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* Cf. A Manual of Theolegy (cited by Father Devine in The Sacraments
Explained)', also ^ Catholic Dictionary, art. "Sacrifice."



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136 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW.

in Scripture between "gifts" offered to God and "sacrifices,"*
and destroy sacrifice in its essential concept. " That is properly a
sacrifice," says St Thomas, " in which something is done to the
thing offered to God, as when animals were slain and burnt . . .
It is called an offering simply when a gift is made to God and
nothing is done to it, as money or bread is said to be offered when
placed on the altar without anything more being done."* And
Bellarmine roundly affirms that " Whatsoever thing is spoken of
as a sacrifice in Scripture had necessarily to be destroyed ; if a
living thing, by being slain ; a lifeless solid substance, such as
flour, salt, or incense, by being burnt ; a liquid, like blood, wine^
or water, by being poured out on the ground." ^

Nor does it avail to urge with Schanz that the definition which
includes the element of destruction with a view of testifying the
supreme excellence of the one true God, " does not correspond to
the notion of sacrifice in the old heathen world." ® Pagan instances,,
however great their value as showing the inborn instinct in the
human breast to offer sacrifice, or the primitive tradition handed
down from the cradle of the race, have little weight when there is
question of determining what sacrifice must essentially consist in
to be acceptable to God.

But not only must there be destruction ; it must be objective
and real. " That," observes Bellarmine, " which is assigned as the
formal constituent of external and sensible sacrifice must itself be
external and sensible." • Some modem theologians have invented
a new species of destruction which they call " equivalent," and
which consists in an immolation of the victim after a mystic
manner, or in the moral estimation of men. There is no denying
that the term " equivalent " has proved a useful crutch for halting
theories.^®

* Cf, Heb. 5:1; and Exod. 25 compared with Levit i, 2, 3.

* 2% 2*«, a. 3 ad 3.

' De CofUrffversiis Cap. 2 De Missa^ Lib. I, Cap. 2.

* Cited by Father Deyine in the work already referred to.
^ lb,. Lib. I, c. 27.

w The mental process which led to the insertion of the word <* equivalent" in
the definition of sacrifice may be expressed in syllogistic form, thus : The Mass is a
true sacrifice ; now, in the Mass there is no real immolation of the Victim, but only
an equivalent ; therefore equivalent destruction makes a true sacrifice. The £eillacy
lies in the tacit assumption that the Mass as a true and real sacrifice is really different
from the Sacrifice of Calvary.



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THE SACRIFICIAL IDEA IN THE MASS. 1 37

It is the teaching of the Church and the belief of Catholics in
every age that the Mass is essentially and substantially one and
the same with the Sacrifice of the Cross. In essence and in sub-
stance it is the same sacrifice ; it differs from the Sacrifice of the
Cross only in outward accidents, only in the manner of offering.
Now, destruction is a substantial and essential element of sacrifice ;
it enters into the very notion of sacrifice ; it is the formal con-
stituent of it. Supposing you have a sensible thing fit for sacrifice,
and a priest to offer it, but no destruction, you shall wait till
doomsday and have no sacrifice. Why ? Because there is want*
ing the formal element, which is to sacrifice what the soul is to
the body that lives and moves and has its being by it. Such being
the case, it follows as surely and as necessarily as ever any con-
clusion followed from premises, that we are not to look for a new
act of destruction to make the Mass a sacrifice, but that the Mass,
being essentially the same sacrifice as that of Calvary, is made a
sacrifice by that sacrificial act of destruction which was consum-
mated upon the Cross.

Again, it is Catholic truth that the Mass is the continuation
of the Sacrifice of the Cross. It perpetuates or prolongs and
makes present in all the world and to all ages the bloody obla-
tion once for all offered up on Calvary. But to continue a thing
is not to make any essential change in it, not to add any essential
element to it, but simply to conserve it in its pristine being and
efficacy. Thus, to perpetuate the action of the sun in the uni-
verse is not to create a new sun every day, or to add any essen-
tial element to the existing sun, but simply to conserve it and
make it rise day after day to shed its light and warmth on every
part of the earth. But destruction, as we have seen, is an essen-
tial element of sacrifice. Therefore it is not in virtue of some
new sacrificial act of destruction that the Mass perpetuates the
Sacrifice of Calvary. It simply prolongs that immolation which
took place on Calvary ; " for," in the words of the Secret of the
Mass for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, " as many times as
this commemorative sacrifice is celebrated, the work of our re-
demption is carried on."

Various terms are used by the authorities cited in the early
part of this article, to express the relation of the Mass to the
Sacrifice of Calvary. All agree that the relation is one of ident-



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138 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW.

ity ; but some say that the Mass " continues/' or " perpetuates,"
or *' prolongs " the Sacrifice of Calvary, others that it " renews "
that sacrifice, and at least one that that sacrifice is " repeated " in
the Mass, while others deny this. It remains to consider which
of these terms more accurately expresses the relation in question,
and whether all of them may not in some sense express it truly.
We must distinguish in sacrifice the offering from the destruc-
tion or immolation of the victim. The immolation is, of its very
nature, an external act, and in one sacrifice can have place only
once. The offering, on the other hand, may be both an internal
and an external act, and, so far forth as it is distinct from the im-
molation, may, even in the case of one and the same sacrifice, be
repeated over and over again. Viewed as a merely internal act,
the offering coincides with the intention that the priest must have
to direct the sacrificial action to the worship of Grod. Without
this intention the slaying of a victim would be no sacrifice, no act
of religious worship. From this point of view the offering is the
internal act of divine worship that finds its fitting symbolic ex-
pression in the external act of immolation ; and it enters, together
with the act of immolation, into the essential concept of sacrifice.
As, therefore, in one sacrifice there can be only one immolation,
so there can be only one offering, considered as the internal act
of the priest who performs that immolation. But considered as
an external act, the offering may be repeated even by the priest
who has performed the immolation. Thus the High Priest in the
Old Law first offered the victim to Grod in slaying it (the offering,
in this case, coinciding, as we have seen, with the immolation),
and afterwards repeated the offering in the sanctuary (the internal
act elicited in the first instance virtually persevering).

Jesus Christ, the High Priest of the New Law, offered Him-
self as a sacrifice to the Father from the moment of His Incarna-
tion, at the Last Supper, on the Cross. As God, He had made
this offering from all eternity, and, of course, this act was neither
repeated nor renewed. As man, He may have repeated the offer-
ing, not only at the Last Supper and on Calvary, but often during
His mortal life; just as men renew their intention of doing some-
thing day after day until it is done. But all these repeated acts
of the human will of our Lord were one with the final act where-



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THE SACRIFICIAL IDEA IN THE MASS. 1 39

with He offered Himself upon the Cross, because of the oneness
of their formal object. And the act wherewith He offered Him-
self on entering the world virtually included all the rest, and
would have been sufficient of itself to make the immolation on
Calvary a sacrifice even if it had never been renewed, so long as
it was not retracted.^* So, too, the act wherewith our Lord offered
Himself at the Last Supper and on Calvary was one with all the
acts of all the priests who were to offer the same sacrifice to the
end of the world, because of the oneness of their formal object,
and virtually included them all as their cause and exemplar.

We are now in a better position to discuss the use of terms.
When it is affirmed that the Mass is the same as the Sacrifice of
Calvary, this necessarily implies that the Priest is the same, the
Victim the same, the act of immolation the same, and the act of
offering, so far as it coincides with the intention of the Priest, also
the same. All these, as has been pointed out, belong to the very
essence of sacrifice, and in the same sacrifice must needs be one
and the same.

It is therefore strictly accurate to say that the Mass " con-
tinues," or "perpetuates," or "prolongs" the Sacrifice of the
Cross, since all the essential elements are the same in both. Not
that the offering and immolation made on Calvary are actually in
the Mass, for these acts were transient and put forth once for all.
But they are virtually there, for it is by virtue of them the Mass
is a sacrifice. By virtue of them it contains all the merits of our
Lord's passion and death, and is, in a most true sense, as St.
Cyprian says, the offering of Christ's Passion to the Father."

It must be admitted, on the other hand, that the terms
■" renew " and " repeat " cannot so accurately be employed. The

" In a mere man the actual intention could not be supposed yirtually to persevere
so long ¥rithont being renewed. But Christ was God and Man in one Person ; His
human will was ever in exact conformity with the Divine ; and as, by reason of the
hypostatic union, His sacred humanity was the instrument of the Divinity, the act of
His human will partook of the stability, permanency, and efficacy that belong to the
Divine. St. Thomas teaches that the angels, once they have made a choice for good
or ill, adhere to it immovably; and there would seem to be stronger reason for saying
that the act of the human will of Christ, electing from the moment of the Incarna-
tion to die for sinners, was fixed and irrevocable.

'' Passio est enim Domini sacrificium quod ofiferimus. — £p. 63, n. 17.



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140 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEVi .

word rendered " renew *' in the English translation of the Cate-
chism of the Council of Trent is, in the Latin original instaurare^
which is rather " restore," or bring back to the pristine state of
effectiveness. This the Mass does : it brings back to earth and
sets before us day by day the Sacrifice of the Cross in all its
original efficacy and power. It is " not only the shadow of Cal-
vary, but also the reality." It does not, however, in any strict
and proper sense, " renew" that sacrifice, for none of the essential
elements is renewed, neither priest, nor victim, nor original offering,
nor immolation. All that is, properly speaking, renewed is the offer-
ing made by the celebrant of what was originally offered by the
High Priest on Calvary. And yet, as "renew" may also mean to
" make as if new," we may not inaptly speak of the Mass as the
renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross, since to us that sacrifice is,
in very truth, made as if new. And it would seem that it is quite
proper to say that the Mass renews, in an unbloody manner, the
Sacrifice of Calvary. The word " repeat " is open to objection in
that it is liable to be understood as implying that the immolation
which had place once for all on Calvary has place again in the
Mass, whereas it is only the offering, and that, too, not of the
High Priest, but of His representative and minister here on earth,
that takes place over and over again. From this we see with
what precision of language the Tridentine Fathers define that the
Mass differs from its great original " only in manner of offering."
The words of Brownson, therefore, which are to be found in the first
of the series of citations given above, embody a great truth, while
they attest his profoundly philosophic cast of mind. The Mass,
in its inmost essence, is not even the renewal or repetition in an
unbloody manner of the Sacrifice of the Cross, but is that identical
sacrifice itself. It is only in non-essentials, in the outward acci-
dents which appear to the senses, that there is renewal and repeti-
tion; in all the essential elements there is continuity, there is
sameness. The things that are seen of sense, the things that
appear and pass away, are, to the eye of faith, but shadows of the
one Reality — shadows that fall athwart altars of wood or stone
and flit about earthly tabernacles, where hides the Sun behind a
veil " till the day break and the shadows retire."

Alex. MacDonald, D.D.
Antigonish^ Nova Scotia.



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MIRACLE PLA YS, I41

MIRACLE PLATS/

A NOTEWORTHY sign of the far-reaching influence of re-
ligion in spheres, as it would seem, the remotest from its
interests, has been evinced of recent years by the efforts made to
reproduce upon the secular stage a class of plays possessing salient
points of similarity with those of mediaeval times. In the principal
theatres of the United States, Canada, and Great Britain, eager
crowds have gathered to witness dramas in which the religious ele-
ment undisguisedly predominated. It only needs to recall the en-
thusiasm excited by the production of the " Sign of the Cross,"
" The Daughters of Babylon," "The Christian," and " Ben Hur "
— plays typical of others less known but not less remarkable in
their tendency — to see how strangely the old mediaeval drama,
with its characteristic note of other-worldliness, has been revived
in our own day.

The attempt has been made of transplanting to American soil,
under the influence of a secular atmosphere, a play so sacred alike
in its subject-matter, its origin, and its history, as the Passiansspiel
of Ober-Ammergau ; and the performance last spring in the French
theatre at Montreal attracted much attention at the time, although
the ecclesiastical authorities could not be induced to give their
approbation. Certainly, on a smaller scale that touching testimony
of simple faith has been imitated in Switzerland, as it has been the
inspiration of similar Biblical or ecclesiastical plays of England ;
for at Selzach near Zurich, a Passion Play modelled on that of
Ober-Ammergau was acted as recently as the summer of 1898;
and another, composed by a local Anglican clergyman, was per-
formed in Torquay, South Devon, some two years ago. At the
present moment "Everyman," an Elizabethan Morality Play, is
being revived with signal success at the Imperial Theatre, London,
by Mrs. Langtry.

It is, however, greatly to be feared that amidst the purely
secular surroundings of the New York or London theatre, the
religious significance of such plays has been obscured by those

^ The writer desires to express his acknowledgment of several references in the
course of this paper to an anonymous article that appeared in The Rambler of
November, 1855.



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142 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW.

who look on them as mere spectacles calculated to arouse the
curiosity of the biased ever ready for some new distraction.

We do not, therefore, think it superfluous to draw the atten-
tion of educated Catholics to the history, nature, and purpose ot
the ecclesiastical drama which has been revived, to some extent,
by modem playwrights unacquainted with, or at least unappreci-
ative of, the attitude of mind and heart which originated such
performances in the ages of faith.

The drama, then, has ministered to religion from time imme-
morial. Without going into the theological question as to how
far portions of Holy Scripture — ^for example, the Book of Job —
were originally cast in dramatic form for a dramatic purpose, we
can trace the growth of exclusively Christian plays from the fourth
century onwards. St Gregory of Nazianzen may be considered
the father of the ecclesiastical drama. He was the first to imitate
the tragedies of Euripides and the comedies of Menander, by plays
founded on the Passion and other Scriptural subjects. They seem
at once to have caught the popular fancy, for we read that one
was acted in Constantinople before the imperial court and a great
concourse of the common folk. This imitation of pagan models
aflbrds a key to their original purpose, which was to counteract
the evil influences, religious as well as moral, of the secular drama.
They owed their existence to a desire on the part of the Christian
Church, just emerging from the catacombs of persecution, to pre-
serve its members from spiritual hurt in their amusements in the
world, by taking over what was good in the pagan plays, while
rejecting everything that might allure them from virtue. The in-
tention of the ecclesiastical authorities in encouraging the religious
* drama was, in Voltaire's words, to frame innocent plays " pour
les opposer aux ouvrages dramatiques des anciens Grecs et des
anciens Romains." None can read the acts of early Councils, or
the pages of primitive Fathers, without seeing how fearful were
bishops lest their flocks should be contaminated in faith or
morals by frequentation of the theatre of the day. They looked
upon Roman and Greek plays as veritable snares of the evil one,
consigning, without the least compunction, all actors and actresses
to the nethermost hell. By the institution of the Christian drama
they hoped to detach the minds and affections of their followers



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MIRA CLE PLA YS. 14J

from the heathen drama, by giving them something better in
exchange.

But the purpose of Miracle-plays was not merely that they
might act as a preventive to attendance at dramas of an irreligious
or licentious tendency ; it was also essentially an instructive one.*
Christian dramatists were careful to choose for their subjects
scenes from the Scriptures, especially the life-history of Christ,,
and in later times, incidents from the lives of the Saints — ^St Greorge
and the Dragon was a favorite subject — that were best calculated
to impress upon the audience the truths of religion and the prind-
pies of right living.

The most numerous plays were those on the Passion. But the
Blessed Virgin was not forgotten. We find, for example, Gabriel
saluting her at the Annunciation with the quaint doggerel rhyme :

'* Hayll Marie gradouse,
Hayll Marie and God's spouse,
Unto thee I lowte {bow]^
Of all vyrgins thou art queen,
That ever was or shall be seen

Withouten doubt.
Hayll Marie and well thou bee.
My lord of heaven is wyth thee."

And in an old French Miracle-play, even Satan is made to
recount her virtues :

Lucifer — •* Sathan, qu'y a-t-il ? dis le nous !
Satan — ** Une Vierge sur terre est n^e,
Si saige et si morigin^e,
Et en vertus si tr&s parfaicte !
Je ne crois point qu*elle soit &icte.
De la matidre naturelle
Comme lesautres.'*'

Other subjects chosen were equally instructive. Thus the
Abbot of Angilbert, who lived in Charlemagne's reign, wrote a
sacred play on the Nativity which still survives as typical of the

' It is noteworthy that as late as the time of Queen Elizabeth, theology was
mainly popularized through the Moralities. This was especially true of the Coventry-
series of Miracle-plays.

• Onte, Ic Roy, £tudes, etc., chap. v.



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144 THE ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW.

contemporary drama. In the tenth century again, the Abbess
Roswitha, of the Benedictine Convent of Gaudersham in Saxony,
the authoress of several religious comedies after the style of Ter-
rence, describes her intention to have been the practical inculca-
tion of virtue. " I have endeavored," she writes, " to the best of
my poor ability to celebrate the virtues of chastity, and especially
those in which woman's weakness triumphs, and man's brutalit>^
is vanquished."

A secondary object of the ecclesiastical drama was to instruct
the lay mind in the meaning of much symbolism in the Mass and
liturgical offices. Indeed, the dramatic elements in the missal and
other service books contain the nucleus of mediaeval Miracle-
plays. The Christian drama had its origin in the liturgy of the
Church. St. Epiphanius, Archbishop of Salamis, affords us evi-
dence of the antiquity of this dramatic tendency in Church wor-
ship, when, in a sermon,* he dilates on the custom of observing
Palm Sunday with songs, dances, and a triumphal procession
through the town, in which Christ riding on an ass was personated.
It will be remembered that traces of this same dramatic element
still survive in the Holy Week Offices, especially in the speaking
symbolism of the Palm Sunday procession, and at the solemn
singing of the Passion, when the parts of Christ, the High Priest,
the Pharisees, Herod, Pilate, and the mob are severally taken.*

Miracle-plays, Mystery-plays, and Moralities,* had a distinct,
educational value. " They are evidence of a people living in an
atmosphere of faith, and in familiarity with holy things." In a
rude uncultured age they spoke through the senses to the minds
and hearts of those who, in education and refinement, were little

* S. Epiph. Operay t ii., pp. 251—8. Ed. Petar. Paris, 1622.

> In the fifth century the clergy increased the popularity of the services by liv-
ing pictures illustrating the Gospels, and accompanied by songs and declamations ; and
thus a certain amount of action introduced itself. Cf, an interesting article by Mrs.
Brown Potter, in DaUy Maily July I, 1 901.

* The terms are often used interchangeably. Strictly speaking, the first (miracle-
plays) is confined to subjects founded on the miraculous life of a saint ; the second
(mysteries) to those taken from the Holy Scripture — and to this class, therefore,
belongs the far-famed Passion -Play of Ober-Ammergau ; whilst the third term
(moralities) denotes «an allegorical drama in which abstract qualities,*' such as
justice, purity, and the like, **are represented on the stage.*'



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MIR A CLE FLA YS. 1 45

better than bushmen of Australia or Lancashire factory girls, —
instructing them in literature as well as in religion by opening to
their gaze a new world of poetical &ncies and supernatural reali-
ties, raising them thereby, if only for the moment, from their
sordid surroundings to a higher and serener atmosphere of spir-
itual truth. Like the pictured pane in some old-world cathedral,
they brought home to the simple minds of the unlettered multi-
tude lessons which they could assimilate unconsciously, knowl-
edge which brightened their dark lives by taking them out of
their mean environment through a door that led to another
world. All that books are to the civilized world of to-day
Miracle-plays were to the generations of the past. It is im-
possible to exaggerate their importance in the histor}' of litera-
ture. They fostered in a rude age, given up to material pleasures,
the flickering of imaginative fancy almost extinguished by the
rough-and-tumble, matter of-fact world where brute strength was
the one sure road to glory, and the conquering king, who could
neither write a line nor spell his name, was held of more account
than the student who had enriched all generations by his
wisdom.

This educational function of Miracle-plays explains the appar-
ent incongruity of ecclesiastics figuring so prominently in them as
actors, as well as authors and stage managers. The clergy were,
to an extent which is difficult nowadays to realize, the one cul-
tured and learned class. It is therefore not surprising that the}'
undertook the r61e of litterateurs in the form in which it presented
itself in their age. In the thirteenth century, Bishop Grossteste,
the celebrated Bishop of Lincoln, speaks of the plays as " con-
trove par lesfols clercs*' — a somewhat uncourteous phrase taken
to mean that they were acted by clerics in disguise.

The English Miracle-plays, however, were acted by laymen,
and more particularly by members of some guild. Thus at
Chester (where the plays lasted from 1268 to 1598), the guild of
slaters and wrights acted the Nativity ; the painters and glaziers,
the Shepherds of Bethlehem ; the vintners, the Adoration of the
Magi. Similarly at York every trade belonged to the great guild



Online LibraryCatholic University of AmericaAmerican ecclesiastical review, Volume 27 → online text (page 17 of 78)