Saturday, June 21, 2014

Reverence of the Early Church Toward the Eucharist

When Lutherans advocate and practice traditional reverent care for all clear and discernible particles of the consecrated bread and wine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, are they relapsing into a thirteenth century vintage scholasticism rejected by the Blessed Reformer?  This is the view of some, and must be answered anew at every opportunity. 

Certainly such care and reverence is not a departure from the theology and practice of the Reformer himself, as has been amply shown elsewhere.  But is it even the case that it arises only out of late medieval theology and rubricism?  We might not be so quick to entertain such ideas if we go back a millenium earlier, and give a fair hearing to the early church. 

And so, for example, from the third century, let us consider these words of Origen, who gives witness to a practice which might not be universal, but was certainly commonly known in his day.
You who are accustomed to attending the divine mysteries know how, when you receive the body of the Lord, you guard it with all care and reverence lest any small part should fall from it, lest any piece of the consecrated gift be lost.

As further food for thought, I suggest that this witness, in itself, implies the likelihood that this type of practice and level of care for the Sacrament predates the third century, and goes back into the silent age of the first few centuries, the age when the Sacrament was considered such an awesome mystery that it was considered best for the most part not even to speak or write about it publically, and comports with the care intimated in the Church of the first century, which is the true ecclesial context of the Gospel of John, wherein our Lord instructs after the miraculous feeding in John 6,  "Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost."


  1. The truth and significance of Dcn Latif's splendid observation is, I think, further reinforced by the "ordo" expressed in the miraculous feeding:

    It occurs at a high place, a mountain (Jn 6:3); and what higher place can we come to be fed, on this earth, than the holy sanctuary of our God?

    The congregants are bid to sit down (Jn 3:10); that is to say, to assume a passive stance of pure receptivity and innocent helplessness. What is to come is all His doing, His service. And so this is a place for the meek, the lowly, and the seekers of mercy ... for He takes no pleasure in the strength of a man (i.e., his works) or the legs of the snorting war-horse (Ps 147: 10).

    The physical Lord Himself gives thanks, and blesses the bread; but He gives the task of distribution to those He has specifically designated and authorized to be His hands (Jn 6:11), i.e., the Apostles. With that gesture, the Eucharistic "lay-ministry" innovations of the post-conciliar Roman church are rebuked. The lad of with five barley loaves and two fishes could potentially have been asked to be an intermediary of sorts; those items were, after all, his property. But the Lord's Mass is not our property, to do with and choose as we please.

    These things too must surely have been discerned by the ancient Church, and prompted the comportment and reverence towards the Mass of those who have fought the good fight to successful conclusion, and yet who live to dine with us at our Fore-taste celebrations. The Lutheran Confessions are quite adamant that ceremonies are to be retained and are essential to the teaching of the laity, quite without words; and real ceremonies, as well as words, are readily detectable in blessed St. John's Gospel Chapter 6.