Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
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American Religious Life in Historical Perspective
Rev. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The religious life and the Eucharist are so closely related that the one can scarcely be conceived without the other.
In the history of the Church, religious life began with the Eucharist; different orders and congregations took their root in the devotion of their founders to the Eucharist and, in the course of time, the spiritual vigor of religious communities and their apostolic effectiveness have been measured by the Eucharist. As the one flourished the other flourished, and as the one waned and grew less significant, the other also became weak or even died altogether.
In order to bring out this relationship as closely as possible, I will consider each of three aspects of the Eucharist separately and see what bearing on the religious life each has had over the centuries. While doing this, I hope to show the inseparable connection between the Real Presence, Sacrament and Eucharist, Sacrifice and religious personality. The connection is so deeply intrinsic that failure to see it and live out its implications means inevitable failure to become the person that living under the evangelical counsels should make of me. I will put this even more bluntly. My survival as a religious person depends on the strength of my faithful devotion to the Holy Eucharist. Other elements of the religious life are dispensable or at least radically changeable. This one determines whether I can remain a religious at all.
The Real Presence
Belief in the real, physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist grew out of teaching of the evangelists and St. Paul. They made it plain to the apostolic Church that the Eucharistic elements were literally Jesus Christ continuing His saving mission among men.
John and Paul were especially plain. The skepticism of Christs followers when He preached the reality of His Body and Blood as food and drink made John record the fact that many of His disciples withdrew and no longer went about with Him. Seeing this Jesus asked the Twelve, Do you also want to leave me? Simon Peter did not understand any more than those who left Christ, but his loyalty was firmer. Lord, he answered, to whom shall we go? (John 6: 66-68)
Pauls letter to the Corinthians rebuked them for making the Agape, which should have been a beautiful sign of unity, into an occasion of discord. He reminded them that the Eucharist is no ordinary food. It is actually the Body and Blood of Christ according to the tradition which I handed on to you that came to me from the Lord Himself. (I Corinthians 11: 23-26)
At the turn of the first century, Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to martyrdom in Rome, had to warn the Christians not to be taken in by the Gnostics - a good modern term would be visionaries, who denied the Real Presence. Ignatius said these people abstained from the Eucharist because they did not accept what true Christians believe, that in the Eucharist is the same Jesus Christ who lived and died and rose from the dead for our salvation.
Under the impact of this faith, the early hermits reserved the Eucharist in their cells. From at least the middle of the third century, it was very general for the solitaries in the East, especially in Palestine and Egypt, to preserve the consecrated elements in the caves or hermitages where they lived.
The immediate purpose of this reservation, as we shall explain more fully later on, was to enable the hermits to give themselves Holy Communion. But these hermits were too conscious of what the Real Presence was not to treat it with great reverence and not to think of it as serving a sacred purpose by just being nearby.
Not only did they have the Sacrament with them in their cells, but also they carried it on their persons when they moved from one place to another. This practice was sanctioned by the custom of the fermentum that certainly goes back to as early as 120 A.D. The rite of fermentum was a particle of the Eucharistic bread (sometimes dipped in the chalice) transported from the bishop of one diocese to the bishop of another diocese. The latter would then consume the species at his next solemn Mass as a token of unity between the churches. It was called a fermentum not necessarily because leavened bread was used but because the Eucharist symbolized the leaven of unity which permeates and transforms Christians, so that they become one with Christ.
Already in the second century, popes sent the Eucharist to other bishops as a pledge of unity of faith; and, on occasion, bishops would do the same for their priests.
As monastic life changed from solitary to community, the monks received something of the same privilege of carrying the Eucharist with them. They would have it on their persons when working in the fields or going on a voyage. The species was either placed in a small receptacle (chrismal) worn bandoleer fashion, or in a little bag (perula) hung around the neck under their clothes. Irish and British manuscripts make frequent mention of the practice. It was not only, as some have suggested, to have the hosts ready for Communion but also to insure safety against robbers and protection against the hazards of travel.
The life of St. Comgall (died 601) tells how on one occasion he was attacked by heathen Pietists while working in a field. On seeing the chrismal around his neck, the attackers did not dare touch him for fear of some retaliation since they surmised (as the narrator says) that Comgall was carrying his God. The saint was so moved by the experience that he exclaimed, Lord, you are my strength, my refuge, and my redeemer.
As early as the Council of Nicea (325) we know that the Eucharist began to be reserved in the churches of monasteries and convents. Again the immediate reason for this reservation was for the sick and the dying, and also for the ceremony of the fermentum. But naturally its sacred character was recognized and the place of reservation was set off from profane usage.
From the beginning of community life, therefore, the Blessed Sacrament became an integral part of the church structure of a monastery. A bewildering variety of names were used to identify the place of reservation. Pastoforium, diakonikon, secretarium, and prothesis are the most common. As far as we can tell, the Eucharist was originally kept in a special room, just off the sanctuary but separated from the church where Mass was offered.
Certainly by the 800s the Blessed Sacrament was kept within the monastic church itself, in a close proximity to the altar. In fact, we have a poem from the year 802, telling of a pyx containing the sacred species reserved on the high altar of the abbey church at Lindisfarne in England.
The practice of reserving the Eucharist in religious houses was so universal that there is no evidence to the contrary even before the year 1000. In fact, numerous regulations are extant which provided for protection of the sacred elements, as the wording went, from profanation by mice and impious men. The species were to be kept under lock and key and sometimes in a receptacle raised high enough to be out of easy reach of profaning hands.
It is interesting to note that the first unmistakable reference to reserving the Blessed Sacrament is found in the life of St. Basil (who died in 379). Basil is said to have divided the Eucharistic bread into three parts when he celebrated Mass in the monastery. One part he consumed, the second part he gave to the monks, and the third he placed in a golden dove suspended over the altar.
This would suggest that, though we have less access to Oriental sources, the Eastern monasteries were centuries ahead of the West in reserving the Eucharistic elements in the monastic church proper and not only in a separate place.
Among the treasures of Monte Cassino that seem to have been destroyed during the Second World War were two small ancient tabernacles, one of gold and the other of silver. They were gifts of Pope Victor III (died 1087), who had been abbot at Cassino before his election to the papacy.
Toward the end of the eleventh century we entered on a new era in the history of the Eucharist and its impact on religious life. Until then the Real Presence was taken for granted in Catholic belief and its reservation was the common practice in Catholic churches, including the chapels and oratories of religious communities. Suddenly a revolution hit the Church when Berengarius (999-1088) archdeacon of Angers in France, publicly denied that Christ was really and physically present under the species of bread and wine. Others took up the idea and began writing about the Eucharistic Christ as not exactly the Christ of the Gospels or, by implication, as not actually there.
The matter got so serious that the Benedictine Pope Gregory VII ordered Berengarius to sign a retraction. This credo has made theological history. It was the Churchs first definitive statement of what had always been believed and never seriously challenged. The witness came from the abbot-become-pope, whose faith in the Blessed Sacrament had been nourished for years in a religious community.
Gregorys teaching on the Real Presence was quoted verbatim in Pope Paul VIs recent document, Mysterium Fidei to meet a new challenge to the Eucharist in our dayvery similar to what happened in the eleventh century.
I believe in my heart and openly confess that the bread and wine placed upon the altar are, by the mystery of the sacred prayer and the words of the Redeemer, substantially changed into the true and life-giving flesh and blood of Jesus Christ our Lord, and that after the consecration, there is present the true body of Christ which was born of the Virgin and offered up for the salvation of the world, hung on the cross and now sits at the right hand of the Father, and that there is present the true blood of Christ which flowed from his side. They are present not only by means of a sign and of the efficacy of the sacrament, but also in the very reality and truth of their nature and substance. 
With this profession of faith, the monasteries of Europe began what can only be described as a Eucharistic Renascence. Processions of the Blessed Sacrament were instituted; prescribed acts of adoration were legislated; visits to Christ in the pyx were encouraged; the cells of anchoresses had windows made into the church to allow the religious to view and adore before the tabernacle. An early ordinal of the Carmelites included the words for the devotion of those in the choir when referring to the reservation of the species.
From the eleventh century on, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle became more and more prevalent in the Catholic world. At every stage in this development, members of religious orders of men and women took the lead.
The Benedictine Lanfranc, as Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced from France into England numerous customs affecting the cultus of the Real Presence.
Francis of Assisi, who was never ordained a priest, had a personal devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Through him, St. Clare founded an order that started a whole tradition in religious communities of women. Before the end of the thirteenth century, convents began to have the Sacrament reserved for adoration by members of a communityapart from Mass and Holy Communion.
The Dominican Thomas Aquinas synthesized the Churchs whole past tradition on the Real Presence in his Summa Theologica and composed a series of hymns of Eucharistic adoration that are classic in Catholic Liturgy. His Tantum Ergo, which is part of the longer Pange Lingua, condenses into two verses all that the Church believes about Christ in the Eucharist and the response this evokes in a believing soul.
Let us therefore humbly reverence so great a sacrament. Let old types depart and give way to the new. Let faith provide her help where all the senses fail.
To the Father and the Son be praise and glory, blessing, might and benediction. To the One who proceeds from both be equal exultation.
When St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, he asked and obtained from the pope the solemn assurance that Jesuit houses would have churches with the Blessed Sacrament permanently reserved.
Since the Council of Trent, every type of religious community has contributed its share to promoting the apostolate of devotion to Christs abiding presence on the altar. Peter Julian Bymarl, Jane Frances de Chantal, Margaret Mary Alacoque, Alphonsus Ligouri are only a few names that come to mind among men and women religious who specialized in this aspect of Catholic piety. Whole congregations were founded for the express purpose of keeping alive the faith of the people in the Real Presence.
Before closing this first phase of our study, it is almost startling to discover what happened in this connection among the Anglicans, after the English Church was separated from union with Rome.
When Cranmer and the English Reformers broke with Rome, they completely revised the liturgy. Yet, unexpectedly, they did not forbid the clergy to reserve some of both species after the Lords Supper ceremonyto be taken to the sick and the dying. In fact they encouraged it. But before long, reservation of the Eucharist elements became rare. This was to be expected after the Thirty-Nine Articles declared that transubstantiation was untrue and that the sacrament should not be worshiped or carried about in procession.
In the meantime, religious communities went out of existence in the English Church. After Henry VIII suppressed about two thousand religious houses in England, no organized community of men or women was tolerated in Anglicanism until the middle of the nineteenth century.
Then came the Oxford Movement, under Newman, Pusey, Keble and Froude. Immediately the strangest thing happened: in less than ten years, from 1845 to 1854, the Anglicans restored continuous reservation of the Eucharist after a lapse of more than three hundred years. Religious communities took the initiative, first of women and then of men that came into existence among the Anglicans at that time.
Credit for this reversal of history belongs to the Sisterhood of St. Margaret, Sussex, founded in 1854. The community records show that soon after its foundation the Sisters were making daily visits to the Eucharist reserved in their oratory, and about the same time Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was in use.
I consider this more than just an episode. It symbolizes the historic dependence of religious communities on the reserved presence of Christ in their midst to unite the members as a Eucharistic family. It also warns us about the future of community life where faith in this presence grows dim.
One sentence in Pope Pauls encyclical, Mysterium Fidei, should be the main concern of anyone who wants to understand what is happening in religious life. The Eucharist, says the Vicar of Christ, is reserved in the churches and oratories as in the spiritual center of a religious community. (68) This is no cliché. Some are ignoring this center by calling it static piety. They are blind to supernatural reality. Community life will be only as strong as the awareness of this Eucharistic center, kept alive by constant exercise.
Worship paid to Christ in the Eucharist strongly impels a religious to cultivate a social love by which the common good of the community is preferred to his own individual good. If the rest of all personality conflict is selfishness, the source of all personality fulfillments is Christ-likeness - to be gained in a special way from Christ present in our chapels. That is why He is there.
The present legislation of the Church regarding the reception of Communion by religious is addressed to superiors. It says They should promote frequent, even daily reception by their subjects of the most sacred Body of Christ. (Canon 595, 2)
Behind this simple statement is an impressive history that must be seen for several good reasons. It will bring out the indispensable necessity of Holy Communion to sustain ones commitment to follow Christ in the evangelical counsels. It will show that frequent (which means daily) reception is the will of Christ and the Church. It will help to evaluate some curious ideas on the Eucharist (and also Confession) that I consider a resurgence of Jansenism. It should also put into focus some priorities in the apostolate, on the persuasion that we can do nothing better than to instill habits of frequent reception of Confession and Holy Communion. If we fail here, we have not done justice to those whom Christ has placed under our care.
Apostolic Times to the Council of Trent
From the end of the second century there are numerous indications that priests and laity received Holy Communion every day. Tertullian mentions that Christians daily extend their hands, according to the prevalent custom, to receive the Body of Christ.  St. Cyprian states that in Africa, We who are in Christ, daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation.  From Egypt we have the witness of Clement of Alexandria, and also of Origen, who says The Lord hates those who think that only one day (Sunday) is a festival of the Lord; Christians partake of the flesh of the Lamb every day, that is, they daily receive the flesh of the Word of God.  From Asia Minor we have the statement of St. Basil, writing to the Patriarch of Caesarea, It is commendable and most beneficial to communicate and partake of the Body and Blood of Christ every single day. 
Regarding the European practice, St. Ambrose wrote of Northern Italy that Mass was celebrated every day, at which priest and people received of the food of saints.  St. Jerome says the same for Spain.  The custom in France, at least among the hermits, was to feed daily on the most pure flesh of the Lamb.  Likewise at Rome, besides other witnesses, there is the well-authenticated story of St. Melania, who never took bodily food until she had first communicated the Body of the Lord. 
As might be expected, the practice varied among the different churches. St. Augustine noted that while in some localities the faithful received Holy Communion every day, in others they communicated only on Saturday and Sunday, and in still others on Sunday alone.  Even among the Christians of one locality there were considerable differences. St. John Chrysostom, for example, complained that some of the faithful approached the sacred banquet not more than once or twice a year, while others received frequently. He deplored the fact that while Mass was celebrated everyday, yet people would assist at the Sacrifice without partaking of the sacrament.  At Milan, too, Ambrose rebuked the Christians for allowing laxity to creep into the diocese: If this is the daily Bread, he asked, how is it you wait a full year before receiving it, as the Oriental Greeks are in the habit of doing? You should receive daily what is to your daily benefit. So live that you may deserve to communicate every day. 
From the beginning of the ninth century we see a notable decline in the frequentation of the sacraments.
Instead of improving, however, the situation became worse, until finally in 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council enjoined at least annual Communion at Easter time: everyone of the faithful of both sexes, after reaching the age of reason, should in private faithfully confess all his sins at least once a year . reverently receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist at least at Easter time . Otherwise, while living he shall be forbidden entrance into the Church, and at death shall be deprived of Christian burial. Let this salutary decree be published frequently, lest anyone try to excuse himself on the score of complete ignorance. 
During the four centuries following the Lateran Council spiritual writers strongly recommended the practice of frequent Communion even, on occasion, its daily reception. Franciscans and Dominicans preached incessantly to promote the frequentation of the sacraments. Nevertheless, the response which this evoked among the clergy, and consequently among the laity, was in general very slight. For the most part they succeeded in bringing the people to receive at least on the three major feasts of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. In order to understand this anomaly it is necessary to examine the ascetical principles that were currently in vogue, from the early thirteenth century to the Council of Trent. It is easy to trace these principles because they were substantially those of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, who dominated theological thought in the Middle Ages.
St. Thomas praises daily Communion, but only for those in whom frequency of reception increases the fervor of charity without decreasing reverence and respect. He proposes the question: Whether it is lawful to receive this Sacrament daily, and answers in the affirmative, quoting St. Augustine: This is our daily bread: take it daily, that it may profit you daily.  In practice, however, he believes that few people satisfy the necessary requirements:
Many persons are lacking in devotion, on account of the many drawbacks both spiritual and corporal from which they suffer. Therefore it is not expedient for all to approach this sacrament every day; but they should do so as often as they find themselves properly disposed. 
St. Thomas friend and contemporary, St. Bonaventure, likewise extols the practice of frequent Communion. Yet the conditions he lays down would make daily reception something of a rarity.
It was in this spirit that the author of the Imitation, writing in the early fifteenth century, described the ideal religious as one who so lives and keeps his conscience in such purity as to be prepared and well disposed to communicate every day; yet only provisionally, if it is permitted to him and he might pass without observation. 
Period of the Council of Trent
Not until the middle 1500s do we find what may properly be called a return of Eucharistic piety. Moreover, it is possible to identify the main source of this resurgence, and even the persons who brought it about. It was in Spain that the greatest impetus was given to promoting frequent reception of Holy Communion; in Spain, too, the first signs appeared of a theological defense of the devotional practice.
In view of the subsequent major role that his followers were to play in promoting the cultus of the Eucharist, St. Ignatius of Loyola should be regarded as the pioneer apostle of frequent Communion in modern times.  In 1540, a few weeks before the Institute of the Society of Jesus was formally approved by Paul III, Ignatius wrote to the citizens of his native town of Azpeitia, exhorting them to establish a confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament:
A great work presents itself, which our Lord has brought about with the help of a friar of St. Dominic, a great friend of ours, one whom we have known for many years. The purpose of this work is to honor and promote devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
I beg and beseech you by the love and reverence of God our Lord, to make every effort to honor, support and serve His only begotten Son, Christ our Lord, in so great a work as the Blessed Sacrament, in which His divine Majesty is present both in His divinity and His humanity, as entirely, as powerfully, and as infinitely as he is in heaven. This you can do by adopting constitutions in the confraternity that will oblige you to monthly confession and communion. 
St. Ignatius laments the sad state to which Christianity had come in its attitude towards the sacrament of the altar:
In the early Church members of both sexes received Communion daily as soon as they were old enough. But soon devotion began to cool, and Communion became weekly. Then after a considerable interval of time, as devotion became still more cool, Communion was received on only three of the principal feasts of the year . And finally, because of our weakness and indifference, we have ended with once a year. You would think we are Christian only in name, to see us so calmly accepting the condition to which the greater part of mankind has come. 
Three years later he wrote to a woman religious, expressing himself in favor of daily Communion, and briefly laying down the rules that should guide her in this matter:
As to daily Communion, we should recall that in the early Church everybody received daily, and that up to this time there has been no written ordinance of Holy Mother Church, nor objection by either positive or Scholastic theologians against anyone receiving daily Communion, should his devotion move him thereto.
Even if the indications are not so good, or the inclinations of the soul so wholesome, the witness on which we can rely is our own conscience. What I mean is this. It is lawful for you in the Lord, if, apart from evident mortal sins or what you judge can be such, you think that you should derives help and is inflamed with love for our Creator and Lord, and you receive with this intention, finding by experience that this spiritual food soothes, supports, settles, and preserves you for His greater service, praise and gloryyou may without doubt receive daily, in fact, it would be better for you to do so. 
Not long after the above letters were written, the Council of Trent passed a decree on the Holy Eucharist, urging all who bear the Christian name . mindful of the boundless love of our Lord Jesus Christ .that they may believe and venerate these sacred mysteries of His Body and Blood, with such constancy and firmness of faith, with piety and worship, that they may be able to receive frequently that super-substantial bread. 
This document placed in the hands of St. Ignatius the authority he needed to propagate frequent Communion among the faithful, not only in private correspondence but officially, on as wide a scale as the resources of his newly founded Institute permitted. Shortly after the Tridentine decree, he instructed Alphonsus Salmerón, a theologian at Trent, to compose a formal treatise in defense of frequent Confession and Communion, to answer those who opposed the practice as contrary to Christian tradition. This became the first in a series of apologies for frequent Communion that the Society of Jesus was to publish in the next 400 years. 
During the first half of the seventeenth century the Society of Jesus was not alone in promoting the cultus of the Eucharist through frequent reception. Following the lead of Salmerón, de Madrid, and Androzio, treatises of like mind were published by the Carthusian Antonio de Nolina (1607),  the Benedictine Pedro Marzilla (1611),  and the Franciscan Joseph de Santa Maria (1619).  Marzilla had been educated by the Jesuits, who taught him that every Christian should communicate as often as possible. Fired with this zeal, he composed his Memorial Compostelano, which the monks who are confessors of the monastery of San Martin de Santiago of the Order of St. Benedict presented to the most illustrious Prince Maximilian of Austria, Archbishop of Santiago. In his presentation the author declares that he undertook to write the book as an answer to certain unmentioned characters that have sought to poison the bishops mind.
Jansenist Opposition to Frequent Communion
Modern historians are agreed that Jansenism should be conceived as largely, if not essentially, an organized opposition to dogmatic and ascetical teaching of the Society of Jesus.  Personal motives may have played a part in this. Jansenius is said to have sought admission to the Order and to have been rejected; hence he joined the ranks of its enemies. What is beyond question is the aversion he felt for the sons of St. Ignatius. On the occasion of the Saints canonization in 1622, he scoffed and derided the Jesuit founder.
The co-founder of Jansenism was Antoine Arnauld, the protégé of Jansenius collaborator, du Vergier de Hauranne, more popularly known as the Abbot of St. Cyran. Where Jansenius was heavy and speculative, Arnauld had a consummate mastery of his native tongue and was eminently practical. But he was at one with the master in his rigorism, which he crystallized in his De la fréquente communion, first published in 1643, and destined to become, with Augustinus, the arsenal of Jansenist theology for subsequent generations.
De la fréquente communion is a stout volume of more than 700 pages in duodecimo, yet so engagingly written that the first edition was sold out in a couple of days. Within six months a fourth edition became necessary, and this was followed by many more. An eleventh edition was printed at Lyons before the middle of the eighteenth century. The most consequential feature of this popularity was the favorable reception that the book found among the clergy. From its first appearance it was presented to the world with splendid letters of commendation from fifteen bishops and twenty-one doctors of theology.
The history of the composition of De la fréquente communion is well known. A lady belonging to the upper circles of Parisian society, Princess Anne de Guémené was a penitent of St. Cyran, while the Marquise Madeleine de Sablé had taken a Jesuit for her spiritual guide. After some discussion with Princess Anne on the relative merits of their confessors, Mme. de Sablé persuaded her director, Fr. Sesmaisons, to set down on paper a summary of the benefits of frequent Communion. Sesmaisons obliged by supplying an excerpt from the work of the Carthusian Molina previously mentioned. St. Cyran was shown these notes, which he transmitted to Arnauld with the encouragement to write an extensive refutation.
In the first part of the book Arnauld discusses the teaching of the Fathers and in the third part of it the requisite preparation for Holy Communion. Between the two sections he inserts a lengthy dissertation on the penitential system of the early Church. His real aim, to check frequent Communion, is nowhere expressly stated by the author. On the contrary, where Sesmaisons stated that all the Fathers were in favor of frequent reception of the sacrament, he asks: Who does not join in this approval?  If only it were possible, he would encourage the faithful to communicate more than once a day.  Once he has taken this position, he can dispense with the patristic evidence that tells against his case, and concentrate on his main thesis. To this end he distorts what the Fathers have to say about the subjective dispositions of the communicant. What they consider as desirable he makes out to be necessary, which leads to the logical conclusion that with rare exceptions no one can ever presume to approach the Blessed Sacrament.
In the judgment of contemporary observers, Arnaulds book came to be looked upon as a fifth gospel and a revelation from heaven. To many people it was a welcome excuse for delaying the irksome duty of confession; in fact, abstention from the sacraments became invested with the halo of a higher perfection. St. Vincent de Paul reported that in one parish alone, St. Sulpice in Paris, the number of Communions decreased by hundreds shortly after the appearance of De la fréquente communion.  Even in the first period of Jansenism, people were so influenced by this book that they omitted their Easter duty and refused Viaticum because they were not sufficiently detached from creatures.  Jansenist priests were known never to say Mass; others considered it a matter of principle to reduce the reception of the sacraments to a minimum, so that Catholics were found who had not made their First Communion by the age of thirty. 
Arnaulds book was no sooner off the press than it provoked a spirited opposition, particularly among those against whom it was expressly written. The Jesuit Jacques Nouet, subsequently known as a popular ascetical writer, was the first to dare to attack Arnaud in a course of six sermons. He was promptly accused of having spoken disrespectfully of the hierarchy who had praised Arnauld. But the outstanding opponent of Arnauld, in action if not in writing, was St. Vincent de Paul. Arnauld figured prominently in Vincents correspondence during this period. Entire letters were given to the Jansenist controversy, in which the Saint deplores the harm done to souls by De la fréquente communion:
No longer do we see persons frequenting the sacraments, not even at Easter, in the way they formerly did. Several parish priests here in Paris are complaining that there are far fewer communicants now than in years past. Saint Sulpice has 3000 less; the parish priest of Saint Nicholas du-Chardonnet, after having visited his families in the parish after Easter, in person and by proxy, told us recently that he discovered 1500 of his parishioners who had not been to Holy Communion; and the same is true of others. Scarcely anyone, or, at any rate, very few, can now be seen in the churches going to Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the month and on feast days unless a few at the Jesuits. 
Vincent de Paul admitted it was not always easy to recognize the latent errors in Jansenism, since they are frequently interlarded with the otherwise orthodox statements of Catholic teaching. It is not surprising if M. Arnauld sometimes speaks like other Catholics; in that he is only imitating Calvin, who in thirty different places denies that he makes God the author of sin, although in other contexts he does his utmost to establish that detestable doctrine, attributed to him by all Catholics. All heretical innovators do the same. They sow contradictory statements through their books, so that, if found fault with on any point, they can escape by saying that they had said the contrary in other places.  The main theme at issue according to St. Vincent is whether the Church is to be regarded as falling into error in sanctioning what the Jansenists are pleased to call penitential laxity. The plain fact is that Throughout Europe the sacraments are administered in the manner condemned by M. Arnauld, and that the Pope and all the bishops approve of the custom. There is no question where the choice should lie, since it would be intolerable blindness to prefer to the universal practice of the whole Christian world, and in a matter of such consequence, the ideas of a young man who was, when he wrote this book, without any experience in the guidance of souls. 
In view of his powerful protection in ecclesiastical circles, the condemnation of Arnauld was indefinitely shelved, and not until almost fifty years later did the Holy See feel free formally to condemn the teaching of De la fréquente communion. Under date of December 7, 1690, Alexander VIII, through the Holy Office, proscribed a list of thirty-one Jansenist propositions, eight of which were directed against the book by Arnauld. Six of the eight propositions deal with penance and satisfaction antecedent to Communion, and two immediately with the reception of the Eucharist. We shall take up the Jansenist teaching on Confession later on.
Jansenist errors regarding Holy Communion condemned by the Church were:
For the Jansenists the condemnation of their moral theories was a severe blow. They tried to soften its effect first by representing the censure as ambiguous, and then by saying it was purely theoretical and aimed at theses that no one actually taught. Yet all thirty-one propositions could be traced to specific Jansenists, and the eight against Arnauld were almost verbatim from his book. Arnauld was still living when De la fréquente communion was condemned. His resentment against Alexander VIII vented itself in a bitter diatribe. The Pope, he wrote a friend, has disgraced the Holy See and provoked the execration of all thoughtful men by his scandalous restoration of nepotism. 
Other Jansenists were more explicit. Gerberon described the condemnation of 1690 as a shame for the Holy Office and a blot on the pontificate of Alexander VIII; and Quesnel did not hesitate to say, after the Popes death, that he had died an excommunicate.  This kind of language is familiar today.
The condemnation of Jansenist teaching on frequent Communion had very little effect on the practice of religious and the faithful. Jansenism had so poisoned the atmosphere that even the most zealous convents, for example, would not expect their members to receive more often than once a week. With infrequent Communion went infrequent Confession. Extreme cases were reported in Europe where some religious women were finally induced to make their First Communion as Viaticum on their deathbed.
St. Pius X
This brings us to the present century and St. Pius X. I consider his reversal of Jansenism after two hundred years of influence, and his restoration of frequent Communion, of great significance for the religious lifeon several scores.
By restoring daily Communion to community life, he gave young people access to the graces they absolutely need to fructify in religious vocations. And religious had access to corresponding graces to live out this life faithfully to the end. It is not coincidental that the greatest upsurge in the Churchs history of religious vocation and their perseverance in communities throughout the world came with the restoration of frequent Communion (and its correlative frequent Confession) since the time of Pius X.
It is necessary for our purpose to analyze in detail the doctrine of Pius X on frequent Communion as it pertains to religious. But one phase of his teaching must be seen because of its theological premises.
Underlying the practical norms set forth by the decree of Pius X is a fundamental dogmatic principle that involves the nature and purpose of the Eucharist as a sacrament of the New Law. During the sixteenth century the remedial function of Holy Communion was so exaggerated by the Reformers that the Council of Trent had to anathematize anyone who says that the principal fruit of the Most Holy Eucharist is the remission of sins, or that other effects do not result from it.  A century later and into modern times the Jansenists went to the opposite extreme. So far from regarding the Eucharist as remedial, they considered it only remunerative. The subtitle of Arnaulds book on frequent Communion was Sancta sanctis, meaning that no one but persons of high sanctity should receive the Eucharist, as a regard for their virtues.
St. Pius X followed the Churchs tradition in avoiding both extremes. Quoting the Council of Trent, he exposed the Protestant error by means of an important distinction. The Blessed Sacrament is indeed an antidote, but in two different senses. By means of it we may be freed from daily (venial) faults; but only preserved from mortal sins.  Against the Jansenist error, he recalled the teaching of the early Church, in the words of St. Augustine, that the primary purpose of the Eucharist is not that the honor and reverence due to our Lord be safeguarded, or that it may serve as a reward or recompense of virtue bestowed on the recipients. 
The Pope recognized, however, that a negative condemnation was not enough; what needed clarification was precisely what the Protestants had overemphasized and what the Jansenists had tried to obscure almost to denial, namely, that the Eucharist is an extension of the redemptive work of Christ. He therefore made it plain that in removing the obstacles to frequent Communion by all the faithful, he was acting in conformity with the essential purpose for which the Blessed Sacrament had been given to the world.
The desire of Jesus Christ and of the Church that all the faithful should daily approach the sacred banquet is directed chiefly to this end, that the faithful, being united to God by means of this sacrament, may thence derive strength to resist their sensual passions, to cleanse themselves from the stains of daily faults, and to avoid those graver sins to which human frailty is liable. 
When explaining this doctrine in the decree, St. Pius X expressed the hope that daily Communion would be the Churchs salvation, when religion and the Catholic faith are attacked on all sides, and the true love of God and genuine piety are so lacking in many quarters.  The experience of fifty years proved that this hope was not vain.
Since the time of St. Pius, therefore, frequent Communion has become a commonplace in religious communities. That phase of Jansenism has fortunately passed. But in recent years a new attitude has crept inwhat Pius XII called sacramentalism. It almost assumes that the Eucharist works automatically. Dispositions before Communion to purify the soul of sinful attachments and faults, frequent Confession as a means of better preparing oneself to receive the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual Communion during the day to increase ones desire for the Eucharistic Christ, thanksgiving after Communion to engage our Lord in prayerful conversationall of these are being minimized or eliminated altogether. And what is more serious, this sacramentalism is finding some learned defendants.
The answer to this tendency is the same as to Jansenism, the sure guidance of the Holy See. Every papal document on the subject in the past ten years, from the Vatican Constitution on the Liturgy to the Credo of Paul VI at the close of the Year of Faith (June 30, 1968) makes it plain that Communion, to be fruitful, must be frequent and fervent. The frequency, though established, should not be allowed to slacken. The fervor will need a great deal of attention.
Sacrifice of the Mass
In its decree on the adaptation and renewal of the religious life, the Second Vatican Council makes the liturgy, especially the Mass, pivotal in the promotion of community life.
At first sight this may seem strange. There are so many ways of fostering a community spirit. Why should the Mass be fundamental?
Again if we look at the matter superficially, we are not impressed. Liturgical participation is certainly good, and the marvelous changes in liturgical practice are all aimed to improve the Christ-life of every Catholic and therefore of every religious. The simplified rubrics and homily at Mass, the vernacular and the congregational chant, the use of new canons and the bidding prayers, the offertory procession and altar facing the people, the lay readers in the sanctuary and the rite of peace, congregational responses and optional lessons from the Bibleall of these are commendable and useful. Properly understood and put into practice they contribute substantially to our involvement in the Eucharistic sacrifice.
But that is not enough. As religious we have the privilegebecause we freely assumed the responsibilitynot merely to hear Mass or assist at it but to live it as only those who have undertaken to go beyond the call of duty in following Christ can understand.
What am I saying? If a religious lives the Mass the way he should, he will grow in that primordial selflessness which Christ forever sanctified by dying for our sins. The Mass will become for him what God intends it to be, a sign of a great love for Christ in His passion and death, and a way of saving souls by the only effective means yet devised (even by God-become-man), namely, the cross.
We can therefore read the history of the Mass in religious communities in two different ways, and they are not the same. One is the external facts that stand out prominently from the earliest dayssince Pachomiuswhen cenobitic religious life first began to flourish. The other is the internal fact that great religious leaders in all institutes have insisted are absolutely necessary as the complement to mere external forms.
On outside, what do we see? As far back as our records take us, we read that long ago, Benedictine monks and nuns, more than fervent Christians in the world, used to communicate very often and even daily. They could do this even when a priest was not always available because each individual could take the Eucharist with him to his home or cell. One of the oldest counsels on the subject was that of Abbot Apollonius, who advised the hermits he directed to partake of the mysteries of Christ every day. Otherwise the person who stays away from Communion may find himself far away from God. 
Moreover, as soon as religious life became communal, daily conventual Mass came into practice. Among other witnesses of this were S. Euthymius in the East and the foundation of Cluny in the West. As might be expected, the custom of daily Mass was at first not universal and suffered from the same down-drag of human nature that befell daily Communion. But that is exactly the point at issue. Where frequent Mass and Communion become common, religious life becomes strong; where it wanes the religious life declines.
In any case, today is not the Middle Ages. The Churchs explicit legislation today is plain. Unless legitimately prevented from doing so, all religious should assist at the Holy Sacrifice every day (Canon 595.2). Religious who fall into the habit of not attending daily Mass should be counseled and helped to reform. If they do not wish to, they should be quietly but firmly advised to leave the community. If they stay on they will cause great harm not only to themselves but also to many others, and not only to those in the community.
But there is a deeper inside dimension to daily participation in the Mass, where the word daily is misleading because here it means not just every day, but all day long.
It takes very little reflection to realize that whatever else the religious life isor should beit is living the life of the counsels. Concretely, this means that a religious goes beyond the call of duty in the following of Christ.
The precept of poverty, binding on everyone, forbids taking what belongs to someone else, or even greedily desiring what is his. It is expressed in the commandments, Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not covet they neighbors goods.
But the counsel of poverty begins where the precept ends. Assuming that I do not steal what belongs to another, the counsel bids that I deprive myself of what is (or can be) rightfully my own, in order to share my possessions with the others. I steal from myself, as it were, in order to enrich my neighbor.
Again the precept of charity, by which everyone is bound, requires that sexual pleasure and the joys of conjugal life be reserved for marriageand deliberately to seek these satisfactions before or outside of marriage is a sin. They are sacred because limited to the marriage bond, and indulgence outside these sacred precincts is a sin.
The counsel of chastity, however, begins where the precept ends. It means that I voluntarily forego the lawful pleasure of earthly marriage in order to be more like Christ, my virginal spouse.
The same with the law of obedience, to which everyone is bound because he lives in a variety of human societies. Living in any society, civil or domestic, secular or sacred (as in the Church) requires obedience to the authority in that society. The only alternative to this basic obedience is either chaos or going off to a desert and trying to survive in isolation.
Here, too, the counsel presumes my willingness to accept authority in the existing human societies, but it says more. It urges me to do the incredible thing of voluntarily submitting myself to another human being who, except for my decision, would have no authority over me. I freely give up my freedoms I could otherwise enjoy, and humbly sacrifice my legitimate autonomy, after the example and teaching of Jesus Christwho is the model and master of obedience that goes beyond the law in undertaking obligations that (except for this self-surrender) would have been complete options for me.
This is the folly of the cross, and it is folly by all the standards
of human psychology for adult men and women to enter the religious life and
actually (and sanely) want to do what the world is so desperately trying to
avoid. Where others are stealing and greeding, they want to give way. Where
others are lusting and adultering, they want to forego. Where others are pushing
their egos around and basking in the sunlight of the worlds praise, they want
to give it up and are willing to do anothers will, even to wearing the clothes
they are told to put on.
If this language sounds strange, it should. It is not American but evangelical, and it is nonsense to anyone who is not, like St. Paul, madly in love with Christ.
Now we come back to the Mass. A religious cannot just attend Mass. He (or she) must live it or else get out of religious life. The Mass is at once the sacrificial profession of a life of the counsels and the sacramental assurance of grace to live these counsels. What does it mean to live the Massdaily, constantly, and in the company of Jesus Christ?
As a Jesuit, I will be pardoned for using the insights of St. Ignatius to explain what all of this means. He goes to the heart of the matter by saying that; in essence, the practice of the counsels is the practice of the highest degree of humility. In his vocabulary it is the third of three levels of generosity with Godwhich a religious freely undertakes when he enters the religious life.
Three Modes of Humility
As conceived by St. Ignatius, humility is the proper disposition that a human will should assume in relation to the divine, and may reach one of three levels of union with the will of God, in ascending order of sublimity.
The first type of humility mean that quality of submission to the Divine Majesty which makes the will ready to sacrifice any created good, even life itself, rather than disobey a commandment of God binding under mortal sin. In terms of indifference, it requires habitual detachment at least from those creatures that may not be enjoyed without loss of sanctifying grace.
The second type of humility is essentially higher. It presupposes the first and goes beyond it with a readiness to sacrifice anything rather than offend God by venial sin. Like the first, it also requires detachment from creatures, and not only from those that are sinful, but to a certain extent also from such as may legitimately be used without sins. To practice the second mode, I should be no more inclined to have riches rather than poverty, to seek honor rather than dishonor, to desire a long life rather than a short life, provided in either alternative I would promote equally the service of God and the salvation of my soul. St. Ignatius doctrine here is in full accord with the teaching of ascetical theology, that our fallen human nature requires not a few practices which are not strictly obligatory, hence of counsel, if we are to avoid mortal sin, and a fortiori venial offenses against God.
Assuming the first and second modes of humility to be already attained, if the will remains not merely indifferent to poverty or riches, honor or dishonor, but positively desires and chooses by preference poverty and dishonor in imitation of Christ, this is the most perfect kind of humility. As explained by St. Ignatius and fundamental difference between the second and third mode lies in the attitude of will towards poverty and humiliations, with all their implications. If the will is ready to accept them, but equally ready to embrace the opposite, we have the second mode; if it is not only willing to accept but actually prefers poverty and humiliations, we have the third.
The author of the Exercises identifies the value of a retreat with a persons willingness to accept the evangelical counsels. For Ignatius the end point of a full retreat was to offer a person the option of embracing a life of the counsels. He instructs the director professedly to dispose the retreatant to desire the counsels rather than the precepts, if this be for the greater service of God. Consequently, Whoever has not reached the indifference of the second degree, which implies at least passive acceptance of certain counsels, should not be encouraged to make the election (which includes the prospect of entering the religious life) and will more profitably be given other exercises until he acquires this indifference. 
I think we have here a fine standard for determining the character a person should have in order to be admitted to a religious community.
In the light of faith, this character is not only a persons natural talent or ability, nor even the whole complex of what we might call his personality. It includes much more, namely the stock of graces that this person already has and may prudently be expected to receive.
Among these graces none should be more certainly present than the persons willingness to embrace a life of the third degree of humility. The vocabulary we use here is unimportant. What cannot be missed is the concept behind the words.
Some people have the grace to follow Christ in actual poverty and humiliation, witnessed by their willingness to do so, and others do not. In my opinion this is the epicenter of anything worth saying about personality development in the religious life. We have made mistakes in admitting people who showed great natural promise and then defected from their solemn commitment. We are now looking for norms on whom to accept, whom to promote to final profession and whom, perhaps, to release from the community.
Here is a norm that should help immensely. A person has a vocationwhich means sufficient grace and commitmentif he is honestly and sincerely willing to follow Christ in His own path of actual deprivation and humiliation. If he is not thus disposed, he may eventually be ready to practice what the religious life essentially demands. But if we accept him in a dubious state of attitude on what he should know the evangelical counsels require, we are playing with fire and, as so many communities are learning, may get very burnt.
Rationale of the Third Mode of Humility
The essence of the third mode of humility consists in preferring what is difficult, simply out of love for Christ, in order to be more like Him in poverty, humiliation and suffering. Unlike the first and second modes, the reasonableness of my attitude in the third degree is not so apparent, and except for the light of faith would be quite unintelligible.
Subjectively the motive for practicing the third degree is sheer love, expressed in the desire to be conformed to Christ, the Spouse of an ardent soul. No other reason is sought and none demanded. But objectively there is a deep reason why an earnest follower of Christ should wish to imitate Him in want and ignominy. It is the purpose of all pain and suffering, which is reparative and expiatory: reparation in restoring the honor which is owed to Gods offended majesty, and expiation in removing the stain of guilt and debt of punishment which the sinner has incurred.
If I am looking for a reason to prefer poverty to riches and contempt to honor, I have it in my love for Christ. Love is by nature assimilable; it desires to be like the one loved. If I ask further why Christ, for the joy set before Him chose the Cross, I find it in the mystery of Redemption. It was the will of His Heavenly Father that the world should be redeemed not only by the Incarnation, but also in the historical atmosphere of suffering and pain. In obedience to His Father, Christ chose to save the human race by enduring poverty, rejection, opposition and finally the disgrace of crucifixion although, absolutely speaking, the Redemption might have been accomplished by only a moments pain. That Christ preferred this method of saving the world shows His wisdom in proving how much He loves us and how much we mean to Him; it also invites us to follow His example and prove our love for Him in return.
But the imitation of Christ in His suffering implies more than a way of proving our love for Him. It releases an energy that promotes the salvation of the world. The fact is a matter of faith; the explanation must be sought in the doctrine of the Mystical Body. For although the earthly life of Christ and His death more than sufficiently atoned for the sins of mankind, nevertheless by a marvelous disposition of Divine Wisdom, we may complete those things that are wanting in the sufferings of Christ in our own flesh, for His body, which the Church. (Col. 1:24) This mystical identification of Christ with His members makes possible the application of His merits, gained by tribulation, to individual souls, beginning with our own and extending to all the human race, not only on earth but also in purgatory; and not only in the Church but also outside the Mystical Body.
Another feature of the imitation of Christ, however, belongs to the apostolate itself. If we examine the pages of the Gospel, where do we find Christ practicing poverty, suffering humiliations and enduring contempt even to the death of the cross? Is it not in the very work of saving souls? Every action of Christ on earth was intrinsically apostolic in carrying out the mission of His Father to redeem the world. In imitating Him, we shall find that a large source of suffering in our lives stems from the apostolate. And the more zealous we are, the greater share of trials we shall have. St. Ignatius is warrant for the statement that The greatest reward that the servant of God can receive for what he has done for his neighbor is scorn and contempt, the only reward that the world gave for the labors of its Divine Master.
St. Paul testifies to how much a person must be ready to endure if he will follow Christ in the apostolate: I have been constantly on the road. I have met dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my fellow-countrymen, dangers from foreigners, dangers in towns, dangers in the country, dangers at sea, dangers from false friends. I have toiled and drudged. I have gone without sleep; hungry and thirsty. I have often gone fasting; and I have suffered from cold and exposure. (II Corinthians ii: 26-27).
As we read these words, do we have the courage to ask, as religious, how much of this love of suffering is seen in our own apostolate?
Relevance to the Mass
We are still considering the Mass as something a religious should live and not merely attend. Living the Mass means practicing self-surrender, after the example of Christ who took on a human nature to teach us how to offer sacrifice, even to death on the cross.
But we are also keeping in mind personality development in the religious life. By now we know that a true development of personality for a Christian is to grow more and more in the likeness of Christ. This likeness is that of a man who, having joy set before Him, preferred poverty and humiliation to wealth and honor, celibacy to the pleasures of marriage, and obedience to the privilege of doing His own will.
This is not only good theory, it also works. Once a religious sees his own incompleteness of person, that he (or she) needs another to fulfill his own potential, and discovers that for a religious this other can only be Christ, everything good enters his life. He begins to feel wanted and cherished, acquires a sense of his own importance, seldom descends to self-pity and avoids discouragement like the plague. Sufferings that to others look like mountains become the proverbial molehills, and even the prospect of dying for Christ takes on real meaning.
As a bonus to all of this a religious will be happy. True interior joy is not only compatible with sacrifice but is impossibleeven in this lifewithout it. The trouble is not enough people trust God sufficiently to test this.
Chapter 6: The Eucharist
Copyright © 1999 by Inter Mirifica
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