This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

6.4. The Eucharist

Remarks on sacrifice

To sacrifice is to consecrate the profane to the sacred and thereby realize a transfer of oneself onto the sacred plane through a real identification of oneself with the victim. This is the underlying logic of all sacrifice from the beginning of time.

The presence or absence of a doctrine of sacrifice can be seen as a standard of orthodoxy in the traditional world.

It has proven universally intuitive, even if it has never been fully understood. All traditional civilizations have known that sacrifice was necessary, but if asked why this is so, answers are difficult to produce. This means that its true significance, which is the same in every context, tends to be veiled behind explanations that are true but superficial, partial, and more or less secondary.

Christ did not come to abolish sacrifice, but to become the sacrifice, offered by Himself, since the name Christ is, as we said elsewhere, a priestly title or ‘office’ denoting a function, and we as Christians have received the unction to participate in officiating the ritual which He instituted.

The Mass as sacrifice

The Mass is a true sacrifice, and this means that when differentiating the Catholic Mass from the Protestant “worship service,” the two should be seen as apples and oranges. They are not two styles of trying to accomplishing the same thing, but are geared toward entirely different purposes. It is a difference of kind.

That the Mass is a sacrifice is stated clearly in its full name: The Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass includes an element of praise, and so it contains as one of its components what for Evangelicals is the entirety of the service. This will become clear when we outline the parts of the liturgy as it unfolds during each performance.

The Mass in continuity with the Jewish tradition

It has become common to view all aspects of the Christian life as a radical departure from and even a rejection of the Old Testament ways of relating to God. A rejection of ritual sacrifice naturally accompanies this view.

It is not surprising that this view is popular, even within Catholic circles. A reading of Christ’s discourses with the Pharisees will naturally leave one with the impression that he wanted nothing to do with their way of relating to God. This is unfortunate because to reject the Pharisees is not to reject the Jewish tradition wholesale. The problem is simply that modern Christians know so little about the Jewish tradition that they take Christs rejection of Phariseeism and apply it to the tradition in its entirety. By doing this, it is overlooked how much of that tradition Christ retained and in fact took for granted as the foundation of the New Covenant that He was to institute: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”[1]

It is essential, then, that we interpret Christ’s words and actions in continuity with the Old Testament and within the Jewish religious life and not as something completely outside it.

To put it another way, if we are to establish the proper ‘hermeneutic site’ that is necessary in order to arrive at a proper understanding of the nature of Christianity, we must situate ourselves within the perspective of Hellenistic Judaism. This will permit us to understand that Christianity is not a radically spiritualized rejection of all Jewish ritual, but rather a recapitulation and perfection of the ritual life of the Old Testament. This is why Christianity properly understood is the Old Law transfigured and synthesized into a new religious life, devoid of bloody sacrifice, but not devoid of sacrifice altogether, since it institutes the one perfect sacrifice of the Lamb of God.

This new life with its new ritual form, most significantly demonstrated at the last supper, is today referred to as the sacramental life of the Church, and from this point of view it is not incorrect to call Christianity a kind of sacramentalism.

[1] Matthew 5:17.

The Passover as the context for the institution of the Eucharist

We have already said that the unfamiliarity of most Christians with Jewish ritual is mostly to blame for our inability to clearly see how “Jewish” and “ritually oriented” Christ’s teachings would have been to His contemporaries. The Last Supper is a prime example of this problem.

To the modern reader, left to himself to read the Gospels and interpret them in whatever way seems most obvious, the Last Supper is a scene much like we would expect to find today: a group of friends gathered together to share in a meal, with food and drink and some pre-meal prayers involved. If there is anything unusual about this scene, it is the presence of a spiritual teacher who uses the situation (itself nothing more than a normal supper) to offer some insights into the crucifixion that was coming, and to invite his followers to remember him afterward by sharing similar meals. To this end, he breaks bread and offers wine, symbolically associating these with his body and blood as a sort of ‘visual aid’ to help future participants kindle piety through visualization and participation.

The above is perhaps an oversimplification, and many Christians will be aware of the fact that this meal coincided with the Passover feast, but the degree of ritual specificity in Christ’s words and actions will remain invisible. The invisibility of the ritualistic nature of the Last Supper then leads to a denial of the Catholic doctrine regarding the Mass, since it is clear that the nature of the latter must derive from the nature of the former.

The origin and purpose of sacrifice

The purpose of sacrifice is to restore man to the Edenic state, and this means that the institution of the sacrifice presupposes the fallen condition of the world. Had there been no fall, and by the fall a removal of man from his paradisal state of perfect communion with the Creator, then there would be no need for man to sacrifice in the sense we are dealing with here, involving the immolation of a substituted victim.

What the sacrifice represents—the offering of everything back to God as a proper and natural response on the part of the creature, a total surrender even of one’s on life to the source of Life—would have already been present without original sin.

Existing on a higher spiritual plane, man made the sacrifice of himself, without death or immolation or intermediary, and this running parallel to the sacrifice of the “Lamb who was slain from the beginning of the world” and through whom all things were made.

After the Fall, we come into the presence of the sacrificial offering properly so-called, and it is this form of sacrifice that characterizes the fallen world and provides the means of elevating the fallen creature back to the higher spiritual state.

We can say that if sin consists in withholding from God something of that which should be offered to Him, which would constitute the natural, non-bloody sacrifice of the self, then the consequence of sin is that either man who become doomed to eternal separation and death, or else some new form of reconciliation would have to be introduced. And as a result of the gratuitousness of Divine Mercy, we can see that immediately after the Fall, precisely such a form of sacrifice was introduced. Of course, we do not have record of how exactly the necessary procedures were conveyed, but it is clear from the earliest biblical accounts post-fall, which are those of Cain and Able, that it was known that sacrifice was necessary to bring oneself into proper relation with the Creator, and it was known what was and wasn’t an acceptable form of sacrifice.

The essential goal of sacrifice

The goal of the sacrifice is to bring about a transfer of man from his present condition to a higher spiritual plane. This transfer is affected through an intermediary via substitution. The objects used are physical beings, but the effects are of a spiritual nature, and there is perfectly normal: just as many is both body and soul, so the use he makes of physical objects can have real spiritual effects.

The legitimacy of a substitute

Although at first it seems counterintuitive that a substitute would be acceptable, since one would think that man must atone for his own lack, it makes sense when we view the man as microcosm and everything on earth as an object over which he has dominion.

The materialist cannot see any distinction between human nature and the remaining hierarchy of animal natures, and may even deny much of a distinction between human life and vegetable life. For such a one, it is an injustice to imagine an ‘innocent creature’ such as a lamb, being slain as a ‘substitute’ for the human or for humanity as a collective whole. A bad anthropology destroys the concept of sacrifice.

Viewed in his proper role as the ‘microcosm’ summarizing in himself all of creation, surpassing all other forms of life by recapitulating them and transcending them, the religious man understands that he has power over all life and is to a degree free to make use of it according to his needs. It is not ‘unjust’ for man to use livestock for work and for food, because he is the master of that domain and there are no ‘animal rights’ that do not derive from the animal’s subordination to man. In other words, man has rights only in a relative sense, as derived from the rights of God and insofar as he is an image of God, and man’s rights are null and void before God’s, and man exists in total subordination to God’s purposes; likewise, animal (and vegetable) life only has rights insofar within the context of subordination to man and to his purposes and his goods. Animal rights derive from the purposes of man and from human nobility and from the role the animal plays in serving the good of man as the steward of God.

All that is to say that just as the life and death of man is ennobled only insofar as it is integrated into the divine work, whatever that may be, so also is animal life ennobled rather than degraded through its integration into the sacrificial economy. The fact of the martyr is the human manifestation of this ‘subordination unto death,’ although man, possessing free will and self-consciousness, submits to his participation by choice, and the animal victim only in a passive sense, since this is all that is possible.

All sacrifice is human sacrifice

There are two consequences that result from a proper view of sacrifice: the first is that only man can perform the sacrifice; the second is that all sacrifice is a human sacrifice.

We remind the reader that the immolated victim is in every case identified with man, providing that this identification is realized according to a legitimate rite. The object or being acting as the substitute is offered to the divinity, transferred to the spiritual plane, and thereby becomes a mediator between the higher and the lower spiritual states and accomplishes the reintegration of man into the divine.

We can comment here that although any being, animal or vegetable, can function as mediator in the sense we are dealing with here, animal sacrifice is more powerful because of the fact that the animal is closer to man and resembles him.

Here we can also respond to an objection: could it not be said that it would be most effective to use a human being as the victim?

Human sacrifice, however, has in all uncorrupted traditions been considered a deviation. This is because in order for the victim to act as mediator it must be a being over which man has dominion. Man does not have dominion over man, and the use by one man of another for the purpose of sacrifice is therefore an abomination and an offense against the divine order.

This leads us to a second objection: if what we just said is true, and since Christ’s sacrifice obviously involved a human life, then how was Christ’s sacrifice legitimate?

We will delve into the nature of Christ and the Eucharist below, but to answer this objection concisely we need only say that Christ’s sacrifice was not legitimate and effective because he was man but because he was fully God and fully man, and so he was enabled to act as victim and officiant simultaneously without offense against the nature of things. We cannot stress enough that Christ was not merely ‘setting an example’ for us to imitate, but was accomplishing a work that no man who was not also God could ever accomplish. Christ accomplished a work on behalf of man that no man, however perfect his intention or pure his moral life, could carry out.

The necessity of bloody sacrifice

It is at the same time surprising and not surprising that the people of a post-sacrifice world would find it so difficult to conceive of why a bloody sacrifice would ever be necessary or effective: not surprising, because they live in a world where bloody sacrifice has been nullified by the work of Christ; and yet surprising, because the crucifixion, which is the one example of true sacrifice with which every modern Western person is familiar, was itself a very bloody sacrifice, albeit the one which rendered all future bloody sacrifice obsolete.

The Mass and the ‘worship service’

Contemporary Christianity, with is preference for “worship service” over religious ritual, what we find is a failure to distinguish between art and entertainment. Art is related to beauty and truth and therefore can be created and judged on objective grounds. Entertainment is a subjective matter and may or may not be beautiful, may or may not have any relation to transcendent truth.

Worship services are not religious, in the sense of performing a sacred work or ritual in obedience to the Divine: they are instead a kind of “Christian-themed entertainment event.” With their big screen televisions and their sub-woofers, they are clearly oriented around what is stimulating to the audience and it is assumed that some sort of objective truth is the end but the means are purely human and designed to manipulate the subject and encourage feelings and enthusiasm. So again we say that many of these “worship services” look more like rock concerts.

Contemporary misappropriation of religion concepts

Before we delve into the Mass as a religious ritual, we should pause to remark on the selective disdain shown by Evangelicals for all things religious. For example, it is not uncommon to hear these believers state that Christianity “is a relationship, not a religion,” and I have heard pastors proclaim: “I hate religion, and I want you to hate it too!” And this was met with a resounding ‘Amen’ from the choir.

This was followed by the typical ‘communion’ service wherein the congregation is reminded that the bread and wine are mere communal gestures–reminders of some laudable principle of love and sacrifice–and then each individual is asked to create an ‘imaginary altar’ there in their seats in order to consume a cracker and some juice.

What I’d like to point out to you is that this is all pretense and hypocrisy, an attempt to have one’s cake and eat it too, if you will. The concept of the Church, and even more so that of the altar (imaginary or not), are strictly religious in character. If you decline to participate in a ‘religion’ then you ought not to misappropriate the features and objects utilized by religions. You may gather to sing songs and enjoy fellowship, but if you the venue is not dedicated to the performance of religious functions then it is not a church–call it whatever else you want. And if a true sacrifice is not involved, then you are not utilizing an altar, real or imaginary.

Protestantism in general, however, escapes these difficulties, being as it usually is vague on points of doctrine and deferring always to what pleases the believers and kindles the style of ‘religiosity’ that in this branch of Christianity has come to replace religion itself.

The sacrifice of the holocaust

The Holocaust is the absolute sacrifice wherein there is no “sharing” of the victim between the man and God: the entirety of the victim is consumed by fire. In the original Hebrew form, this was a transcendent fire, descending from heaven, consuming the victim’s matter, and in this supernatural way transferring it in its entirety onto a higher plane. Returning to the sacrifice of Christ, we can say that this act also has the absolute character of the holocaust except that through Christ the entirety of the cosmos was integrated and transfigured. The cross is, after all, the highest symbol of the created order, and Christ, both high priest and ultimate victim, through his death, brings about the sacrificial “transfer” of the terrestrial to the supernatural. This is the “sacrificial mechanism” by which man is saved, and which the Mass ‘re-presents’ in its ritual way, perpetuating the act and making real throughout history.

The eternal sacrifice of God

There is a metaphysical foundation that permits us to understand why Christ “had to die,” and why we say that Christ’s death and resurrection brought about the Redemption of “the world.” This foundation lies in the fact all that is said about Christ as a historical actor is also true about God as a cosmic actor. In other words, we cannot image this “redemptive sacrifice” as if it were something that took place in history that nullified something that took place on the cosmic level. They must be imagined as operating in parallel, the sacrifice of Christ making present in history the metaphysical sacrifice of God.

In the language of all Traditional religions, we can speak of creation as a kind of sacrifice on the part of God. It is his “humiliation,” in the way that we say that Christ “humbled” or “emptied” himself to become man. In the same way, God as creator both empties and humbles himself in order to create, and creation is a kind of “sacrifice” already.

Think of it in this way: God is Absolute. He is not “relative” to anything, but when he creates he lowers himself a degree and becomes a kind of “relative absolute.” His relation to an “other” is his denigration and it is this sacrifice that permits us to speak of love. Christ is the “first-born of all creation,” and so it is Christ whom the Father loves most and through Christ alone can we approach the Father, and Christ, being the principle of creation, is first and foremost the sacrifice of the Creator. “It is in Him that all things have been created, in heaven and on earth, things visible and invisible…and all things subsist in Him” (Col. 1:18-19) and so it follows that “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved,” for “I am come from the Father and to the Father I return.” By becoming one with Christ via the ritual participation in his Sacrifice, we become fellow travelers able to cross the supernatural bridge that he constructed.

The death of the victim

If it be asked why the sacrificial victim, epitomized and perfected in Christ, must die in order for the sacrifice to be effective, we must set aside all notions of “crime and punishment,” since these have purely arbitrary and punitive connotations. In fact, death is only a punishment in the sense that it is experienced as such: it is not desirable. It is not, however, inflicted arbitrarily in order to somehow “teach a lesson” to one who has gone astray. Instead, once properly understood, we can see that death is utterly necessary in order to be transported fully to the supernatural plane. When man sinned he “fell” and his body too. Man’s spiritual nature can be transported to a higher plane but man’s body, once rendered imperfect and “fallen,” cannot, and so much be sloughed off. Christ showed us the way, and so he too had to die. The difference however is that his resurrection was able to be brought about in the same material body, since he was not marred by sin. All imperfect men must not only die like Christ but must leave the fallen body behind in anticipation of what Catholicism calls “the resurrection of the body,” at which time the body too will be reinstated in its unfallen state. This is the real reason why, when man fell, death entered the world. The drop in levels could not be reversed without leaving the sullied body behind, to be cleansed at a the proper cosmological moment, that is to say the re-absorption of creation at the end of the cycle, which is the end of our world.

Death here loses its sting and becomes the path to reinstatement into the divine order, provided of course that it is situated within a sacred context, which is always the case in the sacrifice but only potentially the case when it comes to individual persons. In fact, we can say that when a man’s life is in proper relation to the Divine, then his death is an “acceptable sacrifice” with the alternative remaining always a possibility. Christ’s death, of course, was the perfect sacrifice which added all previous and future sacrifices to itself and made them effective, being prefigured from the beginning of time via the sacrificial creation of all things. Christ’s death was (and is) a quickening death, the death that leads into “everlasting life.”

The doctrine of ‘faith alone’ as it pertains to religious activity

The doctrine of sola fide, ‘faith alone’, is based on the Cartesian dualism which separates the rational and the empirical and, whether explicitly or not, degrades the latter to the status of ‘less real’. What it states is that the essence of salvation is not in what we do but in what we think: it calls this thinking ‘faith’ but in every instance in which I have seen it enunciated it is identical to the simple intellectual assent given to a set of propositions: that man is fallen, that Christ died for our sins, etc. This assent is what ‘really matters’ and is placed over and above what we actually do, which assumes that there is a real separation between what we think and what we do.

The truth is, first of all, that mental work is still work, and to accept a proposition is an ‘action’ albeit of the rational order. It is a mental exertion as opposed to a physical one. Thus it is silly to act as if it is ‘not work’ or, in other words, not bound up with the will and the initiative of the individual, in the way that physical works are. If in fact one is ‘powerless’ to bring about salvation through action, than the rational action that is the acceptance of proposition is just as useless as the physical procedures involved in external religious rituals.

We can see this as a further development of the modern mentality, which is thoroughly materialist but at the same time exhibits a strong preference for unrealism and abstract ideas.

Part of the problem is that in the modern view, man is no longer understood according to the traditional paradigm, constituted as an imagine of the Trinity, as body-soul-spirit. The latter two terms of this trinity are hardly even understood and tend to be seen as vaguely synonymous. This modern people only think in terms of what is physical and what is not, and with man this results in his reduction to two parts, ‘mind and body’, and this is typically re-framed again as an opposition: ‘mind vs body,’ and for Christians, due to a total confusion of levels as well as conceptions, this is seen as an equivalent to the Scriptural teachings about ‘spirit vs. flesh.’ It is easy to see, given this new division, with the body painted as evil and opposed to ‘the spirit’, how so-called ‘works’ come to be despised as inferior.

If we have spent time dwelling on this it is to set the stage for a defense of the Mass as a necessary part of the Christian life, amounting to a perpetuation of the work of Christ, and that ‘faith alone’ is not enough, or is rather only ‘enough’ if we expand our notion of faith to one that requires both intellectual and physical activities.

According to the Traditional doctrine, as we have already said, man is not man unless he is embodied. Man is a body-soul union. Thus, we see why in the traditional view, what man does matters just as much as what he thinks when it comes to salvation. We cannot fully elaborate on this doctrine here, but the appropriate sections in this manual will cover the subject in detail. For now, we have gone to these lengths only in order to insist that the Mass is a ritual work that forms the necessary, concrete expression of Christian life: it is the great work that the Christian, in his office as priest of the world, performs for all mankind, and in fact all creation.

In the words of Jean Hani:

“But salvation is not effected by simple faith in Christ having died once for all. The fact of redemption needs to live int he Church from a mystical and concrete presence at each moment of duration. It is important to insist upon the point. The spiritualization of the idea of sacrifice, leading to a simple movement of personal faith in the sacrifice of Christ accomplished in illo tempore, and to the prayer of raise, which is the Protestant position, ruins not only the notion of sacrifice, but the very idea of religion, for the sacrifice celebrated hic et nunc is an essential constitutive element of all religion. In fact, such excessive spiritualization risks ending up in the rejection of all form, of every external act, which happened to later Judaism. Religion then cedes its place to an individualistic and subjectivist religious sentimentalism, in which one is occupied more with man than with God.”[1]

One need only point at here that it was Christ who instituted the rite of the Eucharist, and that it was understood as exactly that from the time of the Apostles onward, that when he said “do this in remembrance of me.”

As Hani rightly states:

“Through this rite, the Church, born of the Blood of Christ, is called to live from this blood, by dying to the world and perpetually rising with Jesus. In one and the same Great Work, Christ and the Church are united in the mystery of salvation.”[2]

[1] The Divine Liturgy, p. 24.

[2] The Divine Liturgy, p. 25.

The efficacy of ritual action

That visible effects might have invisible causes is not a difficult proposition for most Christians to accept, given the belief in an invisible spiritual reality governing the cosmos. However, the idea that visible actions might have invisible effects, or in other words, that physical procedures might influence spiritual realities, is much more difficult and is usually perceived as outright evil. This is due to the appearance of subversion, since it seems to imply that a lower order–the physical–is in this way allowed to impose itself on a superior order–the spiritual. This is the case with magic as commonly understood, such as in witchcraft and the occult in general. In this sense, Christians are rightly repulsed. However, what remains to be said is that in addition to the ‘black magic’ involved in the rituals of witchcraft there is also another sphere of ritual action that could be called, for simplicity’s sake, the art of ‘white magic’. It is this latter that we are dealing with when we come to the rites and rituals of religion properly understood, and especially when we are dealing with sacrifice.

What makes the properly constituted sacrifice a matter of ‘white magic’ rather than ‘black magic’ is the fact that it does not presume to control the spiritual or subordinate it to the material: instead it operates on the basis of spiritual knowledge, and models itself after spiritual realities and in this way ‘acts them out’ in accordance with the truth.

Here one should ask how such an acceptable ritual might come about and how we can know that it is authentic and divinely willed. The answer is simple: such rites are in most cases revealed by God directly or else indirectly via an authentic traditional authority. The first and foremost of these is, of course, the Eucharist, which is a rite instituted and authenticated directly by Christ Himself. Obviously with these credentials in mind, its legitimacy need not be questioned and it would be ridiculous to call the Eucharistic celebration, directly commanded by Christ, a form of black magic.

The manner of operation of legitimate ritual is also distinct from false imitations in that, as we said above, it is rather an imitation or analogous representation of a divine reality, and gains its efficacy by a kind of ‘participation’ in the work of God. If it has power, it is only insofar as it remains faithful to the divine model.

And so we can summarize by saying that ritual efficacy is premised on the facts of divine revelation (instituted by a true spiritual authority) and faithfulness to the divine work it has as its object. In the case of the Eucharist, we can say that it meets the first requirement by being taught directly by Christ; and that it meets the second requirement by re-presenting the drama of the ‘eternal self-sacrifice of the Logos’ through which all things were made and through which all of fallen creation is redeemed.

Having laid this foundation for the efficacy of the ritual in general and made brief mention of the Eucharist in particular, we need to elaborate on some of the specific aspects of this type of ritual, since a misunderstanding of its form has great consequences.

Anamnesis and the concept of ritual remembrance

In the Eucharist, the ecclesial community is enabled to participate in the ‘divine work’ which Christ accomplished via the mystery of His death and resurrection. The purpose of the rite is, in fact, to enable this participate.

We have said that ritual procedures are effective only insofar as they imitate and ‘make real’ a divine reality. They do not control or influence the divine, but rather re-present it in time and place.

When we come to the Mass, in which the ritual celebration of the Eucharist is situated, what we are dealing with is a ‘ritual remembrance’, hence the command of Christ, which in modern language is so drastically misunderstood: “Do this in memory of me.”

This last phrase indicates the mode of this rite: a memorial. The Mass is the ‘Memorial of the Lord’. It centers around the ‘remembering’ of the whole economy of salvation. But what does it mean to ‘remember’ in the context of this rite?

To understand this we must keep in mind that the terms we are familiar with are actually modern English words derived from more ancient languages. To understand what we mean in English, we cannot simply ask what the term means in English today, but rather we must admit that this English term was selected as an acceptable (but often weak) representative of a more ancient term from another language, and sometimes the modern term, although found acceptable, is only a weak representation, and also, due to constant changes in the way words are used, it can be rendered quite confusing over time.

Thus, we must set aside the term ‘remember’ and look to the more ancient concept that is really in question, and in this case it is the Greek notion of anamnesis, which serves as the underlying ‘formula’ of the rite.

Anamnesis is properly translated as ‘remembrance’ or ‘commemoration’, and here we can already anticipate the danger of misinterpretation, and this is why we insist that all translation also involves interpretation of meaning, or at least must be accompanied by it. This danger would come to fruition in Protestantism, where Calvin, for example, understood the liturgy as a memorial that would simply call to mind the blessings of Christ’s death and kindle piety. This is the interpretation shared by contemporary Protestantism in general, and it completely destroys the nature of the Mass.

If the Mass is nothing more than a piece of ‘theatre’ intended to kindle pious feeling, then one could say that it is not essential to the Christian life but is simply one way of fueling devotion, and there are obviously others available to believers, making the Mass a thing that could disappear from Christianity entirely without compromising its integrity, just as it has disappeared from Protestantism.

This sentimentalist way of dealing with the ‘memorial’ of the Mass is completely alien to the teachings of the Church Fathers, not to mention the Latin and Eastern Churches in their entirety, wherein the Mass is always a real (albeit non-bloody) sacrifice of the god and therefore involves the real presence of Christ in the ‘gifts’, and where this sacrifice is essential to the believer as a means of participating in and ‘making real’ the saving work of Christ. Hence the warning given by the deacon in the Armenian Mass:

“Let no catechumens or anyone with doubtful faith, no penitents or the impure approach the Divine Mysteries: the Body of the Lord and the Blood of the Redeemer are about to become present here.”

And again, in what can be described as a most concise summary of the theology of the Mass:

“Grant, O Lord, that we may worthily approach these Holy Mysteries, for, each time this sacrifice is celebrated in remembrance of Thy passion, the work of our redemption is accomplished.”[1]

Here, as a summary of all that has been said so far, we will quote the work of Jean Hani, whose excellent The Divine Liturgy contributed much to our research:

“In the Holy Mysteries, Christ makes Himself substantially present; He performs the same sacrifice of expiation and praise as at Calvary. The divine Victim arises in our midst and communion of his Body and Blood associates us ontologically with His Sacrifice, His salvation, his person even. That is to say that, as far as the Mass is concerned, the words remembrance and commemorate do not have the meaning they have in modern languages. And this is because these languages vehicles a culture from which the very notion that these words express in traditional societies is absent…

“Commemoration, in an authentic religious context, is what could be called a ritual remembrance. It is the celebration of a divine work upon which a religious community is founded, a celebration that re-presents, in the etymological sense of the word, that is to say, makes present anew, that divine work whose goal is union with the god and immortality. The ritual recitation of the divine story of the founding of the community ‘is not,’ as M. Eliade has so well put it, ‘a commemoration [in the ordinary sense] of mythic events, but a reiteration of them. The protagonists of the myth are made present, one becomes their contemporary.’ The ritual recitation takes us out of ordinary time in order to place us again in primordial time when the divine event occurred…

“The aim of remembrance, for the archaic Greeks, was not to situate events in a temporal frame, but to attain the depth of being, the original, primordial reality, which is equivalent to stepping out of time.”[2]

[1] Latin Rite, Secret of the ninth Sunday after Pentecost.

[2] Jean Hani, The Divine Liturgy, p. 30-31.

The universality of anamnesis

We have said that the Mass instituted by Christ represents the summary perfection of all previous sacrifice, whether in the Hebrew tradition or any other. If this is the case, we should expect to find the formula of anamnesis which is the mode of operation of the rite, in other contexts, and we do find this. That is why S. Sauneron, writing of ancient Egypt, presents an explanation of this ‘ritual remembrance’ that could be perfectly applied to the Mass itself:

“The divine deed (which is the object of the representations in these ceremonies) only took place once, whether it was the creation of the world, the gathering of Tefnut, the massacre of the rebels or some other event at the beginning. Now, the figurative repetition of these deeds, on their anniversaries, is not an anecdotal recalling of a remote affair; it is an act having full power, which through its ritual execution recreates the event and its consequences.”[1]

[1] S. Sauneron, Les fetes religieuses d’Esna, 1962, pp 60-61. Quoted in Jean Hani, The Divine Liturgy.

Transubstantiation according to St. Thomas Aquinas

Transubstantiation describes the manner in which the bread and wine, or the ‘gifts’ of the Mass, become the true body and true blood of Christ. The doctrine of the Real Presence tells us what the Eucharist is: transubstantiation explains how that comes to be.

To be frank, we would rather avoid such an exact philosophical explanation for the mystery of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Yet, as we have seen, the Church takes on those tasks that we ourselves find distasteful, ‘getting her hands dirty’ for our sake. She does this because she cannot ignore controversy and error, for it is the responsibility of the Church to refute heresies. Much of the ‘unnecessary’ theologizing that the Catholic Church accomplishes is accomplished in order to refute errors. She does not proclaim simply for the sake of proclaiming, but rather out of necessity, regardless of what the Reformers claimed.

Thus, we admit that the doctrine of transubstantiation is one for which we ourselves have never felt any need, and which (again, for ourselves at least) serves as a contemplative impediment due to its being bogged down in Aristotelian terminology, which has always seemed cumbersome and inelegant. This is not to deny the legitimacy of the doctrine, only to suggest that the vehicle of exposition is not to our liking, and we will add that obviously another framework is, theoretically, possible, since Catholic doctrine is in no way the exclusive property of the Aristotelians, even if it may seem otherwise since Aquinas. Such alternative philosophical framework could provide an adequate defense of the truth which transubstantiation is meant to protect. But that what we have is what we have received from St. Thomas: precise, powerful, and exhausting. We must be thankful for it, since it has served its purpose. It is this theory of transubstantiation, in the words of Aquinas, that we will reproduce in part below, from question 75 of part III of his Summa Theologica, on “The change of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ” in eight articles:

From Article 1: Whether the body of Christ be in this sacrament in very truth, or merely as in a figure or sign?

Hilary says (De Trin. viii): “There is no room for doubt regarding the truth of Christ’s body and blood; for now by our Lord’s own declaring and by our faith His flesh is truly food, and His blood is truly drink.” And Ambrose says (De Sacram. vi): “As the Lord Jesus Christ is God’s true Son so is it Christ’s true flesh which we take, and His true blood which we drink.”

I answer that, The presence of Christ’s true body and blood in this sacrament cannot be detected by sense, nor understanding, but by faith alone, which rests upon Divine authority. Hence, on Luke 22:19: “This is My body which shall be delivered up for you,” Cyril says: “Doubt not whether this be true; but take rather the Saviour’s words with faith; for since He is the Truth, He lieth not.”

Now this is suitable, first for the perfection of the New Law. For, the sacrifices of the Old Law contained only in figure that true sacrifice of Christ’s Passion, according to Hebrews 10:1: “For the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things.” And therefore it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Law instituted by Christ should have something more, namely, that it should contain Christ Himself crucified, not merely in signification or figure, but also in very truth. And therefore this sacrament which contains Christ Himself, as Dionysius says (Eccl. Hier. iii), is perfective of all the other sacraments, in which Christ’s virtue is participated.

From Article 2: Whether in this sacrament the substance of the bread and wine remains after the consecration?

Ambrose says (De Sacram. iv): “Although the figure of the bread and wine be seen, still, after the Consecration, they are to be believed to be nothing else than the body and blood of Christ.”

I answer that, Some have held that the substance of the bread and wine remains in this sacrament after the consecration. But this opinion cannot stand: first of all, because by such an opinion the truth of this sacrament is destroyed, to which it belongs that Christ’s true body exists in this sacrament; which indeed was not there before the consecration. Now a thing cannot be in any place, where it was not previously, except by change of place, or by the conversion of another thing into itself; just as fire begins anew to be in some house, either because it is carried thither, or because it is generated there. Now it is evident that Christ’s body does not begin to be present in this sacrament by local motion. First of all, because it would follow that it would cease to be in heaven: for what is moved locally does not come anew to some place unless it quit the former one. Secondly, because every body moved locally passes through all intermediary spaces, which cannot be said here. Thirdly, because it is not possible for one movement of the same body moved locally to be terminated in different places at the one time, whereas the body of Christ under this sacrament begins at the one time to be in several places. And consequently it remains that Christ’s body cannot begin to be anew in this sacrament except by change of the substance of bread into itself. But what is changed into another thing, no longer remains after such change. Hence the conclusion is that, saving the truth of this sacrament, the substance of the bread cannot remain after the consecration.

Secondly, because this position is contrary to the form of this sacrament, in which it is said: “This is My body,” which would not be true if the substance of the bread were to remain there; for the substance of bread never is the body of Christ. Rather should one say in that case: “Here is My body.”

Thirdly, because it would be opposed to the veneration of this sacrament, if any substance were there, which could not be adored with adoration of latria.

Fourthly, because it is contrary to the rite of the Church, according to which it is not lawful to take the body of Christ after bodily food, while it is nevertheless lawful to take one consecrated host after another. Hence this opinion is to be avoided as heretical.

From Article 3: Whether the substance of the bread or wine is annihilated after the consecration of this sacrament, or dissolved into their original matter?

Because the substance of the bread and wine does not remain in this sacrament, some, deeming that it is impossible for the substance of the bread and wine to be changed into Christ’s flesh and blood, have maintained that by the consecration, the substance of the bread and wine is either dissolved into the original matter, or that it is annihilated.

Now the original matter into which mixed bodies can be dissolved is the four elements. For dissolution cannot be made into primary matter, so that a subject can exist without a form, since matter cannot exist without a form. But since after the consecration nothing remains under the sacramental species except the body and the blood of Christ, it will be necessary to say that the elements into which the substance of the bread and wine is dissolved, depart from thence by local motion, which would be perceived by the senses. In like manner also the substance of the bread or wine remains until the last instant of the consecration; but in the last instant of the consecration there is already present there the substance of the body or blood of Christ, just as the form is already present in the last instant of generation. Hence no instant can be assigned in which the original matter can be there. For it cannot be said that the substance of the bread or wine is dissolved gradually into the original matter, or that it successively quits the species, for if this began to be done in the last instant of its consecration, then at the one time under part of the host there would be the body of Christ together with the substance of bread, which is contrary to what has been said above (Article 2). But if this begin to come to pass before the consecration, there will then be a time in which under one part of the host there will be neither the substance of bread nor the body of Christ, which is not fitting. They seem indeed to have taken this into careful consideration, wherefore they formulated their proposition with an alternative viz. that (the substance) may be annihilated. But even this cannot stand, because no way can be assigned whereby Christ’s true body can begin to be in this sacrament, except by the change of the substance of bread into it, which change is excluded the moment we admit either annihilation of the substance of the bread, or dissolution into the original matter. Likewise no cause can be assigned for such dissolution or annihilation, since the effect of the sacrament is signified by the form: “This is My body.” Hence it is clear that the aforesaid opinion is false.

Reply to Objection 1. The substance of the bread or wine, after the consecration, remains neither under the sacramental species, nor elsewhere; yet it does not follow that it is annihilated; for it is changed into the body of Christ; just as if the air, from which fire is generated, be not there or elsewhere, it does not follow that it is annihilated.

Reply to Objection 2. The form, which is the term “wherefrom,” is not changed into another form; but one form succeeds another in the subject; and therefore the first form remains only in the potentiality of matter. But here the substance of the bread is changed into the body of Christ, as stated above. Hence the conclusion does not follow.

Reply to Objection 3. Although after the consecration this proposition is false: “The substance of the bread is something,” still that into which the substance of the bread is changed, is something, and consequently the substance of the bread is not annihilated.

From Article 4: Whether bread can be converted into the body of Christ?

[Note that it is here where we see the actual term ‘transubstantiation’ which signifies a distinction between this type of change and what we could otherwise call either transmutation or transformation.]

Eusebius Emesenus says: “To thee it ought neither to be a novelty nor an impossibility that earthly and mortal things be changed into the substance of Christ.”

I answer that, As stated above (Article 2), since Christ’s true body is in this sacrament, and since it does not begin to be there by local motion, nor is it contained therein as in a place, as is evident from what was stated above (Article 1, Reply to Objection 2), it must be said then that it begins to be there by conversion of the substance of bread into itself.

Yet this change is not like natural changes, but is entirely supernatural, and effected by God’s power alone. Hence Ambrose says [(De Sacram. iv): “See how Christ’s word changes nature’s laws, as He wills: a man is not wont to be born save of man and woman: see therefore that against the established law and order a man is born of a Virgin”: and] [The passage in the brackets is not in the Leonine edition] (De Myster. iv): “It is clear that a Virgin begot beyond the order of nature: and what we make is the body from the Virgin. Why, then, do you look for nature’s order in Christ’s body, since the Lord Jesus was Himself brought forth of a Virgin beyond nature?” Chrysostom likewise (Hom. xlvii), commenting on John 6:64: “The words which I have spoken to you,” namely, of this sacrament, “are spirit and life,” says: i.e. “spiritual, having nothing carnal, nor natural consequence; but they are rent from all such necessity which exists upon earth, and from the laws here established.”

For it is evident that every agent acts according as it is in act. But every created agent is limited in its act, as being of a determinate genus and species: and consequently the action of every created agent bears upon some determinate act. Now the determination of every thing in actual existence comes from its form. Consequently, no natural or created agent can act except by changing the form in something; and on this account every change made according to nature’s laws is a formal change. But God is infinite act, as stated in I:7:1; III:26:2; hence His action extends to the whole nature of being. Therefore He can work not only formal conversion, so that diverse forms succeed each other in the same subject; but also the change of all being, so that, to wit, the whole substance of one thing be changed into the whole substance of another. And this is done by Divine power in this sacrament; for the whole substance of the bread is changed into the whole substance of Christ’s body, and the whole substance of the wine into the whole substance of Christ’s blood. Hence this is not a formal, but a substantial conversion; nor is it a kind of natural movement: but, with a name of its own, it can be called “transubstantiation.”

For the sake of clarity we will also include a few of the ‘replies to objections’ that close this article because the help us understand the distinction between transformation (formal change) and transubstantiation (substantial change). The objections will not be included, but we can simply observe, as Aquinas states, that they are only valid if the change in question is one of form, such as that form must inhere in some matter or subject.

Reply to Objection 1. This objection holds good in respect of formal change, because it belongs to a form to be in matter or in a subject; but it does not hold good in respect of the change of the entire substance. Hence, since this substantial change implies a certain order of substances, one of which is changed into the other, it is in both substances as in a subject, just as order and number.

Reply to Objection 2. This argument also is true of formal conversion or change, because, as stated above (Reply to Objection 1), a form must be in some matter or subject. But this is not so in a change of the entire substance; for in this case no subject is possible.

From Article 5. Whether the accidents of the bread and wine remain in this sacrament after the change?

Augustine says in his book on the Sentences of Prosper (Lanfranc, De Corp. et Sang. Dom. xiii): “Under the species which we behold, of bread and wine, we honor invisible things, i.e. flesh and blood.”

I answer that, It is evident to sense that all the accidents of the bread and wine remain after the consecration. And this is reasonably done by Divine providence. First of all, because it is not customary, but horrible, for men to eat human flesh, and to drink blood. And therefore Christ’s flesh and blood are set before us to be partaken of under the species of those things which are the more commonly used by men, namely, bread and wine. Secondly, lest this sacrament might be derided by unbelievers, if we were to eat our Lord under His own species. Thirdly, that while we receive our Lord’s body and blood invisibly, this may redound to the merit of faith.

From Article 6: Whether the substantial form of the bread remains in this sacrament after the consecration?

The substantial form of bread is of the substance of bread. But the substance of the bread is changed into the body of Christ, as stated above (Article 2,Article 3,Article 4). Therefore the substantial form of the bread does not remain.

I answer that, Some have contended that after the consecration not only do the accidents of the bread remain, but also its substantial form. But this cannot be. First of all, because if the substantial form of the bread were to remain, nothing of the bread would be changed into the body of Christ, excepting the matter; and so it would follow that it would be changed, not into the whole body of Christ, but into its matter, which is repugnant to the form of the sacrament, wherein it is said: “This is My body.”

Secondly, because if the substantial form of the bread were to remain, it would remain either in matter, or separated from matter. The first cannot be, for if it were to remain in the matter of the bread, then the whole substance of the bread would remain, which is against what was said above (Article 2). Nor could it remain in any other matter, because the proper form exists only in its proper matter. But if it were to remain separate from matter, it would then be an actually intelligible form, and also an intelligence; for all forms separated from matter are such.

Thirdly, it would be unbefitting this sacrament: because the accidents of the bread remain in this sacrament, in order that the body of Christ may be seen under them, and not under its proper species, as stated above (Article 5).

And therefore it must be said that the substantial form of the bread does not remain.