Origins and Influences XI: Prayers from the ‘Apostolic Tradition’

In this week’s blog we take a look at some of the prayer texts offered in the Church Order commonly known as the Apostolic Tradition, (hereafter ApTrad.)

Although ApTrad does offer particular texts for us, it also notes, notably of the Eucharistic Prayer given below, that use of these specific words in not necessary. Like Justin Martyr in his account of Eucharist the author of ApTrad was quite open to the idea that Thanksgiving should be ‘improvised’ by the Bishop.

The bishop shall give thanks according to what we said above. It is not at all necessary for him to utter the same words that we said above, as though reciting them from memory, when giving thanks to God; but let each pray according to his ability. If indeed he is able to pray sufficiently and with a solemn prayer, it is good. But if anyone who prays, recites a prayer according to a fixed form, do not prevent him. Only, he must pray what is sound and orthodox. (ApTrad Chapter 9)

(ApTrad Chapter 9)

If ApTrad is a work of Hippolytus of Rome (a matter discussed in a previous blog) it is possible that he did in fact favour, even by this work promote, the use of a fixed text as a way of protecting the integrity of the Liturgy against those bishops who held to a less rigorous (orthodox) theology or discipline, ( such as he detected in Rome’s bishops at that time.)

Be that as it may, ApTrad offers us texts, and it is to those we now turn.

 

CHAPTER 4: THE EUCHARIST

And when he has been made bishop, all shall offer the kiss of peace, greeting him because he has been made worthy.

Then the deacons shall present the offering to him; and he, laying his hands on it with all the presbytery, shall say, giving thanks:

The Lord be with you.

And all shall say:

And with your spirit.

Up with your hearts.

We have (them) with the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord.

It is fitting and right.

And then he shall continue thus:

We render thanks to you, O God, through your beloved child Jesus Christ, whom in the last times you sent to us as a saviour and redeemer and angel of your will; who is your inseparable Word, through whom you made all things, and in whom you were well pleased. You sent him from heaven into a virgin’s womb; and conceived in the womb, he was made flesh and was manifested as your Son, being born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin. Fulfilling your will and gaining for you a holy people, he stretched out his hands when he should suffer, that he might release from suffering those who have believed in you.

  • The Greek word lying behind ‘child’ (paidos) can be translated as child or as servant. It is used of Jesus also in the Didache.
  • Jesus is described as an angel. The word is likely used here not to suggest that Jesus is a created being, as are the angels, but that he was a messenger and servant to the will of God the Father, and in this respect Jesus is like the angels.
  • The use of ‘child’ and ‘angel’ to describe Jesus would later be judged inadequate because of the way such terms could be exploited during the Arian controversy by those who denied the full divinity of the Word and of Jesus. Their use here suggests an early date for this prayer.

And when he was betrayed to voluntary suffering that he might destroy death, and break the bonds of the devil, and tread down hell, and shine upon the righteous, and fix a term, and manifest the resurrection, he took bread and gave thanks to you, saying, “Take, eat; this is my body, which shall be broken for you.” Likewise also the cup, saying, “This is my blood, which is shed for you; when you do this, you make my remembrance.”

Remembering therefore his death and resurrection, we offer to you the bread and the cup, giving you thanks because you have held us worthy to stand before you and minister to you.

And we ask that you would send your Holy Spirit upon the offering of your holy Church; that, gathering her into one, you would grant to all who receive the holy things (to receive) for the fullness of the Holy Spirit for the strengthening of faith in truth; that we may praise and glorify you through your child Jesus Christ; through whom be glory and honour to you, to the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit, in your holy Church, both now and to the ages of ages. Amen.

  • child – see above
  • to the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit A certain hesitancy may be detected here in the wording of the Doxology, namely how to speak of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father and the Son. It is possible that this prayer dates from as early as the 2nd Century, predating the Arian Controversy about what it meant to say Son of God, and to the subsequent consideration about the Holy Spirit which by the late 4th Century to the more settled understanding of how to speak of the Triune God.

ApTrad continues offering guidance for the blessing of other items that may have been offered. ApTrad is not explicit as to when this blessing takes place but the early Roman Sacramentaries reveal that in the Roman Rite such blessings would take place within the Eucharistic Prayer, immediately before the Per quem (Doxology).

CHAPTER 5: THE BLESSING OF OIL

If anyone offers oil, (the bishop) shall render thanks in the same way as for the offering of bread and wine, not saying (it) word for word, but to similar effect, saying:

0 God, sanctifier of this oil, as you give health to those who use and receive (that) with which you anointed kings, priests, and prophets, so may it give strength to all those who taste it and health to all who use it.

CHAPTER 6: THE BLESSING OF CHEESE AND OLIVES

Likewise, if anyone offers cheese and olives, he shall say thus:

Sanctify this milk which has been coagulated, coagulating us also to your love.

Make this fruit of the olive not to depart from your sweetness, which is an example of your richness which you have poured from the tree of life to those who hope in you.

But in every blessing shall be said:

To you be glory, both to the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit, in the holy Church, both now and always and to all the ages of ages. (Amen.)

The blessings do not feature in the current edition of the Roman Missal and such blessings would surely seem strange indeed to most Catholics today. Yet it should be noted that in the current Roman Rite, and in accord with traditional practice, on Maundy Thursday at the Chrism Mass the Blessing of the Oil of the Sick takes place within the Eucharistic Prayer. However it seems that at least in England and Wales the blessing this Oil together with the Oil of Catechumens and the consecration of the Oil of Chrism most commonly takes place after the Liturgy of the Word.

ApTrad still later offers an account of the Eucharist celebrated to conclude the celebration of Baptism.

This notable for a number of reasons. Firstly it includes mention of another blessing (presumably during the Eucharistic Prayer – this time of milk and honey (for which, again, a comparable text exists in an early Roman Sacramentary, the Veronese, where a Pentecost blessing is provided for as part of the Eucharistic Prayer for the blessing of water, milk and honey.) Secondly for the rather lovely phrase used when ministering the Eucharistic bread.

THE BAPTISMAL EUCHARIST

And then the offering shall be brought up by the deacons to the bishop: and he shall give thanks over the bread for the representation, which the Greeks call “antitype,” of the body of Christ; and after the cup mixed with wine for the antitype, which the Greeks call “likeness”, of the blood which was shed for all who believed in him; (and) over milk and honey mixed together in fulfilment of the promise which was made to the Fathers, in which he said, “a land flowing with milk and honey”; in which also Christ gave his flesh, through which those who believe are nourished like little children, making the bitterness of the heart sweet by the gentleness of his word; and over water, as an offering to signify the washing, that the inner man also, which is the soul, may receive the same thing as the body. And the bishop shall give a reason for all these things to those who receive.

And when he breaks the bread, in distributing fragments to each, he shall say:

The bread of heaven in Christ Jesus.

And he who receives shall answer: Amen.

And if there are not enough presbyters, the deacons also shall hold the cups, and stand by in good order and reverence: first, he who holds the water; second, the milk; third, the wine. And they who receive shall taste of each thrice, he who gives it saying:  In God the Father almighty. And he who receives shall say: Amen.

  • saying:  In God the Father almighty. And he who receives shall say: Amen.  Another manuscript tradition offers a different version of this ritual: He who gives it saying thrice. In God the Father almighty. And he who receives shall say: Amen.  And in the Lord Jesus Christ. (And he shall say: Amen.) And in the Holy Spirit and the holy Church. And he shall say: Amen. So shall it be done with each one.

ApTrad provides us with an insight into early Christian liturgy – whether it is describing the liturgy of Rome (or some version of it) or liturgy as celebrated in Egypt or Syria. As noted last week ApTrad is of particular interest to us today because of the way in which its Eucharistic Prayer has been adapted and incorporated into a broad swathe of contemporary liturgical rites.

Next week we will look in some detail at how the Prayer was adapted when it was incorporated into the modern Roman Rite.

  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
  • Translation of text of ‘Apostolic Tradition’ is taken from Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed. RCD Jasper and GJ Cuming. 3rd revised Edition, Pueblo Books, Liturgical Press, 2010.
  • Photograph(c) 2016, Allen Morris, Fragment of carving, Vatican Museum.
  • Commentary (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

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