Do this in remembrance of me

I often hear that the reason we share the Eucharist, the reason we participate in communion, is that Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me.”

While it is true that he did say so, the only two (three) places in which this is found, Luke 22:19 and 1Cor. 11:24.25, the reference is not the sharing, the consummation of communion, but the actions of Christ. To reference liturgical scholar Dom Gregory Dix, these actions, in their ‘bulked up’ four-part version, are (1) taking/offering bread and wine (the Offertory); (2) blessing, giving thanks (the Eucharistic prayer); (3) breaking the bread (the Fraction); and (4) distributing the elements (the Communion).[1] We consume the elements in answer to the remembrance, but this is not the remembrance in itself. The remembrance is to do what Christ did.

The question then becomes: When Christ uttered these words to the Apostles (“do this in remembrance of me”), was he addressing them as Apostles or as Christians? The former is the interpretation commonly favoured by Catholics (including, but not limited to, Roman Catholics and Orthodox), and it ties to the question of when a Eucharist is a Eucharist. Is it a Eucharist when it is ‘performed’ by someone who is not ordained? That is an important question.

Notes:

[1] Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy (Second ed. London: A&C Black 1945, reprint 1975), pp.48-50.

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The Offertory

Referencing an article by David Ganz,[1] Reformed theologian Peter J. Leithart points out that in the early middle ages, at the Council or Synod of Macon in 585, a decree was made, with these words:

We have learned from the report of the brethren that some churches in some places have deviated from the divine command in not offering a host at the altar. Wherefore we decree that on every Sunday an offering of both bread and wine be made to the altar by all men and women, that by these oblations they may obtain the remission of their sins.[2]

One interesting note to make here, is that this is not written in what is commonly referred to as ‘the dark middle ages.’ This is a very early period of the medieval times, during the period often referred to by talking of ‘the undivided Church’ or ‘the undivided Church of the first millenium.’

What we see here is the Offertory, that the Church, by her members and through the priest, is offering up bread and wine to God, representing themselves. It can be seen as an expression of what Paul, in Romans 12:1, calls a ‘reasonable service,’[3] the offering up of our bodies, ourselves, as “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God,”[4] and of what Peter, in 1. Peter 2:5, calls us to when he urges us to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Leithart makes the point that “it is the gathering up of the communal oblation in the Mass that has [the effects described], but the point is that the people participate in offering the host by providing the materials for the immolation of the Mass.” We can see this expressed by Paul elsewhere. In Romans 15:16, Paul points out that he has received a grace from God “to be a minister[5] of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, serving as a priest[6] with the Gospel of God, so that the offering[7] of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified in the Holy Spirit.” (My translation)

Note that Paul, through his ministry, is offering up the offerings of the Church. The use of the Genitive here (“the offering of the Gentiles”) can be seen both as subjective (the offerings that the Gentiles are offering up) and objective (that the Gentiles themselves are being offered up). It is a self-offering. We see this also elsewhere, where Paul, writing to the Philippians (Phil 2:17), reference his service and “the sacrificial offering of your faith” or “the sacrifice and service of your faith” (my translation).

But the main point I want to point out is that the offerings written of in the Council or Synod of Macon in 585, and mentioned by Leithart, were not only offered up as thanks and praise, but with the express purpose that “by these oblations [the people] may obtain the remission of their sins.” The question now becomes: What does this text say: Does it say that the offering, the giving up of these gifts grant forgiveness, or does it say that through these offerings, which will be consecrated and will become the body and blood of Christ, the Church will receive forgiveness?

It seems to me that the latter is the ‘correct’ approach. The decree, it seems, doesn’t say that these offerings merits forgiveness, in and of themselves, but that the sacrifice of Christ is made present in these offerings through the Eucharistic celebration, and that these offerings are then given back to the Church, and that the Church receives forgiveness though partaking of these consecrated gifts. This perspective is also found in the Roman Canon, the way this is expressed in the first Eucharistic prayer of the Ordinary Form of the liturgy of the Catholic Church.[8] We read there, in the prayer just after the Sanctus (holy, holy, holy), and before the consecration:

To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you firstly for your holy Catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant N. our Pope and N. our Bishop, and all those who, holding to the truth, hand on the catholic and apostolic faith.

Remember, Lord, your servants N. and N. and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you. For them, we offer you this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them, for the redemption of their souls, in hope of health and well-being, and paying homage to you, the eternal God, living and true.

In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary,[9] Mother of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs, Peter and Paul, Andrew, (…) and all your Saints: we ask that through their merits and prayers, in all things we may be defended by your protecting help. (Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

Therefore, Lord, we pray: graciously accept this oblation of our service, that of your whole family; order our days in your peace, and command that we be delivered from eternal damnation and counted among the flock of those you have chosen. (Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)

Be pleased, O God, we pray, to bless, acknowledge, and approve this offering in every respect; make it spiritual and acceptable, so that it may become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.[10]

The Roman Canon is filled with sacrificial language, and the priest offering the prayer asks that God accept the offerings — of prayers, of thanks, of praise, of bread and wine — “for the redemption of their souls.” This recalls the words of the Council or Synod of Macon in 585, stating that the Christians should each Sunday offer bread and wine on the altar, “that by these oblations they may obtain the remission of their sins.” It is understandable if this is weird, but if we read this in light of teaching as a whole, it is my understanding that neither this decree nor the Roman Canon say that we merit our own salvation, but that when we offer our gifts to God, in praise and thanksgiving, they are transformed. And through this transformation they “become for us the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,” to use the words of the Roman Canon.

Both in Lutheran and Catholic theology we emphasize that in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, the elements of the sacrament, bread and wine, our gifts, the fruits of the earth, of the wine, and of human labour, are consecrated, sanctified, and that Christ becomes present in the sacrament through this consecration. Contemplating this, and contemplating the fact that the word ‘Eucharist’ means ‘thanksgiving,’ consider the following words by St. Paul, translated by your truly: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is consecrated through the word of God and prayer.” (1. Timothy 4:4-5)

Notes:

[1] David Ganz, “Giving to God in the Mass: the experience of the Offertory” (The Languages of Gift in the Early Middle Ages, ed. Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre. Cambridge University Press 2010), p.21 (18-32).

[2] Peter J. Leithart, “Offering the host” (Peter Leithart’s Blog, Dec. 12, 2012). Retrieved Dec. 19, 2012.

[3] Gk. λογικός λατρεία (logikós latreía).

[4] If not otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version, RSV.

[5] Gk. λειτουργός (leitourgós).

[6] Gk. ἱερουργοῦντα (hierourgounta), participle form of ἱερουργέω (hierourgéō).

[7] Gk. προσφορά (prosphorá).

[8] See Thomas E. Woods Jr., “Extraordinary Form 101: A Beginner’s Guide to the Old Latin Mass.” This Rock Magazine 19:9, pp.6-11. For a popularized introduction to the Roman Canon, in its present day ‘ordinary’ form, see Milton Walsh, In Memory of Me: A Meditation on the Roman Canon (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press 2011). I use the translation from this book when I quote the Roman Canon.

[9] Just as a reminder for Lutherans: Luther, in the Smalcald Articles (part I:VI), held that Christ “was born of the pure, holy [and always] Virgin Mary.” He therefore held that Mary was ever-virgin.

[10] Walsh, op.cit., 2011, p.51.63.79.87

Ratzinger on the sacrifice of Christ and the Eucharist

[In Christ’s preaching] all paths leads into the mystery of him who proves the truth of his love and his message in suffering. The words he spoke at the Last Supper … represent the final shaping of this. They offer nothing entirely unexpected, but rather what has already been shaped and adumbrated in all these paths, and yet they reveal anew what was signified throughout: the institution of the Eucharist is an anticipation of his death; it is the undergoing of a spiritual death. For Jesus shares himself out, he shares himself as the one who has been split up and torn apart into body and blood. Thus, the eucharistic words of Jesus are the answer to Bultmann’s question about how Jesus underwent his death; in these words he undergoes a spiritual death, or, to put it more accurately, in these words Jesus transforms death into the spiritual act of affirmation, into the act of self-sharing love; into the act of adoration, which is offered to God, then from God is made available to men. Both are essentially interdependent: the words at the Last Supper without the death would be, so to speak, an issue of unsecured currency; and again, the death without these words would be a mere execution without any discernable point to it. Yet the two together constitute this new event, in which the senselessness of death is given meaning; in which what is irrational is transformed and made rational and articulate; in which the destruction of love, which is what death means in itself, becomes in fact the means of verifying and establishing it, of its enduring constancy. If, then, we want to know how Jesus himself intended his death to be understood, how he accepted it, what it means, then we must reflect on these words; and, contrariwise, we must regard them as being constantly guaranteed by the pledge of the blood that was his witness.[*]

[*] Joseph Ratzinger, God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press 2003), pp.29-30.

A Roman Option for Lutherans?

The cover of Oddie’s book

Update: There is now a Norwegian version of this post.

Today I got my copy of William Oddie’s book The Roman Option.[1] Written in 1997, in the aftermath of the 1992 decision of the Church of England to ordain women to the priesthood, it explores the possibility of a ‘Roman option’ for ‘disaffected’ Anglicans. Some have compared Oddie’s proposals to the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to allow (Catholic-minded) Anglicans to convert corporately to the Catholic Church, while retaining certain elements of their Anglican patrimony,[2] and I know some Anglicans personally who have rejected the proposal of the Pope, favouring rather an (conservative) Old Catholic solution,[3] and who refer to the proposal of the Pope as ‘the Roman Option.’ I have not yet (started to) read the book, but plan to do it in the not so distant future, but I believe some remarks are in order.

I have long wondered if it isn’t perhaps time for a ‘Roman option’ for Lutherans. Much of what was considered abuses in the Augsburg Confession (a word which assumes that there is a legitimate use of said things) is long gone, and I must admit that although the Book of Concord is an interesting piece of history, I couldn’t care less about much of what it says, should I disagree with it. Belonging to the Church of Norway, I am only bound to Scripture, to the three ancient (western) symbols (the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed), to the Augsburg Confession and to Luther’s Small Catechism.[4] And there is also a ‘hierarchy of truth’ here. Scripture is the norm which norms and which is not itself normed (norma normans non normata); the rest are norms which are normed and which do not themselves norm (norma normata).[5] A further important point to be made is that in article 21 of the Augusburg Confession, in the conclusion of its doctrinal part, it is said that «there is nothing [in the preceding doctrinal part] that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known from its writers.» (Emphasis added) If Lutherans are to be seen as a part of ‘the Church Catholic,’ if the ‘catholic principle’ is to be taken seriously, and not merely as a rhetorical device void of meaning, we need to take a look at what the Church has taught throughout history. And we also need to ask four important questions. The fourth question, which is the mirror image of the third, is the most important, adressing the concerns of the Reformation, its relation to our present situation and Christ’s prayer of unity in John 17:

  1. Is there room for a Catholic ecclesiology in the Church of Norway, or in any given Lutheran church?
  2. Is there such a thing as a ‘non-papal Catholicism’?
  3. Do we have to be in communion with Rome?
  4. Are there any compelling reasons not to be in communion with Rome in our present situation?

I am not going to answer these here, but they might be a good starting point for a discussion.

With these thought in mind, I recommend reading this post (and the subsequent discussion) concerning comments from the President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Kurt Cardinal Koch, on the possibility of a Lutheran ordinariate.

Notes:

[1] William Oddie, The Roman Option: Crisis and the realignment of English-speaking Christianity (London: HarperCollins 1997).

[2] See here, here and here. For an introduction to Pope Benedict’s proposal, see Wikipedia. Also read the ‘founding documents,’ Anglicanorum Coetibus and its complementary norms. Here, here and here are links to the three main Catholic-anglican personal ordinariates in England/Wales, USA and Australia, respectively.

[3] One person I know has seeked union with the PNCC and the Nordic-Catholic Church.

[4] See Arve Brunvoll, Vedkjenningsskriftene åt Den norske kyrkja (Ny omsetjing med innleiingar og notar. Oslo: Lunde 1979). I am probably only self-imposedly bound by this as a layman, but should I be ordained in the Church of Norway, I will be bound to it canonically, through my vows at the ordination. For some considerations of the Catholicity of the Augsburg Confession, see Wolfhart Pannenberg, «The Confessio Augustana as a Catholic Confession and a Basis for the Unity of the Church» (in The Role of the Augsburg Confession: Catholic and Lutheran Views, ed., Joseph A. Burgess. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press 1980), pp.27-45; Joseph Ratzinger, «Elucidations of the Question of a “Recognition” of the Confessio Augustana by the Catholic Church» (in Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press 1987), pp.27-45; and Avery Dulles, S.J., «The Catholicity of the Augsburg Confession» (The Journal of Religion 63:4, 1983), pp.337-354.

[5] Let me Google that for you.