Habemus Altare
All of this may seem like wordplay, but in fact it is essential that we understand the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, because if we do not, we will eventually fail to see the Eucharist as important at all. There are twin errors at work in the way that most of western Christianity has approached the notion of Eucharistic sacrifice for the past five hundred years. For Rome, the error has been to make the propitiatory sacrifice of Christ into a repeatable event, thereby asserting that the sacrifice that He made on the cross was insufficient for the forgiveness of all sins for all time. For Protestants, however, the error has been to see in the Supper no sacrifice at all and to lose track thereby of the fact that it is in our receiving of the Supper that we truly receive Christ, not just His Body and Blood in some sort of crude sense, but also the healing grace that comes through that Blood. As Bramhall said, the Eucharist is an “applicative sacrifice, an application of His Merits unto our souls.” Failure to see this reality, even amongst the Lutherans who generally uphold the doctrine of the Real Presence, leads inevitably to a sense that the Supper does not really matter. Sure, we receive Christ in the Eucharist, but it’s not like we’re saved by it. Except, we are saved by it. That is the whole point. The blood that spilled on Calvary is the only sacrifice that we need, the only one that saves us, but without stepping into the moment of that sacrifice, we have no way of receiving its grace. The commemorative sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist places us at the foot of the cross. Quite simply, it is what makes the wafer placed in our hands at the Altar Rail not just Christ’s Body but the Bread of Life.
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