Monday, September 08, 2008

Eating and drinking salvation

In recent comments we have had questions about "non-communicating Masses." Whereas St. Paul gave us a clear warning not to receive the Holy Communion unless we approach this great mystery in a worthy manner, with both repentance and faith, he also recorded the words of the Lord, "Eat...Drink." As Article XXV puts it: "The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same, have they a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily, purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith."
Some people who read that Article think that it is addressing Corpus Christi processions, and the service of Benediction. It did not seem so to an earlier generation of Episcopalians who authorized the Hymn "Now my tongue the mystery telling," or Pange Lingua by St. Thomas Aquinas (199, Hymnal 1940). Both Roman Catholic and "Calvinist" polemicists deride Anglo-Catholics and other high Church Anglicans for holding services of Benediction, insisting that such a practice somehow violates the Article. Indeed, to an English Reformer from the time of Queen Elizabeth, such a sight would be most disagreeable. Nonetheless, it is likely that the American Anglicans who created the Hymnal 1940 understood Article XXV far better than the polemical critics do.
The history of the Reformation period reveals that what needed correction was the practice of merely "hearing Mass" on the part of the people, most of whom were present with no intention to receive the sacrament. As we have noted quite a few times here, the whole reason for calling the Mass by a new name, Holy Communion, was to make the point that the people were supposed do two things. First, they were to receive the sacrament, and second, they were to examine themselves (as St. Paul exhorts), and with "hearty repentance and true faith" prepare themselves to receive in a worthy manner.
Article XXXV lists homilies that we ought to read for our instruction as Anglicans. Quoting from AN HOMILIE OF THE worthy receiuing and reuerend esteeming of the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ
And as of olde time GOD decreed his wonderous benefits of the deliuerance of his people, to be kept in memory by the eating of the Passeouer, with his Rites and Ceremonies (Exodus 12.14): So our louing Sauiour hath ordeyned and established the remembrance of his great mercy expressed in his passion, in the institution of his heauenly Supper (Matthew 26.26-28), where euery one of vs must be ghestes, and not gazers, eaters, and not lookers, feeding our selues, and not hiring other to feed for vs, that we may liue by our owne meat, and not to perish for hunger, whiles other deuour all (1 Corinthians 11.21). To this, his commandement forceth vs, saying, Do ye this, drinke yee all of this (Luke 22.17). To this, his promise entiseth, This is my body which is giuen for you (1 Corinthians 11.24-25), this is my blood which is shed for you (Matthew 26.28). So then of necessity we must be our selues partakers of this table, and not beholders of other: So wee must addresse our selues to frequent the same in reuerent and comely maner, lest as Physicke prouided for the body, being misused, more hurteth then profiteth: so this comfortable medicine of the soule vndecently receiued, tendeth to our greater harme and sorrow.
This homily was revolutionary. The practice of frequent communion was restored in the West by the English Reformers, indeed, by the teaching of Archbishop Cranmer himself. Those words, "So wee must addresse our selues to frequent the same in reuerent and comely maner," were bold. The theology of this is simple. If we should "frequent the same" at all, we need to be in a state of belief and repentence as the normal practice of our daily lives. Since it must be in "comely maner," we must be ready always to receive the Lord. What better way to live as men who are prepared to die, or to meet the Lord at any moment? If we must live in such a way as to be able to receive frequently in a manner that makes the reception worthy, we must be quick to confess and repent from the heart, and be living in charity with our neighbors. Frequent Communion, done in light of Paul's warnings, requires a saintly life, a holy walk with the Lord.
This is very much a part of our salvation, and so again we quote the words of the Lord Jesus Christ:
Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever (John 6: 54-58).
By eating this bread and drinking this cup our sinful bodies are made clean by his body, and our souls are washed through his most precious blood of the New Covenant. Springing from his Incarnation, from the Word made flesh, is this sacrament by which we receive Christ, the Bread of Life, the food and drink of eternal life. The words: “…that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood…” offends the modern mind, which is why TEC cut these words out of the Prayer of Humble Access. They fail to understand that the body is unclean by reason of death, to which it is subject, and the soul is stained with both original sin and our own added culpability by thought, word and deed.
The Homily goes on:
Let vs rather in these matters follow the aduice of Cyprian in the like cases, that is, cleaue fast to the first beginning, hold fast the Lords tradition, doe that in the Lords commemoration which he himselfe did, he himselfe commanded, and his Apostles confirmed.

But thus much we must be sure to hold, that in the Supper of the Lord, there is no vaine Ceremonie, no bare signe, no vntrue figure of a thing absent (Matthew 26.26): But (as the Scripture saith) the Table of the Lord, the Bread and Cup of the Lord, the memorie of Christ, the Annuntiation of his death, yea the Communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord, in a marueilous incorporation, which by the operation of the holy Ghost (the very bond of our coniunction with Christ) is through faith wrought in the soules of the faithfull, whereby not onely their soules liue to eternall life, but they surely trust to win their bodies a resurrection to immortalitie (1 Corinthians 10.16-17). The true vnderstanding of this fruition and vnion, which is betwixt the body & the head betwixt the true beleeuers and Christ, the ancient Catholike Fathers, both perceiuing themselues, and commending to their people, were not afraid to call this Supper, some of them, the salue of immortalitie and soueraigne preseruatiue against death: other, a deificall Communion: other, the sweet dainties of our Sauiour, the pledge of eternall health, the defence of Faith, the hope of the Resurrection: other, the food of immortalitie, the healthfull grace, and the conseruatorie to euerlasting life (Irenaeus, Bk. 4, Chap. 34; Ignatius, Epis. ad Ephes.; Dionysius?; Origen, Optat. Cyp. de Cana Domini; Athanasius, De Pec. in Spir. Sanct.). All which sayings both of the holy Scripture and godly men, truely attributed to this celestiall banket and feast, if we would often call to minde, O how would they inflame our hearts to desire the participation of these mysteries, and oftentimes to couet after this bread, continually to thirste for this food?

The hope of the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day, receiving immortality by feeding on Christ, not only who died, but who rose again and everlives to make intercession for us, is the great benefit of eating and drinking salvation by this sacrament (not the memorial of the dead, but the reminder of the living).

This requires faith, since "without faith it is imposible to please Him." (Hebrews 11:6) It has proved easy for our critics to misread Anglican formularies, and come to very wrong opinions about our faith. When the English Reformers wrote "Of the wicked which do not eat the body of Christ, in the use of the Lord's Supper" (Artilce XXIX), they did not attack the reality of the sacrament, or deny that the Lord is truly present. Rather, they took a look at the great gulf fixed between those who presume upon God's grace by eating and drinking damnation to themselves (I Corinthians 11:29), and those who take the food and drink of eternal life. The distinction is made because of faith in the presence of Christ in the sacrament, not to deny that Reality; just as Paul's words of warning were based on that Reality (Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body.-I Cor. 11:27-29).

The Lord promised salvation to those who recieve him in the sacrament: ""Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." Yet, Paul warns the unbelieving and unrepentant that receiving the same sacrament brings God's judgment on them. We know that God's revelation in Holy Scripture cannot contradict itself. So, the homily says:

Whereas by the aduice of the Councell of Nicene, we ought to lift vp our mindes by fayth, and leauing these inferiour and earthly things, there seeke it, where the sunne of righteousnesse euer shineth (Council of Nicene, Concilium). Take then this lesson (O thou that art desirous of this Table) of Emissenus a godly Father, that when thou goest vp to the reuerend Communion, to be satisfied with spirituall meates, thou looke vp with fayth vpon the holy body and blood of thy GOD, thou maruayle with reuerence, thou touch it with the minde, thou receiue it with the hand of thy heart, and thou take it fully with thy inward man (Eusebius Emissenus, Serm. de Euchar.).


For the vnbeleeuers and faithlesse, cannot feed vpon that precious body: whereas the faythfull haue their life, their abiding in him, their vnion, and as it were their incorporation with him. Wherefore let vs prooue and trie our selues vnfaynedly, without flattering our selues, whether we bee plants of the fruitfull Oliue, liuing branches of the true vine, members indeed of Christs mysticall body, whether GOD hath purified our hearts by fayth, to the sincere acknowledging of his Gospel, and imbracing of his mercies in Christ Iesus, so that at this his table we receiue not only the outward Sacrament, but the spirituall thing also: not the figure, but the trueth: not the shadow only, but the body: not to death, but to life: not to destruction, but to saluation: which GOD grant vs to doe through the merits of our Lord and Sauiour, to whom bee all honour and glory for euer, Amen.

In this time we are assailed by opposing errors, and need to to stay on the Via Media, turning neither to the right hand or to the left. Those of the "Reasserter" camp treat the sacrament as less than "the holy body and blood of thy God." They reject the Anglican Catechism that declares this sacrament, along with baptism, to be "generally necessary to salvation." Meanwhile, at least one prominent Anglo-Papalist has written to suggest that we return to late medieval practice, with silent celebration (called in the Homilies, "dumb massing"), and non-commuinicating Masses.

The Anglican emphasis on Reception has been rejected in both of these extremes. Some have distorted that emphasis by inventing a doctrine, called "Receptionism" by some, in which the Body and Blood of Christ are real only by some invisible effect on the heart, rather than as objectively real by his word. But, that was not what the Anglican emphasis was ever about. It is about the purpose of the sacrament as designed by God's goodness and mercy. Worthy and frequent reception is practical, for it forces us to live a holy life and truly and earnestly to repent of our sins. The sacrament is charismatic, and the power of the sacrament springs from the Incarnation of the Word, is tied to his death and sacrifice, and quickened by his resurrection in order to be the food and drink of eternal life.

With our mouths and by faith, we eat and drink our Salvation, that is, Jesus.


Anonymous said...

Am I right in assuming 'and not hiring other to feed for vs' was for the purpose of addressing an actual mischief?

Fr. Robert Hart said...

It seems that something was being addressed. Enigmatic.

Rev. Dr. Hassert said...

Another excellent post. I think in the time of blessed Cranmer things like the extraliturgical devotions to the Sacrament needed to be curtailed (because the laity really thought that the "Catholic" manner of receiving the Eucharist was but once a year at Easter and in one kind only). However, given that such incorrect teaching has been put aside (except, as you note, by some Anglo-Romanists) the probability of abuses (people going to the Benediction but never going to receive) are usually remote.

However, we do need good orthodox teaching (such as your posts and arguments) to make sure the day of "dumb massing" doesn't return.


Canon Tallis said...

When persons paid for the saying or singing of a mass for their special intentions, but did not themselves intend to communicate while the priest had to do so because of the rubrics, were they not in fact not "hiring other to feed for us?"

When we do not "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest," some very werid things are going to happen among those of us who think ourselves Christians. I think that we were intended to do exactly as our Lord and his apostles ordered or suggested in all of Holy Scripture and not to make up excuses as to why we could or should not do so. And when we make of any historical period, jurisdiction or other a reason for not first the word of the Word, we are certain to be less the Christians and the saints which He intended.

And by the way, don't I remember something, some story, probably apocraphal, of our Lord driving from the temple those who bought and sold so that it might truly be "a house of prayer?"

poetreader said...

"hiring other to feed for us"

I've taken that very simply. What else have we done when a priest, to whom we pay a stipend, is the only communicant? Isn't he, in effect, feeding so we don't have to?


Anonymous said...

This may be an anachronistic idea, but "hiring other to feed for us" makes me think of the way Mormons baptize each other in their temples, supposedly receiving it in the stead of a deceased non-Mormon. I have also seen old ladies receiving unction on another person's behalf (which seems strange, if well intentioned). Could this be a reference to receiving the Sacrament by proxy?

Anonymous said...

When first learning about the function of the Priesthood I was told that Priests are not the people we pay to be Christian for us.This romanticizing of 14-1500's roman thought that some Anglicans have is annoying.


Anonymous said...

Hooker writes that the sacrament or mystery of Holy Communion is about partaking and participating in Christ. For any in doubt, whip out your 1928 BCP and read the Canon and the Prayer of Humble Access. Also, the Articles, while not forbidding Roman practices of Eucharistic Processions, etc., simply point out that such are not the PURPOSE of Christ's Institution.

(Each Church is free to prudentially makes rules regarding ceremonies with the pastoral care of its flock foremost in mind with such concerns as potential for superstition and erroneous catechism.)

The restoration of the ancient tradition of frequent communion and the elimination of non-communing Mass is a corrective of the English Reformation (like the vernacular Mass) that stands quite well with all but the most Medievalist RCs too!