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) 20 April 2008
St Thomas Aquinas’ Eucharistic Theology and the Question of Deaf Candidates to Holy Orders Can a Deaf man, i.e., someone who does not speak but uses sign language, be validly ordained to the sacerdotium and preside at Mass? In other words, should hearing loss constitute a diriment impediment to the reception of Holy Orders because the sacerdos would not be able to vocalize sacramental formulae, especially the Eucharistic ‘words of consecration’? Sacraments in the Summa theologiae In working out the exitus-reditus schema in the Summa theologiae, St Thomas begins with God and the preambles of faith as well as articles of faith in the prima pars, discussing the treatises “On Creation” (qq. 44-64), “On the Work of the Six Days” (qq. 65-74), “On Man” (qq. 75-102), and finally “On Divine Government” (qq. 103-119). The secunda pars opens, tellingly, with the question of “Man’s Last End” (q. 1), a pivotal point in the Summa theologiae, which turns the attention on God’s crowning work, the human race, in its journey back to God. The secuna pars is subdivided into two parts, the first part of the secunda pars focusing on the natural virtues in humanity’s return to God, and the second part on the act of faith that provides the supernatural remedy for the human person’s ascent back to God. The final part of the Summa theologiae is the tertia pars, which attends to the person of Christ Himself, the absolute point of return to the Father. St Thomas intends to inform his readers that in the first part, God exists and creates the human race to share in beatitude; in the second part are the natural and supernatural virtues that aid the human person in this Godward pilgrimage, and finally in the third part Christ, the return to the Father and the means of such a return.
The terita pars begins, appropriately, with the Incarnation (qq. 1-19). Significantly, unlike the prima and secunda pars, the tertia pars is not divided into treatises, offering instead a continuous seam from the Incarnation to the mysteries of Christ’s life (qq. 20-45), the Paschal Mystery (qq. 46-59), and in a way that may sound strange to contemporary theological method, the sacraments immediately follow (qq. 46ff). In this way, St Thomas does not intend to grasp the sacraments under a separate ‘treatise’ but within the larger context of the Mystery of Christ, or more accurately, the Mystery of the Incarnate Word. The shift from the Paschal Mystery to the sacraments is not haphazard (qq. 59, 60). He says explicitly, “After considering those things that concern the mystery of the incarnate Word, we must consider the sacraments of the Church which derive their efficacy from the Word incarnate Himself.”1 Thus the Angelic Doctor provides the reason for his peculiar method which is at variance with the mainstream Scholastics. St Thomas begins his discussion in IIIa, q. 60 with the question “What is a Sacrament?” He begins by defining ‘sacrament’ as a “kind of sign” and quotes the authoritative sacramental theologian, St Augustine, “The visible sacrifice is the sacrament, i.e., the sacred sign, of the invisible sacrifice” (City of God, ch. 10, cited in art. 1, sed contra). In art. 2 he narrows his definition of a sacrament as something that effects holiness in the human person. He reiterates this in art. 3, “…a sacrament properly speaking is that which is ordained to signify our sanctification” (respondeo) but applies a more liberal boundary to what is signified—three things: “…the very cause of our sanctification, which is Christ’s passion; the form of our sanctification, which is grace and the virtues; and the ultimate end of our sanctification, which is eternal life. And all these are signified by the sacrament.” Each of the sacraments, therefore, “…is a sign that is both a reminder
St Thomas follows a similar method in his Summa contra Gentiles: the materials covered in Book IV are comparable to that of the tertia pars of the Summa theologiae; after reviewing the Mystery of the Incarnation in chapters 27-55, he moves seamlessly into the “necessity of the sacraments” in chapter 56. He says at the beginning, “Since, however (as has already been said), the death of Christ is, so to say, the universal cause of human salvation, and since a universal cause must be applied singly to each of its effects, it was necessary to show men some remedies through which the benefit of Christ’s death could somehow be conjoined to them. It is of this sort, of course, that the sacraments of the Church are said to be.”
of the past, i.e., the passion of Christ, and an indication of that which is effected in us by Christ’s passion, i.e., grace; and a prognostic, that is, a foretelling of future glory.” In other words, all sacraments are memorials of the Paschal Mystery, provide grace, and anticipate beatitude; St Thomas expects it to be clear that as a sign, sacraments signify three things. Article 4 heats up the discussion by focusing on the ‘sensible’ qualities of a sign. Are signs always ‘things’? He is concerned about the Johannine Jesus’ saying to the Samaritan Woman at the well of Jacob, “God is spirit; those who worship God worship him in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24). The sacramental ‘elements’ are presupposed by Augustine’s words in the sed contra, “The word is added to the element and this becomes a sacrament.” St Thomas argues that the elements proper to each sacraments (he does not yet enumerate them) correspond to their respective signification: “Now it is part of man’s nature to acquire knowledge of the intelligible from the sensible” (respondeo). Accordingly, the “spirit and truth” which is the prerequisite for divine worship are relayed by human intelligence. St Thomas alludes to pseudo-Dionysius’ Celestial Hierarchy as an authority supporting the correspondence and communication of spiritual realities by sensible things. It is worth quoting at length:
All this accounts for the fact that the sacred institution and source of perfection established our most pious hierarchy. He modeled it on the hierarchies of heaven, and clothed these immaterial hierarchies in numerous material figures and forms so that, in a way appropriate to our nature, we might be uplifted form these most venerable images to interpretations and assimilations which are simple and inexpressible. For it is quite impossible that we humans should, in any immaterial way, rise up to imitate and contemplate the heavenly hierarchies without the aid of those material means capable of guiding us as our nature requires.2
Citing the Eucharist as an instance of this, pseudo-Dionysius wrote: “The reception of the most divine Eucharist is a symbol of our participation in Jesus. And so it goes for all gifts transcendently received by the beings of heaven, gifts which are granted to us in a symbolic mode.” Augustine’s statement on the conjoining of word to element anticipates art. 6, which asks “Whether Words are Required for the Signification of the Sacraments.” St Thomas’ choice of
PSEUDO-DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE, Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works, trans. Colm Luibheid (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1987), 146.
words is revealing, because it establishes not simply a connexion between words and sacraments, but rather words and the signification of sacraments. In his respondeo, he provides three reasons for the necessity of words. One, it provides a mirror to the Mystery of the Incarnate Word, who became flesh to communicate the Gospel: “For in the first place they can be considered in regard to the cause of sanctification, which is the Word incarnate: to Whom the sacraments have a certain conformity, in that the word is joined to the sensible sign, just as the mystery of the Incarnation the Word of God is united to sensible flesh.”3 Two, there is a kind of correspondence between the anthropological body-soul duality and the revelatory element-word duality. It is revelatory because it reveals faith in the expression of words joined to the sacramental element that “…touches the body through the sensible element, and the soul through faith in the words.”4 Note how St Thomas establishes a connexion between word and faith. Three, St Thomas turns to the signification of the sacraments which is accomplished: although a sacramental element communicates a distinct sign in its own right, the use of words “…insure the perfection of sacramental signification.” Using baptism as an example, he points out that the humidity and coolness of water are a sign of its refreshing effects, but the form “I baptize you…,” Aquinas says that “…it is clear that we use water in baptism in order to signify a spiritual cleansing.” Sacramental Forms as “Determinate Words” Must specific and determinate words be employed as sacramental forms? With this question, Aquinas opens art. 7 and gives his reply with the Eucharist as an instance. “Our Lord used determinate words in consecrating the sacrament of the Eucharist, when He said: This is My Body. Likewise He commanded His disciples to baptize under a form of determinate words, saying: Go ye and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (sed contra).
Emphasis added. Emphasis added.
Notice that Aquinas employs the common liturgical language of “form” with regards to all the sacraments, but “consecration” as the peculiar form of the Eucharist. In other words, the ‘form’ for the Eucharist are the ‘words of consecration,’ but the forms of the other six sacraments are never called ‘consecration.’ The baptismal formula is not considered ‘consecratory’ of the water; the formula of absolution or the formula of confirmation are not considered ‘consecratory’ either. Does Aquinas intend to make an exception for the Eucharistic formula as ‘consecratory’ in such a way that it is at variance with the remaining six sacraments? The whole of q. 78 addresses the form of the sacrament of the Eucharist. He asks whether “This is My body” and “This is the chalice of My blood” is the form of the sacrament. He answers in the affirmative, quoting St Ambrose, “The consecration is accomplished by the words and expressions of the Lord Jesus… it is Christ’s words that perfect this sacrament” (sed contra). Anticipating our recent question, Aquinas replies that the Eucharist, as a sacrament, differs from the others in two ways:
First of all, in this, that this sacrament is accomplished by the consecration of the matter, while the rest are perfected by the use of consecrated matter. Secondly, because in the other sacraments the consecration of matter consists only in a blessing, from which the matter consecrated derives instrumentally a spiritual power, which through the priest who is an animated instrument, can pass on to inanimate instruments. But in this sacrament the consecration of the matter consists in the miraculous change of the substance… (respondeo)
Thus Aquinas equates ‘consecration’ with what is now called ‘transubstantiation.’ He says even more clearly, “…but the form of this sacrament implies merely the consecration of the matter, which consists in transubstantiation, as when it is said, This is My body or, This is the chalice of My blood” (ibid). What Aquinas means is that whereas in the other sacraments, the elements are ‘consecrated’ prior to the celebration of the sacramental formulae. In baptism, the water is consecrated before the formula “I baptize you…” is used; during the Mass of Chrism, the sacred chrism is consecrated by the bishop before it is used either in confirmation or ordination. In the Eucharist alone, on the contrary, the ‘consecration’ and the ‘form’ are coterminous. 5
At this point, we run into the singular difficulty of Aquinas’ representation of the sacramental theology of the Roman Patriarchate versus the sacramental theology of the Eastern Churches. It is significant that he makes frequent reference to St John of Damascus as an authoritative Father throughout his Summa theologiae, but here he seems to part company with him on the question of when the moment of consecration or transubstantiation takes place. In his Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, which Aquinas quotes frequently, the ‘Last of the Fathers’ wrote concerning the Eucharistic consecration: “…the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit becomes through the invocation the rain to this new tillage. For just as God made all that He made by the energy of the Holy Spirit, so also now the energy of the Spirit performs those things that are supernatural and which it is not possible to comprehend unless by faith alone” (bk. 4, ch. 13).5 In fact, the Damascene sees the Institution Narrative as a whole to be the command of Christ to His Church that the Eucharist is to be celebrated; although it is repeated in the Slav-Byzantine liturgies, the ‘confection’ of this sacrament is understood to be strictly Pneumatological, i.e., by way of the epiklesis, not Christological by way of the priest, in persona Christi, reciting His words. There is, however, a point of contact between St Thomas Aquinas and St John Damasacene as regards that act of faith in the ‘consecration.’ St John speaks of the comprehension ‘by faith alone’ what the Holy Spirit has done. In asking whether the ‘audible’ or ‘phonetic’ quality is requisite for an ‘effective’ recitation of the ‘words of consecration,’ St Thomas replies (IIIa, q. 60, art. 7, ad 1): “As Augustine says, the word operates in the sacraments not because it is spoken, i.e., not by the outward sound of the voice, but because it is believed in accordance with the sense of the words which is held by faith. And this sense is indeed the same for all, though the same words as to their sound be not used by all. Consequently no matter in what language this sense is expressed, the
P. SCHAFF and H. WACE, A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, series 2, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), 82-83.
sacrament is complete.” Thus the ‘words of consecration’ are indicative of the faith that this breadlookalike and this wine-lookalike is indeed the Sacred Body and Precious Blood. How do the words of consecration as an act of faith square with ‘transubstantiative’ effect of the same words? In quoting Augustine, Aquinas is making a connection between the sacramental form and the Incarnate Word (cf. IIIa, q. 60, art. 6, respondeo). Therefore the sacramental formulae are revelatory and exegetical in that they reveal and exegete the sacramental action. It is for this reason that the auditory/phonetic quality is not the cause of the change, but rather the meaning of the ‘words of consecration’ and the assent to it by faith. In fact, Aquinas goes so far as to say that apart from the ‘words of consecration,’ nothing else is necessary for the Eucharist and that the Eucharistic Prayer has a more ‘devotional’ than sacramental (or liturgical) value.6 The ‘Words of Consecration’ in Sign Language In giving his answer, St Thomas takes his cue from St Augustine’s Tractates on the Gospel of John, 80. The context of Augustine’s commentary comes from the middle section of the Johannine Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, specifically Jn 15:1—3, “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the Vine-grower. He removes every branch in Me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken in you.” It is the force of v. 3 that Augustine develops an excusion on sacramental theology, “You have already been cleansed by the word I have spoken to you.” Augustine asks why Jesus refers to the power of His words rather than to baptism:
Take away the word, and the water is neither more nor less than the water. The word is added to the element, and there results the Sacrament, as if itself also a kind of visible word. For He had said also with the same effect, when washing the disciples’ feet, He that is washed needs not, save wash his feet, but is clean every whit. And whence has water so great an efficacy, as in touching the body to cleanse the soul, save by the operation of the word; and that not because it is uttered, but because it is believed? For even in the word itself the passing sound is one thing, the abiding efficacy another. …The word of faith possesses such virtue in the Church of God, that through the E. MAZZA, The Celebration of the Eucharist: The Origin of the Rite and the Development of its Interpretation, trans. M. J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999), 210.
medium who in faith presents, and blesses, and sprinkles it, He cleanses even the tiny mouth unto salvation. All this is done by means of the word, whereof the Lord says, “Now you are clean through the word which I have spoken to you.”
Clearly, Augustine is referring to the sacrament of baptism; the relationship between ‘word’ and the ‘element’ with respect to the Eucharist is raised by St Thomas. In any case, the efficacy of the word works what is signified by the sacramental action. Augustine, it is true, developed the theory that it is Christ who is the Celebrant of the sacraments in the face of the Donatist heresy which taught that sacramental efficacy was contingent upon the faith of the minister. Not so, according to Augustine, because the sacraments effect ex opere operato by Christ Himself whose Paschal Mystery constitutes the fountain-head of every sacramental grace. But whose “faith” does Augustine refer to when he says, “…through the medium who in faith presents, blesses and sprinkles…” the waters of baptism? Does Augustine here mean to say that the efficacy of the minister’s faith is necessary? It might be possible to interpret this condition in the light of the Church’s definitive teaching that the intention of the minister is required for the valid celebration of any sacrament (cf. Council of Trent).7 If this interpretation is correct, then what St Thomas means to say is this: the efficacy of the ‘words of consecration’ resides in the presider’s intention to make present the Sacred Body and Precious Blood. Thus the sacerdos who presides at Mass must share in the Church’s intention “to make present the Body and Blood of the Lord” and— in whatever language, even nonvocal and inaudible ones—to communicate the sacramental formula in which the act of faith is invested. Therefore sign language, precisely because it is a language and imports the meaning of the words of consecration, easily fulfills the requirements for a valid Eucharist.
“If anyone says that, when ministers effect or confer the sacraments, they do not need the intention od at least doing what the church does: let him be anathema.” Council of Trent, Session 7, “First Decree; Canons on the sacraments in general,” no. 11 (3 March 1547). In N. Tanner, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C., Georgetown University Press, 1990), 685.
One might wonder whether St Thomas is somewhat minimalist in his Eucharistic theology, as he appears to concentrate its value wholly upon the ‘Real Presence.’ Careful consideration of St Thomas’ sacramental theology within the broader schema of the tertia pars should remind us that the Incarnation took place precisely for the sake of the Passion, and more precisely, his office as the Great High Priest (IIIa, q. 22, art.2, resp.; q. 46, art. 12, resp.). That being the case, the ‘Real Presence’ of the Sacred Body and Precious Blood thus has a memorial quality to it (which is also evidenced by his Eucharistic hymns, esp. O dulcis Memoria).8 Talk of the entire Eucharistic Prayer as being ‘consecratory’ has been in vogue in the years following the Second Vatican Council. The Eastern Church, again, insists that the epiklesis itself is invested with the power to effect the change in the Holy Gifts. How can the two positions be reconciled? Even the Syriac Eucharistic anaphoras (e.g. the Liturgy of Addai and Mari) have been taught by the magisterium to effect a valid Eucharist. Are we to say that St Thomas is wrong to insist that the words of consecration effects the change? My own suggestion would be that it is in view of the intention of the minister, enshrined in the act of faith in the Institution Narrative and precisely the ‘words of consecration,’ that the sacramental form has its power. In other words, its power is not concentrated in the moment they are uttered (or signed); rather, it is in anticipation of indicating that the Holy Gifts will become the Sacred Body and Precious Blood that they are efficacious. In this case, therefore, the form is indicative of the Real Presence of Christ effected by the epiklesis, but validly so only because the minister intends the words “this is my Body” and “this is My Blood” to be true. In the anaphora of Addai and Mari, for example, regardless of the lack of the words of consecration, it is nevertheless a valid Eucharist because the minister still must maintain the intention of the Church, and the
Cf. S.Th. IIIa, q. 76, art. 2, ad 1 and q. 79, art. 1; also S.c.G., IV, ch. 61, 4.
intentions are abundantly manifested in the Qurbono or the preparatory prayers celebrated by Syriac priests prior to the Eucharistic Liturgy. Conclusion There is no reason, then, to think that the power of the ‘words of consecration’ resides in its auditory or phonetic quality. The Angelic Doctor, following Augustine, insists that it is the faith represented by “this is My body; this is My blood” that effects the change in the Holy Gifts. But the act of faith, if my interpretation is correct, is taken here to mean—using the language of the Council of Trent—the intention of the presider, in persona Christi, to “celebrate Mass and to make present the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…”9 It is thus in view of indicating that “this,” i.e., the elements, is truly and substantially “My body” and “My blood.” Therefore a presbyter or bishop who presides at the Eucharist in American Sign Language validly confects the sacrament simply because of his act of faith in the ‘words of consecration,’ i.e., his proper intention to do what is meant by the Words of Institution.
«Ego volo celebrare Misam, et conficere Corpus et Sanguinem Domini nostril Iesu Christi…» See CATHOLIC CHURCH, Missale Romanum, [sic] editio typical (Vatican City State, Liberia Edtrice Vaticana, 1975), 934.
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