Austin Woodbury’s The Essence of the Sacrifice of the Mass, is not only his most mature theological work, but arguably his most brilliant.
Here he attempts to tackle one of the most difficult questions in sacramental theology: once the Catholic doctrine is affirmed, that among all the ceremonies of the Eucharistic liturgy the sacrificial essence of the Mass consists in the consecration of the two sacramental species, how does the objective concept of sacrifice consist in this consecration? Or, under what aspect is true sacrifice formally offered through the consecration of these two species? Or, what in fact is the formal constitutive of the Eucharistic sacrifice?
In this text, Woodbury attempts to answer these questions by collating numerous theological opinions into six categories or types. Firstly, ‘The Theory of Real Change of the Victim,’ principally proposed by Johannes Baptist Franzelin (1816-1886); Secondly, ‘The Theory of Virtual Immolation,’ as exposed by Eduardo Hugon (1867-1929); Thirdly, ‘The Theory of Pure Oblation,’ which Woodbury sketches after the manner of Marius Lepin (1870-1952); Fourthly, ‘The Theory of Mystical Oblation,’ as proposed by Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), Zacharias Pasqualigo (1600-1664) and Louis Billot (1846-1931); Fifthly, ‘The Theory of Maurice de la Taille (1872-1933)’; And finally, Woodbury provides us with an extensive treatment of his sixth type, ‘The Sacramental Theory.’ Here, Woodbury first offers an exposition of this type’s general tenants before focusing on ‘The Mystery Presence Theory’ as proposed by Dom Odo Casel (1886-1948), followed by the opinions of Cajetan (1469-1534) and Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). In this part of the text Woodbury takes us to the sublime heights of the Thomistic doctrine, wherein Saint Thomas’s solution to this difficult question is magnificently outlined.
This is indeed one of the most magnificent theological treatments of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
Who was Father Austin Maloney Woodbury?
Father Austin Maloney Woodbury S.M. (1899-1979) was a Marist priest and an Australian Thomistic philosopher and theologian, who in the 1920s received doctorates in both Philosophy and Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas in the City (the Angelicum) in Rome under the renowned Dominican theologian Father Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P. (1877-1964). Woodbury founded Sydney’s Aquinas Academy in 1945, a school of Philosophy and Theology aimed at educating lay people in the rich intellectual tradition of Christianity. He headed the Academy until 1975, teaching a strictly scholastic Philosophy and Theology based on the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). In his own lifetime Woodbury was distinguished by some of his scholarly contemporaries as having penned “one of the greatest courses in philosophy ever written in the English language.”