Sacraments & Sacramentals

The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church, by Steve Ray

The word “Eucharist” was used early in the Church to describe the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. Eucharist comes from the Greek word for “thanks” (eucharistia), describing Christ’s actions: “And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you’.” From the first century the Apostolic Fathers referred to this Blessed Sacrament as the Eucharist, emphasizing that it was both the Real Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Sacrifice of the New Covenant.

Our Lord taught the Apostles the meaning and liturgical form of the Eucharist and the apostles in turn passed the tradition on to the early Church. Many Christian sects deny apostolic tradition and attempt to derive details of the sacrament from the Bible alone. However, the NT was never intended as a manual with detailed sacramental instructions—the Blessed Sacrament was learned by apostolic instruction and the faithful transmission of that tradition through the bishops. The final canon of Scripture was not recognized for almost four centuries after Christ, yet the Christians faithfully celebrated the Eucharist as taught by the apostolic tradition deposited in the Church.

Confusion about the Eucharist abounds in non-Catholic Christian circles. But, for the first twelve or thirteen centuries, with the exceptions of Ratramnus (d. ad 868) and Berengarius (d. 1088), both of whom affirmed the Real Presence in the end, there was a universal understanding and a consistent practice of the Eucharist throughout the Church, but only fifty years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg church door there was a book published entitled Two Hundred Definitions of the Words ‘This is My Body’. The Fathers of the Church knew no such confusion.

One of the earliest usages of the word Eucharist is in the Didache which was written as early as ad 60—before many NT writings. In the Didache we read: “Assemble on the Lord’s Day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one” (Didache 14). In the fourth century, St. Athanasius used the Didache as a catechetical text for his students.

Malachi’s prophecy helps understand the Fathers’ grasp of the Eucharist. St. Paul uses Malachi’s technical term “the table of the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 10:21. Referring to the “table of the Lord”, used in the context (Malachi 1: 7, 12), the prophet Malachi wrote, “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts” (KJV). This reference to “a pure offering” offered on “the table of the Lord” was interpreted repeatedly by the Fathers, from the first century onward, as a reference to the Eucharist. Even the Didache alludes to Malachi: “For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, ‘Everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations’(Didache 14).

Clement of Rome (AD 96), a fellow-worker with the Apostles, relates the new priesthood to that of the Old Testament Levites, emphasizing the distinction between the service of the priest and the laity: “In the same way, my brothers, when we offer our own Eucharist to God, each one should keep to his own degree (calling)” (Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, 41). St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 106), another associate of the Apostles, wrote of “one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with His Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice” (Epistles to the Philippians, 4). St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165) cites Malachi 1:11:  “[God] then speaks to those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist” (Dialog with Trypho the Jew, 14).

St. Ignatius of Antioch, though writing around ad 106, clearly represents the theology of the first century. He warns, “But look at those men who have those perverted notions about the grace of Jesus Christ which has come down to us, and see how contrary to the mind of God they are . . . . They even abstain from the Eucharist and the public prayer, because they will not admit that the Eucharist is the self-same body of our Savior Jesus Christ, which [flesh] suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His goodness raised up again” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6, 7). St. Ignatius speaks nobly of the Eucharist: “Share in one common breaking of bread—the medicine of immortality, and the sovereign remedy by which we escape death and live in Jesus Christ evermore” (Epistle to the Ephesians, 20).

The Catholic Mass continues the theology and liturgy of the first centuries. St. Justin Martyr offers a glimpse of the Eucharistic sacrifice in the mid-second century. “And this food is called among us Eucaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, 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” (First Apology, 1, 62).

The word “Transubstantiation” was commonly used in the 12th century and given classical formulation by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th. Though the early Fathers did not use this exact terminology, the teaching was essential to their theology. The Fathers unanimously held to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Some Protestants (e.g., William Webster, The Church of Rome at the Bar of History) tend to approach the Church Fathers in one of two ways. First, they may just ignore or disregard the Fathers as “uninspired” or irrelevant—why study the Fathers when we have the Bible? Second, they may search for perceived contradictions. The perceived contradiction is then presented as a false dilemma. This false dilemma forces an either/or dichotomy.

For example, “The Eucharist is either a “symbol” of the Body of Christ or it “is” the Body of Christ. The Fathers rejected such contrasts and espoused the both/and approach, understanding that the Eucharist was both a symbol (but never merely as a symbol) and the Real Presence. If the Real Presence was an illicit teaching or unorthodox teaching we would expect to find early orthodox Christians condemning it? Instead, we see the earliest and most respected Christians consistently promoting both the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist and the reality of the Real Presence. Never is this teaching condemned or forbidden. The Catholic doctrine is the result of the organic development of the doctrine taught by the apostles and faithfully preserved by the bishops in the apostolic succession.

As an example of such false dilemmas, Fundamentalists Protestants may claim that St. Augustine rejects the Real Presence and refers to the Eucharist as a mere symbol (“eaten spiritually, drunk spiritually”). With such words, St. Augustine is exhorting believers to eat and drink the Eucharist in faith. However, the Fundamentalists fail to disclose that St. Augustine taught that “[Jesus] took flesh from the flesh of Mary. He walked here in the same flesh, and gave us the same flesh to be eaten unto salvation. But no one eats that flesh unless he adores it” (Sermon 174, 7). St. Augustine certainly does not see any contradiction; in fact, his teaching is foundational to the dogmas of the Catholic Church.

With glorious harmony, the Fathers of the Church proclaimed the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrifice of the Altar. Opposition was virtually nonexistent until the dawn of the Protestant Reformation. The confusion began with the Reformers, who could form no doctrinal consensus on the Eucharist. At the Marburg Conference in 1529 they were sharply divided and departed the conference in utter disarray. In contrast, the Catholic Church has maintained unity and the fullness of the apostolic teaching by unabashedly proclaiming for two thousand years that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. St. John Chrysostom (c. 347–407) writes, “This is the Body which He gave us, both to hold in reserve and to eat” (Homily on 1 Cor 24, 4).

St. Cyril of Alexandria (c. 376?444) concurs, “[Jesus] states demonstratively: ‘This is My Body,’ and ‘This is My Blood,’ lest you might suppose the things that are seen are a figure. Rather, by some secret of the all-powerful God the things seen are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, truly offered in a sacrifice in which we, as participants, receive the life-giving and sanctifying power of Christ” (Commentary on Matthew, 26:27).

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 Sources:

Didache quote: “On Sunday Worship,, Early Christian Writings, trans. Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Books, 1968, p. 197.
Second Didache quote: ibid.
St. Clement’s quote: Early Christian Writings. trans. Maxwell Staniforth. Penguin Books, 1968, p. 39.
St. Ignatius’s first quote: Early Christian Writings. trans. Maxwell Staniforth, Penguin Books, 1968, p. 66.
Justin Martyr’s first quote: Ante-Nicene Fathers. Roberts and Donaldson, Eerdmans, 1985, vol. 1, p. 215.
St. Ignatius’ second quote: The Early Christian Writings, p.102?103.
St. Ignatius’ third quote: Early Christian Writings, p. 66
St. Auqustine’s first quote: Faith of the Early Fathers, William Jurgens, Liturgical Press. 1979, vol. 3, p. 20.
Chrysostom’s quote: The Faith of the Early Fathers, 2:118.
Cyril of Alexandria’s quote: The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3:220

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 Recommended Reading:

Crossing the Tiber,  Steve Ray, Ignatius Press, 1987 (Whole section on the Eucharist).
The Real Presence through the Ages, Michael Gaudoin-Parker, Alba House, 1998.
The Eucharist in the New Testament and the Early Church, Eugene LaVeriere, Liturgical Press, 1996.
The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist. James T. O’Conner, Ignatius Press, 1988.
The Faith of the Early Fathers in three volumes, William Jurgens, Liturgical Press, 1979.
The Holy Eucharist. Aidan Nichols, OP, Veritas Publications, 1991.
Catholic Faith in the Holy Eucharist, C. Lattey, ed. B. Herder Book Co., 1923.

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I was looking up Greek definitions of the word baptism and found this interesting “definition.” This dictionary is usually very good but I found this summary of biblical passages on baptism very intriguing and disingenuous. Take a look at this definition and think about it for yourself. Analyze it and the verses used. Notice how they dismiss the clear biblical meaning and importance of the word and the sacrament. 

“The goal of baptism is eternal life, but not primarily by way of vivification [my comment: giving of new life]. In spite of 1 Pet. 3:20–21; Jn. 3:5–6; Tit. 3:5, the thought of the cleansing bath is more fundamental (1 Cor. 6:11; Eph. 5:26; Heb. 10:22). Biblical piety rules out magical evaluations of religious objects and actions. Hence baptism has no purely external efficacy and in itself is unimportant (1 Cor. 1:17; Heb. 9:9–10; 1 Pet. 3:21).”
(Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985.)

An unsuspecting person, a subscriber to the heresy or a newbie might read this without discerning the bias and the error — and how they dismiss some biblical passages to promote others. Can you find it and explain it?

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NOTES: These are some notes related to the above passages. Below are quotes from an attack on my book Crossing the Tiber made by a Pastor Chris Bayak so I added them here to explain some of his false assumptions about the same verses mentioned above.

Bayak writes: “For example, [Ray] uses 1 Peter 3:18-21, admittedly one of the hardest passages in the New Testament, as proof for baptismal regeneration.”

Steve Responds: This passage is hard for Fundamentalist Protestants to interpret because they don’t like what it says and they have to twist it to fit their own man-made tradition. It is quite sad when one has to twist Scripture to fit one’s preconceived ideas. James McCarthy has a tough time with this verse in his book The Gospel according to Rome. I discuss this passage at some length in my book. I wonder how Mr. Bayack would have preferred that St. Peter reword this passage to better fit his Fundamentalist tradition.

 What Peter says is this: “And corresponding to that [Noah’s ark], baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21). What about these words does Mr. Bayack find difficult? They seem pretty straightforward to a Catholic and to all Christians before the Fundamentalist movement came into being. We as Catholics don’t have to do mental gymnastics to “get around” this verse. It sounds a lot like the very first Gospel message ever preached. St. Peter preached the first gospel message in Jerusalem. It is recorded in the inspired word of God. Let’s all open our Bibles to Acts 2:38 and allow God to instruct us. “And Peter said to them,  Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. “

 Enough said. My book goes into much more detail on the issue of Baptism in the Bible and in the early Church. I question whether Mr. Bayack really read the whole thing or just used the “hunt and peck” method to look for objections. In any case, he certainly uses “selective scholarship.”

Bayak writes “Yet in over ninety pages about baptism, not once does he ever mention clear passages like 1 Corinthians 1:17,  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel  (italics added).”

 Steve Responds: I really don’t see what the above verse has to do with anything unless Mr. Bayack is trying to imply that Paul had a low regard for baptism or considered it an unnecessary appendage to belief in Christ. I remember as a Fundamentalist making my daughter write a report on the unnecessary nature of baptism a symbol only before I would allow her to be baptized. How far off I was.

 Paul’s converts were all baptized immediately upon belief in Christ (e.g., Acts 16:31) as was he himself (Acts 9:17 18). Philip also showed the importance of baptism and baptized the Ethiopian eunuch immediately (Acts 8:36ff.). St. Paul himself recognizes that baptism was the means of his own cleansing and regeneration (e.g., Acts 22:16; Titus 3:5). The very fact that St. Paul makes this observation at this point in the argument demonstrates the importance and deep significance Baptism held in the apostolic Church. Had it been unnecessary or unimportant, he would not have even mentioned it in this context. What Mr. Bayack assumes about this passage actually proves the opposite.

 Jerome’s Biblical Commentary observes, “No special mission was needed to baptize, and Paul usually left the administration of baptism to others. This does not imply any disdain for it; Rom 6:3-12 and 1 Cor 6:11 indicate Paul’s high regard for the sacrament of incorporation into Christ.”

 Matthew Henry, in his ever popular Protestant commentary on the Bible, is also instructive in this matter. “Was it not a part of the apostolical commission to baptize all nations? And could Paul give thanks to God for his own neglect of duty? He is not to be understood in such a sense as if he were thankful for not having baptized at all, but for not having done it in present circumstances, lest it should have had this very bad construction put upon it that he had baptized in his own name, made disciples for himself, or set himself up as the head of a sect.

[Paul] left it to other ministers to baptize, while he set himself to more useful work, and filled up his time with preaching the gospel. This, he thought, was more his business, because the more important business of the two. He had assistants that could baptize, when none could discharge the other part of his office so well as himself. In this sense he says, Christ sent him not to baptize, but to preach the gospel not so much to baptize as to preach” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible).

 Paul, like Jesus, delegated baptizing to his disciples and ministers. The Catholic Church has never taught that baptisms must be done by an apostle or priest. The Church has acknowledged that any person can do baptisms, if done in the correct manner. Jesus thought baptism was important since he told Nicodemus he couldn’t see heaven without it (John 3:5). If Mr. Bayack denies that John 3:5 refers to Baptism he really shows that he is out of continuity with the Bible and the early Church and again his Fundamentalist Protestant tradition is shown to nullify the inspired word of God.

 Jesus also, like Paul, did not baptize His followers but delegated the task to his disciples (cp. John 4:1 2).

 Bayak writes: “He ignores Paul’s definition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, which makes no mention of baptism or communion, that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” Likewise, because he seeks to prove the necessity of the sacraments, he never addresses verses declaring salvation as a free gift such as Romans 6:23 and Ephesians 2:8-9.”

Steve Responds:  I do not ignore 1 Corinthians 15:1 4 but since it does not directly refer to the topic at hand Baptism it was not necessary to bring it up. What would happen if I brought up every verse in the Bible?

 Does Mr. Bayack imply that Baptism is not a free gift? How much more gratuitous can God be than to offer us a sacrament of faith as simple and as wonderful a gift as baptism? Ephesians 2:8 9 and Romans 6:23 do not contradict the Church’s teaching on Baptism, rather they support it. Does Mr. Bayack forget that the first verses of Romans 6 directly mention Baptism and its necessity for the placement of the believer into Christ? In fact, in Romans 6, Paul says that baptism is quite essential. Listen to what he says, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (Romans 6:3 5). According to St. Paul, it is through Baptism that we are placed into Christ!

 Is Mr. Bayack again being selective (practicing “selective scholarship”) by using a proof text allegedly against baptism from Romans 6 but ignoring the fact that Romans 6 begins by teaching us that it is through Baptism that we are placed into Christ? He ignores the whole context but pulls his proof text out of context to support his Fundamentalist tradition.

 I also deal with this passage to some degree in Crossing the Tiber, and find it frustrating that Mr. Bayack appears not to have read what I wrote, but still somehow feels competent to review and critique my book. I feel that I am spending far too much time rewriting things for him that he should have understood if he really read the book.

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A Few of the Questions I Answered on Catholic Answers Live — Are You Born Again?

To listen on-line, click here. For Podcasts and other options, click here

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1. As a Baptist, what did you used to believe about being born again?

2. How do you now answer if someone asks you if you are Born Again?

3. The thief on the cross didn’t get baptized so how could he get born again and go to heaven?

4. How can you say we are born again through baptism when Paul says it is through faith, not works?

5. Why do you think an infant can be born again through baptism when they are not even old enough to believe?

6. How do you explain Romans 10:9-10 that says we are saved by confession with our mouths and says nothing about baptism?

 A few articles I have written on this topic and many others can be found here.

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What’s the Deal with Infant Baptism?

March 8, 2015

What's the Deal with Infant Baptism? by Steve Ray My past tradition — Fundamentalist Baptist — rejected Infant Baptism. In fact, the Baptist tradition originated during the "Reformation" when they broke from Rome (and Luther) and promoted "ana-baptism" which means — baptized again. The infant baptism taught by the Catholic Church was utterly rejected and they "re-baptized" [...]

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Do the Fathers Claim the Eucharist is a Symbol and Not the Real Presence?

January 7, 2015

A man sent a challenge that the Fathers of the Church claim the Eucharist is a symbol and therefore NOT the Real Presence of Christ. Is that true? My friend Gary Michuta answers the question. Thanks for including me in on this conversation. Brian, there are three issues that commonly trip up non-Catholics when they read [...]

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“Sunday Mornings in Ancient Times” or “Why I Teared up Last Sunday”

December 22, 2014

Tears welled up in my eyes — again — at Mass last Sunday. It was not always so. As a former Baptist I used to think the Catholic Mass was a sacrilege and an abomination. How could anyone worship a piece of bread? Really! However, last Sunday I was overcome with emotion while sitting in [...]

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Pastor Bob “Preaches the Word” (Discussing A Sermon on Baptism)

November 27, 2014

Pastor Bob Preaches From The Word By Steve Ray Josh left Sunday services full of excitement, anxious to discuss Pastor Bob’s sermon with his sister Jennifer who had recently converted to the Catholic Church. The pastor had explained how salvation was by “faith alone” and not by rituals and works. He was anxious to discuss [...]

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Infant Baptism

November 26, 2014

Infant Baptism is discussed and argued about quite a bit in some circles. I, of course, was raised Baptist and taught that Infant Baptism was a man-made tradition invented by the heretical Catholics who abandoned the Word of God to follow ill-advised tradition. (Picture: My granddaughter Elizabeth Arabella Rose Ray is baptized.) But not all [...]

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Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Official Affirms Teaching on Absolution, Communion for the Remarried

November 14, 2014

Catholic World News – November 14, 2014 In a letter written three days after the conclusion of the recent Synod of Bishops, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed St. John Paul II’s teaching on absolution for those who have remarried outside the Church. Asked by a French priest whether [...]

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My Updated Article on Infant Baptism

October 29, 2014

Even among Evangelical Protestants there is much debate about Infant Baptism. My old Baptist tradition rejected it as a Catholic tradition of men. Dr. Francis Schaeffer, my favorite Evangelical Presbyterian theologian wrote a booklet entitled Infant Baptism in favor of the practice – my wife Janet was raised Presbyterian and baptized as an infant. It [...]

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Are You Born Again?

August 18, 2014

Here is a short segment of one of my talks at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Hope you enjoy it. During the talk I mention Logos Bible Software which you can test drive at www.Verbum.com/Steve  How does one get born again? Catholics are born again the “Bible way”! Doing a Bible Study on what “water and [...]

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Did Jesus Contradict the Old Testament’s Prohibition on Drinking Blood?

June 30, 2014

Leonard Alt debates an anti-Catholic named Phil. He writes: I have a choice: I can listen to the Evangelicals who confuse the blood of animals, with the blood of Christ and choose not to eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of Christ, or, I can listen to Jesus who said; “Whoever eats my flesh [...]

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Can Relics and Sacramentals Relay the Power of God?

May 31, 2014

Some might claim that Catholic teaching on relics and Sacramentals is unbiblical. Really? Check out these biblical passages: “So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face CLOTHS or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came [...]

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Amazing! Pope will Celebrate Mass in the Upper Room

March 27, 2014

This is quite incredible since it has not been done since Pope John Paul II received permission from Israel to celebrate Mass there on his visit to the Holy Land. Pope Francis will do the “not allowed”–he will celebrate Mass in the Upper Room. Seems odd, eh, that the place where the first Eucharist was [...]

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What Does God See When He Opens His Eyes?

March 8, 2014

Recently we went to Mass with two Protestants.  As we walked in the door — there it was, as big as life — a CRUCIFIX with the Body of Our Lord hanging over the altar. I knew what the Protestants were thinking — I used to think the same – ”CATHOLICS ARE WRONG, JESUS IS NO LONGER [...]

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What Does “Water and Spirit” Mean?

February 3, 2014

A while ago a Protestant friend tried to prove that Born Again by “water and Spirit” did not mean baptism. Here is one paragraph that he sent me: In John, chapter 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews and a Pharisee, that one must be born ‘from above’ (Gr. anothen) in order to enter the [...]

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