Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Oldest Eucharistic Canon

This is a post which I have long intended to make, but simply disthered because of the Latin, but after comparing my own translation to two which I found upon the web, I have decided that I can no longer delay with it. The reason I am doing this is so that ordinary Anglicans will gain a view of what we can know of the earliest Church.

When it comes to the the service of Holy Communion we know first what we find in the Bible, especially the New Testament. We have the gospel narratives and what St Paul has written about it. The next thing we have is what in the writings of St. Justin Martyr but even that narrative is very bare. Following that we have the liturgies which we now regard as historic, the liturgy of St James, St Basil and St. John Chysostom, Then there is the Roman canon which came to dominate the Latin liturgies of the West but whose theology is less that clear. The experts believe its origin to have been Syrian rather than Roman with the various paragraphs having been rearranged in an order modeled after that of Alexandria.

But what follows is the Verona fragment which is the oldest known liturgical canon. Some experts date it as early third century. But as the Right Reverend Walter Howard Frere, CR, pointed out in his study of it, phrases taken from it appeared in a number of later liturgies. It may seem strange to us in that it lacks a proper preface and the Sanctus. Those items entered the liturgy later. Consequently it is short, direct and sober.

Illi vere offerant diacones oblationem, quique imponens manus in eam cum omni presbyterio decat gratias agens

Dominus vobiscum.
.
Et omnes decant Et cum Spiritu tuo.

Sursum corda ;

Habemus ad dominam.

Gratias agamus domino ;

Dignum et justum est.

Et sic iam prosequatur,

Gratias tibi referimus, deus, per dilectum puerum tuum Jesum Christum Quem in ultimis temporibus Misisti nobis salvatorem et redemptorum et angelum voluntatis tuae : Qui est verbum tuum inseparabilem, per quem omnia fecisti, et bene placitum tibi fuit ; misisti de caelo in matricem virginis Quique in utero habitus incarnatus est, ex spiritu sancto et virgine natus ;

Qui volumtatem tuam complens, et populum sanctum tibi adquirens, extendit manus, cum pateretur, ut a passione liberaret eos qui in te crediderunt : Qui cumque traderetur uoluntariae passioni, ut mortem saluat , et vincula diaboli dirumpat, et infernum calcet, et justos illuminet, et terminum figat, et resurrectionem manifestet, accipiens,penem, gratias tibi agens, dixit; Accipite, manducate, Hoc est corpus
meum quod pro vobis confringetur : Similiter et calicem, dicens ; Hic est sanguis meus qui pro vobis effunditur quando hoc facitis, meam commemorationem facitis.

Memores igitur mortis et resurrectionis Eius, Offerimus tibi panem et calicem, gratias tibi agentes, quia nos dignos habuisti adstare coram te et tibi ministare, Et petimus ut mittas spiritum tuum sanctum in oblationem sanctae ecclesiae ; in unum congregans des omnibus qui percipiunt sanctis in repletionem spiritus sancti, ad confirmationem fidei in veritate, ut te laudemus et glorificemus ; per puerum tuum Iesum Christum, per quem tibe gloria et honor, patri et filio cum sancto spiritu, in sancta ecclesia tua, et nunc et in saecula saeculorum. Amen."

We return thanks to you, O God, through your beloved son, Jesus Christ, whom you have sent in these last days to be for us a savior and redeemer and a messenger of your will, who is your inseparable word, through whom you made all things and who was well pleasing to you. You sent him down from heaven into the womb of the virgin, and who, held in the womb, was incarnate and was shown to be a son to you, born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin. Who accomplishing your will and acquiring for you a holy people, he stretched out his hands when he was extended so that by his passion he liberated those who have believed in you. Who, when he was handed over to a voluntary passion so that he would dissolve death and shatter the chains of the devil, and (so that) he would trample hell and illuminate the righteous, and fix a boundary and manifest his ressurrection, taking bread and giving thanks he said - "take, eat, this is my body which is broken on your behalf." Likewise the cup, saying "This is my blood which is poured out on your behalf. As often as you do this, you do it in my commenoration."

Therefore mindful of his death and resurrection, we offer to you (this) bread and cup, giving thanks to you because you have held us worthy to stand before you and serve you.

And we ask that you would send your Holy Spirit into the offering of the holy church gathering as one; may you give to all who partake in these these sacred (mysteries) over into a filling up of the Holy Spirit for strengthing in the true faith so that we may praise you and glorify you through your son, Jesus Christ, through whom to you be glory and honor - to the Father and the Son with the Holy Spirit, in your holy church now and forever and ever. Amen."


What struck me when reading after many years was that it was as direct as the canon of the 1552 prayer book, a tradition which continued in the English books through that of 1662. It gives thanks, it offers and it invokes the Holy Spirit and that in almost the sparest language possible. Its theology of consecration is that of the Eastern canons which to become that first of the non-jurors and then the Scottish Episcopal Church before being incorporated into the American prayer book. The point which it should bring home to all of us who call ourselves Anglicans is that the purpose of the English Reformation, the restoration of the faith and practice of the Church of the apostles and the earliest bishops and fathers, has succeded in a manner greater than most of us have realized. That means that when we fully use the prayer book liturgy we are able to do what the Church in the book of Acts said it was doing, continuing "stedfastly in the Apostles doctrine and communion, the breaking of bread and prayers."

6 comments:

BCP Anglican said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BCP Anglican said...

Thank you, Father, for an interesting post full of insight. I am happy to see that you have not stopped posting.
By the way, I removed the first version of the comment just because of my typing.

Canon Tallis said...

I realize that I should probably post more than I have, but some of the things which I want to say have ended up as comments on others blogs. What I probably should do is pull them back here and expand upon what i believe needs to be first thought and then done.

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