A few Sundays ago, we had a modern variant on the Eucharistic liturgy at my local Anglican church. The Eucharistic prayer had a few lines in it regarding us congregants “giving” and “sacrificing” things to God. The Rev. Chris King, our priest, warned us beforehand that he would be saying things a bit differently from what was printed, for he believes the idea of us bringing anything to the Communion Table is nonsense — the sacrament is entirely a gift from God and our action does not make it happen and adds nothing to it.
I agree with Chris. And what he had to say was the reason I am a bit uncomfortable at some of the Anglo-Catholic doings of the Eucharist, for they tend to include a prayer beseeching God to accept the sacrifice we or the priest offers. I am not sure how old that prayer is, and I don’t really have the time to research it right now.
However, the idea of the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion, or the Holy Eucharist, or the Mass being a sacrifice is, indeed, very ancient. You can find a Patristic catena testifying to this fact at Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. I dare not presume to say that the Fathers were pre-Reformation Evangelicals. Clearly they thought of the Sacrament of the Most Precious Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ as a sacrifice.
Today, reading Worshiping with the Church Fathers, I became a bit more comfortable with the idea. Christopher A. Hall, in discussing the Eucharist as a memorial of that His precious death, notes that “Holy Communion is a remembrance that makes Christ’s sacrifice present to the church in time and space.” (65) When that sacrifice is made present in the Eucharist, the crucifixion is not repeated. This is what many Protestants think the Roman position on the question is, including some former Catholics. Rather, Hall writes, “It is the introduction into present time of a past event.” (65)
He quotes St. John Chrysostom:
We always offer the same oblation: therefore it is one sacrifice. . . . Christ is everywhere one, entire in this place and that, one body . . . and so, one sacrifice. . . . We offer now what was offered then, an inexhaustible offering. . . . We offer the same sacrifice: or rather we make a memorial of that sacrifice. (66, Homilies on Hebrews 3.17)
Just as the Eucharist brings back into our time the future marriage banquet of the Lamb, the eschatalogical feast we shall enjoy in the ages of ages, so also does it bring forth the past sacrifice of Christ, a sacrifice once offered, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. We are not offering the sacrifice; Christ already has. Yet we are seeing it reenacted with the elements of the bread and wine, and Christ’s saving grace is poured forth upon those elements, the same grace he shed with his blood on the Cross.