Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday: "Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died..."

What's this? Is it an unlikely concordat I spy? Aquinas? Luther?

Consanguinity, more like it: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?" Amen and Amen. It is, indeed, or -- as the Dumb Ox puts it below, immortally rendered into English by Hopkins -- "there's nothing true."

Oh, St. Thomas, you were right: all of your theology was straw (can't be helped -- most theology is, eh?). But your poetry? The purest gospel, at least this bit here. Each of the following four excerpts pertains to this Holy Thursday, but make no mistake, it is the third which is the unquestionable pièce de résistance. Yes, hat-tip to the papists on this one.

A blessed Maundy Thursday to you. Pax Christi vobiscum.

"For if you ask:  what is the Gospel? You can give no better answer than these words of the New Testament, namely, that Christ gave his body and poured out his blood for us for the forgiveness of sins.  This alone is to be preached to Christians, instilled into their hearts, and at all times faithfully commended to their memories." -- Blessed Dr. Martin Luther, The Misuse of the Mass (1521)

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"Why is the Sacrament of the Altar the Gospel for Luther? First of all simply because the Words of Institution contain the whole Gospel. To attack them is to attack the Gospel itself." -- Hermann Sasse, We Confess: The Sacraments

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"No offering that we could bring could possibly reconcile us to Thee, our God.  All that we can plead is the work of Thy Son, His perfect obedience in all that He did and all that He suffered, His Body nailed to the Cross for us, His Blood poured out for the forgiveness of our sins. As by the mystery of the sacramental union Thou hast made His true Body and Blood present for us in this Bread and in this Cup, for us Christians to eat and to drink, so, we beseech Thee, let it be present in Thy sight also as the price of our redemption.  Let it remind Thee that Thou hast forgiven mankind in the reconciliation which Thou hast wrought in Thy Son.  Before Thee we appeal to no virtue, no righteousness of our own, but only to the alien righteousness of Thy Suffering Servant and Son, our true Paschal Lamb, which was offered for us and has taken away the sins of the world, Who by His death has destroyed death, and by His rising to life again has restored to us everlasting life." -- Fr. A.C. Piepkorn
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Adoro te devote
~ St. Thomas Aquinas
    trans. Gerard Manley Hopkins

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran—
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight. Amen.



  1. As you know, I love this hymn. But what bothers me are possible notions of transubstantiation, at least in this translation: "masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more" - the bread and wine as mere shapes and shadows, accidents without substance? Possibly. Someone smarter than me will have to figure that out. Still, awesome hymn.

  2. I'm not uncomfortable with talk of "masks" here. Though Hopkins was a Roman Catholic, but I do not think that the grammar of the line necessitates this view: Christ's godhead is indeed masked by nothing more than shadows and shapes -- this seems merely to comment on what hides Christ from our senses. This seems amenable to a Lutheran "hidden God" understanding.

    Yes, I'm trying to give as charitable reading as possible to it, but I think it's a sound one. What do you think?

  3. I'd always read it precisely the way you describe here. This year is the first time I've ever been troubled by it. Some recent opposition to our worship practices has me rethinking almost everything.

  4. Beautiful. I'm very moved by the third stanza from the end.
    I guess I've never looked much at Aquinas's poetry. Maybe I should.

  5. Do you understand the 4th Cup?

    After the beginning of Jesus’ Last Passover Supper (Seder) Judas Iscariot left to do what he had to do. The twelve left in the room were at the point where the second of four traditional cups was about to be drunk.

    (The first is at the beginning of the Seder meal.) Jesus took the cup and gave thanks and gave it to them and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes.”

    More of the lamb meal was consumed. During that He took a loaf of unleavened bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to His disciples saying, “This IS my body given for you; do this to recall me.” (“Recall” is a better translation of the Greek “anamnesis” than “remember”.)

    After the supper He took the third cup saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This IS my blood of the NEW and everlasting covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

    A hymn was sung, which is a combination of several psalms called The Great Hallel, and they went out to the Mount of Olives.

    What happened? The Passover ceremony and ritual was not complete. There was no fourth cup. There was no announcement that it was finished. Could it be that Jesus was so upset with what He knew was about to happen that He forgot? Doubtful!

    Not only Jesus, but also the 11 others had participated in the Passover Seder every year of their lives. No, this was done on purpose. The last supper of Jesus was not over.

    On the Mount of Olives, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.”

    He prayed that three times. Then Jesus was arrested, illegally put on trial by the Sanhedrin, then by Pontius Pilate, sentenced and crucified.

    While on the cross He wept. Jesus, who was in excruciating agony, was so merciful that He prayed for the forgiveness of His executioners. He was offered some wine with a pain killer, myrrh, in it. He refused it.

    “Later, knowing that all was now complete, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled and the kingdom established, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.‘” A man dipped a sponge into sour wine; he placed it on a hyssop branch and lifted it up to Jesus lips.

    He drank. (We recall that it was the hyssop branch which was used to paint lambs blood around the Hebrew’s door for the Passover of the angel of death.)

    It was then that Jesus said, “It is finished.” He then bowed His head and gave up the spirit to His Father.

    The fourth cup now represented the lamb’s blood of the first Passover, a saving signal to the angel of death.

    The Lamb of God was now sacrificed. The last Passover supper of Jesus Christ was now complete with the fourth cup. It was finished.

    The tie in with the Passover is unmistakable.

    The Lamb of God was sacrifice and death was about to be passed over come Easter day.

    The promise of eternal life for many was about to be fulfilled.