Martin Luther notoriously, and polemically, asserted "As you massmongers cannot be baptised nor believe for someone else, similarly you are unable to receive the Sacrament for someone else. As every man is baptised for himself, so he has to eat and drink for himself. Can my eating slake your hunger? No more can your eating of this Sacrament do me good". Two late twentieth century writers effectively turned the question in Luther's rant back on itself and returned to Luther a positive answer: indeed - my eating can slake your hunger. The first was John Bossy, whose Christianity in the West 1400-1700 (1985) charted the breakdown, towards the end of the Middle Ages, of a corporate conception of society which Bossy had examined in terms of kinship patterns and economics as well as religion. The second writer was Catherine Pickstock, a Cambridge member of an Anglican group called Radical Orthodoxy, who titled a major section of her After Writing (1998) with Luther's question. [The "Radical orthodox", I fear, were not particularly orthodox with regard either to the 'ordination' of women or the integrity of Christian marriage, sed fas est doceri ab inimicis!]
Pickstock's book is not often found to be easy going. She has a donnish weakness for neologisms and an assumption that any potential reader will be happy to work hard to understand her sometimes contorted jargon means. But her book deserves to be rescued from its ... frankly, not entirely undeserved ... obscurity, for several reasons. One such reason is her importance in the establishment, in the 1990s, of the reaction against the assumptions and presuppositions of the post-Conciliar liturgical 'reforms'. When Fr Aidan Nichols wrote his Looking at Liturgy in 1996 (and, goodness me, how well that volume has worn: dust it down and reread it), he was able to incorporate a discussion of Pickstock's work because he had read parts of it, in its earlier guise as a Cambridge thesis submitted for the degree of Ph.D.. By her study of 'liturgical stammering' and 'repeated beginnings', she demonstrated the essentially 'oral' generic nature of liturgical language, vindicating it against 'Enlightenment' fashions for 'linear clarity' and for the avoidance of what Vatican II question-beggingly called "unnecessary repetitions" (how can an ecumenical Council have been so oblivious that this is contemptuous of the ancient and venerable Byzantine Rite which so unashamedly re-echoes - again and again - its call "Again and again let us pray to the Lord" .... Kyrie eleison ... ?).
But it is, in particular, her emphasis on the corporate quality of Christianity that I desire to consider; that your eating does slake my thirst. Every man is not an island.
This piece will be concluded with an examination a Purgatorian Archconfraternity.