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A Mass by any other name 5

EucharistEucharist (Greek εὐχαριστία – thanksgiving) is never used in the New Testament as a name for the Christian service with bread and wine.

The earliest record of this service does use the associated verb:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks (εὐχαριστήσας; eucharistesas), he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-24)

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus blesses bread and gives thanks with a cup. In Luke, Jesus gives thanks with a cup, then bread, then a cup after supper.

The earliest times that we have records for Eucharist occurring as a title for this rite is in the Didache (9:1):

Περὶ δὲ τῆς εὐχαριστίας, οὕτως εὐχαριστήσατε… (Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way…)

and by Ignatius of Antioch (who died between 98 and 117) in Eph 13:1; Philad 4; Smyrn 7:1; 8:1. and by Justin Martyr (writing between 147 and 167) Apology, 66.

The seven actions that framed the formal meal (taking, giving thanks, breaking, sharing bread; meal; taking, giving thanks, sharing wine) have, in the tradition with the removal of the meal, been conflated to four (taking, giving thanks with bread and wine, breaking bread, sharing bread and wine).

“Eucharist” focuses on one of those four (seven) actions. Each title for the service focuses on an aspect.

We continue to observe that the lesser-used terms in the New Testament (“Eucharist” never being used as a title there) are the more common titles today.

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5 Responses to A Mass by any other name 5

  1. Probably the strangest eucharist that I participated in was at the Unity Church of Seattle. They had a very successful thursday evening ministry to the Seattle gay & lesbian community called Gays & Lesbians in Unity (GLU). Between 3 to 4 hundred folks attended this 2 hour service each week. One night I an older Unity minister, who was aspiring to be the next senior minister at this congregation, conducted a spiritual eucharist. She went through all of the motions of a protestant extemporaneous eucharist, except we had no bread or wine, we imagined it and we imagined partaking of it.

    • I don’t know if many Carthusians still celebrate an extra office in cell, Br David, the “Officium Missae” (The “Office of the Mass”), sometimes called the “Missa Sicca” (the “Dry Mass”). It is the praying of the “proper” of Mass, and a few of the “ordinary” texts of Mass. Blessings.

  2. Why set so much store by scriptural usage? The Church existed long before the canon of holy scripture was settled upon. Does not the fact that Eucharist appears in the Didache give it’s use today a far greater degree of authority?
    Surely it demonstrates that fully 200 years before the make-up of scripture was agreed the Church had a name for service that was widely recognised and understood.

    • Thanks for your visit and comment, Crispin. I’m not sure what you are pressing for. I didn’t think I was setting “so much store” – merely pointing out something that, I suspect, many people may not previously have noticed. Certainly these titles are ancient – but not as popular, as many might have thought, in the earliest church – or if they were, we do not have those records. Blessings.

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