Concluding his commentary from yesterday Fr Daniel Donovan today offers a quick overview of how Eucharist was celebrated in the early Church and the insights discerned by the Bishops at the Second Vatican Council. Fr Donovan offers these insights as a counter to the seeming determination of some to overturn those insights and take us back to some form of Jansenism.
From Frequent Communion to Frequent Confession...
In the early Church the Eucharist was not celebrated daily as is the custom in the western Catholic tradition today. For early Christians there was a close connection between the Lord's Day (Sunday) and the participation in the Lord's Supper. St Justin Martyr (103-165) records that on the Lord's Day, the Christian community gathered and he describes a structure of celebration much like the present day Mass.
Gradually, the practice of frequent communion yielded to frequent confession due to the influence of the Irish Missionaries in Europe in the eighth century. Public penance was only able to be received once in the person's lifetime but the Irish form was repeatable. Lateran IV legislated the latter repeatable form of penance to precede the yearly Easter duty. Paul Feider details the shift of the Mass from "community action" to "priestly function" which was a major factor in the decline of frequent communion and the perceived link between penance and Eucharist. Frequent communion was for the clergy but penance was for the people!
During the Dark Ages (eighth through the eleventh century) the private character of the Mass began influencing community Eucharists. We see in the old missals the Mass prayers changed from the use of "we" to "I," and gradually almost all prayers were said silently by the priest alone. By the end of this period of history, the Mass was no longer celebrated consciously as an action of the community, but had become the personal function of the priest.
Adoration of the Eucharistic Lord replaced participation and except for the yearly duty, the people did not receive communion. The actions of Jesus "taking, blessing, breaking and giving" were identified with the priest's actions: the Offertory (taking), the consecration (blessing) and the priest's communion (breaking and receiving). The communion of the people only happened after the priest had bestowed an absolution (not for serious sin) and employed a prayer not of identity but preservation. Frequent confession replaced frequent communion so that by the time of the Council of Trent (1545-1563) people were required to confess "serious sins" according to number and kind in order to obtain absolution.
Sacraments are for the People...
Prior to Vatican II the sacraments were taught as part of moral theology and many of the present prefects of the various Roman Congregations are products of this legal approach to the sacraments. Yet even in those days there were Latin dictums which distilled the insight of the Church. One such dictum was "sacramenta propter homines", or the "sacraments are for people". In the twenty- first century Church leaders are experiencing a "collective amnesia" having abandoned the vision of Vatican II there is a disorientation which is a wistful longing for the past.
The Australian correspondent lacks any theology of symbol and fails to appreciate the "propter homines" purpose of the sacraments, far from being a liturgical time capsule or even a form of catechesis, is relationship between the community and their God. Through the incarnation, God's son assumed human nature so that WE might share God's natur . Through the sacraments we encounter the risen Jesus and are transformed in his Spirit. Early Christians were forbidden to kneel on the Lord's Day but were required to stand and to pray with their arms outstretched. Remembering is the heart of the Judeo-Christian faith but "to remember" is much more than "thinking about or recalling the past event" rather it is to experience here and now God's saving work and be transformed by God's future, "I-shall-be-that-I-shall-be" (Exodus 3:14) which even now shapes the course of history.
A final request that the high Vatican officials (Cardinals Burke and Llovera) and Anglicans "coming home to Rome or crossing the Tiber" or whatever, please leave the "infuriated modernist" alone so that with Elijah, he or she might attend to God in the "gentle breeze" [1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a]? Ultimately, God is in that silence not in the external practices which are more consistent with medieval courts than Catholic ritual, no matter how well intentioned!
Fr Daniel Donovan
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2011 Fr Daniel Donovan