The Agape Feast Catholic
The celebration of funeral feasts in honour of the dead
dates back almost to the beginnings of the worship of the
Because the Lord's Supper remembered the Death
of Jesus, the Agape as a funeral feast was honored by some early
Christians. However, the Agape was for the poor and was really a
feast with and for the dead much like the Marzeah condemned by Amos
5-8 as a musical festival which destroyed the Feast upon the Word of
the Living God.
the Agape? The lust for theatrical performance
demands a return to the Marzeah of Amos 5 or the pagan Agapae. The
people assembled or SYNAGOGUED: he said that they had HOUSES to eat
and drink in. You will be shocked at what they drank instead of
common food POLLUTES the Supper. See how Clement of
music, common food, silver urinals and golden receptacles for the ladies
terminal effeminacy. Is that why Jesus CAST OUT the musical
minstrels LIKE DUNG? See the Acts
of Thomas repudiating the flute-girl "in tongues" and proving that feeding on the Word
you don't need golden "honey pots" for the women. If you still want
to eat the Lord's Supper with SWINE FLESH still in your teeth
according to Rubel
The celebration of funeral feasts in honour of the dead dates back almost
to the beginnings of the worship of the departed - that is, to the
very earliest times. The dead, in the
region beyond the tomb,
were thought to derive both
pleasure and advantage from these offerings. The same conviction
explains the existence of funeral
furniture for the use of the dead.
Arms, vessels, and clothes, as things not
subject to decay, did not need to be renewed, but food did; hence
feasts at stated seasons.
But the body of
the departed gained no relief from
offerings made to his shade unless these were accompanied fly the
obligatory rites. Yet the funeral feast was not merely a
commemoration; it was a true communion, and the food brought by the
guests was really meant for the use of the departed. The milk and
wine were poured out on the earth around the tomb, while the solid
food has passed in to the corpse through a hole in the tomb.
This gives insights to the harps in the book of
A common message on tombstones
was that the dead are in the presence of eternal joy: food, shelter,
warmth and the extreme idleness typified by musical instruments.
The living bringing
instruments as gifts to the dead are never pictured as playing
"And in observing the
festivities where the
food and music
was offered to the dead
but enjoyed by the living, perhaps we should see the Book of
Revelation warning aginst attempting to commingle Christian "in
spirit" or "in mind" worship with the external sense-appeal suitable
for the dead or the spirituall dead.
But she that liveth
in pleasure is
dead while she liveth.
2 Tim 5:6
"However, you will grant that
nothing can be more ridiculous than to be well anointed
and crowned with roses but perishing of hunger and
thirst. Thus it is at a
meal when the
gravestone of one recently deceased is anointed and crowned,
while the funeral
guests keep the wine and
meal for themselves.
(Lucian, De merced conductis 28, 687)
It was the same with regard to
music at the meal of the
dead. When at the end
of the meal the funeral guests would resort to their own pleasures, to playing and dancing,
it was because
music was originally supposed to have offered comfort to the
"In Egypt it was "eat, drink
and be merry" as the mourners are eating drinking, watching the dancers and
listening to the song of the harpist, who addresses the dead man
beautiful day! Set forth ointments and fine oil for your nostrils and
wreaths and lotus
blossoms for the body of your dear sister, who
is seated at your side.
Let ther be
singing and music
before you cast everything sad behind you and think only of joy." (Quasten, p. 154)
The use of the funeral feast was almost
universal in the Greco-Roman world. Many ancient authors may be cited
as witnesses to the practice in classical lands.
Among the Jews, averse by taste and
reason to all foreign customs, we find what amounts to a
funeral banquet, if not the rite itself;
the Jewish colonies of the Dispersion, less
impervious to surrounding influences, adopted the practice of fraternal
If we study the texts relative to the Supper,
the last solemn meal taken by Our Lord with His disciples, we shall
find that it was the Passover
Supper, with the changes wrought by
time on the primitive ritual, since it took place in the evening, and
the guests reclined at the table.
As the liturgical
meal draws to a close, the Host
introduces a new rite, and bids those present repeat it when He shall
have ceased to be with them. This done, they sing the customary hymn
and withdraw. Such is the meal that Our Lord would have renewed,
but it is plain that He did not command the repetition of the Passover Supper during
the year, since it could have no
meaning except on the Feast itself.
Now the first chapters of the Acts of the
Apostles state that the repast of the Breaking of Bread took place
very often, perhaps daily.
That which was repeated was,
therefore, not the liturgical feast of
the Jewish ritual, but the event
introduced by Our Lord into this feast when, after the drinking of
the fourth cup, He instituted the Breaking of Bread, the Eucharist.
To what degree this new rite, repeated by the
faithful, departed from the rite and formula of the Passover Supper,
we have no means, at the present time, of determining. It is
probable, however, that, in repeating the Eucharist, it was deemed
fit to preserve certain portions of the Passover Supper, as much out
of respect for what had taken place in the CÏnaculum as from the
impossibility of breaking roughly with the Jewish Passover rite, so
intimately linked by the circumstances with the Eucharistic
This, at its origin, is clearly marked as funerary in its
intention, a fact attested by the most
ancient testimonies that have come down to us. Our Lord, in
instituting the Eucharist, used these words: "As often as you shall
eat this Bread and drink this chalice, you shall show forth the Lord's Death".
Nothing could be clearer. Our Lord chose the means generally used in
His time, namely: the funeral banquet, to bind together those who
remained faithful to the memory of Him who had gone.
However, speaking of the
religious ritual condemned by Amos and others we note
marzeah had an extremely long history extending
at least from the 14th century B.C. through the Roman
period. In the 14th century B.C., it was prominently
associated with the ancient Canaanite city of Ugarit
(modern Ras Shamra), on the coast of Syria...
- The marzeah was a
pagan ritual that took the form of a social
and religious association... Some scholars regard the
a feast for--and with--deceased ancestors (or Rephaim, a proper name in the Bible
for the inhabitants of Sheol)." (King, Biblical Archaeological
Review, Aug, 1988, p. 35, 35)
- "These five
elements are: (1) reclining or relaxing, (2) eating a
meat meal, (3) singing with harp or other musical
accompaniment, (4) drinking wine and (5) anointing
oneself with oil." (King, p. 37).
- The Battle of Baal and
- . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
- Aloud they [summon
the assembly of the gods/ do cry to those near]. They
- the distant ones/
those far away, to the assembly of `El
- they summon/do
cry: "`El remains seated
[in his marzeah/banqueting hall/among his
cult-guests (dM)] . . .
- The shame of the
Eternal One/The shameful conduct of the usurper . .
- O gods, (to) the
house of your lord . . .
- [Who surely
travels (S)/lest he go (D/G) quickly/the Runner will not
walk (dM)] through the land, . . .
goes in the dust (of) destruction/a mess of mud on the ground
. . .
- Comments: Smith believes lines 7-8
should be interpreted "Either literally, as
`El walking through the
- or an
allusion to `El being
"dead drunk," or both metaphorical,
- and ironic,
as the marzeah serves as the setting
feasts for the
dead and for the living
dead (p. 145).
- "With the
wine-drinking (which is the literal meaning of the Hebrew
for feasting), went music and dancing." (Heaton, E. W., Everyday Life in Old
Testament times, Scribners, p. 93)
- "Worship was form
more than substance; consequently, conduct in the
marketplace was totally unaffected by worship in the holy
place. Amos spoke from the conviction that
social justice is an integral part of the Mosaic
covenant, which regulates relations not only between God
and people, but also among people." (King, p. 44).
- "In pagan
traditions, musical instruments are invented by
gods or demi-gods, such as titans. In the Bible, credit is assigned to
antediluvian patriarchs, for example, the descendants of
Cain in Genesis 4:21. There is no other biblical
about the invention of musical instruments." (Freedman,
David Noel, Bible Review, Summer 1985, p. 51).
- "Slightly less
familiar are the Devil's musical exploits. He not only loves singing
but is master of the violin, of which instrument of evil
he is reputedly the inventor. By the same token he can
give mastery of the violin, bartering infernal skill for the pupil's soul.
- These legends are
related to the larger belief in the supernatural origin of
musical skill and individual songs." (Botkin, B. A., A
Treasury of American Folklore, Crown Publishers, p. 718;
Cf. The Devil and the Fiddle, Herbert Halpert, Hoosier
Folklore Bulletin, Vol II (Dec., 1943).
must, however, be on our guard against associating the thought of
sadness with the Eucharistic Supper, regarded in this light. If the
memory of the Master's Passion made the commemoration of these last
hours in any measure sad, the glorious thought of the Resurrection
gave this meeting of the brethren its joyous aspect. The Christian
assembly was held in the evening, and was continued far into the
The supper, preaching, common prayer, the
breaking of the bread, took up several hours; the meeting began on
Saturday and ended on Sunday, thus passing from the commemoration of
the sad hours to that of the triumphant moment of the Resurrection
and the Eucharistic feast in very truth "showed forth the Lord's
Death", as it will until He come". Our Lord's command was understood
Certain texts refer to the meetings of the
faithful in early times. Two, from the Epistle of St. Paul to the
Corinthians (I Cor., xi, 18, 20 - 22, 33, 34), allow us to draw the
following conclusions: The brethren were at liberty to eat before going to the
all present must be in a fit
condition to celebrate the Supper of the Lord, though they
must not eat of the funeral
supper until all were present.
We know, from two texts of the first century,
that these meetings did not long remain within becoming bounds.
The agape, as we shall see, was destined,
during the few centuries that it lasted, to fall, from time to time,
The faithful, united in bodies, guilds,
corporations or "collegia", admitted coarse, intemperate men among
them, who degraded the character of the
These Christian "collegia" seem to have
differed but little from those of the pagans, in respect, at all
events, of the obligations imposed by the rules of incorporation.
There is no evidence available to show that the
collegia from the first undertook the burial of deceased members;
but it seems probable that they did so at an early period.
The establishment of such
colleges gave the Christians an
opportunity of meeting in much the same way as the pagans did - subject
always to the many obstacles which the law imposed.
Little feasts were held, to which each of the guests contributed his share, and
the supper with which the meeting ended might very well be allowed by
the authorities as a funerary
one. In reality, however, for all
faithful worthy of the name, it was a liturgical assembly. The
texts, which it would take too long to quote,
do not allow us to assert that
all these meetings ended with a celebration of the Eucharist.
In such matters sweeping generalizations should
be avoided. At the outset it must be stated that no text affirms that the funeral supper of the Christian
colleges must always and everywhere be identified with the
nor does any text tell us that the
agape was always and everywhere connected with the celebration of the
But subject to these reservations, we may
gather that under certain circumstances the agape and the Eucharist
appear to form parts of a single liturgical function.
The meal, as understood by the Christians, was
a real supper, which followed the
Communion; and an important monument, a
fresco of the second century preserved in the cemetery of St. Priscilla,
at Rome, shows us a company of the faithful supping and
The guests recline
on a couch which serves as a seat, but,
if they are in the attitude of those who are at supper, the meal
appears as finished. They have reached the moment of the Eucharistic
communion, symbolized in the fresco by the mystical fish and the
(See FISH; EUCHARIST; SYMBOLISM.)
described at length (Apolog., vii - ix) these Christian suppers, the
mystery of which puzzled the Pagans, and has given a detailed account
of the agape, which had been the subject of so much calumny;
an account which affords us an insight
into the ritual of the agape in Africa in the second
- The introductory prayer.
- The guests take their places on the
- A meal, during which they talk on pious
- The washing of hands.
- The hall is lit up.
- Singing of psalms and improvised
- Final prayer and departure.
The hour of meeting is not specified, but the use made
of torches shows clearly enough that it must have been in the evening
or at night. The document known as the "Canons of Hippolytus"
appears to have been written in the time of Tertullian, but its Roman
or Egyptian origin remains in doubt. It contains very precise
regulations in regard to the agape, similar to those
which may be inferred from other texts.
We gather that the guests are at liberty to eat
and drink according to the need of each. The agape, as prescribed to
the Smyrnans by St. Ignatius of Antioch, was presided over by the
bishop; according to the "Cannons of
excluded, a regulation which seems to
indicate that the meeting bore a liturgical aspect.
An example of the halls in which the faithful
met to celebrate the agape may be seen in the vestibule of the
Catacomb of Domitilla. A bench runs round this great hall, on which
the guests took their places. With this may be compared an
inscription found at Cherchel, in Algeria, recording the gift made to
the local church of a plot of land and a building intended as a
meeting-place for the corporation or guild of the Christians.
From the fourth century
onward, the agape rapidly lost its
original character. The political liberty granted to the Church made
it possible for the meetings to grow larger, and involved a departure from primitive
banquet continued to be practised, but
gave rise to flagrant and intolerable abuses. St. Paulinus of Nola,
usually mild and kindly, is forced to admit that the crowd, gathered
to honour the feast of a certain martyr, took possession of the
basilica and atrium,
and there ate the food which had been given
out in large quantities.
The Council of Laodicea (363) forbade the
clergy and laity who should be present at an agape
to make it a means of supply, or to
take food away from it, at the same time
that it forbade the setting up of tables in the churches.
In the fifth century the agape becomes of
occurrence, and between the sixth and the eighth it disappears
altogether from the churches.
One fact in connection with a subject at
present so much studied and discussed seems to be established beyond
question, namely, that the agape was
never a universal institution.
If found in one place, there is not so much as
a trace of it in another, nor any reason to suppose that it ever
A feeling of veneration for the dead
inspired the funeral banquet, a feeling
closely akin to a Christian inspiration.
Death was not looked upon as the end of the
whole man, but as the beginning of a new and mysterious span of life.
The last meal of Christ with His Apostles pointed to this belief of a
life after death, but added to it something new and unparalleled, the
It would be useless to look for analogies
between the funeral
banquet and the Eucharistic supper, yet it
should not be forgotten that the Eucharistic supper was fundamentally
a funerary memorial.
d'histoire et de th*ologie positive (Paris, 1902), 277-311; FUNK in the Revue d'histoire eccl*siastique (15 January, 1903); KEATIING, The Agape and the Eucharist in the Early Church
(London, 1901); LECLERCQ in
Dict. d'arch*ol. chr*t. et de
lit., I, col. 775-848.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume
Transcribed by Vernon Bremberg
Dedicated to the Cloistered Dominican
Nuns at the Monastery of the Infant Jesus, Lufkin, Texas
Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, March 1,
1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
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