early Fathers in three volumes, William Jurgens, Liturgical Press, 1979.
The Holy Eucharist. Aidan Nichols, OP, Veritas Publications, 1991.
Catholic Faith in the Holy Eucharist, C. Lattey, ed. B. Herder Book Co., 1923.

{ 3 comments }

Mr. Ray,

My eldest daughter invited me to my grandson’s ‘dedication’ at her new place of worship.  Worship? Sorry. Her new place of…..well, the giant Olympic-sized structure that, after being directed in by police/traffic officers, upon entering, reminded me of a mall.  Oh and by the way, I didn’t witness any worship. My 1st thoughts were…”Wow! A frappucino Mass! Where do I get my 3D glasses?” 

Joined daughter, son in law and grandson in the biggest theater I’ve ever been in.  The music was ghastly and horribly loud. I found out later, I could have gotten ear plugs from one of the kajillion ushers. Seriously? I personally choose 11:00 Mass at St. Johns because of the music. So now this place is on strike # 6 or 7.  I’m still giving it a chance as I love my child and grandchild more than life. 

Music’s done. Smoke machine turned off.  Some hip, young guy puts down his guitar and welcomes us to the (lack of) worship service.  A special welcome to us uninformed-not-belonging-to-the-mega-church-there-because-of-the-dedication, schmucks. 

He also welcomed the 4 or so other locations as they are all gathered at their ‘malls’ watching on the big screen. Are you kidding me?!?! He then tells us that this dedication “is not a baptism as they don’t baptize infants. “The Bible is clear that we are saved by God’s grace, not by dedication, baptism, or our own works.”  And that “every baptism recorded in the Bible occurred when someone was old enough to make a faith decision.” 

I got up and walked out. Mostly because my husband wouldn’t let me stand up and yell “LIAR!” “Go home. Open your bible, read it and get back to us.” As today is Sunday and I went to Mass at my church with my live priest and beautiful music and the presence of our Lord and true praise and worship and forgiveness…..I’ll admit to you that I wanted to say worse. In my mind I did.

This daughter was a Catholic.  This daughter knows better.  I felt as though this daughter ripped my heart out and stomped on it.  She claims she ‘switched’ because her husband, while attending Mass with her, was offended and did not feel comfortable because she told him he could not receive communion as he didn’t understand the true meaning. They went church-hopping and ended up at Eagle Brook. Super mega franchise church. Did I say church? My apologies.

Please help me.  I’ve heard you speak at Little Canda, MN.  Which of your books would help me and God help her, my daughter. [Steve here: Crossing the Tiber would be the book. It is my conversion story and has effected thousands to come back to the Church – blessed be God] I say books as she is an avid reader.  Books are best in this case. 

I feel just sick that my grandson is this little nobody in this horrible excuse for a place of worship…or lack thereof.  I so want him to be a part of our beautiful, Catholic family. 

I must say, since I’ve been so very negative, that a good thing did come from this visit……daughters 2 and 3 (who happen to be teenagers, mind you) both stated from the back seat on the way home, “I can’t wait to go to real church tomorrow.” That was huge for daughter #2…..teenage angst and all that. I appreciate any help you can give me.

Check out this video from a person who posted it as “This is my church.” This was shared and viewed at all of their campuses (a word they use for all of their satellite “churches”, rather, theaters.

STEVE RAY HERE: The current trend of mega-churches is pretty much an American phenomenon. It is a response to Americans’ desire for entertainment, theatrics, “big exciting stuff” and religion-lite. They don’t want a lot of commitment, history, or quiet. Mega churches replicate the media world. In the first century they would have been similar to the colosseum, the entertainment genre of the day.

I am not saying there is not good being done in the mega churches, there is. But the Church that Jesus Christ founded 2,000 years ago is not about entertainment but about sacrifice, the Eucharist and the liturgy given by the Apostles which has been practiced since the first century. This good mom has described it all very well.

Around 150 AD Justin Martyr described the apostolic Church of the second century following the pattern laid down by the apostles. There was only one church, the Catholic Church. Read this and tell me where you find it today :-)

Early Christians often celebrated the Mass in the catacombs

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.

Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. 

First century bishop St. Ignatius, disciple of the apostles wrote:

See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it.

Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

And,

But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.

So dear mega church friends, where is your bishop? Where is your Eucharist? The heretics of the first century denied the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist. Where is the liturgy of the apostles on your stages? Even imagining Peter or Paul officiating at a Rock Concert church service is unthinkable.

Thank God for the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church!

{ 38 comments }

Screen Shot 2016-09-15 at 8.15.17 AMSince we are experiencing the amazing and rare Solemn Entry into the Holy Sepulchre to visit the tomb today ushered in by the Franciscans, I wanted to share these many beautiful and helpful pictures, diagrams, charts and more about the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

See all this wealth of information written and visual.

Screen Shot 2018-06-15 at 9.23.16 AMFor me this is the most holy and important spot in the Universe. It is where Jesus Christ, God made Man, died in my place to redeem me from sin and death. Enjoy!

To see a video of our previous Solemn Entry with the Franciscans see the video below. The Solemn Entry begins at 06:13 minutes into the video.

 

{ 4 comments }

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