Saturday, November 04, 2006

Mascall, Thomas and Eucharistic Sacrifice

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It has been a very busy week and after the meeting with my supervisor yesterday, I have some more work to do to clean up my chapter on eucharistic sacrifice. I need to clean up the style a bit, and to expand on a couple of important points that I raised within the chapter as well as to sprinkle more quotations from the patristic Fathers earlier in the chapter itself. So, this morning I have had my face in Augustine and will be looking at a few more to add some more weight to the chapter. I have a lot to do this weekend as my godmother, Dr. Marianne Dorman will be coming to stay with me this next week. I am sure our time together looking at Andrewes will be fruitful!

This morning I revisited Mascall's Corpus Christi and after reading Aquinas this week, I thought I would post his comments on him in terms of Eucharistic sacrifice.
It has, in contrast, come to be more and more fully realised in recent times, that a balanced discussion of the Eucharist must start from the Sacrifice and must see the Presence in relation to this; such works as those of de la Taille, Dix and Masure provide outstanding examples of this approach. That is to say, we must not look upon the Mass as primarily a means of manufacturing the Body and Blood of Christ, which are then to be used for the three more or less parallel purposes of adoration, sacrifice and communion. Rather we must look upon the Mass as primarily the Christian Sacrifice, which, just because it is a sacrifice, requires the presence of the victim, who being present is rightly adored and who by being received in communion imparts to the faithful the benefits of redemption and unites them with himself in the Mystical Body which is the Church. 124 125

But what we are concerned with is a question of emphasis, and I think it must be admitted that St. Thomas places his emphasis upon the Presence rather than upon the Sacrifice, and that in consequence, while his discussion of the Presence is elaborated to the last degree, his discussion of the Sacrifice is brief and almost perfunctory. 125

The notion of sacrifice in general is treated by St. Thomas not in the Pars Tertia when dealing with the Eucharist, but in the Secunda Secundae under the virtue of justice. Sacrifice is included in the practice of religion, and religion is a duty arising out of the cardinal virtue of justice: justice, that is, towards God, giving God his due. And, as Masure has stressed in his book, The Christian Sacrifice, St. Thomas's definition is extremely general and does not include as a necessary element the death or the destruction of the object offered. 'There are sacrifices properly so called,' he writes, 'when something happens in connection with things offered to God, as when animals were slain or when bread is broken and eaten and blessed. And the very name shows this, for "sacrifice" is derived from a man making something holy.' 125 126

When, however, he goes on to discuss in what sense the Eucharist is a sacrifice and what is its relation to the Passion, his language becomes somewhat vague. The Eucharist is ' commemorative of the Lord's Passion'; it is 'something representative of the Lord's Passion'; it is 'a reminder (rememorativum) of the Passion which is past'; it is 'a memorial of the Lord's Passion'; and so on. St. Thomas is, of course, quite clear that the Eucharist is a sacrifice; he says explicitly that it 'is not only a sacrament, but also a sacrifice'. 126 127

But how is it a sacrifice? 'It is called a sacrifice inasmuch as it represents the very Passion of Christ.' What are we to understand by these ambiguous words, commemorative, reminder, memorial, representative? Not, it is frequently said, what Protestants would understand by them: these words do not imply a bare imitation or dramatic performance which merely imitates a past event. Does not the Angelic Doctor quote with approval Augustine's words that Christ is immolated every day in the sacrament? Yes, indeed. But does he not also add, again quoting Augustine, that this is because 'the images of things are called by the names of the things of which they are images, as when we look upon a picture or fresco and say "That is Cicero"? And does he not also say that, 'when Christ was going to leave his disciples in his proper species, he left himself with them in the sacramental species, as the Emperor's image is set up to be venerated in his absence'? I am not, of course, suggesting that St. Thomas did not believe in the Real Presence; 'this sacrament, . . .' he writes, 'is called a victim inasmuch as it contains Christ, who is the victim of sweetness'; and he devotes two questions to discussing transubstantiation. But, clear as he is that in the Mass the divine victim is really present, is he equally clear that the sacrifice of Christ is really present. 127 128

What I am in fact suggesting is that St. Thomas was rightly anxious to avoid any suggestion that there is in the Mass a literal slaying of Christ, a literal repetition of Calvary, and that in consequence he took refuge in the rather vague notion of the Mass as a commemoration, representation or memorial of the Passion. I do not suggest that for him these words had a merely psychological significance, as they have had for the majority of Protestants. St. Thomas was quite clear that Christ is really present in the Mass and that by the Mass the fruits of the Passion are communicated to the Church and to the faithful. But what in his anxiety to avoid a crude immolationism, he did not, so far as I can see, manage to achieve was an equally clear realisation that the Mass is really and not merely figuratively a sacrifice. To say this is not to blame him for anything that he could very well have avoided; it is merely to say that he could not do in the thirteenth century what de la Taille, Vonier and Masure in conjunction managed, at least in principle, to do in the twentieth. What I suggest was the fundamental cause of this deficiency was an inadequate understanding of the nature of a sacrament. 128 129

'There is in a sacrament', says St. Thomas, 'a certain instrumental power for producing the sacramental effect', but I do not find him giving anything like an adequate discussion of the way in which sacramental causality acts. I hasten to add that I am not concerned with that burning question of the schools, whether sacramental causality is physical or moral. Whatever the answer may be to that question, the fundamental question remains: how does sacramental causality differ from non-sacramental causality? If sacramental causality is physical, how does it differ from other physical causality? If it is moral, how does it differ from other moral causality? What precisely is involved in the fact that it is sacramental, that it operates in the manner of a sacrament, that is, in the manner of a sign? How does a sacramental sign differ from any other divine instrument?


Blogger Jeff said...


I noted your p.s. in the below post and i don't have my copy here at the house with me as it is in college. Do you have a copy at hand? I replaced it with commemoration as a hopeful guess!

4:25 pm  
Anonymous William Tighe said...


I looked up Mascall's *Corpus Christi* in our college library this afternoon, but all that we have is the second (1965) edition -- we had the first and I got them to buy the second a year ago, and it looks like they have removed or discarded the earlier one -- and there is nothing like the passage you cited on pp. 124-125 of that edition. I didn't think to look through the chapter on Aquinas in that edition to try to find the passage.

10:05 pm  
Blogger Kevin D. Johnson said...


Please let Dr. Dorman know that I have very much enjoyed her book on the preaching of Andrewes. As they say in the commercial, "Priceless!"

Grace to you and peace,
>>>Kevin D. Johnson

8:18 am  
Blogger Brian Douglas said...


In my 1953 copy of Corpus Christi it reads 'adoration' where you have 'commemoration'. The reference is page 125 but I suppose you have discovered this yourself by now.

9:03 am  
Blogger Jeff said...

Thanks Brian; I've got it sorted now! Cheers!

1:39 pm  

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