Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

The Glory of the Eastern Liturgy: The Scriptural Background

by Dom Jerome Gassner, O.S.B.


This is the third and final installment of a 1949 series on the glory of the Eastern Liturgy by Jerome Gassner. Here the focus is the interpretation of the scriptural background of the Eastern Liturgy, specifically an analysis of the main lines of influence based on the words of Our Lord, and the spirit and words of the Apostles St. Paul and St. John.

Larger Work

Homiletic & Pastoral Review


705 - 718

Publisher & Date

Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., New York, NY, June 1949

III. The Scriptural Background

The interpretation of the Divine Liturgy has to follow the principles of the institution of the Liturgy. The supreme principle which the Church followed in the composition of her Liturgy, especially of the Eucharistic Liturgy, is the happy memory of everything Our Lord did and said when He instituted the Blessed Sacrament, of His words and actions as transmitted to us by tradition and Holy Scripture. Inspired by the desire to do what Christ did, to execute faithfully what He commanded, the Church listened eagerly to His words, contemplated their content, meditated on them to understand what they conveyed directly and indirectly by associations and allusions, what His gestures implied, what the time and place and surroundings indicated. The institution of Our Lord, as recorded in Apostolic tradition and Holy Scripture, is the first principle of liturgical composition by the Church and consequently the first principle in the interpretation of the Sacred Liturgy.

Origin of the Eastern Liturgy

The glory of the Eastern Liturgy, the singular beauty which we have described as the "Heavenly Liturgy," is not to be understood merely as a work of poetry, as a product of the exuberant oriental fantasy. The beauty of the Eastern Liturgy is of a higher order. Liturgy and the beauty of the Liturgy are the object of the "magisterium ordinarium" of the Church, formed under the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit, revealing the majesty of the Divine Word and reflecting the youthful beauty of the Church herself as the glorious Bride of Christ. But as prophetic inspiration and the infallible teaching of the Church do not exclude the cooperation of human reason and the subordinate help of individual creativeness, so we find in the Divine Liturgy the contribution of the Hellenic spirit of St. Cyril of Alexandria, of the glowing enthusiasm of the Syrian St. Ephraim, and of the limpid, harmonious mind of St. Basil. The formal element of all kind of beauty is unity, harmony, one idea presented in the variety of colors, sounds and words. This unity in the Liturgy as a work of art of the Church is effected by her own prudent judgment, her wise selection, her spirited arrangement of all the different elements offered by the devout efforts of charismatic Saints. It is the Church guided by the Holy Spirit who plans the spiritual edifice, who selects as it were the marble, the gold, the genes, who admits the ideas, who gives to the prayers their proper place in order to achieve her aims: ". . . to elevate the mind to God, to unite souls with Him, to confess our faith, to discharge the very grave obligation of thanking Him for the benefits received, to ask for His help which we need continuously" (Const. Apost., "Divini Cultus," December 20, 1928). The Eucharistic Liturgy, especially, is concisely defined in its end by the Council of Trent (Sess. XII, Cap. 4 and 5, Can. 6, 7, 9) ". . . ut digne reverenterque offerretur et perciperetur . . . quo mentes fidelium per haec visibilia religionis et pietatis signa ad rerum altissimarum, quae in hoc sacrificio latent, contemplationem excitarentur."

In the present article we limit the analysis of the principles and sources according to which the Church has composed the Eastern Liturgy to Holy Scripture. We try to give a sketch of the main lines of influence exerted by the words of Our Lord, and by the faithful memory, spirit and words of the Apostles St. Paul and St. John, upon the glory of the Eastern Liturgy.

The words of institution themselves, the words spoken by Christ immediately before the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the words spoken immediately afterwards, are essential in the interpretation of the Eastern Liturgy. The first element connects Old Testament texts with the Eucharistic Liturgy; the second establishes the basis for the interpretation of the Eucharist as a heavenly banquet; the third connects the Eucharistic altar with the Cross, and both with the Liturgy of heaven.

The Eucharist and the O. T. Theophany

(1) The Words of Institution. — On the Cross the Great Highpriest prayed in the words of Ps. xxi in order to indicate the fulfillment of this special prophecy of the Old Testament in His Crucifixion. Likewise in the institution of the Blessed Eucharist Christ deliberately used words which connect it with the sacrifice on Sinai.

When the Law was promulgated, having offered the sacrifice, Moses sprinkled the blood on the people and said: "This is the blood of the Covenant which the Lord has made with you" (Ex., xxiv. 8). At the Supper, having consecrated the bread, Christ gave the chalice to His disciples with the words: "This is My blood of the New Testament" (Matt., xxvi. 28; Mark, xiv. 24); "This chalice is the New Testament in My blood" (Luke xxiv. 20; I Cor., xi. 25). Our Lord wished to proclaim the establishment of the New Testament, distinct from the Old Testament, and the abrogation of the Old. Moreover, He refers to the typical relation between the sacrifice with which the Old Testament was sealed, and the sacrifice with which the New was inaugurated. It is this point which the Eastern Liturgy has taken up, and according to it interpreted the Eucharistic action as an approach to the mountain of God, as an appearing before the majesty of God, on the one hand, and correspondingly, on the other hand, as a Theophany. "And taking the book of the Covenant, he read it in the hearing of the people . . . And he took the blood and sprinkled it upon the people, and he said: 'This is the blood of the Covenant which the Lord has made with you concerning all these words.' Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abiu, and seventy of the ancients of Israel went up: and they saw the God of Israel, and under His feet as it were a work of sapphire stone, and as the heaven, when clear . . . And they saw God, and they did eat and drink." As on Mount Sinai the proclamation of the Law, the sacrifice, the sprinkling of the blood, led to the great Theophany and the sacrificial banquet; so, the ratification of the New Testament was fulfilled in blood and in the presence of God. Its renewal is likewise climaxed in the Eucharistic appearance and presence of God and in the Eucharistic banquet.

As soon as the parallelism between the Old Testament Theophany and the Eucharistic presence is established, the next step leads to all the different Theophanies. When, for instance, in the Liturgy of St. James (prayer of incense at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful) God is asked: "Sovereign almighty King of glory . . . manifest Thyself," we easily recognize the request of Moses: "Lord, show me Thy glory" (Ex., xxxiii. 18); and. its fulfillment: "And when the Lord was come down in a cloud, Moses stood with Him, calling upon the name of the Lord. And when He passed before him, he said: 'O the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, patient and of much compassion, and true'" (Ex., xxxiv. 5-6). The Theophany seen by Isaias (Is., vi. 1), "I saw the Lord sitting upon the throne high and elevated," has inspired the Eastern Liturgy so much that the purification of the prophet by an angel with a "live coal" from the altar of incense was understood as a type for the Communion rite, so that in the East the Sacred Host is generally called the "live coal." With regard to the "Sanctus" contained in the narrative of the same vision of Isaias, we know that its introduction into the Liturgy antecedes the diversification of the Christian Liturgies; its introduction into the Liturgy is ascribed by the Liber Pontificalis to Pope Sixtus I (120), and certainly occurred not later than the middle of the second century. Complementing the text of the angelic choirs in the "Sanctus" as well as the idea of the Theophany, the vision of Ezechiel (Ez., i. 26; cfr. Ecclus., xlix. 10) is inserted, for instance, in the Liturgy of the Armenians: "Sing a psalm to our deathless and heavenly King who sitteth upon the chariot of the Cherubim." The connection between the ministry of the priest and the ministry of the Angels led to the association with the vision of Daniel, vii. 9: "I beheld till thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days sat: . . . thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him." Other ideas included in the description of the Eucharistic altar in the Eastern Liturgy are: Jacob's dream (Gen., xxviii. 17), his vision of the "ladder standing upon the earth and the top thereof touching heaven: the angels also of God ascending and descending by it," and his words: "How terrible is this place! This is no other but the house of God, and the gate of heaven.

The Eucharist and the Jewish Pasch

Words before the Institution. — The three Evangelists who record the words of institution, record also the words: "And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of My Father" (Matt., xxvi. 29; Mark, xiv. 25; Luke, xxii. 16). St. Matthew and St. Mark connect these words with the Eucharistic chalice; St. Luke connects them with one of the previous cups of the Paschal meal. There were usually served four cups of wine at the Pasch, and the last most probably was the one consecrated by Our Lord as the Eucharistic chalice. St. Luke adds in his narrative what the others omitted, namely, the benediction and distribution of wine before the Eucharistic cup. The meaning of these words taken literally is that this is Our Lord's last feast on earth as mortal man. Consequently, the rest of the verse "until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of heaven" refers to the glorified state in heaven, and to the heavenly banquet. The Eastern Liturgy (following the text of St. Luke) connects the promise of the new wine with the Eucharistic chalice on the basis of this interpretation: the cup of the Jewish Pasch, the Eucharistic chalice, and the heavenly wine are connected with one another as type and antitype; further, the term "kingdom" in the sayings of Christ may mean (a) the abode of the blessed, (b) the Church on earth, (c) the reign of the Messiah; all three interpretations are mutually inclusive, since the temporal reign of the Messiah was the prelude to the establishment of the Church or Christ's Kingdom on earth, and ended by opening the gates of heaven. The Eastern Liturgy emphasizes the eschatological state, and interprets the institution of the Eucharist as the fulfillment of the promise of the new wine in the Kingdom of the Father.

Reflections of the Highpriestly Prayer

The term which occurs most frequently throughout the Eastern Liturgy is "glory," with its derivatives "glorify" and "glorification" (both taken actively and passively). Next to these in frequency come the terms: "sanctification," "sanctify," "unity," "communion," "unite." Even if we were unacquainted with the interpretation of the "highpriestly prayer," a first attentive reading of the texts of the Eastern Liturgy would reveal the frequent allusions to it. The prayers of intercession, the petition for consecration, and the petition for fruitful Communion are interwoven with words from the highpriestly prayer.

One might expect that the Church would remember the highpriestly prayer, said by Our Lord immediately after the institution of the Eucharist — a prayer which links the sacramental sacrifice of the Last Supper with the sacrifice in specie propria upon the Cross. One might expect that the Church would see in this venerable prayer, by which Our Lord consecrated Himself for the Passion and Cross, a model of liturgical supplication; that the Church would reproduce its ideas and words in the Liturgy of her sacrifice. In the Eastern Liturgy we find the starting point for the introduction of the petition for glorification in a petition for consecration, for the power to consecrate, and for the effect of consecration.

The pre-consecratory invocation of the papyrus of Deir-Balizeh (recording a Liturgy dating back to the third or fourth century) contains the petition for glorification: "Fill us also with Thy glory which is with Thee." Likewise, the Anaphora of Serapion prays: "Fill also this sacrifice with Thy power and Thy communication." In this text there is substituted for the term "glory" the term "virtue," which is used in Holy Scripture frequently with almost identical meaning (e.g., II Pet., i. 3). The Epiklesis of the Coptic Liturgy (called also the Liturgy of St. Cyril) reads: "Fill, O God, also this offering with Thy blessing which is with Thee and through the coming of Thy Holy Spirit."

The petition for unity and sanctification of the highpriestly prayer has found its way into the Liturgy at an even earlier date (cfr. Didache; Anaphora of the Traditio apostolica of St. Hippolytus).

With the introduction of the petition for glorification into the Liturgy as equivalent to the petition for consecration and the effect of Holy Communion, a most important element of the glory of the Eastern Liturgy with profound dogmatic meaning was inserted.1 The parallelism between the glorification of Christ by Resurrection and Ascension, on the one hand, and Eucharistic Consecration and Communion, on the other, the concept of Consecration and Communion as an extension and continuation of the glorification of Christ, as a new or continued rising and ascending and glorification of His ever-growing Mystical Body — this is an idea as beautiful and admirable as it is profound.

Heavenly Ratification of Christ's Sacrifice

In His personal prayer after the Last Supper Our Lord brought His glorification into intimate connection with His sacrifice and its effectiveness. He refers to the Resurrection and Ascension, not as an internal element of His sacrifice, but as its external completion, as its acceptance and ratification by God. The virtue of religion of which sacrifice is the supreme act, is a part of the virtue of justice. As no act of justice is effective without the ratification and acceptance by the receiver, so neither would be the sacrifice of Christ effective without the ratification and acceptance by God. By His Resurrection and Ascension the sacrifice of Christ was ratified, accepted by the Divinity, received into the perfect possession of God, made divine. The burning of the holocaust in the sacrificial fire and the ascending smoke into which the gift and victim was dissolved in the Old Testament sacrifices, symbolized the acceptance of the sacrifice by the Divinity. The divine acceptance became still more visible when the sacrificial fire fell from heaven, or when the fire of the altar of the holocaust in the Temple of Jerusalem was enkindled by sparks from the Shekina, from the fiery cloud hovering over the propitiatory throne in the Holy of Holies (note also the significance of the term "Shekina" — "glory of God"). To the burning of the victim and the ascending of the smoke correspond as antitype in the sacrifice of Christ the Resurrection and Ascension (cfr. the interpretation of the words of St. Paul, I Cor, xv. 54, "Absorpta est mors in victoria," by St Augustine; Contra Faustum, xxii. 17; St. Greg. M., In Ezech., xxii). On this basis the Eastern Liturgy interpreted the Eucharistic consecration as a renewal and extension of the glorification of Christ. The Eucharistic sacrifice as a representation of the complete sacrifice of Christ had to include ratification and acceptance by God, had to be consequently the memorial of the Resurrection and the Ascension, as it is the memorial of the Passion and Death.

The idea of glorification is not only connected with the sacrificial action in the Eucharistic sacrifice (i.e., with the Consecration), but also with the Eucharistic presence of Christ, effected by the Consecration. The Eucharistic presence of the body of Christ is above the natural existence of a corporeal being, even higher than the existence of the glorified body of Christ in heaven. In heaven the glorified body of Christ exists, not in the way of a spiritual substance (like a human soul or an angel), still less in the way of the Divine Omnipresence. In the Blessed Sacrament, however, the body of Christ is glorified and divinized so far as to have a presence similar to the Divine Presence — in becoming and being present wherever the Eucharist is consecrated. Only through the divine power existing within, through the fire of the Divinity burning within, absorbed, consumed, glorified by it, could this climax of the marvels of God be accomplished. The Eucharistic presence of the body of Christ is a marvellous revelation and manifestation of His being the Son of God — another Theophany, another manifestation of His glory. And all this is preparatory to the end of His entering into union with souls and communicating to them His glory, the glory He has from His Father, sanctifying them, incorporating them into His own sacrifice, continuing in them His saving death and glorious Resurrection, sanctifying and consecrating them (cfr. John, xvii. 19: ". . . for there I sanctify Myself") to a priesthood like His. As a royal priesthood, they shall offer Him as the Head of their body, and they should offer themselves as the members of this body — an oblation ratified and accepted finally on the day of the Resurrection of the bodies. The complete glorification of the Bride of Christ, when He exhibits to Himself a bride glorious without wrinkle and spot, when His glory is poured out completely over the body and soul of the blessed and reflected even in the consuming and renewing fire which will devour heaven and earth — this glorification will be completed when this great sacrifice is completely accepted and made divine: Deus omnia in omnibus (I Cor., xv. 24. 28).2

Thus, we have to understand the cry of the Eastern Church in which resounds forcefully the text: "Pater, clarifica Filium Tuum ut Filius Tuus clarificet Te" (John, xvii. 1) : "Let Thy presence rest upon this bread and this chalice . . . The presence of the sacred glory . . . Manifestation of our Lord and God and Saviour . . . Let Thy glory encircle us . . . We show forth Thy Death, O Lord, and confess Thy Resurrection, remembering all that was brought to pass for our sakes — the Cross and Tomb, the Resurrection on the third day, the Ascension into heaven and sitting at the right hand, the coming again and in glory" (Liturgy of St. Chrystostom).

In the highpriestly prayer (John, xvii. 24), we read this petition: "Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me, that they may see My glory which Thou hast given Me, because Thou hast loved Me before the creation of the world." In the Liturgy of the Chaldeans we read: "Surrounded by the sweet perfume of Thy love, our souls enlightened by knowledge of Thy truth, we pray Thee, Our Lord and our God, to grant us to behold the glory of Thy well-beloved Son in heaven." The Liturgy of St. James reads: "Cleanse my unclean soul that I may offer Thee a living sacrifice pleasing to Thy Godhead, and like to Thy glorious immolation for us, our Lord and our God." The Malabar Liturgy: "May Christ hear the prayers; may Christ accept thy offering; may Christ glorify thy priesthood in the kingdom of heaven . . . O Lord our God, may this altar, a likeness of Our Lord's sepulchre and His Throne and of His redeeming body and blood, be made fragrant by Thee! Bless, O Lord; bless, O Lord; bless, O Lord" (Prayer before the Consecration).

Influence of St. Paul on the Eastern Liturgy

There exists the most beautiful conformity between the life and the gospel of St. Paul — between his conversion and spiritual education, on the one hand, and the central idea of his theology, on the other, particularly in so far as it has inspired the Eastern Liturgy. The same rays, the same light, which broke with elementary force into the life of St. Paul, encircled him on the road to Damascus, enveloped him, pierced his eyes, his mind, his heart, blinding, illuminating, transforming, glorifying — the same brightness and glory is transparent in his ideas and words, forms the luminous center of his doctrine, and inspires to a great extent the beauty and glory of the Eastern Liturgy: his vision of Christ glorified.3

In one continuous luminous stream St. Paul through vision after vision was privileged to see Christ proceeding from the Father as the brightness of His glory, entering time, revealing in an organic process His divine glory by Resurrection and Ascension, extending His glory (sacramentally) until the end of time in His Mystical Body, growing higher than the heavens, vaster than the universe, effacing all else by His splendor, filling heaven and earth with His plenitude. Having reached the fullness of His age in His Mystical Body, He will come again. His second coming in great power and majesty is the last stage of the "revelation of the mystery of Christ." The consummation of His Mystical Body coincides with the consummation of history and time — of mankind, world, and universe. This is the gospel of Paul: the glorious Christ, the mystical Christ — His growth and glorification throughout the ages until the day "when God will be all in all" (I Cor., xv. 24, 28).

From Christ glorified as the luminous center, the theology of St. Paul has to be understood and systematically explained as the doctrine of the stages of His glorification, be it in His human nature or in His Mystical Body.

The glorification of Christ is so much the cardinal point for St. Paul that he exclaims (I Cor., xv. 14): "And if Christ be not risen again, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." In conformity with the second Psalm, he understands the Resurrection of Christ as the Nativity of Him as Son of God (Acts, xiii. 33), His Ascension and entering heaven as "becoming" highpriest: "If then He were on earth, He would not be a priest" (Heb., viii., 4); "So Christ also did not glorify Himself, that He might be made a highpriest, but He that said unto Him: 'Thou art My Son, this day I have begotten Thee'" (Heb., v. 5); "And being consummated, He became, to all that obey Him, the cause of eternal salvation, called by God a highpriest according to the order of Melchisedech" (Heb., v. 9-10).

"Communicatio Idiomatum" Between Christ and the Church

Feature by feature, the same ideas return in the formation and development of His Mystical Body. St. Paul visualizes the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ as the cause of justification — of the resurrection of the soul and body of the just (Rom., iv. 25): "He was delivered up for our sins and rose again for our justification." St. Paul has created or revived a series of unusual terms in order to give graphic expression to the parallelism between Christ's glorification and the glorification of His Mystical Body, to the "communicatio idiomatum" between Christ and Church: "to rise from the dead with Him . . . to live with Him . . . to be made alive with Him . . . to share His form . . . to share His glory . . . to sit with Him . . . to reign with Him . . . to be conformed with Him . . . united with His life, co-heir, co-partner, concorporate, built together with Him." The "to-day" of the first Easter is flowing into the day of the resurrection of the dead; with His becoming highpriest, the "pens electa" is becoming a royal priesthood; with His presentation before the face of God, His Mystical Body is becoming a "hostia laudis."

The fire of glory is communicated from the glorified Christ to His Mystical Body through the Holy Eucharist (I Cor., x. 17): "We are one bread, one body, for we all partake of one bread." So is the temple built which projects its harmonious lines far into the sky; so is the Church growing, becoming the youthful, immaculate, glorious Bride of Christ. The best concise formula of this view and vision of St. Paul, of these causalities, relations, and proportions, is contained in the phrase: "In Christ Jesus."

The moral teaching of St. Paul runs along the same lines: his ideal is the glorious Christ. With an incomparable faith, with unshakable fidelity, a consuming love for Christ glorified, he exclaims (Phil., iii. 8): "Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent, knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ." His enduring patience in endless sufferings, his cheerfulness, his optimism, his eloquence, his charity when he calls his converts and disciples with such caressing words as (I Thess., ii. 19-20): "My hope, my joy, my crown of glory" — they are a following of the glorious Lord from whom "neither powers nor angels can separate him" (Rom., viii. 38). He is striving after this Divine Model, he aspires to the measure and fullness of Christ. Not, content with purifying his soul from earthly affections, he turns towards the inimitable ideal (Phil., iii. 12): "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect; but I follow after, if I may by any means apprehend, wherein I am also apprehended by Christ Jesus."

The same he proposes in his instructions to others. The imitation of the mortal life of Christ occupies only a minor space in his Epistles. The aim and end of the Christian life is (II Thess., ii. 14): "He has called you by our gospel unto the purchasing of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." He understands the glorious Christ when he says (Gal., ii. 20): "Live the life of Christ," (Rom., xiii. 14; Gal., iii. 27) "Put on Christ," (II Cor., iii. 18) "Be transformed into His image," (Eph., iv. 5) ". . . grow in Him," (Rom., vi. 11) ". . . live in Him." It is even Christ in His divine preexistence whom he proposes as the ideal and model of humility, charity, patience, obedience (II Cor., viii. 9) "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that being rich He became poor for our sakes" (Phil., ii. 5-7). "For let this mind be in you, which was also in Jesus Christ: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man." And again (Eph., v. 1): "Be ye therefore followers of God, as most dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us, and has delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness" (I Cor., xv. 49). "Let us bear also the image of the heavenly Christ" (Phil., iii. 20). "But our conversation is in heaven whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ" (Col., iii. 1). "Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that, are upon the earth" (Heb., xii. 2). "Looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who . . . now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God."

Eschatological Teaching of St. Paul

The eschatological aspect of Paul's dogmatic and moral teaching is frequently evidenced even in the grammatical form of his sentences. He visions our glorification already as an accomplished fact. In his own personal immense longing, in the certainty of his faith, in the divine strength of grace, in "Christ Jesus," in the prophetic character of the mystery revealed to him, it is accomplished. St. Paul uses in several texts the aorist (the definitely past) tense: "Whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Rom., viii. 30); "He has raised us up together and has made us sit together in the heavenly places through Christ Jesus" (Eph., ii. 6); "You are fellow-citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God" (Eph., ii. 19).4

This is the spirit of St. Paul, and this is the spirit of the Eastern Liturgy. Through this the great Apostle continues his work, convincing the mind, enkindling the heart, inspiring with his burning enthusiasm for the glorious Christ. Through this the great genius continues to teach, to preach, to instruct, to pray, to entreat, to implore, to sing in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, to give thanks at all times, in all places. All his Epistles were gold mines for the Eastern Liturgy, but with regard to the Eucharistic Liturgy primarily the Epistle to the Hebrews was used.

The liturgical tradition derived from St. Paul is well attested by himself (I Cor., xi. 23): "For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, etc . . ." In These words we can hear the scrupulous accuracy of the statement; he has received it immediately from Christ, and as he has received it, be has transmitted to them the great mystery which demands the highest reverence, the Blessed Eucharist. There exists a beautiful witness for this Pauline liturgical tradition in the Anaphora of the Traditio apostolica of Hippolytus, the common basis for all the different Eastern and Western Liturgies (cfr. Dom Paul Cagin, "L'Eucharistie. Canon Primitif de la Messe ou formulaire essentiel et premiere de toutes les Liturgies," Paris, 1912).

Citations from St. Paul in Eastern Liturgy

With regard to the Eastern Liturgy the influence of the written word of St. Paul is recognizable in the words of consecration, in the historical narrative before consecration, in the anamnesis immediately after the words of consecration, in the concept of "entrance" in the Liturgy of the Faithful and in the Liturgy of the Catechumens, and in all the ideas in which we have shown the character of the Eastern Liturgy.

From a comparison of the four accounts about the institution of the Holy Eucharist, we know that the account of St. Paul agrees very closely with the account of St. Luke, who received the knowledge of the great event immediately from the Apostle himself. Comparing both of them with the accounts of St. Matthew and St. Mark, we find that the former add to the latter texts the following points: (a) "This is My body which is given (St. Luke), bruised (St. Paul), for you"; (b) "Do this for a commemoration of Me." St. Paul adds this command a second time after the consecration of the chalice (I Cor., xi. 25). The Eastern Anaphoras have accepted almost without exception the account of St. Paul with the addition in the consecration of the host: "This is My body which is given [some have "broken"] for you."

The historical narrative before the words of consecration is taken exclusively from St. Paul (I Cor., xi. 23): "The same night in which He was betrayed, took bread etc."

The Anamnesis of the Eastern Liturgy in the developed form, including the "Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, sitting at the right hand, the coming again and in glory," is a result of the twice-inculcated command (I Cor., xi. 24) "This do for a commemoration of me" and of the addition: "You shall show the death of the Lord until He come."


The King of ages (I Tim., i. 17);
The King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, who inhabiteth light inaccessible (I Tim., i. 17);
Father of glory (Eph., i. 17).


The image and glory of God (I Cor., i. 7);
The brightness of His glory (Heb., i. 3);
Christ in the glory of the Father (Phil., ii. 11);
Lord of glory (I Cor., 17);
Great Highpriest (Heb., iv. 14);
Highpriest who is seated on the right hand of the throne of majesty in heaven (Heb., viii. 1);
Highpriest entered into the holies (Heb., ix. 24);
Highpriest over the house of God (Heb., x. 21);
If then He were on earth, He would not be a priest (Heb., viii. 4);
Christ did not glorify Himself, that He might be made a highpriest (Heb., v. 5).


See that you refuse Him not that speaketh . . . that speaketh from heaven (Heb., xii. 25);
Rise thou that sleepest, and arise from the death: and Christ shall enlighten thee (Eph., v. 14);
The eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what the hope is of your calling, and what are the riches of the glory (Eph., i. 18);
The light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus (II Cor., iv. 6).


By Him we have access both in one Spirit to the Father in whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of Him (Eph., iii. 12);
By Him we have access through faith into His grace, wherein we stand, and glory in the hope of glory (Heb., v. 2), having therefore, brethren, a confidence in the entering into the holies by the blood of Christ, a new and living way which He has dedicated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh, and a highpriest over the house of God (Heb., x. 19-21: compare the prayers of entrance and the prayer of the veil).


Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace (Heb., iv. 16);
We have an altar, whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle (Heb., xiii, 10: admits the interpretation of heavenly altar).


By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise always to God (Heb. xiii. 15: i.e, by the heavenly Highpriest as mediator).


But now once at the end of the ages, He has appeared for the destruction of sin, by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb., ix. 26);
A sacrifice to God for an odor of sweetness (Eph., v. 2);
Present your bodies a living sacrifice . . . your reasonable service (Rom., xii. 1);
An odor of sweetness, an acceptable sacrifice (Phil., iv. 18).
Note: The becoming Highpriest by entering heaven has its corresponding element in the idea that Christ became a sacrifice (an accepted victim) by appearing before the face of God.


But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord (II Cor., iii. 18).

About the interpretation which the Eastern Liturgy has given to these texts, we have to note: St. Paul considers the priesthood and sacrifice of Christ from the viewpoint of their ratification, their acceptance by God. In the way of conclusions, applications, and accommodations, the Eastern Liturgy applies the Pauline terminology of the Sacrifice of Christ to the Sacrifice of the Church; the terminology of St. Paul about the Sacrifice of the Mystical Body as a whole, with a universal and moral meaning, is interpreted by the Eastern Liturgy with the particular technical meaning. Like an anchor of the soul, of which St. Paul speaks in referring to the priesthood of Christ with relation to us (Heb., vi. 19) in the whole work of redemption, so the heavenly priesthood and sacrificial activity of Christ draws every priesthood and every sacrifice and every sacrificial activity into heaven, to be accomplished in heaven. A beautiful complementary idea is the growing temple of God (Eph., ii. 21): "Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner-stone; in whom all the building, being framed together, groweth up into a holy temple in the Lord." With the same universality is the term "temple" used by St. Paul about the whole of the Mystical Body, which is to offer sacrifice with Christ. Finished and completed on the last day, the royal priesthood will enter the sanctuary and accomplish the sacrifice as an "odor of sweetness" before the face of God. The temple is still unfinished and incomplete. But overwhelmed by the knowledge of the Eucharist, "God with us," and by the possession of the chalice of the "eternal testament," the Church anticipates the day of eternity, and the "to-day" of the Pasch of Christ and the continued Pasch of the Church are merging into the eternal Pasch.

Citations from the Apocalypse

Next to St. Paul, the strongest influence upon the Eastern Liturgy was exercised by St. John, He is represented chiefly by two major texts: the highpriestly prayer and the vision of the Heavenly Liturgy in the Apocalypse. Since St. John exclusively has transmitted to us the highpriestly prayer, its influence upon the Eastern Liturgy also goes back to him.

In the Apocalypse we are given a revelation of the Heavenly Liturgy in one complete picture with temple, altar, lights, ministering angels and priests and with a sacrifice (victim). This Heavenly Liturgy is revealed as the antitype to the Old Testament Liturgy. It is furthermore celebrated in union with the rest of creation. Explicitly stated is the liturgical communication between heaven and earth; there is one hierarchy reaching from Christ throughout the universe. All hierarchic degrees join in the hymn which is expressly called the Canticle of Moses (Apoc., xv. 3), the thanksgiving hymn which is the prototype of the Eucharistic hymn.


King of ages (xv. 3).


The prince of the Kings of the earth (i. 5);
Lord of Lords and King of Kings (xvii. 14).


The temple of God was opened in heaven (xi. 19).


There were seven lamps burning before the throne (iv. 5);
The glory of God has enlightened it (xxi. 23).


An angel came and stood before the altar . . . he should offer of the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne of God (viii. 3);
The angel took the censer and filled it with the fire of the altar (viii. 5);
I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar (ix. 13).


An angel came and stood before the altar (viii. 5);
The (saints) are before the throne of God, and they serve Him day and night in His temple (vii. 15);
Thou hast made us to our God a Kingdom and priests (v. 10);
Every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and such as are in the sea and all that are in them (v. 13).


A Lamb standing as it were slain in the middle of the altar (v. 6);
The smoke of the incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up from the hand of the angel (viii. 4);
The four living creatures and the four and twenty ancients fell down before the Lamb . . . having every one of them . . . golden vials full of odors which are the prayers of saints (v. 8).


And they sung a new canticle, saying: "Thou art worthy, O Lord" (v. 9);
Singing the canticle of Moses and the canticle of the Lamb (xv. 3).


And they rested not day and night, saying: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God (iv. 8).


Alleluja: Salvation, and glory and power is to our God (xix. 1);
And again they said: "Alleluja" (xix. 3);
And I heard a voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of great thunder, saying: "Alleluja" (xix. 6).


Those living creatures gave glory, and honor, and benediction to Him that sitteth on the throne who liveth for ever and ever (iv. 9);
The four and twenty elders adored Him, cast their crowns before the throne, saying: "Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory, and honor, and power" (iv. 10).

The Liturgy of Heaven described in the Apocalypse has served as an exemplar for the Eastern Liturgy on the basis of the following facts.

(1) The Apocalypse establishes a typical connection between the Liturgy of Heaven and the Liturgy of the Old Testament; and since the Old Testament is a type for the New Testament, all three are related as type and antitype.

(2) The Apocalypse reveals the Liturgy of Heaven in communication with the Liturgy on earth. Angels, Saints and living creatures on earth form a unity with the understanding that every Liturgy is completed in heaven.

(3) The hymn of heaven establishes a continuous line from the Canticle of Moses after the liberation from Egypt and the passing through the Red Sea, to the Hallel of the Jewish Pasch, to the hymn of Our Lord at the Last Supper, to the Eucharistic Anaphora, to Preface and Canon, to Sanctus, Alleluja and Doxology.

The celestial worship of the Apocalypse and the Heavenly Liturgy of St. Paul complete each other in a beautiful point. In the Epistles of St. Paul we see the Heavenly Highpriest at the climax of His dignity, in the last stage of His Highpriestly activity (Heb., viii. 1) "We have such a Highpriest, who is seated on the right hand of the throne of majesty in the heavens." In the Apocalypse we see the sacrifice (victim) in its last stage: "And I saw: and behold in the midst of the throne . . . a Lamb standing as it were slain" (Apoc., v. 6).

Common Origin of Eastern and Western Liturgies

The liturgical movement has made valuable contributions to the understanding of the Eastern Liturgy. It has inspired intensified studies, published colorful texts, and emphasized their beauty and grandeur; and even to the point of exaggeration exalted the specific character, the difference of the Eastern Liturgy from the Roman. The Eastern Liturgy is said to be a dramatic experience, dominated by the supernatural pneumatic-mystical. The Roman Liturgy is said to be scholarly systematical, ethical-juridical, not too far from rationalistic influence and pragmatic considerations. An exaggerated, youthful enthusiasm for what is new, is apt to interpret difference as opposition — a criticism which echoes the antagonistic spirit of the Orthodox Church which blames Rome for having substituted the spirit of authority for charity, love and beauty.

In view of these statements we conclude our essay about the Eastern Liturgy with a few remarks in which we remind the students of Liturgy that Eastern and Western Liturgy have very much in common. What constitutes the substance of both of them is common heritage. Many elements of what is considered the exclusive character of the Eastern Liturgy is found in the Roman Liturgy as well. Some of these elements were transmitted to the Roman Liturgy precisely by the Eastern Liturgy. There is no reason, on the other hand, to deny a certain difference. Yet, this difference must not be explained as opposition, but resolved into a higher harmony and beauty.

The common descent of the Eastern and the Western Liturgy from the ancient Eucharistic Anaphora is evident enough. In the Roman Preface and Canon the glorious Christ, the great heavenly Highpriest functioning, is called to mind again and again with the term, "per Christum Dominum nostrum" — a term full of the spirit of St. Paul. There are the Angels (Et ideo cum angelis et archangelis); there is the Angel as mediator between heaven and earth (per manus sancti angeli tui); there are the Saints of heaven (Communicantes . . .); there is the heavenly altar (in sublime altare tuum); there is the highpriestly prayer beginning with the rubric: "Sacerdos elevans manus, elevansque ad coelum oculos" (cfr., John, xvii. 1). The petition for glorification is contained: (1) in the invocation before consecration (Quam oblationem . . . benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem acceptabilemque facere digneris . . . ), and (2) after the Consecration in the petition for fruitful Communion (omni benediction caelesti et gratia repleamur). The spirit of St. Paul is incorporated in the hymnological form of the Preface, in its rhythm, ideas and words; the Resurrection and Ascension in the Anamnesis is Pauline Theology, and the final Doxology a combination of Rom., xi. 36, and Eph., iii. 21. There is furthermore the Sanctus of the Apocalypse and of Isaias; there is the idea of the Theophany (Benedictus qui venit in nomine Domini); there is heaven and earth full of glory (pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis).

Differences Between Eastern and Western Liturgies

There are, on the other hand, differences which mark, for instance, the Roman Canon as a work of the more realistic, static, systematic Latin Mind. It is correct to note the more dramatic flow of the Eastern Liturgy and the more static, symmetric structure of the Roman Canon. One may even say that in the Eastern Liturgy the so impatient spirit of the earliest Christian age, expecting the Parousia, the eschatological attitude in the face of persecution and martyrdom, the immense longing for the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God, is more alive, or more keenly felt; whereas the Roman Liturgy reflects the self-possessed Latin mind, its clear systematic structure, self-restrained, not exceeding the limits of the present and reality. Not profuse in words but a concise brevity for practical use of everyday — this is the Roman spirit.

The best way to distinguish and to unite both Liturgies is given in the words St. Thomas (Summa, III, Q. Ix, art. 3c) "Sacramentum est signum rememorativum eius quod praecessit, scilicet passionis Christi, et demonstrativum eius quod in nobis efficitur per Christi Passionem, scilicet gratiae, et prognosticum, i.e., praenuntiativum futurae gloriae."

As every Sacrament contains this threefold significance, so likewise the sacramental sacrifice, the Eucharistic sacrifice. The Roman Liturgy, conscious of the sacramental presence of Christ in the Eucharist with the glory hidden within — made present not "vi verborum" but "per concomitantiam" — avoids the term "glorification" in the petition for valid consecration and fruitful communion, and substitutes the term "benedictam" and "omni benedictione coelesti et gratia." Besides the intention to adhere to the wording of the historical narrative of the institution and to give in the pre-consecratory invocations a paraphrase of the word "He blessed," we feel the tendency of the Roman Canon to point to the sacramental presence, to demonstrate the present effect — grace. The Eastern Liturgy, however, is dwelling with her mind in heaven, contemplating in the sacramental sign the "praenuntiativum futurae gloriae," unfolding the third signification of the sacramental sacrifice.

Both Liturgies, however, are alike fully conscious of the divine presence, of the climax of marvels of God in the Eucharist; both speak and sing and act with the spirit of St. Paul, giving thanks at all times and in all places in hymns and spiritual canticles; both Liturgies are full of the divine spirit of joy and great gladness; both Liturgies experience what the early Russian ambassadors experienced with admiration: "We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth, for nowhere else in the world is there so beautiful a sight. We cannot describe it: we only know that it is there that God tabernacles among men."

End Notes

  1. Scheeben, "Die Mysterien des Christentums" (Mainz, 1925).
  2. Scheeben, op. cit.
  3. Cfr. F. Prat, "The Theology of Saint Paul" (London, 1942).
  4. Cfr. C. J. Callan, "The Epistles of St. Paul" (New York City, 1931).

See also:

Part I: The Glory of the Eastern Liturgy: The Heavenly Liturgy

Part II: The Glory of the Eastern Liturgy: The Eastern Liturgy and Russian Literature

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