Someone who was knowledge told me years ago, that during the Eucharist that all participants are the celebrants and that the priest presides over the liturgy. Additionally, I have participated in small group Eucharistic liturgies where all said the Eucharistic prayer together with an understanding that that was how it was done in the early church.

In my research on the Internet I’ve found little that might confirm that this was true in the early church except what Paul F. Bradshaw, on the subject Christianity, Rituals, Practices, and Symbolism in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia said:

Although at first insisting that they were not a religion like others around them—indeed, they were regarded as atheists by their contemporaries—they ultimately came to adopt the language, images, and terminology of standard religious discourse once their persecution had ceased and the Church had emerged as a cultus publicus in the 4th century. This also coincided with a shift from an understanding of worship as an essentially corporate action presided over by its appointed ministers to one where those ministers were seen as carrying out its liturgy on behalf of the people.”

Early Christian Worship - Paul F. Bradshaw

Was early church worship “essentially corporate … presided over by its appointed ministers?”

  • Maybe that's why it is called Liturgy, which I think os Greek for "work of the people". But what are you asking here?
    – Peter Turner
    Dec 28 '17 at 13:17
  • 1
    Today in most traditional eucharistic celebrations, the priest says the prayer of consecration on behalf of the people. I am looking for information that might show that that was not the case in early church worship.
    – maliggett
    Dec 28 '17 at 18:31
  • Can. 907 In the eucharistic celebration deacons and lay persons are not permitted to offer prayers, especially the eucharistic prayer, or to perform actions which are proper to the celebrating priest.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 2 '18 at 3:57

One early description of the administration of the Eucharist [the Thanksgiving] is given by Justin the Martyr. He confirms the OP's understanding. He specifically states that the "presider" of the Eucharist is of the "laity". This of course won't support the later tradition of a sacerdotal priest the OP mentions.

There is then brought to the president of the brethren 1909 bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο [so be it]. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

Administration of the sacraments.

NOTE 1909 τῷ προεστῶτι τῶν ἀδελφῶν. This expression may quite legitimately be translated, “to that one of the brethren who was presiding.”

Basically, the idea is, as Peter and John tell us, all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6). If believers come to my house, I preside, given I am an elder. If we go to the house of another believer, he presides, given that he is an elder.

PS. Some incorrectly believe that the meaning of "president" refers specifically to a "priest", rather than "elder". The Greek word translated "president" is akin to "elder" being πρεσβύτερος. Martyr, however, knows the difference between two words and offices. Had Martyr wanted to tell his readers that priests only officiated at the Eucharist [Thanksgiving], he could have said so plainly.

[Re scapegoat] the first, in which the elders of your people, and the priests, having laid hands on Him and put Him to death, sent Him away as the scape [goat].

He thus returns to the Mosaic laws, and uses it to show that the things which pertain to Christ are changed from the Old to the New. The apostles taught that all believers are priests, but some are also elders. The elder from the brethren presides. It is not the "ordained in some way" priest who leads the Eucharist, but the elder of the priesthood of which all believers are part. So again, when you come to my house, I preside. When we go to your house, you preside.

  • 2
    This is used as evidence to the contrary in Catholic circles; i.e. that the president was a priest.
    – Peter Turner
    Dec 28 '17 at 18:45
  • See the PS added to my answer regarding the usage between "president/elder" and "priest". The elder/president officiates at the Thanksgiving (Eucharist), not a priest.
    – SLM
    Dec 28 '17 at 22:37
  • That reminds me of this but since I don't know the answer, I just asked here instead. Did St. Justin ever use the word episcopos?
    – Peter Turner
    Dec 28 '17 at 23:03
  • Except for the interpolated Ignatian letters, the earliest offices were only two; that is, bishop/elder and deacon as mentioned in Clement of Rome, Polycarp, Martyr, Hermas, and Irenaeus (IIRC). From all indications, the idea of a third separate sacerdotal priest office in the New came elsewhere and later.
    – SLM
    Dec 29 '17 at 4:15
  • What do you mean interpolated letters of Ignatius? Dec 29 '17 at 15:44

The modern English word priest is the anglicized form of Jerome's Latin presbyterus, which he chose to simply transliterate from the Greek word used by the authors of the NT. Protestants and Catholics disagree to this day about the uses of the various English words "priest", "presbyter", and "elder", but all three are linguistically correct.

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