It’s easy for those of us who partake of the Eucharist weekly to forget the stunning, world-inverting power of the Christian liturgy. This post, probably the first in a series, is a collection of texts from the early Church which give a sense of the wonder and awe with which the early Christians approached the Liturgy, most of which are prefaced with a quick introduction to explain their relevance. Naturally, they are only scratching the surface of early Christian writing on the Eucharist, and given that most early Christians could not read, these words scratched out on papyri can hardly be expected to express the fullness of what the liturgy meant to Churches of the ancient world.
The Book of Revelation, John of Patmos, c. 90AD
Few people appreciate the heavily Eucharistic imagery of the Book of Revelation. Mike Aquilina, a Catholic scholar says in his fantastic book, ‘The Mass of the Early Christians’, “John’s description of heaven’s court mirrored the arrangement of the bishop and his priests around the Church’s altar in the early liturgy. John’s hymns and chants reappear in many ancient liturgies.”
This passage, for example, very likely mirrors the arrangement of the early church around the bishop who was officiating the Eucharist:
“Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; they had crowns of gold on their head. And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices.” (Rev 4:2-5)
In this next passage, all the hosts of heaven gather to worship the slain Lamb, a term we still use repeatedly in the Liturgy to refer to the Eucharistic Christ, who is offering Himself up for us …
“(Chapter 5 verse 6) And I looked, and behold, in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as though it had been slain … (v. 11) Then I looked around, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and srrengtg and honour and glory and blessing!’ And every creature which is in heaven and on earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea and all that are in them, I heard saying: ‘Blessing and honour and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!’ Then the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshipped Him who lives forever and ever.” (Rev 5:6 & 11-14) Continue reading