Tuesday, June 18, 2024

From the New Liturgical Movement: The Eucharist in Medieval England

On June 1 and 8 the New Liturgical Movement website posted two articles by Robert Keim explaining English Catholic devotion to the Blessed Sacrament--under other terms--before the Reformation. An excerpt from the first article“The Old Leaven” of Catholic Truth, Part 1: Eucharistic Language and Eucharistic Faith in Medieval England:

The term “eucharist,” a borrowing from Greek via Latin and French, does not appear in Vices and Virtues ["a homiletic prose dialogue written in the Middle English of the early thirteenth century"] , and in fact, it does not appear as an English-language word in any document from the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons until sometime in the fourteenth century. English Catholics of the early and high Middle Ages had various other titles for the Blessed Sacrament, and these titles give us an opportunity to consider how their eucharistic language formed their eucharistic faith—and a formidable faith it was, despite the unedifying individuals mentioned in Vices and Virtues, who were surely the exception. On the eve of the Reformation, the sacramental body of Christ was still “the focus of all the hopes and aspirations” of the English people . . .

And from the second article, this explanation of King Hamlet's Ghost speaking about the untimeliness of his murder:

The most standard item of eucharistic vocabulary in Old and Middle English is also one of the most unfamiliar in modern English: housel (pronounced “HOW-zuhl” and also spelled husel, housul, howsell, etc.). This word was used as a noun meaning primarily “the Eucharist” and as a verb meaning “to administer the Eucharist to.”

Actually, countless speakers and students of modern English have seen this word, but they may not have noticed it or understood its meaning. It appears in Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5, when the ghost of Prince Hamlet’s father describes his murder at the hands of “that adulterate beast” Claudius. The ghost laments that he was

Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatch’d;
Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,
Unhousel’d, disappointed, unanel’d;
No reckoning made, but sent to my account
With all my imperfections on my head.
O, horrible! O, horrible! most horrible! . . .

So King Hamlet was murdered, as Keim explains, before he could confess his sins, received the Last Rites (Extreme Unction), and Viaticum (Holy Communion).

Keim concludes the second article with a quotation from Thomas E. Bridgett's History of the Eucharist in Great Britain (1881, two volumes):

For more than a thousand years the races that successively peopled [Great Britain] regarded the celebration of this Sacrament as the central rite of their religion, the principal means of divine worship, the principal channel of divine grace. The Holy Eucharist was the great mystery of faith, the object not only of fear and of love, but also of supreme adoration.

Father Thomas E. Bridgett was a convert to Catholicism as a teenager (16 years old) and served as Redemptorist missionary to England and Ireland after 1856. According to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica:

Despite his arduous life as a priest, Bridgett found time to produce literary works of value, chiefly dealing with the history of the Reformation in England; among these are The Life of Blessed John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1888); The Life and Writings of Sir Thomas More (1890); History of the Eucharist in Great Britain (2 vols., 1881); Our Lady’s Dowry (1875, 3rd ed. 1890). He died at Clapham on the 17th of February 1899.

Please read the rest of these articles at the links above!

Image Source (No Restrictions/Public Domain): The Miraculous Mass of St. Gregory (some notes from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas on this Mass and its impact on a non-believer in the Real Presence)

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