The Eucharist and Sacrifice
William Laud who was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 until his execution in 1645 asserted the doctrine of Eucharistic sacrifice, maintaining that we offer three sacrifices: the first being the commemorative sacrifice of Christ’s death made by the priest only; the second by priest and people together, which is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; and the third by every worshipper for himself, which is the sacrifice of each person’s soul and body to serve him in both all the days of his life (Arthur Middleton, Fathers and Anglicans).
This prayer is from the section ‘Eucharistia’ in his Private Devotions:
O Lord God … I quarrel not the words of thy Son my Saviour’s blessed Institution. I know his words … are spirit and life, and supernatural. While the world disputes, I believe. He hath promised me if I come worthily, that I shall receive his most precious Body and Blood, with all the benefits of his Passion. If I can receive it and retain it … I know I can no more die eternally … Lord, so wash and cleanse my soul, that I may now and at all times else come prepared by hearty prayers and devotion, and be made worthy by thy grace of this infinite blessing, the Pledge and Earnest of eternal life … Amen.
Sacrifice is affirmed in Anglican as well as Roman Catholic liturgies and in the received work of ARCIC. The paper The Eucharist: Sacrament of Unity published in March 2001 quotes from the response of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to Apostolicae curae: ‘For first we offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; then next we plead and represent before the Father the sacrifice of the Cross, and by it we confidently entreat remission of sins and all other benefits of the Lord’s Passion for all the whole Church; and lastly we offer the sacrifice of ourselves to the Creator of all things which we have already signified by the oblation of his creatures.’
Fasting and frequency
We go to Mass and receive Our Lord truly present under the form of bread and wine. We no doubt look forward to it, although perhaps less than in the days when the Eucharist was not celebrated as frequently as happily it now is. I suspect people appreciated it more when fasting beforehand was kept strictly and they started their preparation the night before using special prayers which were written for the purpose. No doubt too we all make our thanksgiving afterwards.
However, do we lay enough stress on the third aspect of the sacrifice? We walk up the aisle looking forward to receiving Our Blessed Lord. Do we also make a prayer of total self-offering at the same time? He gives himself to us; we should give ourselves as completely to him. We feed on him himself: what greater gift could we receive? Our response should be to give ourselves totally to him.
We should not go home and start moaning about the various difficulties that come our way, both in the Church and in our personal lives. He suffered, and we must offer ourselves to him to suffer with him for his Church and his world. Of course, there are many things we don’t like about the Church, but do you imagine that he likes them any more than we do?
What he requires of each of us individually will vary. It may well be very dull; just to plod on from day to day trying to do ordinary things extraordinarily well. That’s a good definition of holiness, don’t you think? Perhaps! He will honour you or me by asking something greater of us. We must try, like him, to be obedient to our heavenly Father until death, to become so attentive to his will for us that we become, in Catherine de Hueck Doherty’s words, like an extension of God’s little finger, so that if he wiggles it we respond at once. There is of course no reason to suppose that he will choose to use us as his instrument very often but even once would be an honour.
We are all products of the culture in which we live, however much we disapprove of or dislike it, and it is difficult for Christians not to be affected by the individualism of today. We may complain that other people want instant gratification, but what about us? Our Lord gives us himself each time we to go communion. That should satisfy all our desires. Do we give our whole selves to him for his purposes, and those purposes because of his infinite wisdom are necessarily beyond our limited human understanding, or do we want more for ourselves, in which case we are as guilty as anyone in our selfish desires?
Jane Gore-Booth is a member of General Synod.