Today I would like to share with you the work of a fellow parishioner, Richard Calderon. Richard is studying the Hebrew and other early origins of the Catholic liturgy. Below are some of his findings.
BERAKAH – EUCHARIST / EULOGY
The essence of sacrifice is glad surrender to God. Ancient Israel expresses such surrender repeatedly in prayer. All creation proceeds from God, all creation belongs to God and men bless a thing – Hebrew berakah – by acknowledging God. In formally blessing a thing, or recognizing that it comes from and is consecrated to Him, men thereby thank God.
The twin ideas of God’s ultimate ownership of all created things and the gratitude men owe Him are so close in Israelite thought that to ‘bless’ a thing or to ‘thank God’ for a thing is considered the same action. Saint Paul expresses this mindset well:
Every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected when it is taken with thanksgiving, since it is consecrated by the [creative] word of God, and by prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)
Contrary to the norm, in which Israelite culture develops a larger spiritual vocabulary than that of pagan neighbors, Greek translators of berakah have two options:
- Eulogia = a blessing in which the focus is on the object, or
- Eucharistia = a thanksgiving in which the focus is on God.
A Greek will not confuse these two words, but casual oscillation between Eulogia / Eucharistia in the New Testament are telltale clues about the antiquity of the texts. Contrary to modernist claims that the New Testament is a compilation of second and third century ‘midrash’ – in plain English the daydreams of depressed Gentile slaves – the New Testament authors are Jews and think in Hebrew rather than in Greek. In sequential verses, Mark 14: 22-23 notes that Christ successively blesses – eulogesas – the bread and gives thanks – eucharistesas – over the wine, as Saint Mark is actually thinking berakah in both cases. Then again, Saint Paul in Corinthians 10: 30, 10:16 uses eucharistein or thanksgiving over meat purchased in the market, but eulogein or blessing about the Eucharist itself. He too is thinking berakah about both.
Ultimately, Eucharistia or Thanksgiving becomes a technical term for a) the prayer of the liturgical officiant b) the Mass as a whole, and c) the consecrated elements. The reason for selecting eucharistia rather than eulogia has much to do with the celebrant’s invitation to open the Canon:
Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
Response: And with your spirit.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
Response: We have lifted them up to the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks (Eucharistia) to the Lord our God.
Response: It is fitting and right to do so. [i]
[i] Gregory Dix, The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus, 7 and Shape of the Liturgy, 78-79. Dix has fun with these Greek words, noting how narrowly Christians escaped having to ‘attend Eulogy at 8’ or ‘receive Eulogy at 10.’