By The Rt. Rev. Paul C. Hewett
We now have a significant number of confirmands at the Cathedral, beginning a study of the Catechism and the Offices of Instruction in the Prayer Book. Many of them have a Protestant background, either Evangelical or Charismatic. What are the enormous paradigm shifts they see as they move toward a full Catholicism? The Greek word “catholic” means “kata holos,” “according to the whole,” the whole faith, for the whole world, once for all delivered by the apostles, and passed on in purity, in unbroken succession from them through the bishops of all ages and all places, to us.
To sum up all the paradigm shifts, the immediate and huge one is to see the Church as an organic whole, through time and space. The Church is not just the local congregation, it is “the blessed company of all faithful people,” which includes the Church militant, the Church expectant and the Church triumphant, all dynamically united in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. All believers are united with our risen, ascended Lord. In this Communion of Saints we therefore ask for one another’s prayers. We ask for the prayers of our blessed Mother, because more than anyone else who ever lived, she has a heart and mind that goes directly to the innermost life of her Son. All the saints who are with her in the heavenlies, with the angels and archangels, are worshipping, ministering and praying with, and for us. We experience this most directly in the Eucharist, where we, in the Holy Spirit, in the Sursum Corda, ascend with our Lord, to sing the great Sanctus, and to sup with him in the glory of the new creation.
The Church as an organic whole, through time and space, means that the litmus test for orthodoxy is the “Vincentian Canon,” a rule of faith from St. Vincent of Lerins, in the 5th Century. The test for catholicity is “antiquity, ubiquity and consent,” or, what has been believed in all the ages, in all places, by all Christians. So to innovate in matters of faith, morals or holy orders is to lose it all. The Eucharist reveals that the salvation of the world is complete. Nothing can be added or subtracted from the apostolic witness. As the great Oxford preacher, Austin Farrer, used to say, “if the apostles did not have the mind of Christ, it is hopeless for us to think we ever shall.” The wholeness of Faith and Practice is best seen in the consensus of the undivided Church of the first millennium. That has always been the understanding of Anglicans and the Eastern Orthodox, and is now becoming universally agreed upon by believing Christians everywhere. As John Paul the Great used to say, “as we enter the third millennium, we overcome the divisions of the second with the consensus of the first.”
When the Church is seen as an organic whole through time and space, there is a balance between the personal and the corporate. The Protestant emphasis has been a lopsided emphasis on the personal. The personal is obviously one side of the coin, a vital and biblical emphasis, which runs all the way to the three Persons of the most holy Trinity. But the three Persons are a total communion of Persons, three in One, without division and without confusion. The biblical balance between personal and corporate led H. Wheeler Robinson, an Old Testament scholar, to coin the phrase “corporate personality.” A person, like Abraham, represents the corporate whole, the People of God. Abraham is the sacrament of what is to be come Israel. Israel is the sacrament of God’s character and purpose to the nations. The King embodies, or is, his people. Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The one sent, the apostle, is the Sender. A parish and a diocese exist in and for each other.
Our Prayer Book Catechism (pp. 577-582) and the Offices of Instruction (pp. 283-295), based on the Catechism with material added for the 1928 Book, are masterpieces for the teaching of our people. But a question about the number of sacraments sometimes arises. The Catechism talks about two Gospel sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion. There are seven sacraments, but in the Catechism, two of them, Confirmation and Confession, or Reconciliation of a Penitent, are subsumed under Baptism. Confirmation and Confession are part of our new birth and grafting into Christ, and sealing that graft, and restoring it when impaired. Three others are subsumed under the Eucharist: Holy Matrimony, Holy Unction and Holy Orders. The Eucharist is the marriage supper of the Lamb, the ultimate healing of our lives, all enabled by the Priesthood. So we can say there are two sacraments, or seven, or one: the Church is the ur-Sacrament, the primordial sacrament, the sacrament of the Holy Spirit. Or, like the Orthodox, we can point to thousands of sacraments. With Jesus’ completed work on the Cross, and with His resurrection and ascension, all creation is now, in the Holy Spirit, restored as a means of communion with the Father. A cigar can be a sacrament of prosperity and contentment.
One of the profundities of our Catechism is the progression from the personal, in the new birth (“What is your Name,” at the very beginning) to the corporate (“be in charity with all men” at the very end). We go from self to others, in caritas, in what Maximus the Confessor called the “ec-static life,” of going out of stasis to living in the other, in union with the Persons of the most holy Trinity. The Father pours an infinity of absolute love into the Son, who infinitely returns that absolute love to the Father. The bond of Love between the Father and the Son is Himself a Person, the Person of the Holy Spirit, who indwells us and unites us through the Son, with the Father, in an eternal and infinite and ec-static outpouring of absolute, unconditional love. The Eucharist sweeps us up into the ecstasy of this union, in the Spirit, through the Son, to the Father, a union in self-giving love which then is dynamically shared in the koinonia of the Church. Marriage is the Sacrament of this ecstasy of my life-lived-in-and-through-you, with the consequent fruitfulness of children and family.
The saints through the ages testify that the two foci for lasting renewal in the Church are (i) devotion to Jesus’ Mother, and (ii) devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist. To get everything right theologically means getting Mary into focus. She is the Icon of the Church. That is why the 5th Century Council of Chalcedon insisted on calling her the Theotokos, the God-bearer, the Mother of God, because Jesus is one Person in two natures, the Divine of the same substance as the Father, the human of the same substance as us, the two natures united unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly and inseparably. So Mary is the Womb of the divine Incarnation, the Tabernacle of God the Word, Mother of the Lamb and Shepherd, Light of those who search the Trinity, Reproof of foolish philosophers, the Slayer of heresy. We cannot love Jesus without loving His Mother, and all that she is in the new creation.
(ii) Devotion to Jesus in the Eucharist, in which we hear the Gospel, and make anamnesis of His passion, atoning Sacrifice, Resurrection and Ascension. We enter, directly with Him and with His entire Body, into the Paschal Mystery, of going from death to life, from slavery to freedom, from sin to righteousness. We enter the Bridal Chamber of direct union with our Lord, in the Spirit, to the Father’s heart. There is nothing that can restore and renew us like Holy Communion with our risen and victorious Lord, who cleanses us with His Precious Blood and feeds us with His very Flesh. We are the Body of Christ because we eat the Body of Christ, and leave Church as “little Christs,” who can now, in a thousand creative ways, allow for the release of God’s love into the lives of all those among whom we live and serve, free now to name His Love and Presence wherever we meet Him, sometimes in the least likely people and places. Nothing can have greater transforming effect on us or others than our life-in-Christ in Holy Communion. One of God’s mighty works of renewal in France followed on the heels of the devastation of the French Revolution. He raised up one man, St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney, to minister in the confessional to literal hundreds of thousands, in the mid-nineteenth century. England was given John Wesley in the early 18th century, a man who arguably saved Great Britain from the ravages of the French Revolution, by beating the revolutionaries to the coal mines and factories with the Gospel. To prepare France for the devastation of WWI, God raised up one woman, who died when she was 24: St. Therese of Lisieux, whose amazing autobiography has been read by scores of hundreds of millions. To prepare Russia for the catastrophe of the Bolshevik revolution and the communist tyranny, God sent St. Seraphim of Sarov in the mid-nineteenth century, who ministered to multitudes. We could go on and on.
We see how deep and enduring renewal in the Church come from devotion to our Lady, and to our Lord in the Eucharist, renewal that is often spear-headed by one person, who is in community with other believers, whose witness spreads and spreads as God gives the growth. Even the terms “Our Lady” and “Our Lord” have vast radical import for our culture, so terribly confused about sexual identity and God’s plan for men and women. The very terms “Our Lady” and Our Lord” have tremendous potential for healing and renewal in our times.
We have now come through some of the major paradigm shifts of our new catechumens, who may sense that they have been looking through a pair of binoculars backwards, diminishing the grand sweep of God’s purpose for the Church, and for us as persons. And now may God grant an exciting new view of what He is doing among us, by turning the binoculars around and getting them into focus. We will be, as C. S. Lewis used to say, “surprised by joy.”