18 March 2015

Consecration in the Roman Mass 6 [Conclusio]

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
This lovely text is a translation by G Moultie of a formula (Sigesato pasa sarx broteia) in the Liturgy of S James; which may be the oldest rite still used in Christendom except, of course, for our immemorially ancient Roman Rite. I have recently been discussing the contrast between the theology of Consecration in that Rite, and that in our own Roman rite.

It is indeed a splendid hymn, and the concept of the Lord's eucharistic epiphaneia is beautifully expressed. Generations of Anglican worshippers have been moved by the picture of the host of heaven spreading its vanguard before the Lord as he descends from the realms of endless day to stand on earth upon the altars of our churches. Long may its use continue.

But it it is instructive to look back at the Greek original. Moultrie has done a bit of a naughty in his translation, because, instead of speaking of Christ our God to earth descending, what the Greek actually says is: 'Christ our God is going forth to be slain in sacrifice' (proerchetai sphagiasthenai). And that is language which causes problems for some people - unnecessarily. Christ did die but once for all upon the cross, as the Reformers never ceased to declare, but his one sacrifice is beyond time in God's everlasting Now. God's 'Once' is not locked into one moment in one place in History ... it is not imprisoned in 33AD.

Think of it like this: God could have chosen to create nothing, but to exist in his own social, Trinal, simplicity. If He did choose to create, He could have elected to create just one moment. He could have created, for that one moment, just one place. We never think about it; but, surely, that is the most obvious, sensible, 'clean-cut', unmessy, thing to do. Yet that isn't what He did. In that tremendous eccentricity which is rooted in the very nature of the Divine Act of Creation, He created a multiplicity of times and a multiplicity of places. Within those multiplicities, He could have created just one, monic, being to exist and to be loved; but He chose instead to create a multiplicity of beings. And so it is into that complexity of times, places, beings, that His 'Once for all' is graciously communicated. The sacrifice of the Eternal Son is, in the Mass, made 'sacramentally' present on earth, in and to that plurality of the times and places which the Creator God in his fluent generosity has given to the innumerable multitudes He has created in which to worship him and to work out their salvation. And whenever it is so made present, Christ our God does "go forth to be slain in sacrifice". Furthermore, each Eucharist, bestowed from Eternity into Time, is not merely the offering of a monic being, but of Christ in his social body the Church, associating with him and in him those who are partaking in that new Mass in that new moment, so that the sacrifice of the Mass is ever one and unchanging and rooted in Eternity, and yet for ever here and for ever new.

So I've never had any problems with that offertory prayer in the Sarum Mass, in which the priest referred to hoc sacrificium novum. But, of course, the 'Reformers' did object, and the idea of a nova mactatio has come to be regarded as one of the worst corruptions of medieval Catholicism. It is good to have the Rite of S James to remind us that this way of employing language is not only sound and wholesome but is guaranteed by the witness of East as well as of West.

Throughout the Church, and throughout its history, different notions of the relation of Christ's One Sacrifice to the actual text and movement of the Liturgy have, quite harmlessly, been held. In the Greek version of the  Liturgy of S James, this (Sigesato) text is used to accompany the Great Entrance; as if the Bread already is the Lord, making his way to Calvary and to Sacrifice (both Great Entrance and Sigesato are absent from the Syriac version of the rite). Theodore of Mopsuestia clearly believed that the Elements processed in by the deacons were already the dead Body of Christ, "a Body which will very shortly rise to an immortal being". As one writer has put it, "Theodore's idea is that the elements, by the mere fact that they are the offering of the church, are already the Body and Blood from the moment of the offertory". Some Oriental epicletic formulae accordingly ask that the Holy Spirit may show (not make) the Bread to be the Lord's Body. The idea that the offertory pre-consecrates can also be found among the Assyrians and the Armenians, and would appear to be implied by the custom, which I first witnessed in Oxford in the 1960s, of aged Russian Grand Duchesses, in their black dresses and weighed down with jewelry, prostrate on the ground during the Great Entrance. These Eastern instincts, in a curious sort of roundabout way, witness to the convention we have discerned in the classical Roman rite, that it is essentially the Father's acceptance of the Church's Offering which is consecratory, not the Divine Response to a Petition for the Descent of the Spirit.
This series is now complete. I will now consider any comments submitted. Please attach any such comments to this final instalment.

15 comments:

Fr PJM said...

Each mass is not merely the making present of Christ who has a sacrificial attitude. If that were true, we could just go over to the tabernacle, take the Host out, put It on the altar, and say to the Father, "See?".

But isn't each mass a discrete "human act", on the part of the High Priest, in the philosophical, ethical sense? So in that sense, each mass, making present His one and unique death, is a new thing.

Hierodeacon said...

Father Hunwicke, I have very much enjoyed this series and have a few observations:

1. In the Anaphora of St. Chrysostom, the sentence containing the invocation of the Holy Spirit begins: "Again we offer unto thee this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice, and ask thee, and pray thee, and supplicate thee, send down thy Holy Spirit..." Indeed, another high point of the anaphora, right between the "institutional narrative" and the epiclesis: "Thine own of thine own, we offer unto thee." The theme of offering is also prominent in the BAS epiclesis. This doesn't undo your basic thesis, of course, but does perhaps show that there is much commonality between the two approaches to consecration.

2. You did not mention it (unless I missed it) but I would imagine you are already familiar with St. Nicholas Cabasilas's 14th century Byzantine defense of the validity of the Roman anaphora SANS epiclesis? The 19th century encyclical you refer to, and the 20th century Western Rite Orthodox tinkering with the Roman anaphora are both unfortunate and both contradict the teaching of one of Orthodoxy's greatest liturgical theologians.

3. The same Cabasilas has an interesting explanation of how each Eucharist is a sacrifice. Sacrifice requires change, and the change of the Gifts at the consecration constitutes also the sacrifice. I cannot remember the details of his argument but may have a chance to look it up again later.

4. A note of curiosity: the hymn "Let all mortal flesh keep silence" is used also in the Liturgy of St. Basil, but only once a year, on Holy Saturday (i.e., the Liturgy that correspondence roughly to the Western Vigil of Easter).

5. You note that this hymn refers to the King of Kings going forth to be slain as food for the faithful. The hymn sung at the Great Entrance of the Presanctified Liturgy, on the other hand - "Now the powers of heaven" - says something different: "Lo, the king of glory enters; lo, the mystical sacrifice is upborne – *fulfilled*." In my somewhat broad experience of Orthodoxy I have only rarely seen the prostrations and kneeling you referred to at a "regular" Liturgy's Great Entrance. But it is ubiquitous at the Presanctified Liturgy.

Rose Marie said...

Dear Father Hunwicke,

Thank you for this enlightening exposition. I will print it for re-reading and meditation. It is truly an aide to more fruitful actuosa participatio, as explained by the archiblogopoios,
http://wdtprs.com/blog/2006/03/the-true-meaning-of-active-participation/.

Stephen said...

Fr. John - would you be so kind as to explain further how some ways of the Easterners underscore the acceptance of the Father as being essential? I didn't quite follow the logic.

ansgerus said...

Isn't consecratory ONLY the word of the Son through His priest, beginning HOC EST ENIM, e.g. the Form (in combination with the valid Matter)? Therefore, this part only is written in large letters in the old missals (and not anymore the Passus abt. the commemoration thereafter, like after 1969 (or already 1965?)); the acceptance is somehow redundant, because there can be no doubt anyway that the Father is accepting the Sacrifice of the Son, provided it really becomes the Sacrifice of the Son, and is not just a plagiate dared to be offered f.i. by a women priestress or other lay people.

Francis Arabin said...

Thank you for this excellent series.

Allow me a few general rambling observations (having Gamber in a corner of my mind):

1. The Naming of the New Rite poses a direct problem.

2. The problem comes from the Ritus Romanus having a certain definite character from which the New Rite, also officially Romanus, derogates in several places.
a. The character of the Ritus Romanus can be argued to be determined by its history, by the customary and positive prescriptions whereby it had a a continuous recognisable existence and use throughout the centuries.
b. The character implies, among other things, a theological ethos proper to the Ritus.

3. The extent of the derogations is serious enough to compel us to question the "romanity" of the New Rite.

4. Now this brings us into interesting albeit dangerous ecclesiological grounds. Effectively, it would be saying to the authorities: "We do not dispute the legality or validity or legitimacy or efficacy of the New Rite. But we do think it misleading to call it "Romanus"".


Now coming to a particular point touched in this series, and bearing upon 2b, we have on our hands, two rites both called Roman, but that implicitly and explicitly have different theological ethos. And effectively, whenever the Canon Romanus is used in the New Mass, the two different perspectives with respect to the epiklesis are somehow thrown in confusedly together.

It might be objected to us that a Ritus is romanus if the Bishop of Rome promulgates it, that that rite is Roman which the Bishop of Rome uses habitually in his See and beyond. But that would make the Ritus Romanus subject to the whim and fancy, in the worst of cases, - God forbid- or concerns, pastoral or otherwise, of successive Bishops. But we would counter by saying that the Bishop of Rome is not the sovereign of the Roman liturgy but its custodian (which role does not exclude the making of such laws as expound or clarify obscure aspects of the liturgy, or for its due preservation and celebration)

Rather, there must be a fundamental structure whereby the Ritus Romanus is made recognisable and its theological ethos communicated throughout history. Now, this rather reminds me of a case that appeared before the Supreme Court of India in the 1970s, during which period the fundamental right to property was suspended by Mrs Gandhi. The Indian Bench ruled that the suspension was ultra vires and that even Parliament could not alter the basic structure of the Constitution of India. Mrs Gandhi was not terribly pleased with this decision. Now, not all the justices on the Bench could agree upon what constituted the fundamental structure of the Constitution, and this rather weakened their position in the face of a formidable political power.

That the Ritus Romanus could have been reformed while the integrity of its basic structure maintained (it being in all probability what the Council Fathers were expecting)would have made it possible to speak of a Ritus Romanus Novus - up to 1967 but with the old Roman Breviary (I would consider the pre-Pian Psalter as the authentic Roman Psalter). Whereas, our Novus Ritus is too much a hybrid to deserve the name Romanus. Or if, Romanus, only by positive enactment of the legislator, and by a certain slight similarity to the Ritus Romanus.

Grumpy Beggar said...

Thankyou for posting that translation by G Moultie of a formula (Sigesato pasa sarx broteia) in the Liturgy of S James, Padre.

I've copied and pasted it. It would make for a powerful reminder - and it's brief enough to read to myself at Mass during that short breath/interval which occurs between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist - just before the offertory begins.

Personally,I've always appreciated the CCC's terminology for the Sacrifice of the Mass which,rather than referring to a "bloodless" sacrifice, specifies that Christ is offered in an "unbloody" manner .

"Bloodless" in the more narrow sense of contemporary vernacular, possesses the real yet limited vulnerability of being mistakenly interpreted to suggest that our Blessed Lord's Precious Blood is not actually present in the chalice at the consummation of the consecration.


CCC 1367 :
The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different." "And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner. . . this sacrifice is truly propitiatory."

rick allen said...

"Accordingly, Rome has felt the need to be confident that the Father really has accepted the Oblation, while the East has been concerned to ensure that the Father really has sent the Holy Spirit ... at least, that is the conclusion I draw from the emphases within each respective Petition, one Occidental and the other Oriental."

Seems to me that it's not so much a matter of west vs. east as pre-fourth-century vs. fourth century. Until the express articulation of the full and equal divinity of the Holy Spirit in St. Basil and St. Gregory Nazianzus and the later councils, surely one would expect something like the Roman Rite--and after its articulation, we would expect a more explicit reference to the distinctive divine role of the Holy Spirit in the consecration.

To say that one is "oriental" and the other "occidental" suggests, first, that it's improper for us Westerners to pray with an express epiclesis. It also suggests that the East/West dichotomy is something inherent in the faith, and not an accident of history from the gradual estrangement of Latin from Greek Christianity.

Don't mean to carp. As always a thought-provoking series for this layman.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Rick: I cdertainly don't regard your comment as "carping". I value it and appreciate its careful expression.

Your point about East/West is a good one. There is no reason why there should not be a 'Spirit' liturgy in the West and a 'Spritless' one in the East. What I was really talking about was what characterises the 'Roman' Rite as such. Roman vs non-Roman would have have a clearer antithesis to stick with rather than bringing in the ultimately irrelevant(as you point out) East vs West.

William Tighe said...


It is interesting that the foremost English scholar of the East Syriac tradition, Anthony Gelston, in his study of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari (*The Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari*: Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1992) concludes that its invocation of the Holy Spirit, which is only implicitly "consecratory," is "primordial," or at least pre Fourth Century, although his argument to this effect seems to be based in large part on the authenticity of the "Hippolytus" EP of the *Apostolic Tradition* as a genuine late Second/early Third Century prayer.

Ben Whitworth said...

"In answer, then, to the problem, how CHRIST comes to us while remaining on high, I answer just as much as this,—that He comes by the agency of the HOLY GHOST, and by the Sacrament. [...] As faith is the means of our receiving It, the HOLY GHOST is the Agent and the Sacrament the means of His imparting It [...]" - Newman, Letter to Faussett, reprinted in Tract 90.

Newman here simply seems to take it for granted that the agent of the Eucharistic change is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. If anyone, with a better grasp of Newman's Eucharistic theology than mine, can explain on what grounds he rested this assumption, I would be very interested. Was he not so much a crypto-Romanist at this period as a crypto-Byzantinist?

Daniel Pharr said...

Question...
Whether or not the Spirit is explicitly invoked, is He not present doing His work through the very words of our Lord?

Stephen said...

I was taught that in the eastern tradition, one can't pinpoint exactly when the bread and wine become the Holy Mysteries of His Body and Blood. It could be anywhere starting from "Blessed be the kingdom..."

Further, there is a deep aversion to look for anything rigorously approaching a formula, perhaps an instinct against the magic of all the paganism.

ChrisB said...

Stephen's point about the reluctance of "formula" recalls to mind Fr. Fortescue's reminder in his book "The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy" that the prayers of the Mass are not in sequence to The Lord, but rather, the entire prayer is eternally present to him.

JKH said...

Does the 'Veni Sanctificator' at the Offertory in the EF refer to the Father or the Holy Spirit? If the latter, does it qualify as an epiclesis?