20 November 2007

On the Elevation

I had a question posed to me from our Church's website about the practice of the elevation, that is lifting up the Lord's body and then genuflecting before it; and then our Lord's blood and genuflecting before it. The young man wanted to know a bit about the origin and meaning of this ceremony. I thought it would be worthwhile to share my answer:

Where the Lutherans continued the elevation it had the meaning of a confession of the real presence of our Lord's body and blood. Dr. Luther spoke of it this way: "We do not want to abolish the elevation because it goes so well with the German Sanctus and signifies that Christ has commanded us to remember him. For just as the sacrament is bodily elevated, yet Christ's body and blood are not seen in it, so he is also remembered and elevated by the word of the sermon and is confessed and adored in the reception of the Sacrament. In each case he is apprehended only by faith; for we cannot see how Christ gives his body and blood for us and even now daily shows and offers it before God to obtain grace for us." AE 53:82.

The practice was abolished in Wittenberg before Luther's death and he speaks of it differently at different times. Where it really came into force and into its own was in Lutheran Brandenburg, where in the 17th century the prince tried to smuggle in Calvinism. The Lutherans there insisted on the elevation as a vital confession of the real presence of our Lord's Body and Blood and even added some words to the action: "Dear Christian, this is the true body of your Lord, born of Mary, and this is the true blood of Christ, poured out for you upon the cross." This was called the Ostentatio. The Calvinists, of course, screamed bloody murder over the practice.

In our day and age, the elevation with the adoration of the Lord's body and blood, is a fine protest against "receptionism" which would teach that our Lord's almighty words do not effect His presence until the bread and wine are bodily tasted. Rather, the Lutheran Symbols, quoting St. John Chrysostom, speak of our Lord's body resting upon all the altars of Christendom! Thus, we kneel before Him to whom every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, and we confess - as Luther says - that though hidden from our eyes, He is present in His body and blood among us, just as He has promised.

By the way, the practice really isn't ancient, but medieval. It arose in the centuries before the Reformation, where it was regarded as THE high point of the Mass - the moment at which the "sacrifice" was offered to the Father. This explains the Lutheran ambivalence to the practice. If I may put it so, we do not elevate in the Lutheran Church so that the sacrifice is lifted for God to see (Christ presents Himself to the Father ceaselessly as our sacrifice), but so that the people may see, adore, and confess Him who comes to us under the appearance of bread and wine.

9 comments:

Brian P Westgate said...

The elevation is indeed a powerful moment. Perhaps it is even more powerful when the pastor genuflects both after AND before the elevations. I think Christ even gives us a good reason to do it, for He said, "I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men unto Myself." Surely this happens every Holy Mass.
The Ostentatio is interesting, but seems to break the flow. I do like however the recent innovation of the pastor saying between the Pax and the Agnus Dei, "Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him That taketh away the sin of the world."

William Weedon said...

Ah, a disciple of Petersen and Eckhardt! ;) You could choose far worse! I think both of those men are worthy of emulation.

chaplain7904 said...

Father Weedon writes: Ah, a disciple of Petersen and Eckhardt! ;) You could choose far worse! I think both of those men are worthy of emulation.

Father Kavouras responds: Eckhardt worthy of emulation? Burnell Eckhardt? The drummer in the Kewanee Community Band?
(insert smiley face here).

Christine said...

From Father Paul Turner, pastor of St. Munchin Parish in Cameron, MO, who holds a doctorate in sacramental theology from Sant' Anselmo University in Rome.:

The elevation permits the assembly to acknowledge their faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Bells and incense may accompany it. Traditionally, many Catholics pray, “My Lord and my God” and “My Jesus, mercy,” as the priest lifts the body and blood of Christ.

Brian P Westgate said...

Ah, well, I guess I'm one of Fr. Petersen's members, but a disciple of Fr. Eckardt? I'm voting for Ron Paul, so that's impossible. I'm a proud card-carrying Junior Magpie.

Dixie said...

The elevation permits the assembly to acknowledge their faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Bells and incense may accompany it. Traditionally, many Catholics pray, “My Lord and my God”

Yes, this is what I was taught as a child and as an adult to include "I believe, help my unbelief". Old habits die hard...even today...I still silently say pray these words.

I always loved the expression "My Lord and my God!" I thought it was used quite powerfully in the movie "Joshua". My dad belongs to St. Thomas in Phoenix. They have a beautiful dome over the altar and atop the dome is a statue of Jesus with Thomas at his side on his knees and inscribed on the band around the dome is "My Lord and my God!" Absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful.

Sch├╝tz said...

Couple of points:

The Elevation was never seen as the point at which the sacrifice was offered to God. The whole Eucharistic prayer was the offering of the sacrifice and the sacrifice was only complete when the priest consumed the body and blood. It was always for the purpose of showing the body and blood of Christ to the people.

Second, I wonder if the elevation at the Ostentatio to which you refer might not rather be connected to the so called "little elevation" at the end of the Eucharistic prayer rather than the great elevation during the words of consecration? I think this because the formula to be recited could hardly have been included in the words of consecration themselves (they are addressed to the congregation) and at the same time refer to both the body and the blood as if they were held up at the same time. This in fact does happen in the Roman rite during the "Through him, with him, in him" at the end of the prayer. OR it could be related to the "behold the Lamb of God" which takes place just before communion. Both seem to me to be more likely. Indeed, even in my own Lutheran Church upbringing, the pastor would hold up the chalice and paten towards us and say "Come for all is now ready". Maybe this was a carry over?

William Tighe said...

A few disparate comments.

The elevation (of the Host only; the Chalice came later) as a prescribed rubrical act, seems to come in first in the Paris (France) diocese around 1250.

The "Ostensio" (described in one of the previous comments) was introduced in Brandenburg around 1560 as an anti-Reformed gesture (enacted confession, I suppose one might say); it was removed by a later Elector around 1598, but revivied or continued in some Brandenburgish Lutheran circles after the Elector became a Calvininst in 1613.

The elevation of the host and Chalice was abolished in Denmark in 1555, in Sweden in 1593, and in most Lutheran areas of Germany by 1615, although it survived in a few into the 1640s. In Schleswig-Holstein it lasted until 1797. Even though it had been abolished in Denmark in 1555, it was mandated in the 1685 Norwegian Church Order and appears to have lasted there (on paper at least) until 1814.

Luther blew hot and cold about the elevation, but its removal in Wittenberg in 1543 happened when he was out of town, and when he returned he appears to have grumbled about it, but decided not to make an issue of it.

William Weedon said...

Thanks, Dr. Tighe. You know, we should probably also mention that according to Christian Gerber, in Saxony the use of the bells continued into the 1700's long after the elevation itself fell into disuse.

The grass-roots revival and spread of the elevation in today's LCMS is, I suspect, largely due to the reappropriation of Chemnitz' teaching on the consecration (though Chemnitz was no friend of the elevation). As a friend of mine once said, who observed the practice with criticism at first, "then I thought, why should I NOT be on my knees before my Lord?" He is one of a number of parishes my area where the elevation is now expected and taken for granted.