Words of Consecration of the Eucharist in the Early Church

I was reading a book on the Didache which states that

we know that these words (this is my body…this is my blood) only entered into the (Eucharistic) Prayer…in the fourth century.

So my question is this: If this is true and the words of consecration were added in the fourth century and had not been used before in the practice of the Eucharist, would this pose a problem for Catholicism as a religion and possibly discredit it?

Second question: Does anyone have any proof or counter evidence that would shoot this claim down (which is quoted above)? All you need is one reference to words of consecration being used by the church in the practice of the Eucharist before the fourth century.

(An interesting side note is that the Assyrian Church of the East doesn’t use words of consecration in their Eucharistic practice but I could be wrong.)

I’m not trying to go out of my way to doubt my faith. I find this objection to be very powerful if it’s legit, and I hope someone can quickly shoot it down.

Do you have a citation? Title, author, page number?

So my question is this: If this is true and the words of consecration were added in the fourth century and had not been used before in the practice of the Eucharist, would this pose a problem for Catholicism as a religion and possibly discredit it?

No. The Eucharist isn’t ‘magic’, such that it requires ‘magic words’ to be confected. The Church is the keeper of the sacraments, and as such, is the proper authority to determine the validity of sacraments. If, at some point in her history, the Church decided that these were to be the words used in the Eucharistic Prayer, than that decision is within her realm of competence. If these words hadn’t been used prior to that decision, then that’s OK, too – since the Church would’ve determined, in that time frame, what the proper celebration of the Eucharist consisted of.

Second question: Does anyone have any proof or counter evidence that would shoot this claim down (which is quoted above)? All you need is one reference to words of consecration being used by the church in the practice of the Eucharist before the fourth century.

I would search out books on the history of the Eucharist, and start there. I’m assuming that the book you’re reading is pointing out that the Didache describes the Liturgy, but without the words of institution? And that it’s saying that the first extant document with the words of institution are ca. 4th century AD? (Does that prove that this was when the words entered the liturgy? :wink: )

(To tell the truth, I can’t remember – offhand – what scholars say about the entry of the words of institution into the liturgy. But, even if it’s the 4th century AD, that still doesn’t invalidate Eucharists before that time!)

Well, let’s see:
I am not going to quote theological scholarly work here just my humble opinion,

Matthew 26:26
Now while they were eating the meal, Jesus took bread, and he blessed and broke and gave it to his disciples, and he said: “Take and eat. This is my body.” 26:27 And taking the chalice, he gave thanks. And he gave it to them, saying: “Drink from this, all of you. 26:28 For this is my blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many as a remission of sins.

Mark 14:22
And while eating with them, Jesus took bread. And blessing it, he broke it and gave it to them, and he said: “Take. This is my body.” 14:23 And having taken the chalice, giving thanks, he gave it to them. And they all drank from it. 14:24 And he said to them: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which shall be shed for many.

Luke 22:19
And having taken the chalice, he gave thanks, and he said: “Take this and share it among yourselves. 18 For I say to you, that I will not drink from the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God arrives.” 19 And taking bread, he gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them, saying: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this as a commemoration of me.”

I Corinthians 11:24
took bread, 24 and giving thanks, he broke it, and said: “Take and eat. This is my body, which shall be given up for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 Similarly also, the cup, after he had eaten supper, saying: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

All 4 gospels are pretty consistent on the event and 2 of them tell the audience to DO THIS in memory of ME (Jesus).

So what would the 1st century priest say when he broke bread at mass?

What is Jesus doing and saying? Can we safely separate the 2?

Can the priest just take bread and wine and start distribute them to the assembly?
What would the context be for the individual participating to the mass?
Whit out the words it would be meaningless. Would it not?

The gospels reflect a reality already occurring unless we ascribe them to be mere illusions.
Now what the priest say today I concur with the previous poster, The Church HAS the Authority to declare what SHE wants to be said. “Whatever you bind on earth IS bound in Heaven”.
But I would posit that it is the collective memory of the Church that has been doing this since Jesus left HER in charge of temporal affairs (Sacred Tradition).


No, that is not true. We have a number of examples of it’s use from Sacred Scripture written in the 1st century.

Matthew 26:26-28 26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

1 Corinthians 11:23-27 23 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:
24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.
25 After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.
26 For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.
27 Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

Luke 22:19-20
19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.
20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

Christ Himself used repeated it with the first Liturgical celebration after the resurrection on the road to Emmaus, so that would be the first use if that is what you are looking for.

So clearly these words of Christ started to be used shortly after His resurrection.

Furthermore, even if these words of institution had not been incorporated into the Divine Liturgy until later, it would not effect their validity nor have any effect on The Church.

From the Didache:

Chapter 9. The Eucharist. Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever…

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You madest known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever…

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.”

I think they may be reading too much into the text. This doesn’t say that these are the words of confection. Even today we have specific prayers said before and after the consecration. This is what I would understand this passage as describing. I would imagine the priest using these words just before then said the words of consecration that he would have from the Gospels. Remember, writing was expensive then, so they saved money/time/etc by not repeating what was already clear at the time.

Weareyoung

The unnamed author you are quoting in your OP is certainly mistaken. When he uses the words “We know that …,” I would go so far as to assert that he is deliberately lying. Nobody “knows” any such thing, and the author of your book must be fully aware of that.

As Ignatius and the other commenters on this thread have already pointed out, we have five sources for the Institution of the Eucharist: the four Gospels and Paul. The earliest of the five is Paul (1 Cor. 11. 23-25).

I suggest you take a look at *The Eucharistic Words of Jesus *by Joachim Jeremias, published by Scribners in 1966. On pp. 112-3 you will find his very convincing argument that Paul’s text is derived, either partly or wholly, from the liturgical practice then in use.

The question, though, isn’t whether Jesus used these words, but whether the early Church used them verbatim in her earliest liturgies.

I suggest you take a look at *The Eucharistic Words of Jesus *by Joachim Jeremias, published by Scribners in 1966. On pp. 112-3 you will find his very convincing argument that Paul’s text is derived, either partly or wholly, from the liturgical practice then in use.

Right – that would be the argument to use to answer the question! (I haven’t read this book, however, so I can’t comment on his argument; but, he’s a well-known & respected scholar, so I’ll take your word for it. :wink: )

Looking at my copy of Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, I see that the authors assert that early Christians took to heart that Jesus commanded a remembrance (that is, an ‘anamnesis’), and clearly, they included that in their Eucharistic celebrations. In his ‘First Apology’, Justin Martyr describes the celebration; although he doesn’t quote the words of institution, he does say that there is a “word of prayer that is from [the celebrant]”. In ‘The Apostolic Tradition’, Hippolytus describes the Eucharistic celebration, including the anaphora (in which is contained the anamnesis). Strikingly, the Institution Narrative appears here, prior to the anamnesis. So, at the very least, we can say that we have evidence of these words being used at least at this point (ca. early 3rd century AD).

The answer, then, isn’t as neat as you might like: we have documentation, from the early 3rd century, that demonstrates that the words of institution are already in use; but, we don’t have anything that documents their use earlier – however, we also don’t have anything that suggests that their use was some sort of late 2nd or early 3rd century liturgical innovation, either!

We know that while the words of institution constitute the form of the Eucharist, we also know that one of the most ancient and venerable anaphorae, the Anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari, in use in the Assyrian Church of the East, lacks an explicit narrative of institution, that being dispersed through the Anaphora. The Catholic Church has studied this Anaphora and has found it to be valid. In fact, given the extraordinary circumstances in the Middle East, the Catholic Church has even entered into an arrangement with the Assyrian Church for the reception of communion in both churches the Chaldean Catholic and Assyrian faithful.

Yes, the author in question should follow properly scholarly convention and name his sources, but even IF he’s proven right, the mere validity of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari tells us that such an fact would not discredit Catholicism.

As said above, the Sacraments are not magic (it is said that “hocus pocus” is actually a corruption of the Latin words of institution), and more accurately, what’s valid is what the Church says is valid.

I’m sorry if I failed to make my meaning clear. What Jeremias is saying is that the words were already in liturgical use before Paul sat down to write 1 Corinthians. The liturgy was where he got them from.

Regards
Bart

The “Apostolic Tradition” written by Hippolytus of Rome approximately in 215 AD has the words of consecration in section 4 being said by a bishop during the liturgy.

9 taking the bread, and giving thanks to you, said,
“Take, eat, for this is my body which is broken for you.”
Likewise the chalice, saying,
This is my blood which is shed for you.
10 Whenever you do this, do this (in) memory of me.

To read it in it’s entirety bombaxo.com/hippolytus.html

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.