Gospel reading for Friday, 30th April

John 14:1-6

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God still, and trust in me.
There are many rooms in my Father’s house;
if there were not, I should have told you.
I am going now to prepare a place for you,
and after I have gone and prepared you a place,
I shall return to take you with me;
so that where I am
you may be too.
You know the way to the place where I am going.’

Thomas said, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus said:

‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.
No one can come to the Father except through me.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2020, Allen Morris. Ely Cathedral

Gospel reading for Thursday, 29th April

Matthew 11:25-30

Jesus exclaimed, ‘I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

‘Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Yes, my yoke is easy and my burden light.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2012, Allen Morris. Statue by Bernard Meadows, The strong helping the weak. TUC, Bloomsbury, London.

Gospel reading for Wednesday, 28th April

John 12:44-50

Jesus declared publicly:

‘Whoever believes in me
believes not in me
but in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me,
sees the one who sent me.
I, the light, have come into the world,
so that whoever believes in me
need not stay in the dark any more.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them faithfully,
it is not I who shall condemn him,
since I have come not to condemn the world,
but to save the world.
He who rejects me and refuses my words has his judge already:
the word itself that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day.
For what I have spoken does not come from myself;
no, what I was to say,
what I had to speak,
was commanded by the Father who sent me,
and I know that his commands mean eternal life.
And therefore what the Father has told me
is what I speak.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2017, Allen Morris. Stained glass, St Matthew’s Church, Walsall.

Gospel reading for Tuesday, 27th April

John 10:22-30

It was the time when the feast of Dedication was being celebrated in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple walking up and down in the Portico of Solomon. The Jews gathered round him and said, ‘How much longer are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ Jesus replied:

‘I have told you, but you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name are my witness;
but you do not believe,
because you are no sheep of mine.
The sheep that belong to me listen to my voice;
I know them and they follow me.
I give them eternal life;
they will never be lost
and no one will ever steal them from me.
The Father who gave them to me is greater than anyone,
and no one can steal from the Father.
The Father and I are one.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2007, Allen Morris. View of today’s Temple Mount in Jerusalem, showing the approximate location of Portico of Solomon.

Gospel reading for Monday, 26th April

John 10:1-10

Jesus said:
‘I tell you most solemnly, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate, but gets in some other way is a thief and a brigand. The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the flock; the gatekeeper lets him in, the sheep hear his voice, one by one he calls his own sheep and leads them out. When he has brought out his flock, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow because they know his voice. They never follow a stranger but run away from him: they do not recognise the voice of strangers.’
Jesus told them this parable but they failed to understand what he meant by telling it to them.
So Jesus spoke to them again:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
I am the gate of the sheepfold.
All others who have come
are thieves and brigands;
but the sheep took no notice of them.
I am the gate.
Anyone who enters through me will be safe:
he will go freely in and out
and be sure of finding pasture.
The thief comes
only to steal and kill and destroy.
I have come
so that they may have life and have it to the full.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2014, Allen Morris. Fabric, Antalya, Turkey

Gospel reading for Sunday, 26th April

John 10:11-18

Jesus said:

‘I am the good shepherd:
the good shepherd is one who lays down his life for his sheep.
The hired man, since he is not the shepherd
and the sheep do not belong to him,
abandons the sheep and runs away
as soon as he sees a wolf coming,
and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep;
this is because he is only a hired man
and has no concern for the sheep.

‘I am the good shepherd;
I know my own
and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me
and I know the Father;
and I lay down my life for my sheep.
And there are other sheep I have
that are not of this fold,
and these I have to lead as well.
They too will listen to my voice,
and there will be only one flock,
and one shepherd.

‘The Father loves me,
because I lay down my life
in order to take it up again.
No one takes it from me;
I lay it down of my own free will,
and as it is in my power to lay it down,
so it is in my power to take it up again;
and this is the command I have been given by my Father.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2019, Allen Morris. Stained glass, Brecon Cathedral.

Origins and influences VIII: The earliest known Eucharistic prayer?

It is easy when we look at ancient texts to forget that they come from cultures very different to ours.

It is generally helpful to maintain a hermeneutic of suspicion – to strip away our presumptions, and work hard at noticing what is actually there in the text, and where there are ‘absences’, things we might expect to be there, but that the text is silent about.

This week we look at a very early Christian text, from a work known as the Didache, the ‘Teaching’. In it we find some prayers related to eucharistia, the ‘Thanksgiving’.

Different dates for the Didache are suggested – some as early as the earliest writings of the New Testament, and others well into the 2nd C AD. If it is as early as some thing it not only gives us what is possibly the first Eucharistic Prayer but also the earliest record of the Lord’s Prayer! It is a notable document.

A word of caution though. We need to ask whether Didache‘s ‘Thanksgiving’ the equivalent of our Eucharist? It is an obvious question, but scholars argue over the answer. What seems safest is to say it is an early Christian meal, and most likely one of the rituals out of which developed the (now) classical forms of the Eucharist of the Church, East and West.

The full text of the relevant extract from the Didache can be downloaded here

Didache provides prayers to be said before and following a meal.

The description begins with a prayer of thanksgiving over a cup and then a thanksgiving and intercession over what is described as ‘broken bread’. Was the bread broken before or during the meal? Before, during or after the thanksgiving and intercession? The text itself gives no indication – and other ritual traditions make any of these options possible.

Let’s look at the first prayer, concerning the cup.

We give thanks to you, our Father,
for the holy vine of David your servant,
which you have made known to us
through Jesus your servant;
glory to you for evermore.

The prayer over the cup gives thanks to God – “our Father”. Thanks is given for “the holy vine of David” made known to us (ie to the Christian community – an identification supported by words related to the bread) through Jesus. So presumably the cup is a cup of wine. And arguably what the prayer is thanking God for is the community’s being part of, or joined with, the holy vine, through Jesus, the Father’s servant.

The Greek here translated ‘servant’ is ‘pais’, which can also be translated child. Both terms are of course respectful and helpful ways of referring to Jesus. However it is most common in the Church’s earlier prayers – from a time when the Church was seeking to find the right language to speak of Jesus. It tends to suggest that the prayer uses a relatively ‘low’, early, Christology. That said – in our day when the Church continues to struggle to share the good news with the most vulnerable and is herself perceived as oppressive – it might be language we would do well to recover and make fuller use of – without compromising our fully developed and established Christology which acknowledges Jesus also as our Lord and God, and as Second person of the Holy Trinity.

If this were a typical Eucharistic Prayer from our time we would expect the cup to be blessed after the bread. However recall that Luke’s account of the ritual at Last Supper begins with a thanksgiving over a cup, and that Paul at 1 Cor 10.16-17 speaks first of a cup of blessing before he speaks of bread broken. Other early evidence also suggests that at least some Christian communities were familiar with this practice at (what is certainly) celebrations of the Eucharist.

One of the things we might expect if this were Eucharist is a explicit association of cup with Last Supper and the blood of sacrifice. But Didache does not provide us with that, nor does it when it comes to the words over the bread.

We give thanks to you, our Father,
for the life and knowledge
which you have made known to us through Jesus your servant;
glory to you for evermore.

As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains
and having been gathered together became one,
so may your church be gathered together
from the ends of the earth into your kingdom;
for yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for evermore.

Again the focus is not on Last Supper and Passion, but on the integrity of the church gathered in Christ. That focus is there in our contemporary Eucharistic Prayers too, but it is less to the fore. One of the reasons for looking back to ancient texts is to be helped to notice things we may be less attentive to in our current texts!

In the extracts from Didache that we have looked at, maybe nothing so far leaps of the page saying these are prayer for Eucharist, not just a thanksgiving at a regular meal.

But next comes the following instruction:

Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist but those who have been baptized in the name of the Lord. For concerning this also the Lord has said, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs.”

This is no ordinary meal. It is a holy meal, reserved to a people who have chosen Christ and who have been baptised into him.

The preceding chapters of Didache present the sort of moral and ethical teaching that they may have negaged with before being admitted to baptism, a teaching of the Two Ways, a teaching which interestingly does not name Jesus, though it does quote teaching of his that we are familiar with from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Again all this would seem to suggest this is an early work, maybe written before Matthew and Luke, but familiar with some of the prior traditions on which those Gospels would draw.

The prayers from Didache quote above are used before eating and drinking the food and drink of the Thanksgiving. The next rubric intorduces a concluding prayer saying

After you have had your fill, give thanks thus:

‘After you have had your fill….’ Does this indicate a substantial meal followed the prayer? Or simply a partaking of holy bread and cup?

The prayer that follows suggests it could have been either.

That prayer, the prayer after the meal, gives thanks for the holy name (not here, ‘Jesus’, but the Father’s ‘name’), and gives thanks for faith and eternal life made known in Jesus; also for creation – especially food and drink, (particularly spiritual food and drink), and prays that the Church will grow into the kingdom.

We give thanks to you, holy Father, for your holy name
which you have enshrined in our hearts,
and for the knowledge and faith and immortality
which you have made known to us
through Jesus your servant; glory to you for evermore.

You, Almighty Master,
created all things for the sake of your Name
and gave food and drink to humans for enjoyment,
that they might give thanks to you;
but to us you have granted spiritual food and drink and eternal life
through Jesus your servant.

Above all we give thanks to you because you are mighty;
glory to you for evermore. Amen.

Remember, Lord, your church, to deliver it from all evil
and to perfect it in your love,
and gather it together from the four winds, having been sanctified,
into your kingdom which you have prepared for it;
for yours is the power and the glory for evermore.
Amen.

May grace come, and this world pass away. Amen.

Hosanna to the God of David.

If anyone is holy, let him come;
if anyone is not, let him repent.

Maranatha. Amen.

This section of Didache concludes by saying

But allow the prophets to give thanks as long as they wish.

This raises the question, who prayed this prayer. Sometimes prophets, who could extemporise on the prayer. At other times who? And were they constrained to use the given text or could they too improvise, with a warning not to go on too long!? We do not know.

But the recognition that those Christians with the standing and authority of prophets were free to vary the texts suggests, and reminds, that Didache comes from a time when characteristic Christian practice was being formed.

The Church’s prayers have a never simply come out of nowhere. Often they are fashioned and refashioned by reflecting on her tradition, adapting what has been used previously and fitting it for its new purpose.

We see this in how the Synoptic Gospels present Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper. He offers fresh meaning – and in this case – imparts new reality through his adaptation of the Passover meal – what was active remembrance of God’s saving act in liberating his people from Egypt becomes sacramental anticipation of the salvation won in the Sacrifice of Calvary.

Many scholars suggest that what we see in the ‘eucharistic’ prayers of Didache is an adaptation of what was a usual form of Jewish prayer, Blessings prayed at the end of a meal. The earliest full texts we have for these Blessings date from the 9th C AD but it is possible that there were relatively little changed from the pattern of prayer familiar even in the 1st C AD.

You can download an example of the Jewish prayer below.

The Jewish prayer offers blessing to God for food; thanksgiving and blessing for the Land, Law and Life; and offers intercession and blesses God for mercy to the people Israel and on Jerusalem.

Perhaps Didache riffs on this tradition (if it was such by that time) giving thanks for food, faith, and interceding for Church – drawing from Jewish tradition but also marking out its distinctive, different faith and identity.

Some questions for reflection

  • How would you explain for the generous hospitality to all offered by Jesus at the multiplication of the loaves and fish, and the instruction to share ‘eucharistic food’ only with the baptised?
  • What are the pros and cons about extemporising prayer? Why do most established Christian traditions use approved prayer texts?
  • For what are you mindful of thanks being given at Mass in our contemporary Eucharistic Prayers?
  • Are you familiar with the practice of praying at meal times? What is its value?

A log with links to previous postings in this series is kept here.

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Didache: (c) Paul F. Bradshaw, Maxwell E Johnson. Published in The Eucharistic Liturgies. Collegeville: Pueblo Books, Liturgical Press, 2012.
  • Photographs. (c) 2013, Allen Morris, Grave marker, Arles Antique, Arles, France.
  • Text (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

Gospel reading for Saturday, 24th April

John 6:60-69

After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?

‘It is the spirit that gives life,
the flesh has nothing to offer.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit
and they are life.

‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.
Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2019, Allen Morris. Stained glass, Church of St Mary and St Nicholas, Beaumaris, Anglesey.

Gospel reading for Friday, 23rd April: St George’s Day


John 15:18-21

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If the world hates you,
remember that it hated me before you.
If you belonged to the world,
the world would love you as its own;
but because you do not belong to the world,
because my choice withdrew you from the world,
therefore the world hates you.
Remember the words I said to you: A servant is not greater than his master.
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too;
if they kept my word, they will keep yours as well.
But it will be on my account that they will do all this,
because they do not know the one who sent me.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2016, Allen Morris. St George, Lichfield Cathedral.

Gospel reading for Thursday, 22nd April


John 6:35-40

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘I am the bread of life.
He who comes to me will never be hungry;
he who believes in me will never thirst.
But, as I have told you,
you can see me and still you do not believe.
All that the Father gives me will come to me,
and whoever comes to me I shall not turn him away;
because I have come from heaven, not to do my own will,
but to do the will of the one who sent me.
Now the will of him who sent me
is that I should lose nothing of all that he has given to me,
and that I should raise it up on the last day.
Yes, it is my Father’s will
that whoever sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life,
and that I shall raise him up on the last day.’

Acknowledgements

Translation of Scriptures: The Jerusalem Bible © 1966, 1967 and 1968 by Darton, Longman  &  Todd, Ltd and Doubleday, a division of  Random House, Inc.

Photograph: (c) 2016, Allen Morris. First Communion of St Bernadette of Lourdes, Acceuil, Lourdes, France.