CHAPTER IX. The Liturgy. Part 4.
I shall, next, compare the Liturgy as it was in the time of Justin with the Passover ritual:
The foregoing comparison establishes a kinship between the Christian Liturgy and the Passover. That this relationship implied the derivation of one from the other, was the contention of Bickell. He compared, especially, the Clementine Liturgy with the Passover. He argued, mainly, from the following facts : First, the expression, " Blessed be He who cometh in the name of the Lord," is found both in the Canon and in the Hallel Psalms. Secondly, the contents of the Preface of the Clementine Liturgy are exactly like those of the Hallel Psalm 135 (Vulgate). Both contain thanks for creation and a reference to the deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Finally, a blessing, as we have seen, is found in the Passover ritual, which is entirely similar to that found in the Didache Canon. 1
But kinship does not necessarily imply descent, and so there was room for criticism of Bickell's position. It came from a recent Protestant writer, Dr. Drews. 2 The latter maintained that the Canon was derived from the ritual of the meal on the Jewish Sabbath eve. This took place on Friday evening, after the opening of the Jewish Sabbath day, which was reckoned from darkness to darkness. It must be noted, too, that a similar ritual was observed in connection with the meals on all other Jewish feast days.
Before all those festive meals, including that on the Sabbath day, the head of the family blessed the bread, and the wine, in case the latter was taken. It was a subject of controversy whether the blessing of the bread or the blessing of the wine should have precedence. The schools of Shammai and Hillel were divided. Shammai was in favour of blessing the wine first. The following formula, which we have already seen in the case of the Passover, was used before all festive meals. For the wine: a Praised be Thou, Lord, our God, who hast created the fruit of the vine." For the bread: " Praised be Thou, Lord, our God, who didst produce bread from the earth.'' The head of the family tasted some bread and wine before handing them to the guests. Some bread was reserved for the end, also a cup, which was called the cup of Elias, from the prayer associated with it, that God might send this prophet to prepare for the coming of the Messianic Kingdom.
Finally, there took place what was known as the great blessing of the table. Strangers, women, and minors were not allowed to be present for this ceremony,—an exclusion which may have suggested the dismissal of the Catechumens from participation in the early Canon. In the great blessing, as we have learned from the account in the Didache, God was thanked for food and drink and for the land of Palestine. He was besought to have mercy upon Jerusalem. Finally, a prayer was offered that He might send the Prophet Elias, and the days of the Messiah. Hereupon the reserved bread and the reserved cup of " Elias " were given to all the guests.
The kinship of the early Canon in the Didache with the ritual of those festive meals is apparent. Wine, according to Shammai, had to be blessed first; so was it with the wine in the Didache Canon. At the Sabbath meals the wine was blessed with a certain formula: the wine, according to the Didache, was blessed with one exactly similar. The finish of the great table-blessing associated with those meals assumed an eschatological character, referring to the advent of the Messianic Kingdom; so, according to the Didache, did the Eucharistic thanksgiving following the meal.
Since, according to the Didache, wine was to be blessed first, I prefer to hold, with Zahn, 3 against the common opinion, that the first thanksgiving in this document was prescribed for the feast of the Agape. It would be, then, intelligible why the wine should be blessed first,—it would be merely a continuance of the rule of Shammai. Why the wine should be blessed before the bread, is hardly intelligible on the hypothesis that there is question of the Eucharist in the first part of the Didache liturgy (see end of ch. ix.). Is not the New Testament account of the Eucharistic institution in favour of placing the blessing of the bread first in order ? After this thanksgiving was pronounced over the elements for the Agape, they were freely consumed, for the words of the Didache, 4 " After being satisfied," are not so well understood of the Eucharist. After the Agape, there was a Eucharistic thanksgiving which corresponded to the great table blessing in connection with the reserved bread and the reserved cup of Elias. The Words of Institution are omitted, for in the beginning of this account the author of the Didache states that his purpose was to give formulas of thanksgiving. 5 After this second thanksgiving, in the period of the composition of the Didache, the Eucharistic Bread and Cup may be presumed to be administered just as the " reserved bread and cup " were, last of all, handed round in the Jewish festive meals.
Having seen that there is some kinship between the early Canon and the Passover and other festive Jewish meals, it may be enquired whether there was a derivation of the Canon from either of those sources. At any rate, the striking similarity shows that there is a Jewish origin for some portion of the early Canon. This is the important matter. It is a question of less significance whether the Canon was derived precisely from the Passover, or from the Sabbath ritual, or from that of other feast days. For the Passover, being a feast, had a ritual which was essentially the same as that for the other festivals. The only difference was, that in the Passover you had the singing of the Hallel and the drinking of four cups of wine.
The antecedent probability that the Christian Liturgy would borrow something from the Passover Ritual of the Last Supper is not entirely shaken by Drews' adverse criticism. Besides, early Liturgies, in giving thanks for the general works of creation, seem to resemble the contents of the Hallel of the Passover ritual. The Liturgy does seem to have been borrowed in part directly from the Passover. At the same time, it must be admitted that the early Christians seem to have before their minds, to a greater extent, the exemplar of the ritual of the ordinary Sabbath meal. The Passover was an annual feast. The Eucharist was a frequent observance; it was celebrated in a simple manner in private houses. The Jews, who to a great extent swelled the ranks of the early Christians, would not think it congruous, in their frequent Eucharistic celebration, to entirely copy the model of a yearly observance. In those simple gatherings, the Jews had more directly before their minds the Sabbath meal. It is likely, therefore, that the Eucharistic liturgy was modelled, to some extent, on the Passover ritual, but, to a greater extent, on the ritual of the Sabbath meal. Since, however, these two were substantially the same in forms of thanksgiving, any reflex of the one would contain some similarity to the other. To imitate the one was, indirectly, to imitate the other. Hence, the criticism directed by Drews against Bickell's position is not of very great importance. It is only a question of deciding which ritual was, directly, before the minds of the early Christians in shaping their liturgy, and I have leaned to the opinion, that the ritual of the Sabbath meal was so to a greater extent than that of the annual Passover.
It must also be remembered that, whether the Christian Liturgy was borrowed from the Passover or from other sources, it was modelled on them only to a minor extent. It is only in what is at present known as the Preface, that a resemblance to the Passover is pointed out. This is but a small portion of the present developed Liturgy. True it is that the early Preface was very lengthy, as is asserted by Justin and may be known from later Liturgies, as the Clementine. But the main part of the Eucharistic celebration concerned a new event, which could not be adequately described by any existing formulas. Consequently, the Christians had to invent formulas which evolved from a small germ into the copious Liturgy of to-day, containing but few traces of borrowing, and as original as it is sublime.
1 Bickell, Messe und Pascha.
2 Realenzyk. fur Prot. Theologie. Art, Eucharistie, 3 Aufl. v. 563.
3 Forschunyen zur Gesch. des neutest. Kanons in., 293 ff.
4 See Ch. ix., x.
5 "Concerning the thanksgiving," Ch. ix.
5 "Concerning the thanksgiving," Ch. ix.