|The Book of Common Prayer
THE HOLY COMMUNION
THE Holy Communion, besides being the central and distinctive Christian service, the holiest of Christian mysteries, the great sacrament of the Christian life, the simplest and most profound, the subtlest and most popular of all acts of worship, is the only regular service instituted by Christ himself; or rather, we would say, it is all these things because it was of Christ's devising, and shares with the occasional service of Baptism (the other sacrament undoubtedly commanded by him) that quality of mingled plainness and profundity — of inexhaustible simplicity — which is characteristic of all his sayings and deeds, as indeed it is also characteristic of all the greatest things which we know of in the universe.
Our slight sketch in this chapter must therefore begin with the Institution of the Sacrament, as it is recorded by St. Matthew (xxvi. 26-28), St. Mark (xiv. 22-24.), St. Luke (xxii. 19-20), and St. Paul (1 Cor. xi. 23-26). St. Matthew says :—
"Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is shed for many unto remission of sins."
We learn from the Acts of the Apostles that the disciples considered this a command to "break the bread' as a solemn service — "they continued stedfastly in the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers" (Acts ii. 42), that this was done at home (Acts ii. 46), and on Sundays, "the first day of the week" (Acts xx. 7), very early, so as to enable them to go about their work in the non-Christian world, and that it was preceded at least on this occasion by a night vigil which included prayer and a sermon (Acts xx. 7). On Sunday also each was to "lay by him in store" for the poor (1 Cor. xvi. 2).
From St. Paul we
learn further that this Eucharist was regarded as a showing forth of the
Lord's death (1 Cor. xi. 26), that the bread which they broke
was a communion of the Lord's body, the cup which they blessed a communion
of the Lord's blood (1 Cor. x. 16), great harm being attributed
to the "not discerning the Lord's body" (1 Cor. xi.
29). One liturgical fact seems to emerge — the people said "the
Amen" after a "giving of thanks" (1 Cor. xiv.
|<- Previous Chapter
We thus find in the Apostolic Age a solemn weekly service, the service in fact of the Church, which was called the Breaking of the Bread. This service had a double character. It was in the first place a mystical sacrifice, a representation of the Sacrifice of Christ and participation in it (a showing forth of the Lord's death), and was thus called "the Sacrifice" by Justin Martyr, c. 150. It was in the second place a communion in the spiritual Body and Blood of Christ, and was thus early called "the Communion," following St. Paul's "Is it not a communion," etc. St. Paul's word "Eucharist," i.e. thanksgiving, though neither Eucharist nor Communion are used by him as actual titles of the service, was also applied to it very early, probably because it reproduced Christ's giving of thanks at the Last Supper. Pliny uses the word sacrament (A.D. 112), which he may have caught, without understanding, from the Christians, but in any case he uses it only as meaning an oath or pledge: ninety years later Tertullian speaks of the service as "the Sacrament." The late Latin for dismissal, missa, caused it to be called Missa or Mass in the West, as early as 385, and in the East it is usually called the Liturgy, a name which originally was applied to any public service.
Connected with the
Breaking of Bread was a social meal or love-feast, generally known as
the Agape, but called by St. Paul "a Lord's Supper" (see p.
29), a name sometimes applied in the Middle Ages to the Mass, itself;
and often used by the Reformers. We should not know of this love-feast
in the Apostolic Age at all, if it had not led to abuses — for often
the commonest things are taken for granted and escape mention: these abuses
of the Agape on the part of greedy and intemperate persons are mentioned
by St. Paul in 1 Cor. xi. 20-22, and also by other writers in
2 Peter ii. 13 (R. V.), and Jude 13 (R. V.). In Pliny's
account below, a "common meal of innocent food" is mentioned
after the service; and it cannot well have been the Communion, because
the Christians gave it up when ordered. Before 200 the Agape proper had
disappeared, being only continued as a charity-feast for the poor, and
also as a funeral-feast after burials or requiem services, down to the
5th or 6th century. The idea survives in the blest bread which is still
given throughout the Eastern Church, which was also distributed in England
up to the Reformation, and is retained as the pain bèni
in many French churches today. One could perhaps wish that a friendly
meal on Sundays might be revived in the England of to-day. A social tea,
would not be abused by a race that has so long emerged from Paganism,
and some such practical lesson of Christian fellowship is much needed.
"They maintained that all their fault or error was this, that they
had been accustomed on a fixed day to meet before dawn and sing antiphonally
a hymn to Christ as to a god; and that they bound themselves by a solemn
pledge (sacramento), not for any crime, but to abstain from theft, brigandage,
and adultery, to keep their word, and not to refuse to restore a deposit
when demanded. After this was done, they dispersed and assembled again
to share a common meal of innocent food; and even this, they said, they
had given up after I had issued the edict by which, in accordance with
your instructions, I prohibited the existence of clubs."
A few years ago Wilpert made the intensely interesting discovery, on the walls of a chapel in the Roman catacomb of St. Priscilla, of a picture of the Eucharist, dating from the same time (between A.D. 100 and 150). The picture is now called Fractio Panis, the Breaking of the Bread. The bishop or president (clad in the pallium of rank as well as the tunic) sits, in the act of breaking the bread, at one end of a table, round which five men (wearing tunics without the pallium) and one woman are also seated. The table is covered with a linen cloth, and on it can be discerned a two-handled cup, and a plate with five small loaves. There is also a plate with two fishes — a usual symbol of Christ in this age, and mystically connected in these early catacomb pictures with the feeding of the Multitude, the Eucharist, and also with Baptism. Here, then, we have a Picture of a primitive Eucharist, as it was actually celebrated in this underground chapel: the stone bench is still there, and a small tomb, only large enough to hold the scanty relics of a martyr, though the stone over it, which must originally have been used as an altar, is now gone.
The next account is very important, since it gives us a clear outline of the service about the year 150. This was written by St. Justin Martyr in his Apology to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, and is therefore couched in language intelligible to pagans, the bishop, for instance, being called " the president." We give it word for word, only breaking it up into sections, so as to show that the structure of the service was already settled in its main lines. The headings, of course, are not in the original. Side by side with Justin's outline we give the fuller account which Duchesne has gathered from Syrian writings of two centuries later, that is to say, when the days of persecution were over, and Christianity had been embraced by the Emperor Constantine and his successors.
Between the 2nd and the 4th century, of course, the rite developed; habits became fixed ceremonies, and custom defined more closely the limits within which the celebrant was to offer prayer, though the actual words were not generally fixed till a century or so later.
None of these early accounts is complete. None of the 4th century documents mentions the Fraction or Breaking of the Bread, for instance; and St. Justin evidently minimizes the liturgical part of his description, which a non-Christian emperor would not understand, and lays stress on the practical side, the almsgiving; yet he does happen to mention the mixed chalice and reservation. St. Paul, for his part, does not think of writing a description of a service so familiar to the recipients of his letter: he is only guarding against abuses and drawing lessons from it. Yet he mentions in one place or another several main points, the Amen at the end of a "giving of thanks," the Fraction, and the distribution to the people or Communion. The Kiss of Peace is mentioned both by St. Paul and St. Peter, when they tell their hearers thus to salute one another in Rom. xvi. 16, 1 Cor. xvi. 20, 2 Cor. xiii. 12, and 1 Pet. v. 14. It is clear also from the Epistles, that both these letters themselves and the (Jewish) Scriptures, and doubtless also "memoirs" of our Lord were read; while in the Acts we find a Sermon and are told of the very early hour of the Eucharist.
The Eucharistical and other prayers were at first extemporary, though they followed well accustomed lines ; the Eucharistical Prayer in especial being always, so far back as it can be traced, a recapitulation of and thanksgiving for the life and work of Christ, commonly including the record of the Institution at the Last Supper, and ending with the Epikiesis or prayer for the sanctification of the bread and wine, and the Lord's Prayer. No doubt, if Justin Martyr's account were fuller, the ritual (that is the order of the prayers) would be much the same as that of the 4th century, though the ceremonial would be less.
Some bishops, however,
found it more convenient to write down the prayers they used; and it was
in this way that the ritual became fixed. We know that one bishop did
this c. 350; for a few years ago there was discovered in the
Greek monastery of Mount Athos a collection of prayers by an Egyptian
bishop, Serapion, who was a friend of St. Athanasius. In this book, which
has been translated by the late Bishop of Salisbury, Dr. Wordsworth (Bishop
Serapion's Prayer Book, London, 1899), we have the earliest known
Anaphora or Canon, and a very beautiful one it is We reproduce it here,
in order that Everyman may see for himself how the early Church prayed
in the supreme hour of worship. The Church of to-day, Greek, Russian,
Latin, or English, has lost as well as gained since Serapion wrote down
his prayers in the Delta of the Nile.
THE ANAPHORA OF SERAPION
It is meet and right to praise, to hymn, to glorify thee the uncreated Father of the only-begotten Jesus Christ. We praise thee, O uncreated God, who art unsearchable, ineffable, incomprehensible to every created substance. We praise thee who art known of thy Son the only-begotten, who through him wast uttered and interpreted and made known to created nature. We praise thee who knowest the Son and revealest to the saints the glories that are about him who art known of thy begotten Word, and art brought to the sight and interpreted to the understanding of the saints. We praise thee, O invisible Father, provider of immortality. Thou art the fount of life, the fount of light, the fount of all grace and all truth, O Lover of men, 0 Lover of the poor, who reconcilest thyself to all, and drawest all to thyself through the sojourning of thy beloved Son. We beseech thee, make us living men. Give us a spirit of light, that "we may know thee the true (God) and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ." Give us the Holy Spirit that we may be able to tell forth and to relate thine unspeakable mysteries. May the Lord Jesus speak in us and the Holy Spirit, and hymn thee through us.
For thou art "far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world but also in that which is to come." Before thee stand tl1ousand thousands, and myriad myriads of angels, archangels, thrones, dominations, principalities, powers; before thee stand the two most honourable six-winged seraphim, with two wings covering the face, and with twain the feet, and with twain flying, arid crying, "Holy," with whom receive also our cry of "holy" as we say
The Sanctus.Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth, full is the heaven and the earth of thy glory.
The Eucharistical Prayer.
[Oblation.] Full is the heaven, full is also the earth of thy excellent glory, Lord of Hosts. Fill also this sacrifice with thy power and thy participation for to thee have we offered this living sacrifice, the unbloody oblation. To thee we have offered this bread the likeness of the Body of the only-begotten.
[Narrative of the Institution.] This bread is the likeness of the holy Body, for the Lord Jesus Christ in the night in which he was betrayed took bread and brake and gave to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat, this is my Body which is being broken for you for the remission of sins." Wherefore we also making the likeness of the death have offered the bread, and we beseech thee through this sacrifice be reconciled to all of us and be merciful, O God of truth and as this bread had been scattered on the top of the mountains, and, gathered together, came to be one, so also gather thy holy Church out of every nation and every country and every city and village and house, and make one living Catholic Church. We have offered also the cup, the likeness of the Blood, for the Lord Jesus Christ, taking a cup after supper, said to his own disciples, "Take, drink, this is the new covenant, which is my Blood, which is being shed for you for remission of sins." Wherefore we have also offered the cup, presenting a likeness of the Blood.
[The Epiklesis or Consecration.] O God of truth, let thy holy Word come to sojourn on this bread that the bread may become Body of the Word, and on this cup that the cup may become Blood of the Truth. And make all who communicate to receive a medicine of life for the healing of every sickness and for the enabling of all advancement and virtue, not for condemnation, O God of truth, and not for censure and reproach. For we have invoked thee, the uncreated. through the Only-begotten in the Holy Spirit.
[The intercession.] Let this people receive mercy, let it be counted worthy of advancement, let angels be sent forth as companions to the people for bringing to nought of the evil one and for establishment of the Church.
We intercede also on behalf of all who have fallen asleep, whose is also the memorial we are making. (After the recitation of the names):— Sanctify these souls ; for thou knowest all. Sanctify all souls at rest in the Lord. And number them with all thy holy hosts and give them a place and a mansion in thy kingdom.
Receive also the thanksgiving of the people, and bless those who offered the oblations and the thanksgivings, and grant health and soundness and cheerfulness and all advancement of soul and body to this whole people through the only-begotten Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit; as it was, and is, and shall be to generations of generations and to all the ages of the ages. Amen.
By the 6th century we find, both in East and West, a fixed service with imposing ceremonies, still contributed on great occasions by a number of priests and deacons who assisted the bishop in a somewhat intricate manner. The Eastern Liturgy has not materially changed since this time; and one can form a good idea of what a 6th Century Communion Service was like by attending the Liturgy at a Greek or Russian Church in England, though to find the service with all its elaboration a journey to the East is necessary.
Indeed in an Eastern Church to-day one can easily imagine what the Liturgy was like even in the 4th century; for the central part of the service, the Anaphora, from "Lift up your hearts" to the end, was much the same in 350 as in 550, and has altered little in the East since. But by the 6th century important changes were made in the earlier part of the service, which are still conspicuous in the East; the ministers entered with much pomp to the singing of the Monogenes (of which a verse translation will be found in the English Hymnal, no. 325); the Trisagion ("Holy God, Holy, mighty, Holy and immortal, have mercy", ibid., no. 737), was sung before the Lessons; the dismissal of the catechumens had disappeared. By the 6th century also had been instituted the Great Entrance, still so grand a feature of the Eastern rite, the oblations prepared before the service were (as they still are) carried in procession to the holy table, while there was (as still to-day) sung the Cherubikon or the Sigesato, ("Let all mortal flesh keep silence," ibid., no. 318). The Creed was introduced here in the 5th century; and also the reading of the Diptychs (two tables containing the names of those living and those departed to be specially prayed for) which has long disappeared from our liturgy, though indeed the practice of reading such names from a card or book is pretty universal in the Anglican Church to-day. One other feature, very conspicuous still in the East, had become customary by the 6th century — the altar was veiled during certain parts of the service. This was usually done by drawing curtains between the four pillars of the ciborium or great altar canopy [see immediately below].
We must now leave the Eastern Liturgies, which at the present day are divided into four families, the great Byzantine family including the Greek and Russian Liturgies, and three others — the West Syrian, East Syrian or Nestorian, and Egyptian or Coptic.
The Western Liturgies of to-day include the Roman, the Mozarabic, the Ambrosian (which is descended from the Gallican, and serves a million of people in the diocese and province of Milan), and the Anglican (see the "Family Tree" on p. 249).
The other great Western rite, the Gallican, was fundamentally different in being on the same lines as the Eastern rites. Some think that it was introduced into the West about the middle of the 4th century; it was certainly established in Milan before St. Ambrose became bishop there, and it rapidly spread over North Italy, Gaul, Spain, Britain, and Ireland. Others think that the Gallican and Eastern type was the original Catholic type of Liturgy, and that the Roman Liturgy was at first exceptional. In any case it seemed at one time as if the whole of Christendom, outside Rome and the adjacent territory, was destined always to use this type. But the growing attraction of the Roman Church gave another turn to the issue.
This last ceremony
became, alas, a benediction in most cases of non-communicants. During
the centuries preceding the Reformation the people, for all their devotion
to the Mass, were in the general habit of communicating only once a year,
and even specially devout lay folk did not receive the Sacrament frequently.
Had it not been for this grave evil, would that violent reaction against
the "Mass" ever have taken place in the 16th century? We have
to remember that the exaggerations of the Reformation were caused by exaggerations
in the ages preceding it. Certainly the first step in England, when the
"Order of the Communion," was inserted into the Latin service,
was to insist upon lay communion; and the succeeding Prayer Books endeavoured
to carry on the same work. Unfortunately the Mediaeval habit of communicating
only at Easter was so ingrained, that the only result of insisting that
there must be communicants when there was a Celebration, was that there
was no Celebration at all on Sunday, except on rare occasions, the Communion
being only administered three or four times a year in parish churches.
It was not till the reign of Queen Victoria that frequent Communion was
generally recovered, and the Prayer Book system thus vindicated.
We have seen in Chapter 6 that the First Prayer Book, while including the Order of the Communion, kept near to the old Latin outline, but that the Canon was much dislocated in the Second Book. The Scottish Liturgy was drawn up on more primitive and Eastern lines, and went through successive revisions in the same direction; the American Liturgy followed the Scottish example; and doubtless the English Liturgy will one day be made a model service by the recovery of those ancient liturgical principles, departure from which brought little good either to the Roman rite, or to that of Sarum, or to the Anglican children of the latter.
Below we print a table of the Gallican and Roman rites in their chief features. For the reader's convenience we have indicated by a * the parts which correspond to the present English Liturgy; while we have marked by a † parts which are still in the English service, but in a changed position; and have put ‡ by those features which in the Anglican Communion are generally supplied by hymns or anthems from one or other of the hymn-books.
In comparing the above outline with our own service, four points need special note. The Kyries: These in the English Liturgy arc made into responsive prayers to the Ten Commandments (which may be considered as an invariable Old Testament Lesson). The Litany: The Kyries of the Latin rites are a relic of the Litany once sung in the procession to the church. In our rite the Litany has regained its ancient prominence as the prelude to the Liturgy itself. The Great entrance: The decision of the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Bishop of Lincoln's Case requires the primitive custom of preparing the Elements before the service, and thus restores some form of the Great Entrance. The Intercession and Commemoration: The position of the Commemoration of departed Saints in our Church Militant prayer, though unlike that of the Roman or Sarum Liturgy (where the Commemoration is split up into two parts within the Canon), is the same as in the Gallican service, where the reading of the Diptychs followed immediately on the Offertory prayer.
We are now ready to present a condensed outline of the English [or American] Liturgy; from which it will be seen that our Communion Service to-day still consists of the same four principal parts, as in the time of St. Justin Martyr, and as in the succeeding ages.
|This outline appears in the English edition.
|This outline appears in the American edition.
|Next Chapter ->
Return to Everyman's History of the Prayer Book
|Web author: Charles Wohlers
|U. S. England Scotland Ireland Wales Canada World