Milk in the Mass

St. Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 A.D.), the first anti-pope (and the only one canonized a saint), is an interesting character and figure in the history of the Church. One of the things which makes him particularly interesting for Liturgists is that in his ‘Apostolic Traditions‘ he gives perhaps the most elaborate account of the Roman Mass in the first centuries of Christianity. Although other sources mention the Mass, such as the Didache, no source so early is so exhaustive, and this itself has elicited controversy. Some liturgists, like the infamous Louis Bouyer, have argued that Hippolytus’ Mass is an idealized rite which was never actually practised. Other less critical liturgists think it may have been an Eastern liturgy confused for a Roman one. Still others think it was in fact the standard Roman Rite (Dix, Jungmann, Deiss, etc.). What interests me here, however, is a very curious feature which Hippolytus relates about the Easter Vigil in particular. I will quote a Liturgist, Mike Aquilina:

The Apostolic Tradition is valuable because it contains a complete eucharistic prayer, as well as the introductory dialogue that still remains in the Western liturgy: “The Lord be with you. And with your spirit. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.” Hippolytus also gives us a glimpse of liturgical traditions that vanished long ago – for example, the custom of dispensing a chalice of milk and honey, along with the eucharistic elements, during the Eastern liturgy. This symbolized the newly baptized Christian’s entrance into the true promised land through the sacraments. (The chalice of milk and honey is attested to by many other authors as well, including pseudo-Barnabas, Tertullian, Ambrose, and Jerome. See Danielou 1964:333-334)
~Mike Aquilina, The Mass of the Early Christians, p.111

In looking through the epistle of Barnabas I found what I think to be this ‘mention’ of it, and it is also worth quoting at some length.

And Moses also says to them, “Behold these things, saith the Lord God: Enter into the good land which the Lord sware [to give] to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and inherit ye it, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exo_33:1; Lev_20:24) What, then, says Knowledge? Learn: “Trust,” she says, “in Him who is to be manifested to you in the flesh — that is, Jesus.” For man is earth in a suffering state, for the formation of Adam was from the face of the earth. What, then, meaneth this: “into the good land, a land flowing with milk and honey?” Blessed be our Lord, who has placed in us wisdom and understanding of secret things. For the prophet says, “Who shall understand the parable of the Lord, except him who is wise and prudent, and who loves his Lord?” Since, therefore, having renewed us by the remission of our sins, He hath made us after another pattern, [it is His purpose] that we should possess the soul of children, inasmuch as He has created us anew by His Spirit. For the Scripture says concerning us, while He speaks to the Son, “Let Us make man after Our image, and after Our likeness; and let them have dominion over the beasts of the earth, and the fowls of heaven, and the fishes of the sea.” (Gen_1:26) And the Lord said, on beholding the fair creature man, “Increase, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” (Gen_1:28) These things [were spoken] to the Son. Again, I will show thee how, in respect to us, He has accomplished a second fashioning in these last days. The Lord says, “Behold, I will make the last like the first.” In reference to this, then, the prophet proclaimed, “Enter ye into the land flowing with milk and honey, and have dominion over it.” (Exo_33:3) Behold, therefore, we have been refashioned, as again He says in another prophet, “Behold, saith the Lord, I will take away from these, that is, from those whom the Spirit of the Lord foresaw, their stony hearts, and I will put hearts of flesh within them,” (Eze_11:19, Eze_36:26) because He was to be manifested in flesh, and to sojourn among us. For, my brethren, the habitation of our heart is a holy temple to the Lord. (Comp. Eph_2:21) For again saith the Lord, “And wherewith shall I appear before the Lord my God, and be glorified?” (Comp. Psa_42:2) He says, “I will confess to thee in the Church in the midst of my brethren; and I will praise thee in the midst of the assembly of the saints.” (Psa_22:23; Heb_2:12) We, then, are they whom He has led into the good land. What, then, mean milk and honey? This, that as the infant is kept alive first by honey, and then by milk, so also we, being quickened and kept alive by the faith of the promise and by the word, shall live ruling over the earth. But He said above, “Let them increase, and rule over the fishes.” (Gen_1:28) Who then is able to govern the beasts, or the fishes, or the fowls of heaven? For we ought to perceive that to govern implies authority, so that one should command and rule. If, therefore, this does not exist at present, yet still He has promised it to us. When? When we ourselves also have been made perfect [so as] to become heirs of the covenant of the Lord.
~Pseudo-Barnabas, Part 1 Chap. VI.

Now, notice that in this letter there is not explicit discussion of liturgy, but it seems curious that this theme of milk and honey should be so highlighted, and I’m sure that arguments can be made to say that this evidences an awareness of the practice of having a chalice of milk and honey at the Vigil (especially given the connection with Baptism). It seems to me that this is a beautiful feature of the Mass, plausibly Roman, which has fallen out of practice. Perhaps it’s simply not practical, but it seems to me that I would love to see a living rite today practice having milk and honey as part of the Easter Vigil (even if only the candidates for Baptism or Confirmation received it).


About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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