Monday, February 1, 2010

Double Sacrifice?

More on the Mass.

Since Vatican II, in an attempt bring the Eastern Orthodox Churches to Rome, the Roman Catholic Church has adopted the Epiclesis into their liturgy.  What does this do the the theology of sacrifice?  Before we get to that, for those in our audience who are unaware, let's explain the distinction in Eastern and Western consecration theology.

The Eastern Church and the Western Church have historically disagreed with how the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus.  According to the East, the Holy Spirit does it when you pray for it to do so.  This happens when the Priest says the Eucharistic prayer or Epiclesis.  The Eucharistic prayer, combined with the total action of offering, giving and receiving brings about the real presence.  This was pretty much what people thought as far as we can tell in the early Church from about the 2nd century to the 4th or 5th.  Johann Gerhard in Lutheranism actually endorsed the view that the Epiclesis did it(unfortunately, and strangely in light of the fact that Luther removed the Eucharist prayer from the liturgy).  The West, St. Ambrose, developed a theology of the moment of consecration.  In other words, when the Priest actually says the words of institution, then it becomes the body and blood of Christ.  Lutherans more or less buy into this, that is, the idea that the elements are consecrated by the word of Jesus' promise and not a prayer that Jesus never commanded, even if differences between consecrationists and distributionists still persist (I'm pretty staunchly a consecrationist, but more on that later).

After Vatican II, as I mentioned, the Catholics in order to get the Orthodox back with them re-wrote the liturgy and made the idea of the Epiclesis the thing which transformed the elements.  Of course their was an Epiclesis before, but it was the words of instituion which were understood to make the difference.  Now that the Epiclesis is back as the catalyst for the real presence, this means a kind of double consecration of the elements and bizzarely long liturgy.  In any case, it seems to me that it also means that a new layer of sacrifice and human initiative was actually add to their doctrine of the Eucharist.  Let me explain.

Listening to the liturgy this is what you get:  Priest tells God (God is always being addressed BTW- the congregation aren't really even addressed with the words of institution, God the Father is!) that he's brought the elements of bread and wine and that they're a kind of offering that the Priest and apparently the congregation through the Priest are also making.  Why God is supposed to be interested in this (especially because he did not sanction any such offering and we know how that has a tendency of turning out in the Bible!) is not entirely clear.  So, there's the first sacrifice.  This wasn't in the pre-Vatican II liturgies.  Then the next stage.  Because we come and offer these element to God, God is supposed to now send his Holy Spirit on them and make them the body and blood of Christ.  Now, let's be fair, it doesn't say anything about meriting this by the offering and I'm absolutely certain that if you talked to a Catholic theologian that he'd say that no merit is involved in get the Holy Ghost to come and do this.  But here's the deal: It creates a situation were the divine-human relationship enacted by the Eucharist is a matter of human initiative and human movement towards God through an initial act of sacrifice, that is, an offering the Eucharistic elements.  

Now that the elements have been transformed into the body and blood of Christ, the Priest speaks the words of institution to God the Father (for some reason that is unclear) and then offers up the congregation with Christ by their prayer and by their participation in the elements.  Here's a really interesting aspect that changed with Vatican II.  Before then, Trent and Aquinas had stated that the sacrifice of the Mass was identical with that of the cross, but how they didn't know how.  The 20th century German Monk Odo Casel argued (based on his belief that Christianity was an Jewish version of the Greek Mystery cults) that time and space stops and we are transported back in time to the crucifixion so that we can participate in it.  This then got into Vatican II.  So, the congregation is capable of going back in time and participating in Christ's redemptive act as one person with him.  This is sacrifice number two.

Many liberal Lutherans have argued that Vatican II made Catholicism acceptable enough to entertain fellowship again.  What I find interesting here is that the opposite is actually the case.  Catholicism has in a sense simply doubled up on the theology that we found so problematic in the 16th century.


  1. Dr. Kilcrease,

    "Johann Gerhard in Lutheranism actually endorsed the view that the Epiclesis did it (unfortunately, and strangely in light of the fact that Luther removed the Eucharist prayer from the liturgy)."

    I'm eagerly awaiting CPH's publication of that Locus of his. I have a lot of questions that I'm eager to get answers to.

    If the Word of God is never apart from the Spirit (and vice versa), and the Verba are the Word of God, is the Holy Spirit doing anything at the consecration?

    Also, in Lutheran theology, to whom does the celebrant speak the Verba?

  2. Before becoming exposed properly to Lutheranism, I was attracted to the idea of epiklesis as being suitable to express Calvin's real presence. When I really discovered the true Real Presnce (in the double sense) as per Luther, and when I read Sasse and Forde, I rejected epiklesis! It is un-Lutheran, not to mention unbiblical too!

  3. Phil- All good questions.

    First, I too eagerly await the Gerhard volume on the sacraments, since I'm not entirely certain how he works this out. What I'm guessing is that he was so committed to the catholicity of the faith that he thought he should go with the consensus of the early Church, but again, I don't if that's what he did. We'll see.

    To answer your other questions: 1. Yes, it is the celebrant who speaks the words of institution. He does in a sense speak them to God, in that he is holding up the body and blood of Christ to God and reminding God of his promises (as Luther and David Scaer note). But more importantly, he is speaking the words to the congregation. The words are not magical words, but rather promises which the congregation accepts by faith. Eating and believing allows one to receive what the words promise, that is, the forgiveness of sins and union with Christ.

    2. Yes, the Holy Spirit would also be present in the words of institution. Nevertheless, the humanity of Jesus is everywhere and therefore overagainst the Catholic view wherein he bridges the gap between the humanity of Jesus in heaven and the altar on earth by transforming the elements into his heavenly flesh and blood, the Spirit is simply present with the glorified humanity of Jesus which only communicates itself when promise is pronounced. According to Luther, there is a difference between being prsent and being available. Christ may already be present, but he has not made himself available since he only makes himself available when the words of institution are pronounced in connection with bread and wine.

  4. Dr. Kilcrease,

    Thanks for the answers. I read Luther's "The Private Mass and the Consecration of Priests" recently, which was what made me think about the celebrant speaking the Verba to Christ.

    Where does Dr. Scaer point that out? I'd be interested to read his take on it.

    "the humanity of Jesus is everywhere"

    I haven't yet read much detailed Christology. I recall there was some discussion over "ubiquity" and "omnivolipresence". If I understand him correctly, Dr. John Stephenson has made the point that over against the Reformed, we ought to emphasize that in the Sacrament it is specifically Christ's Body and Blood which are present, and not merely the "person of Christ", which has been a favorite compromise phrase of Reformed ecumenists. I am most interested in thinking about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the bread and wine.

    One thing I've thought about here is the first act of creation. The creation of the world was the work of the Father, who speaks the Word (the Son), which is effected by the Spirit, correct? Now Christ is the new creation, the "firstfruits of them that sleep". Like creation, the consecration is effected by the Word. However, at the moment of creation, I don't think there was really any "audience" to hear what was being spoken, and the words weren't "communication" to anyone--the speech and the work were one and the same. So if the consecration could be thought of as God's act of creation through the Word (not sure whether you can do this), I would think that the Holy Spirit would have an effective role to play.


  5. Further thought:

    If that is true, and the Holy Spirit is active in the consecration, then the separation of Christ's Verba and the Holy Spirit's Epiklesis would be consistent with a denial of the Filioque.

  6. Phil- You are correct about the last point. It would be my theory that the reason why the Orthodox possess this wonky theory about the Eucharist is because of their incorrect understanding of the procession of the Holy Ghost.

    You are also correct that the sacramental presence of Christ is different than his general presence. Lutheran scholasticism delineated a 4th kind of presence, sacramental presence to describe it. Luther only talked about three.

    It's important to emphasize against the Reformed that this presence is different than his general presence in creation. Nevertheless, big distinction there is that the Reformed accept the existence of a Logos Asarkos- whereas Lutheran do not. If the Word became flesh, then he is present according to both natures in a mysterious supernatural manner everywhere.

    The trinitarian bit you are also correct about. I think that the Holy Spirit is present in the words of institution. Of course, traditional trinitarian theology has always accepted that all God's acts ad extra involve each person of the Trinity.

    Regarding what Scaer and Luther say. Scaer states that the Mass is a sacrifice from God's perspective and a testament from ours. By proclaiming the promise, we are hold up the eternal event of the offering of Christ to the Father , and we also proclaim the promise to the congregation. This is perfectly in keeping with what Luther says on a number of occasions. I believe in the piece that you mentioned, he says that also. But be careful because I think that that's pretty early and doesn't represent his mature thinking on the subject.

  7. Would you go so far as to say that the Holy Spirit effects the "change" (change defined only as it is in the Confessions, that before the Consecration there are bread and wine, but afterwards the Body and Blood are now really, essentially present)?

    In general, I'm not too interested in the idea that we hold up a sacrifice to the Father. I'm content to believe that the Sacrament is the Body and Blood of the One sacrificial Victim, so that if the Mass is Christ, then in that sense (and no more) we can say that the Mass is a Sacrifice (i.e. sacrificial Victim).

    The reason why the Luther passage caught my eye was actually a liturgical one. I was reading his 1533 book (as opposed to the 1525 Abomination of the Secret Mass). In my limited reading I am only aware of Luther commending the freestanding altar in the 1526 Deutsche Messe, whereas the passage I read (LW 38, 208-209, "For, God be praised...") was written seven years later and seems to not only assume but even commend the traditional eastward orientation of the celebration of the Sacrament and particularly the Consecration.

    It seems to me that if we are going to call that thing in our churches an Altar, it's primarily an Altar not because we offer our praises there but because it is where the Sacrifice once offered by Christ to the Father becomes present, and from there it is then distributed to feed us. This is why the presence of a crucifix on the Altar is extremely comforting--every time we look at them on our Altars, we see the consummated atoning Sacrifice. It seems telling that when our Altars got "turned around" and made freestanding, one of the first things to go is the central crucifix (has a habit of getting in the way, gotta take care of that...).

  8. In my opinion, denying the filioque *and* at the same time denying the epiklesis need not be incompatible. That is if we *distinguish* the economic Trinity from the immanent Trinity.

  9. Phil- The atonement is an eternal event in that it involving an eternal divine person. If that person is present and his body and blood as sacrificed, then that sacrifice is displayed before the Father, as are the promises that he has made in connection to it.

    Also, yes, I would agree that the Holy Spirit would be present and active in the consecration. His agency is not separable with either the Father or Christ.

  10. I would hold to a strictly incarnational perspective - the sacramental *reversal* where and in which Jesus is *proclaimed* to the church and by extension the world as the Crucified One. In other words, the Agnus Dei is interpreted not as a sacrifice before God, but before men. The Lord's Supper then like Baptism is the Sacrament of Justification: death and life in which we participate.

  11. I was debating whether saying anything more would be merely flogging a dead horse, but I guess I have one more thing to probe.

    You've more or less disassembled the Eastern notion of the Epiklesis as the prayer by which the priest calls down the Holy Spirit, causing Him then to change the bread and wine into Christ's Body and Blood. But in a sense the separate pieces are present in the Lutheran theology: first, the affirmation that the celebrant speaks the Verba to the Father through Christ (presumably, in the Spirit), and second, that the Holy Spirit accompanies the Verba (in accordance with the gracious will of the Father and the testament of the Son) and acts in the consecration of the elements to be the Body and Blood of Christ.

    Now, it seems that what's most wrong here is the cause-effect notion whereby the Epiklesis/Eucharistic Prayer causes the consecration, yet we can see the individual parts as being valid aspects of the Sacrament. If one wanted to "put the puzzle pieces back together the right way", what do you think is the right relationship between these two parts?

  12. Phil, this is an intriguing issue - the the role of the Holy Spirit in the Lord's Supper.

    As I see it:

    a) The Holy Spirit is present wherever the Son is present. And even as the Son gives Himself to the Church in the Lord's Supper, likewise the Son gives the Holy Spirit to the Church. In turn, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament constitutes the sign and seal of the presence of Jesus.

    b) Through the Holy Spirit, the Son creates faith in the Christian.

    c) Thus, instead of the Holy Spirit mediates the presence of the Son (*from* heaven) as per Calvin, the ever-present Son sends forth the Spirit to the Church. Without the presence of the Son, there is no Holy Spirit. Thus, the Reformed, Pietists, Revivalists, Pentecostals and Charismatics have it backwards.

  13. Augustinian Successor,

    Obviously it took me a while to think about your point. It felt to me like something was missing, but I wasn't able to put my finger on it until just now. What you've said in (a) and (b) is true. However, what I'd like to know is whether you see the Consecration (that is, Christ's Words of consecration that institute the Sacrament) as effecting the Real Presence. Nothing you've said in that post addresses the Consecration itself (the words), or what is going on between Christ Himself and the bread and wine. The Real Presence isn't simply a product of Christ's pure, silent will; He effects it through His Words.