Medd on the Eucharist

One of the better parts of Blunt’s Annotated bcp is the section of notes on the Holy Communion, apparently written for the most part by the Rev’d Peter Medd, noted liturgical scholar and editor of Andrewes’s devotions and, with Bright, of the Latin Prayer Book.

More than once Medd helpfully treats the nature of the Eucharistic species before and after consecration with a moderation and yet a glowing intensity characteristic of the true catholic, patristic, contemplative spirit:

Thus then we are led to look primarily, not at the outward signs of the Holy Eucharist, but at that which they signified. Bread and wine, the common food and common drink, not the exceptional luxuries, of a Jewish meal, were indeed used by our Lord as the media of His great gift; but it is to the gift itself that He draws our attention, saying, not ‘This Bread’, but ‘This is My Body’,...not ‘This wine’, but ‘This is My Blood’. He takes them up into a higher nature; and when so consecrated, although their original nature is not annihilated, it passes out of spiritual cognizance, and the eye of faith sees, or desires to see, it no more.
     Much trouble would have been spared to the Church if there had been less endeavour to define on the one hand what our Lord’s words mean, and, on the other hand, what they do not mean. Up to a certain point we can define; beyond a certain point we must be content to leave definition and accept mystery. We can say that the elements before consecration are bread and wine, and we can also say that they are bread and wine after consecration: we can say that the bread and wine are not the Body and Blood of Christ before consecration, and we can also say that, according to our Lord’s words, they are the Body and Blood of Christ after consecration. But how these apparently contradictory facts are to be reconciled, what is the nature of the change that occurs in the bread and wine, in what manner that change is effected, how far that change extends beyond the use of the Sacrament – these are questions that no one can answer but God.
. . .
Hence a simple faith finds no difficulty in respect to the adoration of our Divine and Human Lord at the time of, and in special association with, His Presence in the Holy Eucharist. Such a faith draws its possessor into close agreement with the spirit of the Liturgy, in which the elements of Bread and Wine pass out of its language after consecration, and only the Body and Blood of Christ are then spoken of. Such a faith looks beyond the means to the end. To it the outward part of the Sacrament is as if it were invisible, for its gaze is absorbed on the inward part.

Much of Medd’s theological commentary focuses on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist in terms that are a useful corrective to certain extreme interpretations: the Eucharist has been understood and spoken of as a ‘sacrifice’ since the very beginning of the Church; but ‘sacrifice’ is simply another word for ‘offering’; and the category of sacrifice offered in the Eucharist, at least from the human side, is that of memorial (’azrâkâh or anámnêsis), that is, he says quoting Keble, ‘a portion of something offered to remind God’ of the worshipper, or some other person, or God’s own loving-kindness ‘shewn by mercies past or gracious promises for the future’. And of course the memorial offering which the Church makes is only efficacious because it is taken up into Christ’s own perfect, once-yet-perpetual, self-offering. Furthermore, this memorial to the Father of the Son’s work is made, and is efficacious, ‘on behalf of the souls whom our Lord’s work is saving’, and this aspect of the Eucharist is independent of its reception by any particular individual.

Nevertheless, Medd says, the act of Communion is of great benefit in incorporating the believer into Christ, continuing to nurture that grafting which was begun in Baptism, and it is the means of unity among Christians and among Churches, or rather between the Church and her members, and Christ:

No two Churches can be really separate from each other if they are really united to their Head. In proportion also as the life of Churches is maintained in vigour by means of the blessed Sacrament, in such proportion must they be drawing near to each other; nearer and nearer as they draw into closer union with Christ... Neither individual Christians nor corporate Churches can be really in a condition of spiritual separation when the One Christ is dwelling in each, and each is thus a living branch of the True Vine.

Finally, the Communion trains the heart of the believer for service and devotion here on earth as well as that which awaits in heaven:

Thus the cold heart will become warm: thus the relationship of Christian brotherhood will be carried out in practical life: thus devotion will fix itself upon its Divine object, and the earnestness of worship in the Church Militant will train the heart for the fervour of heavenly adoration.

Medd challenges the Church, then, to ask whether its sacramental language, understanding, and practice is adequately training and nurturing the individual and the body in the ability to perceive, and receive, Christ in all the ways and places He is to be found.