The Eucharist

6. The western Mass and action

In the western Mass there is no iconostasis. The altar is visible to the congregation. But here also the congregation is too much excluded from what the priest is doing. This was not the case in the first centuries when the people stood close around the priest and understood each word. Later the priests grew more and more into a splendid but not quite Christian isolation. The Latin language, originally spoken as a living language, was preserved and in a way mummified in the Roman Church, which, unlike the Greek Church, enforced its language upon the other nations.

Furthermore, it became customary and finally officially fixed, that the ‘canon,’ the great Eucharistic prayer of Transubstantiation, should be recited in a low, whispering voice. Thus the congregation was excluded from the most important part and was only allowed to follow with a general feeling of devotion without being able to hear individual words.

Also in the western Church the chalice was taken from the laity and became the privilege of the priest (1415). There is still another element which is not quite in harmony with genuine Christianity; that is, the attitude of authority which imposes dogma and the commandment with blind obedience, even backed up by the power of the state where circumstances permit. Something else has happened to the western Mass. The basic idea that the Mass is an ‘action’ and a ‘sacrifice’ was more and more misunderstood in a fateful manner. From the beginning, the Eucharistic service, and chiefly the great prayer of Transubstantiation, the Eucharist proper, had the character of an ‘action.’ In fact, it was very often called ‘actio,’ and the corresponding verb was ‘to make,’ ‘to do.’ We even find the formulation: ‘to make the Passion and the Resurrection of Christ.’ Christ’s word at the Last Supper, ‘do this’ was understood in a deeper sense. It was not only that the ceremony of Holy Thursday was to be repeated, but that the whole event of Golgotha — Passion as well as Resurrection and Ascension — was to be brought to life anew. In the Eucharist Christ’s central deed of redemption became actual and alive.

This touches a deep mystery of Christianity. We see how often in practical life help given to someone in need turns out finally not so helpful. It sometimes supersedes the effort of the one to be helped, increasing his laziness and dependence on others. Great wisdom is necessary to give someone helpful assistance. This is in the highest degree the case with the deed of Golgotha. Divine providence arranged it in such a way, that it was really a constructive aid, able to arouse the utmost spiritual energy of the one to be helped. Christ’s redeeming deed does not work automatically. It cannot make us holy without our conscious and willing participation. Such an automatic salvation would certainly spare mankind all its tragedies, but it would destroy man’s freedom and dignity. Christ’s deed has been so fashioned that it remains a dormant potentiality as long as it is not made effective and active by man’s free agreement and cooperation. Man is supposed to do something in order to release the full divine energy of this deed. Without man’s response it remains a latent possibility. When man responds, he becomes sensitive to the spiritual emanations welling forth from Christ’s deed. The Christian grows mystically into the deed of Golgotha. It becomes alive in him. Thus man is not only the passive object but also the active cooperator in salvation. It is just through joining the mystic stream of the redeeming deed that man is himself redeemed. It is true that the deed of Golgotha was definitely accomplished and finished on a certain date, at a certain place under Pontius Pilate. But nevertheless it flows forth and continues in the supersensory world as an eternal activity generated by the event of Palestine. The spiritual guidance of the world waits for men to meet and join it.

This active sharing in Christ’s deed by celebrating the Eucharist was vividly felt in the first Christian centuries. But because of the lack of real esoteric insight this feeling (‘whenever we celebrate the Eucharist we make Christ’s death and resurrection’) could not be expressed in clear conceptions. We might think of a stone which falls into the water. It stirs up ripples which go out from the centre in continuing undulations. Something like that happened in the supersensory world when Christ accomplished his deed. It was a historic fact fulfilled on earth once and for all, and it released an ‘undulation’ in the higher worlds. Its ‘waves’ can be received by means of the mystic instrument, the Eucharist. Without this insight the conception of the Eucharist as a repetition of Christ’s deed faces the danger of becoming less and less understood. This is what happened in the Roman part of the Church. The idea that the Church was entrusted with the tremen4ous privilege to ‘repeat Golgotha on the altar’ in time became something like ‘a means of power.’ Human egotism came in. In the Roman West (not in the East) it became a custom to use this spiritual means of power for certain concrete purposes which brought the Eucharist down to the level of buying and selling. A wealthy personality could have a hundred Masses celebrated for his special benefit – something not done for the poor. It was a real disaster that this wonderful institution, the Mass for the dead, which had from early times been used to help the departed souls, was drawn into the vortex of financial buying and selling.

1 reply
  1. Gerhard Walk
    Gerhard Walk says:

    I have been denied holy Communion by a Catholic chaplain being referred to a Protestant chaplain after requesting Communion at a VA hospital. The same thing happened in a hospital after major surgery and at a rehab facility. Communion is not exluvise to Catholics rather the entire Christian community. Looking for a wife win solution.

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