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?