Friday, March 28, 2014

The Theology of the Offertory - Part 4: An Ecumenical Problem

This is the fourth in a continuing series of articles. The previous parts may here read here: part 1, part 2, part 3.
A common objection to the traditional form of the Offertory prayers is that they “anticipate” ideas of the Canon. For example, in his memoire The Reform of the Liturgy, 1948-1975, Abp. Bugnini, one of the principal architects of the post-Conciliar reform, refers to the debate over the Offertory by the committee which created the reform.
After lengthy discussion the collegial judgment of the Consilium took this form: 12 for retention of the phrase (“which we offer to you” proposed by Pope Paul VI to clarify the purpose of the Offertory), 14 against, and 5 in favor of finding an expression that would refer to the presentation of the elements for the sacrifice, but without using the term “offer.” This was the word that caused difficulty, since it seemed to anticipate, or at least detract from the value of, the one true sacrifice of the immolated Christ that is expressed in the Canon. (p. 379 – my emphasis. The words “which we offer to you” were retained.)
This is part of his account of the long and complex debates about what changes to make to the Offertory. He also notes that in the midst of the debate, Bishop Carlo Manziana, who was often consulted by the Pope and the Consilium on liturgical matters, expressed his approval of one interim proposal because the new formulas “…remove the equivocal impression that the offertory rite is a ‘little Canon.’ ” (ibid. p. 375)

On reading the full account, the members of the Consilium do not seem especially harsh or polemical in their critique of the Offertory; rather, they seem to have simply taken it for granted that it would be extensively revised. It must be said that here, as in many other places, the revision which they eventually produced went far beyond the mandate of Vatican II’s document on liturgical reform Sacrosanctum Concilium, which does not even mention the Offertory.

Now, one may simply take the position that the revision in itself is a good thing, or even an improvement, without necessarily accepting any given prior critique of the Offertory found in the Missal of St Pius V. However, if one wishes to state that the Offertory improperly anticipates the ideas of the Canon, such a statement poses a significant problem for ecumenical relations with those who use the Byzantine Liturgy in its various recensions and languages. The Byzantine tradition is in fact very much in agreement with the Roman tradition in its manner of preparing the Eucharistic sacrifice, and does so in a manner that “anticipates” that sacrifice much more explicitly.

The Greek word for the Byzantine preparation ritual is “proskomedia”, the two elements of which, the preposition “pros” and the verb-root “komid-”, correspond quite closely in sense to the Latin preposition “ob” and the verb-root “fer-” in the word “offertorium”. The website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America translates the word as “the Office of Oblation”, and it is indeed an Office unto itself, very much longer and more complex than any form of Offertory in any Use of the Roman Rite. I shall not here attempt to give a complete explanation of it, but only outline some of the more salient points where it is conceptually similar to the traditional Roman Rite. This description follows the text of a Hieratikon (priestly service-book) published by the Greek Orthodox Church in 1977.

Just after the opening prayer, the priest takes the bread, which is called “prosphora – an offering”, and lifts it up with both hands, raising his eyes to heaven, exactly as in the Roman Offertory at the prayer Suscipe Sancte Pater. As he raises it he says “Thou has redeemed us from the curse of the Law by Thy precious blood; being nailed to the Cross, and pierced with the lance, Thou didst pour forth immortality unto men; glory to Thee, our Savior.” The deacon then says to him, “Bless, lord,” and the priest makes the sign of the cross over the diskos (a plate on a base) with the prosphora and the implement which is used to cut it. The latter is called a “lance”, not a knife; the Greek word for it, “lonkhe”, is the word St John uses (19, 34) for the soldier’s lance that pierced Christ’s side.
Vessels and instruments for the Byzantine Liturgy made in Moscow in 1679, now in the treasury of the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The lance is the pointed object lying flat, right beneath the chalice.

A prosphora is made with a design pressed into it called a “seal”, as seen here; the priest takes the lance and traces it over the seal three times, after which, the rubrics refer to the prosphora repeatedly as “the Lamb.”

The priest stabs the Lamb with the lance on four sides, saying the words of Isaiah 53 according to the Septuagint, “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a spotless lamb before the shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: who shall declare his generation?” The deacon then says to him, “Lift up, lord,” and he lifts it up, continuing from Isaiah, “because His life is taken away from the earth.”

The priest then turns it upside down, at which the deacon says, “Sacrifice (‘thuson’), lord.” The priest cuts the Lamb through most of the way, leaving the seal intact on top, saying “The Lamb is sacrificed (‘thuetai’, the same verb which is said above in the imperative form), the Son and Word of God, that taketh away the sin of the world, for the life and salvation of the world, even He that is ever sacrificed and never consumed.”
The stabbing of the Lamb during the Proskomedia.
The deacon then says in Greek “stauroson, despota”, which literally means “Crucify, lord.” The rubrics of the Hieratikon make it very clear that this means that he cuts it again in such a way that the cut makes the shape of a Cross. Nevertheless, this is the same word which in the Gospels the crowds shout to Pontius Pilate, “Crucify Him!” The rubric here also describes this action with the verb “thuei – he sacrifices (or ‘offers’)”; as he does this, he says “When Thou wast crucified, Christ, the tyranny (of the devil) was taken away, the power of the enemy was trod down; for neither an angel nor a (mere) man, but the very Lord, thou didst save us; glory to Thee.”

The deacon says “Pierce (nuxon), lord”, at which the priest pierces it with the lance on the left side, saying the words of the Gospel of St John, “One of the soldiers with his lance pierced (enuxe) His side, and at once there came out blood and water. And he that saw hath born witness, and his witness is true.” The deacon then pours wine and water into the chalice, asking the priest to bless them, “Bless, lord, this union”. The priest makes the sign of the cross over it saying, “Blessed be the union of Thy holy things”.

There follows an elaborate ritual in which ten small triangular pieces are cut off the Lamb, or another prosphora (there may be several). The first is laid on the diskos to the Lamb’s right, with the words from Psalm 44, “The Queen stands at Thy right arrayed in gold etc.” The other nine are laid to Its left in a rectangle, the first in honor of the Angels, the second in honor of the Prophets and Patriarchs, and so on through the hierarchy of the Saints. As he lays these pieces on the diskos, the priest says “Unto the honor and memory of Michael and Gabriel, … of all the heavenly bodiless powers; of the honorable and glorious Prophet and Forerunner John the Baptist … of the glorious prophets Moses and Aaron etc.” In much the same way, although rather more briefly, in the Roman Offertory prayer Suscipe Sancta Trinitas the offering is made “…unto the honor of the blessed Mary ever Virgin, and of the blessed John the Baptist etc.”
A diagram showing the placement of the various pieces of the prosphora on the diskos. Note that the piece in honor of the Mother of  God is on the left, although the rubrics of the Hieratikon say that it goes on the right, in imitation of the words of Psalm 44, and those of the “ranks” of the Saints are on the right. The “right” side of the Lamb is treated as if He were lying on the diskos facing outwards, in which case His right is our left.
The priest then says a long prayer for the clergy and people, and another “for the souls of those in blessèd rest”; the latter begins, “Again, we offer to you this sacrifice…” In the same way, the first prayer of the Roman Offertory asks God to receive the Host “for all faithful Christians, living and deceased.” At the end of either prayer, the priest may add the names of those for whom he offers the Divine Liturgy, saying “Remember, o Lord, (name)”; as he says each name, he lays another piece of the Lamb or of another prosphora on the diskos. This serves the same purpose as the two Mementos of the Roman Canon, even though there is another opportunity for the priest to name both the living and the dead during the anaphora.

Today, this ritual is performed at a table called a “prothesis” on one side of the church’s sanctuary. At one time, however, many of the great churches of the East, including Hagia Sophia, had a separate building called the “skeuophylakion – the place where the vessels are kept,” i.e. a sacristy. In “The Great Entrance”, a famous study of the Byzantine preparation and Offertory procession, Fr. Robert Taft S.J. demonstrated that the Proskomedia was for many centuries performed in the skeuophylakion, and the Great Entrance was originally an entrance from the sacristy building into the church, and not simply a procession out of and back into the sanctuary. (p. 189-194; Orientialia Christiana Analecta, no. 200, 1975)
Hagia Sophia, seen from the northeast; the skeuophylakion is the round building in the left foreground.
In all of this, one cannot fail to notice to what degree the Byzantine Rite “anticipates” the Eucharistic Sacrifice in these rites of preparation: repeated and explicit reference to the Passion; the physical preparation of the bread and wine with words like “sacrifice”, “crucify” and “pierce”, as well as “offering”; calling the bread “the Lamb”; placing individual pieces of bread on the plate as part of the Mementos of the living and the dead; all this before the Divine Liturgy itself has even begun; and formerly, in the Mother Church of the Byzantine Liturgy (and elsewhere), in a completely different building.

This series began as a response to the statements of an anonymous blogger named Consolamini, who referred (erroneously) to the traditional Roman Offertory as a product of the Scholastic period, which “not only exaggerated the sacrificial nature of the Mass to make it repetitive of Calvary, but (also) … invented a second sacrifice in which bread and wine were offered to God at the ‘offertory’ of the Mass.” The Scholastic theologians, he tells us, held an “exaggerated notion of Eucharistic sacrifice in which each Mass was seen as a new and unique Sacrifice of Christ to the Father”, which represents a “loss of the patristic heritage… in total contradiction to the scriptures where we are told that Christ died once for all.” (The article was then quoted by Fr. Anthony Ruff on the blog PrayTell, as a good explanation of why “there can’t be a going back to the old rite”, an interpretation which Consolamini himself has recently approved.)

Now if any of this were true, the Byzantine Rite, which enthusiastically “anticipates” the Eucharistic sacrifice in the Proskomedia, would also represent a radical departure from the teaching of the Fathers. And, it must be added, this theoretical departure would have taken place without the help of the Scholastics, whose influence in the Byzantine world was never very strong, and who were essentially rejected in the Hesychasm controversies of the 14-century. Likewise, if, as Consolamini claims, the 1970 revision of the Offertory meant that the Roman Catholic Church had returned to the previously lost Apostolic and Patristic heritage, the unavoidable corollary would be a heavy slap in the face to the Orthodox.
A Byzantine Divine Liturgy being celebrated in the presence of the Pope during the Second Vatican Council.
In the previous article of this series, I have explained that it was in no wise the intention of Pope Paul VI to change the Church’s theology of the Eucharistic sacrifice, much less to change it back to something from which it had putatively gone astray. More recent Papal legislation has also fully repudiated the critique of the traditional Offertory as intrinsically problematic, and the implicit critique of the Byzantine tradition. The motu proprio Summorum Pontificum has established the traditional Ordo Missae, and with it the Offertory rite, as part of the Roman Rite on a par with that of the Novus Ordo. Furthermore, the recently approved liturgy of the Anglican Use Ordinariate contains as an option the full text of the traditional Offertory rite in English.

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