Before the Gospels were written and/or agreed upon, what was the weekly gathering like? Did they simply eat the bread and drink the cup in Jesus’ memory as he said? Did they repeat Jesus phrases regarding the Eucharist each time they gathered (e.g. “This is my body”, “Do this in memory of me”)? It seems to me that if Jesus says do something in memory of me then it could be done as He said, without always repeating what He said. After all Jesus said to do it, not necessarily keep repeating what He said it seems to me. Maybe the power really lies in doing what He says more than always narrating it, if you see my point. So that’s why I ask what a worship service was like with Apostles or early Church e.g. updates to 50AD.
If you want to know more about early Christian worship, your first source should be the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 2:42, for example. The letters of Paul also include quite a lot of information here and there.
Beyond that, there’s the Didache. You’ll want to look at Chapters 9 and 10.
St. Justin Martyr’s First Apologia includes a description of Mass. This was a controversial move, since it broke the Christian “discipline of the secret” (not talking about Mass to non-Christians), but his idea was to crush rumors that Christians were having orgies and eating babies at their meetings.
Beyond that, many descriptions of how martyrs were caught and interrogated will include partial descriptions of Mass. The most famous is Pliny the Younger’s letter to the emperor about what to do with his catch of Christians (including a bunch of little old lady slaves who were deaconesses). Mass descriptions also show up in various other places, most notably in St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures preparing people for their Easter Baptism. (It includes the oath of secrecy you had to swear.)
Mike Aquilina has a very good selection of these kinds of pieces of evidence in his book, The Mass of the Early Christians.
St Paul seems to refer to a some sort of special blessing said over the bread and wine or at least over the wine, when he says, “The cup of blessing which we bless…” (1 Corinthians 10:16a)
I could be wrong but it’s my understanding that the Institution Narrative is not included in the ancient Eucharistic Liturgy of Addai and Mari used by some Eastern Churches, such as the Assyrian Church of the East.
Yes, the blessing makes sense (and/or a prayer of thanks?). Maybe we should go back to the original celebration of the Eucharist when it is was more simple and familial?
The words of institution given by Paul and in the gospels aren’t original to them, but reflect the traditions received by the authors in their eucharistic liturgies and from the first apostles. If a Christian had been going to Sunday worship and was suddenly hearing the a newly written gospel book for the first time, he would have recognized those words in the gospel as being the same thing he heard every week.
I don’t claim that the liturgy didn’t develop, formalize, and standardize over time and just existed as it does now from the start, but the words of institution are probably the oldest and most central part to it. They were in the liturgy before the gospels or Paul’s letters. And, as St. Paul said, Christians were giving thanks and saying blessings over it from the start (it’s attested to no more than a decade or two after the crucifixion) – those are part of the traditions he and the apostles taught the churches they established. And I see no doubt that there were carry overs from the Jewish synagogue meetings and doing readings from scripture.
Also, keep in mind that the Eucharist has always been seen as tied to Passover and was seen as the new Passover and the new exodus from sin. It’s a ritual. And it’s traditional for Jews during the original Passover to not just eat the meal, but to sing psalms and recount the story of the original Passover. That is the Eucharist’s roots. The Eucharist was not just a communion meal, but a religious observance, and it should not be separated from that context, as that is how it started.
First off, the Eucharist was never all that “simple.” And the only reason it was being held in private places was that there were no public places. As soon as people had public places, that’s where they were held.
If you want to experience the closest thing to an early Church agape meal (closest without there being a Sacrament involved, anyway), go to a synagogue service and to the meal that is often held right afterward. The synagogue service is formal, and the “agape meal” (so to speak) is still pretty formal too. (Albeit the breaking out into hymns between the courses is pretty fun as well as formal.) Synagogues were public places. The Temple was a public place.
Family worship could be important and intimate at the same time, like the Jewish sabbath meal at home on Friday night, or like the early Christian custom of having the whole household sing psalms antiphonally at lamplighting time when it was getting dark.
But the Eucharist, the todah Thanksgiving offering, was always a public and formal thing.
Anything we do that is serious, tends to become more solemn and formal. Solemnity and formality allow one to be oneself within a public event, whereas an informal public event is a matter of elaborately pretending to be at ease with everyone and everything. (Like a politician.)
The very word “liturgy” (leitourgia) represents Mass as a public work (usually something like a bridge or a festival) instituted and conducted by some rich man (Christ, in this case) for our benefit.
Now, that said, the ancient way of thinking about things was that everybody in a neighborhood or city was a fellow citizen to you, and you all knew a lot about each other’s business. If parishes spent more time together outside of Mass, Mass would seem much more “familial,” and the formality would feel friendly. I have been to very solemn and reserved Masses where the whole congregation is focused on God, and felt very comfortable there even as a stranger, because they all knew how to work together on praying. All I had to do was follow their lead. But many parishes aren’t like that, and that’s why people feel uncomfortable there.
We can’t cram a lifetime worth of friendliness into Mass, nor should we try. That’s not what it’s for. Mass is for getting to know God better.
In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, St Paul compares the Christian Eucharistic celebration to the sacrifices formally offered by Israelite priests on the temple altar dedicated to God in verse 18 and in verses 19-21 to the food and drink sacrifices formally offered by pagan priests on pagan altars dedicated to pagan gods. In his comparison, in verse 21, the phrases “the table of demons” and “the cup of demons” clearly refer to food and drink sacrifices formally offered by pagan priests on pagan altars dedicated to pagan gods. In the same way, the phrases “the table of the Lord” and “the cup of the Lord” undoubtedly refer to the bread and wine sacrifices that are “blessed” (verse 14) and formally offered by Christian priests on Christian altars dedicated to the true God. The phrase "the table of the Lord’ is used in the Old Testament as a synonym for the altar of the Lord, such as in Malachi 1:7,12. Just as it is the formal offering of the food and drink sacrifices by pagan priests on altars dedicated to pagan gods that make them “the table of demons” and “the cup of demons,” it is the formal blessing and offering of the bread and wine by a Christian priest on an altar dedicated to the Lord that makes those sacrifices “the table of the Lord” and “the cup of the Lord.”
If the Eucharist celebration was a simple, familial meal, St Paul’s comparing it to the formal temple sacrifices of Israel and formal altar sacrifices of pagans in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 would make very little sense. Writing to Christians, the author of Hebrews says, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” (Hebrews 13:10)
All very good points. Thank you. I guess I’m trying to gain insight by focusing on Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of me.” and what the purpose and meaning of that command is.
As was noted in the earlier posts …the Eucharist is related to the Passover Seder …God commanded that they celebrate that “remembrance” as well …and by remembrance - that is in the Jewish understanding of the term …it does not mean to think fondly of or to continue a quaint tradition… it means the be made present in that past event …
I wish I had time to make the post myself, but going off of this, I would suggest, Coder, that you read up on the full meaning of the koine greek word anamnesis, which is what is commonly translated as remembrance/in memory in the words of institution. There is a parallel in Hebrew, zekher or zikaron, which is applied to Passover. They don’t have direct translations into English, but it’s much stronger than just remembering something (even if solemnly).