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                                            The Eucharist

Celebrating Eucharist

Here is an electronic copy of Celebrating Eucharist by Bosco Peters - FREE NO CATCH. Click on the link to view or download a chapter. 
This material and these resources may be used if attributed "From Celebrating Eucharist by Bosco Peters (". 
The book was initially published by DEFT and is now available from bookshops and produced by the Council for Christian Nurture PO Box 37 242 Auckland 1033 (New Zealand).
The book is available here online either as web pages or as PDF files
First follow web pages, and below that are the PDF versions

Foreword & Preface 
1 Liturgy
2 Leading Worship 
3 Ceremonial Action 
4 The Worship Environment 
5 Preparation
6 The Gathering of the Community 
7 The Proclamation 
8 The Prayers of the People 
9 The Peace 
10 The Preparation of the Gifts 
11 The Great Thanksgiving 
12 The Breaking of the Bread 
13 The Communion 
14 Prayer after Communion 
15 The Dismissal of the Community 
16 Celebrating Baptism at a Eucharist 
17 Celebrating other services with a Eucharist 
18 Children at the Eucharist 
19 Service of the Word with Holy Communion 
20 Some Resources for the Church Year
21 Additional Eucharistic Prayers
22 Services for a New Beginning (Catechumenate)
23 A Service of Institution and Welcoming
24 Examples of Prayers of the People 
25 The Calendar 
Short List of Further Resources

PDF files versions:
Foreword & Preface 
1 Liturgy
2 Leading Worship 
3 Ceremonial Action 
4 The Worship Environment 
5 Preparation
6 The Gathering of the Community 
7 The Proclamation 
8 The Prayers of the People 
9 The Peace 
10 The Preparation of the Gifts 
11 The Great Thanksgiving 
12 The Breaking of the Bread 
13 The Communion 
14 Prayer after Communion 
15 The Dismissal of the Community 
16 Celebrating Baptism at a Eucharist 
17 Celebrating other services with a Eucharist 
18 Children at the Eucharist 
19 Service of the Word with Holy Communion 
20 Some Resources for the Church Year
21 Additional Eucharistic Prayers
22 Services for a New Beginning (Catechumenate)
23 A Service of Institution and Welcoming
24 Examples of Prayers of the People 
25 The Calendar 
Short List of Further Resources
                                Origin of The Eucharist


Main article: Eucharist

Christians find the origin of the Eucharist in the Last Supper, at which Jesus established a New Covenant in his body and blood, fulfilling the Mosaic covenant. In this ancient rite or sacrament Christians eat bread and drink a cup of wine as the body and blood of Christ. While certain beliefs and practices regarding the Eucharist may have changed over time and may vary today, the practice itself dates back to apostolic times and the earliest Christian writing.

The earliest extant written account of the Christian eucharistia (Greek: thanksgiving) is that in the First Epistle to the Corinthians of the mid-50s,[1] in which Paul the Apostle relates "eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord"[2] in the celebration of a "Supper of the Lord" to the Last Supper of Jesus some 25 years earlier.[3]

The Eucharist is a central religious rite of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and several of the Christian denominationsProtestant Reformation. Letters of Ignatius of Antioch[4]Jerusalem and elsewhere.[5] that have emerged since the speak of it as a central rite for the Christians of the first years of the 2nd century, and it is recorded as celebrated more than half a century earlier by the Christian community at

Contemporary scholarship examines whether Jesus meant to institute a ritual at his Last Supper[6] and whether the Last Supper was an actual historical event in any way related to the undisputed early "Lord's Supper" or "Eucharist".[7] On the one hand, writers associated with the Jesus Seminar say that the Lord's supper seems to have had its origins in a pagan context, where dinners to memorialize the dead were common and the Jewish prohibition against drinking blood did not prevail;[8] and that the rite that Paul describes probably originated in the Christian communities that he had founded in Asia Minor and Greece.[8] C. S. Lewis answered the Pagan-origins argument in his book, Miracles published about half a century before the Jesus Seminar existed (how?).

From a very early date the Eucharist was a regular part of Christian worship and was held to have been instituted by Jesus, and the service is recorded in Acts 2:42,46 as celebrated by the first Christians in Jerusalem.[5] Some scholars hold that the tradition that Paul recorded in his first letter to the Corinthians dated from his earliest years as a Christian,[9] some eight years before he began his missionary activity, and twenty before he wrote that letter to a congregation that he had established about seven years before.[10]

Early Christianity

In the three hundred years after Jesus' crucifixion, Christian practices and beliefs regarding the Eucharist took definitive shape as central to Christian worship. At first, Christian beliefs and practices spread through word of mouth, but within a generation Christians had begun writing about Jesus and about Christian practice, the Eucharist included. The theology of the Eucharist and its role as a sacrament developed during this period.

Establishment of the Eucharist

Various scholars maintain that Jesus made table fellowship central to his ministry, that he established the Eucharist at the Last Supper, that Paul established it in his missions among the Gentiles, or that it arose from multiple traditions.

Jesus at table

Table fellowship was central to Jesus' ministry. He was infamous for violating codes of honor to eat freely with outsiders, termed "sinners and tax collectors" in the Gospels. Jesus presumably taught at the dinner table, as was customary. Jesus' emphasis on table fellowship is reflected in the large number of eating scenes in early Christian art.[11]

Jesus Christ's New Covenant

The synoptic gospels affirm that Jesus instituted the ritual of bread and wine at the Last Supper, with his disciples on the night before he was crucified. With this ritual, Jesus instituted a new covenant in his own body and blood. All four gospels link Jesus' passion to the Jewish Passover.

Instituted by Jesus and developed later

Professor Robert J. Daly, S.J., argues that Jesus did indeed institute the Eucharist, though it took generations and centuries of guidance from the Holy Spirit for the Eucharist to reach its current form.[12]

Paul as the Eucharist's founder

Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians is the earliest record of Eucharistic practice. He refers to the Lord's Supper, a communal meal, which he links to the Last Supper and describes as a memorial of Jesus to be kept until his return. Arguments in favor of Paul's having founded the Lord's Supper in a pagan context include the Jewish prohibition against drinking blood, the pervasive history of Greek memorial dining societies, and Paul's own hellenistic background."[13]

Two Eucharist traditions

John Dominic Crossan suggests that there are two traditions "as old as we can trace them" of the eucharist, that of Paul, reflecting the Antioch Church's tradition, and that of the Didache, the first document to give explicit instruction regarding prayers to be said at a celebration that it called the Eucharist.

The cup/bread liturgy of the Didache, from the Jerusalem tradition, does not mention Passover, or Last Supper, or Death of Jesus/blood/body, and the sequence is meal + thanksgiving ritual. For Crossan, it is dispositive that

even late in the first century C.E., at least some (southern?) Syrian Christians could celebrate a Eucharist of bread and wine with absolutely no hint of Passover meal, Last Supper or passion symbolism built into its origins or development. I cannot believe that they knew about those elements and studiously avoided them. I can only presume that they were not there for everyone from the beginning, that is, from solemn formal and final institution by Jesus himself.


Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in the context of correcting the habits of the Corinthians serves to reestablish "the Pre-Pauline tradition, ritual of bread/body + meal + ritual of cup/blood." [15] Hellenized Jew Paul references a Greek weekly Lord's Supper, which is not an annual Jewish Passover meal, and does not have the participants giving thanks ("Eucharistia"), rather the purpose is to proclaim Jesus' death until he comes again, in the manner of Hellenic societies formed "to hold meals in remembrance of those who had died and to drink a cup in honor of some god."[16]

Both sequences underline the primary importance of the Shared Meal to historical 1st century Christian ritual. In the Jerusalem tradition, of James and Peter, the meal is of higher importance than blood and body since the Didache fails to mention them. Both traditions reflect the pitfalls of a shared meal among social unequals, namely freeloading. The Didache says in 12:3-4, "If (a traveler) wants to settle with you and is an artisan, he must work for his living. If, however, he has no trade, use your judgment in taking steps for him to live with you as a Christian without being idle."[17] Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." In Crossan's view, "both stipulations must presume a communal share-meal or they make no sense."[18] The administrative difficulties of communal meals, easily glossed over in a small congregation of Jewish peasants, become more intractable as the church succeeds and grows and adds Gentile adherents, foreshadowing the eventual reduction to symbolism over substance.

Five Preliminary stages to "2000 years of eucharistic theology" and "Last Supper iconography", according to Crossan[19]

1. Graeco-Roman formal meal

2. Jesus' practice

3a. Didache 10

3b. Didache 9

4. 1 Corinthians

5. Mark (copied by Matthew & Luke)

deipnon (supper, main meal), then symposion

a meal that later and in retrospect was recognized as having been their last one together

Give thanks, no reference to Passover, Last Supper, or Death of Jesus

Eucharist, no reference to Passover, Last Supper, or Death of Jesus

Lord's Supper

Passover Meal

Bread course followed by ritual libation followed by wine course

Open Commensality - radical social egalitarianism in seating for meal

Common Meal followed by Thanks to the Father, no ritual with bread or cup

Common meal, ritual with Cup (thanks for the Holy Vine of David) and Bread (thanks for the life and knowledge of Jesus)

Bread/body, Thanks, Common Meal, Cup/blood

During meal, first Bread/body, then Cup/blood and Thanks

No ritual

No mention of the death of Jesus

No mention of the death of Jesus

Passion Remembrance in both cup and bread

No command for repetition and remembrance

View that Eucharist was originally unrelated to the Last Supper

Paul F. Bradshaw argues in Eucharistic Origins that it is not until after the 1st century and much later in some areas that the Eucharist and the Last Supper became placed in a relation of dependence: many Eucharists did not relate to the Paschal mystery and/or the Last Supper.[20] On the other hand, in the middle of the 1st century Paul the Apostle explicitly placed the celebration of the Lord's Supper in relation to what Jesus did on the night he was handed over, in giving his disciples bread with the words "This is my body" and, after the supper, giving them the cup with a similar declaration about his blood.[21][22]

Problem of the historical Jewish prohibition against blood-drinking

In a 10,000 word analysis[23] in the Biblical Theology Bulletin of 2002, Michael J. Cahill surveys the state of scholarly literature from some seventy cited sources, dating from the 1950s to the present, on the question of the likelihood of a Jewish Jesus proposing the drinking of blood in the Eucharist. [24]

After examining these various theories that have been put forth, he concludes:

The survey of opinion, old and new, reveals wide disagreement with a fundamental divide between those who can accept that the notion of drinking blood could have a Jewish origin and those who insist that this is a later development to be located in the Hellenistic world. What both sides share is an inability to proffer a rationally convincing argument that can provide a historical explanation for the presence of this particular component of the Eucharistic rite. Those who hold for the literal institution by Jesus have not been able to explain plausibly how the drinking of blood could have arisen in a Jewish setting. In fact, this difficulty has been turned into an argument for authenticity. For example, Jeremiah [sic] quotes Dalman: "Exactly that which seems scandalous will be historical" (170-71). W. D. Davies draws attention to the fact that Dalman also argued that the Pauline version of the institution arose in a gentile environment to eliminate the difficulties presented by the more direct Markan form (246). It would appear to be obvious that the difficulties would have been greater in a Jewish environment. Davies' conclusion is apt: "When such divergent conclusons [sic] have been based upon the same evidence any dogmatism would be foolish" (246). On the other hand, I have earlier argued that previous suggestions supporting the non-Jewish source have been vitiated by vague generalities or by association with inappropriate pagan rituals.

Worldwide practice

Early in the 20th century, Edward Carpenter advanced the theory that the Christian Eucharist arose from a ubiquitous worldwide practice of sacramental sacrifice or memorial, with wine symbolizing blood.[25]

New Testament accounts

In the New Testament there are four accounts of the institution of the Eucharist, one by St Paul[21] and three in the Synoptic Gospels.[5][26] The ritual itself is recorded as celebrated by early Christians at Jerusalem and by St Paul on his visit to Troas.[5][27][5] The letters of Paul and the Acts of the Apostles make it clear that early Christianity believed that this institution included a mandate to continue the celebration as an anticipation in this life of the joys of the banquet that was to come in the Kingdom of God.[28] From a very early date, the service was a regular part of Christian worship, and was held to have been instituted by Christ.

Last Supper

The earliest account of the Lord's Supper, Paul's epistle to a congregation he'd founded in Corinth, links it to Jesus' directions given at the Last Supper.

Scholars of the Jesus Seminar generally regard the gospel accounts of the Last Supper as cult legend, that is, a story that accounts for some ritual practice in the Jesus movement.[29]

Six "Eucharists" in the New Testament

Bruce Chilton suggests that we can find in the New Testament six different ways of celebrating what Christians came to call the Eucharist, and can locate each of these in its own specific socio-religio-political setting. This would seem to make irrelevant a number of time-honored scholarly approaches, fundamental to which were, first, the "literally true" vs. "literary fictions" debate, and, second, the assumption that there was a unified line of development from the established Eucharist of later centuries back close to the time of the historical Jesus.[30]

The six Eucharists in the New Testament, according to Bruce Chilton

Jesus' Table Fellowship

The "Last Supper"

Petrine Christianity

The Circle of James

Paul and the Synoptics


Jesus joined with his followers in meals that were designed to anticipate the coming of God's kingdom. The meals were characterized by a readiness to accept the hospitality and the produce of Israel at large. A willingness to provide for the meals, to join in the fellowship, to forgive and to be forgiven, was seen by Jesus as a sufficient condition for eating in his company and for entry into the kingdom. Jesus' approach to purity qualification was distinctive in its inclusiveness. For Jesus, the primary markers of purity, the primary requirements for table fellowship in the kingdom were: Israel as forgiven and willing to provide of its own produce.

Jesus sought to influence or reform purity practices associated with the Temple. In his meals, as he shared wine, he started referring to it as the equivalent of the blood of an animal shed in sacrifice, and in sharing bread, claiming that its value was that of sacrificial flesh. "Here was a sacrifice of sharings which the authorities could not control, and which the nature of Jesus" movement made it impossible for them to ignore. Jesus" meals after his failed occupation of the Temple became a surrogate of sacrifice, the second type of Eucharist."

In this stage of Eucharistic development, the berakhah prayer of Judaism seems to have become a principal model of Eucharist. Bread took precedence over wine, and, as Acts 1:12-26, 2:46, and 3:14:37 clearly describe, a double domestication took place. Instead of seeking the hospitality of others, as the itinerant Jesus seemed to do, adherents of the movement, under the leadership of Peter and/or the Twelve, gathered in the homes of colleagues where they "broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:46-47). In addition, apparently they also acknowledged the validity of sacrifice in the Temple. In doing this they changed the nature of the meal and the memory of what Jesus had said at that meal. For example, there is no mention of wine, nor does there, in this account of the earliest Christian gatherings, seem to have been any sense of being in tension with the officials of Judaism or its religious practices.

The tendency to domestication is here pursued further, for the Eucharist is now seen as a Seder meal, open only to Jews in a state of purity, and to be celebrated only once a year, at Passover, in Jerusalem, as prescribed in Exodus 12:48. The effect of this Jacobean program—a possible antecedent to the later Quartodeciman practice?--"was to integrate Jesus' movement fully within the liturgical institutions of Judaism, to insist upon the Judaic identity of the movement and upon Jerusalem as its governing center," but without actually replacing Israel's Seder.

Paul vehemently resisted Jacobean claims. He also emphasized the link between Jesus" death and the Eucharist, and he accepts what Chilton calls the Hellenistic refinement of the Petrine type that presented the Eucharist as a sacrifice for sin. This is also what we find in the Synoptic Gospels which use words to suggest that Jesus' blood is shed in the interests of the communities for which those Gospels were composed: for the "many" (in Damascus?) Matthew 26:28 and (in Rome?) Mark 14:24: on behalf of "you" (in Antioch?) Luke 22:20.

Jesus identifies himself in John 6 as the manna, now developed to construe the Eucharist as a mystery in which Jesus, not literally but sacramentally, offers/gives his own personal body and blood in Eucharist. This would probably not be a totally new idea to Hellenistic Christians who followed synoptic practice. But Johannine practice now makes this meaning explicit. It was, as is characteristic of the Fourth Gospel, an unambiguous, clear break with Judaism. For with this development, Eucharist has become a "sacrament" understandable only in Hellenistic terms, and involving "a knowing conflict with the ordinary understanding of what Judaism might and might not include."

Allusions to the Eucharist in the New Testament

Common meals figured significantly in Jesus' ministry. In accordance with Jesus' general message of forgiveness and inclusion, Jesus ate meals with outsiders. According to both Matthew and Luke, critics called him a "glutton and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners." Unlike John the Baptist, Jesus drank wine.

The New Testament recounts a number of practices of religious table fellowship that would later be called eucharistic. Paul the Apostle devoted about two percent,[31] of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, usually dated to AD 52–57[32] and nothing in any of his other letters, to abuses at a meal that the Corinthian Christians had at their meetings and that he did not deem worthy to be called "a Supper of the Lord." (κυριακὸν δεῖπνον).[33] He follows that paragraph with two that indicate how he thought the meal should be celebrated; and elsewhere in the same letter he writes: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons."[34] Paul's letters are more likely to have been read at meals than at "business meetings."[35]

Dennis E. Smith says that the earliest Christians worshiped at table in their hosts' dining rooms.[36] and that the earliest Christians shaped the traditions about Jesus to fit that setting.[35] In his study Dining Posture in Ancient Rome: Bodies, Values, and Status concerning practice at the meals designated in Latin by the word "convivium", equivalent to "deipnon" and/or "symposion" in Greek,[37] The number of participants at such meals in private houses, as opposed to other specially designated places, would be at most a dozen.[38]

The symposium after the meal was the time for teaching and conversation, for the singing of hymns, for the contributions of those who prophesied or spoke in tongues.[35]

Paul had first evangelized the inhabitants of Corinth, in Greece, in 51/52 CE. Paul's nascent congregation there was made up of pagan, not Jewish, converts (1 Corinthians 12:2). All first-generation Christians were necessarily converts, either pagan or Jewish. They had written him regarding numerous matters of concern(1 Corinthians 7:1). Criticizing what he had heard of their meetings, at which they had communal meals, one paragraph in Paul's response reminded them about what he asserted he had "received from the Lord" and had "passed on" about Jesus' actions and directives at his Last Supper. The ambiguities some find in that wording has generated reams of books, articles and opinions about the Origins of Eucharist. The Last Supper (a one-off event) and the eucharist (a periodically repeated rite) are not the same thing.[39] Clearly the religious table fellowship tradition had been going on in the Early Christian Church, antedating Paul's conversion, unless the contention is made that Paul invented it. See table below for Paul's paragraph regarding the Last Supper (1 Corinthians NRSV).

The paragraph preceding this (1 Corinthians 11:17-22) gives Paul's complaints against how the Corinthians actually celebrated "the Lord's Supper", and the two paragraphs that follow it (1 Corinthians 11:27-34) give his appeal to them to celebrate it worthily, since otherwise they would be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.

In his 1994 book, A Feast of Meanings: Eucharistic Theologies from Jesus through Johannine Circles, Bruce Chilton wrote that Paul "indeed 'received from the Lord' (1 Corinthians 11:23, through Cephas (Galatians 1:18), what he 'handed over' (1Corinthians 11:23) to his hearers. … He reminds his hearers of what he already had taught as authoritative, a teaching 'from the Lord' and presumably warranted by the earliest 'pillars': in that sense, what he hands on is not his own, but derives from his highest authority, 'the Lord' (11:23)."[40]

Eugene LaVerdiere wrote: "That is how Paul introduced the tradition, presenting himself as a link in the chain of Eucharistic tradition. He received (paralambano) the tradition of Eucharist in the early 40s while in the community at Antioch. He handed it on (paradidomi) to the Corinthians in the year 51 when first proclaiming the gospel to them. Like Paul, the Corinthians also were to become a link in the chain of Eucharistic tradition, handing on to others what Paul handed on to them. Several years later, circa 54, Paul reminded them of this in 1 Corinthians."[41]

James Still admits that most contemporary commentators argue that what Paul "receives from the Lord" is church tradition with the authority of the Lord behind it, rather than a direct revelation from Christ, and quotes as representatives of this view Kilmartin, Jeremias and Marshall. But he himself argues that Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians , "denies that any of his teachings are from other men in authority", "goes to great lengths to distance himself from the Jerusalem Church and its gospel", and "goes on to contrast his gospel from the perverse teachings of those 'who were reputed to be something' (the three 'pillars' of James, Cephas, and John) and to defend himself from their interference". He then mentions as a possibility that "Paul needed to look no further for his soteriology than the pervasive Dionysian cult in the pagan world", but adds: "However, it is not necessary to think that he went outside of Hellenistic Judaism for his gospel."[42]

Jesus' Last Supper is an event so significant to the Early Church that all four Gospels include a version. See table below. A passage found only in Luke records a command, found also in Paul, that the breaking of the bread be done "in remembrance of [Jesus]", though is does not specify whether it should be performed annually, as per the Passover, or more frequently. A number of commentators conclude that passage, i.e., the second half of 22:19 and all of 22:20 are later interpolations.[43] The Rev. E.C. Radcliffe, the Canon of St. Mary's, Ely, writing in the Encyclopaedia Britannica 13th Edition (1926) Eucharist article, declared: "The textus receptus indeed includes the command, but the passage in which it occurs is an interpolation of the Pauline account; and whatever view be taken of the Lucan text, the command is no part of the original. The evidence, therefore, does not warrant the attribution to Jesus of the words 'This do in memory of Me'." Jeremias says "Do this in remembrance of me " would better be translated "That God may remember me."

Paul and the Synoptic Gospels in parallel columns

1 Corinthians




In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions.

MK 14:16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. 17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating . . .

22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25 "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God."

19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. 20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating . . . 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

So they prepared the Passover. 14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And 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 again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Acts 2:42 and 2:46 tell of the very first Christians "continuing steadfastly in the breaking of bread", interpreted by some as a reference to Eucharist, written some twenty years later than the reference in 1 Corinthians.

Chapters 13-17 of the Gospel of John attribute to Jesus a series of teachings and prayers at his Last Supper, but does not mention any meal rituals. On the other hand, John 6, in particular verses such as 6:55-56 ("For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him"), is widely interpreted as an allusion to the Eucharist.[44] Peculiarities in phrasing as compared to the Synoptics are thought to reflect the liturgical tradition of the Johannine community.[45]

Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder? according to Joachim Jeremias[46]

Ten factors substantiating Passover

Nine factors in objection to Passover actions that would be in violation of ritual regulations

Two further objections

* The Last Supper took place in Jerusalem

  • it extended into the night

  • it was a small gathering

  • they reclined instead of sitting at table

  • a dish preceded the breaking of bread

  • red wine was drunk

  • when Judas went out, the disciples thought he was going to distribute money to the poor, a Passover custom

  • the meal closed with a hymn - the Paschal Hallel

  • the interpretative words spoken over the bread and wine look like an extension of the Passover Haggadah

  • and the fact that, Jesus did not go to Bethany for the night, but stayed within the area of Greater Jerusalem and made His way to Gethsemane -

* the walk to Gethsemane

  • the carrying of arms

  • the night session of the Sanhedrin and the condemnation

  • the rending of the High Priest's garments

  • the participation of the Jews in the Roman trial

  • the coming of Simon of Cyrene from the country

  • the execution itself

  • the purchase of linen

  • the preparation of spices and the burial

* The absence of any reference to the lamb in the accounts of the Supper.

  • The problem of how the annual Passover of the Jews changed into the weekly Eucharist [Holy Communion] of the Christians

The term "Agape" or "Love-feast" appears in the New Testament epistle dated to the turn of the 2nd century, in Jude 12: "These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves".[47] J.C. Lambert stated that the general opinion in 1915 [1] was that, though held together, the Agape and the Eucharist were distinct, the Eucharist coming at the end of the Agape, as the special rite instituted by Jesus followed a celebration of a Passover meal.[48]

Cultural influences

Passover, Kiddush and Chaburah: Jewish Ritual Meal Practice

Scholars have associated Jesus' Last Supper and the 1st-century Eucharist practices with three Second Temple Jewish meal practices: the Passover Seder meal, the kiddush blessing with wine, and the chaburah fellowship.

Passover Seder

Passover commemorates God's saving of his chosen people, the Israelites, who, according to Exodus 12:1-29, were spared death through the blood of lambs. The Passover Seder involves four cups of wine.

Whether the Last Supper was a Passover Meal (as the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels would suggest) or not (as St John), it is clear that the Eucharist was instituted at Passover time, and Christian writers from Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 5:7) onwards have stressed that the death of Christ was the fulfilment of the sacrifice foreshadowed by the Passover."[49]

The majority of scholars of the Last Supper do not believe that it was a Passover meal, a position consistent with the account given by the Gospel of Saint John. A minority believe that it was a seder or Passover meal, a position consistent with the Synoptic gospels. However, as Enrico Mazza has argued, the minority view "remains a theological interpretation. The historical fact is that the Last Supper was not a Passover celebration and, consequently, that its liturgy was not that of the Jewish Passover."[50]


The Johannine Supper, Ratcliffe has suggested,[51] was the Jewish ordinance known as Qiddush, the details of which involved the leader of the mixed-sex ceremony taking a cup of wine, sanctifying it by reciting a thanksgiving blessing, and passing it around. There was a similar blessing and breaking of bread.[51] Qiddush is the "Jewish benediction and prayer recited over a cup of wine immediately before the meal on the eve of the sabbath or of a festival.[52] After reciting the Qiddush the master of the house sips from the cup, and then passes it to his wife and to the others at the table; then all wash their hands, and the master of the house blesses the bread, cuts it, and passes a morsel to each person at the table.[53]

Joachim Jeremias, in about the same time period, disputed the view that the Last Supper was Qiddush,[54] because the Qiddush was always associated with the Sabbath, and even if there was a Passover Qiddush, it would have taken place immediately before the seder, not the day before. Jeremias argued in favor of a Seder as Last Supper.

Ratcliffe wrote: "Though the Qiddush accounts for the '[Johannine]' Last Supper, it affords no explanation on the origin of the eucharist . . . the Last Supper and the Sabbath-Passover Qiddush was therefore no unusual occurrence. It represented consistent practice since Jesus had first formed the group. It is from this practice, rather than from any direct institution from Jesus, that the eucharist derives its origin. The practice was too firmly established for the group to abandon it, when its Master had been taken away; the primitive apostolic eucharist is no other than the continuation of Jesus's chaburah meal. This is the 'breaking of bread' of Acts ii. 42."[51]


The chaburah (also 'haburah', pl 'chaburoth') is not the name of a rite, rather it was the name of a group of male friends who met at regular intervals (weekly for Dix) for conversation and a formal meal appurtenant to that meeting.[55][56] Nothing is said about them in the Bible but scholars have been able to discover some things about them from other sources. The corporate meeting of a chaburah usually took the form of a supper, held at regular intervals, often on the eve of sabbaths or holy days. Each member of the society contributed towards the provision of this common meal.

The form of the supper was largely the same as the chief meal of the day in every pious Jewish household. Each kind of food was blessed when it was first brought to the table. At the end of the meal came the grace after meals - the Blessing or Benediction as it was called. This long prayer was said by the host or father of the family in the name of all who had eaten the meal. On important occasions, and at a chaburah supper, it was recited over a special cup of wine known quite naturally as "the cup of blessing." At the end of the Thanksgiving prayer this cup was sipped by the leader and then by each of those present. The chaburah supper was concluded by the singing of a psalm, after which the meeting broke up.[55][56]

Jeremias also disputed that the Last Supper was a chaburah meal, interposing the objection that the chaburah was a "duty" meal, held appurtenant to a formal occasion such as a 'bris' or a betrothal.[57]

Banquet and Cult: Two Prongs of Hellenistic Ritual Meal Practice

Deipnon, libation and symposion

Analysis of Jesus' meal practice, including the Last Supper, requires familiarity with Greek banquet meal practices, established centuries earlier.

In the 8th century BC, the Judean shepherd/prophet Amos denounced the luxurious social and ceremonial religious practices of Israel's wealthy [58] and referred to these practices (assemblies, feasts, reclining, songs, harp music, ointment, and bowls of wine) negatively.[59][60]

During the Second Temple period, Hellenic practices were adopted by Jews after the conquests of Alexander the Great. By the 2nd century BC, Jesus Ben Sirach writing in the longest biblical wisdom book, Ecclesiasticus,[58] described Jewish feasting, with numerous parallels to Hellenic practice, without disapproval.[61][62]

Gentile and Jewish practice was that the all-male participants reclined at table on their left elbows, and after a benediction given by the host (in the case of a Jewish meal), would have a deipnon (late afternoon or evening meal) of bread with various vegetables, perhaps some fish or even meat if the meal was extravagant.

Among the Greeks, a ritual libation, or sacrificial pouring out of wine, followed, with another benediction or blessing, leading to the 'symposion' (as in Plato's Symposium) or wine-drinking course and entertainment. Thus was established an order of breaking bread and drinking wine. Cups of wine were even passed from diner to diner as a way to pass responsibility for speaking next. "Plutarch spoke in the highest terms of the bonds created by the shared wine bowl. His words are echoed by Paul who spoke of the sharing of bread and wine as the act that created the one body, that is to say, it was a community-creating ritual." [63]

Mystery Cults

Parallel to the religious duties to god and state, "the Hellenic world also fostered a number of 'underground' religions, which countless thousands of people found intellectually and emotionally satisfying."[64] They were known as the "mysteries," because their adherents took oaths never to reveal their rites to the uninitiated. Several honored young male gods born of a divine father and human mother, resurrected after a heroic death. In some of these secret religions "celebrants shared a communal meal in which they symbolically ate the flesh and drank the blood of their god."[64]

Dionysus cult

See also: Dionysus

Early Christianity spread through a Hellenized populace. Jewish feast practices had taken on Hellenic forms as noted above. Dionysus was "god of 'the vine' - representing wine, the most universally popular beverage in the ancient world." [65]Barry Powell suggests that Christian notions of eating and drinking the "flesh" and "blood" of Jesus were influenced by the cult of Dionysus.[66] In contrast, the ancient Greek tragedy, The Bacchae, a ritual involving the wine of Dionysus is not drunk, but poured out as a libation. In the Greek novel, Leucippe and Clitophon by Tatius, Dionysus is said to have given a sheperd of Tyre his first wine. When Dionysus shows the grape cluster where he got the wine from, Tatius parodies the Christian eucharist rite.[67]

Pre-Pauline Confluence of Greek and Hebrew Traditions

By the time the Roman conquest, Jews practiced festive dining in essentially the same form as the Greeks, with a dinner (deipnon) followed by the symposium proper, where guests drank wine and enjoyed entertainment or conversation. There were, to be sure, cultic differences, such as a berakhah over the wine cup instead of the Greeks' libation to Dionysus. But eating together was a central activity for Jewish religious groups such as Pharisees and Essenes.

"Thanksgiving" (in Greek, "εὐχαριστία"[eucharistia]) is probably to be regarded as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "ברכה" [berakhah, berakah], the Jewish "blessing" (in Greek, "εὐλογία" [eulogia]) "addressed to God at meals for and over the food and drink. It is in this sense that the term was originally used in connection with the common meal of the early Christian community, at which the 'blessing' or 'thanksgiving' had special reference to Jesus Christ."[68]

One formulation had it that "(t)he eucharistia was the berakhah without the chaburah supper, and the agape is the chaburah meal without the berakhah.[69]

Agape feast Main article: Agape feast


"ὁ θεòς ἀγάπη ἐστίν" God Is Love on a stele in Mount Nebo.

The Eucharistic celebrations of the early Christians were embedded in, or simply took the form of, a meal. These were often called Agape Feasts, although terminology varied in the first few centuries along with other aspects of practice. Agape is one of the Greek words for love, and so "agape feasts" are also referred to in English as "love-feasts".

This Hellenic ritual was apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing a contribution to the meal according to their means. Perhaps predictably enough, it could at times deteriorate into merely an occasion for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community. This was criticized by Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:20–22.

Soon after the year 100, Ignatius of Antioch refers to the agape or love-feast: "Let that eucharist alone be considered valid which is celebrated in the presence of the bishop, or of him to whom he shall have entrusted it. ... It is not lawful either to baptize, or to hold a love-feast without the consent of the bishop."[70] Letter 96Pliny the Younger to Trajan in about 112 suggests that "a common but innocent meal" was celebrated among early Christians. Tertullian too writes of these meals.[71]Clement of Alexandria (c.150-211/216) distinguished so-called "Agape" meals of luxurious character from the agape (love) "which the food that comes from Christ shows that we ought to partake of".[72] Accusations of gross indecency were sometimes made against the form that these meals sometimes took.[73] Referring to Clement of Alexandria, Stromata III,2, the Christian editor, perhaps Philip Schaffagapæ may probably be attributed to the terrible abuse of the word here referred to, by the licentious Carpocratians. The genuine agapæ were of apostolic origin (2 Pet. ii. 13; Jude 12[74]), but were often abused by hypocrites, even under the apostolic eye (1 Corinthians 11:21). In the Gallican Church, a survival or relic of these feasts of charity is seen in the pain béni; and, in the Greek churches. in the ἀντίδωρον or eulogiæ distributed to non-communicants at the close of the Eucharist, from the loaf out of which the bread of oblation is supposed to have been cut."[75] from (1819–1893), commented before the discovery of the Didache: "The early disappearance of the Christian

Augustine of Hippo also objected to the continuance in his native North Africa of the custom of such meals, in which some indulged to the point of drunkenness, and he distinguished them from proper celebration of the Eucharist: "Let us take the body of Christ in communion with those with whom we are forbidden to eat even the bread which sustains our bodies."[76] He reports that even before the time of his stay in Milan, the custom had already been forbidden there.[77]

Canons 27 and 28 of the Council of Laodicea (364) restricted the abuses.[78] The Third Council of Carthage (393) and the Second Council of Orleans (541) reiterated this legislation, which prohibited feasting in churches, and the Trullan Council of 692 decreed that honey and milk were not to be offered on the altar (Canon 57), and that those who held love feasts in churches should be excommunicated (Canon 74).

There have been various survivals and revivals, however. In the 18th century, PietistLove Feasts that looked back to the ancient Agape. Many Christians today after celebrating the Eucharist or another liturgy, now routinely participate in an informal sharing of light refreshments and conversation. This post-Eucharistic gathering is often called "fellowship hour" or "coffee hour" and is regarded by many clergy as a particularly opportune time for engaging adults in Christian education. Others hold ritual Agape meals.[79] Christians began to hold

See also Agape feast.


Words of Institution

In modern understanding, the Words of Institution are the segment of the Eucharistic liturgy in which the priest enacts Jesus' command at the Last Supper to eat bread as his flesh and to drink wine as his blood.

The First Epistle to the Corinthians and the three Synoptic Gospels, do not use identical words in recounting what Jesus said at the Last Supper and, like the Words of Institution in the liturgies, do not claim to repeat word for word what exactly he said. A similar variety of expression is found in their accounts of what Jesus said on other occasions, giving the tenor, but not claiming to repeat the exact words of Jesus, which in any case were presumably spoken in Aramaic, not in the language of these sources, which is Greek. The words of institution used in present-day liturgies are different combinations of words given in Saint Paul's letter and in the Synoptic Gospels and may even include words not given in the 1st-century sources, such as the Roman Rite's "et aeterni" and (formerly) "mysterium fidei".

In a lecture on the place of the Words of Institution in the Eucharist,[80] Father Robert Taft states that there is not a single extant pre-Nicene Eucharistic prayer that one can prove contained the Words of Institution. Even when the recounting of what happened at the Last Supper became a regular part of the Eucharistic prayer, no particular interest was manifested in the precise moment of the consecration until well into the Middle Ages, when the theory of matter and form was applied to the Eucharist. This theory was sanctioned in the decrees that Pope Benedict XIICouncil of Florence, and was later so commonly accepted in the West that in 1822 Pope Pius VII spoke of the view that the epiklesis (1334–1342) issued after the was necessary for the consecration as a "new opinion".

In her study The Function of the Words of Institution in the Celebration of the Lord's Supper Ros Clarke too refers to evidence that suggests that Words of Institution were not used in the celebration of the Eucharist during the 2nd century.[81] She says that the evidence from the early church suggests that the words of institution were not then used liturgically, but only catechetically, and so the narrative of the Last Supper was not used in celebrating the Eucharist. What was essential, she says, was the ritual, consisting of the four actions of taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and giving it to be eaten, accompanying the actions by saying some words identifying the bread with Jesus' body, and similarly with respect to the cup.[82]

The liturgies that fully developed by the late 4th century in the great Anaphoras of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Canon of the MassRoman Rite, and similar anaphoras in other Churches, generally refer explicitly to what Jesus did at his Last Supper. of the

Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari

Main article: Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari

The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges the validity of the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, which is a Eucharistic liturgy in use from time immemorial that does not expressly contain the words of institution.[83] It has been described as "an authentic anaphora of early Christianity, close to the primordial patterns of the Eucharistic prayer".[84] It speaks of "the commemoration of the Body and Blood of your Christ, which we offer to you on the pure and holy altar, as you have taught us in his life-giving Gospel" and of "commemorating this mystery of the passion and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ".[85]

The Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari has been in continuous use in the Assyrian Church of the East without the words of institution since at least the 7th century,[86][87] and originated long before that.

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes its validity, considering that it dates back to the early Church, that the Church of the East has otherwise preserved the orthodox faith in regard to the Eucharist and Holy Orders, and because, though the Words of Institution are not spoken expressly, the Catholic Church judges that their meaning is present: "The words of Eucharistic Institution are indeed present in the Anaphora of Addai and Mari, not in a coherent narrative way and ad litteram, but rather in a dispersed euchological way, that is, integrated in successive prayers of thanksgiving, praise and intercession."[88]

Exclusion of the Unbaptized

The Didache, probably of the start of the 2nd century, but which some attribute to the 1st century itself, states: "Let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but such as have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for of a truth the Lord hath said concerning this, Give not that which is holy unto dogs." [89]

Term "Eucharist"

The noun "εύχαριστία" (thanksgiving, Eucharist), which became the usual term for the rite, does not appear in the New Testament itself as a name for it. However, the corresponding verb does appear in all four New Testament accounts of the Last Supper that are associated with the institution of the Eucharist, so that the use of the term "is explained either because at its institution Christ 'gave thanks' or because the service is the supreme act of Christian thanksgiving."[90] Early occurrences of the term as a noun referring to the rite are in the Didache, Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Justin Martyr.

Development of the Eucharist tradition

The historical record is too sparse in original texts to put a date upon the first use of the term "eucharistia" as referring to the name of an ecclesiatical ritual and not ordinary thanksgiving for a common meal.

The epistle of the Apostolic Father Clement of Rome addressing the problem of dissension within the Church at Corinth makes no explicit reference to the Eucharist. The Didache contains, among its components, the earliest surviving written church order. It is usually dated to the early 2nd century.[91] A composite of several documents, it includes ritual prayers and a mention of what it calls the εὐχαριστία (Thanksgiving or Eucharist). According to the overwhelming consensus among scholars, the section beginning at 10.1 is a reworking of the Birkat hamazon the prayer that ends the Jewish ritual meal. (see The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and Its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity by Hubertus Waltherus Maria van de Sandt, David Flusser pp 311–2)

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, writing c. 107-110 CE referred to Eucharist three times in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans and once in his Letter to the Philadelphians, though they contain no reference to bread and wine. A Glossary of Eastern Orthodox Terms quoted in Father Symeon Ioannovskij, Orthodox Publishing Society. concludes that for Ignatius as well as Saint Hippolytus of Tome the two terms, "eucharist" and "love-feast" were synonymous.

Justin Martyr, writing around 150, is generally credited with the first description of the Eucharist as rite, both as a weekly celebration[92] and (with less details about the rite) as a celebration after a baptism.[93] In his description of the latter he states: "This food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined."

Christians came to describe the Eucharist as a sacrifice, specifically an unbloody sacrifice. It was said to be particularly beneficial when undertaken for the aid of the dead in the intermediate state between death and the Resurrection (see Requiem mass).

In the Greek Church, priests came to use leavened bread, in order to further distinguish Christianity from Judaism, and its tradition of unleavened bread at Passover. In the Latin Church, priests used either. In the 15th century at the Council of Florence, this difference, along with papal supremacy, purgatory, and one word in the Latin version of the Nicene Creed, were among significant disputes between the Greeks and Latins. (See Azymite.)

The 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a modern summary of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the Eucharist.[94]


Some liturgies still in use today date back to early Christian anaphoras, or central eucharistic prayers.[95] The Apostolic Tradition dates back to Hippolytus (c 170 - c[95] The Liturgy of Addai and Mari dates back perhaps the 3rd century.[95] Soon after the end of the early Christian period, St. Basil's liturgy would later take its final form at Basil's hands.[96] 236).

                            Worship Resources
Eucharistic Prayers


Eucharistic Prayer 1 from Celebrating Eucharist
This prayer is a new composition which was written to provide some complementary images.

Eucharistic Prayer 2 from Celebrating Eucharist
Eucharistic Prayers are often criticised for their repetitiveness. This prayer was written, in part, as an attempt to avoid this.

Eucharistic Prayer 3 from Celebrating Eucharist
This prayer is modeled on one found in the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (early third century). This ancient eucharistic prayer is used widely as a basis for many modern eucharistic prayers in different denominations.

Eucharistic Prayer 4 from Celebrating Eucharist
This prayer is based on an ecumenical prayer with its source in the liturgy of St. Basil.

Eucharistic Prayer 1 from Enriching our Worship

Eucharistic Prayer 2 from Enriching our Worship
Has a strong focus on creation

Eucharistic Prayer 3 from Enriching our Worship
Also has a strong focus on creation

Alternative Great Thanksgiving A 
alternative to Thanksgiving of the People of God

Alternative Great Thanksgiving B 
alternative to Celebrating the Grace of God

Alternative Great Thanksgiving C 
alternative to Thanksgiving for Creation and Redemption

Alternative Great Thanksgiving D 
alternative to Thanksgiving and Praise

Alternative Great Thanksgiving E 
alternative to Form for Ordering the Eucharist

Alternative Great Thanksgiving F 
alternative to Service of Holy Communion

Alternative Great Thanksgiving for use with Children A 

Alternative Great Thanksgiving for use with Children B 

Other Resources

A hymn for Shrove Tuesday
A hymn for the feast of Mary Magdalene
A Gloria by Joy Cowley
An inclusive language Benedictus
An inclusive language Magnificat

Jesus the party person 
a model for lessons for young people and the Eucharist

                         The Church Year