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Robert Taft S. J.

The Evolution of the Byzantine “Divine Liturgy”

Orientalia Christiana Periodica XLIII, Roma 1977, p. 8-30

Communion Rites

The third "soft point" of the eucharistic rite includes the rites and prayers that follow the consecration of the gifts:

Litany and prayer
Our Father
Prayer of Inclination
Prayer of Elevation
Elevation: "Holy things for the holy".
Chant: "One is holy. . ."
Κοινωνικόν (communio)
Manual acts (fraction, etc.)
Blessing with gifts: "O God, save your people and bless your inheritance".
Chant: "We have seen the true light..."
Gifts returned to altar, incensed.
"Always, now and forever, and unto ages of ages".
Chant: "Amen. May our lips be filled. . ."
Gifts returned to altar of preparation.
Litany and Prayer of Thanksgiving.

It may seem strange to skip over what is clearly the most important prayer of the whole rite, the eucharistie prayer itself, but the anaphora has undergone little ritual evolution, and the textual modifications it exhibits would require a close philological and literary analysis of the Greek text that is hardly feasible here. So I shall pass directly to the communion rites after mentioning that the anaphora of Chrysostom shows clear signs of reworking in several places. The mere fact that there is no command to repeat ("Do this in memory of me"), and that the commemoration of the dead precedes that of the living (1), is extraordinary and most problematic.

a) The Litany and Prayer before Communion

After the doxology that concludes the anaphora, there is a long litany comprising two distinct sets of petitions. A similar litany is found with the Prayer of the Proskomide, just before the anaphora. A textual comparison of this litany with the parallel litanies in the Liturgy of James and the Armenian liturgy shows, I believe, that the second series of petitions, the so-called αἰτήσεις ("demands") in Byzantine terminology, is a later addition, from the Divine Office (2).

I have not yet made up my mind as to which of the two prayers that now come before and after the Our Father is older, but it is most probable that only one of them is original at this point of the liturgy, which once followed the structure seen in the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, 13, -3-14; ed. FUNK, I pp. 514-16): anaphora, litany, prayer, "Holy things for the holy". So from comparative liturgy we can say that the Our Father and one of the prayers are later additions, dating from the end of the 4th century (3). And we know that the Elevation Prayer just before the fraction, which is common to the liturgies of both Chrysostom and Basil, was added much later (4).

b) The Communion Antiphon

More problematic are the three chants that now accompany communion. At present they are a complete structural mess, which of course betrays their youth: primitive liturgy was tidy if nothing else. Let us see if we can reconstruct their original shape. We know that most rites had antiphonal psalmody at the three "soft points" of the service, the introit, the offertory or pre-anaphora, and the communion (5). Now we have already established that the Byzantine Eucharist once had an antiphonal psalm at the lesser and probably also at the major introit, so our strong presumption should be in favor of the same at communion. And in fact we have concrete evidence of just such a chant. According to the Chronicon paschale for the year 624, in that year under Patriarch Sergius I of Constantinople (610-38) a refrain was added to the koinonikon. Now today the term koinonikon or communia refers to a single psalm verse with triple alleluia sung right after the response to the exclamation "Holy things for the holy", before the fraction. From the Chronicle however, it is evident that in those days the koinonikon included more than one verse of a psalm. The text reads as follows:
In this year [624] in the month of Artemesius — May according to the Romans — on the I2th indiction, under Patriarch Sergius of Constantinople, it was then first introduced that after all have received the Holy Mysteries, when the clergy are about to return to the skeuophylakion the precious ripidia, patens and chalices, and other sacred vessels; and after giving communion from the side tables everything is brought back to the holy altar; and finally, after chanting the final verse of the koinonikon; this troparion is sung: "May our lips be filled with your praise, Ο Lord... (6).

From this it is clear that:
1) the koinonikon was not just one psalm verse with alleluia as refrain, but an entire psalm;
2) so the single verse given in the books today is just an incipit indicating to the soloist the psalm to be chanted;
3) the refrain "May our lips be filled with your praise..." was added as a variant périsse or concluding refrain to be chanted after the doxology of the antiphonal psalm;
4) the phrase "Always, now and forever, and unto ages of ages, amen" that the priest now sings to introduce this refrain is simply the remains of that same doxology.

And in fact a study of the manuscript tradition reveals that all of the intervening material we find today between the communion verse and the remains of the doxology is a later addition not found in any early source. So what we have again, is the débris of what was once an antiphon—its beginning and end, with a lot of later free-floating bits and pieces added after the original unit had come unstuck in the degenerative process already observed with regard to the original antiphonal psalmody at the Little and Great Entrances. Any time such scraps of verse and chant pop up in liturgy, they are either the débris of a degenerated liturgical unit, or detached elements added in the later period when folks had forgotten what psalmody was all about.

The Prayer of Thanksgiving after communion is parallel to the postcommunio of the Roman mass. The accompanying litany, like similar developments elsewhere in the Byzantine and other traditions, is just an expanded oremus.

So one sees at communion a repetition of the same basic structure that emerged in the analysis of the other two "action points" of the liturgy, the two entrances: the structure comprises a ritual action, covered by an antiphonal chant, and concluded by a collect—just, as in the Roman rite. This illustrates once again, I believe, the usefulness of a structural approach in isolating the original shape and scope of our by now rather cluttered liturgical rites.


1. See the work of the student G. WlNKLER, Die Interzessionen der Chrysostomusanaphora in ihier geschichtlichen Entwicklung, in: OCP, XXXVI (1970) pp. 302-3; Einige Randbemerkungen zu den Interzessionen in Antiochien und Konstantinopel im 4. Jahrhundert, in: Ostkirchliche Studien, XX (1971) 55-61.

2. For the arguments, see TAFT, Great Entrance, op. cit.. ch. 9.

3. The Our Father is not found in the eucharist of the earlier documents such as the Apostolic Constitutions (VIII, 13, ed. Funk I, pp. 514-16) or the homilies of Theodore of Mopsuestia (Horn. 16, 21-22, ed. TONNEAU-DEVREESSE, Studi e Testi 145, pp. 563-5). Our first positive evidence of it seems to be Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 348), Myst. Cat. 5, 18. Somewhat later Augustins says that "Almost the whole church now concludes" the eucharistie prayer with the Lord's Prayer (Ep. 149, 16, CSEL 44, p. 362). Chrysostom witnesses to it in the eucharist at Constantinople at the beginning of the 5th century (De capto Eutropio 5, PG 52, 396; cf. VAN DE PAVERD, Messliturgie, op. cit., pp. 526-7). For the prayer after the Our Father in the Liturgy of Chrysostom, see MATEOS, Célébration, op. cit., pp. 60, l69ff, 180-1. Mateos thinks that this Player of Inclination was originally the final prayer of the faithful. Against him one could argue that the prayer is similar to the parallel one in the Apostolic Constitutions VIII, 13, 10 (PUNK I, p. 516); that it— or a similar prayer—is witnessed to for the Constantinopolitatl eucharist by Chrysostom (cf. VAN DE PAVERD, Messliturgie, op. cit., pp. 527-8); and that a parallel formula is mentioned by Theodore of Mopsuestia (Horn. 16, 22, éd. TONNEAU-DEVREESSE, Shidi e Testi 145, p. 565). So the weight of comparative liturgy would seem to favor this prayer 33 the original one between the anaphora and communion.

4. Cf. JACOB, Histoire du formulaire grec, cit., pp. 60-1 and part I passim.

5. Cf. TAFT, Great Entrance, op. cit., pp. 83-4.

6. PG 92, 1001.

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