Friday, 6 March 2009

Liturgy in the Early Church

There are four New Testament accounts or narratives of the Last Supper: Matthew 26: 20-29; Mark 14: 17-25; Luke 22: 14-20; and I Corinthians 11: 23-26

Patrick Comerford

Introduction:

Worship begins in heaven. In the Bible, there are numerous images of the drama of heavenly adoration before the throne of God, and this heavenly worship provides the foundation for worship in the Old Testament, where worship on earth is to reflect worship in heaven.

Isaiah writes of being caught up to heaven, where he experiences celestial worship, where the seraphim praising are God, singing: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6: 3). One of the seraphim flies to him with a coal taken from the altar, and touches his mouth, taking away his sin. The Early Fathers understood this as being a type, or model, of the Eucharist.

The Prophet Daniel describes a vision of being before the throne of the Ancient of Days, where he is served and ministered to (Daniel 7: 9-14).

The summary New Testament passage on heavenly worship is Hebrews 8:1-6, where Christ is portrayed as the High Priest, seated at the right hand of God. Hebrews 8: 2 describes this High Priest as the Liturgist (λειτουργος, leitourgos) of the sanctuary. Jesus Christ himself is the Liturgist, and this liturgy takes place in the “sanctuary of the true tabernacle” in Heaven before the throne of God. The passage then goes on to say that the worship on earth is patterned after that in heaven; this worship is the “more excellent liturgy” which Christ has obtained because he is the mediator of “a better covenant” (Hebrews 8: 4-6).

The implication of this passage is that liturgical worship is not optional; rather, it is normative for Christians.

In Revelation 4 and 5, John the Divine is caught up to heaven, where he has a vision of worship before the throne of God. He writes of the 24 elders before the throne bowing down before the Lord, and the angelic creatures are praising God saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come” (4: 8). Tens of thousands of angels are worshiping the Lamb who was slain (5:11-12), and “every created thing which is in the heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and on the sea, and all things that are in them” are worshiping the Lamb (5:13).

What descriptions of heavenly liturgy!

Early Christian worship and Judaism:

The early disciples prayed as Jews, worshipped as Jews, and their worship was liturgical – because Jewish worship was liturgical. The New Testament records numerous instances of liturgical worship, from pure Jewish practices – such as Peter and John going to the Temple because it was the hour of prayer – to Christian liturgical worship. The early Christians met and worshipped following Jewish liturgical practices, to which they added the rite of the Eucharist.

Scholars differ about the influence of Judaism on the development of Christian worship. For example, Paul Bradshaw is content to remain agnostic about many of the roots of Christian worship, and says they only become notable for the first time in the following centuries. On the other hand, W.H.C. Frend argues that Jewish communities provide interesting examples of the life and the organisation of early Christianity, and that the Eucharist has some precursors in Jewish patterns of assembling.

A key pattern of assembling in early Jewish Christianity is around meals. Key passages – including Acts 12: 12; Acts 18: 18 ff; I Corinthians 1: 11; and I Corinthians 16: 19 – suggest that these gatherings took place in houses.

The early New Testament Christians continued Jewish worship practices, even as they added some uniquely Christian components. Although the most central new component was the Eucharist, in the early Church this was celebrated as a separate service for many years.

The Old Testament basis for Christian Worship

Jewish history is full of interaction with God reveals specific instructions on worship and on the offerings and sacrifices, patterned after worship in heaven. [See Exodus 12 and 13, 25 to 31; Isaiah 6; Daniel 7; Revelation 4 and 5 …]

1, The worship of God in the Temple in Jerusalem was the first and most prominent focus of Jewish worship, which included the form and frequency of prayer and sacrifice.

2, The second focus of worship in Judaism is in the constant cycle of prayers, blessings and meals: daily, weekly, monthly and annually. In its most regular form, this focus of Jewish worship included the daily hours of prayers and the annual high feast days.

The high feast days included the sacrificial offerings of the Temple and contained Jewish messianic expectation.

The meals included the “breaking of bread” and the “blessing of the cup,” and contained parallels with both the Temple sacrifice and the messianic feast.

Even before Christ, worship in the synagogue “had its necessary complement in the ritual of the meals: the family meal, and better still at least at the time of Christ, the meals of those communities of the faithful brought together by a common messianic expectation ...” [Louis Bouyer, Liturgy and Architecture, p. 232.]

There was a “meal liturgy” for the prayers of the meals. In principle, they were required for every meal. However, it took on the greatest importance in family meals and especially the meals of the Holy Days. The entire structure of the Last Supper in Saint Luke’s Gospel mirrors the meal liturgy practiced within Judaism at that time. [Bouyer, Eucharist, p. 78.]

These meal prayers and their structure contributed directly to the formation of the early Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

3, The third and later focus of Jewish worship was the synagogue. For the average Israelite, the Temple was a place of worship only on certain days of the year, and a place of sacrifice. Because worship in the Temple was impossible during the Babylonian exile, a new form of worship developed that was focused and patterned on Temple worship, but without the sacrifices and with a strong element of teaching and remembering.

New Testament narratives of the Last Supper:

We have four New Testament accounts or narratives of the Last Supper, and scholars differ over which is the earlier account: Matthew 26: 20-29; Mark 14: 17-25; Luke 22: 14-20; and I Corinthians 11: 23-26.

Of course, that we have no institution narrative in Saint John’s Gospel.

Within these four narratives of the Last Supper, we find not one Synoptic tradition, but two traditions.

1, The first tradition is represented by the more Semitic style presented in the texts from Mark and Matthew, and is thought to stem from Jerusalem.

2, Luke and Paul represent the second tradition, which is a more Hellenistic form that might be traced to Antioch.

Worship in the Early Church

The early believers in Christ continued in their inherited Jewish traditions, worshiping as before in both the Temple and the synagogue. To this they added distinctly Christian components, including Baptism, the Eucharist, the Agape meal, and others, and they gave the old Jewish worship practices new meaning and content.

The Temple hours of prayer and the practice of synagogue worship were kept, with Christians in Jerusalem attending the Temple for daily prayers, and on Saturday they attended either the Temple or the synagogue. But these patterns of worship were not centred in Christ.

The typical pattern for the early Christians may have been synagogue worship on the Sabbath, followed by gathering for the Lord’s Supper on the “next day.” As the Acts of the Apostles recalls: “On the first day of the week when we met to break bread …” (Acts 20: 7, NRSV). However, despite the NRSV translation, the Greek says “on the evening of the Sabbath.”

Some scholars argue that the Agape (love feast or fellowship meal) and the Lord’s Supper were too different events. Others say that in the early Church the Lord’s Supper was celebrated at the end of the Agape. Paul berates the Corinthians for being selfish, causing some to go hungry, and for drunkenness at the meal which became so pervasive that it even prevented the Eucharist from being celebrated (I Corinthians 11: 20-21).

As the mission of the early Church brought Gentiles into the Church, Christians soon found they were no longer able to gather in the synagogue, and they were not welcome in the Temple (see Acts 21, where Paul is mobbed within the Temple grounds). Exclusion from the Temple and the synagogue and active persecutions forced the early Christians to think about new worship practices.

Early Christian worship

Synagogue worship consisted of a litany of prayers, a confession, eulogies, readings from the Scriptures, an address or homily, and a benediction. This form constituted the core of what became specifically Christian worship. Archaeological evidence for this is found in the earliest Syrian churches, and there is textual evidence in Early Church writings such as the Didache and the Apostolic Constitutions, and in the continuous practice of the Nestorian Church.

We know early churches faced east, signifying that Christians looked to the heavenly Jerusalem from which the Messiah will come, and know themselves to be the “temple of the Holy Spirit.” At the same time, the east is also the place of the rising sun, and for early Christians this was “the only fitting symbol of the last appearance of Christ in his parousia, as the Sun of Justice in Zechariah.” [Bouyer, Eucharist, p. 28.]

Tertullian speaks of public and private prayer facing the east as an Apostolic tradition. Facing east expressed the eschatological expectation that Christ will appear as the Rising Sun that will never set.

To the core synagogue structure of worship – commonly referred to as the synaxis or the Liturgy of the Word – was added the Eucharist, the fulfilled Temple worship. This was inserted prior to the benediction and included the use of sung or chanted Psalms – the Apostle Paul encourages the use of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5: 19; Colossians 3: 16).

Paul’s approach in any new city was to worship first in the synagogue, using it as a base to proclaim the Gospel. The Gentile churches which came about as a result of his mission would have had this same Jewish rule of prayer, or order of worship. The similarity to the synagogue ritual within the 1st century Church demonstrates an early acceptance of Jewish worship origins. [Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, p. 154.]

In his History of the Church, Eusebius (4th century) quotes Philo (1st century), the Jewish historian, who described the Christian “all-night vigils of the great festival, the spiritual discipline in which they are spent, the hymns that we always recite, and how while one man sings in regular rhythm the others listen silently and join in the refrains of the hymn” [Eusebius, The History of The Church 18: 1].

By the end of the 1st century, the Church had spread throughout much of the Empire, with churches in most major cities and many smaller ones. The typical worship of the 1st and 2nd centuries was simple, because a persecuted Church tended to hold its services in secret, usually in the homes of members.

Alexander Schmemann says the liturgical form was commonly “the bishop, surrounded by presbyters [elders] facing the assembly, the Supper Table, on which the deacons placed the gifts [bread and wine] which were being offered, preaching, prayer, the anaphora [prayer before Communion] and the distribution of the Holy Gifts.” [Schmemann, op. cit., p. 119.]

Focus on the Eucharist

By the 2nd century, the Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist) began to be separated from the Agape meal. Was this because of problems such as those in Corinth? Or was it because of the growing Gentile expansion in the Church without a Jewish perspective? Scholars differ, but in any case, by the 2nd century the Eucharist was celebrated without the Agape meal.

The word Eucharist means thanksgiving or the giving of thanks (see Luke 22: 16). The Church belief was that the Eucharist was not only or merely a memorial experience of the Lord; it was an experience of the grace of God in the Holy Spirit. For Ignatius, this transformation centres around the altar, from which the believer receives the bread of life; the consecrated elements become the life-giving mysteries. [Rordorf, The Eucharist of the Early Christians, p. 61.]

This was certainly the belief of Justin Martyr (ca AD 150), who said: “For we do not receive these things as though they were ordinary food and drink ... the food over which the thanksgiving has been spoken becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus in order to nourish and transform our flesh and blood.” Justin Martyr called this food Eucharist, thanksgiving or blessing, just as he called baptismal washing “enlightenment.” For him, this was a real and powerful act of God. [Rordorf, The Eucharist of the Early Christians, p. 75.]

Ignatius of Antioch (died 107 AD) “thought of the Church as a Eucharistic society which only realised its true nature when it celebrated the Supper of the Lord, receiving His Body and Blood in the Sacrament.” [Ignatius, quoted in Ware, The Orthodox Church, p. 21.]

Gregory Dix, in his classic treatise on the development of liturgical worship, says that in the earliest accounts of the Eucharist, the Church places the words of institution central in the Eucharistic Prayer. He goes on to point out that it used formulas which were in keeping with those of John’s Gospel, “that bread which cometh down from heaven and giveth life unto the world, he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.” [Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 137.] He then quotes Ignatius who had described the Eucharistic bread as “a remedy bestowing immortality, an antidote preventing death and giving life in Jesus Christ.”

Worship and belief

This belief of the early Church can also be seen in how they worshiped. The early Christian Church was a “Christological Synagogue.” For the majority of the service, the bishop was seated on the bema or stood on it. In the Syrian Church, the ark had become the place where the Gospel Book was “enthroned,” and this may have been so throughout the early Church.

The Word was taken from the ark and proclaimed from the bema. Upon the completion of the prayers and the Scripture readings, the clergy would take the bread and wine and proceed to the East for the Eucharistic meal. The vital nature of the early Christian worship is expressed in this procession towards the East. Bouyer says: “Therefore the whole assembly, far from being a static mass of spectators, remains an organic gathering of worshipers, first centred on the Ark, for hearing and meditating upon the Scriptures, and finally going toward the East all together for the Eucharistic prayer and the final communion.” [Bouyer, Eucharist, p. 35.]

The Early Church, Early Christians and the Eucharist

But let us look at the Early Church, Early Christians, and the Eucharist in their writings.

For the first Christians, the Eucharist was never viewed in isolation; it was always linked to the entire mystery of the faith, and represented a synthesis of it. When an essential aspect of the faith was called into question, then the Eucharist served as the reference point to show whether or not they were on the right track.

Clement of Rome (80 AD), in To the Corinthians 36: 1, refers to the Eucharist as the “offering of the gift.”

In To the Corinthians, 40, Clement writes:

“He [Christ] commanded us to celebrate sacrifices and services, and that it should not be thoughtlessly or disorderly, but at fixed times and hours. He has himself fixed by his supreme will the places and persons whom he desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to his good pleasure, and be acceptable to his will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed seasons are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the master and do not sin. For to the high priest his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests the proper place has been appointed, and on Levites their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity.”

The Didache (ca 90 AD):

The Didache (Διδαχὴ, “Teaching”) is the common name of a brief early Christian treatise (ca 50–160) containing instructions for Christian communities. While the manuscript is commonly referred to as the Didache, this is short for the title used by the Church Fathers, “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (Διδαχὴ τῶν δώδεκα ἀποστόλων).

Some Church Fathers considered it as part of the New Testament but it others rejected it as spurious, and eventually it was excluded from the New Testament canon.

In Chapter 9, the Didache quotes prayers that might correspond with what we might call Consecration and Communion. But there is no reference to the redemptive death of Christ as formulated by Paul. The mention of the chalice before the bread (which is the opposite of the normally accepted tradition) is found in Luke 22: 17-19, in the “Western” text (which omits verse 20).

But this text also parallels what may have been the Jewish blessing of wine and bread at the time and with which the prayers in chapter 9 have a close affinity.

Chapter 10 gives a slightly longer thanksgiving after Communion, which mentions the “spiritual food and drink and eternal life through your child Jesus.” After a doxology come the apocalyptic exclamations: “May grace come, and may this world pass away. Hosanna to the God (Son) of David! If any one is holy, let him come; if any is not so, let him repent. Maraa tha. Amen.”

The prayer is reminiscent of the Hosanna and Sanctus of the liturgies, but also of Revelation 22: 17, 20, and I Corinthians 16: 22.

The words in thanksgiving for the chalice are echoed by Clement of Alexandria [Quis Dives Salvetur? 29]: “It is he [Christ] who has poured out the wine, the Blood of the Vine of David, upon our wounded souls”. And they are echoed by Origen, In iJudic., Hom. vi: “Before we are inebriated with the blood of the true vine which ascends from the root of David.”

The breaking of bread and Thanksgiving [Eucharist] is on Sunday, “after you have confessed your transgressions, that your Sacrifice may be pure,” and those who are at discord must agree, for this is the clean oblation prophesied in Malachi (1: 11, 14). “Ordain therefore for yourselves bishops and deacons, worthy of the Lord … for they also minister to you the ministry of the prophets and teachers.”

Ignatius of Antioch (ca 35-ca 98/117)

Saint Ignatius of Antioch ... referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist

Ignatius (ca 35-ca 98/117), who succeeded Peter and Evodius ca 68 as the third Bishop or Patriarch of Antioch, may have been a disciple of the Apostle John. He is one of the Apostolic Fathers, the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers, and it is argued that his understanding of the nature of the Church and the Eucharist was close to the Apostles and the Apostolic Church. Ignatius, who died as a martyr in Rome, wrote six letters to the churches in the region and one to a fellow bishop, Polycarp of Smyrna.

He referred to the Church as a “Eucharistic community” which realises its true nature when it celebrates the Eucharist, and defined the Church as the local community gathered around its bishop, celebrating the Eucharist:

“Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptise or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8.

Ignatius, therefore, is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyalty to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. He also stressed the value of the Eucharist, calling it “a medicine to immortality.” He is also claimed as the first known Christian writer to argue in favour of replacing the Saturday Sabbath with the Lord’s Day, and he is responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning “universal,” to describe the church.

Ignatius is also the first of the Church Fathers to speak about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist:

“Let no man be deceived. Even the heavenly beings and the glory of the angels and the rulers visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ [who is God], judgment awaiteth them also. He that receiveth let him receive. Let not office puff up any man; for faith and love are all in all, and nothing is preferred before them. But mark ye those who hold strange doctrine touching the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us … They have no care for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the afflicted, none for the prisoner, none for the hungry or thirsty. They abstain from Eucharist and prayer, because they allow not that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of his goodness raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.” – Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6.

Ignatius expresses this again in his Epistle to the Romans, ca 110 AD:

“I desire the Bread of God, the heavenly Bread, the Bread of Life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; I wish the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.” – Epistle to the Romans, 7.

And he links this with his ecclesiology in his Epistle to the Philadephians, ca 110 AD: “Be ye careful therefore to observe one Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup unto union in his blood; there is one altar, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow-servants), that whatsoever ye do, ye may do it after God.” – Epistle to the Philadelphians, 4, 1.

Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130-202):

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons ... appealed to the Eucharist to sustain faith in the resurrection of the body

Later in the 2nd century, Irenaeus of Lyons (ca 130–202) was Bishop of Lugdunum, Gaul (now Lyons, France). His writings were formative in the early development of theology, and he is one of the Fathers of the Church. A disciple of Polycarp, who himself was a disciple of John the Evangelist, Irenaeus is thought to have been a Greek from Polycarp’s hometown of Smyrna (Izmir) in Asia Minor, where he was raised in a Christian family.

Irenaeus, who was rigid in his adherence to orthodoxy, was an important figure defending the place of the four main Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the New Testament.

Irenaeus said: “Our way of thinking accords with the Eucharist and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.” Confronted with Gnostic teachings that disparaged the visible world, Irenaeus saw in the Eucharist a confirmation of the goodness of creation. How can we call that goodness into doubt since, as Irenaeus writes, “Jesus took the bread, which comes from creation, gave thanks and said: This is my body. And similarly the cup, which comes from the creation of which we are part, he declared his blood …” (Against Heretics, 4, 17, 5).

However – as with Justin Martyr – there is no context for the sayings, either to the impending passion or to the Last Supper, not is there any reference to breaking the bread, and he does not quote the command to repeat the actions.

For Irenaeus, the Eucharist expresses the nobility of the material world. Irenaeus appealed to the Eucharist to sustain faith in the resurrection of the body. He wrote: “How can they claim that flesh is unable to receive the gift of God consisting in eternal life, when it is nourished by the blood and the body of Christ?” (see Against Heretics 4, 18, 4).

Through the Eucharist, the life of the risen Lord not only touches our mind; it does not only enter our ears like an idea. That food truly enters our bodies. Irenaeus emphasises that Christians proclaim “in harmonious fashion the communion and union of flesh and Spirit. For just as the bread which comes from the earth, after having received the invocation of God, is no longer ordinary bread, but the Eucharist, composed of two things, one earthly and the other heavenly, in the same way our bodies, which take part in the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, because they have the hope of the resurrection” (Irenaeus, Against Heretics, 4, 18, 5). Taking part in the Eucharist thus becomes a way of proclaiming that the world has a meaning. Believers discern in it the vocation of all creation which is not destined to die, but to be transformed, for the Eucharist sings the victory of life. It is indeed necessary to pass through death; that is where the transformation takes place.

Justin Martyr (100-165)

Justin Martyr (100-165) was an early Christian apologist, and his works represent the earliest surviving Christian apologies of notable size. He was born in Flavia Neapolis (modern Nablus) in Palestine, and, according to tradition, he was martyred in Rome under Marcus Aurelius (ca 162-168).

The most important of all early allusions to Christian worship is the locus classicus of Justin Martyr in his First Apology. [Cresswell, The Liturgy … of ‘The Apostolic Constitutions,’ p. 18.] The First Apology was written ca 151 to the Emperor Antoninus Pius to explain the practices and beliefs of Christians and to prove the injustice of the persecution of Christians. He defends Christianity as the only rational creed, and includes an account of the Eucharist, probably to counteract distorted accounts from anti-Christian sources. Chapters 61-67 give accounts of Baptism, Eucharist, and Sunday worship.

Justin emphasises the requirements of baptism and the need to approach the Eucharist prayerfully and with a pure heart. In the Eucharist he shows his devotion by offering bread and wine and by prayer, receiving in return the food consecrated by a formula of Christ’s institution, which is the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus, and by which our flesh and blood are nourished through a kind of transformation (kata metabolen).

In Chapter 67, Justin directly refers to the Eucharistic prayer of “considerable length” and to the active participation of the community. He points out that the Apostles handed down the teaching of Christ’s words at the Last Supper. The Eucharistic celebration is described by Justin in Chapters 65-67:

“And this food is called among us the Eucharist … , as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of his word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.

“For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, said, ‘This do ye in remembrance of me, this is my body;’ and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, he said, ‘This is my blood;’ and gave it to them alone …

“Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.”

Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew (ca AD 155), writes of how the Church, “in every place offer sacrifices to him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist, affirming both that we glorify his name.”

Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-ca 211/216):

Clement of Alexandria, who was born in the middle of the 2nd century, perhaps in Athens, and died between 211 and 216, is one of the most distinguished teachers in the Church of Alexandria. There he was the head of the Catechetical School, and his pupils included Origen. Clement was the first writer to attempt to set out Christianity in the traditional forms of secular literature. The trilogy into which his principal works are divided are: the Protrepticus (“Exhortation to the Greeks”), the Paedagogus (“The Instructor,” ca 202 AD), and the Stromata (“Miscellanies”)

In The Instructor, Clement of Alexandria says those who take part in the “in faith are sanctified in body and in soul. By the will of the Father, the divine mixture, man, is mystically united to the Spirit and to the Word.”

Tertullian (ca 155-230):

Tertullian (Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus) was born, lived, and died in Carthage, in present-day Tunisia. He denounced Christian doctrines he considered heretical, but later in life adopted views that came to be regarded as heretical themselves. Tertullian left the Church of Rome late in his life and joined the Montanists, which explains why he has never been regarded as a saint.

He was the first great writer of Latin Christianity, and is sometimes known as the “father of the Latin Church.” He introduced the term Trinity and probably also the formula “three Persons, one Substance.”

In recalling the Last Supper, Tertullian does not mention either giving thanks or breaking the bread, and locates the giving before the interpretative words.

The Apostolic Tradition (‘Hippolytus’) (ca 215 AD):

The Apostolic Tradition is dated to Rome ca 215 and is an early manual of Church life and discipline which includes early forms of worship. It deals with ordinations, with the catechumenate and with baptism, the duties of deacons, fasting, the agape, offerings of fruit, private prayer, care of the consecrated elements and cemetery fees. It probably describes Church life in Alexandria, and has been described as of “incomparable importance as a source of information about church life and liturgy in the third century” [G.J. Cuming]. It is, by 150 years, the earliest example of a form of service, and has widely influenced 20th century liturgical scholarship.

Those who read chapter four, and who are familiar with the Eucharistic Prayers of Roman Catholic, Anglican or Reformed Churches, will recognise in the order, language, and contents the source of those prayers, as well as of some of the disputes about what a Eucharistic prayer can say.

Origen (185-ca 254)

Origen (Ὠριγενης Ἀδαμαντιος; 185–ca 254) was one of the most distinguished of the early fathers of the Church. His writings are important as one of the first intellectual attempts to describe Christianity. In 203 he revived the Catechetical School of Alexandria, where Clement of Alexandria had taught.

Cyprian of Carthage (ca 200-258)

Cyprian was consecrated Bishop of Carthage in 248, was banished in 257 and was later beheaded. He argued that the sacraments are only valid within the Church, and identified the Christian ministry with the priestly and sacrificial functions in the Old Testament. He was the author of the dictum: “Habere non potest Deum patrem qui ecclesiam non habet matrem” (“he cannot have God as his father who does not have the Church as his mother”).

In his account of the Last Supper, Cyprian only quotes part of a Gospel narrative. He uses “blessed” (the word used by Matthew for the bread) rather than “give thanks” (used by both Matthew and Mark) for the cup. He also uses the future tense “will be poured out” rather than the present.

Cyprian, in his Letter of Cyprian to a Certain Magnus (ca 255 AD), wrote: “Finally, the sacrifices of the Lord proclaim the unity of Christians, bound together by the bond of a firm and inviolable charity. For when the Lord, in speaking of bread which is produced by the compacting of many grains of wheat, refers to it as his body, He is describing our people whose unity He has sustained, and when He refers to wine pressed from many grapes and berries, as his blood, He is speaking of our flock, formed by the fusing of many united together.”

In Ephesians (ca 258 AD), he wrote: “The priest who imitates that which Christ did, truly takes the place of Christ, and offers there in the Church a true and perfect sacrifice to God the Father.”

Other early collections:

The Apostolic Constitutions (also known as the Clementine Liturgy) is a late 4th century collection, in eight books, claiming to be the work of the Twelve Apostles, and said to have been edited by Clement of Rome. It tells us much about the liturgical observances of the 3rd and 4th centuries, and it shares great similarity with the texts we have for liturgies of the 8th century, four centuries later.

For instance, the Clementine Liturgy contains scripture readings, sermon, dismissal of catechumens, a comprehensive litany, corporate intercessory prayer, kiss of peace, procession of the gifts to the altar, anaphora and Eucharistic prayers, intercessions and the communing of the faithful.

Other collections, such as the Didascalia Apostolurum (ca 230, Syria), modelled after the Didache, the Apostolic Church Order (ca 300, Egypt), the Canons of Hippolytus (ca 336-340, Rome), and the Testamentum Domini (ca 5th century, Syria) provide additional evidence that there was no one, single, Eucharistic practice in the Early Church.

The significance of the Early Church orders

It is worth being aware of some of the early liturgies before the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, including the Anaphora of Addai and Mari. These liturgies display diversity and plurality in texts and practices. And these different church orders for liturgy in the Early Church are not always due to accidental dislocation or copyists’ errors – frequently there are deliberate emendations designed to alter the sense of the text. [see Bradshaw, The Search, p. 91.]

This was “living literature,” constantly growing, changing, and evolving from generation to generation or from one ecclesiastical tradition to another. The various church orders are not the works of a single author, but the work of a succession of editors who shaped the stream of the tradition. [Bradshaw, The Search, pp. 92-93]

As time passed, the focus of the church orders changed, and their “apostolic” pedigrees needed to be more firmly underscored and reinforced by more emphatic claims so they could have authority. For example, while the Didascalia was concerned with the proper disposition of ordained and lay members, male and female members, and so on, the later Testamentum Domini was concerned with the proper arrangement of the church building and furniture.

The editors were prescribing rather than describing actual practice. But beneath all this, of course, is some foundation based on the reality of the local tradition or of influences from other churches.

Eventually, apostolic fiction ceased to be used as a source of authority in the mainstream churches, and liturgical texts then derived their authority instead from living bishops.

Combating Heresies

For its first 300 years, the Church was illegal and often suffered persecution. And so, liturgical documents before the 4th century are quite limited because the early Church was not “producing” liturgies but focusing on celebrating the Eucharist and surviving persecution.

With Constantine’s edict of toleration in 313 AD, the Church found itself with a new role in society, ministering in a public forum, and needing a much broader missionary effort to proclaim the Gospel to those uneducated about the faith.

The needs to modify the liturgical practices also became a necessary response to the appearance of heresies in the 4th century, especially the great crisis of Arianism in the East. [Louis Bouyer, Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer, p. 136.]

The liturgical form developed slowly over time, and it was shaped by the new dynamics of becoming a part of society and combating heresy. And so, in the century following the legalisation of the Church, we can begin to identify different liturgical forms or rites. While building upon an earlier, very uniform Eucharistic core, efforts were now made to add beauty in the way of music, iconography, vestments, majestic ceremonial, and instruction in theological content.

But, if there were many different and legitimate liturgical forms in the first few hundred years of Christianity, why in both East and West are there essentially only one or two forms today?

The Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom became the liturgical form favoured in the cathedrals and churches of Constantinople

Ultimately, the survival of one liturgy over others had more to do with non-liturgical factors. For instance, in the Eastern Church, the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom became the principal liturgical form primarily because it was the liturgical form favoured in the cathedrals and churches of Constantinople, the capital city of the Eastern Empire. Similarly, in the West, over time, the Roman rite came to predominate because it was the rite used in the cathedrals and churches of Rome, the capital city of the Western Empire.

Post-Nicene developments in the Liturgy:

The major structural change in the development of the liturgy took place by the latter part of the 3rd century. The Eucharist was for believers only, and was closed to non-believers. With the end of persecution and the development of public worship, there was no more need for separate services – the synaxis or meeting which was open to all, including the catechumens, and the Eucharist, which was only for baptised Christians.

By the end of the 6th century, holding one rite without the other was very uncommon, and the two rites, with their overlapping components, were easily incorporated into each other.

Prior to this synthesis, the Synaxis and the Eucharist services had the following components [Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 434]: (Handout)

Synaxis or ‘Meeting’: Greeting and Response, Lections interspersed with Psalmody, Psalmody, Sermon, Dismissal of Catechumens, Intercessory Prayers, Benediction.

Eucharist: Greeting and Response, Kiss of Peace, Offertory, Eucharistic Prayer, Fraction, Communion, Benediction.

These two services were fused together to form two parts of one celebration. In the Eastern and Western Church, this synthesis brought with it liturgical enrichments, including the addition of hymns, the expanded use of litanies, and the inclusion of the Nicene Creed.

Continuity of Eucharistic Prayers:

Most of the liturgical developments in the 4th and 5th centuries fall into two main categories:

● those incorporated into the entrance or introduction of the service (the majority of the additions in East and West);

● those incorporated into the conclusions of the service.

Most of these changes were in response to changing circumstances and the changing needs of the Church, and they led to a new, fuller understanding of worship. However, what changed was not worship itself in its content or order. What changed was the reception, experience and understanding of worship. But there was continuity in the development of the Eucharistic prayers, and in the essential identity of their basic structures. The structure of the Eucharist remained unchanged:

● The assembly of the Church.
● Scripture.
● Preaching.
● The Offertory.
● The Anaphora
● and finally the Communion.

[see Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology, p. 127.]

The principal differences in rites began to develop around the introduction to what had originally been the Synaxis. The clergy could now publicly approach and enter the churches, providing the opportunity for ceremony.

The very earliest components were probably “a preliminary censing by the bishop or celebrant, followed by the singing of a group of Psalms, prefixed to the lexicons. Geographically it begins in what is for the ‘far east’ of classical Christendom, though the censing was afterwards adopted by the central group of Greek churches.” [Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, p. 445]

The Liturgy of the Western Church:

When we speak of liturgical development in the West, this includes Africa, Rome and North Italy, and in the Celtic region, as the main areas that contributed to the development of Western Liturgies. The works of Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), Leo I (440-61) and Vigilius (537-55) are all important for the Roman rite, and all fall within this period. [Dom O. Rousseau, “A Brief History of the Liturgy,” in Martimort (ed.), p. 35]

The dominant features of the Roman liturgy were established by Pope Gregory the Great and his successors. Two works, the Canons of Hippolytus and the Apostolic Tradition, are foundational to the Roman rite.

The rite was influenced also by a number of sacrementaries, or the prayers said by the bishops during the celebrations. These sacrementaries include: the Gallican, probably written in Gaul, and the Gregorian, thought to be the work of Pope Gregory the Great.

The others Western rites of significance include:

● the Ambrosian rite, used in Milan today and differing in some ways from the Roman;
● the Mozarabic Rite, used in the Diocese of Toledo;

The liturgical history of the Western Church was shaped significantly by the impact and effects of the barbarian invasions, which had a greater impact on Western Christendom than on the Eastern Church.

While Greek was the common language of the Empire, Latin became the official liturgical language of the Western Church – and remained so for the majority of Roman Catholics until Vatican II in 1962.

Local variations in the West

Despite the appearance of uniformity through the use of Latin for many centuries, the liturgical forms of Western Christianity include many rites that developed in the first few centuries. Local variations in the structures of the liturgy developed over time with the addition of prayers and other elements related to the Eucharist, resulting in a variety of rites, including the Ambrosian, Gallican and Mozarabic rites.

The rite associated with Saint Ambrose survived in the region around Milan in northern Italy, and north into the area around Lugano in present-day Switzerland. Similarly, the Mozarabic Rite has survived in churches in the Diocese of Toledo, and has influenced the rites of the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church, a full member church of the Anglican Communion.

The informal character of the pre-Nicene liturgies gave way to a more structured and normative style. Along with this came decentralisation of the leadership in worship. The bishop alone could no longer attend to the worship needs of an increasing Christian population in any city or town, and so the presidency of the presbyter in worship emerges as an important factor. The increase in numbers also meant more attention was paid to catechism or teaching due to fears that new converts might introduce pagan influences.

Meanwhile, the role of the clergy became increasingly critical, leading to a widening gap between priest and people. This gap eventually became such a chasm that the people became de facto spectators as the priests performed the liturgy on their behalf.

Some of the important ceremonial developments at this time included:

Rank and title: The bishops (and the priests and deacons too) were assigned their place in the hierarchical system and social scale of the state, with titles and insignia corresponding to their ranks. In this context, some aspects of liturgical dress developed, including the bishop’s ring, staff and chair.

The Introit: Dix argues that the Introit was the only aspect of the liturgy that was introduced for purely ceremonial reasons. It functioned as a way of calling attention to the entrance of the bishop, who – like the emperor or regional leader – was a de facto functionary of the state.

Vestments: Vestments were another important development in the 4th century, as a result of the alignment of the Church with the state.

The Apostolic Constitution VIII directs the bishop to celebrate the Eucharist clad in “splendid raiment.” Dix believes this was simply a reference to the dress of the upper class. A Roman law promulgated in 397 specified the dress to be worn by officials of the state. The use of the stole, the alb, the maniple (worn on left hand at the Eucharist) and the head-dress all have similar points of entry.

The ceremonial developments were seen as helping to express and evoke adoration and awe and to reinforce the idea that worship was a moment of extreme importance.

Liturgical texts and prayers

The period from the mid-4th century to the end of the 7th century was a creative one for the documentation of the liturgical texts. This was the period of the great schisms, so great care was taken to ensure that the language of the liturgy also conformed to the known orthodox positions.

At the end of the 4th century, Augustine complained that certain bishops used prayers composed by incompetent authors. Some African Church Councils forbade the use of formulas that had not received synodical approval.

The increasing curtailment of the freedom of liturgical presidents, often by regional synods, accelerated the movement towards liturgical norms. In the post-Constantinian Church, the brakes were put on diversity and creativity in liturgical development. The older texts, such as the Canons of Hippolytus, the Apostolic Constitutions and the Apostolic Tradition, seem to have been sources for the trend towards setting norms. From the 8th century there is a definite trend towards the re-working of old formulas rather than the composition of new ones.

And yet the Western Church was less centralised than the Eastern Church in the 4th to 6th centuries, and tolerated different liturgical customs … as long as they were not heretical.

The reforms of Gregory the Great (595):

With the introduction of Latin over time, Greek was retained in specific sections such as the Kyrie and the Trisagion (Sanctus). The transition from Greek to Latin was accelerated by the Barbarian invasions of and the historical and cultural forces that they swept in.

The liturgical rite of the Church of Rome prior to the early 9th century – the Old Roman Rite or Liturgy – had developed from the common liturgical practices in Rome, and was formalised in the revisions by Pope Gregory the Great in the year 595.

With Gregory’s reforms, the liturgical form and musical practice throughout the Western Church became surprisingly similar. This rite, representing the consistency of liturgical form and music in the early Church, remained so through to the 8th or 9th century, when Charlemagne reformed both the liturgy and the liturgical music of the Western Church.

Charlemagne’s reforms:

In 754, the Emperor Pepin, in the presence of Pope Stephen II, made it obligatory by royal decree for the Gregorian liturgy to be the liturgy of his kingdom. But his efforts failed – in the 8th century, long before printing, it was not possible to provide all the churches with the requisite books. This was another reason that contributed to the rise of the sacramentaries.

Other rites emerged and developed in the West, but the Church of Rome continued to exert singular influence. The rite of the Roman Church was great, awesome, and mystical. Charlemagne’s father sent emissaries to Rome to establish diplomatic relations with the Papacy. They were so amazed that within a few years the Roman liturgy and its chant became in their eyes the most exalted expression of the type of civilisation they wished to promote. [Marcel Peres, Vespers of Pascha.]

Using the liturgical rite of Gregory the Great and the chant form of the Church of Rome, Charlemagne set out to create a liturgical and musical standard for the new Holy Roman Empire. The result of this reform was a uniform liturgical rite for the Roman Catholic Church, and a new form of liturgical music that we now call Gregorian Chant – which became the liturgical music standard of the Western Church for centuries to come.

The establishment of a standard Roman Rite by Charlemagne was the beginning of the end of the other local Western rites, and it assured the continuation of Latin as the liturgical language of the Western Church. From Charlemagne on, the tendency was to impose the Latin rite within the Roman Empire – in much the same way as the king later insisted on the use of the Book of Common Prayer in the English realm. This imperial interest in liturgies is an important factor in the liturgical developments in the West.

Gregorian chant, the liturgical music that comes from Charlemagne’s reforms, became the standard music of the Western Roman Catholic Church into the late 20th century.

The development of Monasticism:

Meanwhile, the development of monastic life during this period was to have a profound impact on the liturgical life and the public prayers of the Church.

The monastic office was characterised by:

● Psalms read in numerical order.
● Little ceremony
● Little emphasis on ecclesiastical rank
● Readings from Scripture for meditation

There are eight daily offices in the Rule of Benedict:

1, Vigils (Matins);
2, Lauds;
3, Prime;
4, Terce;
5, Sext;
6, None;
7, Vespers;
8, Compline.

The four middle hours are often known as the “Little Hours.”

At the same time, cathedral offices were developing. To them we owe much of our ceremonial, and the use of canticles, fixed psalms, metric hymns and litanies. This period also saw the development of the Church calendar, and of rites associated with baptism, ordination, marriage and burial. Many of our services today have come about through a mixture and combination of the offices in the monasteries and the mediaeval cathedrals.

The Eastern Church

The liturgies or rites of the Eastern Church can be divided into two groups corresponding to two of the most ancient patriarchal seats:

1, Antioch

2, Alexandria. [Dom Bernard Botte, “Rites and Liturgical Groups” in Martimort (ed.), pp 14ff]

The Antiochene liturgies or rites can be further sub-divided into two:

1, Western Syrian

2, Eastern Syrian liturgical types.

The Western Syrian Rite includes the Syrian rite of Antioch, the Maronite rites, the Byzantine rite and the Armenian rite. The Byzantine rite is the liturgy of Constantinople (Byzantium or Istanbul), the capital of the Eastern Empire until it was captured by the Muslims in 15th century. A feature of this rite, as with the other Western Syrian types, is that the intercessions precede the epiclesis.

The Eastern Syrian Rite includes the Nestorian, the Chaldean and the Malabar rites, and, of course, the Anaphora of Addai and Mari.

The Alexandrian rites include the Coptic (after the Coptic or Egyptian dialect) and the Ethiopian liturgies.

The Byzantine liturgy:

Constantine built a new capital at Constantinople or Byzantium (now Istanbul) in 330 AD. While the Empire and culture in the West crumbled under the impact of the Barnarian invasions and the Dark Ages, in the East the empire remained essentially intact and operated as a united whole, and the theocratic concepts of Constantine continued to prevail.

As a result, the Church was within the state and a part of it, but was essentially subservient to it. In the West, the Church was within the state, often at odds with it and appearing to be outside of it, but also striving to be over it.

Byzantine culture, with its sense of the aesthetic and the beautiful, allowed the expression of the faith and worship to flower. In addition, the battle against the major heresies was principally fought in the East, and the results are found in the Eastern rites.

One of the great developments in Byzantine worship was the emergence of the Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom. It was finalised in Constantinople in the 6th century during the reign of the Emperor Justinian the Great (527-565), but was in continuity with the liturgical traditions of the early Church.

John Chrysostom (349-407), Ιωάννης ο Χρυσόστομος, John the “golden mouthed,” was Patriarch of Constantinople. His liturgical contributions included the liturgical traditions he brought from Antioch to Constantinople, as well as refinements he may have added as Patriarch. It is closely connected, therefore, to the West Syrian liturgical rite.

The Liturgy of Saint John John Chrysostom became the liturgical norm in the Church of Aghia Sophia in Constantinople

The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom was refined and beautified in Constantinople. It became the liturgical norm at the Church of Holy Wisdom (Aghia Sophia), and over time became the normative liturgical form in churches throughout the Byzantine Empire. This liturgy reflects a highly refined aesthetic of beauty and majesty, tradition and mystery, and a highly developed theology. It reflects the works of the Cappadocian Fathers both in combating heresy and in defining Trinitarian theology for the Church.

The Liturgy of Saint Basil follows the same structural form as that of Saint John Chrysostom and the other West Syrian liturgical rites. It differs only in the prayers of the priest, and is characterised by a much more extensive biblical imagery.

Many of the liturgical modifications introduced in the East in the 4th and 5th centuries were adopted later in the Western Church, although the Trinitarian structure of the prayers was not adopted in the West.

The Litanies and the Trisagion Hymn

Two interesting practices and developments in the Eastern liturgy at this time are the Litanies and the Trisagion hymn.

The Litanies may have been used in the assemblies of people as they waited outside the church. The first Litany in the Eastern Rite, the Great or Extended Litany, covers every aspect of human need including prayers for the church, the world, and the whole of creation. The celebrating priest offers the petition, and the whole congregation prays together when the people respond Kyrie Eleison (“Lord, have mercy”).

The Trisagion Hymn (the Trinitarian hymn “Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us”) may have been introduced in the time of Patriarch Proclus (434-446 AD) to counter the most notable heresies, especially Arianism. This is one of the most ancient hymns of the Church. It is deeply Trinitarian and thus anti-Arian in character: Holy God is addressed to the Father Almighty, Holy Mighty to the Son, and Holy Immortal refers to the Holy Spirit.

The hymn Monogenes or “Only-Begotten” was a response to the Monophysite heresy. It was incorporated into the Byzantine liturgy following the second antiphon ca 535-536 and immediately became part of the entrance at Constantinople and Antioch.

From the Medieval Period to the Reformations:

During the 9th century and the years that followed, the initiative and liveliness in liturgy passed from Rome to the Franco-German churches in the Carolingian empire. Conditions in Rome became extremely difficult from the 9th century on:

● the Papacy fell into disrepute;

● the Popes rarely performed their liturgical duties;

● and when they did celebrate the liturgy they did so in a way that caused offence to both the laity and the clergy.

Rome ceased to hold the high position it once held in the liturgical life of the Western Church. By the end of the 10th century, the process of liturgical development had been reversed. The newer rites in France from the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries were now being used in Rome itself. This reshaped and enriched the liturgy in Rome. A Gallicised version of the Mass supplanted and replaced the one used in Rome. And, as one liturgical historian says, “the Franco-German church succeeded in saving Roman liturgy, not only for Rome itself, but for the entire Christian world of the Middle Ages.” [Klauser, A Short History, p. 77.]

Charlemagne’s reforms created a common liturgical practice throughout most of Europe. But there was never an attempt to create a thorough-going uniformity, or to limit the natural evolution of liturgical elements of secondary importance. Since liturgical texts were disseminated through hand-copied books, there was always the possibility of local adaptations and innovations each time a new manuscript was produced. Each diocese had its own liturgical calendar of feasts and often its own characteristic way of performing certain ritual details.

And so, a great deal of innovation and variation was tolerated and permitted at regional and local levels. There were variations from country to country, from church to church, from monastery to monastery, and even from manuscript to manuscript.

After Charlemagne’s reforms, liturgical change took place in many places as a result of spontaneous evolution, such as the addition of the sequence to the Mass. Many hundreds of liturgical texts survive from that period, and scarcely one of them agrees with the other in detail. Meanwhile, the private prayers of the celebrant were finding their way into the public celebration of the liturgy, with some of them even being copied into the official texts found in some Mass books. The result was that the people were gradually alienated and developed a preference for devotions. Klauser has argued that the individualism led to the extra-liturgical devotions [Klauser, A Short History, 97] but it seems the alienation of the people from the liturgy was a critical factor.

The increasing complexity and length of the services, made leadership in worship a learned profession. And the multiplication of the number of feasts reached a new pitch – almost every day was now a feast of a saint. [Klauser, A Short History, p. 95]

With so many diverse variations, there was an urgent need for rationalisation. At the end of the 11th century, Pope Gregory VII initiated a series of general reforms in Church life. Under Innocent III, the Roman curia edited its own version of the Mass book, paving the way for the transformation from sacramentary to missal.

However, the real impetus for early liturgical reform at this period came from the larger reformed monastic communities, such as Cluny, the Cistercians, the Carthusians and the Premonstratensians. These communities carefully provided for detailed and regulated celebrations of the Eucharist. The itinerant orders, such as the Dominicans and Franciscans, realised they too were vulnerable to the liturgical idiosyncrasies of the day, and that they needed to be equipped with a more stable rite. The Franciscans helped the wide distribution and use of the Roman liturgy through their decision to adopt the Missale secundum usum Romanae curiae. Wherever they went, the Franciscans carried the missal with them as wandering friars.

The introduction of printing would help to make the Missal prevalent throughout Western Europe until the Reformations, the Council of Trent and the reign of Pope Pius V.

The liturgy in Ireland and England:

During the course of the late Middle Ages, special rites were found in particular churches. For non-solemn masses, there was practically no direction, since generally these would be quite simple and plain. Certain centres – such as Lyons, Salisbury, Hereford and York – developed their own rites and often influenced the liturgical celebration and the order of the area within which such areas were to be found.

The limited evidence points to considerable diversity in liturgy in Ireland until 1172, when the Synod of Cashel finally adopted “the rite as observed by the Anglican Church.” It was not until the 12th century that the separate Irish Rite, which, according to Gilbert, Bishop of Limerick (ca 1106-1139), was in use throughout most Ireland, was abolished. Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh (1134-1148), began the campaign against it, and at the Synod of Cashel, in 1172, a Roman Rite juxta quod Anglicana observat Ecclesia was finally substituted.

In England, the Sarum Rite, more properly called the Use of Sarum, is a variant of the Roman Rite used before the English Reformation, and elsewhere in these islands.

It was originally the local Use of the Cathedral and Diocese of Salisbury, but became prevalent among the various local uses in these islands, particularly in southern England. At the English Reformation, Sarum became the only sanctioned use throughout England, until the introduction of Anglican liturgies in English during the reign of Edward VI. The Use of Sarum, though, was revived during the reign of Queen Mary I and continued to be used by Roman Catholic clergy for a time thereafter, before being replaced by the Tridentine usage.

The Sarum liturgy is very sumptuous when performed fully. The Mass of Sundays and great feasts was a splendid affair. Like most liturgies of the time, the Sarum Use was extensive and complicated, and a number of books was needed for all the liturgies. And so we find Cranmer’s criticisms of it in the Preface of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.

For example: “... the number and hardness of the rules called the pie, and the manifold changings of the service, was the cause, yet to turn the book only, was so hard and intricate a matter, that many times, there was more business to find out what should be read, then to read it when it was found out.”

The priest’s part of the communion service, or mass, was contained in the Missal. The Mass also required a book for the choir, and another that gave the unique parts for each day. Not only did the Scripture readings change from day to day, but there were also many other differences (prayers, etc.) from one day to another.

The Sarum rite became the liturgical form used in most of the English Church until the mid-16th century and was the first Liturgy sanctioned at the Reformations by the Church of England in the 1530s. It became the original basis of the Communion Service, Lectionary, and collects in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer. Many of the practices of the Sarum Use – though not the full liturgy itself – were revived in England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as part of the Anglo-Catholic movement.

Relevant reading and references:

Adolf Adam, Foundations of Liturgy: An introduction to its history and practice, tns Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN, 1992).
R.T. Beckwith, ‘The Jewish Background to Christain Worship,’ pp 68-80 in Jones et al, The Study of Lliturgy.
Louis Bouyer, Eucharist: Theology and Spirituality of the Eucharistic Prayer (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).
Louis Bouyer, Liturgy and Architecture (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press).
Paul Bradshaw (ed), A Companion to Common Worship, vol 1 (London: SPCK, 2001).
Paul F. Bradshaw, Eucharistic Origins (Alcuin Club Collections 80, London: SPCK, 2004).
Stephen Burns, SCM Studyguide to Liturgy (London: SCM Press, 2006).
RH Cresswell (ed), The Liturgy of the Eighth Book of ‘The Apostolic Constitutions’ commonly called the Clementine Liturgy (London: SPCK, 1924).
Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (New York: The Seabury Press, 1982).
Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
Eusebius, The History of The Church (New York: Dorset Press, 1965).
D.M. Hope (revised G. Woolfenden), “The Medieval Western Rite,” pp 264-285 in C. Jones, G. Wainwright, E. Yarnold and P. Bradshaw (eds), The Study of the Liturgy (London: SPCK, 1992 revised ed).
Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha (Crestwood NY: Saint Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984).
C. Jones, G. Wainwright, E. Yarnold and P. Bradshaw (eds), The Study of Liturgy (London: SPCK, 1992).
Theodor Klauser, A Short History of the Western Liturgy: An Account and Some Reflections (tns J. Halliburton), (London: Oxford University Press, 1969).
Paul McPartlan, The Eucharist makes the Church (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994).
A.G. Martimort, The Church at Prayer: Introduction to the Liturgy (Shannon: Irish University Press, 1968).
F. Procter and W.H. Frere, The Book of Common Prayer (London: Macmillan, 1961).
Willy Rordorf (ed), The Eucharist of the Early Christians (New York: Pueblo Publishing, 1976).
Alexander Schmemann, For the life of the World (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973).
Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Press, 1973 and 1986).
Alexander Schmemann, The Living God (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1989).
K Stevenson and B Spinks (eds), The Identity of Anglican Worship (Harrisburg: Morehouse, 1991).
A. Stewart-Sykes and JH Newman, Early Jewish Liturgy: A Sourcebook for use by students of Early Christian Liturgy (JLS 51, Grove: Nottingham, 2001).
Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church (New York: Penguin Books, 1978).
Herman Wegman, Christian Worship in East and West, tns W. Gordon (New York, 1985).
J.F. White, Introduction to Christian Worship (Nashville: Abingdon, 3rd ed, 2000).
B. Williams and H. Anstall, Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple and the Early Church (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing, 1990).
Hugh Wybrew, The Orthodox Liturgy (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This essay is based on lecture notes for a seminar with Year III students on the NSM (Non-Stipendiary Ministry) course on Friday 6 March 2009.

Prayer in the Orthodox tradition

Patrick Comerford

Lent is a season that most of us today associate with penitence and personal discipline. But in the past, Lent was primarily a season of reflection and preparation, as the catechumens – those who were about to be baptised – and those who had fallen away for the Church but now wanted to be restored and to renew their baptismal vows both used these forty days to reflect and to think again on the Risen Christ, who is the source of our hope, our inspiration, our enlightenment.

Over the years, in my spiritual growth and my pilgrimage through life, I have been shaped and enriched most of all by two traditions in the Church more than any other: Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Both traditions have much in common, and both have much to learn from each other. We share synodical government and an incarnational approach to life; we celebrate diversity in unity; we combine liturgical beauty and relaxed formality; and we appreciate the spiritual richness and value of stillness.

But for all of us, there is something rich to be found in the gifts being offered to us by the Orthodox tradition. And it is a tradition that, as good neighbours, we all need to be familiar with. Today, there is a variety of Orthodox churches throughout Dublin, including Greek, Georgian, Antiochene, Romanian and Russian parishes or congregations, as well as Coptic, Indian and Syrian Orthodox communities.

For many of us, our first introduction to the Orthodox tradition will be in meeting our new neighbours from these communities.

Or it may come when you break away from a sun-and-sand holiday in Cyprus, Greece or Bulgaria, and find yourself caught up in the beauty of those island blue-domed, white-walled churches, redolent with incense, icons, frescoes, bells and bearded priests.

Or, it may simply come in wondering about the religious practices you’ve noticed in a movie like Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

And if you have yet to come across the Orthodox tradition, and wonder whether it’s really relevant or simply exotic, remember that today there are Orthodox majorities in many of the EU member states, including Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Cyprus – and this statistic will be even more important when states like Serbia, Montenegro, perhaps Ukraine or even Russia eventually join.

At a spiritual level, the Eastern Orthodox approaches to prayer can be a rich treasure and can shine a light for the Western Church.

So let me share a few of these insights and gifts with you this morning.

In the Orthodox tradition, prayer is not about formulas. It is first and foremost doxology, praise, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, and intercession to God. Prayer is a personal dialogue with God, a spiritual breathing of the soul, a foretaste of the bliss of God’s kingdom.

“When I prayed I was new,” wrote a great Orthodox theologian, “but when I stopped praying I became old.” So prayer is the way to renewal and spiritual life; prayer is being alive to God; prayer is strength, refreshment and joy. Prayer lifts us up into that loving communion with God in which we experience everything in a new light.

There are six aspects of prayer life within the Orthodox tradition that I wish to introduce briefly and share this mornning.

1, The Liturgy: The word Orthodoxy means, primarily, not right doctrine but right worship or praise. The beauty of the liturgy is impressive. The story is told that when the ambassadors from Kiev first arrived in the great Church of Aghia Sophia in Byzantium they were so in awe of the beauty and the splendour of the liturgy, they reported:

“We knew not whether we were on heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendour or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you: only this we know, that God dwells there among humans, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. For we cannot forget that beauty.”

2, Daily and Personal Prayer: Orthodox prayer is not confined to Sundays and the liturgy. How many churches in Ireland today continue the cycle of the daily offices? How many of us maintain a regular habit of daily prayer?

For the Orthodox, daily prayer in the church and at home sanctifies the times at which they are celebrated, from early morning to late evening.

3, Icons and iconography: In the western church, we still see art, including religious art, in terms of beauty, form and statement. Orthodox icons are not meant to be beautiful – they are meant to provide a window into spiritual reality.

For the Orthodox, the church building, the whole edifice, is one great icon of the Kingdom of God. The frescoes, the icons and the icon screen separating the congregation in the main body of the church from the sacred mysteries behind the royal doors are there not to make the church look pretty or beautiful, but are central to understanding the worship and life of the Orthodox Church, its teachings, its liturgy and its prayers.

At the Byzantium exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, which is in its final weeks, the final treasure, appropriately, is the 12th century Icon of the Heavenly Ladder of Saint John Klimakos. This icon (right) is so well-known that visitors to the exhibition are amazed it is so small. Yet this one small icon is a reminder that at the heart of Orthodox spirituality and prayer is the ability to bridge the chasm between earth and heaven.

4, The monastic life: In the Orthodox tradition, the monastery is not a retreat from the “real world,” but is a fountain for nurturing spirituality and the life of prayer of all believers. Although some of the great writers on Mount Athos lived as hermits, they gathered many followers, and were particularly known for their practice of the Jesus Prayer.

5, The Jesus Prayer: The Jesus Prayer is one of the best known traditions within Orthodoxy. Its words say simply: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner” (Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλό). This is what some of the Church Fathers knew as the Prayer of the Heart. It is a short, simple prayer, widely used and taught throughout Eastern Christianity.

For the Eastern Orthodox, this prayer is one of the most deep, profound and mystical prayers. It is often repeated, continually and throughout the day, as a part of personal ascetic practice. For all of us, the Jesus Prayer is a way of taking one of the most important first steps on the spiritual journey: the recognition of our own sinfulness, our essential estrangement from God and from the people around us. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.

6, The Hesychast tradition: The practice of the Jesus Prayer is an integral part of Hesychasm (ἡσυχασμός), a tradition that values stillness and the quiet, not for their own sake, as some sort of comfort zone, but as leading to the contemplation and experience of God as light, what Saint Gregory Palamas was referring to when he spoke of experiencing the Uncreated Light.

The Hesychast, who by the mercy of God has such an experience, does not remain in that state for too long a time, but returns “to earth” and continues to practise the full Christian life.

To summarise: the life of an Orthodox Christian is one of prayer. In the Orthodox tradition, it is the person who truly prays who is a theologian and a God-seer. The goal of a life of prayer is living a life of active love for all people. And the result of a life of prayer is to be filled with mercy and forgiveness, to bind up wounds and to love.

Evgarius is quoted in the Philokalia as having once written: “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”

To pray truly, we can learn from the traditions of others. The beauty of Orthodox liturgy, the insights provided by the Orthodox use of icons, the practice of the Jesus Prayer, and the rich treasures in the Orthodox monastic writings can help each of us to develop our own practice of prayer.

As you pray, may you learn from the insights of others. As we look forward to the joy of Easter, may the light of Christ shine in your hearts, in your souls, and in your eyes.

Canon Patrick Comerford is the Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. This address was given in Saint John’s Church (Church of Ireland), Clondalkin, Co Dublin, on Friday, 6 March as part of the World Day of Prayer, which had as its theme this year: “In Christ there are many members yet one body.”