Catholic Teachings in the Early Church : Part 5 The Lords Supper

The Lords Supper

[Quotes below are listed in Rod Bennett’s book Four Witnesses]

Today’s Catholic Teaching:

At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and pledge of future glory is given to us.

~Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 47.

Catholic Teaching in the Early Church:

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarrelling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: “In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations [cf. Mal 1:11].”

~Ca. A.D. 70: The Didache, in ACW, vol. 6, p. 23.

Accordingly, as wine is blended with water, so is the Spirit with man. And the one, the mixture of wine and water, nourishes to faith; whole the other, the Spirit, conducts to immortality. And the mixture of both – of the water and of the Word – is called Eucharist, renowned and glorious grace; And they who by faith partake of it are sanctified both in body and soul.

~Ca. A.D. 200: Clement of Alexandria, The instructor, chap. 2, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in ANF 2:242.

We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike….We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground.

~Ca. A.D. 204: Tertullian of Carthage, The Chaplet, chap. 3, trans. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, in ANF 3:94.

If Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, is Himself the High Priest of God the Father; and if He offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father; and if He commanded that this be done in commemoration of Himself – then certainly the priest, who imitates that which Christ did, truly functions in the place of Christ.

~Ca. A.D. 250: Cyprian of Carthage, Letter to a Certain Cecil 63, no. 14, in FEF 1:232-33, no. 584.

As the prayer continues, we ask and say, “ Give us this day our daily bread” [Mt 6:1]….And we ask that this bread be given us daily, so that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation, may not, by falling into some more grievous sin and then in abstaining from communicating, be withheld from the heavenly Bread, and be separated from Christ’s Body….He Himself warns us, saying,, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you” [Jn 6:54]. Therefore do we ask that our Bread, which is Christ, be given to us daily, so that we who abide and live in Christ may not withdraw from His sanctification and from His Body.

~Ca. A.D. 251: Cyprian of Carthage, The Lord’s Prayer, no. 18, in FEF 1:223, no. 559.

This one teaching of the blessed Paul is enough to give you complete certainty about the Divine Mysteries, by your having been deemed worthy of which, you have become united in body and soul with Christ. For Paul proclaimed clearly that: “On the night in which He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ, taking bread and giving thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘Take, eat, This is My Body.’ And taking the cup and giving thanks, He said, ‘Take, drink, This is My Blood’ [cf. 1 Cor 11:23-25].” He Himself, therefore, having declared and said of the Bread, “This is My Body,” who will dare any longer to doubt? And when He Himself has affirmed and said, “This is My Blood,” who can ever hesitate and say it is not His Blood?…Do not therefore, regard the Bread and the Wine as simply that; for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but – be fully assured by the faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the Body and Blood of Christ.

~Ca. A.D. 350: Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, lec. 22 (Mystagogic 4),nos. 1, 6, in FEF 1:360, nos. 843, 846.

Our Lord Jesus took in His hands what in the beginning was only bread; and He blessed it, and signed it, and made it holy in the name of the Father and in the name of the Spirit; and He broke it and in His gracious kindness He distributed it to all His disciples one by one. He called the bread His living Body, and did Himself fill it with Himself and the Spirit. And extending His hand, He gave them the Bread which His right hand had made holy: “Take, all of you eat of this, which My word has made holy. Do not now regard as bread that which I have given you, but take, eat this Bread, and do not scatter the crumbs; for what I have called My Body, that it is indeed. One particle from its crumbs is able to sanctify thousands and thousands, and is sufficient to afford life to those who eat of it. Take, eat, entertaining no doubt of faith, because this in My Body, and whoever eats it in belief eats it in Fire and Spirit….” But if anyone despise or reject it or treat it with ignominy, it may be taken as a certainty that he treats with ignominy the Son, who called it and actually made it to be His Body.

~Ca. A.D. 350: Ephraim of Nisibis, Homily, 4, no. 4, in FEF 1:311, no. 707.

Cease not to pray and plead for me when you draw down the Word by your word, when in an unbloody cutting you cut the Body and Blood of the Lord, using your voice for a sword.

~Ca. A.D. 383: Gregory Nazianzen, Letter to Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium 171, in FEF 2:41, no. 1019.

We saw the Prince of Peace coming to us, we saw and heard Him offering His blood for us. WE follow, inasmuch as we are able, being priests; and we offer the sacrifice on behalf of the people. And even if we are of but little merit, still, in the sacrifice, we are honorable. For even if Christ is not now seen as the one who offers the sacrifice, nevertheless it is He Himself that is offered in sacrifice here on earth when the Body of Christ is offered. Indeed, to offer Himself He is made visible in us, He whose word makes holy the sacrifice that is offered.

~Ca. A.D. 390: Ambrose of Milan, Commentaries on Twelve of David’s Psalm 38, 25, in FEF 2:150, no. 1260.

When you see the [Body of Christ] lying on the altar, say to yourself, “ Because of this Body I am no longer earth and ash, no longer a prisoner, but free. Because of this Body I hope for heaven, and I hope to receive the good things that are in heaven, immortal life, the lot of angels, familiar conversation with Christ. This Body, scourged and crucified, has not been fetched by death….This is that Body which was blood-stained, which was pierced by a lance, and from which gushed forth those saving fountains, one of blood and the other of water, for all the world.”…This is the Body which He gave us, both to hold in reserve and to eat, which was appropriate to intense love; for those whom we kiss with abandon we often even bite with our teeth.

~Ca. A.D. 392: John Chrysostom, Homilies on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, hom. 24, no. 4 (7), in FEF 2:117-18, no. 1195.

It is proper, therefore, that when [Christ] gave the Bread He did not say, “This is the symbol of My Body,” but, “This is My Body.” In the same way when He gave the Cup He did not say, “This is the symbol of My Blood,” but “This is My Blood”; for He wanted us to look upon the [Eucharistic elements] after their reception of grace and the coming of the Holy Spirit not according to their nature, but [that we should] receive them as they are, the Body and Blood of our Lord. We ought…not regard the [Eucharistic elements] merely as bread and cup, but as the Body and Blood of Christ, into which they were transformed by the descent of the Holy Spirit.

~Ca. A.D. 410: Theodore of Mopsuestia, Catechetical Homilies 5, in FEF 2:82, no. 1113f.

“’From the rising of the sun even to its setting My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place sacrifice is offered to My name, a clean oblation; for My name is great among the Gentiles,’ says the Lord Almighty” [Mal 1:11]. What do you answer to that? Open your eyes at last, then, any time, and see, from the rising of the sun to its setting, the Sacrifice of Christians is offered, not in one place only, as was established with you Jews, but everywhere; and not to just any god at all, but to Him who foretold it, the God of Israel….Not in one place, as was prescribed for you in the earthly Jerusalem, but in every place, even in Jerusalem herself. Not according to the order of Aaron, but according to the order of Melchisedech.

~Ca. A.D. 425: Augustine of Hippo, Sermon against the Jews 9, no. 13, in FEF 3:168, no. 1977.

This Victim alone saves the soul from eternal ruin, the sacrificing of which presents to us in a mystical way the death of the Only-begotten, who, – though He is now risen from the dead and dies no more, and death will no longer have dominion over Him, for He lives immortally and incorruptibly in Himself, – is immolated for us again in this mystery of the sacred oblation. For his body is eaten there, His flesh is distributed among the people unto salvation, His blood is poured out, no longer in the hands of the faithless but in the mouth of the faithful. Let us take thought, therefore, of what this sacrifice means for us, which is in constant representation of the suffering of the Only-begotten Son, for the sake of our forgiveness.

~Ca. A.D. 593: Pope Gregory I, Dialogues, bk. 4, chap. 60, in FEF 3:320-21, no. 2323.

Part 6 will focus on the The Role of Mary.

[FEF: The Faith of the Early Fathers by William A. Jurgen]

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About Rob Brock

A Catholic convert with a fire for discipleship, catechesis, and formation that leads to transformed lives in Christ. View all posts by Rob Brock

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