The twin themes of Paschal banquet and atoning sacrifice come up in Eucharistic theology from the earliest days of the Church. In St. Paul's day the Eucharistic celebration was closely associated with communal meals (though never was the former reduced to, or collapsed into, the latter), and yet at the same time the early Church regularly used sacrificial imagery, carried over to a large extent from the Hebrew cult, to describe Christian worship. At the risk of oversimplification, the former theme gives emphasis to the 'horizontal' or 'communal' aspect of worship, and the latter the 'vertical' or 'cultic' aspect. We frequently think in terms of finding a 'balance' between these two aspects, as if proper worship simply meant settling down someplace towards the middle of a spectrum.
In fact, that approach has it all wrong. The solution is not to find a balance, but an integration. In other words, the 'communal' element must be integrated into the 'cultic,' which is why, incidentally, the 'communal' element always remains secondary. The congregation, to the extent that it steps outside of the office of the adoration of God, ceases to be meaningful. If any aspect or portion of the community refuses to be caught up in the adoration of the Trinity, they forfeit their right to be participants in that worshipping community, properly speaking. On the other hand, neither is the communal element entirely subsumed by the cultic, lest the worship become privatized and lose its subjective dimension (unless appropriated by the individual, the Mass - though it retains its objective value as worship - bears no fruit in the lives of men).
It is frequently claimed, in historical surveys
of the Church's Eucharistic teaching, that the early Church taught that the Eucharist was a communal mean, and that the Medieval Church distorted this understanding by emphasizing its value as a cultic sacrifice. It is then claimed that Vatican II 'recovered' this patristic understanding, by moving beyond the Tridentine theology of the Mass and focusing on the active participation of the faithful in the Eucharistic banquet. Interestingly, here is what Vatican II has to say about the participation of the lay faithful:
"The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God's word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator (38), they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all" (Sacrosanctum Concilium 48).
Interestingly, the participation of the faithful is not in some free-for-all sacramental potluck, but in the sacrificial 'offering [of] the Immaculate Victim' with and through the cultic office of the priest. When the legitimate understanding of the Eucharistic meal as a table banquet is separated and cut off from the cultic act of worship, worship itself becomes distorted and twisted into some sort of therapeutic pseudo-spiritual self-help
. Similarly, an over-emphasis on the communal dimension of Eucharistic worship, usually for the purposes of emphasizing the inclusivity (cf. the recent calls for 'open communion
,' represents a refusal of this communal element to be integrated and caught up in the cultic dimension, apart from which it can only wither up and die, like a branch severed from its vine.