This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 3 - The Mass in the Early Church

When you see these movies such as The Exorcist, do you often wonder why they seem to attack and parody the Mass rather than a Protestant religious service?  Occultists tend to attack things in Christianity that exalt Jesus Christ, because they want to mock Him and what He stands for, as He is the central focus of Christian worship and faith.  The Mass, of course, via the doctrine of the Real Presence, is a tangible and very visible expression of the Christocentricity of our faith, and therefore a target of those who wish to come against it.  I recall one of our Anglican priests talking one time about a Mass he was celebrating in which a witch wanted to take a Communion Host and desecrate it for use in some occultic ritual.  Of course, a priest doesn't always have any way of knowing who is what in the congregation, in particular if new people show up, so as he was distributing the Body of Christ to the faithful at the communion rail, this witch took it in her mouth.  Immediately, she went nuts - the report was that she felt as if her mouth was set ablaze, and the Host she intended to desecrate never left the Church as a result.  The Eucharist is a very powerful sacrament, perhaps more so than many of us who partake of it every Sunday realize, and that is why we need to be more educated about why the Eucharist is so important.

And, although occultists and neo-pagans attempt to desecrate the Eucharist today, it is not the first time it has been attacked.  As Dr. Hahn points out in his text, the dominant pagan Roman society of the time often brought accusations and rumors against Christians of "cannibalism" and "human sacrifice" as they were interpreting what was happening through a distorted lens of gossip (which is why one of the Ten Commandments also commands us not to bear false witness, as this is what a false witness entails).  All of this controversy over the Eucharistic meal meant that the early Christians were doing something more than just munching on matzoh and sipping red wine - the Eucharist was (and still is) the most identifiable element of Christian life and worship, and as such it was bound to attract attention.  This is something we see repeated throughout the history of the early Church, and as we will see, why it was taken so seriously.

Among the earliest Christians, only the baptized members of the local congregation were permitted to attend the sacraments, and even discussing these mysteries of faith with non-Christians was often discouraged due to the fact it led to a lot of gossip and false witness against Christians.  And, to them, to be a Christian was to go to Mass.  Luke 24:30-31 tells us that after Jesus was resurrected from the dead and appeared to His disciples, they didn't know who He was until "He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him..." (NKJV).   As the Church was inaugurated at Pentecost some fifty days after Jesus ascended to heaven, it began to grow, and as it did, we read that "they continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers..." (Acts 2:42, NKJV).  By the time we get to I Corinthians 11:23, we already see a formula for the Eucharist that was set down by the Apostles, and as such there were several provisions for partaking of this mystery.  For one, the faithful were exhorted to "as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till He comes" (I Corinthians 11:26, NKJV).  And, "whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the Body and Blood of our Lord," (11:27 NKJV) which is why "let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup, for he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's Body.  For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep" (11:28-30, NKJV).  This establishes the doctrine of the Real Presence, especially in I Corinthians 11:29, from Scripture, and also explains that we need to approach this Eucharist we receive in a spirit of contrition and humility.  Within the post-Apostolic Church, we have a doctrine of Church discipline called the Didache, which was written very early in the Church's history, and was possibly in use at the time of the latter Apostles of the Church.  The Didache sets "the Lord's Day" as Sunday, and notes that it is necessary to repent of one's sins before receiving the Eucharist, as Dr. Hahn notes on page 31 of his text.  As we will see in the next chapter, a penitential rite developed in the Mass which was partaken of just before the Communion of the Faithful which prepared the hearts of the faithful to receive Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, as a high regard and reverence for the Body and Blood of Christ identified the communal worship of the Church from its very roots.  Many today ignore this to their peril, either because they don't fully understand or they just take for granted that this is just "a thing we do every Sunday."  We must be careful with viewing the Eucharist in that light, because it can and will have consequences for us either now or when we pass into eternity.

Again too, as we saw in the last part of this study, the Eucharist also has Old Testament antecedents.  For one thing, the prayers of the Passover Seder soon found their way into the Christian liturgical tradition, but even of more interest is another ancient Jewish ceremonial meal called the Todah.  Todah in Hebrew is the same as eucaristw in Greek, and it means "Thanksgiving."  In recent decades, a revival of this tradition has also made its way into the Christian Church as well, and of particular interest is something developed by Maronite Catholic priest Fr. Antonio Georges Elfeghali called the Tauditho meal (Tauditho, like Todah, means "Thanksgiving").  As Fr. Ziad Antoun, the Superior of the Community of Our Lady of Dormition in Ann Arbor, MI, notes, the Tauditho is "a gathering of those baptized in the name of Jesus around His Word of Life, the truth.  We share passages from the Old and New Testaments and from the history of the Church, particularly the Maronite Catholic Church.  Also, like Qoddas (the Mass), Tauditho prayer is a gathering around a meal that symbolizes the unity of those who share in it.  The Lebanese proverb 'Bread and salt unify us' underscores the importance of sharing bread as a unity maker..." (Fr. Antonio Georges Elfeghali, The Maronite Tauditho Meal - A Thanksgiving Meal {self-published, 2004} p. 7).  Although similar in a lot of ways to a Jewish Passover Seder, the Maronite Tauditho also takes the traits of another early Christian meal, the Agape Feast, which I want to discuss more shortly.  Any rate, the main traits of the Todah were first of all being a sacrificial meal shared with friends in order to celebrate one's gratitude to God.  And, it began by recalling some mortal threat, followed by the celebration of the participants of deliverance from that threat.  Its main Scriptural text is taken as well from Psalm 69, and it also consisted of unleavened bread and wine.  Think about how this connects to the Eucharist now - the greatest mortal threat that humanity faces is sin, and when Jesus died on the Cross and then rose again, He was our deliverance from the mortal threat/danger of sin.  Therefore, what better way to celebrate that than in the Eucharist!   This too is why it is called the eucaristw, because it truly is our "thanksgiving meal" from the sting of sin and death, as our Eastern Christian brethren sing at Easter in the beautiful troparion that rejoices with the words "Christ has risen from the dead, by death He trampled death, and to those in the tombs He bestoweth life!"  What Jesus did for us is nothing we should take lightly - He literally saved our lives!  And, in the Eucharist, we continue to receive His grace in that regard, and we do so both in humility and with gratitude.  

And now, we want to talk about that other "sacramental meal," the Agape Feast.  The Tauditho meal that Fr. Elfeghali writes about is a perfect example of a form of the Agape Feast, and in essence it is to be viewed as such.  We Anglicans also have a vestige of this too, as many of our parishes - ours does it at the third Sunday - have of course what is called a "potluck" in which members of the parish come together and "break bread" as a church family.  The "potluck supper" is a nice thing to have, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having potluck lunches or suppers for the local parish family - as a matter of fact, one very strong attribute I have noted among our traditional "Continuing" Anglican parishes is that they often are very close, and the love parishioners have for each other is amazing - not to toot our own bugles, but we Anglicans have good people among us, and we should feel blessed!  However, the potluck supper is only a vestige of the original Agape Feast, as another group of Christians that exists today has probably a more authentic form of the ancient Agape Feast.  My folks, being Swiss-German on my mother's side in West Virginia, were part of an 18th-century Anabaptist sect called the Dunkards, which many know today as the Church of the Brethren denomination.  One hallmark trait of the Dunkards from back in the day was something they called the "Love Feast," which many of their more traditional congregations still celebrate today twice a year.  The way this Dunkard "Love Feast" was celebrated, as noted by Brethren minister Paul Fike Stutzman in his excellent book Recovering the Love Feast - Broadening Our Eucharistic Celebrations (Eugene, OR:  Wipf and Stock, 2011) has its Scriptural basis in Jude 12, where some caustic rebukes were given by the Apostle to those who were attending these meals only to fill their bellies rather than understanding the true intentions of the feast, and in 2 Peter 2:13 a similar rebuke is meted out by the Apostle St. Peter to people who go out, sin and do wicked things, and then attempt to feast with the faithful.  St. Paul, in I Corinthians 11:21-22 basically addresses a similar problem in the Corinthian church of the time, and he sternly tells these people in effect to eat at home if they are just coming to fill their bellies with a free meal, and also fail to share their food with their poorer church brethren (Stutzman, p, 31).  The purpose of the Agape Feast was not so much to be a meal for satisfying appetites, but rather for bonding the people of God together in such a way that the meal becomes a sort of covenant.  In my understanding of this, the Agape Feast was for the members of the Church to covenant with each other, while the Eucharist covenants them with Jesus - Stutzman states a similar conclusion on page 33 of his text, noting that the first was called Koinonia/Agape while the second was anamnesis.  Therefore, some requirements were placed upon those who partook of this Agape Feast.  First, it involved a sort of group penance - if there were any disagreements among brethren, they needed to be resolved before setting down at the table for fellowship,  This sort of group-penance was physically demonstrated by the sacramental act of footwashing - the reconciled parties washed each other's feet as a form of humility and also an expression of forgiveness for any wrongs.  The next demonstration was also a physical act, called the "holy kiss," which is also practiced in the Christian East as a form of greeting even today.  Then, the actual meal took place.  Unlike the Eucharist, the Agape Feast was a full supper, and using the Brethren/Dunkard model, it often consisted of a roasted side of beef or lamb, bread (in true Penn-Dutch tradition, often with apple butter as well), a thin beef consumme, and cold water for drink.  In the old days, all partook of a communal plate, but some congregations have modified it to include individual plates for the people, but the same requisites still remain.  Personally, this would not be a bad tradition at all to revive in our churches, as we could really benefit from the fellowship bonds a feast like that would reinforce.  As mentioned, there are vestigial elements of that feast in our potluck suppers and coffee hours after Mass, but they don't contain quite the same substance that this Agape Feast does.  If anything, in this case, I would say my Dunkard forebears probably have the most Scriptural concept of the Agape Feast, and it is worth a closer look in its own study. 

The Agape Feast, we see, basically would serve as preparation for the faithful to partake of the Eucharist, because any type of sin or contention in the local Body of Christ would be resolved, and the people would be more prepared to receive Jesus.  It is also worth mentioning too that the ancient Eucharistic Liturgy was locally diverse, but despite the local/cultural diversity, all historic liturgies of the Church have at their center the Eucharist.  That being said, there were basic elements all these liturgies shared, including a rite of repentance, readings from Scripture, a homily by the priest or other minister officiating, the Sanctus, the Eucharistic Prayer, etc.  And, this was an ancient formula that was faithfully expressed within the local liturgical expression used.  This ancient formulae, as noted by Fr, Peter Gillquist in his book Becoming Orthodox (Ben Lomond, CA: Conciliar Press, 1989) on page 31, consisted of two parts of the Liturgy - the Synaxis, or Liturgy of the Word, and the Eucharist, or Communion of the Faithful.  As it relates to Anglican Catholic tradition, author David Bercot in his book Will The Real Heretics Please Stand Up (Tyler, TX: Scroll Publishing, 1989) notes on page 150 that it was the Oxford Movement in the 18th century (out of which many Anglo-Catholics and High Churchmen owe their heritage) that worked toward a restoration of the sacramental in the Anglican liturgical tradition, free of Cramner's Reformed/Calvinistic influences that we see in the 39 Articles.  And, one of those Oxford High Churchmen by the name of John Wesley made the connection between holiness and the Eucharist, which also led to one of the most profound revivals to hit the new American landscape called the Great Awakening.  It is here that I want to sideline a little and relate something very interesting I found out.  

When the Anglican Book of Common Prayer was originally compiled around the year 1549, it drew a lot of elements from an ancient liturgical rite called Sarum (named for the city of Salisbury in England).  The Sarum Rite was one of the most ancient rites of the West, going back in its roots to the time when many of the invading Anglo-Saxon tribes that invaded Britain began to accept Christianity. At the conclusion of the Synaxis, as noted the catechumens and other unbaptized were often dismissed before the Communion of the Faithful began, and in the Christian East, as Anglican scholar Dom Gregory Dix notes, the deacon would proclaim at that time "Let the catechumens depart.  Let no catechumen remain.  Let the catechumens go forth!" and at their departure the same deacon would announce, "The doors! The doors!" which signified to the ushers who were attending the doors to close and lock them against those who would intrude and desecrate the Eucharist (Dom Gregory Dix, On The Shape of the Liturgy.  New York: Seabury, 1945).  This was customary of all liturgies at the time, and it was also a safeguard against persecutors and the pagan societies who would spread unfounded rumors of "cannibalism" and "human sacrifice" as discussed at the beginning of this lesson.   In order to give a more evangelical exhortation to catechumens to seriously consider following Christ, the reformer Thomas Cramner was partially responsible for the addition to the Synaxis of what we now call "The Confortable Words."  (Dix, pp. 644-645).  The "Confortable Words" are found in our Book of Common Prayer on page 76, and they are as follow:

Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all who truly turn to Him:

Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you (St. Matthew 11:28)

So God loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16)

Hear also what Saint Paul saith.  This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (I Timothy 1:15)

Hear also what Saint John saith.  If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins (I John 2:1-2)

What I am about to share with you now is something that is my own personal theory, but it makes perfect sense.  Growing up as I did in a Pentecostal/Holiness tradition, as well as being born again in a Baptist church, I am aware of the fact that one aspect of many church services in these traditions is something called an "altar call."   The purpose of an altar call is to call people to receive Christ as their Savior, and in doing so, many of the same Scriptures utilized in the Anglican Mass as part of the "Confortable Words" are also the basis for what is called an "invitation to receive Christ" in these Protestant Evangelical traditions.  This, I don't believe, occurred out of some vacuum, but rather goes back to the early days of the revivals and camp-meetings of the Great Awakenings of America's early history.  Many of the early revivalists who led those meetings were Anglican priests - some were Low-Church Reformed Anglicans, others like John Wesley were High Churchmen.  For a High Churchman and very devout sacramentalist like John Wesley, I could envision him doing a Mass for a parish and getting the inspiration from these "Confortable Words" to call people to conversion, and the "Confortable Words" we see in the Anglican Mass are in reality one of the prime roots of the altar services we see in revivals and other services among our Evangelical Protestant brethren.  As we will see throughout this study, many things Evangelicals do - even their own baptism rites, as well as specific things such as the Pentecostal teaching on the "Baptism of the Holy Ghost" and divine healing - are vestigial evidences of sacramental roots.  Many of these dear people would probably deny this hypothesis, as they claim that the direct inspiration of Scripture is their motivation for doing what they do, but thing is it was the Church which authenticated and presented the complete truth of Scripture to the world, and as such we have noted that much of the ancient liturgies uniformly contain the same elements, and if one took the time, they could all be shown to come right out of the pages of Holy Scripture!  So, whether they admit it or not, what makes Evangelical Protestants fellow Christians is the fact that they may not have a complete understanding of some things they do, but what they do is derived from the sacramental/liturgical traditions of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, in its many cultural expressions.  Some of us have learned that and have embraced the fulness of the Church's Holy Tradition on these things, but those of us who have made that step need not be arrogant or triumphal with sincere Evangelicals either - these people are still our brethren in Christ, and maybe the elements they have picked up on can help us who are Anglicans, Orthodox, and Catholics to have a greater appreciation for them as well as our own communions.  As we begin to dissect the basic elements of the Mass in the subsequent parts of this study, I will be revisiting that because there is some important truths about the Remnant of Christ that are revealed there.  God bless each of you until next time.