Project Canterbury

The Faith of an English Catholic
by Darwell Stone, D.D.

London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1926.

Chapter VII. The Mass

IN the transformation of worship which has taken place in the English Church during the last hundred years the most noticeable and the most important changes are in regard to the Holy Eucharist. And an outsider who should study the notice boards or visit the services of an Anglo-Catholic church might quickly infer that in this service he would see what those in charge of the church regarded as the chief part of their worship.

A hundred years ago it was very rare for the Holy Eucharist to be celebrated every Sunday; in some churches the celebration was once a month; in many it was less often. For the celebration of it many who had been present at the Morning Prayer and Litany and Ante-Communion service left the church, and only those who were intending to communicate remained. It was celebrated without external signs of dignity. To all this the Anglo-Catholic church of to-day supplies the greatest possible contrast. The word Mass is freely used. Mass is celebrated, or there are more Masses than one, every day. The solemn High Mass, or, when ministers for that are not available, a Mass sung without deacon and sub-deacon, is the chief service on Sundays. In addition to this, when there are sufficient priests, there are Low Masses at various times. While communicants are many, there are many also who are present without at the time communicating. Everything that can add external dignity and beauty to the service is used.

This great difference has been reached through a long process. The earlier Tractarians promoted greater frequency of celebrations and more comely methods of worship. As the Tractarian movement became less academical and more parochial, changes rapidly took place, through which the present state of affairs has been reached.

During the different stages of this process the reason for the changes which have been made has been always the same. Behind ceremony there has been doctrine. The Eucharistic vestments--the amice, alb, girdle, maniple, stole, chasuble--afford a convenient instance. The use of them has been restored, partly because it was believed that this use was in obedience to the directions of the Book of Common Prayer, and partly because these vestments illustrated the continuity of the present English Church with the pre-Reformation English Church, but much more because they were felt to be an outward sign that in fundamental doctrine the Church of England to-day is at one with the rest of the Catholic Church in the past and in the present. [The retention, of some of the vestments by Lutherans probably was not known to most of those who were earliest in restoring the use of the vestments in the Church of England. When it was known, it was regarded as a mere survival, not afiecting what was felt, as mentioned above.]

The teaching of Eucharistic doctrine, which had almost vanished out of the English Church, was a large part of the work accomplished by the Tractarians. They accepted and kept all that was of positive value in what they received from earlier times. The sense of the awe which surrounded the Holy Sacrament, the recognition of the great responsibilities involved in receiving it, the conviction that special preparation must precede and special thanksgiving must follow the reception whenever these were possible, the belief that in the Holy Communion the devout soul made remembrance of the death of Christ and was very near to God,--all this they inherited from pious parents or teachers or from the devotional literature of the English Church. This attitude had remained in many English churchpeople when the doctrine which supported the devotion had been well nigh lost. The Tractarians brought back the doctrine. They taught that the bread and wine are made to be the body and blood of Christ by the consecration, and that the Eucharist is a sacrifice. By their doctrinal teaching they supplied a fuller justification for the devotion which had already existed, and they carried it further and gave it new forms. At first the doctrines of the real presence and the Eucharistic sacrifice were received and taught chiefly because the authority of Scripture and of the Church was seen to demand them. Other reasons for them--their congruity with the Incarnation, their harmony with the rest of Christian thought, their place in the sacramental system--were gradually realized. Fresh considerations--the spiritual character of our Lord's risen body and therefore of His body in the Eucharist, a wider conception of sacrifice as dedication which might involve death but did not necessarily require death or destruction, a fuller recognition of our Lord's heavenly priesthood--came in to support it. The holding of the belief led on to much in practice. Those who believed that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ and that in it is the sacramental presence of Christ wished to restore the Eucharist to the place from which it had been deposed, the central place in Christian worship. They aimed at surrounding it with all possible adjuncts of dignity. Those who believed that the communicant receives the very body of Christ Himself desired that the reception should be, as the Church from its early days had taught, the first food in the day. They recognized that the communicant must come to the holy gift with a cleansed soul.

So, bit by bit, and stage by stage, the Mass came to have the place which it now holds, and to be given the surroundings which it now possesses, in Anglo-Catholic churches. There has been the logical and practical development which is the natural result of the Tractarian belief.

The main features of the Eucharistic doctrine taught by the Tractarians are the common inheritance of Anglo-Catholics. There cannot be surprise that on so mysterious a subject there have been some differences among Anglo-Catholics, as there were among the Tractarians themselves. One such difference may be seen in the attitude towards the word Transubstantiation. The technical doctrine described by the word Transubstantiation was developed by the Western Schoolmen of the middle ages in their attempt at the same time to preserve the doctrine that the consecrated sacrament is the body and blood of Christ, to keep this doctrine free from a carnal view of our Lord's presence, and to make Eucharistic belief harmonious with the philosophy of their day. There was much to support, and much which was contrary to, this doctrine in the writings of the fathers; but it was rather as a result of logical reasoning than in consequence of authority that the Schoolmen systematized it. In this work the aim of the Schoolmen--to guard tradition, to maintain valuable belief, to avoid carnal views, to reconcile theology and philosophy--was good, and for the time their attempt had much success. But changes in current philosophy have affected the value of their work, and the explanations which were intended to support Eucharistic doctrine have proved a hindrance rather than a help. The chief point affirmed in Transubstantiation, namely, that the substances--that is, the essential being--of bread and wine are so converted into the body and blood of Christ that in the consecrated sacrament these substances of bread and wine no longer exist, had been declared in earlier official utterances and was made a matter of faith for Roman Catholics by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. A similar doctrine was accepted by the Greek Church at the Council of Bethlehem in 1672 and with certain modifications intended to avoid Western technicalities by the Russian Church in 1838. Among Anglo-Catholics there are some for whom Transubstantiation has its attractions, while to others it appears to attach insufficient importance to the outward part of the sacrament and to embarrass theology by dependence on a particular philosophy not now usually held. There is no reason that some difference of opinion on this point should cause division. What is theologically and devotionally important is the positive truth that the consecrated sacrament is the body and blood of Christ, not whether the substances or essential being of bread and wine do or do not remain after the consecration. Hardly any, if any, theologians at the present time hold a theory of Transubstantiation to which serious religious objection can be made. To the present writer there are reasons which appear to him weighty against the acceptance of the word or the doctrine of Transubstantiatlon, but the reasons are historical and philosophical rather than theological or religious.

Differences, again, may be found among Anglo-Catholics in regard to some aspects of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Some desire to concentrate their attention on the upper room and the cross; to others the union with our Lord's offering of Himself in heaven is even more than the commemoration of His passion and death. There are differences, moreover, whether most prominence is to be given to the thought that the consecration is effected by the priest acting in the t name of Christ and as the representative of the Church or to the belief that in response to the prayer of the priest and the Church the consecration takes place by the operation of the Holy Ghost. Questions such as I these need not divide those who concur in holding the great positive truths which are so full of meaning that different ways of explaining them supplement and do not contradict one another, and however fully expressed fail to be exhaustive.

The development of the ceremonial which surrounds the Mass has passed beyond anything of which the earliest Tractarians dreamed. If one can imagine some of them present to-day at the High Mass in a church where the ceremonial is the most elaborate s and ornate, one may suppose that the impressions made would not be by any means the same for all.

For all indeed there might be at first such astonishment and perplexity as may be felt by an Eastern Christian with no knowledge of the West if he is present at a Low Mass in a Roman Catholic or English church, or by a Western hitherto unaccustomed to the East if he sees the gorgeous pomp of the Eastern Liturgy. For some the perplexity might long remain. For others there might be the sense that here was the true outcome of what they believed, here was what they desired to see widely spread. For others the feeling might rather be a longing for a severe simplicity, an austerity, a quietness which they failed to find in a worship of outward splendour. The imagination of such impressions, if the earliest Tractarians could visit some of our churches to-day, may serve to illustrate a truth. There are certain principles of order, certain methods of worship, certain fixity of ceremonial, which Anglo-Catholics wish all who agree with them systematically and punctiliously to adopt. These make an atmosphere and suggest truths which they believe to be Catholic, and at once aid the acceptance of right belief and promote real devotion. But it cannot in the least be wished that elaboration of worship should be to the same extent in every church. What is fitting in one church may be most unsuitable in another. The principles of ceremonial should receive embodiment sometimes in the simplest, sometimes in the most ornate, fashion.

There has been discussion--the importance of which has often been exaggerated--as to the sources from which some details of ceremonial should be derived. In the earliest days of the restoration of ceremonial it was natural that the use of colours and other surroundings of worship should be based on the existing customs of the Roman Catholic Church. In the directions of the Roman Missal and in the practice of European churches there was a model ready to hand which could easily be followed. Later, there were some who felt that the methods of the pre-Reformation English Church were in themselves better and had a stronger claim on English churchpeople than those of the present Roman Catholic Church. Later again, a plea was made that loyalty to the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer required a form of ceremonial which has been described as the "English Use." What is chiefly to be regretted about these divergencies is that they have tended to make divisions among friends, and to that extent have done harm. The sympathies of the present writer are all with the adoption of the colours and methods of ceremonial which are characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church of to-day. These colours and methods--which are the outcome of long experience--seem to him simpler and more practical and more instructive than those dictated by the other systems; and he values more than he can easily express anything, which can rightly be adopted in the Church of England, which may lessen differences from and promote similarities to the Church of Rome. But the different methods may well go on side by side at any rate for a time; and the whole question is one which calls for reasonable and considerate judgement and a tolerant spirit and a frank recognition that divergencies of this kind ought not to cause the smallest bitterness of temper or the slightest division. One effect of the teaching and ceremonial which have resulted from the Oxford Movement has been a great increase in frequency of Communion. The weekly Communions which the Tractarians valued have become the practice of a greatly increased number; and many devout persons receive the Holy Communion on several days of the week, or daily. Side by side with this, priests have been led to desire more frequently to exercise their office in saying Mass, and many make a practice of celebrating every day. There are dangers, of course, if frequency either of Communion or of celebrating should lead to carelessness or formality, or if the wish to say Mass should lead a priest to abstain from Communion if on any occasion he has not the opportunity of celebrating. Such dangers must accompany all great privileges. But the increased frequency itself is a subject for profound thankfulness. For the true life of a Christian is a Eucharistic life, in which through the reception of the sacrament he holds continuous communion with our Lord; and, though the continuity might remain unbroken if for long periods of time he were necessarily separated from sacramental Communion, it is best maintained by frequent receiving of the sacrament itself.

The doctrine of the Eucharistic sacrifice carries with it that the Mass is not only for Communion. It may be pleaded as an offering even by those who at the time of a particular offering are not making their Communion. Consequently, both at Low Mass and at High Mass, both on weekdays and on Sundays, the sacrifice is offered by those who do not then communicate. If they are regular and faithful communicants, they offer in the power of their membership in Christ strengthened and enkindled by their continuous communion with our Lord. If they make their Communion at times but are irregular or careless, they still have such continuity of sacramental life as their irregularity or carelessness has left to them. If they are baptized but not yet communicants, they can use the membership in Christ afforded by their Baptism. If they have lapsed from Communion, they may make the most of such Eucharistic life as remains. The liberality of the Church opens wide its doors in the hope that, imperfect as the offering of some may be, all will attain so far as for the moment they can, and none will be hindered in depth and height of devotion because there are others whose prayers are less complete.

In the great sacrifice the Church offers the body and blood of our Lord. The offering of His body and blood is the pleading of His whole human life. His conception by His virgin mother, His life as a child living but not yet born, His birth and infancy and childhood and youth and manhood, His ministry and passion and death, the stay of His body in the tomb and of His soul in the unseen world, His resurrection, His sojourning on earth in His risen life, His ascension and session at the right hand of the Father on high,--all these have their place in the prayers with which the pleading is made. And this majestic sacrifice is offered for the manifold needs of mankind. It is offered for saints and for sinners, for the faithful and the tempted and the backsliding and the apostate, for the work of the Church all over the world, for nations and statesmen and kings and subjects, for societies and individuals, for the needs of capital and of labour, for family and household and friends, for the living and the dead. In it joy and sorrow, toil and conflict and rest, health and sickness and death, are gathered up into the one offering of Christ. The priest at the altar, and the people of God in the congregation, make the truth of the familiar words their own: "Mindful of Thy venerable passion I approach Thine altar, sinner though I be, to offer to Thee the sacrifice which Thou hast instituted and commanded to be offered in commemoration of Thee for our salvation. Receive it, I pray, O God most high, for Thy holy Church, and for the people whom Thou hast purchased with Thy blood. ... I offer, O Lord, if Thou wilt deign mercifully to behold, the trials of the poor, the perils of nations, the groans of prisoners, the sadness of orphans, the needs of travellers, the want of the weak, the disheartenment of the sick, the failing of the old, the aspirations of the young, the vows of virgins, the sorrows of widows."

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