Thursday, 4 June 2015

Theodore of Mospuestia on the Eucharistic Liturgy

The following passage is taken from a work by the Church Father, Theodore of Mospuestia, on the liturgy of the Eucharist. Here he speaks of the relation of the Eucharistic liturgy to the sacrifice of Christ and to the liturgy which Christ performs in heaven. All of these are versions or manifestations of one and the same work of Christ, which He performs for man's redemption and for the worship and praise of the Father. Through the liturgical symbolism, we attain to a contemplation of certain realities of Christ's work. On the one hand, we reap the effects of His passion and death when He was on earth. On the other hand, we have a glimpse, as it were, of the heavenly liturgy.
We must first of all realise that we perform a sacrifice of which we eat. Although we remember the death of our Lord in food and drink, and although we believe these to be the remembrance of His Passion—because He said: "This is my body which is broken for you, and this is my blood which is shed for you"—we nevertheless perform, in their service, a sacrifice; and it is the office of the priest of the New Testament to offer this sacrifice, as it is through it that the New Covenant appears to be maintained. It is indeed evident that it is a sacrifice, but not a new one and one that (the priest) performs as his, but it is a remembrance of that other real sacrifice (of Christ). Because the priest performs things found in heaven through symbols and signs, it is necessary that his sacrifice also should be as their image, and that he should represent a likeness of the service of heaven. It would be impossible for us to be priests and do priestly service outside the ancient law if we did not possess the likeness of heavenly things.

The blessed Paul said about Christ our Lord that "if He were on the earth He should not be a high priest, seeing that there were priests of the law who offer gifts according to the law and who serve to the example and shadow of heavenly things." He means by this that all the priests according to the law performed their priestly service on earth, where all the law was made to suit mortal men, and the sacrifices consisted of irrational beasts led to be slaughtered to death, which meant that they were fit for this mortal sojourn on earth. It is indeed clear that all the injunctions and ritual of the law were only partially suitable. Circumcision, Sabbath, holy days, observances of days, and distinctions in food: all these suited a mortal nature, and none of them has any place in an immortal nature, and to people who performed such things even sacrifices of irrational beasts are not suitable, as these are slaughtered and |80 die in the act of sacrifice. As to Christ our Lord, if He were about to perform His priestly service on earth, it was necessary that He also should perform this service according to the Divine law, which was something that harmonised with the (Mosaic) law; and if He did not perform a priestly service according to the law, He would not have been a high priest, as He would then be performing a priestly service not according to the law of God. Now, however, He performs the priestly service in heaven and not on earth, because He died, rose, ascended into heaven in order to raise us all up and cause us to ascend into heaven, and made a covenant with those who believe in Him that He will grant them participation in the resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven.

He performs a real high priesthood and offers to God no other sacrifice than Himself, as He had delivered also Himself to death for all. He was the first to rise from the dead, and He ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God in order to destroy all our adversaries, as the blessed Paul said: "He offered one sacrifice for our sins for ever, sat on the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified." He calls His enemies those who fight against us, and their destruction is clearly seen in our perfection, as the work of a high priest consists in his drawing near to God first and then in drawing also the others to Him through himself. The blessed Paul rightly calls Him high priest because He was so in reality, as through His resurrection He was the first to ascend into heaven; and He sat on the right hand of God, and granted us through Himself to be near to God and partakers of good things. "The high priest of all of us is," as the blessed Paul said, "Christ our Lord, who did not, like the high priests of the law, serve to the example and shadow of heavenly things, but He is the minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which God pitched and not man," so that through them He might make manifest |81 the heavenly things. He refers by the word "sanctuary" to heavenly things which do not contain anything that is contrary or reprehensible, and by the sentence "the true tabernacle which God pitched and not man" to the heavenly abode, because the tabernacle of the law was pitched by man, but heaven is made not by men but by God, and it is of it that the Apostle said that Christ is the minister, as He ascended into heaven and there performs service for all of us, so that He might draw us to Him by all means, according to His promise. It is for this reason that he said in another passage that "He is at the right hand of God and making intercession for us." He calls "intercession" not a supplication made for us in words, as this intercession is made in deeds, because through His ascension into heaven He makes intercession for us to God and is anxious that all of us should ascend into heaven to Him.

If, as the blessed Paul said, Christ our Lord should not be a priest if He performed His priestly service on earth, it follows that He does not perform His service according to the ritual of the law, but since priesthood and the service of the law were made manifest by God on earth, it was not necessary that it should be rejected by God and another one be substituted on the same earth. He is then rightly a priest because He performs priestly service in heaven, where there is not a single association with earthly things, and in this way no blame attaches to the priests of the law. Since these are said in another place to do their work among mortal and earthly men, while He performs His priestly service in immortal and heavenly things, which are much higher and loftier, is it not clear that neither can we be priests appointed to do priestly service for earthly things? It is indeed well known that the priesthood of the law suited earthly and mortal men, while Christ is the high priest of heavenly things, and will cause all of us to ascend into heaven at the right time.

As to us who are called to a new covenant, as the blessed Paul said, we received salvation and deliverance in hope, and although we have not seen them we expect "by our patience to be absent from the body and be with our Lord." We walk by faith and not by sight because we are not yet in the reality, as we are not yet in the heavenly benefits. We wait here in faith until we ascend into heaven and set out on our journey to our Lord, where we shall not see through a glass and in a riddle but shall look face to face. These things, however, we expect to receive in reality through the resurrection at the time decreed by God, and now it is only by faith that we draw near to the firstfruits of these good things: to Christ our Lord and the high priest of things that belong to us. We are ordered to perform in this world the symbols and signs of the future things so that, through the service of the Sacrament, we may be like men who enjoy symbolically the happiness of the heavenly benefits, and thus acquire a sense of possession and a strong hope of the things for which we look.

As the real new birth is the one which we expect through the resurrection, and we nevertheless perform this new birth symbolically and sacramentally through baptism, so also the real food of immortality is that which we hope to receive truly in heaven by the grace of the Holy Spirit, but now we symbolically eat the immortal food which is given to us by the grace of the Holy Spirit, whether in symbols or through symbols. It follows that a role of a high priest must needs be filled, and it is found in those who are appointed for the service of these symbols. Those who have been chosen as the priests of the New Testament are believed to perform sacramentally, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, and for the confirmation and admonition of the children of the Sacrament, these things which we believe that Christ our Lord performed and will perform in reality.

This is the reason why they do not immolate at all times new sacrifices like the priests of the law. These were ordered to offer to God numerous and different sacrifices of oxen, goats and sheep, and offered new sacrifices at all times. When first sacrificial beasts had been slaughtered, had died and suffered complete dissolution, others were always immolated in the place of those which had been slaughtered a long time previously. As to the priests of the New Testament they immolate the same sacrifice always and everywhere, because one is the sacrifice which has been immolated for us, that of Christ our Lord who suffered death for us and who, by His offering this sacrifice, obtained perfection for us, as the blessed Paul said: "By one offering He perfected for ever them that are sanctified." All of us, everywhere, at all times, and always, observe the commemoration of that sacrifice, "for as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we do show the Lord's death till He come." As often, therefore, as the service of this awe-inspiring sacrifice is performed, which is clearly the likeness of heavenly things and of which, after it has been perfected, we become worthy to partake through food and drink, as a true participation in our future benefits—we must picture in our mind that we are dimly in heaven, and, through faith, draw in our imagination the image of heavenly things, while thinking that Christ who is in heaven and who died for us, rose and ascended into heaven and is now being immolated. In contemplating with our eyes, through faith, the facts that are now being re-enacted: that He is again dying, rising and ascending into heaven, we shall be led to the vision of the things that had taken place beforehand on our behalf.

Because Christ our Lord offered Himself in sacrifice for us and thus became our high priest in reality, we must think that the priest who draws near to the altar is representing His image, not that he offers himself in sacrifice, any more than he is truly a high priest, but because he performs the figure of the service of the ineffable sacrifice (of Christ), and through this figure he dimly represents the image of the unspeakable heavenly things and of the supernatural and incorporeal hosts. Indeed, all the invisible hosts did service to that Economy which transcends our words and which Christ our Lord accomplished for us. "They are all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation" as the blessed Paul said. Matthew, the evangelist, showed also this when he said: "and the angels came, and ministered to Him." This is also attested by our Lord who said: "Hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending to the Son of Man." Incidents in the Gospel show also events that happened through them, whether it be through those who at the birth of our Lord sang: "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth and good hope to men," or through those who at His resurrection revealed to women what had occurred, or through those who at His ascension explained to the Apostles that which they did not know. It is necessary, therefore, that here also, when this awe-inspiring service is performed, we should think that the deacons represent an image of the service of these invisible spirits, and that they have been appointed to minister to this awe-inspiring service by the grace of the Holy Spirit which they received.

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