07 February 2014

Bishop Grafton's Insight

In Plain Suggestions for a Reverent Celebration of the Holy Communion (Ch. 9 'The Mystical Meaning of the Liturgy') the late Anglo-Catholic Bishop Grafton dealt with a remarkable peculiarity of the Anglican liturgy that the unconsumed portions of the Eucharist were not left upon the Altar or upon a table to be dealt with later after the liturgy but are intentionally left upon the Altar to form the real climax of the liturgy with priest and congregation standing in the Real Presence of the Lord of All united with Him by their Communion with Him and by His Divine Majesty in their midst upon the Holy Altar.  Bishop Grafton writes:

... It is full of the spirit of the risen and ascended Christ. As the first two portions of the Liturgy set forth His prophetical and priestly work, here He is brought before us as our risen and ascended King. The Roman mass practically ends with the priest's communion, and then he consumes the elements.

Is it not something worse than disloyalty for an Anglican priest to imitate this in the face of our rubric, which enforces the reservation of the sacrament until after the benediction? If it was for communion only that the sacrament was instituted, we might conceive that as soon as the communions were made the sacrament should be consumed. But the Prayer-Book orders its reservation and that the Benediction shall be given in its presence.

 Like the apostles, we assemble about our risen Lord, and are with Him, like them, in the sacred enclosure of the closed doors. He is in the midst of us, and we have received Him, and He is in us and we in Him. We rejoice in Him and adore Him as our King.

We are incorporated into His mystical body, and are ready to do all such good works as He has prepared for us to walk in. We gather about Him as when the disciples took their last walk with Him in the glorious sunlight of His resurrection, and He led them out as far as Bethany.

Not unfittingly does our Liturgy reserve the Gloria in Excelsis for this place. It is the triumphantly filled-out response made by the Church to the angels’ song at Bethlehem. We have been raised up and made to sit in heavenly places.

We gaze not up into a material heaven, but into the heaven whereof we form a part and wherein we are one with the apostles, as when they gathered beneath the benediction of the uplifted hands, and worshipped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 

And then, after the blessing, the priest immediately and reverently consumes the sacred gifts, and can we but think of the saying: "He was taken up; and a cloud received Him out of their sight.

I doubt many in the Anglican Church were catechised with this understanding in the last fifty years, but when rightly celebrated such a mystical meaning is both potent and faith-enhancing when one participates with the Church standing and praising God who is eucharistically present upon the Altar, singing the Hymn of the Angels, and receiving the final Benediction of the Blessed Trinity whilst in His divine Presence.  Following the Benediction, the priest would consume all that was left of the Body and Blood of the Lord, and for the Church on earth 'The Lord would pass from out their sight.'

This entire liturgical order and direction of movement is now lost in almost all Anglican and Episcopalian liturgical orders and is not to be found in the Ordinariates' new Mass provisions.  But perhaps some day someone will reclaim this remarkable vision of the Church on earth united with the Church Triumphant worshipping the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world. 

St. Mary's, Redcliffe