Part 2 History

Chapter e22 Patristic Period [400-799]

Preliminary Questions



Summary by Osborne 

From Age to Age

Flesh of the Church

Jasper and Cuming

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?

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Robert Cabié. The Eucharist, New Edition 1986. Vol II of The Church at Prayer, G. Martimort editor. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1986, pp 41-123.

Gregory Dix. The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press, 1970, pp 103-433.

R. C. D. Jasper and G. J. Cuming. Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed. Third Revised Edition 1987. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press (A Pueblo Book), 1987. ISBN 0-8146-6085-1. 314 pp. $19.95. (=Jasper)

Bradshaw, Paul, editor. Essays on Early Eastern Eucharistic Prayers. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8146-6153-X. Paper. 240 pp. S29.95. This book serves as a companion to---and provides an extended commentary on---the texts of early eastern Eucharistic prayers that are published in R. C. D. Jasper and G. J. Cuming's Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed. Paul Bradshaw is professor of liturgy at the University of Notre Dame.

Gary Mach. The Theologies of the Eucharist in the Early Scholastic Period. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

Nathan Mitchell. Cult and Controversy: The Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press [A Pueblo Book], 1982, pp 44-65.

Ray Robert Noll. Christian Ministerial Priesthood: A Search for its Beginnings in the Primary Documents of the Apostolic Fathers. San Francisco: Catholic Scholars Press, 1993.

Kenan Osborne. The Christian Sacraments of Initiation (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), pp 175-189.

Power, Chapter 4, "'The Pre-Nicene Church: Eucharistic Practice,"' pp 69-81.

Power, Chapter 5, "'The Pre-Nicene Church: The Eucharistic Prayers,"' pp 82-103.

Power, Chapter 6, "'The Pre-Nicene Church: The Eucharistic Theology,"' pp 104-133.

Zirkel, Patricia McCormick. "'The Ninth-Century Eucharistic Controversy: A Context for the Beginnings of Eucharistic Doctrine in the West."' Worship, 68:1, (January 1994) pp 2-23. [Good article explaining the positions of Paschasius Radbertus and Ratramnus and the role of the king.]

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2. Patristic [400-799]  Liturgy goes public after Constantine.
All stand for prayer.  All bring bread, wine, gifts. 
Bishop/pastor improvises rite.
Kiss of peace before communion. 
All communicate. Eucharistic fast. 
Beginning of ornamental ceremony. 
Expanding numbers of the baptized brings with it passivity.

2. Patristic [400-799]  Goes public.  All stand for prayer.  All bring bread, wine, gifts.  Bishop/pastor improvises rite.  Kiss of peace before communion.  All communicate. Eucharistic fast.  Beginning of ornamental ceremony.  Expanding numbers of the baptized brings with it passivity.

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Summary by Osborne (pp 188-189)

1. In the New Testament and immediately following the New Testament period, we see that eucharistic meals were part of the Christian community celebration. The meal was an integral part of such celebrations.

2. The earliest accounts outside the New Testament relate baptism and the eucharist. e.g., in the Didache and in Justin. However, one cannot conclude that the eucharistic meal was celebrated only in conjunction with baptism.  It appears that a weekly celebration (on the eighth day) begins to take place.

3. Gradually, the eucharistic part of these meals was separated from the meal itself. Eventually, the meal was dropped completely, and the eucharistic part became liturgized.

4. It would seem that the Jewish word service of the synagogue had some influence on the development of this early non-meal, eucharistic celebration of the Christian community. The extent of such Jewish influence, however, is still a matter of debate.

5. After the development of the catechumenate (c. 150 A.D.) began , the custom gradually arose to see the first part of the eucharistic liturgy, especially during the Lenten and Easter times, focused rather specifically on the catechumens. Much later, this first part of the Mass was called the "'Mass of the Catechumens."'

6. Belief in the real presence of Jesus was not contested during this early Church period. No heresies arose regarding the eucharist. Belief in the real presence did not involve any theory such as transubstantiation.

7. During the entire patristic period, sacrificial terminology is quite strong as far as interpreting the eucharist is concerned. The connection between the death of Jesus and the eucharist was part of faith. Nonetheless, the question on sacrifice which the reformers of the sixteenth century posed was not addressed specifically by the early Church.

8. The eucharist, in the early Church, was Christological and ecclesiological. A theology of the sacraments had not yet been developed, with the result that the eucharist was imbedded in Christology generally. The connection with the incarnation was especially strong in the Eastern Church.

9. The presence of Jesus in the eucharist, as also in the Church, was a presence of the risen Jesus. There was never question of a re-performance of the Jesus who lived and died.

10. The community was integral to an understanding of the eucharist during the patristic period. Reception of the eucharist meant that one was a welcome member in the community. In both the East and the West the practice of the fermentum exemplified this community relationship.

11. The flow: Jesus-Church-Eucharist, provides us today with a solid basis for the contemporary understanding of Jesus as the primordial sacrament, the Church as the basic sacrament and the eucharist as the sacrament of the presence of the risen Lord. Although the specific sacramental terminology was not used by the early Fathers of the Church, nonetheless, their stress on the interconnection of these three indicates to us, today, the validity of this new sacramental approach.

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From Age to Age

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

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Flesh of the Church

Notes on the text:  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. 

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 Jasper and Cuming

3. The Didache --

4. Justin Martyr --

5. Hippolytus --

6. Addai and Mari --

7. Sharar -- Nickolas Becker

A. Closely related to Addai and Mari---probably common ancestor, though developed in different ways
B. Now used by Maronite Church, primarily in Lebanon
C. Prayer itself asks intercession for its author (50c)

A. God is named under a variety of titles, including "'God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel"' (47a), "'Good Shepherd"' (48d), and numerous Trinitarian references (47b, 49a, 51a)

A. The priest does most of the talking, though there are acclamations for the assembly and a line or two for the deacon
B. There are more references to the speaker than I expected
1. "'unworthy and a sinner"' (46c)
2. long paragraph in 50b

A. More or less. The biggest change is the placement of the (joined) epiclesis---50c, nearly the end of the entire Eucharistic Prayer

A. a great deal; many, many petitions; anamnesis begins with creation of the world, mentions creation of humanity, moves on to redemption

A. Quite explicit---bread is body of Jesus (48a), wine is blood (48b)

A. Regarding Christ---propitiatory sacrifice in 48c
B. Offertory---48d, 49a---sacrifice of prayer and praise from the assembly to the Son

A. Numerous---49c to 50d
B. Interesting section of intercessions in 46d


This is a beautifully written prayer from which we can draw pretty clear lines of comparison to Eucharistic Prayers currently approved for use in the Latin Rite. While we would not use this prayer during Eucharist (unless we were bi-ritual, of course), reading it does give a more profound understanding and appreciation for the texts that we do have. This text uses beautiful, poetic language, and is worth reading for that reason alone.

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8. St. Mark -- Al Bremer

What is unique about this Eucharistic prayer is that it was used in the liturgy of the patriachate of Alexandria and it was likely written between 3 and 5 AD.  There is no mention of salvation-history within it.  There are numerous blessings in it and it seems it is likely that it originated from a Jewish thanksgiving prayer.  

Originally the prayer may have had three ¡°panels¡±, thanksgiving, offering, and intercession.  The intercessions come right after the preface.  Here the Lord is asked to visit the sick, heal them from disease and illness.  There is the request for mercy for those in prison, those who are bound to slavery, to those members abroad and on a journey.  There are also blessings upon the fruit of the earth, the poor, and others. God is introduced as Master, Lord, God, Father Almighty.

Those remembered are bishops, deacons, presbyters, monks and others who work within the church.  Also Christians under trial, brothers who are prisoners of war, and there is a plea for mercy on ¡°us sinners.¡±  Within the ¡°thank offerings¡± there is this request that God accept the gifts of Abel and Abraham.  The Sanctus is just before the Epiclesis.  There are two Epiclesis which are close to the end.  Here Christ is recalled as follows: ¡°for our Lord and God and King of all Jesus the Christ, in the night when he handed himself over for our sins¡¦¡±
For contemporary pastoral practice this prayer is an aid for those in the parish who want to look into the history prayers within the early church.  

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9. St. Basil -- Joe Feltz

This is the earliest version of one of the anaphoras used by the Coptic Church, it is dated from the late third century.  It is the basis of the third prayer in the  Roman rite of 1969.
God is named: "'I AM"', "'truly Lord God"', "'Father of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ"' (70b) and "'Master"' (72c).  The pre-Sanctus and Sanctus follow in 70b-c.  In 70d mention is made of the Fall, believed to be first mention in an Eucharistic prayer.  The history of salvation begins at the creation account (70b) and continues through to Judgment Day (71a) before the institution narrative (71b).  The institution narrative is introduced by the phrase from 1 Timothy 3:16, "'he left us this great mystery of godliness"'.  Both the bread and the cup contain the words, "'Do this for my remembrance"' (71b).  Interestingly the bread is "'blessed, sanctified, broke and [given] to the disciples"' and the cup is blessed, sanctified, [given thanks] and [given] to the disciples"' (71b).  The epiclesis occurs in 71c and it request the Holy Spirit to descend upon the assembly and the gifts.  But the petition is to sanctify the gifts and "'make them holy of holies"' (71d).  The next paragraph asks God to make the assembly "'one body and one spirit"' (71d) and to share with the saints.  The intercessions follow such as for the church (72a), the community (72a-b), the fruits of the earth (72b).  Another item worth noting is the intercession for the church includes the phrase, "'remember all the orthodox bishops in it"' (72a) indicating a period of struggle against heresy.  Following this is the invocation of saints and the dead.  This is introduced by the statement, "'Since, Master, it is a command of your only-begotten Son that we should share in the commemoration of your saints"' (72c); the author notes that this command of Jesus is not found in Scripture.

10. Egyptian local rites -- Phil Flott

The Prayer of Sarapion is on 76-79.  It is somewhat Gnostic, going on about light.  Curiously, at 77 & 78 it refers to the gifts as already offered, in the Institution Narrative.  The prayer is addressed to the Father.  God is named as uncreated, unseen, lover, etc.  Angels come in the middle, on 77, instead of the beginning.  Anamnesis is lacking.  The epiclesis is after the Institution Narrative.  It calls on the Word, then on the Spirit, pp 77d & 78a.  The change in the elements is the same as St. Thomas, a likeness (figura).  Only intercession is one, for the dead.
    The Deir Balyzeh Papyrus has a preface and a Sanctus.  It also has a consecratory epiclesis immediately after the Sanctus.  Next, it borrows from the Didache.  The Institution Narrative follows.
    The Louvain Coptic Papyrus hasa an anamnesis of the Lord's death, a simple offering and epiclesis.  Next is the Institution Narrrative, to end it.

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11. Cyril of Jerusalem -- Kendrick Forbes

The text that I am discussing is the prayer of Cyril of Jerusalem.  The prayer and brief commentary can be found on pages 82-87 of Jasper's book.  

The structure of Cyril's prayer is the preface followed by the Sanctus, the epiclesis and then the intercessions.  The prayer does not fit the model of eucharistic prayer as several key elements are left out.  

What is unique about Cyril's prayer is that the prayer does not contain an Institution Narrative, nor does it contain an Anamnesis of Holy Thursday, or of the Paschal Victory.  

God is the one to whom the prayer is addressed.  God is named as the lover of man:  "'Then having sanctified ourselves with these spiritual hymns, we beseech God, the lover of man, to send forth the Holy Spirit.."'

In regards to who is speaking, Cyril often makes reference to beseeching God.  I am inclined to believe that the usage of such language indicates that the bishop and people are the ones who are speaking.  Cyril also makes reference to the intercessions as prayers we offer for others:  "'In the same way, offering our prayers for those who have fallen asleep, even though they were sinners.."'  

The preface, nor the remainder of the prayer, does contain any remembering.  There is also no christological thanksgiving in the preface.  

The epiclesis immediately follows the Sanctus.  It does not appear to be split.  

While there is no Institution Narrative, the change in elements is named rather explicitly.  Bread becomes the body of Christ and wine becomes the blood of Christ.  

The prayer of Cyril of Jerusalem speaks about the sacrifice of Christ in terms of forgiveness.  The bishop and people seem to be the ones who offer Christ to God as appeasement for our sins and for others.  "'..In the same way, offering our prayers for those who have fallen asleep, even though they were sinners..we offer Christ slain for our sins, propitiating God, the lover of man, for them and for ourselves."'  The prayer seems to be very sacrifice oriented.

Intercessions are offered for the world, the Church, the dead, governments, the sick, and many others.  

What seems to be significant about this prayer for contemporary practice is the attention that the prayer devotes to forgiveness.  The purpose of celebrating the Eucharist seems to be that of obtaining forgiveness.

12. St. James -- Todd Goodson

1. What is unique about this prayer?

- it is extremely long, especially the anamnesis/intercessory/invocation section which takes up the majority of the prayer (95-98).
- lots of listing (ex. preface, 90 or the anamnesis 95-98)  
- occasional odd descriptions, note description of cherubim and seraphim (90d-91) or the listing of the 6 councils toward the end of the anamnesis (97d).

2. Who is addressed in the Prayer?

- Mostly the Father, but a footnote on 92 claims that from, "'We therefore...(92d)"' onwards in the Syriac version the prayer is addressing Christ. It seems to me that it is still addressing the Father but maybe this is a point of discussion.  
- Interesting: 96c the prayer appears to briefly address Mary.  

3. Who is speaking?  

The bishop is speaking, there are silent prayers to which deacons and clerics respond and public ones which the people respond to (ex. 92).

4. Does it fit the model Eucharistic prayer?

Yes, but the Anamnesis is extended significantly and blended with Intercessions and Invocations. The prayer is centered around remembering and declaring the tradition of the Church at that time.

5. What is remembered?

- EVERYTHING (94-99).  
- A few interesting points: the "'most pious and Christ loving"' emperor (94d) and empress are remembered and it is asked that barbarous nations be subject to him. Good weather (95d) is also prayed for.
- Councils, the holy 40 and 45, all the emperors.  

6. Where is the epiclesis? Is it split?  

93b. It is not split.  

7. How is the change in the elements named?

"'The Holy Body of Christ"', "'The Precious Blood of Christ"' (93c).  

8. What does the prayer say about the sacrifice of Christ? e.g. who offers what to whom?

Doesn't seem particularly focused on sacrifice as a theme. WE offer the "'bloodless sacrifice"' either to Christ or to the Father depending your interpretation of this portion of the prayer (92d and footnote 5).  

9. Are there intercessions?  
see #4

10. What is the significance of this prayer for contemporary pastoral practice?
The emphasis on remembering and intercessions seems very appropriate pastorally. The prayer itself seemed relevant to it's current time period, with it's naming of emperors, etc.  

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13. Apostolic Constitutions -- Rob Hankee


The Apostolic Constitutions are out of the Didache and the Apostolic Tradition.  It originated out of the controversy with the Arian Eunomius, around 360-380 A.D.   It was later edited in the 17th century, and the editor appears to have some Arian leanings.  The work includes three liturgies: Book II, which is an outline of the Didascalia; Book VII, which is an expansion of the prayers from the Didache; and Book VIII, which has the earliest surviving complete text of a liturgy.  It is assumed that Book VIII provides a reliable picture of a fourth century liturgy in the region of Antioch.  This report will look at Book VII and Book VIII.

Book VII

What is unique about this prayer is that the Sanctus, Institution Narrative, ananemsis, offering, epiclesis and intercessions are not present.  The prayer also includes a prayer that comes after receiving communion (100-B).  It concludes with a thanksgiving prayer about the ointment.  

God is addressed as Father, Almighty Master, and Eternal God.

The speaker of the prayer is We.  The phrase "'We give thanks"' is repeated throughput.  

The prayer does not fit the model eucharistic prayer.  It makes no reference to any figure that came after Jesus.  The prayer does mention Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whom the prayer refers to as holy and blameless (102-C).  Also the blood is mentioned before the body (102-A).

What is remembered is God's salvific plan in sending a Savior.  Also, Christ's suffering, death and resurrection are recalled.

There is no recognizable epiclesis.  There is, however a calling on God to make the Church one (102-A), which appears before the mentioning of the blood and body.

The blood and body are referred to as symbols and the Last Supper is represented by the words, "'for he commanded us to proclaim his death"' (102-A).

There is no offering made by the people.  The offering that is made is from God who offered his Son and from Jesus who offered himself.

There are no intercessions stated, but there are requests that God remembers His Church, that the people be made one, that they be free of evil, etc.   Most of the prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving.  

This prayer is very gracious.  The speakers continue to raise their voices in thanksgiving to God for bringing about His salvific plan.

What is unique about this prayer is the amount of remembering.  The preface is very long.  It opens with the nature of God and then moves into a very detailed remembering of creation, even mentioning the four elements of air, fire, earth, and water (105-D).  The preface continues to recall the creation of man (106-C) and his fall (107-B).  Finally, the preface offers a summary of the Old Testament all the way up to the fall of Jericho.  The Sanctus follows and the prayer moves into a long remembering of Jesus' birth, ministry, death and resurrection.  The Institution Narrative (110-C) has a familiar form.  The epiclesis which follows the Institution Narrative, is of the consecratory type (111-A).  The Intercessions follows the epiclesis.  There are 10 intercessions: (111-B) Church, clergy, government leaders; (111-C) appeal to saints, people; (111-D) city; (112-A) enemies, catechumens; (112-B) harvest and those who are absent for good reason.  The last unique thing about this prayer is that the Gloria is said right after the Great Amen.

The prayer is addressed to God, who is also addressed as God the Father, Lord, and King.

In this prayer, there is one person speaking who is speaking on behalf of the people.  In the intercession for the clergy (111-B), the presider makes the comment, "'also for my worthless self who offer to you"'.

The sacrifice of Jesus is mentioned in great detail.  But it is the people who make the offering because they have been commanded to do so, "'we offer you, King and God, according to his commandment, this bread and this cup"' (110-D).    

14. Byzantine St. Basil -- Eric Johnson

The Byzantine Liturgy of St. Basil

One of the first things a person notices when approaching this prayer is its length (it is over twice as long as the Roman Canon).  Nevertheless, the anaphora fits closely with the "'model"' Eucharistic Prayer of our notes, with the entire Epiclesis following the Offertory (119d-120a).  Its length is achieved largely by expanding certain portions of the prayer.  This is particularly evident in the lengthy Anamnesis both in the Preface and following the Vere Sanctus (pp. 116b-118) and in the Intercessions (120c-123a).  In the former, all of salvation history from the time before creation through the ascending of Christ into heaven is recalled.

As with our own prayers, it is God the Father who is addressed.  Yet, one of the more interesting aspects of this prayer is the numerous names used for God.  The naming portion of the prayer (p. 116c) begins with a series of five names drawn from scripture.  Indeed, the entire preface is in some sense an extended naming of the divinity.  Here, numerous titles and attributes of both the Father and the Son are piled up one after the other.  Most of these come from scripture, but they are peppered with language of later Trinitarian theology and creeds (for instance: true God and true Light, p. 117a).  The various ranks of angels are also named and described as the prayer moves into the Sanctus.  

As was noted above, the intercessions are of a much greater length than we are accustomed, but the same elements are there (for the dead. 120c, the Church 120c, invocation of the saints 120a, etc.)  In many ways, this portion of the prayer reads like a laundry list of every conceivable need.  The most numerous petitions are those for the living, pausing even to pray for those forgotten in the prayer (121d).  Though this prayer is still in use, it has changed very little, and it reflects the time in which it was written.  Of particular note is the intercessions offered for the Emperor (121a) and the desire that he subjugate the barbarians.

The Liturgy of St. Basil is filled with a repetition, complexity and winding language that is perhaps foreign to our more simple and direct Western tastes.  But all in all, the structure, content and understanding reflected in this prayer is familiar and comfortable.  This prayer also expresses beautifully all that God has done for his people, as well as illustrating how the Eucharist and those who participate is intended to touch and sanctify all creation.  It both recognizes God's lordship over everything, and at the same time seeks to incorporate all times, places and people into the Body of Christ.  

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15. Anaphora of the Twelve Apostles --


16. St. John Chrysostom --

This prayer has remained the normative structure of the Eucharistic prayer in the Orthodox Church  since at least 1000 CE.  Some key points raised by Jasper are "'that the preface makes only the briefest reference to Creation"' (pg.132, line 6); "'the post-Sanctus, usually an opportunity for setting forth Christ's redeeming work in some detail, is here confined to the quotation of John 3:16 (pg. 132, line 25); "'the link word from the Sanctus is 'holy'"' (pg. 132, line 19); and "'the words 'Do this in remembrance of me' are omitted but implied by the the phrase 'We therefore, remembering this saving command'"' (pg. 133, line 1).  Finally, Jasper points out the "'ancient phrase 'this reasonable and bloodless service' is prominent in the anamnesis and the intercessions, which it links closely with the offering, which is in the present tense"' (pg. 133, line 9).  "'The work of the Holy Spirit is specified as 'changing' the elements'"' (pg. 133, lines 10-12).

Two unique aspects of this prayer that came to mind are the many private prayers by the priest and the more extensive and comprehensive intercessions, especially for the living, (pg. 133, line 32).  The Father is addressed in this prayer (See pg. 132 line 3).  But thanks and praise are offered to the Father, Son, and Spirit (pg. 132, line 9-11).  The speakers are the priest on behalf of the entire community with some responses from the congregation, but also with a heavy focus on the priesthood itself (pg. 132, line 13).  Holy Thursday/the Last Supper is remembered in the institution narrative.  I don't believe there  is a split epiclesis.  However, if there is one, the parts are as follows:  part one, uses the phrase, "'make this bread the precious body of your Christ, Amen; and that which is in this cup the precious blood of our Christ, changing it by your Holy Spirit"' (pg. 133, lines 12-14) and part two uses "'send out your mercies upon us all, and grant us with one mouth and one heart to glorify and hymn your all-honorable and magnificent name"' (pg. 134, last paragraph of prayer).  I am not certain how part 2 is to be interpreted.  With regards to the idea of sacrifice, the Church is now making the bloodless sacrifice of the offertory while the priest privately recalls Christ's Passion.  (pg. 133, first paragraph and third paragraph).

This prayer really utilizes intercessory prayer.  The problem of using it in a contemporary setting is that the intercessory prayers really reflect a Byzantine Empire.  Consequently I don't know how meaningful they would be to people today.  Additionally there is a strong emphasis on clergy. Overall, this prayer appears to have all of the essential parts of the Latin Rite Eucharistic prayers.  

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17. Theodore of Mopsuestia --

18. Adaptations of Hippolytus -- William Rodriguez

The Apostolic Tradition was influential in Syria or Asia Minor. It is considered to be one of the literary bases for the later work The Apostolic Constitutions. What is most important from our perspective is that the Eucharistic prayer contained here is the earliest liturgical text we have depicting the practices in the Roman Church. This prayer also became one of the traditional Eucharistic prayers utilized in Syria or Asia Minor and to this day is known there as "'The Anaphora of the Apostles"'.  

In this prayer there are intercessions toward the very end of the prayer and there is no Sanctus.  Written sometime during the 5th century, this rather short Eucharistic prayer has no prayer for the bishops, deacons, and other religious leaders of the Church.  There is no remembering of the works of creation, prophetic figures such as Abraham and others.

I see this with the same basic structure that many Eucharistic prayers have. It appears to be rather short like Eucharistic Prayer #2.  It tends to stress the Son of the living God and there is this request that God come to break the bonds of the devil.  There is this request that the Holy Spirit strengthen the faithful and be lifted up to Christ Jesus.

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19. Ambrose: On the Sacraments -- Anton Rusnak, OCSO

Although it does not contain the entire Eucharistic prayer, the treatise De Sacramentis provides  important evidence that the prayer used in Milan at the end of the fourth century is recognizably different from the Roman canon. The actual words of  St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan (d. 397), as he quotes from the canon while addressing the newly baptized, were taken down in shorthand by a scribe.  

Before the Institution narrative, in an abbreviated form of the first part of the SPLIT epiclesis, Ambrose uses "'reasonable"' and "'acceptable"' (from Romans 12:1), words also used in the Greek anaphora of St. Mark and St. John Chrysostom.  And he speaks of the "'figura,"' as Tertullian did, asking God to make the offering "'acceptable because it is the figure of the body and blood..."'   (145b)

The Institution narrative expands the biblical text, and repeats in parallel form for both the bread and the cup, "'... the day before he suffered, took ... , looked up to heaven, to you, holy Father, almighty, eternal God, gave thanks, blessed ... and handed it to his apostles and disciples, saying..."' (145b)  

The Institution narrative ends with the words "'until I come again"' from Corinthians, which is Eastern fashion, as in the liturgy of St. Basil.  (146a)

The anamnesis which follows is of the Eastern type, but still in an early stage of development.  His glorious Passion, resurrection and ascension are remembered.  (146b)

The Offertory repeats "'spotless victim, reasonable victim, bloodless victim."' Then it comes closest to the Roman canon.  It refers to "'altar on high,"'  "'the gifts of Abel"' and "'the sacrifice of our patriarch Abraham and the high priest Melchizedek"' which are found in the liturgies of St. Mark and St. James. "'Angels"' is plural, as in St. Mark, whereas the Roman canon has one angel, possibly Jesus. (146b)  

The Father is addressed throughout, including the Doxology (146c). The author seems to indicate that the Lord's Prayer comes BEFORE the doxology. (146c)  

All these peculiarities indicate that the canon which Ambrose quotes is significantly different from the Roman canon, and is part of a family of eucharistic prayers that had borrowed from the Eastern liturgies.  The significance of this prayer is in some of the rich wording, which should encourage any  Presider to alternate use of eucharistic prayers, rather than settle in on the shortest one.    

Saint Ambrose points out that "'the words of the bishop"' were used earlier, but when the time comes for the sacrament to be accomplished, the bishop uses the words of Christ, which effect the change. (145a) The bread is bread before the sacrament; when consecration has been applied, from being bread, it becomes the flesh of Christ. (144d)

Besides references to the Eucharistic prayer, De Sacramentis quotes Ambrose's teaching that Christ is the author of the sacraments (144d).

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To Think About

1. What is the nature of the early eucharistic controversies?

2. What are the major differences in the structure of Eastern and Western eucharistic prayers?

3. What is the relationship between the historical Jesus, the risen Christ, the Mystical Body, and the Eucharistic Body of Christ?

4. Read carefully the text from the Didache. What are the most important ideas on the eucharist that you find in this early document?

5. Read through the text from St. Justin. What are the most important ideas on the eucharist that you find in this early document?

6. Read through the text from Hippolytus on the eucharist. What are the most important ideas on the eucharist you find in this eucharist prayer?

7. Why did the meal section of the early eucharist get separated from and eventually dropped from the Christian eucharist?

8. Spend some time and try to integrate what you have learned in your core courses on Church and Ministry, Christology, The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, and this Eucharist course.   What is the relationship between:  God not diminished when consumed;  the Second Person of the Trinity;  the historical Jesus;  the risen Lord;  the Mystical Body;  the Church;  the Eucharist. 

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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 02/20/15.  Your comments on this site are welcome at