We have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent which is set up not by man but by the Lord. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.”
By at least the fourth century, Christians in various parts of the world—Latin, Greek, Syrian, Byzantine—they all had come to be of a mind that there is a particular form of worship which has a share in the heavenly worship conducted by saints and angels under the Melchizedekian High Priest, Jesus the Son of God. The introduction to the Sanctus across the various liturgies all confirm that Christians believe that this eucharistic form of worship is not a shadow of the heavenly “true form” where Christ our Priest is “all in all.” Here’s how the Syrian liturgy of Addai and Mari prepares for the thrice-holy hymn:
Thy majesty, O Lord, a thousand thousand heavenly beings adore; myriad myriads of angels, and ranks of spiritual beings, ministers of fire and spirit, together with the holy cherubim and seraphim, glorify thy Name, crying out and glorifying, unceasingly calling to one another and saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty; heaven and earth are full of his praises.’
And with these heavenly armies we, also even we, thy lowly, weak, and miserable servants, Lord, give thee thanks that that hast brought about us a great grace which cannot be repaid.[iii]
As Western Christians, we are inheritors of a tradition that, from time of Berengar of Tours in the 11th century, has a peculiar concern with the presence of Christ in the Sacrament.[v] When this tradition encounters a reformation five centuries later which questioned substantial aspects of the Mass itself, it is not surprising that the Latin tradition doubles down on its emphasis on Christ’s presence, on the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist, and on what we receive when we partake of the Blessed Sacrament. And it’s also not surprising that in the wake of the Tractarians and a new sort of embrace of Anglicanism’s catholic identity, that these Anglicans would adopt much of the language and theology of Latin sacramental teaching. And in all this, something gets lost. What’s lost is the answer to the question, “Why is the Eucharist worship? Why is it that catholic Christians have agreed that the most magnifying means by which we creatures can render glory and blessing to God is through the celebration of these Holy Mysteries?”[vi] Not once does Thomas Aquinas ask and then answer question, “Why is the Mass worship?”
It is truly right, our bounden duty and service, to offer this eucharistic rite because it is the way by which we participate in the ever-perfect and glorious self-offering of our High Priest, the only worship that ever completely rejoiced the Father’s heart. And this priest and offering, who is our Lord Jesus, is joined by innumerable angels and the saints in glory. We dare not attempt to offer something else, we heard in our Epistle. For this God to whom we come, He is a consuming fire.
You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”
“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
[i] Gal 4:4
[ii] In Exodus 25, Moses is told to construct the central items of the temple “according to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle…” (v.9; this is then repeated in verse 40, where it seems to refer to everything in the temple as a copy of the heavenly tabernacle). This is echoed in Numbers 8:4, where, when referring to the lampstands, the text notes that they are “according to the pattern which the Lord has shown Moses.”
[iii] R. C. D. Jasper and G. J. Cuming, eds., Prayers of the Eucharist: Early and Reformed, 3rd rev. edition (Collegeville, Minn.: Pueblo Books, 1987), 42.
[iv] I Cor 10:16
[v] Cf. Henri de Lubac, Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages: Historical Survey, Faith in Reason (London: SCM, 2006).
[vi] A notable exception to this is Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).