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This is my body

brake-breadI was surprised to open the Easter edition (11 April) of the reputable Tablet to find the first article was a one-and-a-half page, very confused criticism of part of the Eucharist by Stephen Hough. The qualifications for this article as given by the Tablet is that he “is a concert pianist”. Mr. Hough is “perturbed” that the priest does not break the bread at the moment the priest describes Jesus breaking it within the Last Supper story (“Institution Narrative“) in the Eucharistic Prayer.

Mr. Hough quotes all the biblical Last Supper accounts and from liturgical texts and then says:

He “broke the bread”, but we don’t – at least not at the same moment. The priest waits until the Agnus Dei to break the consecrated wafer, which is quite a while after the Consecration. Indeed it is after the Eucharistic Prayer, after the Lord’s Prayer, after the sign of peace – just before Communion. Yet it is quite clear from all the sources, scriptural and liturgical, that the piece of bread at the Last Supper was broken before the words were said.

What Mr. Hough plainly fails to notice is the quite elementary realisation that at the Last Supper, Jesus saying “this is my body” did not function as the “words of consecration” but were Jesus’ words of administration. Even the Roman Catholic Church, which places such emphasis on these words, recognises the Eucharistic Prayer of Addai and Mari as a valid, consecrating eucharistic prayer even though it does not even contain the words “this is my body”.

At the Last Supper “this is my body” functions similarly to the words at the Eucharist when one receives communion: “the Body of Christ”. Jesus took bread, (and later wine) blessed it by giving thanks, broke the bread, and gave the bread with the words of distribution “this is my body”. What we do today in the Eucharist is quite similar: we take bread and wine, bless it by giving thanks (Eucharistic Prayer), break the bread, and distribute it with words such as “the Body of Christ”.

Mr. Hough describes his understanding of the Last Supper:

It is the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the Jewish calendar, the Passover. He [Jesus] is not holding a wafer and speaking words over it, around it, into it…

This, of course, totally contradicts his previous half page where he has repeatedly quoted scripture and liturgy that Jesus did in fact say a prayer of thanksgiving blessing whilst holding the bread!

Mr. Hough continues

And it doesn’t end there. “This[pouring the red wine into the cup] is my blood.” This is what will happen to my blood. It will pour out from my hands and my feet, and especially from my side. I don’t think it is the fermented grape juice in the chalice which is so much the object of his “This”, but rather the action of pouring out blood-like wine, …

Mr. Hough does not even attempt to justify his assertion that there was a pouring of wine at this point in the Last Supper.

I am astonished that such an unwarranted critique of contemporary liturgy was allowed to find print in such a reputable magazine. Mr. Hough has some lovely pious reflections on the fraction (the breaking of the bread) but they do not rely on his lengthy, incorrect analysis and the editor should have helped him write it into a much briefer, devotional article.

For further reading: Celebrating Eucharist especially chapters 2, & 10-13

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8 thoughts on “This is my body”

  1. Peter Carrell

    Clearly you are either not familiar with, or have temporarily forgotten the oeuvre of Damian Thompson (editor of the Tablet’s rival, Catholic Herald, and Holy Smoke blogger) which when one is familiar with it (as I am) means one would be surprised by nothing in the Tablet by way of it’s (lack of) quality content 🙂

    This may or may not shed light on the eucharistic theology (I speak advisedly) of Mr Hough http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/stephen_hough/blog/2009/01/09/eucharist_i

    Incidentally Damian Thompson’s view of Stephen Hough as friend, pianist, and religious commentator is thus:

    “I know: I’m plugging a mate, but I’ve been a piano anorak since, oh, I don’t know, the days when English Catholic bishops had a rudimentary grasp of Latin, and I was a fan of Hough’s years before I met him. It’s fascinating, wonderful and almost scary to hear his playing develop the veil-piercing spirituality I associate with Cortot, Edwin Fischer, Kempff and Horszowski.

    Before I’m awarded Private Eye’s Order of the Brown Nose, however, I should add that the great man’s tastes in religious (as opposed to to musical) spirituality are quite deplorable. He’s seriously impressed by that pretentious old muppet Rowan Williams, and announced recently that he “always finds something to enjoy” in The Tablet. Well, I always find something to enjoy in Viz, Stephen, but that doesn’t make it Catholic. “

  2. TrueAnglican

    Stephen Hough’s erroneous liturgiology was shared by none other than Thomas Cranmer, as I recall, although oddly no manual acts of any kind are prescribed during the eucharistic prayer in the text of the 1552 BCP I consulted on line. Certainly the 1662 BCP says specifically that the priest is to break the bread as he recites the words of institution. In the U.S. Episcopal Church the practice continued (or at least was called for by rubric) until the adoption of the 1979 BCP. In my Anglo-Catholic missal-following youth in the U.S., celebrants performed what was called the “little fraction” during the words of institution, then inserted a more extensive and thorough though unauthorized fraction after the Our Father (and before the exchange of the peace, another ceremony not contemplated by the 1928 BCP).

  3. You are right, True Anglican, that 1662BCP uniquely instructs that the bread should be broken within the institution narrative. This confusion, however, should not be attributed to Thomas Cranmer as you do. Neither his 1549, nor his 1552 communion rites are so confused, as you already intimate. Cranmer died in 1556, so your attributing this 1662 confusion to him is anachronistic.

  4. I just want to know where we get to say “Whoomp there it is.”

    I’m also fond of saying “Jesus has just left the building,” long after the dismissal, when the candles are snuffed, so the fire worshipers will know its okay to leave.

  5. Bill, we agree on the fire worshipers. The ‘criticism’ of the consecration practice in the Tablet is very odd. Getting rid of the breaking of the bread during the quotation of Jesus was one of the better ideas in the most recent revisions of many provinces’ BCP.

    I am a devout student of Dom Gregory Dix and I do think the shape and content of the liturgy matter. Our pianist friend is simply wrong.


  6. Just to inject a different element (sic!) into the discussion…
    Isn’t it true that the focus of the Liturgy and discussions on eucharist revolve around the Eucharist as receiving the body and blood of Jesus… but was he intending a major focus to be ‘participating in the new covenant’? ‘This is my blood of the new covenant’. What would happen if we focussed equally on that?

    I’d like to suggest a more transformative divine encounter… experience of the kingdom of God… a healing of divisions…

  7. “I am a devout student of Dom Gregory Dix and I do think the shape and content of the liturgy matter. Our pianist friend is simply wrong.


    At the risk of being thought critical of equivocation about Eucharistic theology; I agree with ‘jim’

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