Editor’s introduction: The Society for Catholic Liturgy sponsored a 2020-2021 Lecture Series, “Guideposts for the Future Study of the Liturgy.” The first speaker in the series was Fr. Daniel Cardó, who teaches at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. His talk was titled “Suspecting Suspicion: What We Can Know of the Early Eucharist.” Fr. Cardó respectfully voiced suspicion about previous leading liturgical scholars who have perhaps been overly suspicious about historical continuity between the church’s emerging liturgical practice and the practice of Jesus at the Last Supper.
In the video of Fr. Cardó’s presentation, available here, he says:
Previous generations of Jesus scholarship have tended toward methodological doubt about the historicity of whatever could not meet certain criteria of historical probability. However, since recent developments in historical Jesus scholarship have shown that the approbation only of data that meet criteria of authenticity is flawed, more attention is now being paid to multiple attestation, contextual plausibility, and plausibility of effects in the early Church.
Near the end of his talk he states by way of conclusion:
After looking at the sources of the early Eucharist a few elements consistently appear amid their diversity. And I’m being very lean in saying what we can certainly know – not just what we’re used to, what we’ve always believed, but again here, in having a conversation with people who will advocate for the hermeneutics of suspicion. So after just seeing all these [unclear audio] remains of early eucharistic practice, what can we actually see there without interpretation?
The Eucharist is a sacrifice offered at the altar with pure thanksgiving on a special day and in a special place. While clearly initiated in the context of a normal meal, from the very beginning the Eucharist was a proclamation of Christ’s death in which the bread was identified with his body, and the wine with his blood; as food for eternal life, it was treated with reverence, requiring self-examination and conditions for reception, and not merely as common food and drink.
The Society for Catholic Liturgy graciously allowed Paul Bradshaw, professor emeritus of liturgy at the University of Notre Dame, to attend this online lecture. Pray Tell asked Bradshaw to share his reaction to it, which follows.
* * * * *
Father Cardó began his lecture by stating that he intended to offer a via media between the liturgical scholarship of earlier generations, which tended to assume too much, and that of modern more “radical” scholars, who tend to employ a “hermeneutics of suspicion” and allow too little as historically true. Speaking as the “poster boy” for this alleged latter group, since extracts from my works were explicitly quoted in the lecture, I did not find myself far from the position set out by the speaker in much of the lecture. It was a very competent summary in such a short space of time of the key evidence for the development of the Christian Eucharist in the first three centuries in strictly chronological order. At some points, however, it unfortunately slipped into a less rigorously historical analysis and posited the existence of a continuity of thought throughout the period, failing to allow sufficiently for change and development not only through time but also across regions and cultures.
This was particularly the case when speaking of sacrificial language in connection with early texts. Of course, the Apostle Paul employed cultic imagery in relation to the eucharistic meal and did not think of it purely as a community supper, but that is not to say that he had exactly the same sacrificial doctrine as in texts hundreds of years later, nor does it say anything about pre-Pauline eucharistic theology for which we lack any contemporary evidence and cannot simply assume continuity. Of course too, Sunday did become the standard day for the celebration of the Eucharist from the end of the first century onwards, but there is simply not enough evidence to assume that was the case in earlier times. Of course, purpose-built places of worship did exist in some places in the third, century, but that does not furnish any evidence that they did so at an earlier date, or that the Eucharist known to Justin Martyr did not take place in a domestic setting. And no “radical” liturgiologist that I know has ever claimed that as late as the third century a paterfamilias might have presided at a Eucharist, whatever might have been the case in the first century.
However, I do not want to emphasize the points at which the speaker and I might find ourselves in disagreement, but rather note the substantial areas in which we do concur, and the subjects for further research mentioned in the lecture with which I find myself in complete support. In spite of appearances to the contrary, I believe we are both traveling on the same via media.
– Paul Bradshaw