Monday, August 22, 2011

The Eucharist in the Apostolic Fathers Part Four: The Didache

This is the final installment of this little followed series.  Today we look at the Didache (Ignatius press' catechetical series might come to mind, it follows in the footsteps of the early Church catechetical document).  The Didache is an interesting document that was rediscovered on one and half centuries ago.  Previously there were only excerpts in the writings of the Church Fathers.  It is was highly reverenced and considered as great source of early Christian life   There are three Eucharistic chapters, nine, ten, and fourteen.  

Chapter 9 can be seen as the offertory rite of the early church.  If one were to compare chapter nine with the offertory rite in the Ordo Missae there are definite similarities. The Ordo Missae says “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands it will become our spiritual drink.  Blessed be God forever.”[ii]  The Didache says, “First concerning the Cup, ‘We give thanks to thee, our Father, for the Holy Vine of David thy child, which thou didst make know to us through Jesus thy child; to thee be glory forever.’”[iii]  There occurs a thanksgiving for the gift of the wine given from the Father to be returned to him in offering.  Then there is the acclamation, blessed be God forever and to thee be glory forever.  There continues here the typological aspect of the Eucharist, which began in the gospel of John and in the Pauline letters.  The Eucharist fulfills the wine that sits next to the showbread outside of the Holy Holies.  Chapter nine continues with the Johannine typology of the manna. “As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the end of the earth into they kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.”[iv]  The final aspect of chapter nine and probably its defining Eucharistic aspect is the excluding of unbaptized from the meal. “But let none eat or drink of your Eucharist except those who have been baptized in the Lord’s name.”[v]  The only reason to exclude unbaptized from a meal would be a sacramental meal wherein only those who were called into the flock can partake.  This hints at a sacramental structure based on the primacy of baptism in the sacraments of initiation. 

Chapter ten is said to a prototype preface.  The same elements occur, thanksgiving for the gifts received and praise by way of the Sanctus, “Hosannah to the God of David.  If any man be holy, let him come!”[vi] and “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.  Hosanna in the highest.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”[vii]  These are remarkably similar.  Rordorf says that the Sanctus originates from the Jewish meal blessing.  Also, within chapter ten there is the manifestation of the eschatological nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice in the words Maran atha.  “The expression of the expectation of the parousia which St. Paul has preserved for us, confirms what he himself has allowed us to see of the eschatological orientation of the first Christian Eucharists, where they ‘proclaimed’ the death of the Lord, ‘until he comes.’”[ix]  Finally, chapter 10 demands the presider, or prophet as he is called, to chose the place and time for the celebration.  The presider is said to be the bishop, who proclaims the word of God and officiates at the celebration. 

 Chapter fourteen deals with the Sabbath.  It proscribes that the Eucharist should be celebrated “on the Lord’s Day.”[x]  One should come clean from sin.  This is the first discussion of fruitful reception of the Eucharist.  “After confessing your transgression that your offering may be pure; but let none who has a quarrel with his fellow join in your meeting until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice be not defiled.”[xi]  If one has the stain of sin his offering of himself at the Eucharistic sacrifice will not be pure.  Furthermore, if you are distracted be a quarrel this quarrel will prevent you from receiving the sacrament, which is an offering of self to Christ, as best as possible.  Herein also lie the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist.  If one stained by sin or not properly recollected, one cannot sacrifice a proper spiritual sacrifice in union with the unbloody sacrifice on the altar. “For this is that which was spoken by the Lord, ‘In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice, for I am a great king,’ saith the Lord, ‘and my name is wonderful among the heathen.’”[xii] 

            So, then, what did the Holy Spirit preserve for the modern Church by way of extant writings of the sub-Apostolic age in view of the Eucharist?  Found in some shape or form in all four sources is the notion of the Eucharist as a sacrifice.  Being so close to Jewish Christians and experiencing or hearing about daily pagan sacrifices, the Eucharist is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices.  There are certain offices that officiate at the liturgy of the Eucharist, the primary one being the bishop.  The Eucharist is a source of communion with one other, the universal church, Christ Jesus, and through Him God the Father.  The Eucharist is Jesus' flesh.  They affirmed the Real of Presence of Jesus in the sacrament.  In fact, Christology is intertwined from then on with Eucharistic theology by way of defense against the Donatists.  The Eucharist engendered Christian living and imitation of Christ.  It was through the Eucharist that the sub-Apostolic Church encountered Christ.  Their faith and charity became Eucharistic in nature even unto death.  The Eucharistic liturgy was still closely connected, though very different to, the Jewish meal blessing.  The Eucharist is the fulfillment of the types of both the sacrifices and bread occurrences of the Old Testament.  Finally, even so early in the Church, there was the notion of proper disposition when encountering the altar of the Lord.  For a more fruitful reception one must confess their sins and forgive their brother.  The Apostolic Fathers and their contemporaries were Eucharistic.  They had known some of the Apostles but had not known Christ.  They were the second generation.  They encountered Him through the Blessed Sacrament.  Vatican II affirmed their faith and practice in calling the Eucharist the “source and summit” of our faith.  They embodied this.

[i] Willy Rordorf, “The Didache,” in The Eucharist of the Early Christians, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (NY: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1978), 10-11; Andre Garakas, The Origin and Development of the Holy Eucharist: East and West (NY: St. Paul’s, 2006), 69;  O’Connor, 6; and Bouyer, 117-118.   
[ii] PDF of New Translation into English, 2008 from
[iii] Didache in The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1 of the Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1998), 323
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] PDF of New Translation into English, 2008 from
[viii] Rordorf, 14. 
[ix] Bouyer, 118-119. 
[x] Didache, 331.
[xi] Ibid.
[xii] Ibid.

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