Olivier Clement on the Eucharist  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Olivier Clement (1921-2009) was a French Orthodox lay theologian. He was born in Aniane, an ancient town in the Languedoc that was a center of Cathar activity during the Middle Ages. Long before that it was the home of Benedict of Aniane, a monk who helped reform western monasticism during the reign of Charlemagne. Given these roots, it was perhaps inevitable that his life would turn towards spirituality despite the religious indifference of his parents. After taking a degree in comparative religion from the University of Montpellier, he moved to Paris where he obtained a position in a secondary school. There he came into contact with the Eastern Orthodox community, many of whom were White Russian refugees. He underwent Orthodox baptism at the age of 30 and eventually wrote approximately 30 books, as well as teaching part-time at the Institute St Serge, an Orthodox theological school. Click here for more information on his life.

One of his books, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (New City Press 1993) is a gold mine of information on the subject. Excerpts from the Fathers on a wide variety of topics are interspersed with his own incisive commentary. His remarks on the Eucharist quoted below are found on pp 107-109.


The Fathers never ceased repeating these stupendous assertions of Jesus--Jesus is the "bread of heaven", the "bread of life"--the Risen One gives himself fully to us in the Eucharist which is thus resurrection food. Jesus is bread because his body is composed of the whole life of the cosmos kneaded together by human labor. He is also "living bread", life-giving bread, because in him the divine life permeates the earth and the human race. The Eucharist is therefore a real power of resurrection, the "leaven of immortality" as Ignatius of Antioch says. Certainly, it needs to be received in faith, and there needs to be an encounter within which the transmission of divine energy may take place, but its power is "objective", and independent of our attitude towards it. Our attitude can only encourage (or restrict) the spread of the eucharistic fire through our soul and body...

The eucharistic body is that of the historical Jesus as well as that of the risen Christ. It is the body of the Child of the crib, the body that endured the suffering on the cross--for the bread is "broken", the blood "poured out"--the body that is risen and glorified. The term "body' covers the whole human nature. For God's human nature since the resurrection and the ascension encompasses the world and secretly transfigures it. However, Jesus' historical body, while allowing itself in the foolishness of love to be contained in a point of space and a brief moment of time, in reality already contained space and time in itself. For it was not the body of a fallen individual, crushing human nature in order to take possession of it. It was the body of a divine Person assuming that nature, with the whole universe, in order to offer them up. Incarnate, the Logos remained the subject of the logoi, the spiritual essences, of all created beings.

At the same time God-made-man had to accept into himself all our finiteness, our whole condition of separation and death, in order to fill it all with his light.

It is this deified humanity, this deified creation, this transfigured bread and wine, this body bathed in glory yet bearing forever the wounds of the Passion, that the Eucharist communicates to us.

Eucharist and Ecology  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

The ongoing nuclear disaster in Japan provokes, among other things, reflection on the relationship between Christian theology and ecological concerns. Is the material world a kind of metaphysical waiting room we inhabit until it's time to go to heaven, or is there a deeper connection between heaven and earth? A decisive no to this question is provided by Denis Edwards, an Australian Roman Catholic theologian, in Ecology at the Heart of Faith (Orbis Books 2006). Edwards engages with environmental issues from a standpoint of firm creedal orthodoxy. On pp 103-104 he integrates the material cosmos with that most distinctive mark of Christian identity, the celebration of the Eucharist.


The Christ we encounter in the Eucharist is the risen one, the one in whom all things were created and in whom all are reconciled (Col 1: 15-20). God's eternal wisdom and plan for the fullness of time is "to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth" (Eph 1: 10). Even when, in the Eucharist, the focus of the memorial is on Christ's death and resurrection, this is not a memory that takes us away from creation. On the contrary, it involves us directly with creation. It connects us to Earth and all its creatures.

When we remember Christ's death, we remember a creature of our universe, part of the interconnected evolutionary history of our planet, freely handing his whole bodily and personal existence into the mystery of a loving God. When we remember the resurrection, we remember part of our universe and part of our evolutionary history being taken up in the Spirit into
god. This is the beginning of the transformation of the whole creation in Christ. As Rahner [German Jesuit theologian] says, this resurrection of Jesus is not only the promise but the beginning of the glorification and divinization of the whole of reality.

The Eucharist is the symbol and the sacrament of the risen Christ who is the beginning of the transfiguration of all creatures in God. In eating and drinking at this table we participate in the risen Christ (1 Cor 10: 16-17). Bread and wine are the sacraments of the Christ who is at work in creation. According to Christian faith, what is symbolized is wonderfully made present. And what is made present is Christ in the power of resurrection, as not only the promise but also the beginning of the transformation of all things. Every Eucharist is both sign and agent of the transforming work of the risen Christ in the whole of creation.

...Because the Word is made flesh, no part of the physical universe is untouched. All matter is transformed in Christ: "Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate". Because of this, Earth, the solar system, and the whole universe become the place for encounter with the risen Christ: "Now, Lord, through the consecration of the world the luminosity and fragrance which suffuse the universe can take on for me the liniaments of a body and a face--in you" (quoting Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Hymn of the Universe).

The Eucharist is an effective prayer for the transformation of the universe in Christ. It p;oints toward and anticipates the divinization of the universe in Christ. The one we encounter sacramentally in the Eucharist is the one in whom all things were created and in whom all will be transfigured. Human action, which is an expression of love and respect for the living creatures, the atmosphere, the seas, and the land of our planet, can be seen as not only in continuity with, but also in some way part of, the work of the Eucharistic Christ. Willfully contributing to the destruction of species, or to pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, must be seen as a denial of Christ. It is a denial of the meaning of all that we celebrate when we gather for the Eucharist.

The Anglican Great Litany  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

Today being the First Sunday of Lent, many Anglican churches begin the liturgy with the Great Litany, often chanted in a procession winding about the worship space. Litanies are an ancient part of Christian worship, and remain of central importance in the various Eastern rites. The Great Litany was the first specifically Anglican form of public worship, being written by Archbishop Cranmer in 1544 and predating the first Book of Common Prayer, which was published in 1549. The always-outstanding Chantblog site contains this informative post, a bit of which I reproduce below. It also has several videos of both the Anglican and Orthodox versions of the Litany. To get some idea of a full-blown liturgical rendering of the Litany, check out the customary of Boston's Church of the Advent.


It was used as early as the fifth century in Rome. It was led by a deacon, with the collects led by a bishop or priest. The Litany was the first English language rite prepared by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. It was first published in 1544. Cranmer modified an earlier litany form by consolidating certain groups of petitions into single prayers with responses. The Litany's use in church processions was ordered by Henry VIII when England was at war with Scotland and France. It was printed as an appendix to the eucharist in the 1549 BCP. The Litany was used in each of the three ordination rites of the 1550 ordinal, with a special petition and concluding collect. The 1552 BCP called for use of the Litany after the fixed collects of Morning Prayer on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The 1928 BCP allowed the Litany to be used after the fixed collects of Morning or Evening Prayer, or before the Eucharist, or separately. The 1928 BCP included a short Litany for Ordinations as an alternative to the Litany. The 1979 BCP titled the Litany "The Great Litany" (p. 148), distinguishing it from other litanies in the Prayer Book.