Dix, Gregory. The Shape of the Liturgy. 2nd ed. London:Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005 (republished from 1945 original edition).
Chapter 4, “Eucharist and Lord’s Supper.” pp. 48-102
Dix identifies various patterns of motion in the liturgy, tracing the development of each. “The last supper of our Lord with His disciples is the source of the liturgical eucharist, but not the model for its performance” (Dix 2005, 48). In the New Testament there is a series of seven steps with Jesus taking bread, giving thanks, breaking it, distributing it, taking the cup, giving thanks, and distributing it. However, in the unanimous Christian tradition, there are only four steps, as the elements are taken and distributed together (Ibid., 48). Even in those heretical groups which changed the elements the ceremony still had only four steps. Even the step of breaking the bread, which rather oddly was done after the blessing of the cup, remained there until the 14th century (Ibid., footnote p. 49). “This liturgical tradition must have originated in independence of the literary tradition in all its forms, Pauline or Synoptic” (Ibid., 49).
Dix ties this change to the separation of the eucharist from a meal. Siding with John, whose chronology seems to indicate the Last Supper was not a Passover, Dix compares it to a formal supper of friends called a chaburah (Ibid., 50). The formalities observed were relatively fixed. There were particular blessings upon the different foods and drinks, including the ceremonial blessing and breaking of bread, as well a a final cup of wine over which a thanksgiving was said. Dix quotes extensively from the rituals, which bear some striking formal similarities to the traditional communion liturgies.
Because the habits of blessing and breaking bread were so common, Dix views the command, “Do this for re-calling of Me” to have the purpose of recollecting Jesus as the emphasis, not the breaking of bread or prayers (Ibid., 56). He also observes that the cup of blessing in particular, as opposed to other drinks, was a ritual which always belonged to corporate celebrations (Ibid., 59). The eucharist was not private in nature but belonged to the assembly of believers. Dix continues to discuss his view that the eucharist is a repurposing of the traditional sharing of bread and wine, showing that it resolves the difficulties of an establishment of a new custom. Likewise, the rite is unabashedly Jewish, not the kind of ceremony which would be invented by a Gentile, as in the mystery religions (Ibid., 65). It follows an existing Jewish custom too clearly and closely.
Dix goes on to discuss the meaning of the Last Supper, beginning on p. 70. The significance of the cup, and the drinking which is equated with drinking human blood, he considers too radical for any Jewish author to have invented. It must, therefore, have some very special and particular significance. For liberal scholarship Jesus’ words and actions of the Last Supper, if they happened at all, would give no instructions. They would merely encourage the disciples (Ibid., 71). However, Dix affirms that the invention of a world in which the eucharist would have been invented by Jews and adopted in the early Church is all but impossible (Ibid., 72). The words of Jesus paired with the customs of the chaburah add up to the eucharist. The last supper without the words would simply be a meal (Ibid., 75). Jesus, however, intentionally pointed his disciples to his death and resurrection (Ibid., 77). By the end of the second century there were two practices, a eucharist and an agape meal. Dix does not know how early they were separated from one another, but thinks it may well have been before 100. He goes on to consider this in the context of the early eucharist (Ibid., 78).
The eucharist “consists essentially of four parts: offertory, prayer, fraction and communion: (Ibid., 78). Dix ties the offertory to the Jewish chaburah in which the meal was made of contributions of its participants. The prayer at the eucharist came to be a specific one made over the bread and wine, now together with each other rather than separated as in the agape meal. The breaking of the bread (Ibid., 81), though not specifically called a symbol of Christ’s broken body in Scripture, was quickly identified as such. Finally (Ibid., 81), the communion was received while standing. There may have been a brief word of dismissal but the Psalm or additional prayer was not used in the pre-Nicene period (Ibid.).
In the second century we also have record of a “Lord’s supper” also called an agape (Ibid., 82). This is like the Jewish chaburah without the eucharist. Dix cites Hippolytus xxv-xxvii at some length for the typical observance (Ibid., 82-89). Here there is a considerable place for chanting of psalms after the meal. There is no cup of blessing but there are routines for eating and drinking. The ritual preserves Jewish tradition with enough sensitivity and nuance that Dix thinks it a very early development (Ibid., 90). On pp. 90-92, then, Dix discusses text in the Didache which may refer to an agape or a eucharist. The terms for the two celebrations are sometimes used vaguely in primitive Christianity.
To close the chapter Dix discusses the separation of the eucharist and the agape, suggesting (Ibid., 96-97) it may have been done prior to the writing of 1 Corinthians.