Friday, June 8, 2012

Evelyn Underhill on the Eucharistic Sacrifice

In her book Worship, written in 1936, Evelyn Underhill explains the Eucharistic Sacrifice: 

. . . the whole visible action of Jesus at the Last Supper, must be thought of as conditioned first by the Jewish religious background within which His earthly life was lived, and secondly by His own deep consciousness of His unique destiny. 

This action is only to be understood as the opening phase of the Passion; the phase in which He declares the purpose and meaning of His death, already indeed accomplished within the eternal purposes of God. ‘This is My Body which is given for you’ is a phrase which no Jew could fail to understand in a sacrificial sense. It evokes at once the thoughts of the victim and the altar, the total oblation, the atonement for sin, the peace-offering that culminated the sacramental meal. 

So the Last Supper must be regarded as a moment in that single action which moves to the crises of Gethsemane and the Cross: and as setting on that action the seal of sacrifice . . . The offering indeed is already made and accepted. All that remains, is the carrying through of the sacrificial action to its term. . . . 

The Eucharist, then, is first the Church’s representation before God of this perfect self-offering of Christ; that three-fold oblation of the Upper Room, Gethsemane, and Calvary, in which all the deepest meanings of sacrifice are gathered and declared. 

Secondly, it is her own self-offering and that of each of her members, in and with Christ her head: … To that inward and heavenly sphere the Church by her Eucharistic worship is admitted, to join her sacrificial acts, to the eternal self-offering of her Lord. These sacrificial acts, this total and loving dedication of life to the purposes of the Eternal . . . 

For the fullest act of worship, whether of the Church or of the soul, must be the surrender of the created life to the purposes of the continuing Incarnation . . . The ritual oblation which forms one strand in every Eucharist represents the living sacrifice . . . 

Thus it is true to say that the whole of Christian worship is focussed upon an altar where there is perpetually set forth the redemptive offering of pure love; and in that eternal offering, all other movements of love and sacrifice are sanctified before God. 

(Pages 147-149) (I have broken the long paragraph into smaller ones for the ease of the modern reader.)


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