Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Same Words, Different Hearers, for Different Purpose

Having come across bits of discussion on the subject of sacrifice and sacrament, prayer and proclamation, it seems to me that we try vainly to neatly tie up things into boxes as if they did not have other dimensions and relationships. Lutherans, of all denominations, ought to be comfortable with the same words spoken with different hearers in mind and for different purpose.

A million years ago when the Eucharistic Prayer was the hot topic there were those who went to great lengths to insist that the Words of Institution could not be placed within a context of a prayer (even though they have been since the earliest days of Christianity and were only unhinged from the prayer at the time of the Reformation). Part of the argument was that prayer and proclamation are two vastly different things (which they are) and could not possibly be together. At the time I wondered about this and have read and conversed with some folks along the way who wondered about this as well.

To speak simplistically, Rome sees the Words of Institution as words addressed to the Father, the prayer of the Church heeding the bidding of Christ and presenting to the Father the sacrifice Christ once offered of His body and blood. To speak simplistically again, generally Protestants see the Words of Institution as words addressed to the people, the proclamation of what Christ did to rekindle their memory of His atonement and direct them to the action that formally remembers what He did by eating a bit of bread and drinking a bit of grape juice in His memory.

Again, to speak simplistically, Lutherans see it both ways. We deny that that the Word is some magical formula that once spoken incants the presence of Christ's body and blood in bread and wine the way poor old Aunt Clara got her spells messed up and ended up incanting the unintended. We insist that the priest is not the effector of the presence of Christ, who is given in ordination the secret power to unlock heaven and bring Christ's body and blood to the earth. What we believe is that the Words of Institution are prayer addressed to God, the prayer of the Church who does Christ's bidding, speaks His Word, and calls upon God to fulfill His promise and make this bread to be Christ's body and this cup His blood. But at that very same time, the Words of Institution are proclamation to the people. Because the Word of God is efficacious and does what it says and the people have assembled in the name of Jesus to receive what He has promised, they can have every confidence that the Word will accomplish what it proclaims and this bread becomes the body of Christ (without destroying the bread) and this wine His blood (without destroying the wine). The same words, two different hearers, and different purpose.

In the same words we find both prayer addressed to God and proclamation addressed to the assembly. They are not in conflict. Without turning this into an academic treatise, we can find ample sources in the fathers and in the Lutheran theologians to support both of these (I think among contemporary theologians Dr. David Scaer would come down along these lines). One does not preclude the other, contra Oliver K. Olson and Gerhard Krodel among others who insist that the two may not occupy the same space.

When it comes to the role of the Spirit in the Eucharistic mystery, we find ourselves in a similar spot. While the East would point to the epiclesis as the "consecratory" element of the Eucharistic Prayer, the West (ala Ambrose) have pointed to the Words of Institution. Where the East sees the key in the prayer addressed to the Spirit to do what the words proclaim, the West has seen the key in the canon of the mass and in particular the words of Christ's testament.

For Lutherans the Spirit always works through the Word (written, spoken, or visible). Therefore, the words of Christ always include the agency and effect of the Spirit. The Spirit is at work in the presence of Christ's body and blood in the Sacrament because the Spirit works in and through the Word. The Spirit is partner in this Word as He is always partner in the work of the Word (such as creation when the Word speaks and the Spirit effects what the Word proclaims -- working together). In the end this is surely very Trinitarian.

Finally a few thoughts on sacrifice and sacrament. Jack Kilcrease has put it well in his blog comment. It is a matter of perspective. For God the Mass is a sacrifice -- can God look upon the body and blood of His Son without looking through the once for all sacrificial death on the cross to view that body and blood? We do not sacrifice Christ nor do we present again the one, all sufficient sacrifice. But we do remind God of that one and only way through which we may stand before Him and serve Him as His priestly people. We do that by holding up the body and blood of Christ, of His sacrificial death for us and for our salvation. This is not something we do for intent as it is the very natural way God sees and responds to what we are doing in heeding Christ's testament and "do this in remembrance of Me."

But this is certainly not the primary purpose of either the Words of Institution or the Sacrament. More important than this is the sacramental purpose. This bread and this blood are for the faithful eating and drinking of Christ's people, as He intends, for the forgiveness of their sins, for the strengthening of their faith, and for the nourishment of their bodies and souls to eternal life. For us the Mass is sacrament. The promise is fulfilled not only in the Words spoken over bread and wine to set them apart according to Christ's command but so that the faithful may eat and drink the body and blood of Christ hidden in the bread and wine. We proclaim the eternal event of Christ's sacrifice to the Father even as we proclaim it and receive it in the eating and drinking of the Sacrament as the people of God, the body of Christ the Church.

Again, you can find ample quotes in Luther for this as well as the fathers and the Lutheran theologians (again, I refer to Dr. David Scaer here). My point in all of this is that some try so very hard to box theology up into standard sizes and forms, to resolve all conflicts and loose ends, to turn the questions into simple black and white issues. The genius of Lutheran theology is that we allow the Word to be the Word. We accept the seeming contradictions without trying to clean up God's mess for Him. We are servants of the Word and not its masters. We see how the same words, speak to different hearers (God and man), for different purpose (prayer and proclamation, sacrifice and sacrament).

Well, I am sure this post will stir up something... Oh, well, every now and then we need to clean out the cobwebs...


Anonymous said...

Pastor, I'm not sure you have it entirely right on the Catholic side.

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"1353 In the epiclesis, the Church asks the Father to send his Holy Spirit (or the power of his blessing[178]) on the bread and wine, so that by his power they may become the body and blood of Jesus Christ and so that those who take part in the Eucharist may be one body and one spirit (some liturgical traditions put the epiclesis after the anamnesis).

In the institution narrative, the power of the words and the action of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine Christ's body and blood, his sacrifice offered on the cross once for all.

The old medieval idea of the priest as being some kind of magician has thankfully been corrected. Priestly ordination and succession is seen as a way to guarantee that the priest offers the Mass with the mind of the church. It is true that ordination confers the power on the priesthood of confecting the Presence in Catholic theology, but the Verba and Epiclesis are properly seen as the agents thereof.


Pastor Peters said...

Unless I am mistaken, the addition of the epiclesis and this shift only goes back as far as Vatican II. I am not handy to the canon in use prior to Vatican II but it seems to me that there was no epiclesis such as the Eastern Church has long had. Maybe my words are more appropos to the pre-Vatican II situation. Correct me if I am wrong...

Anonymous said...

I was basically focusing on the efficacy of the Verba to consecrate. Luther understood the sacrament based upon Augustine's definition that when the word binds itself to the element, it becomes a sacrament. Not only must the Verba be spoken, but it must be understood, it must be proclaimed. The people must hear the words spoken over the bread and wine, unlike the old Roman Rite where the words were spoken quietly and privately by the priest. Nevertheless, in both traditions without the Verba there is no sacrament.

Chris Jones said...

Fr Peters,

You are correct that the addition of an explicit epiclesis in the Roman Rite is a Vatican II-era innovation. The classic Roman anaphora has no explicit epiclesis.

However, Orthodox liturgical scholars (going back at least to St Nicholas Cabasilas in the 14th century) have regarded the Quam Oblationem section of the Roman anaphora to be an "implicit epiclesis." Nevertheless, Western-rite Orthodox today insert a Byzantine-style epiclesis into the anaphora anyway. I have been told that this is done as a sop to the sensibilities of Orthodox people who don't think the WR is "really Orthodox," rather than because it is necessary to "fix" the Roman rite.

Robert Lyons said...

Dear Pastor Peters,

Your comments inspired a post over at my blog yesterday. Just wanted to thank you for laying out this there. While I prefer the use of an epiclesis for confessional purposes, I can now better understand and appreciate the Lutheran perspective on this matter, and see how an epiclesis is implicit, from the Lutheran perspective, in the Verba.


Past Elder said...

Chris is quite right. The Roman Canon is a different animal than other anaphorae. It is a unity as they are, but in the sense that it is a symmetrical arrangement of distinct prayers to form a whole.

And being said in silence is essential to this undertanding, which is: the Mass is the life of Christ, and in the earlier parts of the Mass we have his teaching ministry where he taught openly and verbally therefore that part of the Mass is audible, but in the Canon one has the unbloody reality of his suffering and death, wherein he did not teach or even speak at all even in his own defence, but acted, and therefore the Csnon is spoken silently and the focus is the action, not the words, of the Consecration.

Pastor Peters said...

Rob, yes I understand you. I too am drawn to the epiclesis because of its historic place but it is, in effect, implicit in the Verba...

Phil said...

Concerning the Epiclesis, I think the key point for us Lutherans to remember is simply that the Holy Spirit is not inert with respect to God's act of consecration. I've heard the occasional Lutheran arguing against the Epiclesis before, but the only positive statement allowed concerning the Holy Spirit is that He acts on the hearers and recipients present and does nothing concerning the bread and wine.

Incidentally, this is the only role explicitly mentioned in LW DS II and in the several LSB liturgies: Holy Spirit as agent with regard to us who receive the Sacrament.

Phil said...

Additional thought: It might be a hangover from Receptionism.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, this is the only role explicitly mentioned in LW DS II and in the several LSB liturgies: Holy Spirit as agent with regard to us who receive the Sacrament.
. . .
Additional thought: It might be a hangover from Receptionism

Fascinating. That was also present in the Lutheran Book of Worship where one of the prayers said: "Send your Holy Spirit into our hearts that we might receive our Lord with a living faith."


Robert Lyons said...

Indeed, Phil and Christl242, I have always been particularlly unimpressed with the LBW/WOV and other Lutheran epiclii (is that the proper plural there?) that are for the hearers of the prayer as opposed to relating to the action itself. It indeed makes it sound receptionalistic.


Past Elder said...

When I first became a Lutheran, having grown up RC, while the basic pattern of the mass was recognisable, when it came to the matters discussed above the Verba-only seemed so bare, so reductive, so sparse, ignores much of traditional liturgy West and East.

But the longer I am Lutheran, the more I become convinced that Verba-only is the only way to go, that the rest of it, no matter how long or pious sounding its history, is just a vain concern for what we shall say, when all, absolutely all, that matters is what he said, and therefore we need say nothing else either. Take, eat, take, drink, do this etc -- there is no "you boys dress this up a bit too willya, when I'm gone".

Phil said...

Past Elder,

I agree that there may be good reasons for retaining the Verba alone, independent of any grammatical clauses. I don't think, though, that this use of the Verba ought to be justified by a kind of rationalistically applied principle of liturgical minimalism.

A minimalist liturgical principle, consistently applied, will likely reduce the Divine Service to readings, sermon, consecration, distribution, end. If you are concerned with embellishment, why not remove the Preface and Proper Preface? The Sanctus, Lord's Prayer and Agnus Dei are Scriptural, but they are arranged and located in their liturgical place by man.

I think that part of the point of what Pr. Peters and others have written is that, when push comes to shove, the Verba themselves can be prayed as eucharistically as any "fully-formed" canon. The Holy Spirit is as active in them as any Epiklesis might desire.

We Lutherans are not liturgical minimalists. We are liturgical conservatives.