Friday, December 11, 2009

Four Ends of Holy Communion

If the incoming Anglicans (Anglicani ingressuri) bring to the communion of all Catholics a legitimate and worthy Patrimony - as obviously they must, since whatsoever goods, truths and beauties which uphold them and impel them to Catholic unity must be of value to all - then it behooves us to estimate and appreciate these worthy gifts.

I have thought on this with reference to their liturgical forms, as a help to better appreciating the ineffable benefits of Holy Communion.

I find in classical Anglican liturgies, and especially in the already-approved Book of Divine Worship Anglican Use of the Roman Rite, these following extracts relative to the hoped-for blessings brought us by receiving Christ's Body and Blood:

1. From the Prayer of Oblation, in the 1662 tradition misplaced till after communion, but in the Scottish (which I quote from their 1929 B.C.P.) and American tradition returned to after the Prayer of Consecration:

…beseeching thee that all we who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion may worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, and be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us and we in him.

This petition for communicants, while coming from prayers not included in the B.D.W., may - if an Anglican Canon or Eucharistic Prayer be allowed in future - be found acceptable. It is evident that this petition derives from the Supplices te rogamus of the Roman Canon, which the B.D.W. renders as: "...that all we who at this partaking of the altar shall receive the most sacred Body and Blood of thy Son, may be fulfilled with all heavenly benediction and grace." (Regarding mutual indwelling, see what is said of this next below, since the collect for humble access to the holy communion repeats this phrase.)

2. From the Prayer of Humble Access:

… Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, [ that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his most sacred Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and ] that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

(The portion in square brackets is not included in the Book of Divine Worship, but was in most older B.C.P.'s, indeed, is original; only the Scottish B.C.P. adds the words "most sacred", for symmetry with the words "most precious" that derive from I Peter i, 19.)

The petition concerning washing and cleansing of body and soul seems to allude to several passages of Holy Writ such as, relative to washing, "Jesus Christ... washed us from our sins in our own blood" (Apoc. i, 5b, d), yea, "Blessed are they that wash their robes in the blood of the Lamb" (Apoc. xxii, 14a) - "robes" seeming to refer to bodies - and relative to cleansing, "the blood of Christ... cleanse our conscience" - where conscience denotes a faculty of the mind or soul (Hebrews ix, 14; and cf. verse 22, recalling that under the Law, well-nigh everything was cleansed with blood), for "the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (I John i, 7b).

The last portion of this prayer is manifestly derived from St John vi, 57 - "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him" - as is borne out by the fact that in the original 1548 version of this prayer, the petitions were reversed, and it read "so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us".

3. From the words of administration:

The Body /Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, [ which was given / shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto ] everlasting life.

(Again, the portion in square brackets, though common, is not that in the B.D.W., which instead has "keep you in" - which seems equivalent.)

These formulæ are self-evidently derived from the Latin forms Corpus / Sanguis Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam æternam, as the Roman Rite has it, or ...custodiat te in vitam æternam, as the Dominican Rite reads. Fairly obviously, it was thought good to refer back to the words of consecration by adding "given for thee", "shed for thee", and to add mention of the body to that of the soul, since we are each a complex unity of body and soul in a marvellous composite, the immortal soul being the form of the mortal body.

4. From the Prayer of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs through hope of thy everlasting kingdom. …

(I give the B.D.W. version.)

From these four extracts, a simple enumeration of the gains prayed for from Holy Communion, our spiritual food and drink, our ghostly nourishment, may be made:

  1. to be filled with grace and heavenly blessing, to be assured of God’s favour and goodness towards us;
  2. to be made one body with Christ, that He continually dwell in us and we in Him, as true members of His mystical Body;
  3. for our sinful bodies to be made clean and our souls washed;
  4. for our bodies and souls to be preserved unto everlasting life, to be heirs of the everlasting Kingdom.

These are the glorious ends these Anglican liturgical forms propose for special mention and ardent petition.

The first desire is to be filled with grace and blessing, which is a logical consequence of God's complacent regard for us as well-pleasing to Him and therefore to be favoured by His goodness: thus we see that our reception (we beg it may be worthy) of Holy Communion is both the pledge and guarantee of God loving us with so puissant a love that He makes us to be good - for God does not passively love, but rather His active love makes His beloved good.

The second desire is for entire incorporation into Christ, that He live in us, "we living no longer for ourselves but for Him, Who died and rose again for us", so that "I live no longer, but rather, not I, it is Christ that lives in me": for as He lives being given life by the Father, so all who eat and drink Him live because of Him. May this be lasting, and be everlasting! This union with Christ has the corollary that in Him we are all united as "the blessed company of all faithful people": as the Church, in fact, in heaven above as on earth below (and in the Intermediate State of purification). Communion is so-called for this very reason: it is the sign and the efficacious producer of union with Christ, and, in Him, of union among all Christians in Holy Church united.

The third desire, consequent upon the first two, and subordinate to them - for the Sacrament of the Eucharist is for the living, not for those dead in mortal sin - is for all our sins and stains to be washed away in the Blood of the Lamb, for the flaming Coal of the Flesh of Christ to burn away every imperfection within us. The Eucharist, not principally but coherent with its essential power of uniting us with He Whom we receive, burns away all dross.

The fourth desire is for our bodies and our souls, made temples of God, of His Spirit, and of His Christ, to be preserved unto everlasting life, that we be heirs of the Kingdom. While our bodies will die and decay, we look forward in hope to the General Resurrection, when, rather than rising again only to be thrown into the lake of fire, we pray to rise to the life immortal, our bodies even now having received the medicine of immortality; and the same may be said of the soul, which, though unbreakable and deathless by nature, will either rejoice with the angels, or be tormented with the devils, once this short life is past - the soul, too, must be preserved a Christian, gracefilled soul, for in no other manner may it enter upon everlasting life. If our bodies and our souls, made Christ's in baptism, are not kept safe in everlasting life, they will indubitably perish in eternal death.

Indeed, to end on a positive note, if we abide in Christ as we worthily receive Him, even here and now we are already "in life", a life that, please God, will never cease, but prove everlasting.

(I have not here considered the doctrine of the Exhortations in the Anglican Communion Offices, as these need careful consideration and correction in some points.)

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