3 June 2015

The Cult of the Blessed Sacrament (1)

"It must be allowed that during the whole middle ages ... the Blessed Sacrament reserved was commonly treated with a kind of indifference which at present would be considered to be of the nature of 'irreverence', I will not say indignity."

Thus wrote that Prince of Liturgists, the lay Roman Catholic Edmund Bishop. Dix, also, observed that, in the first millennium, he could recall no instance recorded of a Christian praying in the conscious awareness of the Sacrament Reserved. I propose to devote one post to explaing why that is; and another to looking at the 'Eucharistic Revolution' of the fourteenth century.

We all know that Reservation for Communion is very ancient. But an examination of the liturgical formulae used to bless the vessels used for this reveals a surprising understanding of them. "God grant that this vessel be sanctified and made by the grace of the Holy Spirit a new sepulchre for the Body of Christ". "God, who for three days and nights didst lie in the sepulchre ..." And when Archbishop Hubert Walter was buried at Canterbury in 1205, they interred with him a chalice engraved with this couplet:
Ara crucis, tumulique calix, lapidisque patena;
Sindonis officium candida byssus habet.
[The Altar has the job of the cross; and the chalice, of the tomb, and the paten, of the stone; and bright linen has the job of the shroud.
]

Note that the thinking here is entirely of the Body of Christ as His dead Body (an idea found in a rather different form in Byzantium; and known to some seventeenth century Anglican divines). And surviving artefacts make it clear that such vessels were constructed in the shape of a tower in order to resemble what the Sepulchre of Christ in Jerusalem was believed to look like. Perhaps the practice in some places of reserving the Sacrament underneath the altar-tomb implied the same idea.

Such an understanding could easily assimilate the Sacrament to the status of a Relic. Thus an Anglo-Saxon Council of 816 even reassures the faithful that, if a church is not fortunate enough to have relics, the Reserved Sacrament will be good enough on its own!
To continue.

2 comments:

Patricius said...

St Cuthbert's epistle on the death of St Bede is quite telling on eucharistic attitudes in his time. With the sacrament in hand, Bede asked what time Mattins would be sung. Six hundred years later he might well have been singing therefore heads foremost we venerate so great a sacrament, and who cares about Mattins!

viterbo said...

The body of the 'resurrection' then, at least in the fervent and brilliant souls of our Anglo-Saxon forebears in Faith, was the 'Body of Christ'?