Joseph Jungmann’s The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development is an indisputable classic in the field of liturgy and is one of the great works that defines the thought of the Liturgical Renewal Movement which triumphed in the Roman Catholic liturgies that came forth from Vatican II as well as our own Episcopal 1979 Book of Common Prayer. As readers know, one of my favorite times and places is the Early Medieval West. Suffice it to say, it wan’t one of Jungmann’s favorites. Indeed, it’s precisely the time and place where he sees the Mass losing part of its original character and converting into something contrary to the experience of the Last Supper. He writes in regard to the situation after the debates between Radbertus and Ratramnus:
Forgotten is the relationship between the sacramental Body—the “mystical” Body, as it was then often termed—and the Body of Christ which is the Church. The same is true if the connection between the Sacrament and the death of Christ. And so, too, the conscious participation of the community in the oblation of Christ is lost sight of, and with it that approach of the community towards God to which the Sacrament in its fulness is a summons or invitation. Instead, the Mass becomes all the more the mystery of God’s comin to man, a mystery one must adoringly wonder at and contemplate from afar. The approach to the Holy Table of the Lord in Communion is no longer the rule even on feast days; already the Eucharist had not been our daily bread for a long time. (Jungmann, Mass of the Roman Rite, 1.84)
For Jungmann the spectacle (in the most literal of terms…) of the early medieval Eucharist was a deformation of the rite because it placed the notion of the whole community’s corporate celebration in jeapordy. Instaed, the Eucharist became something that only a priest would do and receive by himself; the only job of the community was to observe and that wasn’t even necessary.
One of the items up before the Episcopal Church’s General Convention is A044. As it was originally proposed, it asked that provisions be made so that lay people can distribute preconcecrated bread in the absence of a priest on a continual and habitual basis. The resolution has since been altered by the House of Bishops (for which I am quite pleased) so this text is not up for a vote. However, I feel compelled to make the observation that the same thing is going on here that Jungmann complained about: one particualr portion of the Church’s Eucharist has been seized upon without reference to the meaning of the rite as a whole.
Just as the early medieval Eucharist devolved into a spectacle, an act of observation, the theology (whether formulated or not—probably not) informing the original text of A044 reduced it simply to an act of feeding. It may be Communion, but what would be lost is precisely “Eucharist”: the communal celebration which joins us into Christ’s own self-offering to the Father.