Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Feast of Edward Bouverie Pusey


Sept. 19, 2007
The Chapel of the Resurrection
Gethsemane Cathedral

In the Name of God, Father, + Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Yesterday was the Feast of Blessed Edward Bouverie Pusey. Although it was his good friend, John Keble, who started the so-called Oxford Movement in 1833 with a sermon he preached at Oxford University, Pusey became the leader of the movement that brought what we now call Anglo Catholicism to the Anglican Church.

For most of us, the issues of High Churchmanship and Low Churchmanship are hopefully no longer issues. But what Pusey and Keble and John Henry Newman proposed in their day—rife with anti-Roman Catholic sentiment—was considered radical.

And when Edward Pusey preached about his view of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, that’s when got himself into some deep trouble. In May of 1841, he preached a sermon at Oxford with the seemingly innocent title of The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent. This sermon—filled with his views that Jesus was truly and clearly present in the bread and wine—so incensed people that he was suspended from preaching for two years.

Of course, it backfired in those same authorities. The sermon was later published and it ended up selling 18,000 copies.

The fact is that what Pusey preached about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist is not radical, nor is it un-Anglican. But it is sometimes a good thing to ask ourselves: What do Anglicans believe concerning the Eucharist?

As we all know, Anglicans tend to have an ambivalent view toward many things and the Eucharist is no exception. As a result, Anglicans tend to hold a wide variety of differing views. Some prefer the more “low Church” definitions, in which Christ is truly present but not in any extraordinary way. The view here is similar to the Lutheran view of consubstantiation—in which the belief is that Christ is present with the bread and the wine. It is still bread, it is still wine, and Christ is present.

The Roman Catholic view is that of transubstantiation. It no longer bread or wine—it only appears to be so. For Roman Catholics, the Bread and the Wine have been transformed into the actual Body and Blood of Christ.

For us Anglicans—we don’t necessarily define the Eucharist in either way. We simply know that Christ is present in the Bread and the Wine, although we are wary of saying how or in what way.

I am currently reading the second volume of Book of V of Richard Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. In this book, Hooker gives voice to what most Anglicans believe when it comes to verbal or intellectual wranglings regarding Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. He writes,

“I wish that men would more give themselves to meditate in silence what we have by the sacrament and less to dispute of the manner how?”

I personally tend to echo those immortal words of one of my personal heroes, James Dekoven. Dekoven himself was somewhat of a radical when it came to battling the powers-that-be in the Church when it came to issues of the Eucharist. Dekoven said,

“You may take away from us if you will every external ceremony; you may take away altars, and superaltars, lights and incense and vestments, and we will submit to you. But… to adore Christ's Person in His Sacrament - that is the inalienable privilege of every Christian and Catholic heart. How we do it, the way we do it, the ceremonies with which we do it, are utterly, utterly indifferent. The thing itself is what we plead for.”

I have clung to those words and found deep consolation in them over the year. For me, the matter is very much like Edward Pusey believed.

I know beyond a doubt that Christ is present in the bread and wine at the Eucharist. And like Pusey, I believe the Jesus is present in the Blessed Sacrament in the ambry here or in the tabernacle, in a monstrance held up with a host in it. And I especially believe that Christ is present in the bread and the wine when we gather here at this altar to celebrate the Mass.

My faith in the fact that Christ is present in the Eucharist has sustained me many times over the years. I have found profound and deep comfort in being able to retire at several times during the day here, to this chapel, to this ambry here, where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved. I enjoy the opportunity to enter into Christ’s very real and very potent Presence here. I enjoy those occasions, in which I can take the Body and Blood of Christ to parishioners and others who ask for it and are comforted and upheld by it. I take comfort in knowing that Christ’s physical presence is just that close that I can turn to Him in those moments and find Him near. And in those holy moments in which I spend adoring, contemplating or simply being in His presence, issues of transubstantiation, consubstantiation or any other doctrines simply vaporize. In those moments, it is only my knowledge and belief that I am in the presence of holiness, that I am in the presence of the One whom I serve, whom I love and whom I believe in profoundly is enough for me.

For me, to define that Presence, to attempt to articulate and quantify it is the equivalent of trying to pin a wave upon the shore. When I ponder it too deeply, I become distracted. When I think of it for more than a few moments, I find myself led astray from my devotions. When I attempt to explain my experience with the Eucharist Lord by the standards of those doctrines, I find myself turning away from Him and the gift of His Presence that He gives.

All I know in those moments, is that it is Christ is present. When I look upon that small round host, or that loaf of consecrated bread, I see Christ’s body. When I hold it aloft at the Mass and break it, I know that the answer to my prayer—“Lord, make yourself known to me in the breaking of the bread”—has truly and wonderfully been answered, because He does. He does make himself known in the breaking of the bread. Because He is there.

When I look into that chalice and I see that deep dark rich wine, I see Christ’s Precious Blood and I know that it is Him. And when I eat of that Body and drink of that Blood, I know that for that moment in my life, I am, in fact, truly “flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones,” as the great Bishop, John Jewel, once proclaimed.

Christ is present here. Christ comes to all of us in the bread and the wine that we consecrate here on this altar. So, take comfort in that belief. Come to the feast of this Mass, knowing that, in doing so, you come to partake in Christ’s presence, that you come partaking of His flesh and blood and that by doing so, you become his flesh and blood as well.

Christ is here. He is here for you. All we have to do is look and see and believe and taste.

Amen.

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