The Jewish Roots of Christian Liturgy

Topics: Jesus, Eucharist, Christianity Pages: 9 (2710 words) Published: November 26, 2010
I Introduction First Christian communities appeared in Jewish Palestine and Diaspora after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ, around 30 CE. Not only Jesus himself was a Jew, but also his followers and very first members of the new growing community were mainly Jews. They all shared the Jewish belief, the Sacred Scripture that Christians later started to call the Old Testament (OT), and were not aware of founding a new religion. A closer examination of Jewish worship will let us understand how it influenced the new Christian worship. We will have a closer look at places of worship, liturgical sources and customs which were common at that time. A last task will be to ask whether there are any significant Jewish elements missing in the later Christian Eucharistic liturgy.

II Early Christian roots in Judaism A. There were three major places of Jewish worship (Foley: 4-9) – the Temple, the synagogues, and home. The Jerusalem Temple was the religious centre. It served as the only place for sacrifices until its destruction in 70 CE. Synagogues were gathering places for local communities where they prayed, read and studied the Scripture on the Sabbath, feast days, and some weekdays. In the first decades of the first century Jewish Christians continued to attend synagogue services until they gradually separated from them after 80 CE (6). Besides, everyone’s home was the main place of daily blessings and prayers. Meals were celebrated as sacred acts. They were a sign of the covenant that God has made with Israel. Foley stresses that the home was especially important as familial and social institution for new Christian communities (8). Thus the question is not about the emergence of Christian liturgy out of Jewish

sources; it is about the absorbed specific elements of the Jewish worship in the Temple, synagogues and homes into Christian liturgy.

B. The main difficulty is the reconstruction of first-century Jewish worship due to the absence of Jewish liturgical sources from the time of Jesus. Apart from the OT, the earliest sources date from the fourth century CE on (Kavanagh: 618). Bradshaw, extensively focusing on this task, comes to the conclusion not to consider the influence of the Temple liturgy, but, besides the influence of Passover feast, to examine these ‘four areas: possible elements of synagogue liturgy; the practice of daily prayer; forms of prayer themselves; and grace at meals’ (Bradshaw: 35). Although we don’t have enough evidence about the Temple cult, its sacrificial element, especially in the context of Passover feast, was put by Christians in a direct connection with the death of Jesus. The Christ himself was believed to be the true Passover lamb, the Lamb of God, who was sacrificed according the God’s salvation plan of the OT (Kavanagh: 620; Wegman: 31; Jn 1, 29.36; 1Cor 5,7). Thus the Jewish Passover and the OT got a new significance for Christians, and, as Deiss emphasizes, the references to the OT are basic elements of both the Jewish and Christian worship (3). There is another element of Temple cult to be mentioned, the times of Temple sacrifice (morning, evening and midday) influenced the times of synagogue worship and thus the early Christian prayer and the later liturgy of the hours (Kavanagh: 619).

C. The next area of influence is the synagogue liturgy in the first century. Bradshaw expresses doubts about the traditional scholarly understanding of a regular Sabbath liturgy, prayers and use of psalms in the synagogues at that time and refers to the latest researches based on archaeological and literary evidence. It seems that


synagogues were primarily established for reading and studying the Torah and later also the Prophets (Bradshaw: 36-38). Obviously, Christian Liturgy of the Word, the elements of reading and understanding the Scripture, is rooted in the synagogic practice.

Moving on to the practices of daily prayer; Bradshaw argues that compared to the synagogue...
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