Celebrating eucharistic action: Dix’s purple passage

Fresco of a female figure holding a chalice from Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus & Peter in Rome
Fresco of a woman holding a chalice from Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus & Peter in Rome

“At the heart of it all is the eucharistic action, a thing of absolute simplicity—the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of bread and the taking, blessing and giving of a cup of wine and water, as these were first done with their new meaning by a young Jew before and after supper with His friends on the night before He died. He had told his friends to do this henceforward with the new meaning “for the anamnesis” of Him, and they have done it always since.

Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth.
People have found no better thing than this to do
  • for sovereigns at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold;
  • for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church;
  • for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; 
  • for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; 
  • for a school child sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America;
  • for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover;
  • in thankfulness because my mother did not die of pneumonia;
  • for a village chief much tempted to return to fetish because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna;
  • for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlements of a strike;
  • for a child for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and prisoner of war;
  • while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre;
  • on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church;
  • tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows;
  • furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewed timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk;
  • gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why people have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them.
And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei— the holy common people of God.”

Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, London, 1945, p. 743, with a few changes I’ve made for the sake of a more inclusive language.

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