Saturday, March 25, 2006

Eucharist and Sacrifice in Trent: Much to Commend

One of the immediate critiques from a Roman Catholic on what I am about to say would be that, once again, any nodding to this or that in the Catholic Church by an Anglican or any other outside the Church of Rome (besides the East) is simply another act of 'private judgment'. But, for the sake of this post, bear with the academic dialogue that I am having with a historical figure like Lancelot Andrewes when I write.

First of all, it is undoubtedly clear that the Christian worship is our sacrifice. It comes in many ways within the liturgy of the worshipping church but finds itself at its pinnacle in the service at the offering of Christ in the Eucharistic celebration and receiving the grace of the Body and Blood of Christ. The fruits of this offering are numerous and one of the main fruits of the Eucharistic celebration is the forgiveness of sins (Mt. 26.28). This post does not have the time to get into all the discussion of the role of the priest as public minister that was discussed at Trent and was probably the central issue surrounding the discussion of the nature of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Yet one thing that all Christians ought to be able to do is to grow up from their 'misconceptions' of the Eucharistic offering in the Catholic Church and to be honest about what the Catholic Church is saying rather than what often amounts to nothing more than reductio ad absurdum or reductio ad impossibile.Prots have been grossly afflicted by both of these in their reactions to the sacrifice in the Eucharist. It's past time for us to be honest with this fact and to admit that most of the Reformers were guilty of the same.

I've recently finished David Powers book The Sacrifice We Offer: The Tridentine Dogma and Its Reinterpretation and found it to be an excellent work on the conclusions and the broad views found within the gathering of Trent. I am posting a quotation from the book for dicussion for any who would like to have an intelligent discussion that isn't based on a reductio ad absurdum but would rather engage the theology of sacrifice within Eucharistic theology that is rooted in the Passion of Christ and hence inescapable from theological reflection.

The quotation from Powers that really struck me is as follow:
(5) That this communion between all the living, and between the living and the dead, is a communion in faith and hope in Jesus Christ was made clear by the Council in the measures that it took to assure that there would be no room for the charge of the reformers that catholic practice allowed for a remission of sins [without devotion and faith on the part of the beneficiaries] of the offering of the mass. The move away from theories about the mass's ex opere operato efficacy, and from minute calculations about the value of the mass, to more general statements is itself significant, for though these statements remained vague they at least prevented any reductionism of mass offerings to penitential commutations. In this respect, one may say that the Council's teaching was never, up to the present, fully received by the catholic church, since much of its practice continued to be guided by an understanding of mass offerings more in tune with medieval eccentricities than with the theological caution of the Council. 158 159

(6) In choosing the definition of the mass as a sacrifice of propitiation, Trent at one and the same time illustrates the need for propitiatory language and the difficulties of dealing with it. That it itself did not come to a satisfactory resolution of the issue Is as important to its reception as are its actual statements. By the end of its tenure the Council had become so circumspect on this score that it did not support the propitiatory character of the mass with the same sense of excluding other aspects that one might feel present in the earlier moments of conciliar discussion. Its interests remained thoroughly practical and in effect it found no adequate language with which to deal with the range of theoretical issues involved. It wanted above all to give its support to a given sacerdotal and institutional practice of offering mass, and to say that in as much as this represented the passion of Christ and was a public act of the church, it 'somehow' was pertinent to the forgiveness of sins. This involved no particular understanding of how the death of Christ itself mediated the forgiveness of sins, or of how this continued to be done through its sacramental memorial. In fact, propitiatory turns out to be one of those words that is more attached to a given practice than to a doctrinal understanding of what is involved in the practice, as well as to a particularly historically bound institutional way of mediating Christ's grace to the church. The particular meaning of the priestly act could be retained only in a church that could find given sacerdotal structures its most appropriate faith expression, and that was party to a cultural perspective that made this vision of church possible. Reconsidering the propitiatory character of the eucharistic memorial, therefore, involves a double task. The one is a quest for church structure and a practice of ordination that is appropriate to an awareness that the community of faith is the ecclesial subject of celebration, so that the act of the ordained minister is understood in this context, rather than in the terms conjured up by the expression public minister. The second is to look for the ways in which forgiveness of sin and reconciliation ire mediated through the celebration of the eucharist, and how this pertains not only to the communion of those who are present, but also to those not present, both living and dead. Naturally, this would mean putting the question of eucharistic reconciliation and mediation within the broader context of the church's total activity in bringing about reconciliation and in witnessing to the peace of God. Something of the interest in the humanum that is found in Trent's desire to find in the mass a perfect realization of natural religion would also need to be retrieved in this context, since it could be asked how the commemoration of Christ's death speaks to the role that the church has in bringing God's peace and forgiveness to all humanity, and how this corresponds to a fundamental human desire for a transcendence that heals and reconciles. 159 l60


Blogger Mike L said...


I've been lurking here for some time now, and I appreciate your listing of my blog in your roll.

Given the present entry and many previous ones, I have a question that might, for all I know, embarass you but which I can no longer stifle: why don't you pope?


10:19 pm  
Blogger Jeff said...


Thanks for coming by! Now, I saw that you mentioned on Al's site that you were going to come over here and be nice to me; is this question what you meant? :-)

10:26 pm  
Blogger Mike Terrell said...

Thank you. I have linked to your post.

6:21 pm  

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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.
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