Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed

by R.C.D. Jasper and G.J Cuming

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.


It seems that we always trip over the fact that we are Jewish, that is, we are born out of the Old Testament.  This is not a hiccup but a continuous thread that leads us to where we are now. However, it is not surprising that verbal quotation from Jewish sources are hard to find in Christian liturgy. According to the authors: “Jewish liturgy included the sacrifices in the temple, the services of the synagogue, and prayer in the home. Although the Christian Church soon began to use sacrificial language in the Eucharist prayer, the domestic blessing is the most influential source: the common grace, a thanksgiving after a meal and blessing over food” the origin of the Christian anaphora. There seems to be a growing consensus among scholars that Jewish prayers provided the soil from which Christian liturgy grew.


“Most probably the gospels influenced the liturgical forms and vice versa.  It should not be forgotten that almost the entire New Testament originated in reading at the liturgical assembly.” Actions over the bread of taking, blessing, breaking and distributing are deeply embedded in the tradition and appear in the feeding of the 5 thousand and the meal at Emmaus. We continue this wonderful action in response to the call: “Do this in remembrance of me.”


Even though the Sanctus was absent from the earliest Eucharistic prayers, it becomes a permanent feature as time goes on. It probably came into Christian worship from Jewish prayers. The work known as the Didache is the earliest known example of a Church Order. It starts with a section entitled “The Two Ways” them, after chapters on baptism and fasting. The Jewish element in these prayers is unmistakable and it has been suggested that they are Christian adaptations of Jewish forms.  The thanksgivings even have a chatimah (glory to you forever. The idea of the Church as ‘the vine” is Jewish as are the references to the Name of God and Creation; and perhaps the eschatological gathering of the Church into theKingdom of God. The author points out the the “knowledge” suggest Hellenistic Judaism. The Christology of the prayers is archaic, with the use of the word pais to describe Jesus. It may mean either “Child” or “servant” and occurs several times in the early chapter of Acts.


In calling the food “thanksgiving” and no one can partake of it unless he is convinced of the truth of our teaching, and has been cleansed with the washing for forgiveness of sins and regeneration. And lives as Christ handed down. “For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but just as our Savior Jesus Christ being incarnate through the word of God, took flesh and blood for our salvation, so too we have been taught that the food over which thanks have been given by a word of prayer which is from him, (the food) from which our flesh and blood are fed by transformation, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”


For the apostles in the records composed by them which are called gospels, have handed down this what was commanded of them: that Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and said, “Do this for the remembrance of me; this is my body’; and likewise he took the cup, gave thanks and said” This is my blood” and gave to them alone. And the evil demons have imitated this and handed it down to be done also in the mysteries of Mithras. For as you know or may learn, bread and a cup of water are used with certain formulas in their rites of initiation. We continually remind one another  of these things. Those who have the means help all those in need; and we are always together. And we bless the Maker of all things through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit over all that we offer.


This book is filled with the prayerful revelation of Christ as our society changes and the Holy Spirit enlightens us in a new and meaningful way.  It is such a blessing to read a book such as this as we need to know the changes that have taken place over time. The Eucharist is as important today as it was on the first Communion of the Apostles.  The information is dense and scholarly written. It is a book that needs thought and prayer as we read it.  I would recommend it to all who are true believers in the Eucharist.

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