The Eucharist is a liturgical meal of bread and wine, which is almost always preceded by a service of reading the Scriptures. Christians attribute the origin of the Eucharist to Jesus Christ himself at the Last Supper on the night before he died. Many Christians regard the Eucharist as a sacrament and as their central ritual, and many celebrate the Eucharist weekly or even more often. This sacred meal has had various names throughout history: the Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, the Offering, the Divine Liturgy, the Mass. The most common name in the early 21st century, however, is Eucharist, which derives from the Greek word Eucharistia, a thanksgiving. What we know since the 3rd century as the basic form of the Christian Eucharist is most probably the result of a number of trajectories from the first 150 years of Christianity coming together, including: fellowship meals in remembrance of Jesus, celebrations of his passion and resurrection, and the tradition of his significant meals such as the Last Supper and the Supper at Emmaus (Luke 24). In the late 4th and 5th centuries, many local traditions coalesced to produce (1) a basic common form of Eucharistic liturgy consisting of entrance rite, liturgy of the word, homily, prayers, the sharing of a kiss of peace, presentation of gifts of bread and wine, Eucharistic prayer, Lord’s Prayer, fraction of the bread, distribution of communion, and dismissal; and (2) the various traditional liturgical families tied to major Christian cities: Byzantine (Constantinople, Jerusalem, Antioch), Coptic (Alexandria), East Syrian (Edessa), and Roman. The church of the first millennium knew a common affirmation of the understanding of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharistic elements as well as a variety of ways of expressing the notion of Eucharist as sacrifice. The first controversies over how to express Christ’s presence arose in the 9th century, and they rose to a crescendo with Berengar of Tours in the 11th century. The most sophisticated explanation of that presence (transubstantiation) was provided by Thomas Aquinas in the mid-13th century. The Protestant reformers of the 16th century made various criticisms of traditional Roman Catholic theology and practice. They insisted on using the language of the people, giving communion in both bread and wine, and dismissing the language of Eucharistic sacrifice. The Reformed tradition (John Calvin) and the Lutheran differed considerably, however, on how to affirm Christ’s presence in the Eucharistic celebration, with Luther taking a much more realist position and Calvin a more “spiritual” understanding. The Church of England was reluctant to take sides in this discussion and its own theological position on the Eucharist remains a matter of debate. The liturgical movement of the 19th and 20th centuries, combined with renewed interest in biblical and patristic scholarship, has produced a remarkable convergence among various Christian churches, and it has led to Eucharistic liturgies among Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Methodists that bear a notable similarity to one another.
Eucharistic Liturgy and Theology
Early Christian Worship
Paul F. Bradshaw
The forms of Christian worship changed and developed considerably during the first four centuries of its existence, not least from a distinctive local or regional diversity to an increasing standardization of practice throughout the ancient world. One of the major factors influencing these changes was the eventual adoption of the New Testament as the Christian scripture, and another was the emergence of the church into public life early in the 4th century. Rites of initiation chiefly involving baptism in water marked the entry of new converts into the community of believers. The central observance was the Eucharist, celebrated every Sunday from at least the end of the 1st century. This was supplemented by services of the word on certain days of the week and by regular times of prayer each day undertaken by individuals or small groups of believers. Annual festal celebrations, the majority of which were associated with the anniversaries of martyrs and others who had died, also increased in number as time passed. Christians understood the worship that they offered through Jesus Christ to be the spiritual fulfillment of the sacrificial cult of the Old Testament. Although at first insisting that they were not a religion like others around them—indeed, they were regarded as atheists by their contemporaries—they ultimately came to adopt the language, images, and terminology of standard religious discourse once their persecution had ceased and the Church had emerged as a cultus publicus in the 4th century. This also coincided with a shift from an understanding of worship as an essentially corporate action presided over by its appointed ministers to one where those ministers were seen as carrying out its liturgy on behalf of the people.
The Uniting Church in Australia
Robert W. Gribben
The Uniting Church in Australia (1977) faces the challenge of both being faithful to its inherited traditions (Methodist and Reformed), and taking the opportunity to draw on contemporary ecumenical liturgical scholarship in the preparation of new liturgies. The eucharistic liturgies follow the basic shape of Dix; the Great Prayer may be used in either the Western Catholic tradition, or prefaced by a Reformed “warrant.” There is a wide variety of baptism and related services, including some resources for an adult catechumenate. There is provision for both adult and infant baptism, as appropriate; some material for an adult catechumenate is included, but the church has not yet shown evidence of increased baptism of adults. The first phases of the renewal process involved the production of two worship books, in 1988 and 2005, covering the full range of word, sacrament, and occasional offices, and were increasingly supported by authorized CD-ROM and web-based resources. Inclusive language is used throughout. The liturgical forms are regarded as models, to be varied or supplemented with material with the same theological intent. There is now an increasing move toward local worship leaders (lay and ordained) devising liturgies using resources, including musical, with other theological bases. This raises the question of the theological integrity of the result, in words spoken and sung. The complex task of providing its liturgies for non-European cultures, including indigenous, has hardly begun, though there are services now translated into other languages. The dearth of scholarly liturgical study in theological colleges makes it difficult to see how this can be addressed. Without such historical, theological, and practical study of worship, many other developments will be prey to fashion and individual styles.
Liturgical Vestments, Vessels, and Objects in Christian Worship
Joanne M. Pierce
Any history of Christian liturgy must address the origins and development of the various material elements that are used during these celebrations. These have their own specific history, just as does the architectural and artistic context of the liturgy. Many of the specialized garments, or vestments, worn by ministers during liturgical services in several contemporary Christian churches originated in elements of ordinary or honorific dress used in the ancient Roman Empire. Over the course of several centuries, the style and type of vestments used in Western Christianity diverged from those used in Eastern Christianity, until today the differences are more striking than the similarities, even in shared individual elements like the stole and the chasuble. In addition, different kinds of vestments are used by different ministers (for example, the deacon, priest, or bishop) and in different kinds of sacramental and liturgical ceremonies. What a minister might wear at one service, for example evening prayer or the administration of baptism, might not be the same as those expected for the celebration of the Eucharist (the Mass, the holy communion, or the divine liturgy). The same is true for the essential vessels used during the celebration of the Eucharist: the chalice to hold the wine, and the paten, or plate, on which rests the bread to be blessed. Both of these have developed in distinctive styles in both West and East over time. The same is true of many of the other vessels and implements needed for the Eucharist and those used in other liturgical services. Examples include containers designed to hold water, oil, or incense as well as the number and style of altar cloths, veils, and candles utilized at different times and places.
Martin Luther’s Christological Sources in the Church Fathers
Luther did not write an exhaustive dogmatic account of the person and work of Christ. The lack of such a work has led to differing assessments of the place of Christology in Luther’s thought. Some have concluded that Christology played only a secondary role in Luther’s theology. Others have countered that Christology stands at the center of Luther’s thought. The range of assessments on Luther’s Christology can be explained, in part, by the expectations of our theological categories. Luther, like the Church Fathers before him, discussed Christology in a broader context than the scholastic manuals and systematic theologies of late modernity. For both Luther and the Church Fathers, the mystery of Christ stood at the center of their confession of the Trinity, reading of scripture, and life of prayer and worship. When discussing the Trinity, Luther declares, “Where this God, Jesus Christ, is, there is the whole God or the whole divinity. There the Father and the Holy Spirit are to be found. Beyond this Christ God nowhere can be found.” Similarly, when it comes to scripture, Christ is the test by which to judge the books of the Bible. Luther declares, “Remove Christ from the scriptures and what more will you have?” For Luther Christ stands at the center whether we are discussing the Trinity or scripture: “Thus all of Scripture, as already said, is pure Christ, God’s and Mary’s Son. Everything is focused on this Son, so that we might know Him distinctively and in that way see the Father and the Holy Spirit eternally as one God. To him who has the Son scripture is an open book; and the stronger his faith in Christ becomes, the more brightly will the light of scripture shine for him.” All of Luther’s theological reflection proceeds from his faith in Christ. Thinking of Christology only in terms of a formal reflection on the unity of two natures in one person risks reducing the discussion to paradoxical metaphysics and overlooking the broader interests of Luther and the Church Fathers. This point is crucial for a consideration of Luther’s Christological sources in the Church Fathers. Luther aligns himself with the Christological insights of the Fathers and councils by showing how Christ and his saving work stand at the center of theological endeavors. For the Fathers and creeds of the Early Church, the eternal relationship between the Father and the Son forms the context for their reflections on the man Jesus and his saving work. Similarly, for Luther, scripture’s teaching on the Trinity and Christ, as received and clarified by the Fathers and councils, serves as his hermeneutical resource for understanding Christ’s presence in the Lord’s Supper, the blessed exchange between Christ and the believer, and justification by faith. Luther, like the Church Fathers, worked out the distinctive features of his Christology amid controversy. Luther’s debate with Zwingli sharpened his understanding of the Incarnation and reveals his debt to the Fathers. Luther’s use of the communicatio idiomatum and the implications of the sharing of attributes for the Lord’s Supper and our salvation align him closely with the Greek Fathers, particularly those indebted to the theological insights of Cyril of Alexandria. The remarkable convergence between Luther’s argument with Zwingli and Cyril’s argument with Nestorius reveals the strong Alexandrian and Neo-Chalcedonian sympathies and instincts of Luther’s Christology.
The “Classic” Age of Christian Worship, 4th–6th Century
John F. Baldovin
The 4th–6th centuries can be considered a classic period in the development of Christian worship. During this time many of the liturgical forms that are still recognizable today were consolidated: the architectural disposition of church buildings, the shape of the Eucharist and the various traditions of the eucharistic prayer, the rites of initiation, the annual liturgical cycle (calendar), and the rites associated with ordination, weddings, the anointing of the sick, penance, and the burial of the dead. This was the period in which the great diversity and variety that characterized the first Christian centuries gradually settled into the basic structures that are familiar today. At the same time, it was the period of the development of the great rites of Christian worship that were centered on the major cities of the Roman Empire: Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, Edessa, Jerusalem, and Rome. The new diversity of these rites often corresponded to the various languages in which they were celebrated: Greek, Syriac, Coptic, and Latin.
The Development of the “Apostolic Tradition” in Early Christian Worship
Maxwell E. Johnson
Contrary to the assumptions often held by previous scholars, contemporary liturgical scholarship is coming increasingly to realize and emphasize that Christian worship was diverse even in its biblical and apostolic origins, multi- rather than monolinear in its development, and closely related to the several cultural, linguistic, geographical, and theological expressions and orientations of distinct churches throughout the early centuries of Christianity. Apart from some rather broad (but significant) commonalities discerned throughout various churches in antiquity, the traditions of worship during the first three centuries of the common era were rather diverse in content and interpretation, depending upon where individual practices are to be located. Indeed, already in this era, together with the diversity of Christologies, ecclesiologies, and, undoubtedly, liturgical practices encountered in the New Testament itself, the early history of the “tradition” of Christian worship is, simultaneously, the early history of the developing liturgical traditions of several differing Christian communities and language groups: Armenian, Syrian, Greek, Coptic, and Latin, We should not, then, expect to find only one so-called “apostolic” liturgical tradition, practice or theology surviving in this period before the Council of Nicea (325 ce) but, rather, great diversity both within the rites themselves as well as in their theological interpretations. This essay highlights the principal occasions for Christian worship in the first three centuries for which the textual and liturgical evidence is most abundant: Christian initiation, the eucharistic liturgy with its central anaphoral prayer, daily prayer (the liturgy of the hours), and the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year.
Byzantine and Slavic Orthodoxy
The Byzantine-Slav liturgical tradition emerged as an aggregate rite from the diverse liturgical practices of the Eastern Mediterranean from the early 4th century. This tradition developed around the city of Constantinople but was also influenced by the liturgical traditions of Jerusalem and the monasteries surrounding Jerusalem. While Constantinople remained the center of this tradition, it also found its home and developed in unique ways throughout the Mediterranean and the Balkan Peninsula, into Ukraine and Russia, and eventually throughout the world. The liturgical tradition itself weaves together the diverse practices of monastic and urban worship, creating very much a hybrid rite. The daily office, primarily drawn from monastic practices, utilizes a mix of invariable texts, prayers, psalmody, and composed hymns of ancient provenance as well as a wide array of variable hymns of different origins and genre. Throughout these services, the monastic elements stand side by side with remnants of the urban cathedral worship. The Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist service, has at its core prayers that go back to the classic patristic age of the church, the 4th and 5th centuries. The entire service, however, betrays multiple layers of influence on its development, ranging from practices of the imperial cult of late antiquity to popular piety. All these elements have come together through organic development and, at times, directed reform to form a vast liturgical tradition with rich textures and complex nuances of meaning.
Medieval Christian Liturgy
Joanne M. Pierce
The liturgy of the medieval Christian West (ca. 600–1500) provided the structure around which life in Western Europe was structured for almost a thousand years. Rooted in Christian antiquity, in the early central liturgical structures of Initiation and Eucharist, the private and public observance of daily prayer, and the development of a liturgical year, the long medieval period that followed saw a broadening elaboration and expansion of the liturgical life of Christians in many different directions. By the year 1200, theologians had defined seven of the Church’s liturgical rites as primary sacraments: Baptism and Confirmation (from the ancient initiation sequence); Eucharist; Penance (with the emphasis on private confession of sins); Ordination (through various minor orders to the three major orders of deacon, presbyter, and bishop); Extreme Unction (anointing of the sick, now reserved for the gravely ill); and Matrimony (as the liturgical rites for the originally domestic rituals of marriage become more elaborate and set in the church rather than the home). A more fulsome cycle of the liturgical year developed around the ancient feasts of Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and Epiphany, augmented by an elaborate calendar of commemorations and feasts of saints. Monastic influence resulted in a daily round of liturgical prayer, the Divine Office, in which various “hours” of prayer during the day and night were marked by liturgical “offices” of psalmody and scripture—some longer, others more brief. One of the major ways this liturgical growth and diversity can be studied is through an examination of the various liturgical books compiled and used during these medieval centuries, books used for the celebration of the Eucharist (the Mass), for the Divine Office, and for other liturgical rites. In addition to the volumes containing rubrics and prayers for liturgical celebrations, a separate cluster of books contained music to be used during these rites, in a style known as chant; Gregorian chant became the dominant form. The full impact of medieval liturgy as it was experienced in the Western Europe, however, extended far beyond the “bare bones” contained in these books, intertwined as it was with the development of art and architecture, law and commerce, and the political/socio-economic developments that would take Christian society and religion from the twilight of late antiquity to the dawn of early modernity.
Liturgy and Music at Hagia Sophia
Bissera V. Pentcheva
Hagia Sophia, the former Orthodox Christian cathedral of Constantinople, is the single most important monument that survives from Byzantium. Its daring architecture of cascading dome and semi-domes reflects a unique vision of beauty and power introduced by the emperor Justinian (527–565). Equally impressive is the interior decoration of gold mosaics and marble. Yet, it is the liturgy with its large congregation, officiating clergy, and numerous choirs that brought about the effect of being transported to a place in between heaven and earth. Within its walls, a rich multisensory experience was created through the integration of architecture, music, acoustics, and liturgy. The material fabric of the building and its acoustics together with the liturgy performed by Hagia Sophia’s officiating clergy and the chants sung by the choirs formed the character of the cathedral rite. The architectural form and ritual performed in this space harmonized with the Byzantine philosophical and mystagogical explanations and enabled the religious experience of nearness to the divine.
Western Christendom, c. 1000–1400
Timothy M. Thibodeau
The liturgy of Western Christendom (c. 1000–1400) was the product of sweeping ecclesio-political and religious reforms that had a broad and lasting impact on the content and performance of the rites of the Latin Church in the later Middle Ages. Beginning with the reforms of monasticism at Cluny and culminating in the reformed papacy in the age of the Investiture Controversy, a sharp division between the clerical order and the laity was imposed on Christian society. This fostered a heightened sense of divine mystery in the liturgical rites (principally, the Mass) that could only be administered by properly ordained clergy, under the authority of the pope. The triumph of the clerical rule of Christendom coincided with more concrete expressions of the real presence of Christ in the eucharistic elements in both formal theology and liturgical practice. The Mass liturgy became the summit and quintessence of liturgical piety in this era, eclipsing other forms of liturgical service and becoming the focal point of sacramental theology. With the construction of monumental new churches in the Gothic style, from the 12th through 14th centuries, liturgical performance (including costly vessels and vestments) achieved levels of ostentation that caused some conflict between ascetically minded reformers (the Cistercians) and the proponents of lavish liturgical spaces (the Cluniacs). A thriving tradition of liturgical exposition or formal commentary on the divine offices worked in tandem with these dramatic architectural and artistic developments in the liturgical spaces of Europe. Despite the new scholastic methods of the universities, allegorical exegesis of the liturgy, following a tradition that began in the 8th century with Amalarius of Metz, continued to predominate in the lengthy treatises of expositors who worked in the peak period of scholastic theology, down to and including William Durandus of Mende (c. 1296). The performative aspects of the liturgy also witnessed major advances with the introduction of polyphonic chant, liturgical drama, and para-liturgical processions (such as the Feast of Corpus Christi).