10 August 2017

The Cult of the Blessed Sacrament (2)

Bishop, however, exaggerates when he talks about the cult of the Blessed Sacrament as absent through the whole middle ages. The thirteenth century shows a dawning awareness of something more profound. A 1260 ordinarium from Zurich finds it necessary to explain that it is "contrary to reason ... altogether absurd" that "the Eucharist, which is the true living Body of Christ, should represent his dead Body". In the same century a conventual ordinal preserved in Dublin ordered the Sacrament to be "honourably reserved for the use of the sick", but less than a century later another hand feels it necessary to add to the manuscript "and for the devotion of the choir".

[There is a red herring to be disposed of here. Dix, engaged in tweaking the tails of Anglican bishops who attempted to issue 'regulations' banning Corpus Chisti processions, loved to point out that the first records of Processions of the Blessed Sacrament were in Palm Sunday processions at Canterbury. Fair enough; the Anglican bishops of Dix's day included a fair number of bigots, who deserved what they got from his versatile and merciless pen. But Dix is perpetrating, in my view, a genre confusion. On Palm Sunday, Christians in many parts of the Latin West desired to actualise ritually the Lord's Entry into the Holy City. They used, sometimes, a wooden statue of the Lord on a donkey; or the Book of the Gospels; or ... sometimes, the Sacrament. The genre is Drama and so the question is: We are doing a dramatic representation of a historical event, the Lord's Entry into Jerusalem: therefore how shall we represent the Figure of Jesus? But the genre of the Corpus Christi Procession is not Drama but Adoration: and so the question here is; We possess the true body of the living Christ: therefore how should we worship Him?]

Once you stop thinking of the Sacrament Reserved as the real but dead Body of Christ which the Faithful need to receive when sick or dying, and begin to see it as the living Body of the living Christ, you will see it not as a supremely potent but dead relic but as the locus for a direct, lived, relationship between believer and Lord. We see this transition in the development of some of the very rare, early, processions of the Host before the end of the thirteenth century. The host was processed together with the other most potent relics of the Church concerned. But, over the next fifty years, such practices became much less common, and eventually disappeared.

And this revolution led to a change in the vessels used for Reservation. No longer were they made of ivory, but of precious metals. No longer were they designed to represent the Sepulchre at Jerusalem. Above all, no longer was the Sacrament to be reserved in the same vessel as the Holy Oils*.

One more piece should conclude what I want to say about this topic.


*In the first millennium - remarkably, to our minds - the vessel blessed to be a container for the Sacrament was often called the Chrismale!


A Daughter of Mary said...

I guess we could look at this as genuine organic development of doctrine - a deeper understanding of the Real Presence. Slow, thoughtful, development.

Christopher Boegel said...

A wonderful mystery to explore.

On one hand - Abbott Vonier in his work "A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist," explains - via Aquinas - that the sacrament is Jesus' body "in passus" - the blood is separated from his spot lifeless body. And then he answers the question:

"What about His soul and divinity in the Eucharist?" It is present, per Aquinas, because of the hypostatic Union.

And yet Msgr. Gamber, in his work on The Mass, notes that Jesus launches the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper ("no man takes my life from me, but I lay it down...").
And no man - prophesies Isaiah - is permitted to break my bones. And Gamber recalls an ancient formulation of the words of consecration from the old Roman Rite - "this is my body, BROKEN for you. I the living Christ break my body and share it out.

A treasure chest of beautiful things - to be opened by us children - a gift from the Divine Artist.

Tom said...

Thank you for these posts Father, very informative and though provoking. Unfortunately I do not have either my 'Omnibus of Franciscan Sources' nor 'Francis and Clare' to hand but from memory I believe St Francis' devotion to the Blessed Sacrament was very much to the Lord as living and present in the Sacrament. He gave strict instructions on the condition and quality of the sacred vessels and linens. Perhaps the awakening to the reality of the Lord's living Presence in the reserved Sacrament among general populace of the Church is due to the preaching of the Friars among others?

Anonymous said...

This is the book - from 1995 - you need on this question.
Perhaps you knew that already: