2 January 2010

The Sacrifice of the Mass

Now here is something which I think really needs opening up. Since the Catholic Revival in the Church of England, we have emphasised the reality of the Lord's presence in the consecrated elements. And so we should have doe. Indeed, perhaps we should have done more of it. While I was in Devon, nearly every sermon I preached for six years was about the Eucharist; and, right at the end of it, one distinctly intelligent parishioner told me that he was starting to realise what it was all about. And since the publication of Anglicanorum coetibus, I have heard two separate anecdotes about laypeople saying "We wouldn't have to believe in Transubstantiation, would we?" Moreover, the extent to which Roman Catholic laity have forgotten the Lord's Eucharistic Presence is notorious. I once heard some of my Church of Ireland people talking in shocked tones about the irreverence with which RCs received Communion. Yes; this job is still not finished.

But there is another job which I sometimes feel we have barely started. And that is teaching about the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In 1947, Dom Gregory Dix congratulated the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, which he was addressing, upon having done 'notable work' in restoring adoration, corporate and personal; reparation; and many other aspects of Eucharistic devotion which centred round the doctrine of the Real Presence. But he felt that the sacrificial aspect had proved much less easy to bring out. In the near future I plan to put extracts from his address on to this blog (thanks to Professor Tighe's kindness in sending me notes made by one of those who heaerd Dix speak).

But, for the time being, I would like to leave you - and especially brother priests - with this thought.

I think we have been made much too nervous by Protestant attacks upon the Sacrifice of the Mass on the grounds that it undermines the uniqueness of Calvary. We have tended to feel that, rather than saying something which, horror of horrors, led to this appalling error, it will be better to say nothing. I think this is completely wrong. Laypeople get a whole lot of things wrong; and if you don't think your laity do, then I think you should try to talk to them more. We can't ensure that every woman-jill of them puts everything just precisely accurately. Even among clergy, I often feel that some sort of general approximation and a few dollops of goodwill are the best we can hope for.

So, sez I, teach them that the Mass is the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ and that it is offered daily in your church by the priest and that it is the sacrifice appointed by God to take away sins. Don't put a paragraph or two into your homily about how incredibly careful we must be to avoid compromising the uniqueness of Calvary. If the Calvary question gets raised, of course you can do some finessing. But even if their understanding is likely to be askew, nevertheless just teach the basics, simply and ... yes ... crudely.


Jeffrey Steel said...

Very true! The Sacrifice of the Mass and the Sacrifice of Calvary are one and the SAME sacrifice. Even Lancelot Andrewes believed that and denied transubstantiation as a necessary way of expressing real presence. But he never denied the reality of objective presence in the elements and his posturing at Mass by genuflection is proof of what he believed the consecrated elements to have been converted into. This should be clear and easy and nothing to get over but get on with. Andrewes is another gift of Anglican patrimony!

Steve Cavanaugh said...

As I was driving up to Mass this morning, I was thinking of the discussion on another blog of how the Catholic bishops of California had dispensed their people from the obligation of attending Mass today (Jan 1, which is a holy day of obligation in the U.S.). As one person noted in the discussion, it's not as if the laity won't come to Mass during the week; look at Mass on Ash Wednesday and the Passion on Good Friday...people flock to church. Because, I think, the faithful, even the most poorly catechized just get it, they understand what Lent and Good Friday are about.
Walk into church on Ascension Thursday, and the crowds are notably thinner. Why? Because we laity never hear a decent explanation of what it's all about: which is a pity, because it's about two wonderous (well more than two of course, but at least these two) mysteries: of Christ taking his sacrifice into the eternal holy of holies where he forever pleads it before the Father on our behalf and of his presence to us all, having passed beyond the veil of space/time, so I needn't wait like Bartimaeus for him to pass along my street before I can call out "Master, let me see" and hear him reply "I will it: see". And it will take more than one sermon to get through to some of us, but wouldn't the churches be packed when they knew that was what it's all about.
Who could stay away if they understood the immense and passionate love in the heart of the crucified that is present to us through the Sacrifice of the Mass? But the people are starving for bread, and too often they are given stones instead of the Gospel in homilies.
Keep up your urging of your priestly brethren, Fr. H. Truth can't be heard too often!

William Tighe said...

30 years ago, when I was looking through *Laudate* (the quarterly publication of the Anglican Benedictines of Nashdom) for articles and reviews by Gregory Dix, I came across an article by one Fr. Rees (Herbert Rees, perhaps, although I can't remember his full name) sometime in the 1950s or early 60s in which he insisted on the same, that is, that Anglo-Catholics had been thoroughly instructed on the Presence, but much less so on the Sacrifice -- and that this was both unfortunate and dangerous, as the Presence was dependent upon, and subordinate to, the Sacrifice.

I regret not having photocopied that article. It might be worth searching out.

Kiran said...

Thank you for this, Father. Indeed! Amongst Catholics, it has become much rarer for instance, for people to feel that they can go to Mass and not take communion (as I did today because I couldn't keep the fast). This has important consequences too in that people will either go to Mass and receive communion, though they are in a state of sin, or not go to Mass at all, than hear Mass and not rexeive communion. As regards repeating Calvary, I have always found Pelikan's essay on Creation and Causality very helpful as showing that both creation and redemption are covenantal and continuous.

Did any of the 17th century Anglican divines accept and/or teach Transubstantiation? Herbert in one of his poems seems to me to be confused between denial of annihilationism (which St. Thomas also denies) and denial of transsubstantiation.

Nebuly said...

"Your task now is not only the negative one of defending their work but the positive one of completing it." Indeed

Lancelot Andrewes tells us in a Sermon preached at St Giles Cripplegate concerning the frequency of celebrating the Eucharist: "For sure we should continue also in this part and the frequenting of it, if not so often as the Primitive Church did--which either thrice in the week, or at the furthest once, did communicate--yet as often as the Church doth celebrate; which, I think, should do better to celebrate more often."

We would not use Andrewes to return to monthly celebration - neither would we share his anxieties about non-communication at mass. His journey should be continued

Unknown said...

STEVE CAVANAUGH, why did the bishops dispense Californians of this obigation? Have matters really sunk so low?

Chris Jones said...

I'm sorry to break up the chorus of Amens, Father, but ...

There is a reason why this was an issue at the time of the Reformation, and it's not just because the dastardly Reformers introduced innovative error into the pure doctrine of the Holy Church. The reason is that the orthodox doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass was (a) being articulated very poorly; and (b) was being obscured by a corrupt praxis which was, frankly, an expression of a doctrine of the sacrifice different from the orthodox one.

You don't have to agree with the Reformers' blanket condemnation of the sacrifice of the mass (as I do not, even though I am a Lutheran) to recognize that the problems involved with the doctrine and practice sacrifice were real and needed to be addressed.

So by all means teach the orthodox doctrine of the sacrifice of the mass. But do not pretend that it can be taught properly without addressing the relationship between the sacrifice on the altar and the sacrifice on the Cross. You say the Mass is ... the sacrifice appointed by God to take away sins, and so it is; but it is so precisely because (as Mr Steel says) one and the same as the sacrifice on Calvary -- and because it is the manifestation, through time and space, of that one unique sacrifice. If you run away from the issue of how it relates to Calvary then you will leave your people thinking that the Mass is its own sacrifice with its own value apart from that of the Cross -- and the mediaeval error will be back, the error that provoked the Reformers' terrible over-reaction.

You wrote:

If the Calvary question gets raised, of course you can do some finessing.

It is more than "finessing" to teach clearly the identity of the sacrifice of the mass and the sacrifice of the Cross -- it is the heart of the matter. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. That is the whole basis of the sacrifice of the Mass, and if you leave out the connection with "showing His death," you have gutted the teaching.

motuproprio said...

May I venture that Section 9 of Tract 90 has some relevance here (surely part of the Anglican Patrimony!)?

Chris Jones said...


Indeed, that section of Tract 90 is very much to the point.

I can put it no better than Newman did in saying

the Article before us [speaks] ... against its being viewed, on the one hand, as independent of or distinct from the Sacrifice on the Cross, which is blasphemy; and, on the other, its being directed to the emolument of those to whom it pertains to celebrate it