Friday, May 9, 2014

More on the Mass as Sacrifice --What It Means and What it doesn't Mean

14th century bas-relief depicting
Mass facing the People on the
facade of Lucca Cathedral.
OK, this posting will be a little more heavy than my usual and it may interest a more limited audience, but in the last posting, I dealt with the idea of the Mass as Sacrifice from the perspective of the prayers in the offertory of the Mass of Pius V where the bread and wine are specifically referred to as a Sacrifice.  This is theologically problematic and is one of the reasons that the offertory rite was so drastically revised in the Reform of the Liturgy following the Second Vatican Council.  The Mass is a Sacrifice in as that in the Mass we participate in the one eternal Sacrifice of Christ made on the Cross at Calvary and to which we become mystically present when “we proclaim the Death of the Lord until he comes…”  (I am using the word “mystically” here in the sense that Pius XII used it so describe the Church as the Body of Christ in Mystici Corporis. It does not mean “spiritually” or “symbolically,” nor is it meant to connote the abstraction that is often meant when we use the word “mystic.”  In some sense, mystic means “sacramental,” but it is meant to convey a reality that is more authentic—more real—than the literal or physical sense.  In other words, in the Eucharistic Celebration we are truly and fully present to the Sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, even more present to it than were those who stood there at the foot of the Cross.)  In no sense is Christ offered in Sacrifice again and again each day on the altars of our churches, much less do we offer God a sacrifice of bread and wine.  We do present to God’s service the gifts of bread and wine so that the Lord’s Death might be proclaimed until he comes again but this should not be considered a “sacrifice.”  Were I a theologian I might go on about how the bread and wine are symbols of our own lives which are presented on the altar so that by Christ’s Redeeming Sacrifice and the Power of the Holy Spirit called down we, by virtue of our baptism, are conformed to Christ in his death and Resurrection and so become his Body—but since I am not a theologian I don’t intend to go there.  I had planned in this posting to talk about Cranmer’s reaction to the concept of the Mass as Sacrifice, but I realize that before I go there, I need to look at the Roman Canon, the Eucharistic Prayer which, in Cranmer’s day was the only Eucharistic Prayer used in the Western Church (including the distinctly English Rites), to see how the idea of the Mass as Sacrifice is found there.  So let’s look at the Roman Canon. 
There are various phrases in the canon that make it clear that a sacrifice is being offered to God in this rite.  I will highlight the sacrificial language.  Pardon the Latin, but to demonstrate the point, we need to cite the untranslated text lest the translation add or subtract meaning. 

uti accepta habeas et benedicas  haec dona haec munera, haec sancta sacrificia illibata,

vel qui tibi offerunt hoc sacrificium laudis, pro se suisque omnibus: pro redemtione animarum suarum, pro spe salutis et incolumitatis suae:

Hanc igitur oblationem servitutis nostrae, sed et cunctae familiae tuae, quaesumus, Domine, ut placatus accipias:

Supra quae propitio ac sereno vultu respicere digneris: et accepta habere, siculti accepta habere dignatus es munera pueri tui iusti Abel, et sacrificium Patriarchae nostri Abrahae, et quod tibi obtulit summus sacerdos tuus Melchisedech, sanctum sacrificium, immaculatam hostiam.

Supplices te rogamus, omnipotens Deus: iube haec perferri per manus sancti Angeli tui in sublime altare tuum, in conspectu divinae maiestatis tuae;

But it is also clear from the prayers, that the sacrifice being offered is not bread and wine, but Christ himself, highlighting not only the sacrificial language, but the reference to the sacrifice being Christ. 

Quam oblationem tu, Deus, in omnibus, quaesumus, benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere digneris: ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiat dilectissimi Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi.

ut quotquot ex hac altaris participatione sacrosanctum Filii tui Corpus et Sanguinem sumpserimus,

And it is clear that Christ is not being sacrificed anew but rather that are recalling his one eternal sacrifice.  I have highlighted the phrase, unde et memores, in addition to the sacrificial language because that phrase, usually translated “Calling to mind…”  or in the current translation, “we celebrate the memorial” neither of which phrase keeps the Latin syntax despite Liturgiam authenticam.   

Unde et memores, Domine, nos servi tui, sed et plebs tua sancta, eiusdem Christi, Filii Tui, Domini nostri, tam beatae passionis, necnon et ab inferis resurrectionis, sed et in caelos gloriosae ascensionis: offerimus praeclarae maiestati tuae de tuis donis ac datis hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam, Panem sanctam vitae aeternae et Calicem salutis perpetuae.

What may have been clear in the seventh century when the Roman Canon achieved what was more or less to be its definitive form, was no longer clear in the sixteenth century (much less the 20th)  and the nuances of the theology of Eucharistic sacrifice were lost leading to exaggerated ideas.  In their attempts to restore the pristine faith regarding the Eucharist, reformers from Luther to Cranmer to Calvin to Zwingli universally rejected any and all sacrificial language, thus snapping the connection of the Eucharist to the Cross and reducing the Eucharist is a commemoration, not of the cross but of the Last Supper.  Fortunately the recovery of the patristic tradition has led most Protestant—or at least Anglican and Lutheran—scholars back to appreciation of the Eucharist as a sacramental participation in the Death of the Lord until he comes again.  It can also be said regarding us Catholics, that the revised Liturgy of Paul VI has done much to restore our balance in approaching the Eucharist as Sacrifice by clarifying the relationship of the Eucharistic Celebration to the paschal mystery and reducing the superstitious understanding prevalent at the time of the Reformation and, among the ignorant, still prevalent on the eve of the Council.  In regard to a clear theology of the Eucharist, the revised rites of Paul VI are greatly superior to the ambiguities found in the old Missal used until the revisions of Vatican II. 


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