Cranmer's Godly Order
by Michael Davies
Catholic Teaching on the Eucharist
"Christ is offered today and he Himself as priest offers himself in order
that He may remit our sins."
--------St. Ambrose 1
THE EUCHARIST is the centre of Christian life just as Christ is the central figure in the Christian religion. As well as being a sacrifice, It is the greatest of all the Sacraments as It contains Christ Himself while in the other Sacraments Christ acts and applies the merits of His Passion for a particular purpose. St. Thomas Aquinas points out that all the other Sacraments are ordained to this Sacrament as to their end. 2 It not only represents the Passion and death of Christ but contains it-----the Mass is the sacrifice of the Cross. 3 "The Passion of the Lord is the sacrifice we offer," wrote St. Cyprian. 4 "The priests of the Church are ordained not primarily to preach the gospel, not merely to comfort the sick with the consoling truths of religion, not merely to take the lead in works of social improvement, but to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass, to consecrate the Eucharist." 5 It would be impossible to write anything which could exaggerate the importance of the Eucharist. Catholics in the past have thought nothing in art, riches and architecture too beautiful to lavish upon their churches because they contain the King of kings Himself; and even the poorest have been ready to deprive themselves of the necessities of life to support their clergy so that at whatever cost the Sacrifice of the Mass should continue to be offered.
Devotion to the Eucharist is not an incidental pious practice-----it is the very essence of Catholic life. 6
"By sacrifice man offers himself and his life to God, his sovereign Lord and Creator; by the Sacraments God gives Himself, He gives us a participation of His own Divine life, to man. In sacrifice a stream of homage flows from man to the eternal Source of all being; by the Sacraments grace, sanctification descends in copious flood upon the souls of men. This two-fold stream from God to man and from man to God, flows swift and strong in the Eucharist, Sacrament and Sacrifice. As the culminating act in the life of Jesus Christ on earth was the sacrifice He offered on Calvary to His eternal Father, so the central act of Catholic worship in the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, is the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the Mass which He instituted to be a perpetual commemoration and renewal of it. Likewise, just as it was through the sacred humanity of Christ that God mercifully deigned to transmit to us the Divine life of grace, so the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which truly contains that living and life-giving humanity, holds the principal place among the Sacraments instituted by Christ for our sanctification.
"Truly, really and substantially present upon the altar under the appearance of bread and wine, Christ our High Priest offers Himself, the infinite Victim, to i His Father through the ministry of His priests. This is indeed a sacrifice unto the odour of sweetness, in which Christ, God and man, offers to His Father an infinite adoration, a prayer of unbounded efficacy, propitiation and satisfaction superabundantly sufficient for the sins of all mankind, thanksgiving in a unique manner proportionate to God's unstinted generosity to men. And then, as if it were in munificent answer to this infinitely pleasing gift which through Christ man has made to God, there comes God's best gift to man: the all holy Victim, Divinely accepted and ratified, is set before men to be their heavenly food. Through Christ we have given ourselves to God. Through Christ God gives His own life to us, that we may be made partakers of His Divinity. The Victim of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, offered to man under the form of food, is the august Sacrament of the Eucharist." 7
Pope Leo XIII condemned as being in serious error those who rejected the sacrifice of the Mass on the grounds that "it derogated from the reality and efficacy of the sacrifice wrought by Christ when He was nailed to the Cross 'offered once for all to drain the cup of the world's sins' (Heb. 9:28). That expiation for sin was wholly perfect and complete; nor is it in any way another expiation but the very same, that is present in the Eucharistic Sacrifice . . . It was the Divine plan of the Redeemer that the sacrifice consummated once upon the Cross should be perpetual and perennial. It is made perpetual in the most Holy Eucharist, which brings not merely a figure or an empty commemoration of the reality but the reality itself although under a different appearance." 8
Fr. Joseph Jungmann writes: "When Christ on the Cross cried out His Consummatum est, few were the men who noticed it, fewer still the men who perceived that this phrase announced a turning point for mankind, that this death opened into everlasting life gates through which, from that moment on, all the peoples of the earth would pass. Now, to meet the expectant longing of mankind, this great event is arrested and, through Christ's institution held fast for these coming generations so that they might be conscious witnesses of that event even in the latest centuries and amongst the remotest nations, and might look up to it in holy rapture." 9
Despite the fact that at every Mass Jesus Christ is the High Priest Who offers the Sacrifice it is most certainly a work, something in which men play a part and which contributes to their salvation. The Mass is not only the Sacrifice of Christ but the Sacrifice of the Church. The Sacrifice can only be offered through the ministry of His priests. It is an aspect of the mystery referred to in Chapter I, of the fact that Christ requires the members of His Mystical Body; that He has willed to save mankind with their help. Not only are the graces won by Christ applied through the efforts of men but it is not Christ alone Who is offered in the Mass-----we are required to offer ourselves as victims with Him. 10 "As the Church is the body of this head," wrote St. Augustine, "through Him She learns to offer Herself." 11 Furthermore, although the intrinsic value of the Sacrifice of the Mass, like that of the Cross, is infinite, Christ being both High Priest and Sacrificial Victim, its extrinsic value is limited as regards the fruits of any particular Mass. The value of a particular Mass "is dependent on the greater or lesser holiness of the reigning Pope, the bishops and the clergy throughout the world. The holier the Church in Her members (especially the Pope and the Episcopate), the more agreeable must be Her sacrifice in the eyes of God . . . With Christ and the Church is associated in the third place the celebrating priest, the representative through whom Christ offers up the Sacrifice. If he be a man of great personal devotion, and purity, there will accrue an additional fruit, which will benefit himself and those in whose favour he applies the Mass. Hence the faithful are guided by a sound instinct when they prefer to have the Mass celebrated by an upright and holy priest rather than by an unworthy one. In the fourth place must be mentioned those who take an active part in the Mass, e.g., the servers, sacristan, organist, singers and, finally the whole congregation." 12 Needless to say, the application of the fruits of the Mass to the living for whom it is offered or who participate in it will be governed by their own dispositions. "This lack of dispositions cannot exist in the case of the suffering souls in Purgatory, and with them, therefore, the desired effect, whether it be the alleviation of their sufferings, or the shortening of their time of purgation, must infallibly be produced." 13 The effectiveness of the fruits in their case will be governed only by the holiness and fervour of the Church as a whole and Her particular members involved in offering this particular Mass.
Once the Protestant leaders "had adopted the doctrine of justification by faith only, and had thrown over the reality of sanctifying grace as the supernatural life of the soul, there was nothing for it but to give up belief in operative and grace-producing Sacraments. So the Real Presence and Transubstantiation had to go, and the Eucharist had to lose altogether its sacrificial character and to be retained simply as a memorial of the Last Supper whereby the soul is moved to prayer and enabled in some way to enter into communion with and to receive Jesus Christ . . . . Hence it is not surprising that, to a great extent, belief in the Mass became the touchstone of Catholic orthodoxy and that all through the centuries of controversy with Protestantism, Catholic theologians should have used all their powers of argument and all their resources of learning in its defence." 14
The teaching that every Mass produced fruits which the celebrant could apply to both the living and the dead was above all else what evoked the fury of the Reformers. This was the "good work" par excellence. It was quite incompatible with their doctrine of Justification and must therefore be rejected, as will be made clear in Chapter VII.
There can be no doubt that the Protestant heresiarchs fully realised that it was the Mass that mattered. It was upon the Mass that they directed the full force of their attack.
1. De officiis ministrorum, lib. I, cap. 48 (P.L. XVI, col. 101).
2. ST, III, Q.LXV, Art. III.
3. ST, III, Q.LXXXIII, Art. I.
4. Epistle LXIII, n. 17; (P .L. IV, col. 388-9).
5. TCC, p. 840.
7. Ibid., p. 839.
8. Letter to the Bishops of Scotland, 1898.
9. The Mass of the Roman Rite (London, 1959), p. 135.
10. Encyclical Letter, Mediator Dei (C.T.S., London), pp. 42-44.
11. City of God, Bk. X, chap. xx.
12. Pohle-Preuss, The Sacraments (London, 1916), vol. II, p. 388. M. de la Taille, The Mystery of Faith (London, 1950), Book II, Thesis XXVI.
13. TCC, p. 915.
14. Ibid., p. 893.