The Mystical Body Falling Apart?

Reflections on the Emergence and Development of Eucharistic Spirituality in the Western Middle Ages

In: Religion and Theology
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  • 1 Catholic School of Theology, Tilburg University

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This article deals with some important changes that occurred in the ritual of the Eucharist and its theological interpretation between Late Antiquity and the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. These had been studied especially by Henri de Lubac in his book Corpus Mysticum. It is quite common – especially among liturgical historians – to present these processes in a purely negatively light and to interpret them in terms of liturgical decline and disintegration, in particular emphasizing the purported loss of the communal, ecclesial character of the Eucharist. This view has been criticized persuasively by other historians (Gary Macy; Eamon Duffy). While taking this criticism seriously, an attempt is made to sketch a differentiated picture of these developments. Making use in particular of mediaeval liturgical commentaries that have received relatively little attention in research, it is argued that the developments are illustrative of some processes which, according to Philip Sheldrake, profoundly affected the approach to spiritual life in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and attest a remarkable reconfiguration in the relations between liturgy, theology and spirituality.

  • 2

    Sheldrake, Spirituality and History, 42.

  • 3

    Sheldrake, Spirituality and History. 44.

  • 5

    Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1500 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 7.

  • 6

    John Bossy, Christianity in the West: 1400–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), esp. 57–75; John Bossy, “The Mass as a Social Institution 1200–1700,” Past and Present 100 (1983): 29–61.

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  • 7

    See especially Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi. The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); Charles Caspers, De eucharistische vroomheid en het feest van Sacramentsdag in de Nederlanden tijdens de late Middeleeuwen (Leuven: Peeters, 1992).

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  • 19

    Gary Macy, The Theologies of the Eucharist in the Early Scholastic Period (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), 6–7.

  • 20

    Macy, Theologies of the Eucharist, 73–105.

  • 24

    Cf. Gerard Rouwhorst, “The Preparation of the Gifts in the Eucharistic Liturgy,” Jaarboek voor liturgie-onderzoek, 17 (2001): 213–236, esp. 221–227.

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  • 45

    Cf. for instance Hubertus Lutterbach, “The Mass and Holy Communion in the Medieval Penitentials: Liturgical and Religio-Historical Perspectives,” in Bread of Heaven. Customs and Practices Surrounding Holy Communion, Liturgia condenda 3, ed. Charles Caspers, Gerard Lukken and Gerard Rouwhorst (Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1995), 61–81.

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  • 46

    See for instance Peter Browe, Die häufige Kommunion im Mittelalter (Münster: Regensberg, 1938); Jungmann, Missarum sollemniaII, 447–455.

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  • 61

    See in particular Macy, Theologies of the Eucharist, 93–95. See also Caspers, De eucharistische vroomheid, 213–224.

  • 62

    See Macy, Theologies of the Eucharist, 98–99. Cf. William of Thierry, De corpore et sanguine domini, ch. 7 (PL 180, 354).

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