6 January 2008

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. But - oops - what about the view of liberal protestants 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 has been 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 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 all men. But in liturgy it may not be best to reflect comfortably on the corporate nature of sin, but instead to acknowledge its specific nature. 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.

3 comments:

Gregory of Langres said...

Whilst taking the point about acknowledging individual sins that Fr Hunwicke makes, it would seem better to talk about corporate sin in the Agnus Dei.

Here it seems we are recalling to the Lord the truth that he has taken away all sin whereas in a first person singular confession (such as the Confiteor) we are each asking to be forgiven for individual personal sins - hence usually being invited to do so: we don't need to collect our thoughts to make a statement about collective sin in the same way.

That said, I'm not a linguist and wouldn't want to pretend otherwise - it would just seem to make more sense at a glance.

Theodore of Sykeon said...

On even days, I agree with Gregory of Langres; on odd days, I don't quite agree. Today is an odd day:

The Agnus Dei strikes me, very much, as a place to focus on corporate sin and that is what we are doing when we refer to the sin(s) *of the world*. Our, individual, contribution to those sins (the repentance for which should be strong by this point in the Mass) ought not to be forgotten, though, and I think I'd argue (again, as a non-linguist) that the sins of the world make both points clear, simultaneously.

Gregory of Langres said...

If yesterday was an odd day, perhaps today is an even day...

I agree with T of S but would want to say that I think (not that it's about that) 'sin of the world' makes that point just as clearly. It isn't, for example, 'sins of the human race' but rather the collective sins brought into a corporate understanding. Our Lord didn't come to be our individual or personal Saviour - he came to redeem the world.

Hopefully we're just down to semantics now and Holy Theodore and I can be best of friends!