Applied Liturgical Theology

At the more Anglo-Catholic parish where M is assisting, there’s something that has always confused me. The priest–we’ll call him Fr. B–incorporates a number of things from the Anglican Missal, is proper in all sorts of ways–but doesn’t do the great elevations. That is, when he says the Verba over the bread and wine, he doesn’t lift them. Now this is odd. Virtually all High Church/Anglo-Catholic clergy elevate the elements. In fact, I take not doing so as one of the pre-eminent signs of a Low celebration. I couldn’t take it any more so I asked him yesterday after Mass what was up.

His response was this (paraphrased, of course): After thinking about it for years, I finally came to the conclusion that it presents an incorrect theology of the Eucharist. To elevate the elements is to show the *consecrated* elements to the people. But Anglican theology tells us that it is the whole prayer–all 5 parts–that effects the consecration. Therefore, I decided that to elevate them at the Verba would, in essence, be premature, and would teach the congregation an improper Eucharistic theology. Furthermore, that’s why I do a great elevation only at the end for the Great Amen–which is why it is called the Great Amen–because then the elements really are consecrated.

Much conversation ensued…

Personally, I prefer to be rather imprecise about trying to define both when and how the elements are consecrated. I think that what’s really important is that they are and that Jesus is really there once it happens. I prefer to leave specualtions to others…but as Fr. B indicates, our gestures teach our theology and attention to them is a part of Christian Formation.

Personally, I think Fr. B’s wrong. To simplify, this is the discussion of what one of my profs refers to as the “ping”. That is, is there a “ping” moment before which the elements are just bread and wine and after which they are the Body and Blood of Christ? (And the notion of a ping is clearly an oversimplification but is useful in discussions like this one). Essentially Fr. B’s saying, if there’s no ping, there should be no elevation, no congregation crossing of self, etc. Historically, generally speaking, the West has placed the “ping” in the Verba whereas the East has placed the “ping” at the epiclesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit to descend upon the elements). I put the “ping” at the Verba, M puts the “ping” at the epiclesis. Undoubtedly part of my response comes from my Lutheran upbringing. Luther dramatically curtailed the canon of the Mass as human hocus-pocus and cut it essentially down to the Verba. What consecrated for Luther was not the descent of the Holy Spirit, not 5 parts of the prayer, but the promise of Jesus to be present contained in the words, “this is my Body…this is my Blood”. If Fr. B is “right”, then he’d essentially be saying that most if not all of the Lutheran consecrations down to the most recent American books were invalid. And some would agree–certainly our Catholic friends would agree citing quite a number of things that would render the whole kit-‘n’-kaboodle invalid. But I don’t. I’ve criticized in the past a mechanistic understaing of the Sacraments and think that Grace and the Spirit are foremost in God’s relating to his people, not a checklist of formal elements.

This one situation raises all sorts of questions for me in terms of how we go about thinking about liturgy. The Anglican Scotist raised below the issue of essences. How does one determine a liturgical essence–and for it to be a truly catholic “essence” must it be agreed upon both East and West (one of the arguments for following 4th century practice)? To what degree does liturgical action force us (okay–me) into theological decisions that I think are properly ambiguous? Should the weight of history be unequally balanced(that is, elevations at the Verba have been part of the Western tradition for almost a thousand years now…if we want to take the Tradition seriously, is earlier better (taking a Romantic view that says whatever is closest to the origin is more pure and proper) or is later better (arguing that developments reflect the on-going movement of the Spirit in and through the Christian community guiding it into all truth–like Jesus said) or do we use some other set of criteria entirely?

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About Derek Olsen

I'm a layman within the Episcopal Church with a PhD in New Testament and an interest in most things medieval, monastic, and liturgical. My chief job is keeping up with my priestly wife and our two awesome kids. In addition to that, I earn a living, run the St Bede's Breviary, listen to loud goth/industrial music, and do some stuff for the church. I currently serve as Secretary to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music where I'm also co-chair of the Calendar committee and chair of the Digital Publications committee.
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14 Responses to Applied Liturgical Theology

  1. Anastasia says:

    “I prefer to be rather imprecise about trying to define both when and how the elements are consecrated.”

    this is the essence of an anglican position, to me.

  2. *Christopher says:

    Derek,

    I too prefer imprecision, but our gestures say something. My last parish gestured reverently at the Verba, my present one does so at the Epiclesis (even ringing bells which makes my heart smile). I still am “conditioned” to bow or kneel at the Verba. This may never change, and it does cause my body confusion at that moment.

    I can live with either practice, both tended toward a high catholic approach. I think catholic need not mean uniformity of practice in this matter, both inform us about mutually interpenetrating aspects of God’s persons and operations in the Blessed Sacrament.

    Technically in the East, the entire movement of the liturgy is the ping. We Westerners in our understanding have imposed our push for precision onto the Eastern rites to the point Easterners sometimes agree with us that the ping is at the Epiclesis. But good Eastern Christian theology will not admit a ping moment in the rites.

    Now of course, the Roman Rite does NOT have an epiclesis! So it would make sense to consider the Verba the ping, and this is incorporated in the seeming double epiclesis in 1549/Rite 1 (the Word to which Cranmer refers is the Verba and Not the Logos as it would be in Serapion’s Anaphora from Egypt).

    I’d prefer to say we have a multiplicity of catholic practices that only as a whole bear forth the richness and complexity of our Trinitarian faith. One practice communicates the power of the ubiquity of Christ’s Risen Body, the other communicates the power of the Spirit in gathering us into the Body: Word and Spirit are the right and left hands of God as Nyssa would put it.

  3. Caelius says:

    “Ping”?

  4. Caelius says:

    Out of curiosity, what five parts?

    I could see five possible “pings”:

    At each Verbum (or set of Verba?) (1+2)
    At the Epiclesis (3)
    At the phrase just before the Great Amen in which the Host is waved about. (4)
    At the Fraction. (5)

    But I really doubt that any of these moments is “the ping.”

  5. Caelius says:

    Well, maybe the Verba…

  6. CJA says:

    Or by “five parts”, do you mean Preface, Sanctus, Anamnesis, Memorial Acclamation, Doxology? Or Intercession, or Epiclesis?

    I’m having trouble breaking the Eucharistic Prayer into only five parts.

  7. CJA says:

    The sacramental geek in me chafes at the notion of a “ping”, as though it would be possible to have a partial Eucharistic Prayer. In practice, however, I tend to catch myself bowing at the Verba. I also tend to cross myself during the elevation at the Great Amen (because it’s often the only elevation I see where I am), taking after some old Religious that I know, and I haven’t seen it too many other places.

  8. Derek the Ænglican says:

    My crossing policy is one at each elevation thus in a standard (Smokey Mary) Mass that means once for the host, once for the chalice in the Verba, once at the Amen/By-With-In, and one at the turn after the Fraction (gifts of God for the people of God). Essntially it comes from east wall altar practice. Whenever you can see something, cross yourself… 😉

  9. Derek the Ænglican says:

    And Fr. B was the one who mentioned five. I’m not sure what his breakdown is.

  10. bls says:

    I like the elevation, just because it’s dramatic and I can see it.

    But many of the (even very) High Church priests I know don’t do it anymore – the younger ones, especially. They bow at the Verba (if by that is meant the “Take, eat,” and “Drink ye all of this” parts).

    But bowing’s good, too.

  11. Derek the Ænglican says:

    Standard as I see it is:
    the “crouch” over the elements during the first section (yes, “take and eat”), then a genuflection, elevation, and genuflection, then repeat for the cup. That’s for East Wall altars. For Free Standing a bow is preferred to a genuflection.
    (Bowing at the East Wall sticks our @ss in the congregation’s face whereas a genuflection at the free standing gets a “Kilroy was here” thang goin’ on…)

    A simple bow is, of course, acceptable. (But the three bell-strokes coincide with the gen-elev-gen pattern)

  12. Anastasia says:

    our priets genuflect, of course 🙂

    ahnd you mean “behold the lamb of god….”

  13. Derek the Ænglican says:

    I would…except with Rite II I’m usually saying that to myself…

  14. LutherPunk says:

    oops, didn’t mean to delete above.

    I meant to say that at moments like this, I love being Lutheran. It just makes life easier!

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