Monday, January 22, 2018

An alt.Gregory Dix on the Eucharist?

Many readers will be aware of Gregory Dix's famous passage in his seminal The Shape of the Liturgy when he offers a moving paean of praise for the endurance of the eucharist:

"Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God."*

One of my holiday reading books has been Sara Miles Take this bread: a radical conversion (New York: Ballantine, 2007) - Sara was a speaker hosted by Theology House in 2016.

In the course of talking about her conversion - memorably through being irresistibly drawn into a eucharist at St Gregory of Nyssa, San Francisco - she develops her testimony of being fed by God and feeding the people of God. In the midst of a discussion about what the church has done with Jesus' Last Supper, there is this purple prose passage on the eucharist which I think stands in the 21st century with Dix's 20th century paean:

"The entire contradictory package of Christianity was present in the Eucharist. A sign of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, it was doled out and rationed to insiders; a sign of unity, it divided people; a sign of the most common and ordinary human reality, it was rarefied and theorized nearly to death. And yet that meal remained, through all the centuries, more powerful than any attempts to manage it. It reconciled, if only for a minute, all of God's creation, revealing that, without exception, we were members of one body, God's body, in endless diversity. The feast showed us how to re-member what had been dis-membered by human attempts to separate and divide, judge and cast out, select or punish. At that Table, sharing food, we were brought into the ongoing work of making creation whole." [pp. 76-77]

Miles' is not quite Dixian as a paean of praise, but it is utterly realistic about the capacity of the eucharist to fracture the church even as it never loses its capacity as a sign of God's renewal and reconciliation of creation

What do you think?

*from from Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy. London: Dacre Press, Adam and Charles Black. (1964 printing), pages 744-5. copied from Texanglican.


Bryden Black said...

Not bad I agree Peter; but still give me Dix; sorry!

For yet another, and far better than most, "theorising" effort which is not at all "rarefied", see Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Last Supper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015). It's truly one of the very best attempts at re-situating the Meal back into its 1st C Jewish setting, thereby undercutting all subsequent theories, Augustinian, Aristotelian, Cranmerian, Zwinglian, Tractarian, etc.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bryden
Pitre is on my reading list for the first part of this year!

Father Ron Smith said...


After two weeks of living without the Sacrament of The Eucharist, I can tell you of my deeper appreciation of its economy for all who accept Christ's Presence within its awesome ministration. I was brought up on Dom Gregory Dix's understanding of the felicity of the Eucharistic Celebration, and to be starved of its benefits - even for the 13 days of our Cruise - was a radical experience of deprivation, relieved only by the prospect of its healing grace and power when tomorrow arrives and I can join together with the "Two or Three" gathered together in Christ's Name at the Mass. There is no substitute here on earth for the Bread of Heaven that only Christ can give. Deo gratias!

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, welcome back, and thank you so much for this testimony!