Eucharist is a term employed for the celebration of the Lord's Supper, especially in the primitive Church, to which the present consideration is restricted. (For the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church see MASS, II.; of the Churches of the Reformation, LORD'S SUPPER, IV. For the doctrine of the Lord's Supper see LORD'S SUPPER, 1. Ill. ; MASS, I.; TRANSUBSTANTIATION.) In early Christian literature, however, the word is also applied (1) to the prayer of thanksgiving spoken over the elements (in the East; only once in the Latin West, Tertullian, De oratione, xxiv.) ; (2) to the elements themselves; (3) by an extension of meaning, to any consecrated element or sacramentum--as in Cyprian, Epist. lxx. 2, to the consecrated oil. The application to the entire celebration of the Lord's Supper continued only so long as it was an actual meal (cf. especially Ignatius), and then reappeared only in the Middle Ages.
1. Combination of the Evening Agapæ and the Morning Service. The eucharistic celebration of the primitive Church underwent a very important change about the middle of the second century. Originally, either as a common meal or in connection with one, it formed a separate observance which took place in the evening, while the congregation assembled in the morning to hear the Word. At the date mentioned these two were fused into one service, a change which made possible the development of the later mass (see MASS, II., 1, § 1) and still exercises an influence even upon Protestant liturgical conceptions. The first witness for the combination of the Eucharist with the morning service is Justin (I Apol. Ixv. lxvii., written c. 150). Though the famous letter of Pliny (x. 96, c. 113) attests the prevalence of the older custom in Bithynia, the Didache (ix., x.) at least for Egypt, and Clement (I Cor. xliv.) for Rome, Justin shows the new as universally adopted, even if the old for a while existed alongside of it. The grounds for the change have been sought in the accusations of the pagans, who charged the Christians with the commission of hideous abominations at their agapæ. But this is an improbable theory; both the evening agapæ and the pagan calumnies still continued after this. It is more likely that both religious and practical reasons brought about the change. The earlier manner of celebrating the Eucharist endangered the unity of the local church, and did not accord with the growing importance of the priesthood. Where these meetings had often been held independently in private houses, the aphorism of Ignatius "no lawful Eucharist without the bishop" (Smyrn. viii. 1) now prevailed. At the morning service the clergy were assembled, the Scriptures were solemnly read; a natural center of unity for the local church was here, and the religious development was met by the change, as well as the practical difficulty of assembling widely scattered members for both services.
2. The Early Liturgical Development. In studying the liturgical development, the earliest stage is wrapped in obscurity. Exclusive of the Gospel narratives of the institution (see LORD'S SUPPER, Introduction and I.), the only sources are I Cor. xi. 20 sqq. and the ninth, tenth, and fourteenth chapters of the Didache. The traditional interpretation of the Pauline passage (still upheld by Harnack, Zahn, and others) regards the Eucharist as the conclusion of a meal taken in common, or agape. A more modern view, held by Jülicher, Spitta, Haupt, and Hoffmann, holds that the reference of the passage is to one single meal, designated as a whole by the name "Lord's Supper." This theory is borne out by the fact that Ignatius uses the terms agapē and eucharistia indiscriminately for one and the same sacred feast (Smyrn. viii. 2, vii. 1; Rom. vii. 3; perhaps also Philad. iv.; Eph. xiii. 1). But this still leaves the question open as to the manner in which this feast was conducted. Since Christ had left no precise ritual directions, the first Christians were free to arrange their Eucharist as seemed best to them. The most natural thing was to follow the traditions of the sacred meals of Judaism. Of these the most natural choice would have been the Passover supper, if it is assumed that the institution took place on this occasion; but even with this assumption neither I Cor. xi. nor the Didache shows any relation between the two, and none is forced upon us by such passages as I Cor. x. 6, v. 7. It seems more probable that a model was sought in the most common of these observances, the Sabbath meal as it was celebrated in every Jewish house at the beginning of the Sabbath on Friday night. We can get an idea of it from the Mishnah (especially Berakot vi.-viii.), which shows that it was marked by unity and characterized by the partaking of a blessed cup and blessed bread. At the beginning of the meal the cup, blessed with prayer by one of the family, preferably the father, was handed round though this blessing might come later, and, indeed, the cup be dispensed with altogether. Then the bread was blessed which was broken and eaten during the meal; and a thanksgiving followed, to which the company responded with "Amen," and after the meal, in which no "stranger" might take part, there was another thanksgiving. The dependence of the eucharistic form on this observance is supported by the Didache, where (ix., x.) is found the same sequence of customs: after the act of reconciliation, the so-called exomologesis (xiv.), the blessing of cup and bread by a short prayer (ix.), common participation (Gk. emplēsthēnai, x. 1), and a final thanksgiving (x.). The formulas of blessing are indeed purely Christian, but the double blessing of cup and bread, and the placing of the cup first, point clearly to a Jewish origin. Like the Sabbath meal, again, the whole ceremony is one; the contention of Zahn, Weizsäcker, and Haupt that the prayers for the agape are found in chapter ix. and those for the Eucharist in x. can not be upheld. The partaking of the consecrated elements was not (as has been supposed from a misunderstanding of I Cor. xi.) the final but the initial act; it was the blessing of the bread and wine that made the meal "the Lord's Supper." Inquiring how the unity was dissolved, it appears that the reception of the consecrated elements at the beginning became more and more the principal thing, while, on the other hand, the subsequent meal became more and more an agapē, or act of charity on the part of the rich believers toward their poorer brethren. This, deprived of its most significant accompaniment, for which the later eulogia (q. v.) offered an insufficient equivalent, gradually decayed and perished, while the Eucharist lived on with power in its new form, took precedence of the service of Scripture-reading and preaching, and finally, as the mass, became the supreme act of worship.
3. The Service in Justin's Time and Later. But meanwhile, when it was united with the other service, of Scripture-reading and prayer, it naturally took with it the essential forms which had up to that time constituted it. Some notable changes took place; the two prayers of blessing on the elements were fused into one, and the offering of the bread and wine, by members of the church, now took on the dignity of a liturgical function. What the order of the various parts was at this period we learn from Justin to have been as follows: (1) the kiss of peace; (2) the oblation (Gk. prosphora); (3) the eucharistic prayer of the "president" (Gk. proestōs), i.e., the bishop, with intercessions, and the response "Amen"; (4) the communion; (5) the payment of the congregation's contribution (stips), and distribution to the poor. The last was dropped in later times, and a responsory (preface) added, which may, indeed, have been in use as early as Justin, though he does not mention it. But the same groundwork continues to show itself, e.g., in Tertullian and Cyprian. Thus, too, about 348, Cyril of Jerusalem describes substantially the same order: (1) the washing of the hands of the bishop and presbyters; (2) the kiss of peace; (3) preface with Trisagion and Epiklesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit; (4) intercessions; (5) Lord's Prayer; (6) communion; (7) final prayer. As to the later detailed development, see MASS, II.
4. The Oblation. We must now consider more definitely the individual parts of this primitive service. After the kiss of peace (q.v.) came the oblation, which was performed by the deacons receiving the offerings and carrying them to the bishop. When they were numerous, special tables were necessary to hold them, which stood on each side of the altar. Besides bread and wine there were present other kinds of food, such as milk, oil, honey, etc., which were used for the support of the poor. These gifts were blessed, and the givers commemorated by name. As the first spontaneous generosity languished and the Old Testament was increasingly taken as a model, the offering of all kinds of first-fruits was insisted on. The disturbance to the service caused by the bringing of these various offerings gave rise to attempts to limit them, at the beginning of the fourth century, to bread and wine, or other things used in ecclesiastical functions, such as oil for the holy unction, milk and honey for the reception of neophytes, and the like. In the time of Chrysostom scarcely anything but bread and wine was brought (cf. Augustine, Serm. lxxxii. 3, 5), and the offering was not made every Sunday by all the members, but on special festivals and in honor of the departed. The church provided the bread and wine from its own resources.
5. The Prayers. The central prayer (originally prayers), as is seen from the Didache (ix.), at first contained thanksgiving for both bodily and spiritual nourishment, in free adaptation of the ordinary Jewish formularies referred to above. Later this prayer was broken by the Trisagion (from Isa. vi. 3), sung by the congregation. Tertullian is the first evidence for this; Origen seems to have known it; in the time of Athanasius it was in general though not universal use, in both East and West. It arose probably in Syria, where the liturgies show a really organic connection between it and the prayer which it follows. This prayer usually contains a thanksgiving for the benefits of redemption, leading up to a recitation of the words of institution. That these formed a part of the earliest Christian liturgy can not be safely concluded from I Cor. xi. 23 sqq.; but it is possible that the custom was known to Justin, as it certainly was to Origen, Cyprian, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Chrysostom; and no ancient liturgy has been preserved which does not contain these words. Under the influence of I Cor. xi. 26, there followed what was called the anamnesis or commemoration, and then the anaphora, in which the consecrated elements were offered up to God; and next came the epiklesis (q.v.). The actual consecration was never considered to take place through the words of institution alone before Augustine and Ambrose, but was attributed to the entire eucharistic prayer--though the view is also found that the epiklesis has this power. Whether the exomologesis or acknowledgment of sin originally preceded or followed the eucharistic prayer can not be determined; later it came after, and was usually connected with the epiklesis. From the third or fourth century on, a great intercession for the whole church followed. It is found in Cyril of Jerusalem and elsewhere, but not in Tertullian or Cyprian. It also had its origin probably in Syria, as it is not found in the oldest Egyptian liturgy known. The use of the Lord's Prayer as a part of the liturgy seems to have been known to Tertullian and Cyprian, but is first certainly attested by Cyril of Jerusalem, Chrysostom, Augustine, and Jerome. It is not mentioned in the Apostolic Constitutions.
6. The Communion. The actual communion, as long as the Eucharist had the form of a real meal, was accomplished by the passing of the consecrated elements from hand to hand. When it became a formal act, it was prefaced (demonstrably as early as the end of the second century) by the bishop saying, "Holy things to holy persons" (from the Septuagint version of Lev. xxiv. 9; cf. Matt. vii. 6). The congregation answered, "One alone is holy," etc., and then approached the altar, where they received the elements in their hands, standing. Great care was exercised to prevent a crumb of the hallowed bread or a drop of the consecrated wine falling to the ground; in the reception of the former it was usual to place the left hand under the right in the form of a cross. The careful washing of the hands before communion was prescribed; and Cyril of Jerusalem instructs his catechumens to receive the chalice bowing low. The distribution of the elements was performed in Justin's time by the deacons; but this function was withdrawn from them with the gradual growth of reverence for the elements and belief in priestly dignity and power. As a transitional stage, the deacons are found in some places entrusted with the administration of the chalice, as the less important. When a definite formula of administration came in is uncertain, though there are no traces of one in the apostolic age. The oldest was the simple statement; the formula is Hoc est corpus Christi, Hic est sanguis Christi. In the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII., xiii. 4) "body of Christ" for the bread, and "blood of Christ, cup of life" for the cup. In Mark the Hermit (c. 410) a longer formula occurs: "the holy blood of Jesus Christ for life eternal"; and in seventh-century Gaul a still further expansion, "May the Body and Blood of our Lord bring to thee remission of sin and eternal life" (Council of Rouen, can. ii.). Each communicant answered "Amen," as an expression of faith. That the earliest use was to give first the cup and then the bread is shown by the Didache, and possibly by Luke xxii. 17 and Cor. x. 16.
Only baptized Christians could receive the communion; this was a universal principle from the beginning. Heretics, schismatics, and unreconciled penitents were also excluded, though it was sometimes given to the lapsed when dying. It was the general practise to give it to children. The custom of placing it in the mouth of dead persons must have been deeply rooted, to judge from the number of councils which found it necessary to prohibit it (see COMMUNION OF THE DEAD). Fasting communion is an old and quite universal practise, in fact, a church law, which was referred to apostolic command by Augustine; an exception was made on Maundy Thursday, when the Eucharist was celebrated in the evening. Much emphasis was laid, following Lev. vii. 20 and I Cor. xi. 27, upon purity of body and soul as a preparation for communion. Chrysostom, who is specially strong on this point, requires a particular preparation by penance, prayer, almsgiving, and spiritual exercises, lasting for days.
7. Frequency of Celebration. As to frequency of celebration, the most which can be said for the primitive age with any certainty is that it occurred at least every Sunday, and there is plenty of proof for this in the second century. The tendency was toward greater frequency, and days of religious observance (Saturdays, fast-days, the anniversaries of martyrs) were thus marked. Daily celebration became customary in the West, by the beginning of the third century in Africa, as evidenced by Cyprian; in Rome at least in the time of Jerome, or much earlier if we are to accept as genuine the fragments on Proverbs ascribed to Hippolytus. For Spain the same evidence is given by Jerome; for Gaul by Cassian; for Milan by Ambrose. In the East (except Egypt), Sunday and Saturday were the regular days. But here, too, greater frequency began to prevail. According to Basil (Epist. xciii.) the rule at Cæsarea in Cappadocia was four times a week, and he was anxious to see it daily. In Egypt and the Thebaid the Sunday celebration remained the rule for a long time, though an expression of Cyril of Alexandria implies that by his time the Western practise was coming in.
8. The Elements. The elements used in the Eucharist were bread and wine, everywhere throughout the Church. The bread was common leavened wheat bread, made in little round loaves, with a cruciform incision to facilitate breaking (see ALTAR BREAD). The wine, whether white or red, was mixed with water. Cyprian mentions (Epist. lxiii.) as a wide-spread African custom the reception of pure water and no wine at all. But this practise, which is neither primitive nor based on ascetic principles but simply an exaggerated insistence on the prevalent custom of drinking no wine in the morning, never spread further and died out completely. Milk, honey, and salt were used at various times (for the salt, cf. the Clementine Homilies, xiv. 1) . The use of milk and honey is first mentioned in connection with the communion of neophytes. A similar custom--a purification by honey--occurs in the Mithra cult; but it could hardly have come from that source into Christian usage if passages like Jer. xi. 5 and Ezra xx. 6 (cf. also Isa. lv. 1) had not seemed to commend it. From the neophytes' communion the custom spread into more general use; sometimes honey was mixed with the wine (Council of Auxerre, 585 or 578, can. v.); or milk was substituted for wine, as in the old Spanish provinces of Gallacia and Asturia, where wine was scarce (Fourth Council of Braga, about 675, can. ii.; cf. also can. lvii. of the Second Trullan Council, 692).
9. Various Customs. A regular reception every Sunday was undoubtedly the normal custom of the primitive age. This is evident, if from nothing else, from the statement of Justin (I Apol. lxvii.) that the consecrated elements were carried by the deacons to the houses of those who could not be present at the celebration. The practise of the whole congregation communicating, which continued into the third century, disappeared with surprising rapidity in the fourth. Chrysostom complains more than once of the fewness of communicants; Eusebius of Emesa rebukes those who leave the church before the communion, and such persons are threatened with excommunication by the Apostolic Canons (ix.) and the Council of Antioch (341, can. ii.). In the East the custom gradually prevailed of receiving the sacrament only once a year, Easter and Epiphany being the most usual days. In the West more frequent communion remained usual. Not a few early councils, indeed, in Gaul and Spain (e.g., Elvira, 305; Toledo, 398 or 400; Agde, 506) threatened with penalties those who abstained from communion; but this was directed against cryptic sects, whose members came to church, but had their own communion in their secret meetings. For the vessels used in the celebration, see VESSELS, SACRED.
It seems to have been first in the West that the custom grew up of carrying home either fragments of the consecrated bread or the whole portion received, in special little boxes called arcæ (Tertullian, Cyprian). Basil attests the existence of the same custom in Egypt, and it must have spread rapidly. With these particles a sort of domestic celebration would be performed (Council of Laodicea, can. lviii.; of Gangra, about 350, can. x.; of Toledo, 400, can. xiv.). They were also carried about the person as a protection against dangers, as shown by the evidence of Ambrose and Gregory Nazianzen. To the sick and to prisoners the Eucharist was carried not only by priests but by laymen and even women.
The commemoration of the death-anniversaries of the martyrs took place at their graves, and can hardly have consisted in anything but the Eucharist. The custom became more general with the fourth century, and altars were erected over the graves. The practise must also have soon arisen of commemorating the other dead either on the third (ninth, fortieth) day after death or on the anniversary.
10. The Heretical Sects. As to the eucharistic celebration among the early sects not much information has been handed down. Relatively the most is known about the Gnostics. In the Pistis Sophia a description is given of a function which it is hard to identify as eucharistic or baptismal, so much have the two sacraments been fused into one. Substantially nearer to the practise of the Church are the celebrations described in the Acta Thomæ and Acta Johannis; here the Eucharist is an independent function, separate from the agape, and taking place in the morning, but not connected with the Scripture-reading and preaching service; here too appear the oblation, the prayer of consecration, the breaking of the bread, and the administration with a definite formula, to which the receiver responds with "Amen." But there is a doubt how far these originally Gnostic writings have been changed by Catholic revision. The consecration among the Gnostics was effected not by the recital of the words of institution but by a prayer (of thanksgiving in the Acta Johannis, of supplication to Christ for a blessing on the feast in the Acta Thomæ, while there is an epiklesis in Irenæus I., xiii. 2 and in another part of the Acta Thomæ). What is known of the Eucharist among the other sects is confined almost entirely to the elements used by them. Water replaced wine very generally outside the Gnostic circles. Epiphanius relates that some bodies (Encratitæ, Apostolici) used bread, salt, and water; and he and Augustine both say that the Montanists used bread and cheese, without wine customs which point to the original status of the Eucharist as an actual meal.