For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Per quem haec omnia

Per quem hæc omnia, Domine, semper bona creas, santificas, vivificas, benedicis, et præstas nobis.

Through whom, O Lord, thou dost alway create all these good things, dost sanctify, quicken, bless, and bestow them upon us.

This prayer comes just before the concluding doxology in the Roman Canon. Jungmann and a few other scholars I have read seem agreed that it originally followed on a blessing of some kind - possibly produce on various feasts or seasons of the year - that once concluded the Eucharistic prayer. The idea was to bring the gifts offered for blessing into proximity to the gifts offered for the holy sacrifice. The "good things" that the Lord creates, makes holy etc. include both the offered bread and wine and the additional things brought for blessing.


What has puzzled me on hearing the words for the last five years every Sunday is their order. Why does bless come after sanctify, for example? And why does vivify come in between those two? Is there a reason for the sequence? On casting around to find a rationale, it might help to think of the context of (1) creation and (2) eucharistia or thanksgiving. We (1) take the things of creation, (2) offer them with thanksgiving, and then God raises them to another level.

Take (1) creation first of all. In the original account God creates: "In the beginning God created"; then makes living things (days 3, 5 & 6); with blessings of fecundity following on day 5 (the blessing of fish and birds) and day 6 (the blessing of mankind, male and female); and then bestows plants for food. The obvious creation order is therefore creas, vivificas, benedicis, præstas nobis. The sanctifying is done last, on day 7, the Sabbath, which God both blesses and sanctifies. The idea is that in the Sabbath rest (a rest from the work of creation) God is making holy the day of completion and enjoyment and therefore making holy the completed and perfectly ordered cosmos. The sanctifying comes at the end, after the bestowal and blessing and all the rest: whereas in the Roman Canon it is the second term.

However the context (2) of the Eucharist is different. Here the world is being re-made, re-created. The divine Image is being impressed on creation in a new and higher way.

First, creas. The new creation is begun on the eve of the Sabbath, with the pouring of the water and blood from Christ's side. We enter this moment of Christ's death in baptism, washing away our sin and dying, unmaking the old corrupted creation. Bread and wine - made from grinding down and crushing up the stuff of the old creation - are also an image of this moment, the bread being Christ's dead body and the wine the blood that has poured from his side.

Then (sanctificas) the Sabbath is the day when we have entered into the mystery of the death of Christ, beneath the waters of baptism, when the Spirit is hovering over the darkness of inchoate existence, ready to give it new life. In the Eucharist one can draw an analogy with the Spirit fluttering above the offerings that have been set apart as holy things, ready to impregnate them with the life of God.

Vivificas: in the original creation order the Word generates light, the land emerges from the sea, and life germinates and breeds upon it. This life is of two kinds: plants bearing seeds (from which we make bread) and trees bearing fruit (from which we make wine). In the new creation, the resurrection of Christ generates the divine light of faith, and with him the Church emerges from the grave and the waters of baptism, just as the dry land rises out of the sea. The bread and wine, the seed-bearing and fruit-bearing substance of the old creation, are now re-made in Christ, and given new life as the Bread of Life and Cup of Everlasting Salvation.

The blessing (benedicas) of the fish, birds, and then Man in the creation week is a benediction to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. In the setting of the new creation the fish that multiply to fill the sea are the people of God who increase in faith, and in number, filling the nations. But there is an additional blessing given to Man who is also to exercised dominion over all creation. In the blessing of the new creation, Christ the last Adam weds his Bride, the Church; and so in the Eucharist the mystery of the making one flesh of Christ and his Bride is accomplished. The Church gives birth to many sons and daughters, and with her Lord produces the fruit of goodness, and rules the healthy but bestial parts of human nature. The blessing is ultimately a nuptial blessing, a blessing of the Supper of the Lamb and the Bride, and issues in God's committal of all things in heaven and earth to Christ's rule, and the nations to the rule of Christ's people.

Præstas nobis: the bestowal of the seed and fruit bearing plants upon mankind for food in the original creation is taken up to a new height of grace in the new creation, in which the divine life is given to us as bread and wine. This is a giving not just of life and nourishment, but is the pouring into us of the very life of God, in which we become partakers of the divine nature and everything else besides. He who delivered up for us his own Son, "how shall he not with Him also give us all things?"

The reason for this prayer's inverting of the original creation order (of God's first blessing and then sanctifying the whole at the Sabbath completion of his work) is because the Eucharist is a feast of the new creation: the order of re-making and restoration is necessarily different than that of creation. In the new creation God first makes his Son holy, and then through him restores and blesses and pours out gifts on the whole. In authoring the new creation the divine irony reaches a glorious height: God sets the new creation in motion by dying, by taking into himself the old and dragging it into death; he continues by sanctifying not the whole creation but its corpse; he then animates this with his own divine life, presents it as a King in marriage to the fallen world, and through that nuptial rite bestows his own life to the new world.

L'Ascensione (II)