Oblation of the Bread and Preparation of the Chalice
OBLATION OF THE BREAD
310 The Host is lifted up towards the cross on the altar, and the priest makes the sign of the cross over it with the paten. The bread is thus brought into relation with Christ and his death on the cross; it is marked as a “sacrifice” and thereby becomes sacred. The elevation exalts it into the realm of the spiritual:
it is a preliminary act of spiritualization. Justin makes the interesting remark that the presentation of the cleansed lepers in the temple was an image of the Eucharistic bread. This links up with the later alchemical idea of the imperfect or “leprous” substance which is made perfect by the opus. (What nature leaves imperfect is perfected by the art.”)
PREPARATION OF THE CHALICE
311 This is still more solemn than that of the bread, corresponding to the “spiritual” nature of the wine, which is reserved for the priest. Some water is mingled with the wine.
312 The mixing of water with the wine originally referred to the ancient custom of not drinking wine unless mixed with water. A drunkard was therefore called akratopotes, an ‘unmixed drinker/ In modern Greek, wine is still called Kpaal (mixture). From the custom of the Monophysite Armenians, who did not add any water to the Eucharistic wine (so as to preserve the exclusively divine nature of Christ), it may be inferred that water has a hylical, or physical, significance and represents man’s material nature. The mixing of water and wine in the Roman rite would accordingly signify that divinity is mingled with humanity as indivisibly as the wine with the water. St. Cyprian (bishop of Carthage, d. 258) says that the wine refers to Christ, and the water to the congregation as the body of Christ. The significance of the water is explained by an allusion to the Book of Revelation 17:15:
“The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.”
(In alchemy, meretrix the whore is a synonym for the prima materia the corpus imperfectum which is sunk in darkness, like the man who wanders in darkness, unconscious and unredeemed. This idea is foreshadowed in the Gnostic image of Physis, who with passionate arms draws the Nous down from heaven and wraps him in her dark embrace.) As the water is an imperfect or even leprous substance, it has to be blessed and consecrated before being mixed, so that only a purified body may be joined to the wine of the spirit, just as Christ is to be united only with a pure and sanctified congregation. Thus this part of the rite has the special significance of preparing a perfect body the glorified body of resurrection.
313 At the time of St. Cyprian the communion was generally celebrated with water. And, still later, St. Ambrose (bishop of Milan, d. 397) says:
“In the shadow there was water from the rock, as it were the blood of Christ.”
The water communion is prefigured in John 7:37-39:
“If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly flow rivers of living water. (But this he spake of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
And also in John 4: 14:
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
The words “as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” do not occur anywhere in the Old Testament. They must therefore come from a writing which the author of the Johannine gospel obviously regarded as holy, but which is not known to us. It is just possible that they are based on Isaiah 58:11: “And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”
Another possibility is Ezekiel 47:1 :
“Afterward he brought me again unto the door of the house; and, behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward . . . and the waters came down from under from the right side of the house, at the south side of the altar.” In the Church Order of Hippolytus (d. c. 235) the water chalice is associated with the baptismal font, where the inner man is renewed as well as the body.
For there went forth a stream, and became a river great and broad; . . . and all the thirsty upon earth were given to drink of it; and thirst was relieved and quenched; for from the Most High the draught was given. Blessed then are the ministers of that draught who are entrusted with that water of His; they have assuaged the dry lips, and the will that had fainted they have raised up; and souls that were near departing they have caught back from death; and limbs that had fallen they straightened and set up; they gave strength for their feebleness and light to their eyes. For everyone knew them in the Lord, and they lived by the water of life forever.
314 The fact that the Eucharist was also celebrated with water shows that the early Christians were mainly interested in the symbolism of the mysteries and not in the literal observance of the sacrament.
315 Another, very graphic, interpretation of the wine and water is the reference to John 19:34: “And forthwith came there out blood and water/’ Deserving of special emphasis is the remark of St. John Chrysostom (patriarch of Constantinople, d. 407), that in drinking the wine Christ drank his own blood.
316 In this section of the Mass we meet the important prayer:
O God, who in creating human nature, didst wonderfully dignify it, and hast still more wonderfully renewed it; grant that, by the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of his divinity who vouchsafed to become partaker of our humanity, Jesus Christ. . . .
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