24 March 2014


Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.
This lovely hymn is a translation by G Moultie of a formula in the Liturgy of S James; which may be the oldest rite still used in Christendom except, of course, for the immemorially ancient Roman Rite. It is indeed a splendid hymn, and the concept of the Lord's eucharistic epiphaneia is beautifully expressed. Generations of Anglican worshippers* have been moved by the picture of the host of heaven spreading its vanguard before the Lord as he descends from the realms of endless day to stand on earth upon the altars of our churches. Long may its use continue.

But it it is fun to look back at the Greek original - where it is not in fact a hymn. It is a priestly proclamation uttered by the celebrant before the Great Entrance; and Moultrie did a bit of a Naughty in his translation, because, instead of speaking of Christ our God to earth descending, what the Greek actually says is: 'Christ our God is going forth to be slain in sacrifice' (proerchetai sphagiasthenai). And that is language which causes problems for some people - unnecessarily. Christ did die but once for all upon the cross, as the Reformers never ceased to declare, but his one sacrifice is beyond time in God's everlasting Now. God's 'Once' is not locked into one moment in one place in History ... it is not imprisoned in 33AD.

God could have chosen to create nothing, but to exist in his own social, Trinal, simplicity. If He did choose to create, He could have elected to create just one moment in one place. We never think about it; but, surely, that is the most obvious, sensible, 'clean-cut', unmessy, thing to do. Yet that isn't what He did. In that tremendous eccentricity which abides in the Divine Act of Creation, He created a multiplicity of times and places. Within that multiplicity, He could have created just one, monic, being to exist; but He chose also to create a multiplicity of beings. And so it is into that complexity that His 'Once for all' is graciously poured. The sacrifice of the Eternal Son is made 'sacramentally' present on earth, in that plurality of the times and places which the Creator God in his fluent generosity has given the innumerable multitudes He has created in which to worship him and to work out their salvation. And whenever it is so made present, Christ our God does "go forth to be slain in sacrifice". Furthermore, each Eucharist, bestowed from Eternity into Time, is not merely the offering of a monic being, but of Christ in his social body, associating with him and in him those who are partaking in that Mass in that new moment, so that the sacrifice of the Mass is ever one and unchanging and rooted in Eternity, and yet for ever here and new.

So I've never had any problems with that offertory prayer in the Sarum Mass, in which the priest referred to hoc sacrificium novum. But, of course, the 'Reformers' did, and the idea of a nova mactatio has been regarded as one of the worst corruptions of medieval Catholicism. It is good to have the Rite of S James to remind us that this way of employing language is not only sound and wholesome but bears the witness of East as well as of West.
*I have in mind Basil Handford, a superb Classicist and a very dear friend; born in 1901 (before Victoria's death); a boy at Lancing from 1913, then, after Oxford, a Master (with a few breaks, including one in America) until his sudden death in 1993. I preached at his Funeral and Solemn Requiem; I took over from him the job of writing Latin memorials and inscriptions for the Chapel, his being the first I wrote. Sadly, since my retirement in 2001, the custom appears to have lapsed, and memorials are in now some debased Teutonic dialect ... CAPD.


Joshua said...

Here's the quotation from Taylor; he calls it an ecphonesis or "Denunciation":

Let all corruptible flesh be silent, and stand with fear and trembling, and think within itself nothing that is earthly, nothing that is unholy. The King of kings, the Lord of lords, Christ our God comes down from heaven unto us, and gives himself to be meat for the souls of all faithful people. All the glorious companies of angels behold this and wonder, and love and worship Jesus. Every throne and dominion, the cherubims with many eyes, and the seraphims with many wings, cover their faces before the majesty of his glory, and sing a perpetual song for ever: Hallelujah, Hallelujah. Glory be to God on high; and in earth, peace; good will towards men. Hallelujah.

(A nice amplification...)

Joshua said...

NB Taylor,though he uses the term "sacrifice" in ensuing prayers, avoids it here, just as Moultrie did in his later hymn version.

Fr. Yousuf said...

Dear Fr. Hunwicke,

I do so enjoying reading your writing.

Alas, the text in question is a hymn. I am pretty certain that you have reviewed a translation of a Liturgikon of St. James Liturgy. Liturgika have the celebrant's and deacon's parts.

The order for all Cherubika (hymns accompanying the Great Entrance) is the choir sings the first parts of the hymn, the deacon censes the sanctuary, the iconostasis, and the faithful, and the celebrant reads an apologia for his own sinfulness before offering the Sacrifice. When the deacon has finished the censing the celebrant and the deacon together quietly say the hymn being sung in the nave three times: the celebrant says the first parts of the hymn, and the deacon conludes it. Then they ask forgiveness of eachother and the people, and commence the procession with the Gifts. The singing of the Hymn is interrupted by the procession and completed by the singers afterwards. The text of the hymns is therefore found in Liturgika where the celebrant and deacon recite them. (We do not have a Missale Plenum).

The hymn used by Eastern Orthodox is now almost always the "Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim" (hence the name for all of these hymns: cherubika) But on Holy Thursday it is the Communion Hymn, "Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, accept me today ..." and on Holy Saturday the hymn from the Liturgy of St. James "Let all mortal flesh..." about which you are blogging. Both on Holy Thursday and and Holy Saturday the Liturgy is that of St. Basil the Great, so to find these texts in modern Orthodox Liturgika ones looks at a Liturgikon for St. basil's Liturgy. The Liturgy of St. James is amongst Eastern Orthodox serves annually on the island of Zakynthos and in Jerusalem. In one place on Oct. 23rd in the other the Sunday after Christmas, (when St. James, St. Joseph and the Prophet King David are commemorated together), though I can't remember which is which. Since the 20th C the Liturgy of St James has had a revival and is now served annually in a few other places. The only other Cherubikon is "Now the Powers of heaven with us do invisibly serve..." sung at Presanctified Liturgy and recited by the clergy as above (except there is no Apologia, no "new sacrifice" being offered, and the censing is abbreviated.)

I have long become some what alarmed at the differences in emphasis between East and West being used by Westerners eager to escape their own dogmas without either engaging or taking seriously the Fathers; a prime example of which would be the Presiding "Bishop" of the TEC on "individual salvation" as a "heresy" at TEC's general con. From your description here I would be wary of ARCIC's use of the Patristic tradition.

I do hope that Joshua and Kiran will take advantage of Hilda Graef's lovely book on the history of Doctrine and Devotion of the all Holy Theotokos, which is just coming back into print.

Joshua, if you are correct, why did not we Orthodox deny the Assumption just because Pius XII dogmatized it?

Kiran, I actually don't hear the "H word" a whole lot in regard to the Immaculate Conception. However, there is a certain logic in now considered a heresy precisely because it is no longer a pious Western opinion but a Dogma of the Roman Church. I don't know why we Eastern Orthodox are the ones "making a big deal"about it ... Pius IX making it a Dogma makes a big deal about it.

My best wishes to all for the remaining "days of Christmas"

Fr. Yousuf Rassam
Orthodox Priest,
St. Innocent Church,
Tarzana, CA

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

Fr Yousouf: Of course I defer to an Orthodox with regard to Orthodox Liturgy. I was not, however, looking at a translation of anything but at the Greek text of James as printed by Neale. It has the rubric "Kai archontai hoi anagnostai tou Cheroubikou" and the text of "Hoi ta cheroubim mustikos ... taxesin, allelouia". Then follows the rubric "ho hiereus", followed by the Sigesato. And the other sung parts are printed in full (e.g. Eita hoi psaltai ton trisagion psallousin humnon: "Hagios ho theo .... eleison hemas") but there is no suggestion that the choir sing the Sigesato.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Above are some comments on an earlier version of this piece. I have removed the comments which refer to parts of the original version which did not survive into the rewritten post ... readers will perceive from what Fr Youssouf that, rather irrelevantly, I had slithered into Mariology as well! I try to be more disciplined nowadays.

Joshua said...

For some reason this makes me think of Neale's translation of the Liturgy of Malabar, which contains the following fine diaconal exclamation, which I think many a deacon would be tempted to utter in the face of sacerdotal dominance and bumbling:

"The altar is fire in fire; fire surrounds it; let priests beware of this terrible and tremendous fire, lest they fall into it, and be burnt for ever."

Instead, of course, the Western deacon nowadays gets to say "Let us offer each other the sign of peace", if Father doesn't forget he's there and blurt it out himself.

Joshua said...

St Gregory the Great, in his Dialogues (IV, 58), has this to say of Christ: "Debemus... quotidianas carnis ejus et sanguinis hostias immolare... qui... pro nobis iterum in hoc mysterio sacræ oblationis immolatur" – We ought daily to immolate the sacrfices of his body and blood, who for us again in this mystery [i.e. sacrament] of the sacred offering is immolated.

The fuller passage (continuing into chapter 59) is illuminating; and in mediæval missals the part from Hæc namque was often given as part of the priest's prayers to be said in preparation for Mass:

Debemus... quotidiana Deo lacrymarum sacrificia, quotidianas carnis ejus et sanguinis hostias immolare. Hæc namque singulariter victima ab æterno interitu animam salvat, quæ illam nobis mortem Unigeniti per mysterium reparat, qui licet resurgens a mortuis jam non moritur, et mors ei ultra non dominabitur, tamen in semetipso immortaliter atque incorruptibiliter vivens, pro nobis iterum in hoc mysterio sacræ oblationis immolatur. Ejus quippe ibi corpus sumitur, ejus caro in populi salutem partitur; ejus sanguis non jam in manus infidelium, sed in ora fidelium funditur. Hinc ergo pensemus quale sit pro nobis hoc sacrificium, quod pro absolutione nostra passionem unigeniti Filii semper imitatur. Quis enim fidelium habere dubium possit, in ipsa immolationis hora ad sacerdotis vocem cælos aperiri, in illo Jesu Christi mysterio angelorum choros adesse, summis ima sociari, terrena cælestibus jungi, unumque ex visibilibus atque invisibilibus fieri? (c. 59) Sed necesse est ut cum hæc agimus, nosmetipsos Deo in cordis contritione mactemus, quia qui passionis dominicæ mysteria celebramus, debemus imitari quod agimus. Tunc ergo vere pro nobis hostia erit Deo, cum nos ipsos hostiam fecerimus.

Or, in a translation available online:

""We ought... to offer unto God the daily sacrifice of tears, and the daily sacrifice of his body and blood. For this sacrifice doth especially save our souls from everlasting damnation, which in mystery doth renew unto us the death of the Son of God: who although being risen from death, doth not now die any more, nor death shall not any further prevail against him: yet living in himself immortally, and without all corruption, he is again sacrificed for us in this mystery of the holy oblation: for there his body is received, there his flesh is distributed for the salvation of the people: there his blood is not now shed betwixt the hands of infidels, but poured into the mouths of the faithful. Wherefore let us hereby meditate what manner of sacrifice this is, ordained for us, which for our absolution doth always represent the passion of the only Son of God: for what right believing Christian can doubt, that in the very hour of the sacrifice, at the words of the Priest, the heavens be opened, and the quires of Angels are present in that mystery of Jesus Christ; that high things are accompanied with low, and earthly joined to heavenly, and that one thing is made of visible and invisible? (c. 59) But necessary it is that, when we do these things, we should also, by contrition of heart, sacrifice ourselves unto almighty God: for when we celebrate the mystery of our Lord's passion, we ought to imitate what we then do: for then shall it truly be a sacrifice for us unto God, if we offer ourselves also to him in sacrifice."