13 January 2017

AGNUS DEI

The rumour went around the ladies' tea-parties of donnish Oxford:"Have you heard? Dr Pusey sacrifices a lamb every morning in Christ Church".

Of course, what Dr Pusey did was not to slit the throat of a daily ungulate in the sedate surroundings of an Anglican Cathedral, but to offer the sacrifice of the Eucharist ... 'the adorable Sacrifice' as the inscription beside his altar at Ascot Prory puts it. Nevertheless, I have some sympathy for the perplexities of the bewildered ladies. Those who saw S John Baptist, in the ancient Gospel for today, the Octave Day of the Epiphany, pointing at his Nazarean Relative as 'God's Lamb', must have been at least equally perplexed, even without tea.

But - oops - what about the view of liberal protestants, commonly regarded by them as so obvious as not to require argument, that the Eucharist was in origin a simple fellowship meal later perverted, by S Paul or by 'Early Catholicism', into a complex sacrificial mystery? Happily, this widespread but evidence-free myth was exploded by a distinguished American Jewish rabbinical scholar, Jacob Neusner. When Jesus 'cleansed' the Temple by expelling the tradesmen who facilitated its worship, He was symbolising the replacement of that sacrificial system by His own new Eucharistic sacrifice, to be instituted a few days later. And the principal Jewish sacrifice to be replaced was the daily sacrifice of the Tamid Lamb, paid for by the Temple tax of Jewish males and offered for the whole of God's people. "The atonement for sin achieved by the daily whole offering is null, and ... atonement for sin is achieved by the Eucharist; one table overturned, another set up in place, and both for the same purpose of atonement and expiation of sin".

The Lamb of God, the Incarnate Word under the visible tokens He has ordained, is the perfect oblation held in his hands and offered by the Christian priest as he stands at his altar every morning. Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. 

But according to Common Worship (modern language Gloria, Agnus, and Invitation to Communion) He takes away the sin of the World. The Latin and Greek liturgical originals usually speak of sins, while CW has been influenced by John 1:29, which reads sin. This Johannine singular sees sin as a single corporate turning away from God by fallen humankind. And rightly. But in liturgy it may not be best to reflect comfortably on the corporate nature of sin, but instead to acknowledge its specific nature in my life. 

The daily Christian needs to be aware of his own daily and plural sins as he attends the daily pleading of the One Great Sacrifice.

2 comments:

Mike Hurcum said...

Glad to see Father you used the word sin correctly

Hierodeacon said...

With the Greek text of the Great Doxology, we get both:

…ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς,
ὁ αἴρων τὰς ἁμαρτίας τοῦ κόσμου…