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7 June 2015
posted by Canon Dakin on 10-06-2015

Corpus Christi

People of my generation sometimes hanker after the old days when, wherever in the world you went, the Mass was always word for word the same. Nowadays, having been translated into so many different languages, the Mass has kept its shape though the words are not the same. How did the Mass get its basic shape? The early Christians combined the Saturday synagogue service with Our Lord’s adaptation of the Passover Supper.  You would have recognised the exact shape of our Mass today if you had attended Mass in Rome in the year 150. On Monday last week we celebrated the memory of      St Justin. His grandfather might have seen and heard one of the apostles. Justin would have been as close as that to the Apostles themselves..  He lived during a time of persecution so he wrote what is called an Apology - an open letter to the Roman Emperor justifying his faith. He gives a description of the Mass in which you may clearly recognise the readings, the sermon, Bidding Prayers, Offertory, Eucharistic Prayer and Communion.  And he is absolutely explicit about the effect of the Eucharistic prayer. ‘We have been taught’, he says, ‘that the food which has been blessed by the prayer of his word is the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh. The Apostles in their memoirs which we call gospels have narrated how Jesus took bread and when he had given thanks said “Do this in remembrance of me; this is my body”.              And likewise, having taken the cup and given thanks he said; “This is my blood”’. This realism, the presence of Jesus, made man for us, under the appearance of bread and wine, was the common faith of all Christians, East and West, Catholic and Orthodox, for fifteen hundred years. It was challenged at the Reformation - not by Luther but by others, principally Calvin, and it was Calvinism that made its way into England.  Calvin regarded human nature as totally corrupt. You get into heaven if God, for the sake of Christ, deigns to overlook your sinful state. The holiness of God, as a Real Presence in the Eucharist, is simply incompatible with human degradation. But Our Lord said: Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy and the invitation to share God’s life was made at the Last Supper and is signified through our communion. Which brings us back to Justin. In the old Latin Mass the climax appeared to be the elevation. The priest sang the preface and whilst the choir sang the Sanctus the priest continued the Eucharistic Prayer in silence. Then continuing in a dramatic silence he pronounced the words of consecration and to the accompaniment of bells the host was raised for adoration. Not so in Justin’s day or for a thousand years afterwards. The whole of the Eucharistic Prayer at that time was proclaimed aloud. The words of consecration were simply one paragraph within a continuous prayer. There was no pause for an elevation of the host or of the chalice. Then, the climax was clearly - communion. It is the goal and purpose of all that has gone before. It is the solemn and serious step we take to renew our covenant with God, who has made himself present to us, our rededication to serve him. And where do we find him requiring to be served? I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave a drink, I was naked and you clothed me. 

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