Ceremony and Sacrifice in St Thomas Aquinas

Christopher Zealley FAITH Magazine May-June 2007

Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003) shows that Pope John Paul II sought to restore a due attention to Mass as the renewal of Calvary: ‘At times one encounters an extremely reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. Stripped of its sacrificial meaning, it is celebrated as if it were simply a fraternal banquet’.[1] Surely he was right to be concerned. Many Catholics do indeed seem scarcely aware that the Mass is, in the words of the encyclical, a sacramental perpetuation and ‘“commemorative representation” (memorialis demonstratio)’ of the sacrifice of the Cross.[2] For most, probably, the Mass is transparently a communal celebration of faith, culminating in a sacred meal, but fewwould say, if asked, that it puts them in mind of Calvary.[3]

Why this lack of awareness? Many factors may be involved, both catechetical and liturgical. For instance the widespread practice of the priest facing the people across the altar may have created an over-emphasis on the link between the Mass and the Last Supper. This new practice matches more closely a common image of the Cenacle meal as depicted in influential works of art.[4] But the purpose of this essay is to argue for the influence of a more long term contributory cause: neglect of the full Eucharistic doctrine of St Thomas Aquinas.

At one level this might seem strange, since St Thomas’s Eucharistic teaching has long enjoyed a high standing in the Church, and has clearly influenced magisterial teaching, for instance at the Council of Trent.[5] In the modern period St Thomas’s thought in general was recommended to theologians by the encyclicals Aeterni Patris (1879) and Studiorum Ducem (1923), and the influence of his thought is apparent in Mediator Dei (1947) and Mysterium Fidei (1965). The very phrase with which Pope Benedict begins his recent apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis, is taken from St Thomas’s Summa Theologica (III, q.83, a.3).

Nevertheless general surveys suggest that after Trent theologians began to lose interest in that part of St Thomas’ doctrine which concerned the sacrifice of the Mass, partly because it was thought to offer little help against Protestant controversialists.[6] In particular from the later nineteenth century (if not earlier) his teaching on sacramental signification commonly became a source of embarrassment or a subject for ridicule.[7] Mediator Dei attempted to reverse this trend, but its teaching was eclipsed by the Second Vatican Council’s Sacrosanctum Concilium, which, remarkably, contains not a single reference to Pius XII’s encyclical of just 16 years before.

Though in recent years there has been a revival of theological interest in St Thomas,[8] a certain coyness often remains when contemporary writers discuss his doctrine of the sacrifice of the Mass. My aim is to offer a critique of one such treatment, and to suggest that a recovery of St Thomas’ teaching on ceremonial symbolism, recommended implicitly in Mediator Dei and Ecclesia de Eucharistia, might serve to increase awareness of the sacrificial dimension of the Mass.

Sacrifice in the Summa

Mgr James T. O’Connor’s The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist, is a highly regarded survey of Catholic teaching on the Eucharist first published by Ignatius Press in 1988 and reissued with minor revisions in 2005. In this book the author ‘presents and comments on substantial excerpts from the major sources of the Church’s Tradition extending all the way back to apostolic times’. He does not intend to be original or controversial, and his views presumably exemplify much mainstream thinking in the Church. My contention is that O’Connor fails to provide a balanced and accurate exposition by sidelining St Thomas’ dependence on sacramental signification. In its place he emphasizes a teaching relating the sacrifice of the Mass to the Real Presence which he claimsto have found in the Summa Theologica, but which is not really there.

Before turning to O’Connor’s book we need to note that for St Thomas the term sacrifice in relation to the Mass has a narrower focus than is usual today. St Thomas distinguished between oblation and sacrifice, and used the former as the more general term, as we see in II:II, q.85 a.3 ad.3: ‘A sacrifice, properly speaking, requires that something be done to the thing which is offered to God…The very word signifies this, since sacrifice is so called because a man does something sacred (facit sacrum). On the other hand an oblation is properly the offering of something to God even if nothing be done thereto… Hence every sacrifice is an oblation, but not conversely’.[9] Thus St Thomas could say that the Mass is the same oblation as Calvarybecause the priest and victim are the same; but this truth did not establish that they were the same sacrifice. What makes Christ’s action on Calvary a sacrifice for St Thomas are the things done to him: the cruel abuse of his body leading to his death on the cross.[10] So the Mass must somehow involve these things if we are to assert its identity with the sacrifice of Calvary.

This narrowing of the issue is apparent in St Thomas’s only direct treatment of the subject in the Summa: Part III, question 83, article 1. Here he asks ‘Whether Christ is sacrificed in this sacrament [the Eucharist]?’ but then fails to call on patristic teaching that the priest and victim are the same to provide even a part of the answer. Rather, in his responsio, St Thomas states that ‘the celebration of this sacrament is called a sacrifice for two reasons’. Firstly, because it constitutes an image representing Christ’s Passion, and secondly, because it applies the redemptive fruit of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Shortly afterwards St Thomas cites St Ambrose’s assertion (in his commentary on Hebrews) that because of the Real Presence the same victim is offered atMass as on Calvary, but this patristic teaching is not one of his ‘two reasons’ for thinking the Eucharist is a sacrifice. In other words, the presence of the same victim is not at the heart of the question of the identity of the sacrifice.

In attempting to summarize St Thomas’s teaching O’Connor cannot avoid taking the responsio to question 83 as his starting point, and so he admits that St Thomas taught that the Eucharist is Christ’s sacrifice ‘because the once-and-forall sacrifice is symbolically represented’.[11] But he appears uncomfortable with this teaching, probably because he wishes to distance St Thomas from the Protestant view of the Eucharist as just a memorial, a symbolic means of calling Calvary to mind. With the apparent aim of ensuring that St Thomas is seen to offer something ‘deeper’ or more distinctively Catholic, he downplays the importance of signification and suggests instead that: ‘For St Thomas the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist…largely depends upon the [Real] Presence’.[12] This suggestion is fundamental to O’Connor’s interpretation of St Thomas on the sacrifice of the Mass, and yet is the element of his exposition which seems to me mistaken. My aim will be to show that, on the contrary, according to the Summa, the specifically sacrificial aspect depends on the ritual actions, the things done, and not on the Real Presence, the thing offered.

O’Connor’s case

O’Connor’s argument, that the sacrifice depends upon the Presence, may be set out as follows:

1. The consecrated species contain the Real Presence of Christ;

2. This Real Presence is the presence of Christ’s glorified body;

3. Christ’s glorified body bears the scars of his Passion, and so may be described as the presence of the victim of Calvary;

4. In having the presence of Jesus as victim of Calvary, we have the presence of the sacrifice of Calvary;

5. Therefore the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is renewed at Mass by the priest’s confecting the Real Presence.

In other words, if, after the consecration, we could see beneath the veil of the appearances of bread and wine, we would see Christ bearing the marks of his passion and death, as St Thomas the Apostle saw him after the Resurrection. We cannot see Christ in this fashion, but we know by faith he is so present, and thus we need nothing more to understand that the Eucharist has a sacrificial dimension, indeed is the same sacrifice as Calvary made present here and now.[13] In O’Connor’s words:

‘By emphasizing that the Sacrament contains the “Christ who has suffered” (and not simply the Christ now glorified in heaven), Thomas highlights an important truth. Suffering changes a person. The risen Christ, truly glorified, is nonetheless always the Victim, the One who has gone through and endured and been permanently marked by his Passion. It is as such that he is present to us in the Eucharist… The sacrificial state of Christ perdures even in his glorification’ (pp.200-01).

To maintain this view O’Connor sets aside q.83 and offers two other texts from the Summa: IIIa, q.73, a.4, ad 3 and IIIa, q. 75, a.1. As we shall see, on casual acquaintance both these passages might appear to serve O’Connor’s purpose, since they certainly characterize the Real Presence as the presence of Jesus who was sacrificed on Calvary. That neither provides sufficient support for his argument emerges when the contexts are more closely examined.

As translated in The Hidden Manna the first of these passages reads:

‘This Sacrament is said to be a sacrifice inasmuch as it represents the very Passion of Christ. Moreover it is a Victim inasmuch as it contains Christ himself who is, as Ephesians 5:2 tells us, a “fragrant sacrifice” (S.Th., IIIa, q.73, a.4, ad 3).’

The Latin original runs:

‘Ad tertium dicendum quod hoc sacramentum dicitur ‘sacrificium’, inquantum repraesentat ipsam passionem Christi. Dicitur autem ‘hostia’, inquantum continet ipsum Christum, qui est hostia suavitatis, ut dicitur Ephes.’

In O’Connor’s translation the two sentences comprising the passage are made to appear connected, because autem is rendered as ‘moreover’, and hostia in the citation from Ephesians as ‘sacrifice’. By these means O’Connor leaves the impression that Thomas is saying that the sacrament is a sacrifice firstly by representation, but more importantly because it contains Christ in the condition of a victim. But the context makes clear that this impression is misleading.

Question 73 a.4 begins with the question ‘Whether this sacrament [the Eucharist] is suitably called by various names?’ Following his usual method St Thomas suggests three grounds for answering no: (1) the sacrament is a unity, and so should not be given many names; (2) the terms used of the Eucharist do not distinguish it because they also apply to the other sacraments, for instance the term ‘sacrifice’; (3) hostia (‘host’ or ‘victim’) is not an appropriate option because it means the same as sacrifice. Then in the responsio St Thomas shows that different names used of the sacrament apply fittingly to its different aspects. Accordingly, in the answer to the third objection, from which O’Connor’s quotation is taken, he states that sacrifice and victim are bothappropriately used of the Eucharist because they refer to different aspects of the sacrament, ‘sacrifice’ to the representation of Calvary, and ‘victim’ (or ‘host’) to the sacrament as containing Christ. So we can see that it is not his intention here to establish a connection between the two terms; rather the opposite, he is telling us that they express two concepts that can be distinguished.

Thus the context makes clear that the purpose of the word ‘autem’ is to set apart the two words and their meanings; and this purpose is usually heeded by translators. For instance, in the early twentieth-century Blackfriars translation it is translated ‘but’. O’Connor’s rendering autem as ‘moreover’ actually frustrates St Thomas’s purpose, which is to emphasize that the terms ‘sacrifice’ and ‘victim’ express distinct ideas. Similarly fidelity to St Thomas’ purpose necessitates translating ‘hostia’ as ‘host’ or ‘victim’ on both the occasions it is used in the second sentence, whereas to translate the second use as ‘sacrifice’ confuses the issue and helps create an artificial link with the first sentence. Here is the more literal Blackfriars translation of the whole passage:

‘This sacrament is called a Sacrifice inasmuch as it represents the Passion of Christ; but it is termed a Host inasmuch as it contains Christ, Who is a host… of sweetness (Eph. v. 2).’

So all we learn from this passage regarding the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is what the first sentence, taken alone, says: that the sacrament is called a sacrifice because it represents the Passion, in other words, just what St Thomas expounds in III, q.83.

That Christ contained in the sacrament can be referred to as a host or victim, as stated in the second (Latin) sentence, doesn’t necessarily tell us, even implicitly, that the sacrifice depends upon the Real Presence. St Thomas isn’t necessarily saying that the sacrament contains Christ in a wounded or victimised state; he could simply be saying that it contains Christ, who was (in Palestine in the first century) a victim for our salvation. Of course the language is very striking – St Thomas clearly holds that it is appropriate to describe the Real Presence as a victim when discussing the Eucharist. But this could be read as a side-effect of St Thomas’s vigorous Eucharistic realism rather than an attempt to attribute woundedness to the Real Presence. Because the Eucharist is the wholeChrist, it is feasible and suitable to apply to it language used of Jesus in the Bible.

O’Connor’s second passage is as follows:

‘[It is appropriate that the Body and Blood of Christ be truly present in this Sacrament] because of the perfection of the New Covenant. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant contained the true sacrifice of Christ’s Passion only in symbol… Therefore it was necessary that the sacrifice of the New Covenant, instituted by Christ, have something more, namely, that it contain Christ himself who has suffered and contain him not only in symbol but in reality (S.Th., IIIa, q. 75, a.1).’

In the original:

‘Hoc autem conveniens est, primo quidem, perfectioni Novae Legis. Sacrificia enim Veteris Legis illud verum sacrificium passionis Christi continebant solum in figura: secundum illud Heb. X, Umbram habens lex futurorum bonorum, non ipsam rerum imaginem. Et ideo oportuit ut aliquid plus haberet sacrificium novae legis a Christo institutum; ut scilicet contineret ipsum passum, non solum in significatione vel figura, sed etiam in rei veritate.’

This second passage helps O’Connor’s case only if we assume the point at issue, that when St Thomas says the Eucharist contains Christ who has suffered, he means the Real Presence contains Jesus in a wounded condition. This would be one way to establish St Thomas’s contrast, between the Old Testament sacrifices on the one side, inadequate because merely symbolic, and the Mass on the other, which is a sacrifice containing Christ the victim in reality. But once again this seems a less compelling interpretation when the context is taken into account.

Thus we need to note that this passage is part of the responsio to the question ‘Whether the body of Christ be in this sacrament in very truth, or merely as in a figure or sign?’ (q.75, a.1) The subject matter is the sacrament’s status as Real Presence and not its status as sacrifice. The question asks whether Christ is really present, or whether he is present as a sign or figure, as he was (in St Thomas’ view) in the Old Testament sacrifices. It is not asking whether the sacrifice of the Mass is present as a sign or figure on the one hand, or in some ‘more real’ way on the other. The question actually asked receives a sufficient answer simply by bringing forward the doctrine of the Real Presence. The superiority of the Mass over the Old Testament sacrifices is fullyestablished by the Real Presence of Jesus under the sacramental species (in contrast to his Old Testament presence merely as a sign) even without the supposition that the Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament has, in whatever sense, a quality of woundedness. In short this passage, like the first, does not oblige us to suppose that St Thomas believed the Passion and Death of Christ to be made present in any other way than as a sign, or ritual image.

What O’Connor hopes to find in both the passages from the Summa is the use of language which can be taken to imply that the Real Presence has the status, or inner nature, of a wounded victim. But we have seen that the passages fully serve their purpose in the argumentation of the Summa without this implication having to be drawn. Because Christ died on Calvary, the Real Presence is certainly the presence of a person who was historically a victim, ipsum passum, ‘the one who suffered’. So using victim language of the Real Presence needn’t necessarily imply the possession of a hidden quality of woundedness.

To clarify the matter further it is worth considering other passages in the Summa which are not mentioned by O’Connor, but which bear on O’Connor’s theory. One apparently favouring him is as follows:

‘The Eucharist is the perfect sacrament of Our Lord’s Passion, as containing Christ himself who endured it (S.Th., IIIa, q.73, a.5, ad.2).’

‘Eucharistia est sacramentum perfectum Dominicae passionis, tanquam continens ipsum Christum passum.’

However the same hermeneutic applies. St Thomas is asserting that the Eucharist contains the Christ who suffered at Calvary, without necessarily asserting the woundedness of Christ’s Real Presence. It is the perfect sacrament of the Passion because it is accompanied by the Real Presence of the Christ who died on Calvary, not because the Real Presence lends extra victimhood to the victimhood signified by the ceremonial of the Mass.

On the other side there are certainly many passages which run counter to O’Connor’s theory in that they take for granted the centrality of signification for St Thomas’s view of the Mass as the representation of Calvary, as anyone reading the Summa on the Eucharist will quickly discover.

It is worth focussing on one passage because it runs so clearly counter to O’Connor’s view, and so strikingly manifests St Thomas’s thinking on the way in which the liturgy, rather than the consecrated elements, makes the Passion present at Mass. In the second article of question 83 he considers the question ‘Whether the time for celebrating this mystery [the Eucharist] has been properly determined?’ The second reason advanced for a negative answer is that ‘since this sacrament is commemorative of Our Lord’s Passion, it seems unsuitable… to be entirely omitted on Good Friday’. St Thomas replies that the objection fails because ‘The figure ceases on the advent of the reality’. On Good Friday, he says, ‘Our Lord’s Passion is recalled as it was really accomplished’, presumably referringwholly or mainly to the reading from St John’s gospel which was part of the liturgy for that day. By contrast the Eucharist only provided ‘a figure and a representation’ of the Passion, and so could not compete.

If O’Connor’s theory were correct, the Good Friday liturgy could hardly provide a closer approach to the Passion than the Real Presence of Jesus himself at any Mass. So St Thomas’s succinct phrase – ‘the figure ceases on the advent of the reality’- shows that he did not think in O’Connor’s terms at all. For him the ‘reality’ is the detailed representation of the Passion and Death delivered to the imagination by the Good Friday liturgy, and the ‘figure’ the distilled representation of Calvary found in the ceremonial symbols of Mass. In short, in dealing with the specific question of the identity of the Mass with Calvary St Thomas thought primarily in terms of what the liturgy, and not the Real Presence, achieved.

Senses of Victimhood

O’Connor’s texts from the Summa, then, need not imply that St Thomas thought that the Real Presence possesses the condition of a wounded victim. However, it remains possible that St Thomas could have put a double connotation on the term victim – implying not only that the Real Presence is the presence of Jesus who suffered and died in Palestine, but also that this Presence is invisibly wounded. So we need to look more closely at St Thomas’s theology to be sure that the Real Presence does not, in his view, have the sort of quality of woundedness that O’Connor depends upon. In fact two lines of argument found in St Thomas’s writings appear to rule out the notion that the Real Presence could have victim status in this strong sense of the term.

(1) It seems that St Thomas’s doctrine of ‘natural concomitance’ precludes the notion. It is clear from III, q.78 a.3, ad.1 that St Thomas believed that the liturgical representation of the death of Jesus depends upon ‘the blood being consecrated apart from the body; because it was by the Passion that the blood was separated from the body’. But according to his doctrine of concomitance each species once consecrated contains the whole Christ: body, blood, soul and divinity (III, q.76 a.1). So the Real Presence cannot itself have victim status in the strong sense, because body and blood are together and not separated in each species of the consecrated sacrament. Thus the doctrine of concomitance necessitates the ritual image, otherwise Calvary is not made present.

(2) Of course it is true that for St Thomas the body of Jesus made present under each species at the consecration is the glorified heavenly body of Jesus, and that this heavenly body bears the scars of the Passion. But these wounds cannot straightforwardly be identified with the wounds which caused Jesus’s death on the cross. The cavities in the hands, feet and side might look and feel like wounds (St Thomas the Apostle recognized them as the outcome of Calvary), but they are not wounds as we know them. Though they do not heal, they do not cause suffering and death, unlike the wounds of the Passion. Rather, the glorified wounds function as trophies – reminders of Christ’s victory over sin and death – and not as reminders of the traumas of the Passion; they are reasons for joy, and not forsorrow. In heaven the spectacle of Our Lord’s wounds cannot possibly be a cause of grief for the blessed, and so his Real Presence in the Mass cannot have the kind of victimised condition which might somehow move members of the Church militant to recall Jesus’ suffering and death.[14] In short, to use Valkenburg’s term, the Resurrection brought about a mutation in Our Lord’s body, and thereby deprived it of victim status in the strong sense of the term.[15] For St Thomas, the external ritual, especially the twofold consecration, is the most important means by which Christians are provoked by attendance at Mass to remember Christ’s Passion. The liturgy as seen is what (in principle)stirs up in us that sorrow for sin and love for Jesus which fits us for a worthy communion.[16]

For St Thomas, then, in the Summa, the Mass is a sacrifice identical with Calvary primarily because the Passion and Death of Christ are symbolised by the ritual action, especially the dual consecration. In his book O’Connor asserts that we can find in the Summa a further and more important basis of identity in the idea that the Real Presence is characterized by a hidden woundedness. This theory is based primarily on texts in which St Thomas uses the term ‘victim’ or ‘the one who suffered’ for the Real Presence. But we have seen that this usage is not enough to prove O’Connor’s point. Two arguments have also been sketched to suggest that St Thomas’s theology of the Real Presence precludes in principle the attribution of victim status in the strong senseto the Blessed Sacrament. These findings are not really surprising. Prima facie it would seem an artificial and implausible exercise to build from materials in the Summa an argument which St Thomas did not advance himself, though occasion called for it.[17] Even more fundamentally, of course, we noted at the outset that the presence of a victim was not enough for St Thomas to establish the existence of a sacrifice, but only an oblation. O’Connor tries to smuggle a victim-definition of sacrifice back into St Thomas, neglecting the saint’s requirement that for a sacrifice to happen, something must be done, and not merely something offered. For St Thomas the nature of the Real Presence (as Christ’s glorified not histraumatised body) means that the only way in which Christ as victim is present in the strong sense is through the symbolism generated by the liturgical action.

It is true that St Thomas’s answer to III, q.83, a.1 has two parts, and I have focused only on the first, in which he asserts that ‘the celebration of this sacrament is an image representing Christ’s Passion’. He goes on to state that the sacrifice of Calvary is also identical with the sacrifice of the Mass because ‘by this sacrament we are made partakers of the fruit of Our Lord’s Passion’ through actual or spiritual communion. But it has to be noted that identity through representation is the first argument offered, and the redemptive benefits the second. This is probably not a list in arbitrary order. St Thomas had to regard the ceremonial identity as the chief source of identity, because, as David Berger shows, he believed that ‘the sanctification of man is directed ultimately to theservice of the rite’, and not the reverse.

‘Just as the entire life and passion of Christ was directed primarily and comprehensively to the glorification of God, and as even the salvation of man is subordinated to this goal, likewise in the liturgy the soteriological purpose of the rite (santificatio hominis) is totally subordinated to its latreutical purpose (cultus divinus)… The two inseparable objectives of the liturgy, sanctification and homage, do not simply run side by side, but have an ordered relationship to one another; the act of grace is subordinate to the rite (David Berger, Thomas Aquinas and the Liturgy, 2004, pp.73-4, 87).’

Incarnational Religion

In the Summa St Thomas asserts that the Eucharist was instituted to leave man ‘a memorial of our Lord’s Passion as accomplished’ (IIIa, q.73, a.5, ad.3). We only properly appreciate his Eucharistic theology if we recognize that for him the substantial Real Presence in itself provides no such way of remembering, because our senses cannot take us beyond the appearances of bread and wine. A reminder has to be something which is manifest and external, but the Real Presence (in its substance) is secret and interior – the ‘Hidden Manna’ of O’Connor’s title. Consequently, another means of bringing the presence of Calvary to mind is needed, one accessible to the senses. And so what Jesus left, and the Church through the Holy Spirit developed, was the combination ofwords and ritual which constitute the Mass.

That Jesus himself intended the ritual as well as the words of the dual consecration to be significant seems to be magisterial teaching. The Fathers of Trent inform us that Christ instituted the Mass ‘that he might leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires’.[18] This text means just what it says, as Michael McGuckian has recently emphasized: ‘A correct interpretation of the doctrine of the Council of Trent… must maintain that the sacrificial character of the Mass is to be sought on the plane of the visible liturgical action’.[19] One major theologian who has given due weight to Christ’s intention regarding the ritual aswell as the verbal dimension of the consecrations is Matthias Scheeben (1835-88). According to the digest of his theology edited by Wilhelm and Scannell, he taught as follows: ‘Considering the glorified state of the victim on the one hand, and on the other the manner in which the human memory is awakened by sense perceptions, it seems impossible to devise a better commemoration of the death on the Cross. The distinctness and expressiveness of the words of institution, “This is My blood which is shed; My body which is given (= sacrificed),” leave no doubt that in the mind of Christ the very essence of the commemorative sacrifice lies in the separate presence of body and blood on the altar.’[20]

This point presumably helps to explain why, from later patristic times to the introduction of a wholly vernacular liturgy in 1970, the Church’s hierarchy judged the ceremonies of Mass to be pastorally more helpful than the words. For 1500 years generation after generation of Popes, Bishops, saints and spiritual writers saw no urgent case for introducing the vernacular. They seem to have assumed that the overwhelming majority of the laity, with no knowledge of Latin, and unable even to hear most of the words used at Mass (including the consecration formulae), could find in the ceremonial alone a sufficient help to identifying the Mass with Jesus’ Passion and Death.

Hence, for instance, we can see that the medieval innovation of elevating the sacred species represented a huge step forward for lay participation in the liturgy, because the new practice (accompanied by bells) ensured that the most of the congregation knew when the twofold consecration took place. Of course the ceremonial could only function as a means of recalling Calvary if those attending Mass could understand its symbolic meaning; but from the early medieval period to the mid-twentieth century, a voluminous spiritual literature existed to bring this about.[21] Great numbers of saints, theologians and writers of popular catechetics contributed to a specific genre of ‘the spiritual exegesis of the liturgy’, and it is plausible to supposethat until relatively recently some familiarity with this genre or its content was very widespread.[22]

Given that liturgical reformers after Vatican II emphasized intellectual participation much more than visual, it is worth noting that the more traditional approach had been at the forefront of magisterial attention only shortly before. The twentieth-century liturgical movement had included a revival of interest in the symbolic value of the Mass ceremonial and this found striking endorsement, specifically in relation to the consecration ritual, in Pius XII’s 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei:

‘… the divine wisdom has devised a way in which our Redeemer’s sacrifice is marvellously shown forth by external signs symbolic of death. By the “transubstantiation” of bread into the body of Christ and of wine into His blood both His body and blood are rendered really present; but the eucharistic species under which He is present symbolize the violent separation of His body and blood, and so a commemorative showing forth of the death which took place in reality on Calvary is repeated in each Mass, because by distinct representations Christ Jesus is signified and shown forth in the state of victim.[23]

It must be significant that John Paul II draws on this passage of Mediator Dei in the very encyclical in which he laments the loss of awareness of the sacrificial dimension of Mass. He even borrows (with acknowledgment) Pius XII’s phrase ‘memorialis demonstratio’ for his reiteration of the traditional teaching on the basis of the identity of the Mass with the sacrifice of the Cross. Since the teaching of Pius XII on sacramental signification clearly derives from St Thomas (S.T. III, q.76, a2, ad 1, q.78 a.3, ad.1), recalling Catholics to Mediator Dei is once again to underline the Church’s debt to St Thomas for her understanding of the issue.[24] It would be interesting to know whether Pope John Paul II himselfhad III, q.83 of the Summa in mind.

Thus it is possible to contend that one effect of the type of misinterpretation of St Thomas exemplified by O’Connor’s book is to obscure the showing forth of Calvary by diverting attention away from the external ritual of Mass, especially the dual consecration, as a means of imaging Christ’s sacrifice. How many children currently have the simple and straightforward significance of this ritual explained to them when being prepared for First Communion or Confirmation? If the sacrifice is fittingly seen chiefly as an aspect of the Real Presence, as Mgr O’Connor and others maintain, then the tradition upholding the symbolic meaning of the liturgy might safely be downplayed. But if they are wrong, then the moment may have arrived, taking a hint from the late Holy Father, to pay it renewedattention.

A Final Word: Ancient Ceremonial Revisited

Given that the rite of dual consecration has such importance for St Thomas, perhaps we should also pay him serious attention when he explains the symbolism of other parts of the Mass ceremonial. (In doing this he was typical of the ceremonial exegetes.) Fandal points out that St Thomas uses same verb ‘to represent’ both when making the general point about the Mass imaging Christ’s sacrifice (in the responsio of q.83, a.1), and when explaining how the signs of cross made by the priest during the canon call to mind particular aspects of the Passion, Death and Resurrection (q.83, a.5).[25] As these signings were dropped from the reformed version of the Roman rite in 1967, they are now unfamiliar territory to manyCatholics, and their significance for previous generations largely forgotten. So it may be of value to finish with another quotation from the Summa (IIIa, q.83, a.5, ad.3):

‘The priest, in celebrating the mass, makes use of the sign of cross to signify Christ’s Passion which was ended upon the cross. Now, Christ’s Passion was accomplished in certain stages.

First of all there was Christ’s betrayal, which was the work of God, of Judas, and of the Jews; and this is signified by the triple sign of the cross at the words, These gifts, these presents, these holy unspotted sacrifices.

Secondly, there was the selling of Christ. Now he was sold to the Priests, to the Scribes, and to the Pharisees: and to signify this the threefold sign of the cross is repeated, at the words, blessed, enrolled, ratified. Or again, to signify the price for which he was sold, viz., thirty pence. And a double cross is added at the words – that it may become to us the Body and the Blood, etc., to signify the person of Judas the seller, and of Christ Who was sold.

Thirdly, there was the foreshadowing of the Passion at the last supper. To denote this, in the third place, two crosses are made, one in consecrating the body, the other in consecrating the blood; each time while saying, He blessed.

Fourthly, there was Christ’s Passion itself. And so in order to represent His five wounds, in the fourth place, there is a fivefold signing of the cross at the words, a pure Victim, a holy Victim, a spotless Victim, the holy bread of eternal life, and the cup of everlasting salvation.

Fifthly, the outstretching of Christ’s body, and shedding of the blood, and the fruits of the Passion, are signified by the triple signing of the cross at the words, as many as shall receive the body and blood, may be filled with every blessing, etc.

Sixthly, Christ’s threefold prayer upon the cross is represented; one for His persecutors when He said, Father, forgive them; the second for deliverance from death, when He cried, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? the third referring to His entrance into glory, when He said, Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit; and in order to denote these there is a triple signing with the cross made at the words, Thou dost sanctify, quicken, bless.

Seventhly, the three hours during which He hung upon the cross, that is, from the sixth to the ninth hour, are represented; in signification of which we make once more a triple sign of the cross at the words, Through Him, and with Him, and in Him.

Eighthly, the separation of His soul from the body is signified by the two subsequent crosses made over the chalice.

Ninthly, the resurrection on the third day is represented by the three crosses made at the words – May the peace of the Lord be ever with you.’

[1] Ecclesia de Eucharistia, CTS translation, 2003, p.9.

[2] Ibid., p.11

[3] As customary, ‘Calvary’ will be taken as shorthand for Jesus’s Passionand Death.

[4] K.Gamber, The Modern Rite: Collected Essays on the Reform ofthe Liturgy, 2002, pp.25-6. Gamber states that this practice was pioneered by Martin Luther, who took the idea from artists’ inaccurate representations of the Last Supper. See J.Hasting, Last Supper, Phaidon, 2000, for examples of such artworks.

[5] E.g. J.L.Farthing, Thomas Aquinas and Gabriel Biel, 1988, D.Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents, 1991, P.J.Fitzpatrick, In Breaking of Bread: The Eucharist and Ritual, Cambridge, 1993.

[6] E.g. B.Byron, A Theology of Eucharistic Sacrifice, Hales Corners, 1974, p.55. Following the Fathers, St Thomas reckoned the representative nature of the Eucharist to be the prime source of its identity with Calvary, but Protestants believed the Eucharist could not be one with Calvary because only representative; see D.C.Fandal, OP, The Essence of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, River Forest, 1960, p.5. This striking reversal of view seems to have affected Catholic sacramental theology almost as radically as it did Protestant.

[7] Eg.Paul McPartlan, Sacrament of Salvation, 1995, p.102; A.Fortescue, The Wisdom of Adrian Fortescue, ed. M.Davies, Fort Collins, 1999, pp.367-9. J.A.Jungman was apparently so incensed by St Thomas’ teaching on sacramental signification in relation to the sacrifice that he denied his authorship of the relevant section of the Summa (III, q.83): The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, New York, 1951, vol.i, p.114, n.61.

[8] A plethora of introductory studies have appeared in English in the last few years, e.g. by Aidan Nichols, Brian Davies, Nicholas Healy, Ralph McInerny, Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering.

[9] For a fuller discussion of St Thomas on sacrifice see Fandal, op.cit. Quotations from the Summa are from the early 20th century Blackfriars translation published by Burns Oates & Washbourne, unless otherwise stated.

[10] S.T. III, q.48 a.4

[11] O’Connor, The Hidden Manna, 2nd edition, 2005, p.200.

[12] Ibid., p.198, my italics.

[13] Ibid., pp.199-200. The same view appears in older authorities, e.g. W.Farrell & M.J.Healy, My Way of Life (1952), p.541: ‘… this sacrament contains Christ Himself and the Passion of Christ’ (my italics).

[14] III, q.54 a.4: ‘… He kept his scars not from inability to heal them but to wear them as an everlasting trophy of His victory’. And see q, 54 a 4 ad 2: ‘Although those openings of the wounds break the continuity of the tissue, still the greater beauty of glory compensates for all this, so that the body is not less entire, but more perfected’ and ad 1: ‘a special comeliness will appear in the places scarred by the wounds’.

[15] W.Valkenburg, Words of the Living God: Place and Function of Holy Scripture in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, Leuven, 2000, p.69. This mutation accounts for the absence in Catholic iconography of portrayals of the monstrance on the cross, or in the crib. The cross and the crib are signs of Christ’s humiliation in becoming man, and so an inappropriate context for his glorified, post-Resurrection body. The idea of a significant change is commonplace in the tradition. See, for example, Charles de Condren (1588-1641): ‘the body of Jesus Christ… at the resurrection… entered into a more perfect state, higher, holier, more absolutely consecrated to God’ (The Priesthood and Sacrifice of Jesus Christ, 1899, p.81).

[16] See III, q.46, a.3, responsio: St Thomas argues that Christ had to endure his Passion because, in the first place, ‘man knows thereby how much God loves him, and is thereby stirred to love him in return.’

[17] Cf.David N.Power, The Eucharistic Mystery: Revitalizing the Tradition, 1992, p.227.

[18] Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent. Transl. H.J.Schroeder, OP. (1950), p.144, my italics. C.f. M.Levering, Sacrifice and Community: Jewish Offering and Christian Eucharist (2005), p.90: ‘In teaching human beings about eternal realities in accord with the manner of human knowing through sensible things, God works through the visible sign to make present the invisible reality’.

[19] M.McGuckian, SJ, The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: A Search for an Acceptable Notion of Sacrifice. (2005), p.6.

[20] J.Wilhelm & T.B.Scannell, A Manual of Catholic Theology based on Scheeben’s “Dogmatik”. 2nd edn (1901), ii,456, my italics. I haven’t checked this against Scheeben’s original.

[21] E.g. O.B.Hardison, Christian Rite and Christian Drama in the Middle Ages, Baltimore, 1965; G.Macy, Treasures from the Storeroom: Medieval Religion and the Eucharist, Collegeville, 1999. Hardison notes that popular devotional manuals contained allegorical interpretations of ceremonial right up to the mid 1950s (p.39).

[22] J.Saward, ‘The Cosmic Liturgy and the Way of the Lamb: Retrieving the Tradition of Spiritual Exegesis of the Mass’ Antiphon Vol.7, No.1, 2002, pp.18-28.

[23] Para.74 (C.T.S paragraph numbering and translation by G.D.Smith, 1967 printing). It is this teaching of St Thomas Aquinas and Pope Pius XII which Paul McPartlan dismisses as ‘pious nonsense’: see note 7 above. R.Moloney comments thus on its origins: ‘While it is disputed to what extent this notion is scriptural, it is certainly patristic teaching, for instance Gregory of Nazianzen, Letter 171 (PG 37, 280).’ R.Moloney, SJ, The Eucharist, 1995, p.148, n.10. For another patristic source see Hardison, p.36, n.5.

[24] See also Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei (1965), para.27: ‘by means of the eucharistic mystery, the sacrifice of the cross, achieved once on Calvary, is marvellously symbolised, continually recalled to the memory, and its saving virtue is applied to the remission of sins…’ (translated by Byron, op.cit., p.70).

[25] D.C.Fandal, pp.34-5, notes 56 & 65.

Faith Magazine

May - June 2007