I 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