"But the centrality of Sacrifice, in the last resort, is more important than the worship or reception of the Sacramental Christ. I hesitate to blunder carelessly and over-simplistically around in so great a mystery; it is certainly true that both ....and is more important than either ... or. But, to be simple and crude, the Eucharist is firstly a sacrifice; only when we have said this do we go on to say that it is (we can't get away from the terminology of our Jewish roots here) a communion sacrifice. "
About that, I said, "How exactly did Fr. Hunwicke come up with this list of priorites? Is there a scriptural and theological justification for teaching such a list of priorities in this matter?" The question was hypothetical.
Here, as on other topics, we run into a problem with the kind of Anglo-Papalism that even the Papists no longer practice. In 1955 Pope Pius XII radically altered the Rite on Good Friday called "The Mass of the Pre-Sanctified," in which priests alone ate the Reserve Sacrament consecrated the night before. Since 1955, the Roman Catholic Church has practiced giving Reserve Sacrament to all communicants who are present, bringing them back into conformity with the Eastern Orthodox and others who allow the sacrament to be received, but not celebrated, on that day. Under Pope John XXIII, non-communicating Masses were abolished. Nonetheless, ever eager to be fossils of Medieval abuses, certain Anglicans march to the beat of a different drummer, claiming, by so doing, to be followers of Universal consensus; universal, just not with East or West.
Clearly, the Eucharist is a sacrifice, in fact, the sacrifice, in which God responds to the worship of His Church, and Christ gives Himself to us mysteriously through creatures of bread and wine as his Body and Blood, the food and drink of eternal life (John 6). It is in Christ's giving of Himself that our offering of these elements, along with "our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving," and of "our souls and bodies to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice," can be called the sacrifice of the Church. Somehow, we are taken to the cross where Christ, "who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world," acted once as both priest and victim, and so gives Himself in the Eucharistic feast. It is the sacrifice of the Church because it was once offered by the Great High Priest and Lamb of God in His Body on the tree. And, the Christ who gives Himself to us as "we show forth the Lord's death" is the Risen Christ, the priest who "ever lives to make intercession for us."
Therefore, the ordained man who stands at the altar stands there in the Person of Christ Himself, speaking His words, doing His acts, and does so as part of the Church. But, the sacrifice is not his sacrifice; the priest offers the sacrifice of the Church, not his own, but the people's. It is also not merely his sacrifice, because Christ, in responding to the faith of His Church, gives Himself as the food and drink of eternal life. This is the emphasis of both John chapter 6 and of the descriptions of the Institution of this sacrament in the Synoptic Gospels and in I Corinthians chapter 11. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the meaning of these passages of Scripture all join as Christ and His Church together make it a true sacrifice and sacrament by the Holy Spirit and the command of the Father. This is why I like the words found in the Missal that say, "pray brethren that this my sacrifice and yours..." The words, "and yours" make the line quite acceptable by any true standard.
To say, as Fr. Hunwicke has said, that the Eucharist is first a sacrifice, and that this sacrifice "is more important than the worship or reception of the Sacramental Christ," makes no sense whatsoever. Without the Intention to offer the sacrament to the members of the Church who are present and willing to receive, and without the worship of the Church, no sacrifice has been offered. The motions have been carried out by a priest acting alone, not by the Church. And, if the Intention to let the people receive the sacramental Christ is not there, the whole exercise is invalid. It does not matter if the priest's orders are valid, in this instance; his actions are not a sacrament, but are "absolutely null and utterly void." Possibly they are a sacrilege.
In all fairness, Fr. Hunwicke was more concerned with silent celebrations than with non-communicating Masses, but in his reasoning he extends the silent celebration to its logical extreme:
"Look at it diachronically: most Christians in most Chrisian centuries have attended Mass without communicating. S Pius X's great campaign for Frequent Communion does not need to be denigrated but it is not simpliciter the whole Christian tradition."
Sadly, the logic for silent celebration leads him to the conclusion that the people do not need frequent communion (restored first by Archbishop Cranmer, Pope Pius X catching on much later). After all, silent celebration, or as our Articles call it, "dumb massings," is simply another way of making the priest into a celebrant who acts alone, who cannot say in any meaningful way that enjoins real participation from the people, "my sacrifice and yours." They need not join in with worship, they need not receive the Food and Drink of eternal life. "Drink ye all..." (that is, "drink this all of you...") was something Jesus did not really mean, apparently.
Even Rome has cleansed itself of their "Romish" doctrine in this matter, and did so about half a century ago. Why are some Anglo-Papalists intent on living in the fifteenth century? It is one thing to try to be more catholic than the Pope (whoever the Pope may be at any given time), but must Anglicans try to be be more Roman than the Bishop of Rome?
Once again we must thank St. John Chrysostom for having invented the idea of a via media in doctrine, even though he did not call it by that name. In his Six Little Books on the Priesthood, he warned the eager postulants that if, in preaching, they attacked a doctrinal error, to be careful not to appear to endorse the opposite error. Recently, in a critique of Pope Pius XII for transforming the "Mass of the Pre-Sanctified" in its intention, by allowing the people to communicate, the modern problem of removing the idea of sacrifice altogether was targeted, and wrongly so by implying that it was relevant in the given context.
It is quite a valid criticism of modern Roman Catholic clergy, as well as of Episcopal and other Communion (i.e. Canterbury) Anglicans, that they have plumbed the depths of banality as well as error, by turning the whole emphasis of the Eucharist into a warm and fuzzy community meal, a sort of Sunday morning party before brunch. Contemporary Episcopalians have what they call "open communion," in which everybody present, baptized or not, penitent or willfully notorious, Christian, Hindu, Atheist or even Islamic terrorist, is invited to take what they call communion. It has become "eat, drink and be merry," not "take, eat, this is My Body." It has become, "for tomorrow we must die," instead of "whosoever eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life."
Yes, the idea of turning Holy Communion into a nice community meal is an abomination, a sacrilege, and a blasphemy. And, in case you have not noticed, I am against it. Removing an imbalanced approach to the idea of sacrifice, however, does not lead to this, the opposite extreme, at least not if we observe the warning of John Chrysostom. If we think we must come down on one side or the other, in this or any other matter of error and opposite error, inevitably, we must choose error. Again, turn not to the right hand or to the left; stay on the via media of doctrine. Turning either to the right hand or the left is a false choice. We need make no choice in changing direction; for we must not change direction at all.
The Eucharist is the sacrifice of the Church as the people worship in true faith, and as Christ responds by giving us the grace of the sacrament. Practices that do not conform to this, even if they are very old by our standards, are not valid, even if the priest has valid orders. Either we Intend to "do this" or we intend something much lower.