Part 2 History

Chapter e21 Apostolic Period [0-399]

Preliminary Questions



Scriptural Accounts of Jesus' Meals

Eucharist as a Post-Resurrection Sacrament

The Meal Ministry of Jesus

The Sacred and the Profane

To Think About

Preliminary Questions

What is your favorite artistic rendition of the Last Supper?  Close your eyes and imagine it. How has this picture influenced your Eucharistic theology and piety?  [See: Osborne p 159.]  How did the "Last Supper" become "The Lord's Supper?"  What have you learned about the origins of the Eucharist in your scripture courses?  In your history courses?


If I may refer once again to the “iceberg metaphor” – I know that by definition I can't see the “under the water part” of people's “Eucharist Iceberg” but when I hear various Christians speak of the Eucharist I get the impression that “under their iceberg” [i.e. their sub-conscious Eucharistic Theology] they presume that the authors of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul -- had access to the YouTube video which recorded an actual meal that Jesus celebrated with the twelve apostles on the Thursday evening before Good Friday. They wrote down words actually spoken by Jesus at this historical event.   (The painting of Michelangelo at the Santa Maria del Grazie in Milan, Italy, is a “still” from the Last Supper video.) -- The Catechism of the Catholic Church is the definitive, doctrinal commentary on this Last Supper Video. This meal, this Last Supper, was the first occurrence of the ritual which we now call “The Mass.” It was celebrated by Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, all bishops, (and thus also priests) who concelebrated this Mass with Jesus and received their First Holy Communion. -- We celebrate this event at each Mass, but most especially at the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday which celebrates the anniversary of the institution by Jesus of the Eucharist and the Priesthood.

Try to look under your “Eucharist iceberg” to see if you are “unconsciously” carrying around of any elements of the above naive scenario. Because if that is your understanding of the origin of the Mass, there will be a certain amount of “conflict” [and I don't want you carrying around conflict] with some of the data presented last weekend in class – especially during our discussion of “How to Pray the Eucharistic Prayer” – and in the assigned readings, and the additional notes on my website – and what you have learned in your other graduate courses at Saint Meinrad. For example:

1. (From your scripture studies) The community was celebrating the Eucharist for 40-50 years before the Gospels were written. Consequently: “The Gospel accounts record what the community was doing” rather than “The Gospel account is prescriptive for what the community has to do.”

One would think that with regard to such an important “event” the inspired authors would have been more careful to record the event precisely and yet, upon careful reading, there are important differences among the various authors' accounts. Was there one cup or two? Was the cup before the bread or after? Is “foot washing” central to each and every Eucharist? If they all ate roast lamb at the Last Supper and the Last Supper was the first Mass, why do we not eat roast lamb at each Mass?

2. (Liturgical Theology) At the Eucharist we become present to (anamnesis) the Paschal Mystery – the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We cannot become mystically present to a historical event that has not yet happened. How did this take place at a “Mass” celebrated before the resurrection event?

3. At the Eucharist we “who eat the Bread and drink the Cup become one Body” – that is, we who feast on the risen Christ become the Body of the Risen Christ. At the Last Supper, Christ did not yet have a risen body. If there was a “Mass” before the resurrection event, what was received in the eating and drinking?

4. (Church History) It is impossible to explain the great diversity in the rituals of celebrating the Eucharist in the early centuries if they were aware of precise directions for this meal given by Christ himself on the night before he died when he said: “Do THIS in memory of me.” Why would an evening meal be celebrated in the morning? If Jesus directed the apostles to use bread and wine why would some communities use water instead of wine? Or only use bread?

5. If the Last Supper were a historical event and the ritual details of this supper were well known by the followers of Jesus, it is difficult to explain the absence of any reference to these ritual details in many of the early descriptions of the community's Eucharist.

The current Roman Missal, after the gospel at the Mass of the Lord's Supper, states: “After the proclamation of the Gospel, the Priest gives a homily in which light is shed on the principal mysteries that are commemorated in this Mass, namely, the Institution of the Holy Eucharist and of the priestly Order and the commandment of the Lord concerning fraternal charity.” (ICEL 2010)

Check that what you know (facts / top of the iceberg) is in harmony with what you imagine and presume in your memory and subconscious theology (under the iceberg). A mature adult wants consistency among their beliefs.

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Jerome Kodell. The Eucharist in the New Testament. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press (A Michael Glazier Book), 1991.  ISBN 0-8146-5663-3. 132pp. $29.95. 

Eugene LaVerdiere, Dining in the Kingdom of God: The Origins of the Eucharist According to Luke, Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1994.

Eugene LaVerdiere. The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996.  Paper, 216 pp. $17.95. [Father LaVerdiere examines what the New Testament tells us about the Eucharist and how the Eucharist provides an important experiential and theological resource for the gospel stories of Jesus' life, ministry, passion and resurrection, as well as for the life and development of the Church.  Father LaVerdiere illustrates how the origins for the Eucharist coincide with the origins of the Church, and he also looks beyond the New Testament and explores the ongoing development of Eucharistic theology and practice up to the mid-second century. Then he focuses on the Eucharist in relation to ecclesiology, Christology, and liturgy.]

Theodor Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy, trans. J. Halliburton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981).

L. Bouyer, Eucharist, trans. C. U. Quinn (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).

Robert Cabie. The Eucharist, New Edition 1986. Vol II of The Church at Prayer, G. Martimort editor. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, pp 1-40.

Edward Foley. From Age to Age. Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 1991. ISBN 0-929650-41-7. 175pp. $18.00.

Gaillardetz, Richard R.  Transforming Our Days:  Spirituality, Community and Liturgy in a Technological Culture.  Crossroad Publishing Company, New York.  2000.  ISBN 0-8245-1844-6  Paper.  $15.95.

R. C. D. Jasper and G. J. Cuming. Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed. Third Revised Edition 1987. New York: Pueblo Publishing Company, 1987, #1-3, pp 1-19.

J.-M.-R. Tillard. Flesh of the Church, Flesh of Christ. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press (A Pueblo Book), 1992. ISBN 0-8146-6181-5. 135pp. $24.95. 

Nathan Mitchell. Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press [A Pueblo Book], 1982, pp 1-43.

John K. Leonard and Nathan D. Mitchell. The Postures of the Assembly during the Eucharistic Prayer Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications. ISBN 0-929650-64-6

McKenna, John H, Be What You Celebrate, New York: Paulist Press, 1982. Five filmstrips and cassettes on "a history of changing attitudes toward the Eucharist." McKenna is an outstanding liturgist and a fine teacher. This set has solid information.

Ray Robert Noll.  Christian Ministerial Priesthood: A Search for Its Beginnings in the Primary Documents of the Apostolic Fathers. San Francisco: Catholic Scholars Press.  1994.   ISBN 1-883255-00-7

Kenan Osborne. The Christian Sacraments of Initiation (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), pp 159-174.

David N. Power. The Eucharistic Mystery: Revitalizing the Tradition. Chapter 1, "The Eucharist Today:Problems in a Postmodern World, "pp 3-22.   Chapter 2, "The New Testament Texts Examined, "pp 23-41.   Chapter 3,  "Contemporary Reading of the New Testament Texts, "pp 42-68.

Classic Texts

Gregory Dix. The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press, 1970, pp 1-102.

Joachim Jeremias. The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1966.

J. A. Jungmann. The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development (Missarum Solemnia), trans. F. A. Brunner, 2 volumes. (New York: Benzinger, 1951-1955).  [1986 ed. hard bound, used $130 to $350 -- reissued paperback 2012 $28.00]

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The Apostolic Period [0-399]  Accusations of being atheists.  Domestic eucharist.  All recline at table.  Kiss of peace after liturgy of the Word.  All communicate.   Apologists start to adopt "religious" terms (e.g. "sacrifice").   Clement of Rome.  Ignatius of Antioch. The Letters of Polycarp to the Philippians.  The Epistle of Barnabas.  The Shepherd of Hermas.  The Didache.

313  Edict of Milan
325  Council of Nicea

Accusations of being atheists.   --  No religious rituals.  Just bath, meal, etc...
Domestic eucharist.  All recline at table. 
Kiss of peace after liturgy of the Word. 
All eat and drink / communicate 
Apologists start to adopt terms (e.g. "sacrifice").  
Clement of Rome.  Ignatius of Antioch. The Letters of Polycarp to the Philippians.  The Epistle of Barnabas.  The Shepherd of Hermas.  The Didache.

Last Supper to Lord's Supper

1.  No evidence that the 7 fold action of Jesus was ever used at Eucharist -- we only know of the 4 fold action of the Church
2.  Early on, the eucharist is separated from the full meal
3.  (Roman) wheat bread is substituted for (Judean) barley bread
4.  Wine, with water, becomes standard

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Scriptural Accounts of Jesus' Meals

The Eucharist of Paul 1 Cor 10:14-22; 11:17-34

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 [23] 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, [24] and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." [25] In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." [26] For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.   [NRSV]

The Eucharist of Mark 14:22-25

Mark 14:22-25 [22] While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." [23] Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. [24] He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. [25] Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."   [NRSV]

The Eucharist of Matthew 26:17-29

Matthew 26:26-29 [26] While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." [27] Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; [28] for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. [29] I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."   [NRSV]

The Eucharist of Luke 22:14-38

Luke 22:14-20 [14] When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. [15] He said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; [16] for I tell you, I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." [17] Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, "Take this and divide it among yourselves; [18] for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." [19] Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." [20] And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.   [NRSV]

The Eucharist of John 15:1-17

John's Gospel preserves the tradition of the foot washing.



1.  Note the way Jerome Kodell, The Eucharist in the New Testament,  treats the topic:

Chapter 1.  Historical introduction to the scholarship on this issue.

Chapter 2.  The Last Supper and the Lord's Supper.  We have the Lord's Supper.  The Lord's Supper was being celebrated before our written accounts of the Last Supper.  What can we know of the Last Supper, if anything?

Chapter 3.  Jewish Meals in the First Century.  Knowing how Jesus celebrated daily meals is perhaps even more significant for Eucharistic theology than knowing how Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. 

Chapter 4.  Comparing the various accounts for similarities and differences.

Chapter 5.  Examining each text separately and independently in its own context, purpose, authorship, etc. 

2.  Examine the texts themselves as found in your bible

3.  The earliest written tradition is found in  I Corinthians 11:23-26 and Luke 22:15-20.

4.  Luke 24:30-35. The disciples on the road to Emmaus.  This passage gives the four-fold structure of the Eucharist:  Gathering, Story Telling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning.

5.  Early Eucharistic accounts are found in Acts 2:42, 46, 47; Acts 20:7-11; Acts 27:35.

6. A second strand of the tradition is found in Mark 14:22-25 and Matthew 26:26-29

7. John's Gospel preserves the tradition of the foot washing.

8. The multiplication of the loaves:

Mark 6:41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.   [NRSV]

Mark 8:6-7 Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. [7] They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed.   [NRSV]

Matthew 14:17-21 They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." [18] And he said, "Bring them here to me." [19] Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. [20] And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. [21] And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.   [NRSV]

Matthew 15:35-38 Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, [36] he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. [37] And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. [38] Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children.   [NRSV]

Luke 9:16 And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.   [NRSV]

John 6:11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.. [NRSV] 

9.  The Meals of Jesus in Luke:

A Great Banquet at the House of Levi (5:27-39)
A Great Dinner at the House of Simon the Pharisee (7:36-50)
The Breaking of the Bread in the City of Bethsaida (9:10-17)
Hospitality at the Home of Martha (10:38-42)
A Noon Meal at the Home of Pharisee (11:37-54)
A Sabbath Dinner at the Home of a Leading Pharisee (14:1-24)
Hospitality at the House of Zacchaeus (19:1-10)
Preparing the Passover (22:7-13)
The Passover (22:14-38)
The Breaking of the Bread at Emmaus (24:36-53)
With the Community in Jerusalem (24:36-53)

10.  Note the process in which the scriptures were formed.

a.  The historical words and actions of Jesus.
b.  The experience of the Christian community, including their liturgical experience.
c.  The written, Scriptural record.

11.  Jesus would have been familiar with the following meal prayer (note the Berakah shape): "Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, for you nourish us and the whole world with goodness, grace, kindness and mercy. Blessed are you, Lord, for you nourish the universe. Restore the kingdom of the house of David to its place in our days, and speedily build Jerusalem."

12. Gregory Dix points out that the seven-fold action of Jesus immediately became the four-fold action of the Church.  At the Last Supper, Jesus (1) Took bread (2) blessed it (3) broke it (4) gave it to them saying... Then he (5) took the cup (6) blessed it (7) gave it to them saying...   At the Lord's Supper the Church (1) Takes the bread and wine [Preparation of the Gifts / Setting the Table] (2) blesses God over the elements [The Eucharistic Prayer] (3) breaks the bread [Fraction Rite] and 4) gives the bread and wine as food and drink [Communion Rite].

13.  Funk and Hoover in The Five Gospels, commenting on Mark 14:22-25  [...this is my body ... this is my blood...] state: "Some of the Fellows were of the opinion that a genuine saying of Jesus might lie behind 14:25: Jesus may have suggested that he would share a common meal with his followers sometime in the future when God's imperial rule had arrived. But most Fellows were convinced that the supper tradition has been so overlaid with Christianizing elements and interpretation that it is impossible to recover anything of an original event, much less any of the original words spoken by Jesus. Nevertheless, the Seminar readily conceded the possibility that Jesus may have performed some symbolic acts during table fellowship with his followers. And those symbolic acts may have involved bread and wine or perhaps fish." (p 118.)

14.  Commenting on the parallel passage from Luke (22:17-22), they state: "The diversity in the recorded words of Jesus in the various sources presents a serious problem for those wishing to recover the actual words of Jesus. It is very likely the case that during the course of meals with his disciples Jesus engaged in some symbolic acts. He probably made use of bread or fish and wine. In spite of this probability, the accounts of the last meal Jesus ate with his disciples in Jerusalem is so overlaid with Christianizing elements that it is difficult -- if not impossible -- to recover the actual event; the words Jesus spoke on that occasion are beyond recovery." (p 388)

15 . It is evident that the eucharist is seen as a great moment of reconciliation. ... Indeed, the eucharist, next to Jesus and the Church is the sacrament of reconciliation, not the sacrament of penance, not even the sacrament of baptism.  The eucharist, because of the centrality of Jesus, must be seen as the sacrament of reconciliation. (Osborne p 171)

16. There were no specifically eucharistic controversies in the early church.  Transubstantiation is not a part of early eucharistic doctrine, either in the East or in the West. (Osborne p 172)  St. Paul presents us with a strong statement of belief in the real presence of Jesus in the eucharist, but there is absolutely no trace of any doctrine such as transubstantiation. (Osborne p 173)

17. There is evidence of sacrificial language, but the question of the Reformation "Is the Mass a sacrifice?" is "too theologically specified to be transferred in an unqualified way to the New Testament materials." (Osborne p 172)

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Eucharist as a Post-Resurrection Sacrament

Missale Romanum (MR1975):  "5.  Post homiliam, in qua illustrantur potissima mysteria quae hac Missa recoluntur, institutio scilicet sacrae Eucharistiae et ordinis sacerdotalis necnon et mandatum Domini de caritate fraterna, proceditur ubi ratio pastoralis id suadeat, ad lotionem pedum." 

The [2010] Sacramentary translates the above:  "The homily should explain the principal mysteries which are commemorated in this Mass:  the institution of the eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and Christ's command of brotherly love.   Depending on pastoral circumstances, the washing of feet follows the homily."

Note carefully the wording.  Does the rubric say that Jesus instituted the Eucharist and the (ordained) priesthood at the Last Supper?   Have you heard homilies on Holy Thursday that begin:  "My friends, tonight, at this special Holy Mass, we remember the night when Jesus instituted the two great sacraments of the Eucharist and the Priesthood. ... ..."   What is the "problem" with such a homily?    In answering this question, consider the following: 

Some simple questions:

a.  In the Eucharistic Prayer we become present to (anamnesis) the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord.  How is this possible before the Lord had died and risen?

b.  In the Eucharist we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the Risen Lord, who identifies with His Body of believers.  How is this possible before the Lord had risen from the dead?


 1. "To state that the Last Supper was the first Eucharist and that the post-resurrection eucharistic celebrations essentially repeat the Last Supper does an injustice to all that resurrection theology has developed over the Christian centuries."  (Kenan Osborne. The Christian Sacraments of Initiation, New York: Paulist Press, 1987, p 168)

2. The Scriptural accounts "stem from the community worship, and on the basis of their linguistic coloration reach back into the Palestinian community." (Osborne p 169)   Ordinarily we "imagine" that there was the account of the Last Supper, Jesus said do this, and therefore the community "did this" = Mass.  Whereas it is better to think of the community gathering after the Pentecost event, discussing their experience and their memory of the Lord, sharing a meal.  Gradually this experience shapes the community memory of the Lord; and out of this "memory" the Gospels are formed and written down. 

3. The institution of the eucharist is post-resurrectional and depends on the action of the Spirit of Jesus which was seen as an integral part of the post-Easter event of "instituting the Church." (Osborne p 169)

4. "The meaning of the eucharist is not to be found in the Last Supper nor in the death of Jesus ... but in the resurrection of Jesus." (Osborne p 169)

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The Meal Ministry of Jesus

1.  Reconciliation is always a part of a Jewish meal.  For example: "In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin, king of Judah, on the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth month, evil Merodach, king of Babylon, in the inaugural year of his own reign, raised up Jehoiachin, king of Judah, from prison. He spoke kindly to him and gave him a throne higher than that of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. Jehoiachin took off his prison garb and ate at the king's table as long as he lived. The allowance granted him by the king was a perpetual allowance, in fixed daily amounts, for as long as he lived. (2 Kings 25:27-30)

2.  To understand what Jesus was doing in eating with "sinners" it is important to realize that in the east, even today, to invite a guest to a meal was an honor.  It was an offer of peace, trust, friendship forgiveness; in short, sharing a table meant sharing a life. ... In Judaism in particular, table-fellowship means fellowship before God, for the eating of a piece of broken bread by everyone who shares in the meal brings out the fact that they all have a share in the blessings which the master of the house had spoken over the unbroken bread. (See: Osborne p 164, quoting Jeremias.)

3.  Blessings at special meal times developed.  See L. Bouyer's treatment of Barakah in his book Eucharist. "Important as the blessings are, and important as the various feast days were, it was the basic fellowship meal of daily life that is the substrate of Christian eucharist." (Osborne p 165)

4.  At Passover, the Jewish people "played rich." --- e.g. reclined at table as the wealthy Egyptians did.

5. When thinking of the Eucharist, we have become accustomed to focus first on the elements of bread and wine, transubstantiation, words of consecration, etc.  Reading a book such as The Postures of the Assembly during the Eucharistic Prayer by John K. Leonard and Nathan D. Mitchell (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, ISBN 0-929650-64-6) (or any book about the meaning of meals) reminds one to first of all, look at the meal itself, the meaning of eating together, and the meal ministry of Jesus  -- all this, before considering Jesus' "Last Supper" and its significance in scholastic theology.

6. The fact that Christians ate together when they met as a community is a characteristic they shared with virtually the entire ancient world. For the ancients, the meal was a social institution shared in common throughout the culture, regardless of any social, ethnic or religious distinctiveness a group otherwise might have. All meals in the ancient world have to be seen as manifestations of a common tradition that could have been practiced as easily by a trade guild as by a religious society. Furthermore, the same basic patterns were present whether the meal was designated as "sacred" or "secular." On the one hand, there was a religious component to every "secular" meal. On the other hand, every "sacred" banquet was also a social occasion. (From page 47, "Ritual Posture in the Contest of Meals and the Meal Ministry of Jesus")

7. As Mary Douglas has noted, meals are not simply about food; they are also (and even more fundamentally) about social relations: "If food is treated as a code, the messages it encodes will be found in the pattern of social relations being expressed. The message is about different degrees of hierarchy, inclusion and exclusion, boundaries and transactions across the boundaries. Like sex, the taking of food has a social component, as well as a biological one." (M. Douglas, "Deciphering a Meal," Daedalus 101 [1972]: 61.)

8 There can be little doubt that in the typical practices of the Greco-Roman world, meals represented a "social code" that expressed patterns of social relations. Meals functioned to define groups and their values --- as well as relations among group members --- by "incarnating" 1) social bonding, 2) social obligation, 3) social stratification and 4) social equality. (From page 49, "The Ideology of Banquets")

9. The meal (in Greco-Roman as in other societies) created special ties among the diners. It became the primary means for celebrating and enhancing community bonds and became the chief social activity of various groups of comrades and acquaintances. The meal defined boundaries among the various social groups and associations and defined the meaning of "friendship." (Friends were, above all, those who shared the same table; recall how Jesus' practice of dining with sinners and tax collectors caused his opponents to call him a "friend" of such people.) (From page 49, "Social Bonding")

10. At least four different versions of the Last Supper tradition are found in the New Testament.  Three of these (Paul [1 Corinthians 11:23-26], Mark [14:22-25], and Luke [22:15-20]) place their emphasis on the "eucharistic sayings" of Jesus. The fourth (John 13:1-11) ignores these sayings altogether, emphasizing instead the ritual of the foot washing at the meal. (From page 52, "The New Testament Banquet: Improvisations on a Theme")  Christians often forget that at least one of the principal theologies of the eucharist in the New Testament (namely, that contained in John) is expressed entirely in terms of ritual gesture and posture without attention either to an "institution narrative" or a "dominical command" to repeat the bread-and-wine procedures. The "command to repeat" in John is actually a command about mutual service --- not a command to repeat "words of Jesus" or even to repeat this "last meal" of Jesus with his friends.

11.  It is virtually impossible to interpret all four versions in the New Testament texts as either "references to a historical event" or references to a "single liturgical tradition" common to all early Christians. Not only does the New Testament give us various "versions" of Jesus' "sayings at the supper," it also points to a variety of models for the kind of focus the meal might have had. Was it a "memorial meal," on the model of a Greco-Roman "funerary banquet" ("As often as you do this, you proclaim the Lord's death")? Was it a "covenant meal," structured on the model of a "club banquet" ("This cup is the new covenant in my blood")? Or was it a meal dominated by the theme of the "eschatological banquet" ("I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine")?

12.  Notice the difference in these two questions:  With whom am I willing to share table fellowship?  Who is worthy to receive Jesus in Holy Communion?

13.  Richard R. Gaillardetz in Transforming Our Days:  Spirituality, Community and Liturgy in a Technological Culture, speaks of the change in our contemporary experience of "meal" from "focal thing" to "device."

13a.  Gaillardetz uses the work of Borgmann who distinguishes between "focal things" and "devices."  Examples of focal things would be heating the house with a wood stove; an example of a device would be an automatic furnace.  An example of a focal event would be the preparation and sharing of a family meal; an example of a device would be a TV microwave dinner. 

13b.  For example, each Saturday at noon my neighbors, Lee and Goldie, invite me to the noon meal.  Their Children and their wives and all the grandchildren come.  Lee and Goldie go to the store and the farmers' market and the bakery for the ingredients.  The family cooks the meal while taking over the weeks news.  I help by sipping scotch and spurring on the conversation.   The meal is ready about 1:00 and we sit and eat and talk till 2:30 or 3:00.  Every Saturday the menu is the same; and (for the most part) the conversation is the same:  same topics, same stories, etc.  And then we clean up, wash the dishes, clear off the table and return it to its normal size, re-arrange the dinning room.  In all, it is at least a three hour event.  It is more than just "eating."  I do not experience this type of "meal sharing" very often.  Usually I eat alone in front of the TV, or eat with one hand while I am driving to work, to Mass, to give a talk, etc.

13c.  Gaillardetz points out that "The use of the microwave oven to prepare a prepackaged microwave dinner requires virtually no engagement with the outer world and no skills, imposes few burdens, requires little time for preparation, and makes no argument for the leisurely consumption of the food. (Transforming Our Days, p 22).  As Borgmann says: "Once food has become freely available, it is only consistent that the gathering of the meal is shattered and disintegrates into snacks, TV dinners, bites that are grabbed to be eaten; and eating itself is scattered around television shows, late and early meetings, activities, overtime work and other business.  This is, increasingly, the normal condition of technological eating. (Technology, 196ff.)  This change in our contemporary experience of "meal" from "focal thing" to "device"  has major implications for our experience of the Eucharistic Meal and for our catechesis.

14.  Sister Jose Hobday, a woman who has shared her Native American and Franciscan heritage with so many, tells of how a meal changed her way of looking at things. When she was small, her mother invited a woman with cancer to Thanksgiving dinner. Jose remembers that she wanted to skip the meal because the woman had such a sickening smell about her, but her mother insisted that Jose be there. Jose recalls that as the sick woman passed the sweet potatoes, she noticed that there would not be enough for Jose and thus did not take any for herself. Young Jose was struck by the kindness of the woman and offered her half of her potato. She also became aware that after this sharing she never noticed the woman's smell again, and, indeed, had made a good friend.

15.  Elie Wiesel, the Jewish writer who survived the death camps of the Holocaust, tells a magnificent story of bread and sacrifice. Every day the guard would give the prisoners their one meal of the day - one piece of bread and some soup. Wiesel remembers so vividly how his father would break off half of his bread each day and give it to his small son. This little extra bread kept Elie alive, but his father grew weaker every day and eventually died. Only later did Wiesel come to realize that his father, by sharing his bread, had hastened his own death. He now sees those pieces of bread as sacrificial bread which, for his young life, was the bread of life. Such is the Eucharist: bread which sacramentally symbolizes and makes present Jesus' death for us and his offer of new life.

16.  Hamburgers are Atheistic and fast food in general reflects an individualism not compatible with Catholic experience, according to an article in the Nov. 8, 2000 issue of Avvenire  (the official newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference.  Because of the close relationship between the Italian episcopacy and the Vatican, Avvenire is widely read as an indication of current thinking in the leadership ranks of the Church.)  Italian theologian Massimo Salani said fast food outlets such as McDonald's represent "a complete neglect of the sacredness of food" and are driven by an "individualistic rapport between the human person and God."  Fast food is "not a Catholic model," Salani said, because it lacks elements of community and shared life.  The hamburger is thus a symbol of eating habits divorced from considerations of God, suggested Salani, who has just published a book titled At the Dinner Table with the ReligionsAvvenire illustrated the article with a model dinner menu based on the eating habits of the Old Testament patriarchs. The bill of fare included baked bread, mixed vegetables, lentil soup, lamb and quail, cold milk and mixed sweets with honey.  (Article adapted from National Catholic Reporter, November 17, 2000, page 12.)

17.  The Catechism of the Council of Trent: taught that only the priest can distribute Holy Communion.

Regarding the Minister of the Eucharist

To omit nothing doctrinal of this sacrament, we now come to speak of its minister, a point, however, on which scarcely anyone can be ignorant. ONLY PRIESTS HAVE POWER TO CONSECRATE AND ADMINISTER THE EUCHARIST. It must be taught, then, that to priests alone has been given power to consecrate and administer to the faithful, the Holy Eucharist. That this has been the unvarying practice of the Church, that the faithful should receive the Sacrament from the priests, and that the officiating priests should communicate themselves, has been explained by the holy Council of Trent, which has also shown that this practice, as having proceeded from Apostolic tradition, is to be religiously retained, particularly as Christ the Lord has left us an illustrious example thereof, having consecrated His own most sacred body, and given it to the Apostles with His own hands.  (from The Roman Catechism, 1566 edition, quoted in  Catechism of the Catholic Church: An Access Guide for Adult Discussion Groups by the National Advisory Committee on Adult Religious Education of the Department of Education of the United States Catholic Conference (Washington: USCCB, 1995).

18.  "Do this in memory of me."  What would have been the intention of the biblical writer? If the Last Supper was celebrated in the context of the Passover, and the Passover was celebrated in obedience to the command of Moses, and at the Passover the Jews "did this" in memory of Moses (and the whole Exodus event), Paul/Luke are saying that now we no longer "do this" in memory of Moses, but in memory of Jesus (and the whole Jesus event). The statement is not so much a command to "do something" (the Jews would have continued the Passover in any case) but to do this in memory of me. That is: the sharing in and celebration of this meal is our way of saying that we will live as Jesus lived. We will do this in memory of Jesus. And this anamnesis makes us present to the event ["This is the night when..."] and incorporates us into it so that we, the Church, Christ's Body, sent by his Spirit, pledge ourselves to continue his mission. Paul/Luke are not saying "Do this in remembrance of me" so much as "Do this in remembrance of me."   And the "this" is the whole Christ event:  "Live as I have lived."

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The Sacred and the Profane

1. When thinking of the Eucharist, we quickly focus on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Priesthood, Sacred Orders, etc.... Reading a book such as Christian Ministerial Priesthood: A Search for Its Beginnings in the Primary Documents of the Apostolic Fathers, by Ray Robert Noll (San Francisco: Catholic Scholars Press. ISBN 1-883255-00-7) reminds one to focus on the prophetic ministry (in contrast to the priestly ministry) of Jesus.

2. From the beginning of the book, page 1 ff. --- The rise of ministerial priesthood within Christianity belongs to a broader and more fundamental issue that has been with us from the dawn of civilization --- the problem of the sacred and the profane. The existence of a sacerdotal group, be it of an ancient pagan culture, or of the Levitical family of Israel, or that which grew up within Christianity, represents an answer that has already been given to the problem of the sacred and the profane. That answer (and it is perhaps the only common denominator among the various forms of priesthood) is that there are certain persons, places and things which are or ought to be set apart from ordinary life for the primary reason that they posses in themselves or have been endowed with a certain sacredness.  In turn, either expressed or implied is the understanding that those persons, places or things which do not possess this sacredness belong to the domain of the profane.

3. The priestly tradition in ancient Israel, for example, bears eloquent testimony to the answer to the issue of the sacred and the profane in Israel. The cult, the instruments of cult, as well as those who performed it were set apart as sacred, and laws of ritual were prescribed for all those who in any way participated in the official worship. Ultimately the Temple priesthood took control of most of Israel's worship life, and with that came the continually recurring tendency on the part of the priestly authorities throughout Israel's history to formalize and ritualize not only the official cultic worship but every aspect of religious life. It was against this tendency and the abuses associated with it that the prophets spoke out loudly and clearly. Haranguing against religious formalism and denouncing mightily those who fostered it, they called the people back to a worship of the Lord that proceeded from the heart and was first and foremost spiritual." (Christian Ministerial Priesthood, pp 1-2)

4. It is in this context and within this prophetic tradition that we find Jesus of Nazareth and his message, for as Père Congar has pointed out: "Jesus has taken up and accomplished the program of the prophets. ... The prophets never ceased to say that the true cult was that of the heart, that the true sacrifice is the offering of one's life in loving obedience to God; ... Moreover they announced the end of the separation, indeed the distinction between the sacred and the profane. It is the life of a person as it unfolds itself in the world that is the material of this cult."

5. Jesus completes this step. He surmounts, one must even say he abolishes the ancient frontier between the sacred and the profane. There is but one sacred reality, His body, at the same time temple, sacrifice and priest. For the Christian, all is sacred except that which he profanes by sin, but this sacred is not so by way of being set apart. (Y. Congar, O.P. "Le sacerdoce du Nonveau Testament," in Vatican II - Les Pretres (Unam Sanctam, 68). Paris: Editions du Cerf; 1968: pp. 252-253.)

6. The late Anglican Bishop John A. T. Robinson at the 9th Downside Symposium on "The Christian Priesthood" echoed similar sentiments: The crucial thing that Christianity did was to end the distinction on which late Judaism rested between the holy and the common. This end was symbolized by the rending of the Temple veil from top to bottom at Jesus' death (Mark 15:38). Henceforth nothing could be common or unclean (Acts 10:14-15) --- or therefore unpriestly. Christianity celebrated as one of its distinctive marks the koinonia hagionh --- the making holy of the common and the communialization of the holy. And with the communialization of the holy went the communialization of the priesthood. For this was its sphere of operation. There is for the New Testament no longer any separated space or holy time, no sacred realm or hieratic caste, no particular order of ministry that is priestly - for the whole is. (J.A.T. Robinson. "Christianity's 'No' to Priesthood. "The Christian Priesthood [9th Downside Symposium, edited by Nicholas Lash and Joseph Rhymer]. London: Darton, Longman & Todd; 1970: p. 13.)

7. And yet the truth of the matter is that relatively early in the history of the Church a development took place which produced a separate, sacred group, as well as a sacral-cultic interpretation of Christianity, thereby effectively re-introducing the Levitical answer to the problem of the sacred and the profane.

8.  As one Catholic theologian from Strasbourg put it:  It is undeniable that the Christian tradition little by little "recouped" the sacerdotal connotations that the first centuries had set aside. Moreover the ministers of the Church began to conceive their task as a mediatory and sacrificial action; they returned progressively to the Levitical idea of the priest, functionary of the sacred. The Christian "priests" were becoming the ones in charge of the local sanctuaries, men "separated", members of a clergy, invested with particular powers over sacred things. (C. Wackenheim. "Le fondement theolgique du sacerdoce ministeriel." Memorial du Cinquantenaire, 1919-1969: Faculte de Theologie Catholique, Palais Universitaire, Strasbourg; 1969: p. 422.)

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 To Think About

After reading Kodell's The Eucharist in the New Testament can you answer the following questions?

1. What are the major differences between the Mark/Matthew tradition and the Paul/Luke tradition?

2. What reasons have been given to explain why John's gospel does not have Jesus' words of institution?

3. How are the Eucharistic words of Jesus sacrificial?

4. Was the Last Supper the first Mass? In what sense "'yes" and in what sense "'no"? How can one properly talk about the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper?

5. When explaining the Eucharist to your future parishioners you will most probably at some point use the word "'meal."  What are the major differences in the way Jesus experienced "'meal" and the way your parishioners experience "'meal"?

6. Should we call the sacrament "'The Eucharist" or "'The Mass"? Or does it make any difference? Do the words mean the same thing?

7. If Christ is contained whole and entire under the species of bread, why did the Second Vatican Council restore the Cup to the faithful?


An additional thought:  two views of liturgical development:  1. There was one event and through the course of time it got told and celebrated in numerous and various ways. Like a river dividing into many smaller streams.  2. There were many traditions which in the course of time got consolidated and written down and became “The Last Supper”. Like many smalls streams coming together to form a river. The second view is the accurate one / even though the first is what most people imagine to have happened.

A second additional thought:  “The Synoptic Gospels describe the Last Supper as such a Passover meal. The Gospel of John, by contrast, describes Jesus's death itself as a Passover event.” — In the introductory lecture I pointed out the difference between “statements of fact” and “deep truths”. A statement of fact is either true or false. With a deep truth, however, a contradiction often expresses another deep truth. Such is the case here whether the final meal of Jesus is thought of as taking place at a Passover meal or not at a Passover meal. This is not a statement of fact. We do not ask which of these is true. The gospel writers are not concerned with historical fact here, but with deep truths. Consequently both are “true.”

A third thought:   In these postings, as they are essays at a Master' s level of theology, it is better to say, for example “the statements of Jesus in the Gospel of John about the bread and wine being his body and blood” rather than to say “Jesus's statements about the bread and wine being His body and blood.” The latter could imply that you might actually know the words of Jesus himself.

A fourth thought:  When quoting from the “The Catechism of the Catholic Church” – Those who have studied this text carefully (e.g. see “Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” edited by Michael J. Walsh) point out that, while there are references to Lumen Gentium, etc, the arrangement of the text and the thought in the CCC is that of the summa of Thomas Aquinas, not that of the Second Vatican Council. Note that a lot has happened in biblical exegesis, history, systematic theology, etc since 1200. 

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Copyright: Tom Richstatter.  All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 03/20/15.  Your comments on this site are welcome at