Thursday, May 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor on the Ascension, the Holy Sacrifice, and Jesus our great High Priest

Alleluia! King eternal, 
Thee the Lord of lords we own; 
Alleluia! born of Mary, 
Earth Thy footstool, heav’n thy throne: 
Thou within the veil hast entered, 
Robed in flesh our great High Priest; 
Thou on earth both priest and victim 
In the Eucharistic feast. 
(William C. Dix, 1867) 

Today's celebration of the Lord's being "taken up in the cloud" as our Great High Priest into the heavenly sanctuary (see my post for Ascension Day 2017 HERE) is a thanksgiving for the unity between our High Priest's sacrifice of love, his ongoing intercessory ministry, and the Church's Eucharist. 

This was a major theme of the 17th Century Caroline Divines, many of whom suffered enormously to preserve the Catholic Faith within the Church of England. One of them, Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), was a chaplain to King Charles I. He is still well-known for his devotional books, Holy Living and Holy Dying. Following the martyrdom of the King, Taylor was imprisoned a number of times. Eventually, he was allowed to live quietly in Wales, where he became the private chaplain of the Earl of Carbery. The Catholic life of the Church of England was driven underground during this Commonwealth period, and at great risk to themselves, clergy like Jeremy Taylor exercised their ministry in a clandestine way, protected - and sometimes even hidden - by lay people who dreamt of a restoration of their Church. When the Restoration came, Taylor was made Bishop of Down and Connor in Ireland and became vice-chancellor of the University of Dublin. His teaching on the Eucharist and the priesthood of Jesus draws heavily on the Scriptures, as well as both Eastern and early Latin sources. The following is from his book, The Great Exemplar

"… whatsoever Christ did at the institution, the same he commanded the Church to do, in remembrance and repeated rites; and himself also does the same thing in heaven for us, making perpetual intercession for his church, the body of his redeemed ones, by representing to his Father his death and sacrifice. There he sits, a High Priest continually, and offers still the same one perfect sacrifice; that is, still represents it as having been once finished and consummate, in order to perpetual and never-failing events. 

"And this, also, his ministers do on earth; they offer up the same sacrifice to God, the sacrifice of the cross, by prayers, and a commemorating rite and representment, according to his holy institution. And as all the effects of grace and the titles of glory were purchased for us on the cross, and the actual mysteries of redemption perfected on earth, but are applied to us, and made effectual to single persons and communities of men, by Christ's intercession in heaven . . . 

"As Christ is a priest in heaven for ever, and yet does not sacrifice himself afresh, nor yet without a sacrifice could he be a priest; but, by a daily ministration and intercession, represents his sacrifice to God, and offers himself as sacrificed: so he does upon earth, by the ministry of his servants; he is offered to God, that is, he is, by prayers and the sacrament, represented or 'offered up to God, as sacrificed'; which, in effect, is a celebration of his death, and the applying it to present and future necessities of the church, as we are capable, by a ministry like to his in heaven. It follows, then, that the celebration of this sacrifice be, in its proportion, an instrument of applying the proper sacrifice to all the purposes which it first designed. It is ministerially, and by application, an instrument propitiatory; it is eucharistical, it is an homage, and an act of adoration; and it is impetratory, and obtains for us, and for the whole church, all the benefits of the sacrifice, which is now celebrated and applied; that is, as this rite is the remembrance and ministerial celebration of Christ's sacrifice, so it is destined to do honour to God, to express the homage and duty of his servants, to acknowledge his supreme dominion, to give him thanks and worship, to beg pardon, blessings, and supply of all our needs." 

The picture below is the work of Thomas Noyes-Lewis  (1862-1946) who for many years was a worshipper at my parish church - All Saints' Benhilton in the south of London - and, indeed, a server at the altar. He was a professional artist, an illustrator of prayer books and children's books. His passion was to help people catch a glimpse of what is really happening in the Mass when as we gather at our earthly altars we are swept into the heavenly worship with Jesus, our great High Priest and sacrificial Victim, risen, ascended and glorified.   

And here is the hymn, expressing these great truths, that we would have sung during the distribution of Holy Communion had we been able to gather for our Sung Mass today:

Once, only once, and once for all 
His precious life he gave; 
Before the cross in faith we fall, 
And own it strong to save. 

‘One offering, single and complete,’ 
With lips and hearts we say; 
But what he never can repeat 
He shows forth day by day. 

For as the priest of Aaron’s line 
Within the holiest stood, 
And sprinkled all the mercy-shrine 
With sacrificial Blood. 

So he, who once atonement wrought, 
Our Priest of endless power, 
Presents himself for those he bought 
In that dark noontide hour. 

His manhood pleads where now it lives 
On heaven’s eternal throne, 
And where in mystic rite he gives 
Its presence to his own. 

And so we show thy death, O Lord, 
Till thou again appear, 
And feel, when we approach thy board, 
We have an altar here.
(William Bright, 1866)


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