Eucharistic rites

In the accounts of the Eucharist in the Acts of Thomas it appears that wine was not always used; sometimes there is reference to bread only. However, when examples of prayer over the elements is given, several take the form of an invocation of the Spirit to come upon the element(s), rather like the invocation on the oil in the baptismal accounts. On the other hand, in Apostolic Constitutions VIII, the Eucharist is outlined as having readings from the Law, Prophets, Letters and Gospels; a sermon; the dismissal, in the form of litanies and prayers, of catechumens, the possessed and penitents; a litany for church and world; the exchange of the Peace; and a eucharistic prayer over the bread and wine which gives thanks for creation and salvation history in the Old Covenant, with the singing of the sanctus; thanks for the work of Jesus Christ leading into an institution narrative; a petition for the Holy Spirit 'to show [apophenei] this bread body of your Christ, and this cup blood of your Christ'; and then intercessions for living and departed. The rite concluded with a thanksgiving and dismissal prayer, which was for protection.

Important also for prehistory is the anaphora or eucharistic prayer attributed to Addai and Mari. This prayer is one of three eucharistic prayers still used by the Church of the East, and is also used in the Chaldean and Syro-Malabar Churches. A version of it is also preserved (but no longer used) by the Maronites, called 'St Peter III', or 'Sharar'. What is remarkable about this eucharistic prayer, at least by later standards, is that it contains no institution narrative. It gives glory to God, contains the sanctus, gives thanks for the Incarnation, commemorates the offering on the altar, and remembers the righteous fathers. It contains a petition for the Spirit to come upon the elements of bread and wine, for benefit of the communicants:

May he (she) come, O Lord, your Holy Spirit and rest upon this oblation of your servants, and bless and hallow it, that it may be to us, O Lord, for the pardon of debts and the forgiveness of sins, and a great hope of resurrection from the dead and a new life in the kingdom of heaven with all who have been pleasing before you.

In terms of having a calling of the Spirit upon the bread and wine, but no institution narrative, this prayer stands in a tradition at least parallel with the invocations in the Acts of Thomas. The interpretation of the evidence from Cyril of Jerusalem is somewhat contested on this matter. Cyril attests to the kiss of peace, the dialogue beginning sursum corda, and then thanksgiving over the bread and wine, with mention of heaven, earth, sun, moon, and stars, leading into angelic beings and the sanctus. He then mentions the calling of the Holy Spirit upon the elements, followed by intercessions for the living and then the departed. The thanksgiving is followed by the Lord's Prayer, the sancta sanctis ('holy things for holy people') and communion. There is no mention of an institution narrative forming part of the eucharistic prayer. Some scholars suggest that, as in Addai and Mari, there was no narrative at this time. Others argue that Cyril passes over it because he had already discussed it in a previous lecture.

Finally we may note that the Syrian Orthodox, Church of the East and Maronites all ascribe hymns and prayers to Ephrem, the great fourth-century Syrian theologian, to whom they gave the title, 'Harp of the Spirit'.

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