Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Earliest Preface

Following the work of H. Lietzmann, Hermann Sasse in his This Is My Body: Luther's Contention for the Real Presence in the Sacrament of the Altar, p. 324 n.60, cf. 299, 360-61, finds the traces of the earliest liturgy in the closings of several New Testament books. In 1 Cor. 16:20-24, we find: "Greet one another with a holy kiss. . . If anyone love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema [cursed]. Marana tha ["Our Lord, come!" in Aramaic]. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you."

These phrases correspond closely to the transition from the Service of the Word in which the apostolic preaching is the focus, to the Service of the Eucharist, in which Holy Communion is the focus. (This transition is called the preface in later liturgies.) Four elements are present: the kiss of peace, the anathema, the invocation of Christ, and the salutation. These four elements are found commonly in the conclusions of Paul's letters, Peter's first letter, in Revelation, and in the old Didache, a pre-Nicene document of uncertain date. They thus place the body of the letter or book as something read as the sermon, to be followed by the Eucharist.

UPDATE: Although one may assume that the anathema was said only after the catechumens had departed, the two have no direct connection (as Chris Jones rightly noted, in criticism of an earlier draft of this post). The Didache and the version in Romans indicate the anathema was primarily used to ward off schismatics or heretics. Didache 14 says that before the Eucharist one must genuinely reconcile with all the fellow offerers, citing Mat. 5:23, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."

I will here organize the various examples of this ancient liturgy under these four headings:

Kiss of Peace
Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss (1 Thes. 5:26)/Greet ye one another with an holy kiss (1 Cor. 16:20, 2 Cor. 13:12)/Salute one another with an holy kiss (Rom. 16:16)/Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity (1 Peter 5:14).

The Anathema
If anyone love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema (1 Cor. 16:22)/Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them (Rom. 16:17; a paraphrase of the liturgical phrasing)/If any man be holy, let him come! If any man be not, let him repent! (Didache 10:6)*

The Invocation of Christ**
Marana tha! (Aramaic for "Our Lord, come!"; 1 Cor. 16:22; Didache10:6)/Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20)

The Salutation
Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit (Gal. 6:18; Phil. 25)/The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all (1 Thes. 5:28; 2 Thes. 3:18; 1 Cor. 16:23; Romans 16:20, 24; Phil. 4:23/Rev. 22:21)/The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all (2 Cor. 13:14)/Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity (note the implicit anathema; Eph. 6:24)/Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus (1 Peter 5:14)

After these four elements would follow some sort of prayer of thanksgiving and consecration and quite possibly the Sanctus as well ("Holy, holy, holy . . .," pp. 362-63), and then the breaking of the bread and the distribution of the bread and the wine. This appears to be about the earliest stratum of liturgy that can be reconstructed in even the most speculative way.

*Note that the occurence of the phrase here, at the end of section 9-10 confirms Dix's opinion that the "Eucharist/thanksgiving" given earlier in those two sections is not the true Eucharist of section 14, but an agape or fellowship meal, held together with the sermon or talk.

**Sasse also relates this to a late Mozarabitic (local Spanish) liturgy which has the following invocation: "Be present, be present [or come, come], among us, Jesus, good High Priest as Thou wast among they disciples" and then goes on to consecration.

Originally posted at Here We Stand