Monday, February 24, 2014

The Theology of the Offertory: A Response to a Recent Article Quoted on PrayTell (Part 1)

Several days ago, Fr. Anthony Ruff OSB, the editor and principal writer of PrayTell, posted an article called “What Sister Never Knew and Father Never Told You…About the Mass as Sacrifice.” The first part of this title is the name of a blog, written under the pseudonym “Consolamini”, from which the bulk of the piece is taken; the url is churchhistorysurprise.blogspot.com, and it is indeed rather surprising. Its author professes himself to be Catholic and a professional historian, and lists extensive credentials on his sidebar, but all in non-specific terms which preserve his total anonymity; his Blogger profile is likewise completely inaccessible. Fr. Ruff quotes this description which the author gives of himself: “thoroughly committed to the program of the Second Vatican Council as it was promulgated in 1965, as contrasted with how it has been reinterpreted, (in some cases almost out of existence) by both self-appointed and divinely anointed authorities over the last thirty-some years.”

Fr. Ruff goes on to quote in their entirety two paragraphs of a longer essay, the 67th in an ongoing series on the “Foundations of the Anglican Church.” The original piece is actually about the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, and the parts which he quotes are really something of a sidebar in their original context. Fr. Ruff’s reason for bringing them to the readers’ attention is, as he writes, that the original author “… shows why for so many of us there can’t be a going back to the old rite – no way, no how.”
Had sixteenth-century Catholicism maintained the scriptural roots of patristic theology, the second problem – the exaggerated notion of Eucharistic sacrifice in which each Mass was seen as a new and unique Sacrifice of Christ to the Father – would not have been problematic. The loss of the patristic heritage and its replacement with Scholastic theology in the thirteenth and subsequent centuries created an appalling mystique to the Mass where it was claimed that Christ died anew and again day after day upon the altars.
Now, since the author is really concerned to talk about the book of Common Prayer, he gives no citations for this assertion. (It must be stated that a scarcity of citations and footnotes, especially for declarations of this sort, are kind of a weak point of WSNKaFNTY.) But in point of fact, the subject of the Sacrifice of the Mass per se is one on which the Scholastics were famously quite reticent. In “Rediscovering Aquinas and the Sacraments: Studies in Sacramental Theology”, (edd. Matthew Levering and Michael Dauphinais; Liturgy Training Publications, 2009), Bruce D. Marshall points out that the Scholastics paid much more attention to the question of the Real Presence, “a regular subject of theological dispute in the West for several hundred years”. On the other hand, “(T)he sacrificial character of the Eucharist had never been contested in the Western church, (or the Eastern, for that matter) at the time when Bonaventure and Aquinas wrote.” (p. 42)

Let us therefore briefly consider what the principal theology textbook of the Middle Ages, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, has to say on the subject (Lib. IV, Dist. 12), keeping in mind that in the Scholastic era, a Doctoral degree in theology was obtained by writing a commentary on it.
The question is posed, whether what the priest does is properly called “sacrifice” or “offering” (immolatio), and whether Christ is offered (immoletur) daily, or was offered only once. The answer can be made briefly, that that which is offered and consecrated by the priest is called sacrifice and offering (oblatio), because it is the memory and representation of the true sacrifice and holy offering (immolatio) made on the altar of the Cross. And Christ died once on the Cross, and there was offered (immolatus) in Himself; but daily He is offered in the Sacrament, because in the Sacrament, there takes place the remembrance of what was done once.
He then quotes Saint Augustine twice, and a commentary on St. Paul by Alcuin, incorrectly attributed to St. Ambrose. From these citations, he concludes:
… what is done on the altar is and is called a sacrifice; and Christ was offered once, and is offered daily, but in one manner then, in another now.
Peter’s conclusion “Christ was offered once, and is offered daily” is mainly derived from St. Augustine’s Epistle 98, “Was Christ not offered once in Himself, and yet in the sacrament, (“sacramento”, also “mystery”) … is He not offered every day for the peoples? And does he lie, who when asked, says that He is sacrificed?” Where Augustine writes “He is sacrificed”, he uses the present infinitive “immolari”, expressing a continual action.
Peter Lombard (1096-1164) writing the “Liber Sententiarum - Book of Sentences”, depicted in a decorated initial of the Prologue in a manuscript made while he was still alive. St. Thomas often cites him as simply “the Master”, in the same way that he calles Aristotle “the Philospher.”

This is what the Council of Trent has to say on the same subject, Session 22, chapter 2.
And forasmuch as, in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross; the holy Synod teaches, that this sacrifice is truly propritiatory and that by means thereof this is effected, that we obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid, if we draw nigh unto God, contrite and penitent, with a sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence. For the Lord, appeased by the oblation thereof, and granting the grace and gift of penitence, forgives even heinous crimes and sins. For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered Himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different.
The quotation from Consolamini continues:
This stands in total contradiction to the scriptures where we are told that Christ died once for all (1 Peter 3:18; Romans 6:10; Hebrews 9:28). Each Mass was seen to be in its own right a propitiatory sacrifice and each priest an Aaronic priest who offered the victim to God on behalf of the people. The priest was not seen to be a sacramental sharer in the one priesthood of the One Priest, Christ, but like the priests of the Old Law a man who approached the sacrifice in virtue of his own priesthood.
Note that he claims, without supporting citations, that this new theology of the priesthood and of the sacrifice of the Mass was developed “in total contradiction to the scriptures.” I had always been given to believe that the Scholastics were famous for their meticulous examination of theological questions from every possible angle. The well-known canard that they debated about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin derives from this legendary meticulousness. And yet, on a point of great importance to the Church’s life, not only did they completely overthrown the belief which had been held hitherto, but they did this despite being “totally contradicted by the Scriptures”. It would be very interesting to know who the supposed architects of this overthrow really were, and how they managed to foist such a “blasphemous” (see below) imposture on the whole of the Church, apparently without any immediate protest. (The contention of the essay as a whole is that the Protestant Reformers succeeded in overthrowing belief in the Sacrifice of the Mass, precisely because the theology of it then commonly held in the Western Church was such a radical departure from both the Scriptures and the Patristic tradition.)

The author continues:
Shadows of this exaggerated – and blasphemous – claim to a particular priesthood continue to exist among some clergy today, especially those given to the pre-conciliar rites. The roots of this egoistic self-deception are psychological inadequacies that make men hide within an artificial persona that deludes them into a faux greatness that compensates for a lack of an authentic grace of knowing one’s true self in God. That is why these men usually make horrid confessors who sit in judgment rather than as channels of the compassion of Christ who was tempted in every way we are. (Hebrews, 4:15)
In his introduction to the two paragraphs taken from Consolamini, Fr. Ruff states, “I suppose I’d pull back from some generalizations about emotional health of some clergy.” It is true that generalizations often lead to difficulties and misunderstandings.

Consolamini himself goes on to say:
The medieval scholastic theologians not only exaggerated the sacrificial nature of the Mass to make it repetitive of Calvary, but they invented a second sacrifice in which bread and wine were offered to God at the “offertory” of the Mass.
Here he has been unfortunately rather imprecise; but again, these words are part of a sidebar to a different topic. Are we to understand that the Scholastics invented this purported “second sacrifice”, and claimed that it took place at the Offertory, which already existed at the time of their invention? Or does he mean that the Offertory itself (or some form or feature of it) was invented as an expression of belief in this second sacrifice? From the fact that he puts the word “offertory” in quotes, and refers to a putative belief in a “second sacrifice”, the latter seems to be the case. I believe this understanding is reinforced by the claim that follows (which I will examine later) that “in the 1970 Missal, the Mass was radically restructured to take away any pretense of this second sacrifice. There is no ‘offertory’ of bread and wine, but rather a ‘preparation of the gifts’ in which the bread and wine are prepared for the Eucharist.”

Now obviously, the claim that the Scholastics (or anyone else) thought that there were two sacrifices in the ritual of the Mass, one of bread and wine, and another of the Body and Blood of Christ, is absurd. One might just as well claim that the Offertory prayer “We offer you, Lord, the chalice of salvation…” reflects a Scholastic notion that the chalice itself was offered, rather than its contents, foisting on the Church a belief that at the Offertory, the original Holy Grail is made truly present under the appearance of precious metals and stones. The sacrifice to which the Offertory refers is that of the Canon, not a “second sacrifice” of bread and wine; this is the plain sense of it, the sense in which it was written, and the sense in which it was understood.

In the Roman Missal, the word “bread” does not occur at all in the Offertory; as the priest elevates the bread in the ritual, he calls it a “hostiam”, the source of the English word “host”. For the pagan ancient Romans, this word originally meant a sacrificial animal, which is to say, something living, rather than an offering of grain or wine. The latter type of offering was covered by the verb “libare” and its derivatives. (“libatio” etc.)

The word “wine” is used at the prayer for the admixture of the wine and water in the chalice, but at the elevation and offering of the chalice, the priest says “We offer Thee, O Lord, the chalice of salvation,” not “the wine of salvation.”

There follows the prayer “In a spirit of humility, and in contrite heart, may we be received by Thee, o Lord; and so may our sacrifice (sacrificium) take place in Thy sight this day, that it may please Thee, o Lord.” Thus, immediately after the supposed “second sacrifice” of bread and wine comes a statement that “sacrifice” has yet to take place. (“fiat – may it take place.”) The prayer is a loose quotation of the Prayer of Azariah, Daniel 3, 40-41, which refers to the sacrifice only of living beings: “That we may find Thy mercy: nevertheless in a contrite heart and humble spirit let us be accepted. As in holocausts of rams, and bullocks, and as in thousands of fat lambs: so let our sacrifice be made in thy sight this day, that it may please thee.”

The word “sacrifice” (sacrificium) also occurs in the Veni sanctificator which follows, in which it is described as “made ready”; again, because it has not yet been offered. After the incensation, the prayer which resumes the whole thought of the Offertory calls it an “offering (oblationem) for the sake of the memory of the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In every one of these cases, the specific words of the Offertory that speak about “offering” are obviously chosen in reference to words of the Canon. “Hostiam immaculatam” and “calicem salutaris” refer to “hostiam puram, hostiam sanctam, hostiam immaculatam, panem sanctum vitae aeternae et calicem salutis perpetuae.” Note, however, that the word “panem – bread”, which is used in the Canon even after the Consecration, is avoided in the Offertory. (We may safely assume that the author of the Canon, a native Latin speaker thoroughly well-versed in the language and its rhetorical tradition, deliberately chose “hostiam” because it means “a sacrifice” of a living being.)

Likewise, the words of the Offertory “for the sake of the memory of the Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ” parallel those of the Canon, in which “we Thy servants and also Thy holy people” are “mindful of the Passion so blessed of (the same) Our Lord Jesus Christ, and also of His Resurrection from the dead, and of His glorious Ascension into heaven.”

Another question inevitably arises. It is claimed that the whole theology of the Offertory is at best tainted by “an exaggerated – and blasphemous – claim to a particular priesthood”, and at worst created specifically to express that theology, overthrowing both the Scriptures and the Fathers. Why on earth, then, was the Orate, fratres included, in which the sacrifice is specifically stated to be that of the priest and the people? (“meum ac vestrum sacrificium”) And lest the captious claim that the words were only heard by the ministers, and so they represent the words of a priest speaking to other members of the clergy: there were several medieval rites at which he said “Pray brothers and sisters…”, referring to the whole people, who are represented by the ministers of the altar. (The rubric of the Sarum Missal states that the priest “turns to the people” and says these words; no reference is made to changing them if, e.g., he is celebrating in a monastery where no women are present.)
The conclusion of the Offertory in a 14th century Roman Missal. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 848
The people’s reply, “May the Lord accept the sacrifice (singular) at your hands…” emphasizes that the one sacrifice is that which the priest himself has just described as “mine and yours.” If this is an attempt to set the priest apart, “not (as) a sacramental sharer in the one priesthood of the One Priest, Christ, but like the priests of the Old Law a man who approached the sacrifice in virtue of his own priesthood,” it singularly fails to do so, since he is bringing the whole of the people with him.

In short, we may debate the advisability of the Offertory as it stands in the Missal of St Pius V; indeed, we may find ourselves compelled to do so, since the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum has formally defined it as a part of the Roman Rite no less than the ‘Preparation of the Gifts’ in the Missal of 1970. But it does not constitute a separate act of offering from the Canon of the Mass, much less an offering of something other than what the Canon itself offers.

Further articles in this series will examine other aspects of the history of the Offertory, some of the other objections to it, and the ecumenical implications which they raise.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: