Friday, 26 November 2010

The Great Elevation...

Fr Hunwicke (gosh am I flirting with Anglicans lately or what!) has linked to a post on Fr Blake's blog (are we still allowed to call it Saint Mary Magdalen?), and makes a very cogent point about the Canon Romanus - that is that nobody should tamper with it, not even ''doctors'' of the Church. Quite.

Were I (Heaven forbid! though I think the end result would have been far greater) on the Consilium in the 1960s, or had some influence to cheat Pius XII in his diabolical hope to sacrifice the Tradition of the Church for a gigantic anti-Christian fraud - that is the cult of the Infallible, Grace-dispensing Papacy - in the 1950s, I think I'd have done at least something to the Canon; make of this what you will. I would have removed the Great Elevation of the Eucharistic species immediately after the Consecration, and moved it to the very end of the Canon, immediately after the omnis honor et gloria of the Doxology and before the Pater Noster (effectively replacing the Minor Elevation - though I may treat this question in the combox, presuming that any comments are left). This way the Elevation would be an act of oblation as well as adoration, the Canon would be one uninterrupted Eucharistic Prayer, and would run from the Preface to the Pater Noster uninterrupted by popular piety and the ringing of bells. It would add emphasis to the phrase panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie in the Pater Noster, and would moreover be a restoration of an ancient tradition, smothered with layers of reactionary theology - yea the application of a hermeneutic to the Eucharistic Liturgy less-centred upon the Words of Institution (and the authority of the Priest to say them).

They err who say that the Canon Romanus is ''unchanged'' since the time of St Gregory, who arranged the textual order to that which we have now in the Roman Missal (though I would, in all sincerity, question even this assertion - why are there, for example, so many per Christum Dominum Nostrums in the Canon?). I have both rubric and text in mind here. The Religious Orders, and many local Uses, added saints and other persons (such as the King) to the Communicantes prayer - suppressed by the Council of Trent. The Great Elevation after the Words of Institution is a late Medieval embellishment of the Canon, unknown in the Roman Rite (or any Rite in Christendom) before the 12th century. It seems to have been an early triumph of popular piety over Tradition, or at least one of many theological reactions to a heresy regarding the Real Presence. Fortescue is suspicious of this hypothesis, though he explains that debates at the University of Paris instigated the whole process - debates about whether Bread was consecrated after the consecration of the Chalice etc. Hot air. I would ask why they were having such debates about Liturgy in the first place and not busy in choir getting on with it. By the end of the 13th century the custom of elevating the Host for the congregation to see had spread to the farthest bounds of the West, and was even adopted by the more austere and traditional Orders. Likewise the genuflexions before and after each consecration came later - 1570 to be precise.

Whatever the origins or reasons for the Great Elevation, it effects the whole Eucharistic Liturgy (and by extension the entire Prayer of the Church) in a very profound way - indeed for many it is (still) the focal point of the Mass; from pious lay folk in the Middle Ages begging their pastor to raise the Host higher, higher and still higher, to modern Trad Catholics, who care little for anything but the Roman Eucharistic Liturgy. The reason a bell is rung by an Acolyte at the Hanc Igitur is to warn the congregation of the impending Consecration. The reason there is still an obsolete rubric in the Canon for the Deacon to lift the end of the Chasuble is so that the Celebrant is not impeded by a weighty chasuble from lifting the Sacrament high above his head. And so on and so on. If the Great Elevation is merely reactionary, I would question its substance and worth in terms of Liturgy, oblation and adoration. If it is more than reaction then I would question its intrusion into the Canon of the Mass. All Liturgies have some form of elevation of the Sacred Species. In the days before superstition this was the Minor Elevation at the end of the Canon in the Roman Rite; in the various Eastern rites the elevation comes before Communion, and is accompanied by the acclamation: ''Holy Things for holy.'' I expect that defenders of the Elevation in its current place would highlight its obvious emphasis on the reality of the Blessed Sacrament, and the propriety of reverencing our Eucharistic Lord. This is, of course, inherently praiseworthy, but is not the reality of the Real Presence implied by the whole Eucharistic Liturgy, especially the Canon, in the first place? Why react to heresy by introducing innovations when you can remain faithful according to the received liturgical praxis and refute it thereby? Did St Bede, or St Cuthbert, or St Hilda, none of whom experienced any Great Elevation, believe in the Real Presence less than modern Trad Catholics?


  1. Do read Drury, T.W., 'Elevation in the Eucharist: Its History and Rationale' - now available as a reprint by Kessinger Publishing.

    Drury demonstrates that of the four elevations in the Roman rite the one after the Words of Institution is the most recent and exaggerated.

  2. Thank you for that, Rubricarius. It confirms what I had heard elsewhere.

    Patricius, to introduce an byzantinisation into your blog: Amen! Amen! Amen!

    One thing that frustrates me about some of our Western Rite folk is their employment of late Latin developments, but specifically developments that came about as a reaction against Protestantism. I don't understand.

    Leaving aside questions of authenticity or indeed the desirability of the individual practices themselves, why on earth would they, as Orthodox Christians, want to adopt and embrace the result of arguments between Catholics and Protestants that had nothing whatsoever to do with us, particularly when we have sensible Catholics questioning the continued benefit of these things even within their own churches? It makes no sense to me, (as if we haven't our own arguments over which to do battle).

    In the Byzantine Rite, we do have the prostration immediately after the epiklesis but this happens during the continued singing of the Tebe Poem (We praise Thee) so there isn't quite the same break in the dfeel of a continuous prayer. In modernist churches where this is read or even chanted aloud, I suppose this is achieved by the fact that the continuation of the priest's words is actually a continuation of the same sentence.