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Preparation Rite Dates To St. Justin Martyr

By Father Jim Sauer

St. Justin Martyr (141-167 A.D.) provides us with the first evidence of a very simple preparation rite during the Eucharist:  “Then bread and a cup of water and wine mixed are brought to the one presiding….”  By the end of the 2nd century a change occurred in the preparation rites due to a heresy known as Gnosticism.  Gnostics believed that all earthly matter was evil; only the spiritual was good.  Thus, the Church very wisely began to emphasize the value of all earthly creation witnessing to the truth expressed in the Book of Genesis. At the end of each day of creation, “God looked upon his creation and said ‘it was good.’”  Created things began to be highlighted since the heavenly gift of Christ’s Body and Blood had an earthly origin in bread and wine.


Bishop St. Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.) mentions that other material gifts in addition to the bread and wine were included in the preparation rites.  According to Tertullian (155-240 A.D), the faithful brought their gifts, which were considered to be offerings directly to God.  When St. Cyprian was bishop (200-258 A.D.), a presentation of gifts by the faithful during the preparation rites was a standard custom.  Worshippers were expected to make a contribution for the poor and an offering for the altar.  


Although bread and wine were the primary gifts presented by each of the faithful at the Eucharist, by the time of the Emperor Constantine (315 A.D.) presenting additional material gifts was permitted – grapes, wheat, flowers, birds, vegetables, oil, and candles.  All these gifts were carried forward in the procession. Some of the presented bread and wine was used in that Eucharist.  


Everyone brought some wine from home, pouring it into a common cup.  This mingling of wines expressed the unity celebrated in the Eucharist – in Christ, all are reconciled with God (Ephesians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:19).  Drinking from one cup also symbolized the community’s oneness solidified in the Eucharist. Bread was also brought from their homes. Usually one or several loaves were used during the Eucharist again symbolizing their unity (“Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” 1 Corinthians 10:17).  When unleavened bread was required for the Eucharist, homemade bread was no longer offered.


Given in Christian charity, all these gifts were united to Christ’s offering of himself in the Eucharist.  Beginning in the 4th century, all Roman liturgies have an offering of material gifts along with bread and wine.  Although these material gifts were part of the preparation rites, they were presented at various times during the Eucharist.  In some Churches, the people’s offerings were placed in a side-room built for this purpose. Then the bread and wine used for that Eucharistic celebration were carried to the altar at the beginning of worship.  Since everyone brought bread and wine for the Eucharist, only a portion could be used depending upon the assembly’s size.  The remaining bread and wine were placed on a separate table to be used to support the clergy and to feed the poor.  Often, as in the Eastern Church, the procession of gifts through the church’s main body was enhanced with great honor with the use of lighted candles.


During the presentation of gifts by the laity, the procession was accompanied by a chant similar to the chant at the beginning of the Eucharist as the clergy entered the assembly. This chant enriched the importance of the procession of gifts by the faithful.  Since the 5th century, this chant was a regular practice in the Roman Liturgy.