23 March 2011

The Cult of the Blessed Sacrament (2)

Continues:
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 "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 bishops of Dix's day were for the most part ignorant bigots. Indeed ... but let's not venture down that digression. 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 do we symbolise the Figure of Jesus? But the genre of the Corpus Christi Procession is not Drama but Adoration: 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 such practices soon 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*.
Continues.

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

10 comments:

Patricius said...

Interesting post father, but I rather think that devotion to the Blessed Sacrament got rather out of hand in the West and led to the decline of choral singing of the Office - in my opinion far more important than holy hours, Benediction and ill-informed cults.

Chris said...

Isn't Dix's point in his Detection of Aumbries not so much about the procession itself as about the genuflection which its rubrics ordered?

Joshua said...

P. does sound rather like one of the participants at the Synod of Pistoia!

Patricius said...

Joshua that won't be the first time I have been accused of Jansenism...

Victor said...

But according to your blog, Jansenism is too recent a heresy to apply to you, isn't it, Patricius?

Священник села said...

The Orthodox Churches reserve the sacrament but have no particular service or devotions connected with the sacrament so reserved. There is a proper way to deal with the reserved sacrament, usually kept on the holy table, where possible with an oil lamp, and there is certainly a consciousness of the presence which shapes movements and actions and manners in the altar area. I shouldn't really say *no* service or devotion because in a sense the presanctified liturgy is precisely a service involving many devotional elements specific to the reserved / presanctified gifts - repeated prostrations before them, veilings and unveilings, censings, solemn movements with them, especially an Entrance with the gifts held high and everyone on heir faces, a special hymn (Now the powers of heavens do serve invisibly with us, Lo the King of Glory enters, Lo the Mystical sacrifice is upborne, fulfilled. Let us draw near in faith and love and so become communicants of life eternal) The sense of the *presence* is powerful and shapes a very particular piety. It is *living* presence - our communion is with *life eternal*. (The Byzantines were keen on making this *living* quality obvious at the Eucharist, hence leavened bread and hot water)

I do not know if there are thematic similarities between Benediction and the Presanctified Liturgy. It would be a pleasant afternoon to tease such things out of the texts....

I do know that Tantum Ergo Sacramentun is about one of my favourite things.

Alice C. Linsley said...

I was going to write about this, but someone has already done so: "the presanctified liturgy is precisely a service involving many devotional elements specific to the reserved / presanctified gifts - repeated prostrations before them, veilings and unveilings, censings, solemn movements with them, especially an Entrance with the gifts held high and everyone on heir faces."

My firt experience of the Presanctified reminded me of my first experience of Benediction at an Anglo-Catholic parish in Rosemont, Pennsylvania.

B flat said...

Patricius may be right about Devotions to the Blessed Sacrament bringing a decline in the choral Divine Office; but I doubt it. The Jesuits never had choral Office as part of their strategy for winning back souls for the Church of Christ, but used thee Devotions which were more accessible for the laity, and practicable in single-priest parishes and missions. By contrast, monastics never gave up the Choral Office, until the madness of the last half century.
The real Presence of Christ, among His people, is assuring and conducive to prayer in the heart (in one's room,)in secret.The Divine Office in choir is a way of life for a small and devoted elite, rather than the many who lead busy and sometimes fragnented lives. Thank God that both survive and are flourishing, with every sign that they will be widespread again within a generation.

Albertus said...

Thank you, B Flat and Sviascennik Siela, for your enlightening additions to Fr. Hunwicke's historical presentation. Like Alice Lindsay, I too have perceived a kinship between the Mass of the Presanctified and the Benediction service. Futhermore, in my experience, Mass, Choral Office and Benediction complement each other , rather than exclude each other. I have participated more than once in Sung Mass, followed by Vespers or procession, and ending with Benediction. In some countries this was the custom and has in some areas lived forth till this day. In the seminary in which i was a student for many years, we had Completorium with Benediction every evening, except Sundays, when we had sung Vespers with Benediction. Sunday Mass followed by Vespers with Benediction, is a worthy tradition which I fervently hope will spread again to all parishes of the Roman Rite. Let us not forget that Expostion and Adoration are an extension of the Elevation of the Host at Holy Mass, when Christ our Lord is Exposed and Adored; and Benediction is a sort of spirtual Communion, with which we are blessed, similarly to the Blessing with the Host by the Priest at Communion during Mass.

bronzetrumpets said...

I love your historical posts.

This is an issue that's always interested me... since the Real Presence was believed in from Day One, it always struck me as odd it took something like 12 centuries to go from "the Eucharist is Christ" to Eucharistic Adoration.