20 March 2011

The Cult of the Blessed Sacrament (1)

It must be allowed that during the whole middle ages ... the Blessed Sacrament reserved was commonly treated with a kind of indifference which at present would be considered to be of the nature of 'irreverence', I will not say indignity.

Thus wrote that Prince of Liturgists, the lay Roman Catholic Edmund Bishop. Dix, also, observed that, in the first millennium, he could recall no instance recorded of a Christian praying in the conscious awareness of the Sacrament Reserved. I propose to devote one post to explaing why that is; and another to looking at the 'Eucharistic Revolution' of the fourteenth century.

We all know that Reservation for Communion is very ancient. But an examination of the liturgical formulae used to bless the vessels used for this reveals a surprising understanding of them. "God grant that this vessel be sanctified and made by the grace of the Holy Spirit a new sepulchre for the Body of Christ". "God, who for three days and nights didst lie in the sepulchre ..." And when Archbishop Hubert Walter was buried at Canterbury in 1205, they interred with him a chalice engraved with this couplet:
Ara crucis, tumulique calix, lapidisque patena;
Sindonis officium candida byssus habet.
[The Altar has the job of the cross; and the chalice, of the tomb, and the paten, of the stone; and bright linen has the job of the shroud.
]

Note that the thinking here is entirely of the Body of Christ as His dead Body. And surviving artefacts make it clear that such vessels were constructed in the shape of a tower in order to resemble what the Sepulchre of Christ in Jerusalem was believed to look like. Perhaps the practice in some places of reserving the Sacrament underneath the altar-tomb implied the same idea. Such an understanding could easily assimilate the Sacrament to the status of a Relic. Thus an Anglo-Saxon Council of 816 even reassures the faithful that, if a church is not fortunate enough to have relics, the Reserved Sacrament will be good enough on its own!
To continue.

11 comments:

Joshua said...

I recall from somewhere that some one of the Caroline Divines (frustratingly, I don't recall which one) taught that the faithful received the dead body of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar - I very strange thought, thought I, but now I'm not so sure.

William Tighe said...

Lancelot Andrewes is said to have taught that, how accurately I can't say, cf. Jeff Steel's forthcoming St. Andrews (Scotland) doctoral thesis on Andrewes' eucharistic theology (or Fr. Chrysostom (Gary L.) Frank's St. Andrews thesis of ca. 1985 on 17th-Century Anglican and Lutheran views of the Eucharist.

Post Restoration high-church divines (and even Latitudinarian ones like Tillotson) taught that in the Eucharistic elements communicants symbolically receive the Body and Blood of Christ as separated from one another by His death.

Joshua said...

Was it Theodore of Mopsuestia (such a name!) who taught that, at the Great Entrance, honour was paid to the as-yet-unconsecrated elements as to the Dead Christ, and that subsequently, by the Epiclesis, they were rendered Living and Lifegiving?

(Dix talks about this somewhere in that book of his.)

Joshua said...

And wasn't it St Gorgonia, sister of St Gregory Nazianzen, who is recorded as practising a very early devotion to the Eucharistic elements reserved?

I think Jungmann (or was it Parsch? even... Rahner) wrote about the Primitive Christian devotion to the altar, and how in later times this morphed into and was eclipsed by devotion to the Sacrament.

Cf. The Nine Ways of Prayer to St Dominic, which has him bowing deeply before altars and crucifixes "as if to Our Lord personally present", with nary a mention of doing so to the Sacrament of the Altar.

B flat said...

I have seen several pyxes (they hardly compare to western tabernacles, although fulfilling that function) in the Russian Church which would fit the description given in the last paragraph. The lower container, like a drawer, for temporary safeguard of the Presanctified Gifts during the Lenten Fast. and above it, a coffin-shaped box under whose lid are kept the dried Particles of the Body and Blood of Christ prepared on Holy Thursday for Communing the sick outside the Divine Liturgy.
An example is here:

http://www.icons-dullaert.nl/images/HVB4411_klein.jpg

The Orthodox generally have no particular devotions to the Reserved Gifts on the Holy Altar, but they show great reverence to the Presanctified Gifts during Lent, within the Liturgy served on Wednesdays, Fridays, and certain other great days.

Joshua said...

It’s Lancelot Andrewes – sermons on the Resurrection VII, given in Gore, The Body of Christ p 183 n1.

(Many thanks to the Revd Canon Dr Robin Ward for forwarding the reference.)

RichardT said...

I keep confusing Bishop Lancelot Andrewes with Bishop Lancelot Blackburne.

Fr. Yousuf said...

I have always understood that the Body we receive is that which ascended and sits at the Right Hand, that is, we receive the Body that now is, as is heavily inferred in the Precommunion Prayer of St. Symeon Metaphrastes (the Translator), (scroll to prayer number three in this collection:)

http://pages.prodigy.net/frjohnwhiteford/precommunion.htm


Nicholas Uspensky, in his history of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, (one of three works published by St. Vladimir Seminary Press under the title “Evening Worship”), gives as a reason for the spread of the Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified, for including the importation of this rite to Rome on Good Friday in the time of St. Gregory, that it is a liturgical refutation of some Nestorian theory. By communing after the 9th Hour on Good Friday, one affirmed that Christ's body remains incorrupt and life-giving after death, and that the hypostatic union of the Word with the human nature (including the flesh) was not undone by the Passion and Death on the Cross.

I imagine Fr Hunwicke would enjoy reading that work.

Fr Yousuf Rassam

Canon Jerome Lloyd OSJV said...

Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia in Walsingham last week, in describing the Liturgy of the Presanctified referred to it as, more or less, the Orthodox equivalent of Eucharistic Devotion in the West...

Joshua said...

Certainly all the people are blessed with the Consecrated Elements after the priest has communicated those actually receiving.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Fr Yousuf, you're a winner!