Corpus Christi: Whitterings, January 2007

In the earlier part of the 20th century the priests at St Mary’s Bourne Street in London, where Viscount Halifax was Church Warden, had visiting cards printed that they would put through the doors of those in the parish and pin up in pubs. There are still a few withered copies in the Black Bull Pub in Walisingham. They read simply

“The Holy sacrifice of the Mass; All the good works in the world are not equal to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass because they are the work of God. Martyrdom is nothing in comparison for that is the sacrifice of man to God. The Mass is the sacrifice of God for Man."
The Cure d’ Ars, Saint Jean-Baptiste Marie Vianney, 1786 - 1859

It seems a bit extreme today but it is only the use of the language not the truth of the matter. The Rev’d Dr Eric Mascall OGS, one of my Oratorian brothers, says (Corpus Christi p. 112)
“What takes place in the Eucharist is not a new separation of the Body from the Blood, not a new immolation, but the identification, by that unique mode of efficient causality whose name is sacramental signification, of the bread and wine and the Body and Blood. Thus every Eucharist is the same sacrifice as every other one, and all of them are the same sacrifice as that which was offered by Christ in his earthly life.”
This is one point about Eucharistic theology that would help balance the overly social view of the sacrifice of the Mass common today.

It leads to that subtle mistake of separating the material from the spiritual. We are human and in the created order are neither the complete spiritual entities as the angels nor are we simply the material of the world. We are both. That is our nature. We are NOT spiritual souls trapped in material bodies. That is why our hope is the resurrection of the body. The duality of many thinkers divorce these two which makes a mockery of what we do at our main services, to partake of the sacramental presence of Christ. Christ shared our nature in the flesh and that is how we are to sense his presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Charles Gore (in his book The Body of Christ) always emphasized the social nature of the sacrament. That the Mass was given to the Church and not just to individuals. The gift was objective and social. Gore says,
“The more and more we dwell on the social meaning of the sacrament, the more profoundly satisfying an answer does it supply to the difficulties raised by such false spiritualism as resents the attachment of spiritual gifts to outward conditions.”

So we begin to see that the duality that separates bread and wine as material and Body and Blood as spiritual must be denied. Dr Maschall again:

“When we get the material equated with the natural, and the supernatural equated with the spiritual, two consequences follow. The first is that the material realm escapes altogether from the over-arching control of religion, and the second is that religion becomes entirely concerned with the culture of the soul.”

The two are unified into one single nature. The sacrament does not nourish just our souls but our whole nature so that we may live in him just as he lives in us. The social nature of the sacrament gives life to this concept. We are all partakers of the one gift; we being many are one body for we all share in the one bread.

And this, of course leads us to the last important point. That, Christ in the sacrament is the same Christ we perceive in our fellow men. Catholic piety without Catholic social action is meaningless and can even be seen as idolatrous. The social nature of the sacrament must be used for the transformation of society and the world. I end with that great quote by Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar given at the end of his address ‘Our Present Duty’ to the Anglo –Catholic Congress of 1923.

“Now mark that—this is the Gospel truth. If you are prepared to say that the Anglo-Catholic is at perfect liberty to rake in all the money he can get no matter what the wages are that are paid, no matter what the conditions are under which people work; if you say that the Anglo-Catholic has a right to hold his peace while his fellow citizens are living in hovels below the levels of the streets, this I say to you, that you do not yet know the Lord Jesus in his Sacrament. You have begun with the Christ of Bethlehem, you have gone on to know something of the Christ of Calvary—but the Christ of the Sacrament, not yet. Oh brethren! if only you listen to-night your movement is going to sweep England. If you listen. I am not talking economics, I do not understand them. I am not talking politics, I do not understand them. I am talking the Gospel, and I say to you this: If you are Christians then your Jesus is one and the same: Jesus on the Throne of his glory, Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus received into your hearts in Communion, Jesus with you mystically as you pray, and Jesus enthroned in the hearts and bodies of his brothers and sisters up and down this country. And it is folly—it is madness—to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacraments and Jesus on the Throne of glory, when you are sweating him in the souls and bodies of his children. It cannot be done.
There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”