Origins and Influences IX: Eucharist in the 150s AD

Justin Martyr, as he is usually termed, was born c100AD in Samaria, Palestine. He converted to Christianity, probably from paganism. His surviving works are all defences of, arguments for, Christianity – and in two of them he addresses the theme of the Eucharist.

The first of them, The Dialogue with Trypho, offers a conversation between Justin and Trypho, a Jew. In conversation, Justin tries to persuade Trypho to convert to Christianity, and answers his various objections. In the dialogue Justin argues that the Eucharist is the Sacrifice pleasing to God, which is offered now by the Church in the bread and cup of thanksgiving. (cf Malachi 1.10b-12a). He argues this has replaced the sacrifices of Judaism (which, in any case, had ceased with the destruction of Jerusalem’s Temple).

The second, the First Apology, dated around 150AD, is addressed to the Emperor, Antoninus Pius, arguing against the persecution of the Church, and defending the virtue of Christianity. For our purposes it is most notable for giving us our earliest (relatively) full description of how Christians celebrated Eucharist.

In the Apology Justin actually gives us two descriptions, the first being the conclusion of a longer baptismal liturgy and the second seemingly an account of the more usual Sunday practice.

The conclusion of a Baptismal Liturgy

65.1 After we have thus baptized him who has believed and has given his assent, we take him to those who are called brethren where they are assembled, to make common prayers earnestly for ourselves and for him who has been enlightened’ and for all others everywhere, that, having learned the truth, we may be deemed worthy to be found good citizens also in our actions and guardians of the Commandments, so that we may be saved with eternal salvation.

When we have ended the prayers, we greet one another with a kiss.

Then bread and a cup of water and (a cup) of mixed wine are brought to him who presides over the brethren, and he takes them and sends up praise and glory to the Father of all in the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and gives thanks at some length that we have been deemed worthy of these things from him. When he has finished the prayers and the thanksgiving, all the people give their assent by saying “Amen.” “Amen” is the Hebrew for “So be it.”

And when the president has given thanks and all the people have assented, those whom we call deacons give to each of those present a portion of the bread and wine and water over which thanks have been given, and take them to those who are not present.

There are a number of points that are worth commenting on.

  • The common prayers would seem to be akin to the Prayer of the Faithful of Mass today. Prayers offered by the Church for the world, for herself and for particular needs.
  • The kiss -the sign of peace – here follows the common prayers, preceding the bringing of the offerings to the altar, perhaps in conscious obedience to Jesus’ words at Matthew 5.23-24: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift”
  • The elements brought to the altar may have been not only the bread and cup of wine mixed with water but also a second cup which was of water only. There is a certain ambiguity in the Latin, one cup with wine and water mixed or a cup of water and a cup of wine mixed with water. There is a plausibility with either reading, but Justin does not explain further on the significance of the two cups.
  • There is little detail given of the prayer of Thanksgiving, the Eucharistic Prayer, but Justin notes the particular significance of the congregation’s concluding and affirming Amen.
  • The Prayer is offered by the ‘President’. Justin uses the word proestos – a Greek word meaning ‘leader’ – the implication being this is a corporate work carried out by a leader with others, not a (for example, priestly) work for the congregation.
  • Deacons distribute the Eucharistic food and drink to the gathered assembly, and then take some of it to those who are not present. Again there seems to be an emphasis on the integrity of the body of the faithful – all of those present, and with those unable to be present.

Our thanksgiving/eucharistic food

This account of the Eucharist which concludes the Baptismal Liturgy is followed by a further exploration of the nature of Eucharist

66.1 And we call this food “thanksgiving“; and no one may partake of it unless he is convinced of the truth of our teaching, and has been cleansed with the washing for forgiveness of sins and regeneration, and lives as Christ handed down.

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but just as our Saviour Jesus Christ, being incarnate through the word of God, took flesh and blood for our salvation, so too we have been taught that the food over which thanks have been given by a word of prayer which is from him, (the food) from which our flesh and blood are fed by transformation, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.

For the apostles in the records composed by them which are called gospels, have handed down thus what was commanded of them: that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and said, “Do this for the remembrance of me; this is my body”; and likewise he took the cup, gave thanks, and said “This is my blood”; and gave to them alone.

And the evil demons have imitated this and handed it down to be done also in the mysteries of Mithras. For as you know or may learn, bread and a cup of water are used with certain formulas in their rites of initiation.

  • The  food and drink is named after the action, the praying over them – thanksgiving/eucharistein.
  • The eucharistic food and drink is reserved for those who have been baptised. This same care is there right from the beginning that the Eucharist is food and drink for those who have been baptised and who live as Christ handed down. We have previously observed in the Didache.
  • Justin considers the gospels to have been written by the apostles. Scholars now see the link between the apostles Matthew and John and the gospels that bear their names as less immediate. Mark and Luke of course were not apostles, although traditionally Mark and Luke were close to Peter and Paul respectively.
  • Mithraism was a religion popular in the 1st and 2nd Centuries. It had elaborate initiation rites and, as Justin notes, these included a share meal. It seems unlikely that there was direct influence of Christianity on Mithraism or vice versa.

The Sunday Liturgy

67.1 And thereafter we continually remind one another of these things. Those who have the means help all those in need; and we are always together.

And we bless the Maker of all things through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit over all that we offer.

And  on the day called Sunday an assembly is held in one place of all who live in town or country, and the records of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read as time allows.

Then, when the reader has finished, the president in a discourse admonishes and exhorts (us) to imitate these good things

Then we all stand up together and send up prayers; and as we said before, when we have finished praying, bread and wine and water are brought up, and the president likewise sends up prayers and thanksgivings to the best of his ability, and the people assent, saying the Amen; and the (elements over which) thanks have been given are distributed, and everyone partakes; and they are sent through the deacons to those who are not present.

And the wealthy who so desire give what they wish, as each chooses; and what is collected is deposited with the president.

He helps orphans and widows, and those who through sickness or any other cause are in need, and those in prison, and strangers sojourning among us; in a word, he takes care of all those who are in need.

And we all assemble together on Sunday, because it is the first day, on which God transformed darkness and matter, and made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour rose from the dead on that day; for they crucified him the day before Saturday; and the day after Saturday, which is Sunday, he appeared to his apostles and disciples, and taught them these things which we have presented to you also for your consideration.

I will not comment on all the significant elements of the passage above, only those which did not appear in the previous excerpts from Justin’s 1st Apology.

  • Justin twice observes that the community gathers on Sunday – in the opening and closing sentences of this section. The reason for Sunday gathering will be explored below, but here it suffices to note that Justin does not tell us when on Sunday the assembly gathers. Is it on Saturday evening, in Roman counting, but the beginning of Sunday, according to Jewish custom? Or is it Sunday itself, as it were? We don’t know. Neither do we know whether at this time the weekly gathering was still preceded by a shared meal as was the earlier custom, or whether there had been a separation between them, even a jettisoning of the shared meal in favour of (only) the Eucharistic rite.
  • Justin says readings from apostles or prophets are read. Does this mean sometimes readings came from the Old Testament and sometimes from the New? Or might it be both. Either way the reading seems to be determined not by set readings from a Lectionary but reading (and listening!) according to the time available.
  • The reader reads, and the presider, with the rest of the assembly listens. Then the presider gives his discourse. This same model is the norm proposed by the Roman rite today where readers, psalmist and deacon proclaim the word, and then the priest/bishop preaches.
  • In the same way that there does not seem to have been a Lectionary, neither did the President have the convenience of a Missal with composed Eucharistic Prayers – he prayed to the best of his ability. Later, perhaps in order to protect against heresy being imported, presidents were required to use given texts for the thanksgiving.
  • If we have doubt as to whether this is Mass, perhaps the reference to a collection will assuage those doubts!
  • It is perhaps surprising that what is collected (money, food? We are not told) is lodged with the president. Surprising only because one might have thought it would be given to the deacons to dstribute – but Justin only witnesses to their service of the distribution of the eucharistic food (and drink?). It is the president who is singled out as the caregiver here.
  • And finally Justin again returns to Sunday and now gives expounds on its meaning.

A familiar pattern for the Eucharist

Taken all together these descriptions of the Church’s prayer can provide the following structure pretty similar to the outline of our celebrations of Mass today,

  • Gathering of the Assembly
  • Readings
  • Homily
  • Prayer of the Faithful
  • Kiss of Peace
  • Presentation of the gifts/collection for the poor
  • Prayers and thanksgiving by the Presider
  • Distribution of the ‘eucharistized’ bread and wine

There are of course differences to what we do know, but not many. And maybe those differences challenge us about how we are and how we do things – maybe particularly the effects of doing things by the book; the direct link between our Sunday assembly and the care of those not able to be present, and of those in need.

Reflection questions

  • What most strikes you in Justin’s account of the Thanksgiving?
  • Is there anything notable absent from it?
  • What do you think are the positives and what might be the negatives of Liturgy from the Books?
  • How is ministry encouraged in your community?
  • How does the community take responsibility for the care of absent members and the needy?

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

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of First Apology taken from R.C.D Jasper and G.J Cuming, Prayers of the Eucharist Early and Reformed. 3rd revised edition. Collegeville: Pueblo Publishing, The Liturgical Press, 1990.
  • The Roman Missal (c) 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
  • Photograph (c) 2012, Allen Morris. Statue of St Justin Martyr, from church of Justin Martyr, Nablus, Palestinian Authority territory.
  • Graphic (c) Jonathan Stewart, 2007
  • Text (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

Gospel reading for Monday, 29th March

John 12:1-11

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of the scent of the ointment. Then Judas Iscariot – one of his disciples, the man who was to betray him – said, ‘Why wasn’t this ointment sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?’ He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he was in charge of the common fund and used to help himself to the contributions. So Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone; she had to keep this scent for the day of my burial. You have the poor with you always, you will not always have me.’

Meanwhile a large number of Jews heard that he was there and came not only on account of Jesus but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests decided to kill Lazarus as well, since it was on his account that many of the Jews were leaving them and believing in Jesus.

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. Detail of stained glass window. St Matthew’s Church, Walsall.

Gospel reading for Sunday, 21st March

John 12:20-33

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. These approached Philip, who came from Bethsaida in Galilee, and put this request to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew, and Andrew and Philip together went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied to them:

‘Now the hour has come
for the Son of Man to be glorified.
I tell you, most solemnly,
unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies,
it remains only a single grain;
but if it dies,
it yields a rich harvest.
Anyone who loves his life loses it;
anyone who hates his life in this world
will keep it for the eternal life.
If a man serves me, he must follow me,
wherever I am, my servant will be there too.
If anyone serves me, my Father will honour him.
Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
Father, save me from this hour?
But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name!’

A voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ People standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, ‘It was an angel speaking to him.’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.

‘Now sentence is being passed on this world;
now the prince of this world is to be overthrown.
And when I am lifted up from the earth,
I shall draw all men to myself.’

By these words he indicated the kind of death he would die.

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. Glazing, St Mary’s church, Brecon, Wales.

Gospel reading for Saturday, 20th March

John 7:40-52

Several people who had been listening to Jesus said, ‘Surely he must be the prophet’, and some said, ‘He is the Christ’, but others said, ‘Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’ So the people could not agree about him. Some would have liked to arrest him, but no one actually laid hands on him.

The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’ The police replied, ‘There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.’ ‘So’ the Pharisees answered ‘you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned.’

One of them, Nicodemus – the same man who had come to Jesus earlier – said to them, ‘But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?’ To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’

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) 2018, Allen Morris. Prophet, by Emil Nolde. Barber Institute, Birmingham.

Gospel reading for Sunday, 14th March

John 3:14-21

Jesus said to Nicodemus:

‘The Son of Man must be lifted up
as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert,
so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost
but may have eternal life.
For God sent his Son into the world
not to condemn the world,
but so that through him the world might be saved.
No one who believes in him will be condemned;
but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already,
because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son.
On these grounds is sentence pronounced:
that though the light has come into the world
men have shown they prefer darkness to the light
because their deeds were evil.
And indeed, everybody who does wrong
hates the light and avoids it,
for fear his actions should be exposed;
but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light,
so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in 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. Glazing, Our Lady, Star of the Sea, and St Winefride, Amlwch, Anglesey.

Gospel reading for Tuesday, 9th March

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

‘And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master’s feet. “Give me time” he said “and I will pay the whole sum.” And the servant’s master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt.

Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. “Pay what you owe me” he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, “Give me time and I will pay you.” But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt.

His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. “You wicked servant,” he said “I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?” And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt.

And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.’

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) 2008, Allen Morris. Detail of Misericorde, Oude Kirke, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Gospel reading for Thursday, 4th March

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said to the Pharisees: ‘There was a rich man who used to dress in purple and fine linen and feast magnificently every day. And at his gate there lay a poor man called Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

‘In his torment in Hades he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off with Lazarus in his bosom. So he cried out, “Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.” “My son,” Abraham replied “remember that during your life good things came your way, just as bad things came the way of Lazarus. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony. But that is not all: between us and you a great gulf has been fixed, to stop anyone, if he wanted to, crossing from our side to yours, and to stop any crossing from your side to ours.”

‘The rich man replied, “Father, I beg you then to send Lazarus to my father’s house, since I have five brothers, to give them warning so that they do not come to this place of torment too.” “They have Moses and the prophets,” said Abraham “let them listen to them.” “Ah no, father Abraham,” said the rich man “but if someone comes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Then Abraham said to him, “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.”’

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) 2018, Allen Morris. Parable of Lazarus and Dives, Abbaye St-Pierre, Moissac, France.

Gospel reading for Wednesday, 3rd March

Matthew 20:17-28

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, and on the way he took the Twelve to one side and said to them, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.’

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came with her sons to make a request of him, and bowed low; and he said to her, ‘What is it you want?’ She said to him, ‘Promise that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your kingdom.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus answered. ‘Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ ‘Very well,’ he said ‘you shall drink my cup, but as for seats at my right hand and my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted by my Father.’

When the other ten heard this they were indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’

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 James the Less, Victoria, London.

Origins and influences VI: Eating and drinking with Jesus

In last week’s ‘Origins and Influences’ posting we considered the New Testament accounts of Christians gatherings held in fulfilment of the Lord’s command to ‘do this in memory of me’–  gatherings for… well, what do we call it? Breaking of the bread (generally their term), or call it Eucharist or Mass (our terms and, to a greater or lesser extent, anachronistic terms)

A key term, a key verb, associated with these communal meals – used in the accounts of the Last Supper in the Gospels and in Paul is eucharistein. It is a word that means ‘giving thanks’. It is also a word that has remained in currency over 2000 years. And is used in the New Testament most broadly than in the accounts of the Last Supper.

As noted in last week’s mini-essay, eucharistein is also used in association attitudes and a life of thanksgiving more generally – key aspects of living in communion with the Lord.

It is a word also used, in Matthew and Mark’s Gospels in their account of the multiplication of the loaves for the 4000; and in John’s account of the feeding of the 5000. Though eucharistein does not appear in the synoptic gospels account of the feeding of the 5000, there are other verbal parallels which themselves echo the synoptic accounts of the Last Supper. In other words, these miraculous feedings far great, far more substantial than the feasts of which Paul complains in Corinth – these meals too need to feed into our appreciation of what it means to eat and drink in memory of Jesus.

Let’s look at the accounts of the feeding of 5000 and 4000 in Mark’s Gospel.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand
The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

Mark 6.30-44

It is interesting to note that not only is Jesus’ action with the bread described in terms which evoke what he does at the Last Supper, it is describe much more elaborately than is what he does with the fish. The bread is blessed, broken and given – the fish just divided.

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand
In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?” And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.

Mark 8.1-10

Again, the fish are just set before them, but the bread… the loaves Jesus give thanks (eucharistein) for, breaks and gives them.

This language of giving thanks, breaking and sharing anticipates the language that Mark uses to describes Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper.

This is surely not accidental. In these miraculous feedings Jesus draws on his divine power, on himself, for the benefit of others.

The disciples – by contrast – seem just want rid of the others – send them away. They want to keep what they have for themselves and for Jesus.

There is lovely little episode in Mark’s Gospel that follows on from the feeding of the 4000 that seems to me to make the point beautifully. The Pharisees miss the point, and the disciples miss the point. The Pharisees are blind to the signs that have already been given; and the disciples fail to understand the deeper truth of the sign. Jesus is the bread – the living bread as John would put it – and to be in communion with Jesus is to be fed. Every thing else is bonus…

The Pharisees Demand a Sign
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Herod
Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Mark 8. 11-21

Jesus tells us he has a reputation for one who has come ‘eating and drinking, and they say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”’ . (Mt 11.19).

And yet believers see that in his eating and drinking with sinners he manifests the love and mercy of God in a way that is sometimes obscured by our disciplines of inclusion and exclusion, not least those surrounding eating and drinking, be that in our homes, and even – at least sometimes – in our religious rituals.

When we ourselves come to eat and drink with the Lord, or – in truth even more truly when we come to eat and to drink the very Lord himself in the Eucharistic food and drink – we do well to call these other transgressive meals to mind.

When we come to the Eucharist we say that we are not worthy to be there – we group ourselves with tax-collectors and sinners. Do we mean it? Do we? And do we truly ask the Lord to speak his healing word.

Lord, I am not worthy
that you should enter under my roof,
but only say the word
and my soul shall be healed.


Order of Mass 132

The priest at Mass is given additional words to use in his prayers before Communion and as he receives Communion. They underline our very real need for what Christ offers in communion

The Priest, with hands joined, says quietly:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God,
who, by the will of the Father
and the work of the Holy Spirit,
through your Death gave life to the world,
free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood,
from all my sins and from every evil;
keep me always faithful to your commandments,
and never let me be parted from you.

Or:
May the receiving of your Body and Blood,
Lord Jesus Christ,
not bring me to judgement and condemnation,
but through your loving mercy
be for me protection in mind and body
and a healing remedy.

(As he receives Holy Communion) the Priest, facing the altar, says quietly:
May the Body of Christ
keep me safe for eternal life.

And he reverently consumes the Body of Christ.

Then he takes the chalice and says quietly:
May the Blood of Christ
keep me safe for eternal life.

And he reverently consumes the Blood of Christ.

The Order of Mass 131, 133.   

The priest prays ‘keep me always faithful …and never let me be parted from you.’

In other words he prays that as he leaves the altar, as he leaves the assembly of the faithful and with them returns to ‘the world’ he might continue to live in communion with Christ. He prays that he will be at one with Christ’s life of thanksgiving to the Father.

He prays that he himself (with the rest of the Church) will live as an effective sign of communion with Christ that Christ himself extends to all peoples – with those others with whom we might easily eat and drink – but especially with those others that, left to ourselves, we might shrink from spending quality time with…

Reflection questions

  • How does Eucharist challenge the status quo?
  • Does Mass in your Christian community challenge the status quo?
  • What connects sharing in the Eucharistic food and drink with other meals in your daily life?
  • How does Eucharist feed the hungry? Where does it fail to meet their needs?

Acknowledgements

  • Translation of Scripture: English Standard Version (c) 2001-9, Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • The Roman Missal (c) 2010, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation. All rights reserved.
  • Photographs. (c) 2013, Allen Morris, Two images from paleo-Christian sarcophagii, Musee Departemental Arles Antique, Arles, France.
  • Text (c) 2021, Allen Morris.

Gospel reading for Monday, 22nd February

Matthew 16:13-19

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’

‘But you,’ he said ‘who do you say I am?’

Then Simon Peter spoke up, ‘You are the Christ,’ he said ‘the Son of the living God.’

Jesus replied, ‘Simon son of Jonah, you are a happy man! Because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So I now say to you: You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.’

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) 2018, Allen Morris. St Pierre, Musee des Augustins, Toulouse.