"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Friday, 13 October 2017


Christ the Teacher
present in the proclamation of the Word

As a "gringo" missionary in Peru, I discovered that the more "gringo" missionaries tried to adapt to and identify with the "Peruvian reality", the more "gringo" they became because they could only look at the "Peruvian reality" and Peruvians through gringo spectacles.  Likewise, leaving aside the expert liturgists who were guided by "ressourcement" principles, the enthusiasts also engaged in the reform of the liturgy after Vatican II wanted to adapt the Roman Liturgy to modern values, but, the more they did so, the more they projected onto the new mass their own values which were partly formed by their attitude to the old one.

One of the problems was caused by those who used the Summa Theologica of St Thomas as a starting point rather than a summary.   This was particularly harmful in the study of the sacraments.  St Thomas himself did not make this mistake because, as the ressourcement theologians pointed out, his understanding came out of his participation in the liturgy itself  in the abbey of Monte Cassino as a boy and, later, as a friar, as well as his knowledge of Scripture and the Fathers of the Church in lectio divina and his general life of prayer.  In fact, he learned more theology on his knees than in abstract study.

If the only way of studying the sacraments is by removing the "matter and form"  from their context in the liturgical rite, this is not a good idea because much of the meaning is contained in the rite as a whole; also, much of the meaning of a rite which is celebrated in response to the command, "Do this in memory of me," is expressed in what the Church does, rather than in what it says.  After all, in the 1st century Didache eucharistic rite, there is no mention of the Last Supper,  the humble obedience in celebrating it making up for words. 

Now, from general to specifics: how does the priest bring the sacrament about? What is the nature of the "form", "This is my body....This is the chalice of my blood" and to whom is it addressed: to the bread and wine; to the people; or to God, the Father?  When all these questions have been asked, what other essential questions remain which cannot be answered or, perhaps, even raised when concentrating on the matter and form alone?   We shall finish off by trying to show how the inadequacies and distortions connected with the traditional understanding before Vatican II of the theology of matter and form  was accentuated and strengthened instead of changed in the post-Vatican II reforms. 

What do we need to do?  Many who advocate a "reform of the reform" believe the solution lies in restoring as much of the old Mass (the "extraordinary rite") as possible, but I believe that it contributed to the problem though it need not have done.

In my youth, there was an old French film about an apostate priest who tries to corrupt a newly ordained one.  One attempt involved consecrating a crate of champagne, making the wine become Christ's blood.   The young priest was horrified and became drunk trying to consume the contents of the bottles to prevent further profanation.  In those days, there was also talk of an ex-priest who consecrated a bakery and of others who consecrated bread and wine during "black masses" offered to the devil.  It was as though a priest's power to consecrate could be exercised at will, quite independently of Christ, outside a liturgical context, whether Christ wanted it or not.   

The "words of institution" could be used by a priest as a magical incantation to bring about their effect whatever Christ's will on the matter. The only power essential to the consecration was that of the priest: it had become a this-worldly power and the Eucharist a this-worldly event, rather than a celebration which unites heaven and earth, the risen Christ actively working in synergy with the humble obedience of the Church, and all this being expressed liturgically in the action of the priest. 

 The attitude to priestly power that allowed such stories to be told was a radical secularisation of the liturgical priestly function, cutting it off from heaven, and was reflected, much later, in the way the new mass came to be celebrated.  

This so-called "traditional" understanding is so different from the teaching of St Thomas in which the priest's power is one of "instrumental causality".  I write a letter using a pen: I write the letter, but the pen is the "instrumental cause" of the letter.  No one is going to accuse the pen of being the author of the letter: in the same way, a priest cannot celebrate Mass except in loco Christi.

A Thomist theologian has written:
For St. Thomas, the sacraments are not a mere occasion for God to cause grace, but are God's instrumental cause of grace, and thus relate to God as an instrument to the principal agent.  And since the being and action of the instrument is not its own, but that of the principal agent, whereas the principal agent acts in himself, so the power transmitted in a sacrament is God's own power, and hence the sacrament possesses power only transitorily, only as long as God utilizes it as a sacrament/instrument.

It is clear that a priest who can consecrate crates of champagne or a bakery of bread at will out of malice is using a power that is his own and not a transitory power which is activated only when God wishes to use the priest as an instrument who is obedient to Christ.   Of course, the actions of apostate priests I have described were as highly unusual before Vatican II as they are now, but the implied idea of priestly power was not.  It was not confined to the consecration at Mass but was found in the celebration of other sacraments.  For instance,          "Episcopi vagantes" could ordain priests at will, even outside the context of any church, for money or on a mere whim:  as long as the right words were used, the sacrament was valid and Christ had no say in these situations either.   A theology of the sacraments that allows the possibility of these things has already de-sacralized, secularised and turned into magic the liturgy, even when it keeps the old sacred forms.  This was probably not noticed by people in the days of Latin, but, for anyone who knew what was going on, it could be seen in the automatic way Mass could be celebrated, the "right words" guaranteeing the validity of the mass. In Peru, I knew a priest who was accustomed to celebrate a string of 30 masses for the dead, one after the other, during village festivals, just for the stipends. There was no sense of an encounter with God in these masses.  I believe that this has much to do with a  pre-Vatican II interpretation of a priestly power that can be exercised independently of heaven.  Clearly, it directly contradicts the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium which teaches that all liturgy is a participation on earth of the heavenly liturgy (ch.I v 10), but it continues to thrive and to support the post-Vatican II tendency to prefer replacing the vertical focus of participation in the "holy" by a horizontal concern with this-worldly human solidarity.  This shows that there was a lack of understanding both about our relationship with Christ and the relationship with each other that the Eucharist brings about.

Let us now look at the words of institution, what St Thomas called the "form" of the sacrament, in their liturgical context.  Firstly, it must be said that they are the form only in the Latin Rite to which we belong.  The Aramaic anaphora of SS Addai and Mari as celebrated by the Assyrian Church of the East in Iran and Iraq is one of the most ancient Eucharistic prayers and has always been recognized by Rome as a valid and legitimate expression of Catholic Tradition, but it effects the consecration of the bread and wine without using these words, as did St Cyril of Jerusalem's Jerusalem liturgy in the 4th century.  Hence we have no need to pick a quarrel with the Orthodox when they say that the moment of consecration in their tradition is at the invocation for the Father to send his Spirit on the bread and wine (the "epiclesis").   There are clearly different traditions, and there is no need to set them against each other.  

What all traditions have in common is the Eucharistic prayer which begins with a dialogue between celebrant and people and ends with a doxology  The word "Eucharist" originally belonged to this prayer itself and was then extended to the whole rite.   Another word for this prayer is "anaphora" which means "offering" and comes from the Antiochene tradition.  It literally means "a carrying up", and indicates an ascending movement.  We are reminded of the prayer in the Roman Canon:
With deep reverence we ask you, almighty God: command that these gifts be carried by the hands of your holy angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty. And for all who will receive the most holy body and blood of your Son in this communion at the altar, let them be filled with all the blessings and gifts of heaven. (Through Christ our Lord, Amen.)

Note that the request to God the Father to command that his angel brings the gifts of the Church to the altar in heaven is an ancient Judeo-Christian way of asking that the bread and wine be changed into the body and blood of Christ.  From the perspective of the Roman Canon, Christ is in heaven with the angels and saints before the throne of God, pleading his sacrifice on Calvary on our behalf, not by words but by his very presence in the heavenly sanctuary.  In this Canon, God's action in consecration is not seen as bringing Christ's presence among us. The opposite happens: the Church's gifts of bread and wine become identified with the risen and ascended Christ in his priestly activity in heaven, and our participation in the Eucharist brings us up into the heavenly Liturgy of the Letter to the Hebrews and the Apocalypse.  Hence, all the movement is upwards, and there is no descent of the Holy Spirit at the epiclesis, nor is there mention of the Second Coming.  The Holy Spirit is only mentioned in the upward moving doxology.   The unity brought about in the Eucharist is no ordinary this-worldly solidarity brought about by our feelings for each other: it is a unity "in Christ", in a risen and ascended Christ in heaven with whom we are united by the Eucharist, rising above all the earthly factors that divide and separate humanity, discovering a unique and intimate communion and peace in Christ which the world cannot give  and then return to the world with the Church's charge to bear witness to what we have received, "Ite, missa est!"

A closer look at the words of institution reveal answers to several of the question we have already asked.

Bless this offering, we pray, O God. Approve it and in every way confirm it. Make it spiritual and acceptable, so that for us it may become the body and blood of your dearly-beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the day before he was to suffer, he took bread in his holy and honorable hands, and raising his eyes to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, he blessed it with a prayer of thanksgiving, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take this, all of you and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you.’
Likewise when supper was ended he took this glorious chalice in his holy and honorable hands; again he blessed it with a prayer of thanksgiving and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying, ‘Take this, all of you and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.’
The mystery of faith …
And so, Lord God, we your ministers and your holy people celebrate the memorial of Christ your Son our Lord. We hold in memory his blessed passion, his resurrection from the dead and his glorious ascension into heaven. And from your gifts bestowed on us, we offer to your glory and majesty the pure victim, the holy victim, the perfect victim: the holy bread of eternal life and the chalice of everlasting salvation.

Reading it carefully, we realize that the words of Our Lord are not directed at the bread and wine, like an incantation, nor are they directed at the people, a proclamation of the Gospel as Luther held.  Of course, the celebration as a whole is a proclamation:
When we eat this cup and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory.
But the function of these words within the action is not to proclaim: it is clearly addressed to the Father and is an intricate part of a prayer.

On the day before he was to suffer, he took bread in his holy and honorable hands, and raising his eyes to heaven to you, O God, his almighty Father, he blessed it with a prayer of thanksgiving, broke the bread and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take this, all of you and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you.’
And so, Lord God, we your ministers and your holy people celebrate the memorial of Christ your Son our Lord. We hold in memory his blessed passion, his resurrection from the dead and his glorious ascension into heaven.

This means that what St Thomas called the "form" of the sacrament is a prayer, part of a longer one to the Father.  It is part of the "anamnesis" (memorial) in which the prayer asks the Father to "remember" his wonderful works in Christ's Last Supper, death, resurrection, and ascension. Asking the Father to remember these events is a Jewish way to ask him to make them effective in the present.

If the form of the sacrament is a prayer, then the instrumental power that the priest receives so that he may say these words is a power to pray, to ask the Father to make effective what Christ did when he told his disciples "to do this in memory of me."   How can this prayer function be a power?   It is the power to pray in Christ's name: it is the power to ask the Father, knowing that Christ is asking the same thing in synergy with him by the power of the Holy Spirit, as Christ says in St Luke 11 v. 13:
 "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
He knows this, and the whole Church knows this because he is obeying Christ's own command in the name of the Church.  This is worlds away from consecrating bread and wine with a power which the priest can exercise independently of Christ.  Christ excercises has the efficient power to ask, and the Father, to whom the words are addressed, has the efficient power to resond.  What Christ does and what the Father does in response, are done by the power of the Holy Spirit, and are what the Mass is all about, with the priest as a mere instrument, and it is sheer nonsense to imagine a "valid" Mass outside that context.  In it the Church is lifted out of all that separates humankind into opposing groups, all divisions, and all sin; and we are lifted up into the transcendent unity in and with the universal Son of Man, resurrected and ascended, and we return to earth to live out that unity in our concrete lives as Catholics.   As Pope St John Paul says, commenting on Gaudium et Spes, that   
"with man – with each man without any exception whatever – Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it"; and again, "each one of the four thousand million human beings living on our planet has become a sharer in Jesus from the moment he is conceived."
The "horizontal" human solidarity which we celebrate in the Mass is not an alternative to entering into a "vertical" relationship with Christ: it depends on it but spreads far wider than those who attend Mass to embrace the whole human race.

After spending two glorious weeks concelebrating in the Byzantine Rite, I cannot help but make comparisons, not so much between official texts of the two rites, but between what is sung in a typical Byzantine Divine Liturgy and what is sung in the hymns used to supplement the official texts of the ordinary Sunday Mass.   I suspect that the way Mass is celebrated was designed by school teachers who, consciously or unconsciously, turned the church into a classroom and the liturgy into a class of catechesis.   This is in contrast to Orthodox faithful with whom I have spoken and, much more significant, the Greeks our abbot knows - he speaks modern Greek - who have admitted that they don't really know what is happening in the Divine Liturgy and that the clergy make no effort to tell them.

To make a generalization, in the Divine Liturgy the emphasis is placed on what God is doing in the Liturgy, and this unites heaven and earth, while in the western Mass, the emphasis is on what we are doing, on what the priest does and what the laity does and, except for the moment of consecration and the moment of communion, everything is seen from our point of view, which reduces our participation in the Liturgy of heaven nothing but theory, and not part of the liturgical experience..

Hence, in the Divine Liturgy, there is the Little Entrance at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word, when the Gospel Book is solemnly taken from the altar and carried in procession from the north door of the iconstasis and in through the royal doors and placed on the altar again.   The Gospel Book is seen as a verbal icon of the risen Christ who is present where two or three are gathered in his name and who proclaims his salvation in our midst. The Gospel Book as the icon of Christ is used to bless the people before entering through the royal doors.  The Little Entrance could be called the "Entrance of Christ the Teacher" to proclaim his word through the readings.
the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God
comes forward to be sacrificed and to be given for food 

The Great Entrance takes place at what we call the Offertory.   In this more solemn procession, the gifts of bread and wine are carried.  Although they had not yet been consecrated, the bread and wine are already treated as an icon of Christ, priest, and victim, because this procession symbolizes the entrance of Christ to take part in the sacrifice, just like Christ's grand entrance into Jerusalem.   As the bread and wine are already an icon of Christ, even before the consecration, it is used to bless the congregation at the end of the procession.  An "offertory" chant that is particularly beautiful is that of the Liturgy of St James.  One of the first prayers prayed is the Cherubic Hymn, which begins with a nod towards Habakkuk 2:20:

Let all mortal flesh be silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and meditate nothing earthly within itself:— For the King of kings and Lord of lords, Christ our God, comes forward to be sacrificed, and to be given for food to the faithful; and the bands of angels go before Him with every power and dominion, the many-eyed cherubim, and the six-winged seraphim, covering their faces, and crying aloud the hymn, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

What a contrast with what we do in the Sunday Mass!! We are singing about what we are doing, about bringing up the bread and wine. We concentrate on our actions as a community like someone who is always studying his own navel, without a thought for what Christ is doing in our midst during the celebration.  The western Mass lacks a dimension!

We believe the same things.   This is what the Vatican II document Sacrasanctum Concilium says about Christ's constant presence in all our liturgy:
7. To accomplish so great a work, Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, "the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, who formerly offered himself on the cross" [20], but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes [21]. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20) [ch.1 v. 7]
In this article, I have suggested that, in the Reform of the Reform, there are three areas which need emphasis:

one is that the liturgy in general and the Eucharist, in particular, need to give more emphasis to the union between heaven and earth achieved in Christ;

the second is bound up with this, that Christ is continuously present during the whole celebration, and that all who minister, and most especially and immediately because sacramentally, the celebrant, are his instruments.

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