van de Sandt, Huub. “Why does the Didache Conceive of the Eucharist as a Holy Meal?” Vigilae Christianae 65 (2011), 1-20. Leiden: Brill.
Didache 9-10 describes a real meal surrounded by prayers and considered holy. Van de Sandt questions why the meal, though lacking the Words of Institution, seems to be considered a Eucharist in 9:5 (van de Sandt 2011, 1). The explanation of not giving holy things to dogs was typical language used for temple rituals and discussions of purity. Food which was set aside for a consecrated purpose was not to be used for any other purpose. This still leaves us with a question of the holiness of this meal. It was not specifically identified as Christ’s body and blood, so van de Sandt questions whether there is a sacrificial element (van de Sandt 2011, 2). He further observes that an association with a temple rite could case the food and drink to be holy, but again there is no temple rite suggested here. In most ways, it seems natural to assume this is perfectly normal food and drink (van de Sandt 2011, 3). Van de Sandt concludes that the holiness is ascribed to the meal as part of a divine service which would be treated as seriously as a temple service (van de Sandt 2011, 4).
First, van de Sandt observes the customs of food offerings and ritual purity have a strong relationship to temple worship. The purification rituals were taken very seriously, protecting a view of holiness in the sacrificial act (van de Sandt 2011, 4). While ritual uncleanness was a frequent feature of life, and was not necessarily an indicator of any moral failure, it was very important to complete he ritual purification before participating in the temple ritual (van de Sandt 2011, 5).
Second, van de Sandt considers the Second Temple period and a concept of holiness as applied to activities apart from the temple, such as in synagogue and daily prayer (van de Sandt 2011, 6). In at least some communities and at some times, there is evidence that some aspects of ritual purification were pursued and sacred meals were held apart from the temple. Van de Sandt quotes a description of such an Essene meal from Josephus’ Jewish War 11, 129-131 (van de Sandt 2011, 7-8). Several elements were at least similar to the practice in the temple worship. By 100 B.C., van de Sandt finds in the Rule of the Community a ritual including priestly roles and ablessing of the food and drink to be consumed (van de Sandt 2011, 9). There was a certain reverence associated with the common meals taken with the Jewish leaders, similar to the reverence we might have associated with the temple (van de Sandt 2011, 10). It sas seen as bearing a holy dignity.
Van de Sandt observes that the rituals of purification also extended beyond the priests “bt also for broad groups all over Israel within the framework of their profane activities” such as dining together (van de Sandt 2011, 11). Immersion in pure water was a commonly held ritual, applied to people, dishes, and utensils. The meals were considered holy events (van de Sandt 2011, 12). This may well be reflected as well in Luke 11:38 when Jesus is asked about ceremonial washings, as well as the reference in Mark 7 and Matthew 15. A cultural expectation of ritual purity had apparently been applied to the general population, not only priests in temple service (van de Sandt 2011, 13). The finds of stone vessels and immersion pools, as well as stone cups (which would not become ritually impure) away from the temple reinforces this idea. Religious life, even away from the temple, included rituals of purity and suggested that the events including food and drink were considered holy (van de Sandt 2011, 14).
Actual moral impurity, or sin, would be considered defiling, thus interfering with ritual purity (van de Sandt 2011, 15). Van de Sandt observes that ritual washings were, at least in the Qumran community, seen as effective only “in the case of a person’s meek submission to all of God’s precepts” (van de Sandt 2011, 16). The inner disposition was of paramount importance in ritual purification.
Van de Sandt further observes that he considers the rituals in Didache 9-10 and in Didache 14 to be the same. Chapter 14 describes the same ritual as held in the context of “the Day of the Lord, most likely Sundays” (van de Sandt 2011, 18). The meal is considered a sacrifice and it is required that participants confess their sins so as to be considered ritually clean (van de Sandt 2011, 19). The unbaptized (Didache 9:5) and the impenitent (Didache 14) were not considered pure. Their impurity could pollute the meal and make it all unholy (van de Sandt 2011, 19).
Van de Sandt concludes that the meal was ultimately considered a holy ritual because it signified God’s presence. The language of sacrifice suggests a comparison to a temple ritual. The Didache community expressed its piety through this meal, making it, even away from the temple, “the locus for purity and sanctity. With or without a temple, one can maintain a viable religious life and experience the divine, in particular, in the communal meal itself” (van de Sandt 2011, 20).
The text gives the author’s contact h.w.m.vdSandt@uvt.nl