It is the New Testament which tells us about this celebration of the Eucharist ‘in the houses’ but it does not tell how the exact procedure was carried out. Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a complete description of this procedure in detail. The Eucharist was living in each congregation. Every Christian who was baptized took part in it. There was no need to describe what everyone knew. Concerning the non-Christian readers of the books of the New Testament there was no reason to tell them about a ritual into which they were to be initiated only after baptism. From the beginning the Eucharist was an intimate celebration ‘in the houses.’ It was esoteric. Therefore it was not described in public books. The New Testament contains the spiritual message of Christ and his deed, but it never was meant to be a compendium and text book of the Christian cult.
Christianity does not only consist of the ‘message.’ Christianity also includes the possibility to have a mystic share in this new life itself; to experience substantially the reality of Christ, and to communicate with him in an intimate contact. This sphere beyond the message, ‘the real thing’ itself, at which the message is pointing, is the Christian cult. It is a basic error among many Protestants to fail to see that the Christian sacramental stream of life is older than the New Testament, is independent of it, and that it has its own evolutionary laws and necessities of organic growth.
3. Early Christian services
The first Christians had two different types of service. The one was a public meeting with the purpose of preaching the message of Christ to everyone willing to listen. This public service with scripture readings, sermon, hymns and prayers followed the lines of the Jewish Synagogue service. The second kind of meeting was reserved for those who had been baptized, and was held in private homes until church buildings were built.
During the second century the two services grew together. Testimonies are very scarce because of the ‘esoteric’ character of the second half of the service. About the year AD 150 Justin Martyr gave some general indications concerning the procedure. The first part of the service was completely public. It was the ‘message.’ Everyone was welcome. Justin records that there were readings from the ‘memoirs of the Apostles’ (the Gospels). Then all who had not been baptized were dismissed from the service. Only the ‘faithful’ were allowed to stay for the further celebration of the sacrament, which, following the ‘message’ was regarded as ‘the real thing.’ At least it was a mystical foretaste of that life to which the ‘message’ pointed.
In the structure of the ‘Mass of the faithful’ outlined by Justin, one recognizes the basic main parts of Offertory, Transubstantiation and Communion. The Offertory consisted in bringing one’s gift to the altar. But we should not forget that in those days the giving of material gifts carried with it inseparably the inner devotion and dedication of the soul in a kind of spiritual parallelism, in contrast to our more abstract times. The Offertory is the soul’s response to the message. This provides the spiritual basis for the great Eucharistic prayer spoken by the leader of the congregation over bread and wine. According to Justin Martyr, Transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ was effected by this Eucharistic prayer. Then followed the holy meal, the Communion.
This structure of four main parts, the public delivery of the message followed by the intimate celebration of Offertory, Transubstantiation, and Communion is not accidental. It follows deeper necessities. The sequence of these four acts is archetypal.
4. Archetypal structure
The same archetypal structure appears in the sequence of the steps on the soul’s mystic path. At first an awakening by listening to the spiritual message; then as it is described in medieval texts, ‘purification,’ ‘illumination’ and ‘mystic union.’ After having accepted the ‘message’ (Gospel reading) ‘consciousness turns into conscience.’ The soul becomes aware that it has to be transmuted in order to harmonize with that ‘message.’ A process of cleansing and purifying, and an inner elevation, have to follow (Offertory). Then the spiritual world will respond again to our response. Now it can manifest itself by transfiguring the earthly world. The world of matter ceases to be material and becomes translucent (illumination-transubstantiation). Finally man grows into the spiritual with all his being, including his flesh and blood (mystic union-communion).
Because these deeper laws and necessities of the mystic life of the soul correspond to Christ’s redeeming deed, we may recognize the fourfold pattern in the very structure of his deed itself. There are the three years between the baptism in the Jordan and the event of Golgotha. They serve to prepare for the event on the hill of Golgotha.
These three years during which the Christ preaches the message of the presence of the Kingdom of God are, as it w~ere, the first main part, the great Gospel. Then Christ goes to Jerusalem to sacrifice himself on the altar of Golgotha – the great Offertory. His resurrection at Easter and the further development of his transmuted body through the forty days to Ascension Day, represent the great Transubstantiation. At Whitsun finally, his deed comes to life in the souls of the disciples. The flame of the Holy Spirit is kindled in each individuality – the great Communion. Thus the Eucharist shows in its four main parts the same structure as the series of redeeming events in Christ’s earthly life as described in the New Testament.