|The Sacrament House at|
In one of those moments of considerable irony, at the very minute I was posting my argument for this more intense understanding of Sacrifice in the Mass, Professor Kwasniewski was posting a new article on New Liturgical Movement blaming the loss of appreciation for the Sacrificial nature of the Mass on the removal of the tabernacle from the main altars of the churches. I looked at the article quickly and planned to return to it later to find the flaws in this argument, but when I returned the next day to do my forensic work, the article was gone. It has been taken down and replaced with the reprint on a rather pallid essay on how to determine the September Ember Days. I regret that I had not cut and pasted the article into my files but, to be honest, I had never known New Liturgical Movement to remove a posting. It can only be, I believe, because it was so egregiously wrong that it would have been an embarrassment to NLM to keep it. As I have written in other postings, while I disagree with the agenda of New Liturgical Movement in its plans to make the Extraordinary Ordinary, that is to replace the revised Liturgy with the pre-Conciliar rites, I do find that many of their articles are, from a historical (or perhaps better, an antiquarian) point, quite good. Indeed they save me a lot of work in my research by providing the very examples of late-Medieval and Tridentine liturgical texts that show the theological problems in the 16th century Rites. But Professor Kwasniewski doesn’t do that sort of historical work; he confines himself to opining on pious sentiments quite removed from the historical or even the theological.
This article was a good example of his slipshod approach. In the first place it showed a soaring ignorance of the history of Eucharistic Reservation. Secondly it betrayed a theological confusion over the relationship of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and the Reserved Sacrament. And finally—that this is what I find most appalling—it revealed the good Professor’s commitment to that very flaw I had warned against in my essay: the idea that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is something the priest does on our behalf but to which we are only passive onlookers. The gentleman from Wyoming Catholic College provided the very proof of my allegation that in regards to the Eucharist demanding of us, the faithful, to unite ourselves to Christ in offering ourselves with Christ to the Father, the reformed rites of Vatican II express this mystery with far greater clarity than the pre-conciliar rites. The entire article was about the Sacrifice of the Mass from the perspective that the priest offers the Sacrifice on our behalf rather than that Christ, in his Mystical Body (the Church, the community of the faithful) and personified by the ministry of the priest, invites us into the Sacrifice of Calvary by joining our lives to his in his offering of himself to the Father. As by baptism we are joined indissolubly to Christ, it is required of us when we participate in the Eucharist to be with Christ the hostia of the Sacrifice. In the Eucharist as in Baptism, We are to be crucified with Christ so that it is no longer we who live but Christ Jesus who lives in us. This is no mere pious sentiment but being joined into Christ in perfect conformity to the Will of the Father is the essence of Christian living—not that we reach it, but that we are on the journey of such conversion. Professor Kwasniewski has a different understanding of the Sacrifice of the Mass, one that stresses the atonement of Christ for our sins but one that doesn’t demand much of us in return. But then the more I read of his work the more obvious it is that he is working outside his field of specialty. That’s ok. We all have our hobbies we do for enjoyment and sometimes we even become skilled at them. May it be so for the good Professor.
So while we are at it, let’s look at the history of Eucharistic Reservation, another topic the Professor isn’t adept in and one that is in my bailiwick.
An acquaintance of mine who once taught sacramental theology at Saint Charles Seminary in Philadelphia told the story that when he was covering the practice of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and mentioned that this is a 13th century Rite, some Franciscan Missionaries of the Incarnate Word (the community of Religious men associated with Mother Angelica of EWTN fame) objected as “Mother” had told them how the apostles used to have Benediction and Eucharistic devotions such as processions. Well, as they say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. But Eucharistic Adoration—and its accompanying ceremonials such as Benediction and Eucharistic Processions—do in fact date only the 13th century and are pretty much limited to the Western Church. The custom of reserving the Eucharist, on the other hand, does date back to the early days of the Church but in some very different forms than those which we practice and some forms which would cause a modern day chancery rat to run to his canon law books.
In the earliest centuries of the Church when the Eucharist was normally celebrated only Sundays and the anniversaries of some key martyrs, the faithful often brought the Eucharist home to consume during the week. It was also brought by the deacons or by other special ministers to those in prison or to the sick who were unable to come to the Eucharistic celebration. In the same way, some of the Eucharistic bread would be kept in the church building or in the home of the bishop for viaticum or communion for the dying. There was nothing special about how it was reserved. It would most often be in a locked cabinet along with the scriptural books and other books used for the liturgy. The sacred oils might also be kept in the same cabinet.
By the sixth and seventh centuries, it became more common to reserve the Eucharist by itself and in the church proper. In the 9th and 10th century it was common in many places in northern Europe to reserve the Eucharistic bread in a silver (or other metal) dove suspended over the altar. In other places it was not unusual for it to be kept in an aumbry, a safe set into the rear wall of a chapel or church. By the High Middle Ages (the 12 century and after) Sacrament Houses began appearing: a tall column with something not unlike a modern tabernacle on top. These usually stood in the sanctuary of the church, somewhere behind the altar.
Through the course of the Middle Ages it became a custom to put candles, relics, flowers, and other devotional objects or decorations on stands behind the altar. In the baroque period (16th century) these eventually became affixed to the altar in the form of step-like shelves known as gradines. It was about this time that the form of the altar that most of us knew growing up: an altar facing away from the people with candles and flowers arranged behind and a tabernacle and crucifix built into the gradines behind, became normative in the Western Church.
Under the 1917 Code of Canon Law, it was forbidden to reserve the Blessed Sacrament on the main altar of a Cathedral or a Collegiate Church. In those cases the Blessed Sacrament was to be reserved in a chapel of its own, distinct from the main body of the Church. In the Papal Basilicas of Rome the Blessed Sacrament is always reserved in it own chapel which admittedly is larger than most parish churches in this country.
While the canons governing the reservation of the Eucharist had from the earliest days demanded that it be kept in a safe place and treated with honor, the practice of adoring the Reserved Sacrament only emerges at the beginning of the 13th century and was due to several heretical groups, most notably the Cathars or Albigensians, denying that Christ was truly present in the Eucharist.
The Church had (and still has) the custom of displaying relics of the saints in reliquaries of precious or semi-precious metals with a crystal or glass ocula through which the relic could be seen. Well the forearm of Saint Anne or some strands of hair from Saint George are all well and good, but hey: we have here in the Eucharist a “relic” of Jesus, a piece of his flesh as it were. And so in the 13th centuries monstrances or ostensaria, a reliquary for Jesus if you would, came into practice in the Western Church. Other devotional practices long associated with the relics of the saints—processions, blessings, etc—now came to be done with the Blessed Sacrament as well. I am not sure that we want to consider the Blessed Sacrament equivalent to some relic of a saint but that is how those practices developed.
In 1264 Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Christi and commissioned Thomas Aquinas to write the office for the new feast.
I have mentioned “The Western Church” pretty consistently through this posting. What about the East? While the exact practices of reservation differ somewhat from rite to rite, there has not developed a cult of the Blessed Sacrament as developed in the Western Church. For awhile in the 18th and 19th centuries attempts to “Latinize” some of the Eastern Rites introduced Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament as well as Stations of the Cross and other Western Rite devotions. In Eastern Europe and the Near East most of these Latinizations were resisted but in the immigrant Church in the United States they often were signs of “belonging.” Since Vatican II however, the various Synods of the Eastern Churches have eliminated Western practices that had snuck in to the Eastern Rites and you won’t find any tradition of worshipping the Eucharistic elements as we do in the West.
In the East, like in the Western Church, the Eucharist was at first kept in a cupboard in the sacristy or in the church itself along with other sacred objects used for the Eucharist. It was reserved only for communion outside of the Liturgy, especially for the sick or for the dying. The Eastern Church traditionally does not celebrate the Liturgy every day and it is forbidden to celebrate on Wednesdays and Fridays of Lent. On these days communion is given to the faithful at the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts from the Eucharist consecrated the previous Sunday. At the Liturgy of the pre-Sanctified gifts, the Eucharistic bread which has been reserved rather simply, often on the Prothesis or Table of Preparation where the bread and wine are prepared for the Eucharist, is cut into cubes and placed into the chalice. The priest then adds unconsecrated wine which, by contact with the consecrated bread, becomes the Blood of Christ and is admininistered to the faithful on a communion spoon in the same fashion as at the Liturgy proper.
Eucharistic Reservation is a bit of a challenge in the Eastern Churches because they use leavened bread which is more easily subject to mold or other deformations. To reserve the Eucharist for more than a few days, the “lamb” the core of the Eucharistic loaf, is soaked in the Precious Blood and allowed to dry. It is then stored in a tabernacle kept on the altar and which is often shaped like a small church. When the priest wishes to bring communion to the sick he scrapes some crumbs from the dried “Lamb” and puts them into a pyx. At the home of the sick person he places these fragments in a chalice to which he adds ordinary wine. The wine is considered consecrated by contact with the “Lamb” and he administers this to the sick person on a Eucharistic spoon.
So we can see that while Professor Kwasniewski might want to see the tabernacle returned to the main altar, he can’t claim that this is the ancient practice of the Church. Moreover counter to his thesis that removing the tabernacle from the main altar has weakened our appreciation of the Sacrifice of the Mass, we can see that in the centuries where our theology of Eucharistic Sacrifice evolved there was no practice of reserving the Eucharist on the main Altar. And it never was the custom in cathedrals or major churches. I am sure it brings back memories of his childhood ecstasies but ultimately it is a matter of piety and not faith; nostalgia and not theology. Oh,--and it would make those awful priest-facing-the-people Masses obsolete. Maybe that is his real agenda.