Origin of the Eucharist

Christians find the origin of the Eucharist in the Last Supper, at which Jesus established a New Covenant in his body and blood, fulfilling the Mosaic covenant. In this ancient rite or sacrament Christians eat bread and drink a cup as the body and blood of Christ. While certain beliefs and practices regarding the Eucharist may have changed over time and may vary today, the practice itself dates back to apostolic times and the earliest Christian writing.

The earliest extant written account of the Christian eucharistia (Greek: thanksgiving) is that in the First Epistle to the Corinthians of the mid-50s, in which Paul the Apostle relates "eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord in the celebration of a "Supper of the Lord" to the Last Supper of Jesus some 25 years earlier.

The Eucharist is a central religious rite of the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy and several of the Christian denominations that have emerged since the Protestant Reformation. Letters of Ignatius of Antioch speak of it as a central rite for the Christians of the first years of the second century, and it is recorded as celebrated more than half a century earlier by the Christian community at Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Contemporary scholarship examines the questions whether in 1 Corinthians Paul was transmitting apostolic teaching or his own inspiration, whether Jesus meant to institute a ritual at his Last Supper, and whether the Last Supper was an actual historical event in any way related to the undisputed early "Lord's Supper" or "Eucharist". The Eucharist is generally thought to have its antecedents in common meal practice of uncertain origin, which gradually developed into a rite central to the Roman Church in the first two to four centuries of the Common Era.


Like Paul the Apostle, the liturgies that fully developed by the late 300s in the great Anaphoras of St. Basil and St. Chrysostom of the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Canon of the Mass of the Roman Rite, and similar anaphoras in other Churches, generally refer explicitly to what Jesus did at his Last Supper, using words that recall what the earliest sources attribute to him on that occasion. These first-century sources, namely the First Epistle to the Corinthians and the three Synoptic Gospels, do not use identical words in recounting what Jesus said at the Last Supper and, like the Words of Institution in the liturgies, do not claim to repeat word for word what exactly he said. A similar variety of expression is found in their accounts of what Jesus said on other occasions, giving the tenor, but not claiming to repeat the exact words of Jesus, which in any case were presumably spoken in Aramaic, not in the language of these sources, which is Greek. The words of institution used in present-day liturgies are different combinations of words given in Saint Paul's letter and in the Synoptic Gospels and may even include words not given in the first-century sources, such as the Roman Rite's "et aeterni" and (formerly) "mysterium fidei".

Ros Clarke says that the evidence from the early church suggests that the words of institution were not then used liturgically, but only catechetically, and so the narrative of the Last Supper was not used in celebrating the Eucharist. What was essential, she says, was the ritual, comprised of the four actions of taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it, and giving it to be eaten, accompanying the actions by saying some words identifying the bread with Jesus' body, and similarly with respect to the cup.

The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges the validity of the Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, which is a Eucharistic liturgy in use from time immemorial that does not expressly contain the words of institution.It has been described as "an authentic anaphora of early Christianity, close to the primordial patterns of the Eucharistic prayer". It speaks of "the commemoration of the Body and Blood of your Christ, which we offer to you on the pure and holy altar, as you have taught us in his life-giving Gospel" and of "commemorating this mystery of the passion and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ".

(Father Robert Taft) showed that Catholic Masses didn't use the so-called words of institution, "This is my body, this is my blood," until after the Council of Nicaea in 325, and that even then the words of institution were not ordered until the Council of Trent issued a decree in 1531, responding to Luther's challenge over transubstantiation. A final affirmation of the notion that Jesus is not sacramentally present until the priest says the magical words, "This is my body," did not happen until Plus VII issued his brief, Adorabile Eucharistiae, on May 9 1822.

Ros Clarke refers to evidence that suggests that "Words of Institution" were not used in the celebration of the Eucharist during the second century. The liturgical use of the narratives, common today, seems not to have been known in the second century and only developed later in the third century.


The "Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" says: "The institution of the Eucharist is recorded by St Paul in and in the three Synoptic Gospels." There are thus, as the 1800-page Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church of 2005 states, "four accounts of its institution, one by St Paul in and three in the Synoptic Gospels (, )." "It is recorded as celebrated by the early Christian community at Jerusalem and by St Paul on his visit to Troas ()." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church concludes that from a very early date the service was a regular part of Christian worship, and was held to have been instituted by Christ.

The term "Eucharist", which became the usual term for the rite, does not appear in the New Testament itself. Early occurrences are in the Didache, Saint Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Justin Martyr. Its use "is explained either because at its institution Christ 'gave thanks' or because the service is the supreme act of Christian thanksgiving."

The first-century Christian Eucharist - it is disputed whether it was considered identical with the agape feast in connection with which it was celebrated - was a communal supper with ritual prayer and blessing. Like Jewish banquets of the time, it followed Hellenic practices. Soon the agape feast and the Eucharist were separated.

The Didache, probably of the start of the second century, but which some attribute to the first century itself, states: "Let none eat or drink of your Eucharist but such as have been baptized into the name of the Lord, for of a truth the Lord hath said concerning this, Give not that which is holy unto dogs."

View that Eucharist was originally unrelated to the Last Supper

Paul Bradshaw argues in Eucharistic Origins that it is not until after the first century and much later in some areas that the Eucharist and the Last Supper became placed in a relation of dependence: many Eucharists did not relate to the Paschal mystery and/or the Last Supper. What Paul the Apostle wrote in the middle of the first century is usually understood as placing the celebration in a relationship with the Last Supper.

Passover, Kiddush and Chaburah: Jewish Ritual Meal Practice

Scholars have associated Jesus' Last Supper and the first-century Eucharist practices with three Second Temple Jewish meal practices: the Passover Seder meal, the kiddush blessing with wine, and the chaburah fellowship.

Passover Seder

The Synoptic Gospels speak of the Last Supper as a Passover meal. Passover commemorates God's saving of his chosen people, the Israelites, who, according to , were spared death through the blood of lambs. The Christian concept of Jesus as the Lamb of God whose sacrificial blood takes away the sin of the world reflects this Jewish tradition. The Passover Seder involves four cups of wine.

In the Gospel of John, the Last Supper takes place the day before Passover. Paul the Apostle does not mention Passover in relation to the Last Supper.

"Whether the Last Supper was a Passover Meal (as the chronology of the Synoptic Gospels would suggest) or not (as St John), it is clear that the Eucharist was instituted at Passover time, and Christian writers from Saint Paul onwards have stressed that the death of Christ was the fulfilment of the sacrifice foreshadowed by the Passover.


The Johannine Supper, Ratcliffe has suggested, was the Jewish ordinance known as Qiddush, the details of which involved the leader of the mixed-sex ceremony taking a cup of wine, sanctifying it by reciting a thanksgiving blessing, and passing it around. There was a similar blessing and breaking of bread. Qiddush is the "Jewish benediction and prayer recited over a cup of wine immediately before the meal on the eve of the sabbath or of a festival. After reciting the Qiddush the master of the house sips from the cup, and then passes it to his wife and to the others at the table; then all wash their hands, and the master of the house blesses the bread, cuts it, and passes a morsel to each person at the table.

Joachim Jeremias, in about the same time period, disputed the view that the Last Supper was Qiddush , because the Qiddush was always associated with the Sabbath, and even if there was a Passover Qiddush, it would have taken place immediately before the seder, not the day before. Jeremias argued in favor of a Seder as Last Supper.

Ratcliffe wrote: "Though the Qiddush accounts for the '[Johannine]' Last Supper, it affords no explanation on the origin of the eucharist . . . the Last Supper and the Sabbath-Passover Qiddush was therefore no unusual occurrence. It represented consistent practice since Jesus had first formed the group. It is from this practice, rather than from any direct institution from Jesus, that the eucharist derives its origin. The practice was too firmly established for the group to abandon it, when its Master had been taken away; the primitive apostolic eucharist is no other than the continuation of Jesus's chaburah meal. This is the 'breaking of bread' of Acts ii. 42.


The chaburah (also 'haburah', pl 'chaburoth') is not the name of a rite, rather it was the name of a group of male friends who met at regular intervals (weekly for Dix) for conversation and a formal meal appurtenant to that meeting. Nothing is said about them in the Bible but scholars have been able to discover some things about them from other sources. The corporate meeting of a chaburah usually took the form of a supper, held at regular intervals, often on the eve of sabbaths or holy days. Each member of the society contributed towards the provision of this common meal.

The form of the supper was largely the same as the chief meal of the day in every pious Jewish household. Each kind of food was blessed when it was first brought to the table. At the end of the meal came the grace after meals - the Blessing or Benediction as it was called. This long prayer was said by the host or father of the family in the name of all who had eaten the meal. On important occasions, and at a chaburah supper, it was recited over a special cup of wine known quite naturally as "the cup of blessing." At the end of the Thanksgiving prayer this cup was sipped by the leader and then by each of those present. The chaburah supper was concluded by the singing of a psalm, after which the meeting broke up.

Jeremias also disputed that the Last Supper was a chaburah meal, interposing the objection that the chaburah was a "duty" meal, held appurtenant to a formal occasion such as a 'bris' or a betrothal.

Banquet and Cult: Two Prongs of Hellenistic Ritual Meal Practice

Deipnon, libation and symposion

Analysis of Jesus' meal practice, including the Last Supper, requires familiarity with Greek banquet meal practices, established centuries earlier.

In the 8th century BC, the Judean shepherd/prophet Amos denounced the luxurious social and ceremonial religious practices of Israel's wealthy and referred to these practices (assemblies, feasts, reclining, songs, harp music, ointment, and bowls of wine) negatively.

During the Second Temple period, Hellenic practices were adopted by Jews after the conquests of Alexander the Great. By the 2nd century BC, Jesus Ben Sirach writing in the longest biblical wisdom book, Ecclesiasticus, described Jewish feasting, with numerous parallels to Hellenic practice, without disapproval..

Gentile and Jewish practice was that the all-male participants reclined at table on their left elbows, and after a benediction given by the host (in the case of a Jewish meal), would have a deipnon (late afternoon or evening meal) of bread with various vegetables, perhaps some fish or even meat if the meal was extravagant.

Among the Greeks, a ritual libation, or sacrificial pouring out of wine, followed, with another benediction or blessing, leading to the 'symposion' (as in Plato's Symposium) or wine-drinking course and entertainment. Thus was established an order of breaking bread and drinking wine. Cups of wine were even passed from diner to diner as a way to pass responsibility for speaking next. "Plutarch spoke in the highest terms of the bonds created by the shared wine bowl. His words are echoed by Paul who spoke of the sharing of bread and wine as the act that created the one body, that is to say, it was a community-creating ritual."

Mystery Cults

Parallel to the religious duties to god and state, "the Hellenic world also fostered a number of 'underground' religions, which countless thousands of people found intellectually and emotionally satisfying. They were known as the "mysteries," because their adherants took oaths never to reveal their rites to the uninitiated. Several honored young male gods born of a divine father and human mother, ressurected after a heroic death. In some of these secret religions "celebrants shared a communal meal in which they symbolically ate the flesh and drank the blood of their god.

Dionysus cult

Early Christianity spread through a Hellenized populace. Jewish feast practices had taken on Hellenic forms. Hellenic culture recognized several gods of death and rebirth, such as Osiris. The deity most similar to the Christ of the Eucharist is Dionysus. Dionysus was the god of the vine, and his feasts included wine that was the god himself, sacrificed for those at the feast. Dionysus was the son of Zeus, the king of the divine mountain. Zeus raised Dionysus from the dead and made him immortal. Dionysus was the most famous dying and resurrected god, son of the King of the gods and a mortal mother. Zeus raised his son from the dead, granting him everlasting divinity. He was "god of 'the vine' - representing wine, the most universally popular beverage in the ancient world." "To quote Euripides statement, he was the libation, 'The god who himself is offered in libation to the other gods.' In this passage the identification of the god with the wine is as absolute as the identification of Christ in Catholic thought with the consecrated wine of the mass, or, to cite an illustration from the far away religious system of the Vedas, the identification of the god Soma with the soma drink. . . Under such circumstances the devotees of Dionysus would be sure of the presence of the very god himself in the consecrated wine made from the sacred grapes.

The modern scholar Barry Powell says that Christian notions of eating and drinking the "flesh" and "blood" of Jesus were influenced by the cult of Dionysus. He says that Dionysus was distinct among Greek gods, as a deity commonly felt within individual followers. Willoughby writes "The wine they drank was for them potent with divine power--it was the god himself, and the very quintessence of divine life was resident in the juice of the grape.. . The drinking of wine in the service of Dionysus was for them a religious sacrament. . . . The devotees of Dionysus had other realistic means of attaining to communion with their god. They had a sacrament of eating as well as a sacrament of drinking. This rite was the "feast of raw flesh." To be an initiate into the mysteries of Dionysus . . . (t)hey Quaff the goat's delicious blood. . . (t)he devotees tore asunder the slain beast and devoured the dripping flesh in order to assimilate the life of the god resident in it. Thus when the Bacchanals by the sacraments of eating and drinking entered into direct communion with their god, they became partakers of his immortality. In assimulating the raw flesh wherein the god was temporarily incarnate and in drinking the juice of the grape, they received into their bodies an undying substance.


The following is said to be a ritual enunciation by Mithras: "He who will not eat of my body and drink of my blood, so that he will be made one with me and I with him, the same shall not know salvation.

Pre-Pauline Confluence of Greek and Hebrew Traditions

By the time the Roman conquest, Jews practiced festive dining in essentially the same form as the Greeks, with a dinner (deipnon) followed by the symposium proper, where guests drank wine and enjoyed entertainment or conversation. There were, to be sure, cultic differences, such as a berachah over the wine cup instead of the Greeks' libation to Dionysus. But eating together was a central activity for Jewish religious groups such as Pharisees and Essenes.

"Thanksgiving" (in Greek, "εὐχαριστία"[eucharistia]) is probably to be regarded as the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew "ברכה" [berakhah, berakah], the Jewish "blessing" (in Greek, "εὐλογία" [eulogia]) "addressed to God at meals for and over the food and drink. It is in this sense that the term was originally used in connection with the common meal of the early Christian community, at which the 'blessing' or 'thanksgiving' had special reference to Jesus Christ.

One formulation had it that "(t)he eucharistia was the berakhah without the chaburah supper, and the agape is the chaburah meal without the berakhah.

Agape feast

The Eucharistic celebrations of the early Christians were embedded in, or simply took the form of, a meal. These were often called Agape Feasts, although terminology varied in the first few centuries along with other aspects of practice. Agape is one of the Greek words for love, and so "agape feasts" are also referred to in English as "love-feasts".

This Hellenic ritual was apparently a full meal, with each participant bringing a contribution to the meal according to their means. Perhaps predictably enough, it could at times deteriorate into merely an occasion for eating and drinking, or for ostentatious displays by the wealthier members of the community. This was criticized by Saint Paul in .

Soon after the year 100, Ignatius of Antioch refers to the agape or love-feast: "Let that eucharist alone be considered valid which is celebrated in the presence of the bishop, or of him to whom he shall have entrusted it. ... It is not lawful either to baptize, or to hold a love-feast without the consent of the bishop. Letter 96 from Pliny the Younger to Trajan in about 112 suggests that "a common but innocent meal" was celebrated among early Christians. Tertullian too writes of these meals. Clement of Alexandria (c.150-211/216) distinguished so-called "Agape" meals of luxurious character from the agape (love) "which the food that comes from Christ shows that we ought to partake of". Accusations of gross indecency were sometimes made against the form that these meals sometimes took. Referring to Clement of Alexandria, Stromata III,2, the Christian editor, perhaps Philip Schaff (1819-1893), commented before the discovery of the Didache: "The early disappearance of the Christian agapæ may probably be attributed to the terrible abuse of the word here referred to, by the licentious Carpocratians. The genuine agapæ were of apostolic origin (2 Pet. ii. 13; Jude 12), but were often abused by hypocrites, even under the apostolic eye (1 Corinthians 11:21). In the Gallican Church, a survival or relic of these feasts of charity is seen in the pain béni; and, in the Greek churches. in the ἀντίδωρον or eulogiæ distributed to non-communicants at the close of the Eucharist, from the loaf out of which the bread of oblation is supposed to have been cut.

Augustine of Hippo also objected to the continuance in his native North Africa of the custom of such meals, in which some indulged to the point of drunkenness, and he distinguished them from proper celebration of the Eucharist: "Let us take the body of Christ in communion with those with whom we are forbidden to eat even the bread which sustains our bodies. He reports that even before the time of his stay in Milan, the custom had already been forbidden there.

Canons 27 and 28 of the Council of Laodicea (364) restricted the abuses. The Third Council of Carthage (393) and the Second Council of Orleans (541) reiterated this legislation, which prohibited feasting in churches, and the Trullan Council of 692 decreed that honey and milk were not to be offered on the altar (Canon 57), and that those who held love feasts in churches should be excommunicated (Canon 74).

There have been various survivals and revivals, however. In the 18th century, Pietist Christians began to hold Love Feasts that looked back to the ancient Agape. Many Christians today after celebrating the Eucharist or another liturgy, now routinely participate in an informal sharing of light refreshments and conversation. This post-Eucharistic gathering is often called "fellowship hour" or "coffee hour" and is regarded by many clergy as a particularly opportune time for engaging adults in Christian education. Others hold ritual Agape meals.

See also Agape feast.

Allusions to the Eucharist in the New Testament

Common meals figured significantly in Jesus' ministry. In accordance with Jesus' general message of forgiveness and inclusion, Jesus ate meals with outsiders. According to both Matthew and Luke, critics called him a "glutton and a drunkard, a friend of publicans and sinners." Unlike John the Baptist, Jesus drank wine.

The New Testament recounts a number of practices of religious table fellowship that would later be called eucharistic. Paul the Apostle devoted about two percent, of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, usually dated to A.D. 52–57 and nothing in any of his other letters, addressing behavior at a meal that the Corinthian Christians had at their meetings that he did not deem worthy to be called "a Supper of the Lord." (κυριακὸν δεῖπνον). Paul's letters are more likely to have been read at meals than at "business meetings.

Dennis E. Smith says that the earliest Christians worshiped at table in their hosts' dining rooms. and that the earliest Christians shaped the traditions about Jesus to fit that setting. In his study Dining Posture in Ancient Rome: Bodies, Values, and Status concerning practice at the meals designated in Latin by the word "convivium", equivalent to "deipnon" and/or "symposion" in Greek, Matthew D. Roller states that the number of participants at such meals in private houses, as opposed to other specially designated places, would be at most a dozen.

Dennis E. Smith also says that the symposium after the meal was the time for teaching and conversation, for the singing of hymns, for the contributions of those who prophesied or spoke in tongues.

Paul had first evangelized the inhabitants of Corinth, in Greece, in 51/52 C.E. Paul's nascent congregation there was made up of pagan, not Jewish, converts. All first generation Christians were necessarily converts, either pagan or Jewish. They had written him regarding numerous matters of concern. Criticizing what he had heard of their meetings, at which they had communal meals, one paragraph in Paul's response reminded them about what he asserted he had "received from the Lord" and had "passed on" about Jesus' actions and directives at his Last Supper. The ambiguities some find in that wording has generated reams of books, articles and opinions about the Origins of Eucharist. Most students of eucharistic origins agree that the Last Supper (a one-off event) and eucharist (a periodically repeated rite) are not the same thing. Clearly the religious table fellowship tradition had been going on in the Early Christian Church antedating Paul's conversion, unless the contention is made that Paul invented it. See table below for Paul's paragraph regarding the Last Supper ().

The paragraph preceding this gives Paul's complaints against how the Corinthians actually celebrated "the Lord's Supper", and the two paragraphs that follow it give his appeal to them to celebrate it worthily, since otherwise they would be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.

Ratcliffe, writing in the 1926 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, said: "The eucharist, therefore, for Paul was in some way a re-presentation of the crucifixion, ordained by Christ himself to assure to His followers the enjoyment, until his proximate return, of the blessings which the crucifixion, as a covenant sacrifice, had secured. This interpretation, however, cannot be taken as current outside the Pauline sphere influence. Paul himself fails to cite the general assent of Christians in confirmation of the tradition which he asserts."

In his 1994 book, A Feast of Meanings: Eucharistic Theologies from Jesus through Johannine Circles, Bruce Chilton wrote that Paul "indeed 'received from the Lord' (1 Corinthians 11:23, through Cephas (Galatians 1:18), what he 'handed over' (1Corinthians 11:23) to his hearers. … He reminds his hearers of what he already had taught as authoritative, a teaching 'from the Lord' and presumably warranted by the earliest 'pillars': in that sense, what he hands on is not his own, but derives from his highest authority, 'the Lord' (11:23).

Eugene LaVerdiere wrote: "That is how Paul introduced the tradition, presenting himself as a link in the chain of Eucharistic tradition. He received (paralambano) the tradition of Eucharist in the early 40s while in the community at Antioch. He handed it on (paradidomi) to the Corinthians in the year 51 when first proclaiming the gospel to them. Like Paul, the Corinthians also were to become a link in the chain of Eucharistic tradition, handing on to others what Paul handed on to them. Several years later, circa 54, Paul reminded them of this in 1 Corinthians.

James Still admits that most contemporary commentators argue that what Paul "receives from the Lord" is church tradition with the authority of the Lord behind it, rather than a direct revelation from Christ, and quotes as representatives of this view Kilmartin, Jeremias and Marshall. But he himself argues that Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians , "denies that any of his teachings are from other men in authority", "goes to great lengths to distance himself from the Jerusalem Church and its gospel", and "goes on to contrast his gospel from the perverse teachings of those 'who were reputed to be something' (the three 'pillars' of James, Cephas, and John) and to defend himself from their interference". He then mentions as a possibility that "Paul needed to look no further for his soteriology than the pervasive Dionysian cult in the pagan world", but adds: "However, it is not necessary to think that he went outside of Hellenistic Judaism for his gospel.

Jesus' Last Supper is an event so significant to the Early Church that all four Gospels include a version. See table below. A passage found only in Luke records a command, echoing Paul, that the breaking of the bread be done "in remembrance of [Jesus]", though is does not specify whether it should be performed annually, as per the Passover, or more frequently. A number of commentators conclude that passage, i.e., the second half of 22:19 and all of 22:20 are later interpolations. The Rev. E.C. Radcliffe, the Canon of St. Mary's, Ely, writing in the Encyclopaedia Britannica 13th Edition (1926) Eucharist article, declared: "The textus receptus indeed includes the command, but the passage in which it occurs is an interpolation of the Pauline account; and whatever view be taken of the Lucan text, the command is no part of the original. The evidence, therefore, does not warrant the attribution to Jesus of the words 'This do in memory of Me'." Jeremias says "Do this in remembrance of me " would better be translated "That God may remember me."

Paul and the Synoptic Gospels in parallel columns
1 Corinthians Mark Matthew Luke
In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 20 When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21 for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk. 22 Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you for this? Certainly not! 23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28 A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. 31 But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. 32 When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for each other. 34 If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you meet together it may not result in judgment. And when I come I will give further directions. MK 14:16 The disciples left, went into the city and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover. 17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. 18 While they were reclining at the table eating . . . 22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take it; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many," he said to them. 25 "I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God." 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover. 20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating . . . 26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." 27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom." So they prepared the Passover. 14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.
and tell of the very first Christians "continuing steadfastly in the breaking of bread", interpreted by some as a reference to Eucharist, written some twenty years later than the reference in 1 Corinthians.

Chapters 13-17 of the Gospel of John attribute to Jesus a series of teachings and prayers at his Last Supper, but does not mention any meal rituals. On the other hand, , in particular verses such as ("For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him"), is widely interpreted as an allusion to the Eucharist. Peculiarities in phrasing as compared to the Synoptics are thought to reflect the liturgical tradition of the Johannine community.

Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder? according to Joachim Jeremias
Ten factors substantiating Passover Nine factors in objection to Passover actions that would be in violation of ritual regulations Two further objections
* The Last Supper took place in Jerusalem
  • it extended into the night
  • it was a small gathering
  • they reclined instead of sitting at table
  • a dish preceded the breaking of bread
  • red wine was drunk
  • when Judas went out, the disciples thought he was going to distribute money to the poor, a Passover custom
  • the meal closed with a hymn - the Paschal Hallel
  • the interpretative words spoken over the bread and wine look like an extension of the Passover Haggadah
  • and the fact that, Jesus did not go to Bethany for the night, but stayed within the area of Greater Jerusalem and made His way to Gethsemane -
* the walk to Gethsemane
  • the carrying of arms
  • the night session of the Sanhedrin and the condemnation
  • the rending of the High Priest's garments
  • the participation of the Jews in the Roman trial
  • the coming of Simon of Cyrene from the country
  • the execution itself
  • the purchase of linen
  • the preparation of spices and the burial
  • * The absence of any reference to the lamb in the accounts of the Supper.
  • The problem of how the annual Passover of the Jews changed into the weekly Eucharist [Holy Communion] of the Christians
  • The term "Agape" or "Love-feast" appears in the New Testament epistle dated to the turn of the second century, in : "These are blemishes on your love feasts, as they boldly carouse together, looking after themselves". J.C. Lambert stated that the general opinion in 1915 was that, though held together, the Agape and the Eucharist were distinct, the Eucharist coming at the end of the Agape, as the special rite instituted by Jesus followed a celebration of a Passover meal.

    Development of the Eucharist tradition

    The historical record is too sparse in original texts to put a date upon the first use of the term "eucharistia" as referring to the name of an ecclesiatical ritual and not ordinary thanksgiving for a common meal.

    The epistles of Apostolic Father and traditional second pope Clement of Rome makes no explicit reference to Eucharist. The Didache contains, among its components, the earliest surviving written church order. It is usually dated to the early second century.. A composite of several documents, it includes ritual prayers and a mention of what it calls the εὐχαριστία (Thanksgiving or Eucharist). According to the overwheling consensus among scholars, the section beginning at 10.1 is a reworking of the Birkat hamazon the prayer that ends the Jewish ritual meal. (see The Didache: Its Jewish Sources and Its Place in Early Judaism and Christianity by Hubertus Waltherus Maria van de Sandt, David Flusser pp 311-2)

    Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, writing circa 107-110 CE referred to Eucharist three times in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans and once in his Letter to the Philadelphians, though they contain no reference to bread and wine. A Glossary of Eastern Orthodox Terms quoted in Father Symeon Ioannovskij, Orthodox Publishing Society. concludes that for Ignatius as well as Saint Hippolytus of Tome the two terms, "eucharist" and "love-feast" were synonymous.

    Justin Martyr, writing around 150, is generally credited with the first explicit mention of the Eucharist as rite. He gave a detailed description of a baptismal rite, and stated that "Eucharist" was the name that Christians used for the bread and wine shared by the participants at the baptism: "And this food is called among us eὐχαριστία" [eucharist] ...

    Christians came to describe the Eucharist as a sacrifice, specifically an unbloody sacrifice. It was said to be particularly beneficial when undertaken for the aid of the dead in the intermediate state between death and the Resurrection (see Requiem mass).

    In the Greek Church, priests came to use leavened bread, in order to further distinguish Christianity from Judaism, and its tradition of unleavened bread at Passover. In the Latin Church, priests used either. In the 15th century at the Council of Florence, this difference, along with papal supremacy, purgatory, and one word in the Latin version of the Nicene Creed, were among significant disputes between the Greeks and Latins. (See Azymite.)

    The 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a modern summary of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the Eucharist.

    Modern Scholarship

    Worldwide practice

    Early in the 20th century, Edward Carpenter advanced the theory that the Christian Eucharist arose from a ubiquitous worldwide practice of sacramental sacrifice or memorial, with wine symbolizing blood.

    Problem of the historical Jewish prohibition against blood-drinking

    In a 10,000 word analysis in the Biblical Theology Bulletin of 2002, Michael J. Cahill surveys the state of scholarly literature from some seventy cited sources, dating from the 1950s to the present, on the question of the liklihood of a Jewish Jesus proposing the drinking of blood in the Eucharist.

    After examining these various theories that have been put forward, he concluded:

    The survey of opinion, old and new, reveals wide disagreement with a fundamental divide between those who can accept that the notion of drinking blood could have a Jewish origin and those who insist that this is a later development to be located in the Hellenistic world. What both sides share is an inability to proffer a rationally convincing argument that can provide a historical explanation for the presence of this particular component of the Eucharistic rite. Those who hold for the literal institution by Jesus have not been able to explain plausibly how the drinking of blood could have arisen in a Jewish setting. In fact, this difficulty has been turned into an argument for authenticity. For example, Jeremiah [sic] quotes Dalman: "Exactly that which seems scandalous will be historical" (170-71). W. D. Davies draws attention to the fact that Dalman also argued that the Pauline version of the institution arose in a gentile environment to eliminate the difficulties presented by the more direct Markan form (246). It would appear to be obvious that the difficulties would have been greater in a Jewish environment. Davies' conclusion is apt: "When such divergent conclusons [sic] have been based upon the same evidence any dogmatism would be foolish" (246). On the other hand, I have earlier argued that previous suggestions supporting the non-Jewish source have been vitiated by vague generalities or by association with inappropriate pagan rituals.

    Psychedelic Mushroom theory

    John Allegro and Carl Ruck claimed that Jesus was seen as a vegetation god incarnated, like Dionysus and Osiris, as an entheogenic plant or fungus or both.

    Jesus Seminar

    “The purely symbolic meal of modern Christianity, restricted to a bit of bread and a sip of wine or juice, is tacitly presupposed for the early church, an assumption so preposterous that it is never articulated or acknowledged.” This quotation reflects the iconoclastic view of an inter-denominational group of contemporary scholars, the Jesus Seminar, "a research team of about 200 New Testament scholars founded in 1985 by the late Robert Funk and John Dominic Crossan under the auspices of the Westar Institute", which has analyzed the historical record of the Eucharist. They reached consensus among themselves that, based on the deeply ingrained Jewish prohibition against drinking blood, and the pervasive history of Greek memorial dining societies, the rite of the last supper "had its origins in a pagan context. They also reached consensus among themselves that the Last Supper, as it is depicted in Mark, was not a historical event. And since Matthew and Luke copy Mark in some sections (though Luke draws on other sources at this point), adding what the Seminar called a mere touch here and there, Luke even adding a second cup, they declared that the accounts of Matthew and Luke also cannot be held to be historical. Other reasons the Seminar thought the tradition ahistorical: the earliest collection of Jesus' teachings, the Q Gospel and the recently rediscovered Gospel of Thomas make no mention of any last supper.

    Crossan suggests that there are two traditions "as old as we can trace them" of the eucharist, that of Paul, reflecting the Antioch Church's tradition, and that of the Didache, the first document to give explicit instruction regarding prayers to be said at a celebration that it called the Eucharist.

    The cup/bread liturgy of the Didache, from the Jerusalem tradition, does not mention Passover, or Last Supper, or Death of Jesus/blood/body, and the sequence is meal + thanksgiving ritual. For Crossan, it is dispositive that

    even late in the first century C.E., at least some (southern?) Syrian Christians could celebrate a Eucharist of bread and wine with absolutely no hint of Passover meal, Last Supper or passion symbolism built into its origins or development. I cannot believe that they knew about those elements and studiously avoided them. I can only presume that they were not there for everyone from the beginning, that is, from solemn formal and final institution by Jesus himself.
    The Western Catholic Church itself in 2001 controversially validated an ancient East Syrian Eucharist liturgy without any literal Pauline words of institution, known as the Anaphora or Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari, on the basis that "the words of the institution of the Eucharist are in fact present in the anaphora of Addai and Mari, not in the form of a coherent narration and in a literal way but in a euchological and disseminated manner, that is to say they are integrated in the prayers of thanksgiving, praise and intercession which follow." The Holy Qurbana of Addai and Mari "was the only anaphora in general and continuous use by that Church of the East from time immemorial until the time of Mar Isaac the Catholicos and his synod of A.D. 410.

    Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, in the context of correcting the habits of the Corinthians serves to reestablish "the Pre-Pauline tradition, ritual of bread/body + meal + ritual of cup/blood." Hellenized Jew Paul references a Greek weekly Lord's Supper, which is not an annual Jewish Passover meal, and does not have the participants giving thanks ("Eucharistia"), rather the purpose is to proclaim Jesus' death until he comes again, in the manner of Hellenic societies formed "to hold meals in remembrance of those who had died and to drink a cup in honor of some god.

    Both sequences underline the primary importance of the Shared Meal to historical First Century Christian ritual. In the Jerusalem tradition, of James and Peter, the meal is of higher importance than blood and body since the Didache fails to mention them. Both traditions reflect the pitfalls of a shared meal among social unequals, namely freeloading. The Didache says in 12:3-4, if you work, you eat. Paul, in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 says if you don't work, you don't eat. "Both stipulations must presume a communal share-meal or they make no sense. The administrative difficulties of communal meals, easily glossed over in a small congregation of Jewish peasants, become more intractable as the church succeeds and grows and adds Gentile adherents, foreshadowing the eventual reduction to symbolism over substance.

    Five Preliminary stages to "2000 years of eucharistic theology" and "Last Supper iconography", according to Crossan
    1. Graeco-Roman formal meal 2. Jesus' practice 3a. Didache 10 3b. Didache 9 4. 1 Corinthians 5. Mark (copied by Matthew & Luke)
    deipnon (supper, main meal), then symposion a meal that later and in retrospect was recognized as having been their last one together Give thanks, no reference to Passover, Last Supper, or Death of Jesus Eucharist, no reference to Passover, Last Supper, or Death of Jesus Lord's Supper Passover Meal
    Bread course followed by ritual libation followed by wine course Open Commensality - radical social egalitarianism in seating for meal Common Meal followed by Thanks to the Father, no ritual with bread or cup Common meal, ritual with Cup (thanks for the Holy Vine of David) and Bread (thanks for the life and knowledge of Jesus) Bread/body, Thanks, Common Meal, Cup/blood During meal, first Bread/body, then Cup/blood and Thanks
    No ritual No mention of the death of Jesus No mention of the death of Jesus Passion Remembrance in both cup and bread No command for repetition and remembrance

    Six "Eucharists" in the New Testament

    In this ongoing search for eucharistic origins, the work of Bruce Chilton, a Catholic apologist writing to counter Crossan, suggests that we have been able to "find" in the New Testament six different ways of celebrating what Christians came to call the Eucharist, and to locate each of these in its own specific socio-religio-political setting. If Chilton's exegetical findings are accurate, this would seem to make irrelevant a number of time-honored scholarly approaches. Fundamental to these traditional scholarly approaches was, first, the "literally true" vs. "literary fictions" debate, and, second, the assumption that there was a unified line of development from the established Eucharist of later centuries back close to the time of the historical Jesus.

    The Six Eucharists in the New Testament, according to Chilton
    Jesus' Table Fellowship The "Last" Supper Petrine Christianity The Circle of James Paul & the Synoptics John
    Jesus joined with his followers in meals that were designed to anticipate the coming of God's kingdom. The meals were characterized by a readiness to accept the hospitality and the produce of Israel at large. A willingness to provide for the meals, to join in the fellowship, to forgive and to be forgiven, was seen by Jesus as a sufficient condition for eating in his company and for entry into the kingdom. Jesus' approach to purity qualification was distinctive in its inclusiveness. For Jesus, the primary markers of purity, the primary requirements for table fellowship in the kingdom were: Israel as forgiven and willing to provide of its own produce. Jesus sought to influence or reform purity practices associated with the Temple. In his meals, as he shared wine, he started referring to it as the equivalent of the blood of an animal shed in sacrifice, and in sharing bread, claiming that its value was that of sacrificial flesh. "Here was a sacrifice of sharings which the authorities could not control, and which the nature of Jesus" movement made it impossible for them to ignore. Jesus" meals after his failed occupation of the Temple became a surrogate of sacrifice, the second type of Eucharist." In this stage of Eucharistic development, the berakhah prayer of Judaism seems to have become a principal model of Eucharist. Bread took precedence over wine, and, as Acts 1:12-26, 2:46, and 3:14:37 clearly describe, a double domestication took place. Instead of seeking the hospitality of others, as the itinerant Jesus seemed to do, adherents of the movement, under the leadership of Peter and/or the Twelve, gathered in the homes of colleagues where they "broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:46-47). In addition, apparently they also acknowledged the validity of sacrifice in the Temple. In doing this they changed the nature of the meal and the memory of what Jesus had said at that meal. For example, there is no mention of wine, nor does there, in this account of the earliest Christian gatherings, seem to have been any sense of being in tension with the officials of Judaism or its religious practices. The tendency to domestication is here pursued further, for the Eucharist is now seen as a Seder meal, open only to Jews in a state of purity, and to be celebrated only once a year, at Passover, in Jerusalem, as prescribed in Exodus 12:48. The effect of this Jacobean program--a possible antecedent to the later Quartodeciman practice?--"was to integrate Jesus' movement fully within the liturgical institutions of Judaism, to insist upon the Judaic identity of the movement and upon Jerusalem as its governing center," but without actually replacing Israel's Seder. Paul vehemently resisted Jacobean claims. He also emphasized the link between Jesus" death and the Eucharist, and he accepts what Chilton calls the Hellenistic refinement of the Petrine type that presented the Eucharist as a sacrifice for sin. This is also what we find in the Synoptic Gospels which use words to suggest that Jesus' blood is shed in the interests of the communities for which those Gospels were composed: for the "many" (in Damascus?) Matthew 26:28 and (in Rome?) Mark 14:24: on behalf of "you" (in Antioch?) Luke 22:20. Jesus identifies himself in John 6 as the manna, now developed to construe the Eucharist as a mystery in which Jesus, not literally but sacramentally, offers/gives his own personal body and blood in Eucharist. This would probably not be a totally new idea to Hellenistic Christians who followed synoptic practice. But Johannine practice now makes this meaning explicit. It was, as is characteristic of the Fourth Gospel, an unambiguous, clear break with Judaism. For with this development, Eucharist has become a "sacrament" understandable only in Hellenistic terms, and involving "a knowing conflict with the ordinary understanding of what Judaism might and might not include."

    Catholic Answer to Historical Objections

    Professor Robert J. Daly, S.J., proposes a synthesis between the orthodox and the skeptic, acknowledging the historical evolution of the Eucharist while not abandoning the faith that informs it. He argues that Jesus did indeed institute the Eucharist, even though it would take generations and centuries of guidance from the Holy Spirit for the Eucharist to reach its current form.


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