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Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Benefits of the Eucharistic Offering

In the past, I have read theologians within the Protestant Tradition who have actually argued for the "benefits" of the Eucharist and its celebration to be instrumental in changing the world. This is true, they say, even though the world does not necessarily recognise that it is happening. It is something mystical. It is bringing in God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Fair enough! In 1521, there was a call in Wittenburg to abolish any sort of votive Mass for the reason that the Mass only benefitted those who particularly received it. In some sense (secundum quid) that is true. But in another sense, it is true that benefits are received by the Church's celebration of the Eucharist offered for the life of the world. The question is, "in what sense?" I find it interesting that within the language and theology of Lancelot Andrewes in dialogue with Cardinal du Perron, which was much less acerbic than his conversation was with Cardinal Bellarmine, embraces the secundum quid of Eucharistic benefits received by those not necessarily receiving the elements.

According to the Roman teaching of the Mass, the Eucharist serves two purposes: that of a sacrifice and a sacrament. Andrewes did not have a theological problem with the sacrifice of the Mass but actually embraced it with strong Catholic leanings, save the doctrine of transubstantiation. He agrees that the Eucharist has a two-fold purpose: that of sacrifice and sacrament. He says that it is a fulfilment of the Old Testament sacrifices and that it was available for the whole Church both living and the dead.
The Eucharist ever was, and by us is considered, both as a Sacrament, and as a Sacrifice. A Sacrifice is proper and applicable only to divine worship. The Sacrifice of Christ’s death did succeed to the Sacrifices of the Old Testament. The Sacrifice of Christ’s death is available for present, absent, living, dead, (yea, for them that are yet unborn.) When we say the dead, we mean it is available for the Apostles, Martyrs, and Confessors, and all (because we are all members of one body:) these no man will deny. In a word we hold with Saint Augustine in the very same chapter which the Cardinal citeth, as far as this Sacrifice of the flesh and blood, before Christ’s coming, by means of the likeness of the repayment that was promised; according to the suffering of Christ, by means of the true sacrifice of himself being handed over; after Christ’s coming [ascension], by means of the memorial celebrated in the Sacrament.
quod Hujus Sacrificii Caro et Sanguis, ante adventum Christi, per victimas similitudinum promittebatur; in passione Christi, per ipsamm veritatem reddebatur; post adventum [leg. Ascensum] Christi, per Sacramentum memoriæ celebratur. (S. Aug. contra Faustum. lib. xx. cap 21. Op. tom. viii. col. 546 B.C.)

The Church was in dire need to reform the exaggerations that were being practiced, but how do we talk about the benefits of the Eucharistic offering from the Church's celebration even for those who did not receive the Body and Blood via the instrumental means of bread and wine? I would welcome any thoughts as I am in the midst of ecumenical explorations.

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    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
    --Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

Societas Sanctae Crucis

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