Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The meaning behind the sacrificial elements of Bread and Wine

The following excerpt was taken from Nicholas Gihr's fantastic work "The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass":

The Sacrificial Elements

The grain of wheat, which is the fat of the land, and the grape, which ripens in the sun, in a manner contain the marrow and blood of the earth, are also intended mainly to renew man's substance and to refresh his blood, and are, therefore, the chief means for the nourishment of his life. Nowhere do these grow wild, but in all places they thrive only by man's careful and laborious cultivation; and when he has harvested the ears and gathered in the grapes, it is still by renewed labor that he must prepare them for food and drink. If, therefore, on the one hand, bread and wine are gifts of God, they are, on the other, products of man; the sweat of his brow cleaves to them, before they are changed into his flesh and blood. Hence they are eminently suited as gifts of man to God; in presenting them we offer to God our fatigue and labor, and in the offering of these gifts we bring to God, so to speak, our flesh and blood, our body and life. Therefore, before our Lord can give and leave us His Flesh and Blood as a sacrifice, we must offer to Him bread and wine, in that we separate and withdraw these articles from the ordinary wants of life, and reserve and sanctify them for Him for His Sacrifice. Consequently, in ancient times the Church permitted the faithful in general to bring bread and wine to the house of God and to place them on the altar, and the priest accepted them as well for the Sacrifice as for his daily support. " : Ears of wheat and bunches of grapes are the most noble and most valuable products of the vegetable world; they compose, so to speak, the flesh and blood of the earth. These "firstlings of God's creatures and gifts" 2 represent, therefore, nature in her entirety, which is in a manner offered to God in the oblations of bread and wine, obtained one from the ears of wheat, the other from the grapes. The offering of bread and wine then symbolizes also the donation of man himself and of his life; for bread and wine are the most excellent means of nourishment, that serve to support and strengthen corporal life.

Therefore, the Psalmist says (Ps. 103, 14 15): "The Lord bringeth bread out of the earth for the service of men, and wine that it may cheer the heart of man." Thus the gifts of bread and wine serve symbolically to represent the offering to God of all created things, as required of man. In the bread and wine, man offers himself and all that he is. It may then be inferred that the separate species of bread and wine are suited to represent the separation of the Blood from the Body of Christ, the painful death of Christ, Christ's bloody sacrifice on the Cross.

The Church requires that the matter used for the Consecration be not only valid and as far as possible genuine, but, moreover, that it be permissible and as far as possible perfect. The bread destined for the sacrificial action must have been made of pure wheaten flour, that has been mixed with natural water and baked in the fire; and that the bread be pure, whole and fresh. The sacrificial wine of the vine must have been pressed from ripe grapes, fully fermented, not soured, nor settled, nor artificially composed; as to the color and taste, it may be red or white, strong or light, naturally sweet or tart. With regard to the color, it is to be re- marked that, although red wine symbolizes more perfectly than the white the Blood of Christ, still white wine is to be preferred, because in its use at the altar cleanliness can more easily be observed. Another prescription respecting the sacrificial elements is that the bread is required to be unleavened and the wine to be mixed with a little water. The use of unleavened bread and the mixing of wine with water have a higher meaning, and are, therefore, strictly pre- scribed by the Church; although they are not required for the valid- ity, yet they are absolutely required for the lawfulness of the Consecration.

The bread should be unleavened. This is a strict ordinance of the Church for the priests of the Latin rite, while on the united Greeks it is as strictly enjoined, according to an old custom, to consecrate only in leavened bread. In the East the Armenians and Syro-.Maronites (like the Latins) use un- leavened bread.

Among the Greeks it appears that leavened sacrificial bread, from the most ancient times, was exclusively or at least generally used. The historic question has not as yet been solved, what kind of bread the Western Church used for the Sacrifice during the first ten centuries. Three different views prevail regarding it among Catholic theologians since the seventeenth century, when the controversy was most animated. P. Sirmond S. J. ft 1651) in his Disquisitio de azymo, sem- perne in usu altaris fuerit apud Latinos defended the assertion (in its universality at any rate exaggerated and incorrect), that the Western Church in the middle of the ninth century consecrated exclusively leavened bread. Christopher Lupus O. S. Aug. (f 1681) first opposed this opinion. But as its chief opponent Mabillon O. S. B. (f 1707) came forth, who principally in his Dissertatio de pane eucharistico azymo ac fermentato defended the diametrically opposite opinion, namely, that in the West the constant and general use of unleavened sacrificial bread had prevailed (among the Apostles only, he admits the partial use of leavened bread). Cardinal Bona O. Cist, (f 1674) takes a middle view, employing the inconclusive arguments used by both opponents, to make it probable, that the Roman Church until late in are equally valid matter of the Sacrifice: the one as well as the other has its peculiar mystical signification. Yet there are more numerous and better reasons for the usage prevalent in the Latin Church; hence the rite of the latter is to be preferred. These reasons are principally the following :

a) The example of Christ at the institution of the Eucharist. The Saviour kept "on the first day of unleavened bread" the Pasch with His disciples therefore, at the time in which the Jews, according to the ordinance of the law, were obliged to have nothing leavened in the house or to partake of it. Consequently, it is generally admitted that Christ consecrated unleavened bread. Although the words of the Lord to His Apostles and their successors commanding them to do the same as He had done at the Last Supper, may not have been a formal command to consecrate unleavened bread, still it is evident that in so grave and sacred a matter the example of Christ should not easily be departed from. To depart from it, the Church has not the slightest reason; on the contrary, she has every reason to retain the use of unleavened bread after the example of Christ, since in many respects the unleavened merits a preference to the leavened bread.

b) The unleavened bread symbolizes very appropriately the Eucharistic Victim and the Eucharistic Food of the soul. The leaven penetrates and soon leavens the entire mass of flour in which it is mixed, changing it into savory bread; from this point of view the Saviour (Matt. 13, 33) calls the Divine Truth and Grace a heavenly leaven that transforms mankind. Otherwise leaven is usually employed in an evil sense. Namely, it displaces the flour in its working, that is, in its fermentation works decomposition or decay; therefore, it serves as a figure of the unclean, the perverse and the corrupted. Unleavened bread, on the contrary, which has undergone no such process of fermentation, is a symbol of purity and cleanliness. Accordingly, only unleavened bread can appropriately indicate the superhuman holiness and purity of the Eucharistic Victim, as well as the incomparable purity and incorruption of the Eucharistic Food of the soul.

c) Inasmuch as unleavened bread calls to our mind, how un- speakably pure and bright the transfigured Body of Christ is, at the same time it also reminds us of the purity of heart and body with which we should approach the Table of the Lord and receive the Food of Angels. According to the counsel of the Apostle (i Cor. 5, 7-8) we must purge out the old leaven of sin and passion, of wicked- ness and wantonness, that we may be "a new paste, as we are un- leavened" and be enabled, when thus sanctified, to partake of the immaculate Flesh of the Eucharistic Victim. These thoughts are beautifully expressed in the Paschal Hymn which says: "Christ is our paschal sacrifice, while for unleavened bread we need but heart sincere and purpose true" (pura puris mentibus sinceritatis azyma}.

b) To the sacrificial wine a small quantity of natural water must be added, according to Apostolic ordinance and the strict discipline of the Church. As this commingling is a holy ceremony, it must take place at the altar before the Oblation and be made in the chalice itself. Even a drop answers the purpose. It is, moreover, advisable and always safe to pour but a little water into the chalice, that the wine be not too much weakened and thus perhaps be spoiled. This mixture is so important and, therefore, so strictly prescribed, that it would never be allowed for a priest to begin the Holy Sacrifice, if he foresaw that no water could be procured. Profoundly significant are the reasons that favor the fitness of this ecclesiastical ordinance and practice.

a) The example of the Savior. That the Lord at the institution of the Eucharist consecrated wine mixed with water, is beyond a doubt. And in favor of this is the circumstance, that the addition of water to the wine at the Paschal meal was a permanent and universally practiced custom from which the Lord surely did not depart. The ancient liturgies and holy Fathers are unanimous in asserting that the Savior mingled the Eucharistic chalice with water. Thus from the time of the Apostles the Church has every- where and at all times faithfully followed after the example of her Divine Master, and has ever consecrated only wine mixed with water. She regarded it, as St. Cyprian writes in his letter to Caeci- lius, as proper that at the mixing and offering of the chalice of the Lord, she should observe the true tradition thereof, in order that at His glorious and triumphant return He may find us adhering strictly to that whereunto He had exhorted us, observing what He had taught and doing what He had done.

Besides this historical reason there are also mystical and sym- bolical reasons.

6) The wine destined to be changed into the Blood of Christ is mixed with water at the altar, that by these two elements the blood and water which flowed, on the Cross, from the wound in the side of Christ may be represented. The piercing and opening of the Heart of Jesus, with the stream of blood and water issuing there from, is a wonderful event and, at the same time, one full of mystical meaning, which should in a very special manner engage the attention of men; for the Evangelist, in speaking of it, mentions this passage of the Prophet: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (John 19, 37; Zach. 12, 10). For this occurrence proves not only the truth and reality of the sacrificial death of Christ, but it, moreover, involves a profound symbolism; for the stream of blood and water which proceeded from the wounded Heart of Jesus symbolizes all the graces and blessings that flow to us from the passion and death of Christ. The water, namely, symbolizes Baptism, which is the laver of purification and regeneration; the blood signifies the Eucharist, the fountain of reconciliation and strength unto life eternal. But since Baptism is the beginning, the Eucharist, the end and complement of the remaining sacraments, they are all included in these two principal ones. The outpouring of blood and water from the pierced side of the Redeemer, therefore, symbolically expresses that all the sacraments have their origin in His sacrificial death, that is, that they derive from it their power and plenitude of grace. But the Church is the only lawful possessor and administrator of the sacraments, by virtue of which she in her members is ever undergoing purification and sanctification, enlivened and fructified: hence the holy Fathers behold in the pierced Heart of Jesus also the divine origin of the Church. They say that from the opened side and breast of the second Adam, while slumbering in death, the new Eve, that is, the Church, was formed and came forth. 2 In the Office of the Sacred Lance and Nails it is said: "Thou, O Lance, hast opened to the world the life-giving side, whence came forth the holy Church." Thus from the pierced Heart of Jesus, that is, from the stream of blood and water proceeding therefrom, the pure, immaculate Church was born, and thence the inexhaustible fountain of her graces originated. The rite of the mixing of wine and water in the chalice can and should remind us of these mysteries.

c) The commingling of wine and water in the chalice refers also to that intimate, mystical relationship existing between Christ and His Church. 3 Under this meaning, the noble, precious element of the wine, considered as to its qualities and effects, as well viewed as to the approaching consecration into the Blood of Christ, is taken as a symbol of the God-Man; while the running, flowing water is a speaking figure of unstable, perishable man. "The waters which thou sawest," said the Angel to John, "are peoples and nations" (Apoc. 17, 15). Like wave on wave nations, one oil the other, press upon the stream of time; like billows chasing and rolling on one another, and lost in the deep, generations of men rise, one on another, to sink again in turn into the grave of eternity. The drops of water which have been poured into the chalice no longer exist of themselves, but they are diffused in and incorporated into the wine, partaking of its qualities. Similar is the union of the faithful with Christ: by virtue of this union a change takes place in them and they are made partakers of the divine nature, that is, by sanctifying grace they are made children of God, and by the bestowal of heavenly glory they become heirs of God. For from the Head, Jesus Christ, who is filled with all the treasures of the divinity, the unction of grace flows down to His members, descending even to the hem and extremity of the garment of the Church (Ps. 132, 2), so that she becomes wholly penetrated with the precious flow of heavenly gifts. We are to understand by the commingling of wine and water before the Oblation, first of all, the sacrificial Communion between Christ and the Church, that is, this ceremony is intended to place before our eyes that Christ as the Head, in union with the Church, as His mystical body, offers sacrifice and is offered in sacrifice at the celebration of Mass. Hereby, at the same time, is indicated that unspeakably intimate and exalted relation, which is realized and perfected between the children of the Church and our Redeemer by the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist. This is that supernatural espousal of which the Apostle wrote to the Chris- tians of Corinth: "I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. u, 2). It commences here below in sanctifying grace and is consummated above in eternal glory.


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