Father Alexander Schmemann continues this sixth chapter of The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdomby arguing that it is not the order of the proskomidē that stands in need of cleansing, but rather our understanding of it, and in particular, our understanding of commemoration. Far from being something individual or utilitarian, its meaning is to be found
in referring all of us together and each of us individually to the sacrifice of Christ, in the gathering and formation of the new creation around the Lamb of God. In this is the power and joy of this commemoration, that in it is overcome the partition between the living and the dead, between the earthly and the heavenly Church … in taking out particles and pronouncing names, we are caring not simply for the “health” of ourselves or certain of our neighbours, nor for the fate of the dead “beyond the grave”; we offer and return them to God as a “living and well-pleasing” sacrifice in order to make them participants in the “inexhaustible life” of the kingdom of God. (112)
This offering is real because Christ has already made it his own and it therefore ends with a joyful confession and affirmation.
Turning to the Great Entrance, Father Schmemann notes the extensive development that has occurred in the liturgical rites of offering. While liturgists have charted its history, “next to nothing has been said about its theological meaning” (113) and it is these various but interconnected rites that demand an explanation.
The first of these is the prayer “No one is worthy” that the priest says for himself while the entrance with the Holy Gifts is being performed. Unlike all the other prayers in the liturgy, this one prayer is really said for himself personally and not on behalf of us. This needs to be understood properly, or else there is a danger that it simply confirms the identification of ministry with the clergy and the eucharist as something that is offered by the clergy and not by all the faithful. Indeed Father Schmemann argues that the clericalization of the Church
led to a gradual demise of the sacrificial perception of the Church herself and of the sacrament of the Church – the eucharist. The conviction that the priest serves on behalf of the laity and, so to speak, in their place led to the conviction that he serves for them, for the satisfaction of their “religious needs,” subordinate to their religious “demand.” (114)
In contrast to such a perspective, the priest’s offering of the prayer “for himself”
lies not in contraposing the priest to the gathering, to the “laity,” and not in any separation of one from the other, but in the identification of the priesthood of the Church with the priesthood of Christ, the one Priest of the New Testament, who through his own offering of himself sanctified the Church and granted her participation in his priesthood and in his sacrifice … (115)
Moreover, unlike the eucharistic prayer that is offered to God the Father, this prayer is directed personally to Christ, for it is at this moment that our gifts are identified with Christ. The whole point of this prayer is
that he can fulfil this service only because the priesthood of the priest is not “his,” nor “other” in relation to the priesthood of Christ, but the one and same indivisible priesthood of Christ, which eternally lives and is eternally fulfilled in the Church, the body of Christ. And in what is the priesthood of Christ constituted, if not in the unity in him of all who believe in him, if not in the gathering and the creation of his body, if not in the offering of all in him and in all of him? (115)
It is precisely in this personal character of the priesthood that an Orthodox understanding of priesthood differs from both the Latin emphasis on ex opera operato which separates the person of the priest from the validity of the sacraments he performs, and from the understanding of ex opera operantis which makes the sacraments dependent on the subjective qualities of the priest.
For Orthodoxy this is a false dilemma, one of those impasses to which theological rationalism invariably leads. In the Orthodox perception of the Church, both the absolute non-dependence of the gift that God has given on any earthly, human “causality” whatsoever, and the personal character of this gift, whose reception depends, consequently, on the person to whom it is given, are equally self-evident. … if, obviously, the Church does not make the “validity” of the sacraments dependent on the qualities of the person appointed to perform them – for in such case no single sacrament would be “possible” – then the dependence of the fullness of church life on the measure of the growth of her members in the reception and assimilation of the gifts received by them is equally obvious to her. The fundamental and eternal defect of scholasticism, of any theological rationalism, lies precisely in the fact that it would be “satisfied” by this question concerning “validity” and “objectivity” and reduce the entire teaching on the sacraments (and on the Church herself) to it, whereas genuine faith, and therefore also the essence of each vocation, each gift, consists in the thirst for fullness, and this means the fulfilment by each and by the whole Church of that grace that God granted without measure. (116)
This is why, when it falls to the priest to become Christ, he turns to Christ with this personal prayer.