Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Offensive Canon

Luther's liturgical surgery upon the mass was largely limited to the canon of the mass (specifically, what we call today the Eucharistic Prayer).  He pointedly objected to the language of sacrifice which had transformed the mass from the gift of God given to the people of God into the gift of God's people and their re-presentation of Christ's [unbloody] sacrifice to the Father on our behalf.  While we might spend hours here talking about this, the words were largely unknown to the laity of Luther's day.  Spoken in Latin, the language of the elite or academic, and spoken in a whispered voice, silent before the congregation, his excision of these offensive words was something that would have gone unnoticed to the vast majority of people in the pews.

Even today, unless you are attending Mass in the Extraordinary Form (the Latin mass), you hear just about everything the priest says.  For many centuries, however, the Roman Canon was said nearly silently -- audible only to those assisting the priest at the altar and unheard by the people.  One commentator said:  When you hear Eucharist Prayers at Mass, remember this: the priest is not talking to you.  He is addressing God the Father on your behalf in the way that only an ordained priest can.

Luther did not remove as many of the sacrificial elements from the Mass as it is sometimes stated.  There are many who make great importance of Luther's liturgical reforms of the mass but most of this was lost to the congregation.  They were tuned into to what was going on and when by the ceremonial of the mass, by the ringing of the bells, and by the cue of the priest (he speaks the phrase "Nobis quoque peccatoribus" in a slightly audible voice, and says or sings aloud the final phrase of the doxology, "per omnia saecula saeculorum", so as to let the server or the choir know when to say or sing "Amen").  By these markers, they knew where they were -- literally -- in the mass and tailored their response in the appropriate way.  Because it was offered silently, Luther could omit most of the Canon of the Mass without upsetting the people. The most dramatic of Luther's liturgical changes was that the Words of Institution were to be sung aloud to the same tone as the Gospel was chanted.

While I am not here to argue with Luther's critique of the mass, or what it had become, I marvel at those who make much of his liturgical legacy when, to the naked eye of the people of Wittenberg, little was heard or seen that sounded or looked different from the Roman mass -- save that one point.  Luther had the Words of Institution chanted on the Gospel tone -- a move sure to identity the Verba Christi as Gospel and not Law.

Luther was not insensitive to this and in fact insists that as little be done as possible to disrupt what people expected within the mass (in words and actions).  So while we today make much of his liturgical legacy, the people at Wittenberg and the surrounding area did not recognize that much of a change when it comes to the canon of the mass (or Eucharistic Prayer).  The ceremonial that they had come to expect was largely there.  The elevation was there.  They still watched with their backs to the Pastor and what would surely have stood out was not what was missing but what was present -- the Verba Christi sung aloud.  It is quite amusing in this regard to listen to the complaints of Lutherans against that “catholic” chanting of the Words of Institution. Rome has never done so! It is a Lutheran innovation!

Interesting also is the complaint of traditionalist Archbishop Lefebvre who insisted that Vatican II had followed Luther's errors in the shape of the new mass.  Indeed, Luther's response to the Mass was shaped by his reading of Scotus and Biel.  Luther, not primarily a patristics man or liturgical theologian, found the teaching therein offensive.  What is then ironic is that some today complain that Luther was ever the medievalist when he excised the canon and left the bare minimum, the Words of Institution.  As St. Thomas Aquinas says:
The Consecration is accomplished by the words and expressions of the Lord Jesus. Because, by all the other words spoken, praise is rendered to God, prayer is put up for the people, for kings, and others; but when the time comes for perfecting the Sacrament, the priest uses no longer his own words, but the words of Christ. Therefore, it is CHRIST’S words that perfect the Sacrament.... The form of this Sacrament is pronounced as if Christ were speaking in person, so that it is given to be understood that the minister does nothing in perfecting this Sacrament, except to pronounce the words of Christ. (Summa, III, Q. 78, Art. 1).

Now a sacrifice cannot occur without the immolation, or “offering up,” of a victim. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “It is proper to this Sacrament that Christ should be immolated in its celebration.” (Summa, III, 83, 1). In the Sacrifice of the Cross and the Sacrifice of the Mass, the primary sacrificing Priest, namely Christ, and the sacrificial gift are identical. Only the nature and mode of the offering of the two are different. Each and every valid Mass recapitulates – makes present once again – the same Sacrifice which occurred at Calvary. The only difference is that Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross was bloody, that of the Mass is unbloody. The sacrifice of the Cross and that of the Mass are nevertheless one and the same Sacrifice. As the Catechism of the Council of Trent states:

The bloody and unbloody Victim are not two, but one Victim only, whose Sacrifice is daily renewed in the Eucharist... The priest is also one and the same, Christ the Lord; for the ministers who offer Sacrifice, consecrate the holy mysteries, not in their own person, but in that of Christ, was the words of Consecration themselves make clear; for the priest does not say, “This is the body of Christ,” but, “This is My Body,” and thus acting in the person of Chris the Lord, he changes the substance of bread and wine into the substance of His Body and Blood.

While Luther would not argue that the body and blood of Christ present and received (without much explanation as to how and therefore the rejection of transubstantiation) was, indeed, the very sacrificial body and blood of Christ once offered on the cross and now made present, the offense was that the direction of this offering was primarily toward God and not to the people of God.

So, to bring this all to a close... for those who make much of Luther's insistence upon this point, it must be difficult to know that at the very same time Luther worked to make much of the transition to the evangelical (a classic word) position as seamless and smooth as possible, that his changes were largely unseen and unheard by the people in the pews, and that, for all intents and purposes, the chanted Verba are the one lasting and enduring innovation -- now the spoken form out loud regularized by Rome as well.  What might Luther have done if he had been a patristics scholar (more like Laurentius Petri in Sweden), we can never know; he might have distinguished the language of the canon from the use of a canon.  Nevertheless, Lutherans equally as committed to the sacramental character of the Eucharistic presence have worked for generations to restore the prayer of thanksgiving that accompanies the Words of Thanksgiving (the Verba) of Christ.

I am just sayin.... well, I do not need to tell you.  I bet you already know where I stand on this....


Terry Maher said...

Certainly, Luther's own writings and the Confessions themselves point with pride to the retention of the usual ceremonies, including the lectionary and calendar. One would not have seen all that much of a change indeed -- in the mass overall.

But one would have, in the addition of hymns in the local language, and indeed in the absence of the canon.

The canon does not depend on being heard to be noticed. It takes a while to say it, and the removal of that "while" would indeed be quite noticeable. Sanctus-Verba-Agnus Dei is pretty abrupt if one is used to the Verba being part of something now absent.

The canon being said silently is not regarded as an abuse, but as it should be: the Mass (sic) conforms to the pattern of the life of Christ, in which he first spoke (teaching, whose liturgical analogue is the Liturgy of the Word) and then acted (the Cross, whose analogue if the Liturgy of the Sacrament) not even speaking in his own defence. Therefore, the sacramental presence of this same act is done silently and the focus is on the action, not the words.

That is why, in complete distinction from the rest of the mas which is mostly retained, the canon is not. Not because it is silent, but because it is there at all. And also why "reform" is a different matter for Lutherans than Catholics. Dom Gueranger, greatest of all Benedictines, sought reform not with a new liturgy but involvement of the people in the existing one; by my time, we all had personal missals with the canon and the rest to read along, Latin on the left page, local language on the right.

THe novus ordo sought involvement in a different way, not only making audible the words of the canon but adding more canons, mainly drawn from Hippolytus and Eastern sources, Basil in particular. Which also abandons the idea of the word-then-action.

What remains is the idea of sacrifice; what changes is the idea of how one participates in it. I'll leave the RC intramural controversy of whether this also changes the idea of sacrifice to them.

But for us, it shows two things. One, a canon has no place for us at all, its only point is to express sacrifice, which is why Lutheran removed it rather than reformed it into a non-sacrificial one. Two, we disrupt the otherwise seamless transition when we no longer retain the usual ceremonies and put in place of them new ones as Rome has done, lectionary and calendar and all, with exactly the same argument as the CW types about what people are used to, or relate to, to use the more recent expression and what increases their participation in Word and Sacrament.

Pastor Peters said...

An earlier draft of this was mistakenly posted and the longer version has been restored... either for good or not, Terry.

Irenaeus said...

An Anglo-Catholic Mass was celebrated by a traditional Anglican Bishop, during which the Canon was spoken quietly (as described in Pastor Peter's post). Following the Mass the Bishop was talking with the faithful, and asking them how they enjoyed the Mass. One of the dear ladies of the parish said, "It was beautiful, Your Eminence; however, when it came to the Canon, I couldn't hear a word you said!" To which the Bishop matter-of-factly replied, "I wasn't talking to YOU!"

William Weedon said...

Couple thoughts:

I obviously do not object to the use of a Eucharistic Prayer, but having lived for many years with the form we have (the Preface / Sanctus / Our Father / Verba / Pax), I must confess that it is not deficient.

Note that Luther's Formula Missa prescribed the Verba be sung *in the Lord's Prayer tone* - and that in the intro to DM, he specifically notes that he intends DM not as replacement, but as supplement.

Finally, if you've not had chance to catch them, you might notice in the Lutheran Dogmaticians a more nuanced approach to the matter of sacrifice than we discover in Luther:


In the celebration of the Eucharist ‘we proclaim the Lord’s death’ (1 Cor. 11:26) and pray that God would be merciful to us on account of that holy and immaculate sacrifice completed on the cross and on account of that holy Victim which is certainly present in the Eucharist…. That he would in kindness receive and grant a place to the rational and spiritual oblation of our prayer. (Confessio Catholica, vol II, par II, arti xiv, cap. I, ekthesis 6, 1200-1201)
It is clear that the sacrifice takes place in heaven, not on earth, inasmuch as the death and passion of God’s beloved Son is offered to God the Father by way of commemoration… In the Christian sacrifice there is no victim except the real and substantial body of Christ, and in the same way there is no true priest except Christ Himself. Hence, this sacrifice once offered on the cross takes place continually in an unseen fashion in heaven by way of commemoration, when Christ offers to His Father on our behalf His sufferings of the past, especially when we are applying ourselves to the sacred mysteries, and this is the ‘unbloody sacrifice’ which is carried out in heaven. (1204)


If we view the matter from the material standpoint, the sacrifice in the Eucharist is numerically the same as the sacrifice that took place on the cross; put otherwise, one can say that the things itself and the substance is the same in each case, the victim or oblation is the same. If we view the matter formally, from the standpoint of the act of sacrifice, then even though the victim is numerically the same, the action is not; that is, the immolation in the Eucharist is different from the immolation carried out on the cross. For on the cross an offering was made by means of the passion and death of an immolated living thing, without which there can be no sacrifice in the narrow sense, but in the Eucharist the oblation takes place through the prayers and through the commemoration of the death or sacrifice offered on the cross. (Examen theologicum acroamaticum, II, 620)


Terry Maher said...

The longer version now restored makes your point much better!

But doesn't change mine, which are basically two: the canon in its absence would be as entirely noticeable as the Verba in their presence. By the nature of what a canon is, it does not depend on hearing. Pre-Vatican II "reform" sought a greater involvement of the people in the canon not by having them hear it but follow its text; they no more need to hear it than to say it.

The other point being, Luther's excision of the canon did not come from a lack of patristics but from getting what a canon is, and even if one uses the term Eucharistic Prayer, it depends on a different understanding than ours of what the Eucharist being prayed is -- the language of the canon is what it is because of the use of the canon, and if that use is wrong, and it is, there is neither need nor place for a bloody canon in the Sacrament rightly administered.

Or as Past Elder might put it: he said Take and Eat/Drink, not take and offer, not take and pray, not take and adore, not Hey it would be nice to dress this up later on since right now I'm kind of pressed for time with the crucifixion coming up to-morrow.

Anonymous said...

The late great Martin Luther nailed
it when he said the most important
thing in receiving the Sacrament
is believing these words: Given and
shed FOR YOU for the forgiveness of

It is a waste of words and ink to
take about Mass, Canon, when the laity just want the Sacrament of the
Altar each week.

Laura said...

You overgeneralize about the laity, Anonymous. The rest of us are very interested in these words and that is why we are here!

Janis Williams said...

Righto, Laura! We recovering Evangelicals agree!

Anonymous said...

Laura and Janis are part of the
upwardly mobile liturgically elite
laity. Like the "Jeffersons" on TV
you are moving on up! Have a good