Last night around a dozen faculty and students from Southwestern gathered with others from academic institutions across North Texas for the first meeting of the Second Century Seminar (for more information about the seminar see here). The seminar was hosted at the University of Dallas and those in attendance heard from Paul Bradshaw, Emeritus Professor of Liturgy at the University of Notre Dame. Bradshaw’s paper, “The Earliest Eucharist: Saturday or Sunday?,” reconsidered the earliest evidence of the day and time of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament and Early Christianity.
According to Bradshaw, many liturgical historians have long assumed that the earliest Eucharist celebrations were held on Saturday evenings as a natural extension of the Jewish Sabbath meal and only eventually transitioned to Sunday morning. Henk Jan de Jonge (University of Leiden) recently challenged this assumption in his 2016 article, “The Origins of the Sunday Eucharist.” De Jonge argues that, while the earliest evidence is spotty and difficult to coordinate, it appears that among Christians the Eucharist quickly moved to Sunday evening rather than Saturday evening (or Sunday morning). He points to Acts 20 as the first documented evidence of the Eucharist being celebrated as a complete meal on Sunday evening and follows with support from Ignatius, Barnabus, the Didache, Justin, and Tertullian. He concludes that in the Second and Third centuries, the church added a service on Sunday morning to complement the Sunday evening gathering and, consequently, the morning service had a more ritualized form with the food and drink served in smaller amounts due to the growing number of converts and little need for a full meal in the morning.
Bradshaw acknowledged the evidence is limited, but reaffirms the Saturday evening service given the full weight of evidence from early Christian and the social customs of Roman society. He points to discussions of the distribution of leftovers and other gifts to the poor (eventually the elements of the supper itself) that followed the Saturday evening meal. He envisions that Sunday morning eventually become the primary day and time when increasing numbers of converts made a Saturday evening meal logistically difficult or provincial legislation restricted such gatherings.
Responding to Dr. Bradshaw was Fr. Roch Kereszty, who raised important questions about the theological and doctrinal developments of the Eucharist related to the timing of the Lord’s resurrection on the third day and the resurrection appearances recorded in texts of the New Testament and early Christianity. Kereszty pressed for an even earlier transition to the Sunday morning Eucharist than Bradshaw was willing to concede, though both acknowledged that the limited evidence continues to challenge any general model of Eucharist development in the early church.
The evening was a good start to the fall semester and we look forward to the next seminar in November!