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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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There is little in the way of evidence that the early Church gives much thought toward the preparation for the Eucharist.  I suppose this should not surprise us as the Gospels say little about the preliminaries of the first Mass or final Seder that Jesus shares with his apostles. Indeed, what we do discover in the Gospel story is first about Judas.  We read: 

“Now the feast of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was drawing near, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to put him [Jesus] to death, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve, and he went to the chief priests and temple guards to discuss a plan for handing him over to them. They were pleased and agreed to pay him money. He accepted their offer and sought a favorable opportunity to hand him over to them in the absence of a crowd” (Luke 22:1-6).

Judas is dismissed from the Supper table to do what he plots to do.  The next time we see him, he betrays his master with a kiss. Like all sacraments, the Mass has visible and invisible elements.  While the matter, ritual and words impact the senses; the invisible is the whole paschal mystery: the betrayal, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ— our Lord’s saving work and the “real presence” in the Eucharist. It may surprise us but hidden from view Satan is himself actively engaged in the preparation of the Mass that liberates us from diabolical bondage. Working through his emissary Judas, certain fathers of the Church suggest that the devil is initially unaware that his plotting is counterproductive to his aims. I would interject that the devil is no intellectual fool but that he himself is a victim to his own hubris and cannot navigate outside of divine providence.  He very much wants to corrupt the apostles and to spoil the divine plan; but in the end, despite his temptations and the possession of one apostle’s heart and the abscondence of fortitude from the others, the death that he pursues would be not his victory but his ultimate defeat.

Jesus dies once and for all. He will never die again.  But this re-presentation of Christ’s saving work in the Mass has the devil playing out again and again his own counterproductive plan.  The Lord deliberately confounds the devil with a kingdom that stands in contradiction to the world.  That is why it perplexes the devil to the very moment that Jesus says, “It is finished” and dies. Satan has within his control the religious leaders. The Pharisees, who should have been kindred spirits to our Lord, oppose him instead. Those who should have been his allies seek to catch him in his speech and kill him.  Indeed, even his family thinks he is crazy.  Neighbors and friends of his home-town want him dead for teaching what they regard as blasphemy. His apostles are despised tax-collectors and smelly fishermen.  They would betray him and then run away and hide.  He has nothing in the way of riches.  The only crown he would ever wear is weaved from thorns.  His lead prophet John the Baptist is put to death over a ridiculous domestic issue. The devil’s victory seems assured but the fix is on.  The devil scratches his head when Christ teaches absurdities like turning the cheek to someone who strikes you, giving to those who take from you and worse yet, loving and forgiving those who hate and hurt you.  The devil has an intellect that would put the greatest of human genius to shame— but he could not fathom this Christ and his parables— and the greatest parable is realized in the Cross.  How can it be?  Jesus has to lose so as to win.  He would tell those who would be his followers— you have to die so as to rise with him.  Nonsense, such notions are beyond rationality!  The devil is so filled with himself that he has no room within for understanding the wisdom of God.  He could corrupt hearts but there is something about the sacred heart that is beyond his comprehension. His arrogance and conceit leaves no room for compassion and the meaning of mercy.  Talk about poetic justice— and now with every Mass his face is pushed headlong into his greatest defeat.  The devil is made to play the fool.  He is among the highest of the angels in the created order but he rebels against God and forfeits his standing. God would now use this angelic “greatness” against him.  Our Lord would become man, something infinitely small and vulnerable.  This is something to which Satan refuses to bend the knee.  Imagine the great surprise— the devil is defeated not by a God that could readily crush him with titanic expressions of power, and us along with him— but by becoming something very small, wounded, broken, betrayed, crushed, and destroyed. And more, having redeemed a people by his death, our Lord would not stay dead but rises by his own power.  Now Mary his Mother, and all those who follow him— creatures of flesh and blood and spirit— all have what the devil has forever forfeited, sanctifying grace that transforms creatures into sons and daughters of the Father.  Every Mass is offered to the glory of God and to the humiliation of Satan. This is the backdrop to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.    

The biblical reference to the preparation of the place and gifts is given nothing in the way of detail.  Jesus offers minimal instructions:

“When the day of the feast of Unleavened Bread arrived, the day for sacrificing the Passover lamb, he sent out Peter and John, instructing them, ‘Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.’ They asked him, ‘Where do you want us to make the preparations?’ And he answered them, ‘When you go into the city, a man will meet you carrying a jar of water. Follow him into the house that he enters and say to the master of the house, “The teacher says to you, ‘Where is the guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” He will show you a large upper room that is furnished. Make the preparations there.’ Then they went off and found everything exactly as he had told them, and there they prepared the Passover” (Luke 22:7-13).

No doubt more is done than just getting a room.  The lamb has to be cooked and the other required foods bought.  Someone has to provide the wine.  We often imagine the men who constitute his apostles around the table, but there are likely women in the house who also make ready for the Seder. All will be called to the banquet of the Lamb. 

Jewish Table Blessings over the Bread & Wine

The pre-Vatican II liturgy by comparison to the reformed of the post-conciliar, gives enhanced attention to the offertory, even speaking about it as a “natural” sacrifice prior to the “supernatural” oblation. Indeed, the transition in language from “offertory” to “preparation” highlights something a return to the early Church’s approach.  While there is a heavy anticipation in the Tridentine offertory as to what the gifts will become, the Mass of the Vatican II reform merely stresses the acquisition and blessing of bread and wine.  Indeed, this demarcation betrays a strong recovery. The significance of earthly bread and wine at the offertory is almost passed over so as to emphasize the spiritual gift of the Eucharist that follows with the consecration. The offertory blessings over the bread and wine are little more than table blessings. 

It should be acknowledged that after the second century there is a growing importance placed upon the “matter” of the offertory gifts, likely in response to the repudiation of matter by the Gnostic heretics.  Starting with St. Irenaeus, there is a new emphasis upon the earthly elements as the first fruits of creation. Mention is made of the congregants bringing up the offertory gifts. St. Hippolytus speaks of the deacons bringing up the gifts. He is among the first to make a comparison between earthly oblations and the sacred oblations of Holy Church.  By the time of St. Cyprian, the bringing up of the gifts by the faithful has become the general practice.  The offerings for the needs of the Church are logically attached to this procession with the bread and wine.  It confirms the virtue of charity as a necessary preparation of congregants for the Eucharist. An offertory chant or hymn would accompany the procession as is so often the case today. During the following centuries, practical directives are issued against placing either symbolic or other material gifts upon the altar with the bread and wine for consecration.  While donations are first only received from the faithful, Trent would change this and allow gifts from anyone.  Efforts would be made to correct any trafficking in Mass stipends.   

Exclusive Use of Unleavened Bread or Hosts

While the early Church always seems to view both leavened and unleavened bread as licit, from the ninth century on there is a general ordinance in favor of unleavened just as at the Last Supper.  The churches of the East would tend to retain the use of leavened bread. Concerns about the making of altar breads would see the transfer of its manufacture from the laity to religious houses. Starting in the twelfth century, the desire to create special bread would lead to the familiar disks, with the priest’s hosts being slightly larger.  Given scrupulosity about particles, multiple hosts are made for congregants that do not require fracturing.      

The round wafers come to be called hosts.  Originally the word “hostia” refers to the living thing that is the sacrificial victim to be killed.  The true “hostia” would be Christ; nevertheless, the name would stick with the unconsecrated wafers. Similarly, the word “oblata” or oblation is used for the bread offered. There seems no getting around an anticipation in the language used.

As for the wine, initially red is preferred in the East and West for symbolic reasons.  However, as the use of the purificator becomes common, the West transitions to white wine.  Either may be used today in the West but there is still a preference for white given the difficulty to remove red stains from linen.

The mingling of the water and wine is not a Palestinian custom but a Greek practice that becomes popular among the Jews during the time of Christ.  There are references to this practice in the second century liturgies. The insightful words of St. Cyprian are often repeated:  “When someone offers only wine, then the blood of Christ begins to exist without us; but when it is only water, then the people begin to exist without Christ.” Adding water to the wine symbolizes the intimate union of the faithful with Christ. There can be no separation.

The Lutheran reformer Martin Luther rejects the commingling of water and wine as “unfitting” because of its stress upon our oneness with Christ.  (We must remember that Luther only believes in juridical imputation and rejects the Catholic notion of justification by grace through transformation into Christ.  He argues that one is not changed or made holy by grace but rather disguised by it. Luther would also reject the Catholic notion of transubstantiation and argue for the presence of Christ and the bread and wine in the sacrament (consubstantiation).  He fails to fully appreciate the Mass as a sacrifice where bread and wine is destroyed and Christ is made present.  Other reformers go further in distancing themselves from Rome. Forfeiting a genuine priesthood, the Protestant churches would abandon an authentic Eucharist celebrated throughout history going back to Christ and his apostles. They would emphasize the Lord’s Supper as a meal but lose track of the ancient appreciation of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice. 

Mixing the Water into the Wine

There arises some debate about how much water should be added to the wine. While some of the rites would argue as much as one-third of the admixture should be water, the West reduces it to a drop. Indeed, to make sure of the amount there is even the addition of a small spoon the measures out one drop of water.  While not a big issue today, I can recall Cardinal Wuerl being quite insistent with a deacon that a drop only should be added to the wine in the chalice.

 The Subtraction & Adding of Offertory Ceremonials & Prayers

While there has been some variation of the prayers employed for the offertory, the one prayer that has been consistent is the “oratio super oblata” or the Prayer over the Offerings.  The Germanic Franks would add other preparatory prayer and rituals, like the washing of hands and the use of incense.  Before Trent, the Mass had become a jungle of mismatched prayers.  The process of weeding and sowing prayers would continue with Vatican II.

The Suscipe Sancta Trinitas prayer would survive Trent but not Vatican II.  While the wording of the prayers associated with the bread and wine have changed, the gifts are raised up and blessings are said over both. The use of incense is retained although it is not seen as an oblation of any sort, just symbolic of our offering being acceptable before God.  Just as the smoke of the incense would ascend to God, we beseeched that the Lord’s mercy might descend upon us.  

The Roman Rite tended to steer away from language that would see other sacrifices in the liturgy.  The Vatican II reform would continue this movement in replacing prayers during the preparation of the gifts that related it to a natural sacrifice.  However, by contrast, the West-Syrian liturgy would move in the other direction, interpreting a triune oblation in the Mass:  (1) the sacrifice of Mechisedech in the presentation of bread and wine; (2) the sacrifice of Aaron in the incensation; and (3) the sacrifice of Christ.  Certainly one might interpret a historical movement but the Roman Rite would not acknowledge any necessity to the first two supposed oblations.  Indeed, it has long been feared that such language while not heretical might compromise the real meaning of the Mass as the redemptive offering and perfect sacrifice of our Lord.

The Lavabo

Priests wash their hands before Mass and so the Lavabo of the offertory is wholly symbolic. Back in fourth century Jerusalem, the deacon would wash the hands of the priest at the start of Mass.  Of course, the use of incense and fumbling with charcoal might have been another rationale for its inclusion.  I am personally reminded of poor Pontius Pilate constantly washing his hands and yet lamenting that he could never get them clean.  Given our part in the passion and death of Christ, I suspect we are all Pilate.  The priest in particular wants clean hands as he is configured to Christ by his ordination and is regarded as acting at the altar in the person of Christ.  He above all is conscious of his sin as he stands at the altar for the one who is all holy.  Just as we have the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass, here is a secret prayer and gesture that speaks to the sorrow for sin and the need for spiritual cleansing. The priest says: “With humble spirit and contrite heart may we be accepted by you, O Lord, and may our sacrifice in your sight this day be pleasing to you, Lord God.” Washing his hands, he says: “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” It serves a purpose similar to the use of a holy-water stoup for the people to cross and sprinkle themselves at the church doors or entry.  We are reminded of our baptism and our need to be washed clean and holy.  The old Ethiopian Mass would have the priest wash his hands after unveiling the offertory gifts and instead of drying them he would wave his fingers at congregants so as to sprinkle the water upon them. He did this as no reminder of their baptism as we might today but with a verbal warning against approaching the altar unworthily.  

The Orate Fratres  

There is a long history to the Orate Fratres as always coming at the completion of the preparation of the gifts.  Many liturgists interpret it as not the end of the offertory but as a tag connecting it to the canon or anaphora or Eucharistic prayer.  The priest says: “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father.”  The congregants respond: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church.” Then is said the Prayer over the Offerings or the “oratio super oblata.” This part of the Mass delineates something of the intention of the priest from that of the congregants.  The priest will apply the fruits of his intention for those who have made a request and possibly who have given him a Mass Stipend.  The priest stands above or leads the people in the Mass.  This prayer makes it very clear— if there is no ordained priest then there can be no Mass. Congregants may dialogue with him and participate, but the priest is in the role of Christ and his role is thus necessarily one of mediation. 

The Prayer over the Offerings once said quietly is now said aloud.  It is a prayer of petition.  Here is an instance from the Second Sunday of Advent: “Be pleased, O Lord, with our humble prayers and offerings, and, since we have no merits to plead our cause, come, we pray, to our rescue with the protection of your mercy. Through Christ our Lord.”  The people respond, “Amen.”