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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

'Sacrifice Unveiled or Sacrifice Revisited'

Here are some of my thoughts and notes from an article I read this morning by Robert Daly, S.J.

‘Sacrifice Unveiled or Sacrifice Revisited: Trinitarian and Liturgical Perspectives’ Robert J. Daly, S.J. Theological Studies (64) 2003 24-42

Since the Christ event has done away with Sacrifice, says Daly, this article seeks to understand sacrifice from a Trinitarian and liturgical perspective which focuses primarily on the self-offering of the Father in the gift of his Son and the Son’s self-offering in his humanity, and the Spirit’s offering in unity with us as we are taken up into that relationship. One thing that is noted within this article as well as flowing from the Trinitarian framework of this theological issue is that the definition of sacrifice is no longer universally agreed to as the destruction of a victim that necessarily defines the element of sacrifice. What happened in the C16 Eucharistic controversy, according to Daly, is that we have started from the wrong end when discussing sacrifice or possibly have even been asking the wrong question. One of the difficulties of looking for a definition of sacrifice is that even in such important councils such as Trent; they refrained from giving a careful definition of sacrifice. Daly writes,
See canon 1 (DS 1751) of the 22nd session of the Council of Trent, promulgated in 1562. With ‘sacrifice’ (offerre), as Kilmartin pointed out (ibid. 198), Trent referred both to the transcendent Christ-event, the self offering of Christ, and ‘the liturgical-ritual sacrificial act of the eucharistic celebration’ which it tended to see in history-of-religions types of categories. This confusion, as already noted, was resolved for the worse in the post-Tridentine Protestant and Catholic polemics.
Where did it go wrong in the post-Trentian polemics? It was, according to Daly, with both sides starting from the wrong end and with the wrong question. Daly writes,
Instead of trying to learn from the Christ event what it was that Christians were trying to express when, at first quite hesitantly in earliest Christianity, they began to speak of the Christ event in its special presence in the celebration of the Eucharist as sacrificial, they instead looked to the practice of sacrifice in the different religions of the world, drew up a general definition of sacrifice, and then looked to see how it was present, or not present in the Catholic Sacrifice of the Mass. The definition, which unfortunately they both took for granted as the one to be applied, ran something like this: [emphasis mine] Sacrifice is a gift presented to God in a ceremony in which the gift is destroyed or consumed. It symbolizes the internal offering of commitment and surrender to God. The purpose is primarily for the offerers to acknowledge the dominion of God, but also to bring about the reconciliation of themselves (and possibly others) with God, to render thanks for blessings received, and to petition for further blessings for oneself and others.

Daly sees this definition of sacrifice, what he terms ‘the religions of the rest of the world’ to be reasonable enough for them but for Christianity, he sees the definition as disastrous.

Is it possible to call the Eucharist a sacrifice? That is the question Daly answers throughout the rest of the article. Following Kilmartin’s work in his book The Eucharist of the West, Daly answers three questions via the theological framework and hermeneutic of the Trinity and the worship of the Church using the concept lex orandi lex credendi. The liturgical celebration has an impact on the whole Christian life. This is not a new thought as this concept runs throughout the theology of Andrewes who was known for his sacrificial way of life that was a result of his sacrificial worship. Daly looks at the dialogue of the Eucharistic prayer of the assembly and answers these three questions: Who is doing what? Who is saying what? What is taking place?

Taking the first question, Daly points out that the speaker (in the Prayers of the Roman Catholic Church’s liturgy) never speaks in his own voice alone, save for some private prayers that have crept in. The speaker speaks in the first person plural as one of the assembly. Now, what does this have to say about the Medieval notion of “priestly power” that is so central in the Church during that time? Daly brings up the case where the renegade priest ran through the baker’s shop and consecrated all his bread which left the baker in a moral dilemma. This issue was an issue of justice as well as sacrilege.

Secondly, the prayer is addressed to God. But, according to Daly, the Eucharistic transformation does not come about by the power of the priest but rather the epicletic or what he terms petitionary cast. These words in Daly’s view are not performative. Again the question remains where the epiclesis is to be placed. Presently it is different in the East and the West—the East after the words of institution and in the Roman Rite before the words of institution. In the present Roman rite from Pope Paul VI we find a more explicit epiclesis that has a long tradition in the patristic era and is still used in the Eastern rites today. So, according to Daly, it’s not the presider who consecrates but the Holy Spirit through the presider of the entire assembly.

Thirdly, concerning the question of what is taking place, Daly answers this on three levels: 1) the here-and-now level of human ritual action; 2) the transcendent level of divine action; 3) the eschatological level that combines the two levels in the already/not yet of the eucharistically celebrated Christ event. So, to look at the first level we find Daly saying that the entire assembly, acting under the “presidency” of one chosen by the Church (ordained) to lead in the prayer. What this is addressing is the Church’s axiom in persona Christi that Daly says has neglected the full axiom that goes on to include the words capitis ecclesiae. ‘In the person of Christ the head of the Church.’ So, this points to the important ecclesial dimension of the Eucharistic celebration. Therefore Daly writes that ‘the role of the priest is not that of a mediator between Christ and the Church, the role of the priest is embedded in the Christ/Church relationship that brings about the Eucharist.’

Now looking at the second item concerning the transcendent level of divine action. The Church receives sacramentally what by virtue of their baptisms they already are, the Body of Christ. Why does this happen? Daly writes,
This happens for us, that we may become more fully and more truly the Body of Christ. Eucharistic real presence exists not for its own sake—it is not happening just so that the body of Christ can be found on this or that altar—but for the purpose of the eschatological transformation of the participants. Take that away the Eucharist becomes (even blasphemy) meaningless.
This level brings us to the issue of the relationship of the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass. There is a real presence of this sacrifice but the question is how. According to Daly there are two approaches to this: 1) is to see the sacrifice of Christ as made present to the faithful. 2) to see the faithful as made present to the sacrifice of Christ. The first approach is the traditional approach that most present theologians hold to. But for Daly, the second approach is much more reasonable since he does not find in the first approach an agreed upon solution to the philosophical question of how a historical event is made present nor does he see it as something required by scripture, and he further says, that it is not found in classic Scholastic teaching or Aquinas himself. I do not think a choice between the two necessarily needs to be made about the ‘reasonablness’ of either position. I find the first position supported by the Passover-event and a making present that historical reality and the second position is represented liturgically as we come to the altar to receive the Body and Blood. So, I would not think the Church needs to decide between the two but rather both take place in the liturgical celebration of the Church. The transformation takes effect in the participating faithful because of what it is that we partake of and in. Yet the one very positive aspect about the second position is the reiteration that we are the ones changed, not God the Father or Christ. This ought to do away with the post-Tridentine emphasis of looking for some form of ‘destruction’ of the victim due to the very narrow way of defining sacrifice. Therefore, I appreciate Daly’s definition of the sacrifice as the person-constituting event par excellence—interpersonal event.

Thirdly, is the level attending to the eschatological level of this eucharistically celebrated Christ event. Now, Daly raises a very important question here: is there a transformation of the elements if there is not a transformation of the participants? In postmodern terms, where there is no real change there is no reality. Daly asks the question this way, ‘If Christian sacrifice means the conjoined self-offerings of the Father, the Son, and human beings, can the sacrifice of Christ be present if there is no self-offering ‘response’ from the human side?’ Here is where his third level comes into the equation. Particularly is the reality that the transformation of the human being can never be complete in this life and therefore the issue of the already/not yet and the eschatological aspect of the celebration comes into view. This process of the human involvement is only completed on the Last Day.

In conclusion, Daly expresses the serious pastoral problem of sacrifice only being couched with negative connotations of suffering. Yet, he is correct that this does not get at the heart of what sacrifice is all about as understood within the Trinitarian framework of God’s self-giving love that Christians should experience and do experience with one another. Sacrifice often does involve a giving up of something or someone very dear but the negative aspect is not the heart of sacrifice. The heart of sacrifice is the self-giving love that is often veiled by the negative connotations often expressed by sacrifice. Daly’s point is for us to recognise the problem that using the word sacrifice to talk about the Sacrifice of the Mass causes many (which is mainly due to a narrow definition and the misunderstood concept of what sacrifice is all about) to have a wrong understanding of sacrifice—a definition that does not define sacrifice within the Trinitarian economy of God, i.e. the self-giving love of God. I agree that the Church can speak of the Eucharistic celebration as the Sacrifice of Christians, though it should be understood within the framework of the self-giving love of God seen within the Godhead itself as Daly's article so wonderfully reiterates. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is not what we do to something or someone, but rather is the process of our being transformed by what has been done on account of the self-giving love of God made present to us and our being made present to the Sacrifice of the Cross.

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