The Desacralization of the Holy Eucharist (Against the “New Theologians”) Continued
By Matthew James Bellisario 2010
The Historical Deconstruction of the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
The first deconstruction of the Mass was based on a supposed return to the early Church. The scholars of the day thought they could recreate the early Church as if they had an infallible time machine, that was able to enlighten them as to how the early Church practiced the liturgy. This was one of the vehicles that the “new theologians” used to try and overthrow Christ from His rightful throne in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. No longer would there be an altar, but a table. Instead of the burial shroud, which the altar linens represented, we now had table cloths, as if we were attending a Sunday afternoon picnic, rather than coming to worship Christ as He gives Himself in a total sacrifice to God the Father for the forgiveness of our sins. Suddenly we have the priest facing the people rather than facing God, which we must admit was never promulgated by the Council itself, but by those who later took it upon their own initiative to turn their faces away from God. They took the focus off of Christ and His sacrifice to God the Father, and turned it upon the community itself. U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (2) rightfully says, “There is nothing in the Council text about turning altars towards the people; that point is raised only in postconciliar instructions.” I share in Pope Benedict XVI's view on the orientation of the priest, which has nothing to do with facing toward or away from the people, but oriented with the people towards God, usually facing East if possible. This has been the standard practice of every documented Liturgical Rite since Christianity left the catacombs and the house churches up until the time period extending beyond the Second Vatican Council. It must be noted that there was no functioning Liturgical Rite in any of the 27 Rites of the Church, East or the West that celebrated the liturgy “facing the people,” before Vatican II. Now only the Novus Ordo and the Maronite Rites, follow such norms.
Pope Benedict XVI says that the liturgical orientation of the priest together with the people facing God has existed from the beginning, and that liturgical orientation is not really an option. “Despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second millennium, one thing has remained clear for the whole of Christendom: praying towards the East is a tradition that goes back to the beginning... a common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue, but of common worship, of setting off towards the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle, but the common movement forward expressed in a common direction for prayer.” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger) (3) It is my position then that the Pope has understood this movement from priest to presider, priest to social worker, priest to community leader as being a crippled theology that has been introduced into the Church over recent years. Unfortunately many today reject what the Pope says with the an attitude of pure rebellion.
Historical inaccuracies have also promulgated mass abandonment to Church hierarchy. Suddenly the battle cry for many after the Council became, “We are Church”. Clergy and laity alike abandoned the authority of Christ given to St. Peter in the passing on of His keys to the Church. The Church suddenly turned into a democracy where major tenets of the faith could be ignored or abandoned all together. Historians thought they could reinvent the Church by going back to the “pure” state of the early Church, which we must admit, only existed in the unbalanced figments of their crippled imaginations. Suddenly everything before Vatican II became the rigid, stagnant Church of Trent, which was to be rejected all together in favor of the “new theology.” We can see this attitude displayed in Ray R, Noll's book, Sacraments a New Understanding for a New Generation.(4) In his chapter on the Eucharist he openly downgrades the sacrificial aspect of the Mass by saying that it was a one sided approach. He paints a gradual development of the sacrificial aspect of the Mass, claiming that it went off the rails in the middle ages and was only brought back into proper perspective in light of Vatican II. Yet Noll never proves this premise. Noll uses one quote by St. Justin Martyr, who lived in the middle of the second century, as being a supposed first step to this wrongfully assumed long developing theology of sacrifice. He quotes noted liberal scholar William Bausch who states that when this sacrificial aspect took hold, it was only then that there became a “priesthood” instead of a leader who presided over a “meal.” (page 52) I must point out that Bausch is a well known dissenter from Catholic teaching. We have only to look at his book titled, A New Look at the Sacraments (5) to find his heretical attitude towards the priesthood, “In the early church, "significantly, there is no mention of anyone having the power 'to offer sacrifice', which would have been a foreign concept at this point," and “The crucifixion and death of Jesus replaced forever the need for any sacrifice or priesthood so "there was no reason for early Christianity to think in terms of priests.” (pages 246 and 249) It is precisely this movement from sacrifice to meal, priest to presider, that we begin to remove the crown from Our Beloved Savior.
We can refute this line of thinking from the Sacred Scriptures themselves which date from the first century. If we look to Saint Paul in the book of Hebrews chapter 10 verses 10-12 we read, “10 We have an altar, whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle. 11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the holies by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate.” There is no denying the sacrificial nature of St. Paul's words in reference to Christ in the Eucharist. We can also see St. Paul draw a similar comparison in 1 Corinthians, 10:14-21 when he draws comparisons to Christ's sacrifice to the sacrifice the pagans were offering in his time.
We can also put forth historical evidence to prove that not only was the sacrificial aspect of the Mass not slow in developing, it was an integral part of the early Eucharistic theology. Pope Clement I wrote around 80Ad, "Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its sacrifices.” (Letter to the Corinthians 44:4–5 ). Ignatius of Antioch wrote in 110AD, "Make certain, therefore, that you all observe one common Eucharist; for there is but one Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and but one cup of union with his Blood, and one single altar of sacrifice (Letter to the Philadelphians 4) Saint Irenaeus wrote in 189AD, "He took from among creation that which is bread, and gave thanks, saying, ‘This is my body.’ The cup likewise, which is from among the creation to which we belong, he confessed to be his blood. He taught the new sacrifice of the new covenant, of which Malachi, one of the twelve [minor] prophets, had signified beforehand: ‘You do not do my will, says the Lord Almighty, and I will not accept a sacrifice at your hands. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure sacrifice; for great is my name among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty’ [Mal. 1:10–11]. By these words he makes it plain that the former people will cease to make offerings to God; but that in every place sacrifice will be offered to him, and indeed, a pure one, for his name is glorified among the Gentiles" (Against Heresies 4:17:5 [A.D. 189]). Although I could go on ad nauseam to prove my point, I will conclude with St. Cyprian of Carthage writing around 253 AD, "If Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, is himself the high priest of God the Father; and if he offered himself as a sacrifice to the Father; and if he commanded that this be done in commemoration of himself, then certainly the priest, who imitates that which Christ did, truly functions in place of Christ" (Letters 63:14 [A.D. 253]).
I firmly state that it is therefore an act of intellectual dishonesty to lobby for a gradual development of the Catholic priesthood, and the gradual development of the Eucharistic Liturgy as being sacrificial in nature. It is firmly rooted in Biblical and Patristic Tradition from the earliest days of the Church. We must also realize that we do not depend upon historical sources alone for the truths of our faith, less we fall into the same errors of the “new theologians”. No, we listen to the Church herself through which Christ speaks. The Vatican II documents hold the same sacrificial aspect to the liturgical celebration in very explicit wording. Chapter Two of Lumen Gentium (6) states, “Taking part in the Eucharistic sacrifice, the source and summit of the Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God and themselves along with it.” Pope Paul VI wrote in his declaration Presbyterorum Ordinis (7) the following, “In the mystery of the Eucharistic sacrifice, in which priests fulfill their principal function, our redemption is continually carried out.”
(Stay Tuned for Part III)