|THE REAL PRESENCE||CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST|
The Blessed Eucharist is the culminating point of the wondrous works of God. It is also the food which nourishes the Christian life and the spring which refreshes our souls. Above all, it is the raison dêtre of the Catholic priesthood, which owes its origin to it and is centered around this August Sacrament.
In fact, the priestly vocation unfolds itself, blossoms and ripens under the secret yet most powerful influence of the Blessed Eucharist. The sacerdotal ministry all turns round this mystery of love. In it, as in a most pure and inexhaustible source, the minister of New Law finds all those spiritual helps, all those heavenly consolations of which he stands in need in the exalted state he holds in the Church and in the world.
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Hence, the priest of the New Law, conscious of his high dignity and mindful both of the origin and aim of this dignity, is anxious that his own life should be a sincere and constant homage to our most loving Saviour living under the sacramental species. He desires that all his actions may bear a Eucharistic impress and that his person may be, as it were, a living monstrance at whose sight the faithful may recognize the origin of the sacerdotal character, that is, the divine Eucharist.
It is easier to imagine than to describe the sentiments which fill a young levite's heart on the auspicious day of his ordination, when he realizes the tremendous power with which he has been invested, that of consecrating and offering the holy Eucharistic Sacrifice to God. In those thrilling moments he can do nothing better than propose in his heart to make this the center of his whole life. No more noble ambition can his generous heart suggest to him, than that he should ever be a priest burning with love toward Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, a priest with a Eucharistic heart.
Now, how will the Catholic priest put into action such a noble and lofty ideal?
This is what we intend examining in the following chapters. We shall point out briefly the principal means by which he may cultivate, in his soul, a Eucharistic life in all its most luxuriant manifestations.
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These means are three. The first consists in making a serious and orderly study of this mystery of love. A priest who, especially during the first years after his ordination, would acquire a deep and exact knowledge of this Sacrament, would find in it a living source of pious reflections and holy thoughts, which would also enable him to efficaciously instruct the people committed to his care.
The second means consists in attending to the celebration of holy Mass with all that dignity and devotion which are required for the performing of so holy and sublime an action, the Mass being the consecrating and offering to God of the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the perpetual Victim of propitiation for our sins. By thus habitually celebrating this august mystery with a lively faith and tender affection, the priest will maintain himself in the fervor of his ordination and will ever be equal to his high dignity.
Finally, a priest, wishing to make the Eucharist as it were the soul of his life, will endeavor to center all his thoughts and affections round the divine Guest of our tabernacles, thus constantly living in close spiritual intercourse with his Eucharistic Lord.
In this manner will the life of the priest be a Eucharistic life, a source of consolation and graces for himself and edification for the Christian people.
Taught by Christ the Church maintaineth
That the bread its substance changeth
Into Flesh, the wine to Blood. (1)
In the first part of this book we have shown how a Catholic priest, being ordained essentially in view of the Blessed Eucharist, has a strict duty to foster in himself a Eucharistic life, making this August Sacrament the center of all his actions, thoughts and affections.
But, in order that this devotion may raise him to a degree of greater perfection, assist him in his ministry and help him in the difficulties of life, it is necessary, above all, that he should acquire a serious and profound knowledge of this great mystery of our Faith. Such a knowledge, while illumining and persuading the intellect, will produce in his soul an intimate conviction which will form, as it were, part of his nature. It will give his faith that firmness and quickness which will dispel every shadow of doubt and remove every hesitation. It will cause his soul to burst out spontaneously in interior as well as exterior acts of love and devotion to Jesus Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament.
It is well to remember that the measure of our fervor in the Eucharistic worship will be in proportion to that faith, "without the which goods suffice not." (2) In fact, faith though a gratuitous gift of God, needs to be nourished, illumined and strengthened through a serious and profound study of sacred doctrine, in order that it may bring forth fruits worthy of eternal life.
Now in two ways may our faith be illumined and increased: first, by a direct operation of the Holy Ghost, that is, by means of that science which is called infused. Secondly, by a serious and assiduous study of sacred theology.
The first way in which our faith is illumined and quickened is miraculous and consequently extraordinary. Hence, it is not granted by God except rarely and only to persons of great sanctity and who otherwise have little or no capacity or opportunity for deep study.
Thus we see that God illumined, by direct revelation, some simple souls, giving them a vivid and deeply theological intuition of some of the mysteries of our holy religion. In this manner St. Catherine of Siena was clearly instructed by God as to what pertains to the Pope's power and dignity; St. Catherine of Genoa, on the consoling dogma of Purgatory; St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi on the Most Blessed Trinity. Other Saints have in course of time received special lights on one or other of the truths of the holy Catholic Faith.
With regard to the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist, it is consoling to note the wonderful way in which it has pleased God to illumine some of his servants on the dignity and excellence of this Most August Sacrament.
Among others, the Franciscan, St. Paschal Baylon, deserves special mention. He was born at Torre Hermosa, a small village of Aragon, in 1540. From his youth he was taught directly by the Holy Ghost on the things pertaining to faith. While tending his flocks, he was wont to converse familiarly with God with such delight to his soul, that the vehemence of divine love would often transport him in ecstasy accompanied with ineffable sweetness.
Having entered the Order of Friars Minor, he deserved to receive from the Holy Ghost even greater and more explicit revelations on the mysteries of faith, and particularly on the sacrament of the Eucharist. He could discern, as it were, instinctively, a consecrated host from an ordinary wafer. Once as he was in a field and had a great longing for his Eucharistic Lord, the wall of the church was seen to part, allowing him to see and adore Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. It is not to be wondered at if Paschal, illumined by that theological infused knowledge, was able publicly to defend this consoling truth against the objections of unbelievers. For this cause, he met with many and grievous dangers on the part of heretics who even sought to kill him. But that same Saviour who had so lovingly taught and so powerfully helped his faithful servant, would not allow him to fall into the hands of his enemies.
At the death of St. Paschal Baylon, which happened May 17, 1592, at Villareal, near Valenza, a new and string miracle went to testify and crown the devotion of this great Saint to the Blessed Eucharist. As his body was lying exposed on the bier in the church, it twice opened its eyes at the elevation of the Sacred Host.
In consideration of this extraordinary infused Eucharistic knowledge and his great devotion to the august Sacrament of the Altar, the Sovereign Pontiff Leo XIII declared and appointed him heavenly patron of Eucharistic Congresses and of Eucharistic societies already founded or to be founded in the future (3).
This supernatural knowledge regarding the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist was at times granted by God to persons of even more humble condition, as was the case with a lowly recluse nun, known as St. Juliana of Mount Cornillon from the place of her birth, which is in the diocese of Liege, in Belgium. To her initiative are due the first steps toward the institution of the beautiful feast of Corpus Christi.
She was born in 1192, and from early childhood fostered a most tender devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. After she had reached the age of sixteen, every time she went to pray she had an enigmatical vision. She constantly saw a full moon to which, however, a small portion was wanting.
Fearing lest she might be deceived by the enemy of mankind, she offered special prayers to God asking Him to illumine her as to the meaning of that vision. Answer was given her that the moon signified the Church, and the empty portion meant that there was still wanting, in the ecclesiastical calendar, a special feast whose object should be to honor the most holy Sacrament of the Altar. Furthermore, she was given to understand that she herself would be entrusted with the mission of promoting this festival for the greater good of the Church.
Such an unexpected message could not but frighten the humble virgin. For a long time she did not know what course to follow. At last, after more than thirty years of prayer, she manifested her visions to a canon of Liège, named John of Lausanne, and asked him to consult the more learned theologians of the time on the matter. Providence had disposed that one of these theologians should be the Archbishop of Liège, James Pantaléon, who later was to ascend the chair of St. Peter under the name of Urban IV.
The unanimous answer given by the theologians was for the approval of a feast to be instituted in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Encouraged by this favorable verdict, Juliana asked a Religious of spotless life and great piety, named John, to compose an office for this purpose.
As is often the case in similar occurrences, some persons were found who vehemently opposed Juliana's design, styling her revelations the dreams of an exalted imagination and declaring that the commemoration of the Blessed Eucharist, which is made daily at Mass, is sufficient for the purpose.
The Bishop of Liège did not allow himself to be moved by these remarks. He ordered the feast of the Blessed Sacrament to be celebrated on the Thursday after the octave-day of the Most Holy Trinity. Cardinal Hugh of St. Cher, Dominican, then Legate in Germany, who as theologian had approved of the institution of a feast in honor of this August Sacrament, ordered that the new solemnity should be kept in all the countries depending on his legation.
Meanwhile St. Juliana died in 1258 without having had the consolation of seeing the much desired festival extended to the universal Church. But a bosom friend of hers, named Eva, who was likewise a recluse in Liège and had also known Pope Urban IV, entreated some influential persons to write to the Pontiff, asking him to make obligatory for the whole Church the celebration of that festival. The Vicar of Christ adhered to the proposal and committed to St. Thomas Aquinas the care of composing the Office of the Blessed Sacrament.
For the wording of such a liturgical Office, great exactness of doctrine, coupled with sentiments of tender affection, was necessary, and Thomas was indeed the man chosen by Providence for this purpose, uniting, as he did, a deep knowledge of theology to a great purity of life, for which he has been named the "Angelic Doctor."
Obedient to the wish of the Pope, Thomas composed that most beautiful Office of the Blessed Sacrament, which is still recited nowadays in the Church, and which is, as it were, an abridgment of his treatise de Sanctissimo Eucharistiae Sacramento. This poem of love was as the dawn of a new epoch for a greater display of Eucharistic literature. Until that time, writings on the Blessed Sacrament had been but pale and scanty, consisting of disconnected tracts, dictated by circumstances rather than inspired by a fixed purpose of treating it in a scientific method and giving it the place of honor among sacramental treatises.
But, the moment St. Thomas set his harp to singing the love shown to mankind by our Eucharistic Lord, he raised the poetry of this Sacrament of Love to such sublime heights, that no writer, after him, could find more thrilling and harmonious notes to exalt the love of Our Saviour for us. The Eucharistic hymns composed by St. Thomas, though independent of the rules of quantity and meter, have such a sweet, harmonious and penetrating intonation of admiration, thanksgiving and praise, that the soul is enraptured and transported to that ethereal region which breathes naught but light and love.
Now, if we should wish to know whence St Thomas, when speaking of the Blessed Sacrament, drew the secret of his inspiration, we should remember that he did not write these hymns except after having composed at least in his mind his admirable theological tract on the Blessed Eucharist to which we just now referred. In this work the Angelic Doctor unfolds and explains in the light of the most sublime metaphysics, the mysterious way in which bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ. With these explanations, no less objective and true than they are sublime, the faithful soul has the sweet illusion of finding itself in the presence of a visible and palpable truth rather than facing a hidden mystery.
It would be unfair to speak of St Thomas with reference to the singing of the Blessed Eucharist and to say nothing of St. Bonaventure, so great is the affinity of thought and affection of these two Doctors in the exposition of Catholic Dogma in general and particularly in the effective explanations of this great mystery.
Though the Seraphic Doctor, in the course of his theological discussions, follows at times a method which is at variance with that adopted by St. Thomas, yet, when it is a question of giving vent to the promptings of faith and the affections of the heart, he in no wise remains inferior to him, as may be seen from his Eucharistic prayers, which breathe profound admiration and unbounded love for this august mystery.
A pious legend has it that Pope Urban IV wished Bonaventure to be associated with Aquinas in the composing of the Office of the Blessed Sacrament, but that, on hearing his Dominican brother recite his composition, the Franciscan Doctor tore up his manuscript at the very feet of the Pontiff, deeming his work unworthy to be rehearsed after St. Thomas had read his own.
Whether this be true or not, the fact is, that the writings of the Franciscan Doctor, not only furnished an abundant and limpid source of fresh devotion to souls enamoured of this Sacrament, but also greatly contributed in course of time to rouse in the Church a more luxurious development of Eucharistic literature.
From the fact that both St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure, the heralds of the Eucharistic mystery, found in their theological speculations the inspiration to their writings in honor of the Sacrament of the Altar, the Catholic priest may draw the following practical lesson. If he wishes his faith in this august mystery to be lively, strong and illuminated, and his preaching to move the hearts of the faithful, he must see that both the one and the other be based upon a serious and profound study of Catholic theology.
We have said that God at times illumines, through direct inspiration, some privileged souls regarding the things of faith without it being necessary for them to dive deeply into theological treatises.
But this is not the way ordinarily followed by Divine Providence. Generally speaking, a genuine and profound knowledge of Catholic theology can be had only from a serious study of the pure and authentic fountains of revealed truth, which are Holy Scripture and the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.
If, then, a priest wishes to acquire a perfect knowledge concerning the Blessed Eucharist, he should endeavor to acquaint himself with the scholastic doctrine concerning this Sacrament. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that this teaching should be imparted with all diligence to clerics in seminaries, in conformity with the oft-repeated prescriptions of the Holy See. It will only be by following closely the principles laid down by St. Thomas Aquinas, that a minister of the New Dispensation will be able to acquire a complete and sure knowledge of this Most August Sacrament.
To a serious, profound and continued study of Thomistic theology, a priest desirous of living a Eucharistic life will unite the daily reading of some good work on the Blessed Eucharist. It is most profitable for the soul to read of the marvelous effects which this Sacrament produces in him who receives it with a lively faith and ardent charity, of the miracles which God was pleased to work in the course of ages in proof of the Real Presence, and of the examples of saints who distinguished themselves by a special devotion to this August Sacrament.
Anyone reflecting how the bent of our affections usually follows the habitual object of our thoughts will easily understand how useful such spiritual readings are to the soul.
The world nowadays is overflooded with books, periodicals and papers which, if not directly immoral or atheistic, are tinged with levity and worldliness, apt indeed to amuse the imagination with vain and dangerous descriptions, but which end in diverting the heart from the only object worthy of our love, Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.
If, on the other hand, a priest wishes to keep his mind habitually engaged with thoughts of the Blessed Eucharist, he easily acquires a certain mental disposition which leads him to direct his affections and aspirations to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament without fatigue and, as it were, spontaneously and with great delight. Neither is it necessary, for this purpose, to be actually in a church; for that habitual thought, the offspring of frequent Eucharistic reading, follows us as a faithful companion, wherever we are.
Those priests do well, therefore, who, possessing a good stock of theological knowledge coupled with the gift of the pen, set themselves to compose books, pamphlets or periodicals in order to make known the love of Jesus Christ for us as manifested in the Most Holy Eucharist. In the meantime, a Eucharistic priest will not omit to enrich his library with works treating of this great Sacrament which is the center of our faith and the pledge of God's love for us.
Mention may be made here, of the vast amount of publications brought out of late to the glory and praise of the Most Blessed Eucharist. Never, in the past ages, had Eucharistic literature taken such a development as in our own days. It seems, on the one hand, that the human heart has at last awakened to the realization of the love of Our Lord for us and that it feels the need of expressing outwardly and communicating to others its sentiments of admiration, thanksgiving and affection. On the other hand, it would appear as if our most merciful God, who always opposes proportionate remedies to great evils, would choose to succor mankind so waylaid and ensnared by the demon of materialism and faithlessness, by a greater display of Catholic writings setting forth His infinite love for us as embodied in the Blessed Sacrament.
It would not be easy, neither would it be in accord with our purpose here, to put forth a catalogue of all the recent Eucharistic publications. We cannot, however, omit mentioning a work which, among others, greatly contributed of late to augment, especially among Religious, the devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist; we mean the book on the Blessed Sacrament by Father Frederick Faber, the Founder of the London Oratory.
This celebrated convert, who was Catholic in heart even long before he abjured Protestantism, had realized that the coldness of the Anglican ritual was due to a want of faith in the Sacrament of the love of Jesus Christ. Hence, on becoming a Catholic, he would not keep within himself the flame of devotion which burned in his heart, but he set himself to writing a volume which was the first of long meditations at the foot of the tabernacle, a tribute of homage to the most sweet King of our hearts hidden under the sacramental veils.
It is difficult to say how much this work contributed to promote, not only in England, but in Catholic countries also, devotion toward the most holy Sacrament of the Altar. This work, due to the pen of an author once non-Catholic, was as a spark which determined, even among the faithful born in the Catholic religion, that notable increase of devotion which gladdened Holy Church of late.
Those who are wont to sit at a well-served table and who have never known the pangs of hunger or the straits of want do not always appreciate their good fortune as they should. But those who have long suffered privation receive with greater eagerness the restoring food and show a more ready and ample gratitude to their benefactors. It was providential that Father Faber should have himself experienced outside the true Church, the want of the warmth which emanates from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in order to make Christians born in the bosom of Catholicity, fully realize the great heavenly boon which is the Most Blessed Eucharist.
The work of Father Faber was a spur to other converts from Protestantism in England to write valuable works on the same subject. These works, coming as they did after the Oxford Movement, proved efficacious in determining the return of many Anglicans to the Catholic Church.
About the same time, a similar movement of devotion to the most holy Sacrament of the Altar was originated by the apostolate of Blessed Peter Eymard and the Congregation founded by him. By their continued adoration, writings and example, these heralds of the Blessed Sacrament roused in many souls a vivid sense of love and of thanksgiving to Our Lord for deigning to abide continually with us under the species of bread and wine.
These Eucharistic publications, whether in book or pamphlet form, may provide the priest with good substantial food to nourish his devotion toward the Blessed Sacrament and prevent him from waxing tepid in the service of his Eucharistic Lord.
As we have mentioned Eucharistic publications, we deem it opportune to observe here how important it is that this sort of writing should always bear the hallmark of theological exactness if they are to produce in the reader wholesome and lasting fruits of sterling sanctity. This observation is so much the more to be borne in mind as we too often meet with books or pamphlets dictated indeed by a spirit of piety, but in which soundness of doctrine is lacking.
It happens at times that persons, moved by a praiseworthy desire to exalt the Blessed Eucharist and promote its cultus, but who have not gone through a serious theological training, presume to write on this Sacrament without knowing exactly in what the essence of it consists and what fruits it produces in the soul. The consequence must be that, in such writings as these, a certain display of sentimentalism must take the place of solid principles. Imagination is allowed to have its full play and the author seems to have reached his goal when he has succeeded in rousing in the readers' minds some pious emotion. In very truth, such shallow elucubrations are apt to foster a kind of conventional and effeminate piety rather than give rise to an illumined and robust devotion.
It may not be out of place to rehearse some of the more common inexact statements which are occasionally to be met with in some books of devotion. It is well that such inaccuracies should be brought home to the priest, in order that he may carefully avoid the same in the course of his preaching.
It is sometimes said that the flesh of Jesus Christ, in the Holy Communion, becomes our very flesh and His blood our blood, as if the body and blood of Christ were a passible and material food and the eating of this Sacrament resulted in a bodily and not a spiritual assimilation of Our Lord in ourselves.
Speaking of the way in which Jesus Christ is present in this Sacrament, some writers describe Him as more motionless than a sick man nailed to his bed of sorrow; adding that He is imprisoned in our tabernacles just as prisoners are in their cells, which would mean that our Lord is not identically the same as He is in heaven, where He reigns and triumphs in the full liberty of His movements.
Others go further and assert that Jesus suffers, in this Sacrament of His Love, unheard-of sorrows at the hand of unbelievers, not minding that He is now impassible and therefore cannot suffer either morally or physically and that the insults to which He submits through His love of us are not felt by Him now, but were felt by anticipation in His dolorous passion.
At times we hear it said that Jesus Christ, in the act of coming under the sacramental species, obeys, against what He Himself deprecated (4), not only two, but thousands and thousands of masters, that is, as many as there are priests who consecrate His body on the altar, as if the minister were the principal efficient cause of transubstantiation and not, as is the case, an instrumental cause only. Again, some writers, speaking of the manner in which this Most Holy Sacrament is consecrated, often forget the authoritative teaching of the Holy Council of Trent, that this mystery takes place through a wonderful change of the whole substance of bread into the body and of the whole substance of wine into the blood of Our Lord. (5) These writers instead will assert that the bread and wine are annihilated in order to give place to the person of Jesus Christ. Hence, they infer, as a practical lesson of asceticism, that we should annihilate ourselves if we wish to receive the fruit of this Sacrament with greater abundance. The lesson is good, but out of place.
Others go further, and, in their desire to exalt, in connection with the Blessed Eucharist, the great Mother of Jesus to whom we are indebted for such a great benefit (6), boldly affirm that, under the sacramental species we possess not only the body and blood of Christ, but even a living relic of our blessed Lady, inasmuch as the virginal body of Jesus was formed from her most pure blood. Now, such writers are greatly mistaken, for they should remember that the substance furnished by the Mother of God for the formation of Christ's body, ceased to pertain to her the moment a rational soul was infused into it which determined in the same a substantial or radical change.
Some pious authors, again, venture to say that the real or bodily presence of Jesus Christ in him who has received Him in communion continues even when the sacramental species have been consumed, not adverting to the fact that this would be a miracle, which would remain altogether unwarranted. Or else they affirm that, after the species have been consumed, Jesus still abides with us through His divinity, in a way different from that in which He is in us by sanctifying grace, as if there were in this life a communication of God to the soul different from that which we enjoy on the one hand through grace, and on the other through the Sacrament.
Further, we read, even in renowned authors, that the sacred Eucharistic species which our blessed Lady is supposed to have received in communion immediately before her death, remained incorrupted in her breast and that she was thus bodily taken into heaven, where consequently these same species will abide for all eternity for the consolation of the saints. Evidently those who advance such supposition forget that as the sacraments were instituted by God for men who are wayfarers, they will therefore cease to exist at the end of the world. Christ, then, will be all in all by His divinity, while His sacred humanity, no longer hidden under the sacramental veils, will form the delight of the saints for all eternity.
As regards the effects proper to the Blessed Eucharist, we observe that some writers not infrequently fall into dangerous exaggerations. Some say that, by receiving this Sacrament, temptations coming from the devil are kept at a distance or that the soul experiences such consolations as to make one forget the pains and sorrows of life.
In very truth, such statements are inexact. The Blessed Eucharist gives indeed strength to resist temptations, but it does not suppress them, whether they come from the devil, the world or the flesh. Nay, it happens at times that the devil, who is always invidious of man's spiritual welfare, redoubles his efforts, God so allowing, during or after communion, in order to make the devout Christian who has had the honor of welcoming Jesus in his heart, fall into grievous sin.
As regards the consolations which the Eucharist causes in us, these indeed are very precious gifts of God, but they are of a spiritual character. While Jesus infuses into the soul a heavenly comfort which strengthens man and sustains him in the warfare and in the grievous afflictions of life, he does not, so to say, habitually prevent, by his presence, the poor human heart from acutely feeling the sharp thorns of sorrow.
These observations may serve as a timely warning to pious Christians who might feel inclined to grow lax in their devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, simply because the receiving of this Sacrament does not free them from painful temptations or because they do not experience those temporal consolations which they might have expected.
Neither is it a lesser mistake to believe that the Blessed Eucharist acts directly not only on our souls, but on bodies as well, as if it laid therein a germ of physical health or of immortality, wherefore, they say, the resurrection of the body will take place in virtue of that health-giving Sacrament.
This certainly is also a great mistake. The Blessed Eucharist acts directly on the soul only; but through its means, it may act on the body too, inasmuch as the soul, through the efficacy of divine grace, obtains a mastery over the passions and thus ennobles and lifts up the body. As regards the resurrection of the flesh, this will take place, not in virtue of the Blessed Eucharist, but in virtue of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is its proper efficient cause, as theology teaches.
What shall we say of the strange teaching of some modern theologian, according to which the Eucharistic food, administered in an ineffable manner to the faithful soul immediately after death, takes, with regard to the soul itself, the place of the body, thus enabling the departed soul to display that intellectual life which, according to them, the hand of death had broken? Surely, this is going back to the fallacies of Metempsychosis, with the aggravating circumstance that such a system would tend to introduce, in that new body, which in this hypothesis would be the Eucharistic body of Christ, a twofold soul, that of the departed and that of Christ Himself.
We must stop here, in our rehearsal of the inexact, extravagant and even absurd opinions which are circulated here and there in books of devotion about the august Sacrament of the Altar. They are false gems and ornaments of bad taste which ought never to be allowed to encircle that glorious Eucharistic Monstrance which shelters the immaculate Host from which nothing but most pure and unalloyed truth irradiates.
We are here in the presence of a strange and inexplicable phenomenon. Anyone wishing to write on mathematics, astronomy, physics or history will never dare set himself to write without a serious preparation and a conscientious study of the matters he is to handle. But, when it is a question of the most august among the mysteries of religion, anyone may deem himself capable of writing, irrespective of theological knowledge. It should be borne in mind that as every devotion which is not founded upon truth fails to produce solid fruits of sanctification, so the exaggerations and improprieties we now reprove, detract from the worship due to the Most Blessed Eucharist, fostering a sentimental rather than a virile and dignified devotion, thus exposing to derision that which is most dear to a Christian heart.
God has no need of our fallacies, neither is the cause of religion served by unwarranted exaggerations. The truths of our holy Faith, once known, are sufficient to rouse most pure and noble sentiments in the heart.
The same remark applies to that twisted and farfetched style by which some nowadays seek to impress the reader. In very truth, nothing has greater efficacy in leading souls to piety than that golden simplicity of which the holy Fathers and the Church, in her liturgy, give us striking example. That simplicity is akin to sublimity.
We can never deprecate too strongly the light, romantic and inexact manner with which writers presume to speak and write about the Eucharistic Sacrament. They are ever hunting for new fantastically drawn considerations couched in sensational phraseology. Where theology is scarce, rhetoric is called to play the principal part. Even as the former draws its information from the conclusions of Scripture and the teaching of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, so the latter works with the imaginationan unbridled imagination.
In truth, such unauthorized writings or sayings are calculated to make but little or no impression upon the thoughtful reader or hearer, who shrinks from giving the adhesion of his mind and heart to what he easily recognizes as the product of self-seeking and pretentious masters, rather than the traditional and authoritative teachings of the Church.
A priest desirous of speaking or writing on the Blessed Eucharist in a worthy manner, will be careful to draw his information from the pure and wholesome sources of Catholic philosophy and theology and from the traditional teaching of the Church. In this manner only will he promote among the faithful a solid, genuine and constant devotion which will equally resist the negations of incredulity and the wavering. of human sentimentality.
A priest anxious to establish upon a solid basis his devotion to the Blessed Eucharist will seek to master, to the best of his power, the teaching of Thomistic theology on this Sacrament. He will choose, among authors, those best credited with exactness of exposition and the accompaniment of earnest yet sober unction. He will not shun, as if too arduous and subtle, or at least he will not despise, those metaphysical considerations on which the explanation intimately connected of this august mystery rests. The fruit which he will reap thereby will amply repay his fatigues.
This fruit will be threefold. First, he will acquire a greater personal conviction of the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar, a conviction which will animate and permeate all the acts of his ministry, lending to each one that touch of dignity which befits such exalted ceremonies.
Second, his devotion, being thus founded more on reason than on sentiment, will not fail him in moments of dryness and desolation of spirit, such as are met with even in the lives of the best priests.
Third, his spiritual direction will be more robust and vigorous and his preaching, without ceasing to be adapted to the little ones, will draw the attention of the more serious thinkers. He also will always have ready at hand solid reasons to triumphantly answer the objections proposed by unbelievers against the truths of our holy Faith and in particular against this great Sacrament.
A priest truly devout toward the Blessed Sacrament will endeavor to perfect himself in the study of Eucharistic theology in order to preach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth concerning this great mystery of our Faith. Likewise, considering that Jesus Christ is essential Truth, he will not spare fatigue to acquaint himself thoroughly with the dogmas of religion, being careful to bring his teaching in perfect harmony with the tenets of the Catholic creed.
The great Italian poet Dante (7) bitterly bewailed the fact that, in his days, not a few preachers, instead of announcing that celestial truth which cost so much blood and which so lifts us up, went about preaching. vain discourses, intent only on reaping popular applause and filling their pockets:
The sheep, meanwhile, poor witless ones, return
From pasture, fed with wind: and what avails
For their excuse, they do not see their harm?
It would be too much to expect that the evil, pointed at by Dante as characteristic of his time, may not yet exist also in our days. A young man with a good memory and ready tongue but wanting in theological science and sound discernment, may easily put together and expeditely recite pieces borrowed here and there and sewn together without much logical connection. An artificial delivery and a novelty of presentation will supplement, it is thought, the lack of solid theology, and will strike the multitudes. Thus the profane is substituted for the sacred.
A greater evil would be to omit weighing the sources whence such quotations are drawn, or wrongly citing the Scriptures and the Fathers, or, again, bringing forth unwarranted examples in proof of what is advanced.
Not many years ago the writer of these pages was present at a sermon preached by a good, holy priest who was endeavoring to show the evil of venial sin.
With a great apparatus of artificial circumstances he brought in the example of Eve who, he said, vainly stopped to contemplate and also to touch the forbidden fruit in the earthly paradise. She brought as an excuse that God had not forbidden her and Adam to draw near that tree, admire its beauty and touch it, but only to taste of its fruit. These acts of Eve, said the preacher, were as many venial sins preparing for the mortal fault which soon followed, and St. Gregory the Great was brought in as an authority for this explanation. But neither St. Gregory nor any of the Fathers ever said anything of the kind, and that theatrical apparatus was nothing more than the product of a vivid imagination! The teaching of theology and of the Fathers is, as St. Thomas points out, that the first sin of our first parents could not be venial, but must have been mortal.
A priest who deeply loves the Blessed Eucharist, the Sacrament of faith and truth, will never allow himself to bring forth, in private or in the pulpit, considerations or facts which are not quite proven, even though they might be thought to make an impression on the people. Surely, the treasures of Catholic teaching are great enough to make it unnecessary for us to have recourse to false coin.
The words of an able writer may be quoted here: (8) "The Word by becoming flesh and dwelling among us has won crown rights over every mood of expressing truth, enforcing goodness, revealing beauty."
A priest, deeply convinced of the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and appreciating the great treasure of love and truth therein contained, will easily guard himself against the errors of modernism solemnly condemned by Pius X in the Encyclical Pascendi and other documents.
Everyone knows with what great care this holy Pontiff watched over the deposit of faith and how he unmasked the cunning arts with which some persons were spreading grievous errors in matters of faith and morals. The memory is still fresh of the energy with which he combated this new form of heresy which was threatening to ruin the Catholic dogma and how he succeeded in taking hold of the infernal hydra of error and lies which went about infecting the world.
It is worth while noting here, in connection with this fact, how that same Pontiff who so efficaciously combated modernism is the one who also promoted, more than any other Pope, devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, in such a way as to be commonly called the Pope of the Eucharist. And this is a fresh proof that love and veneration for this August Sacrament go hand in hand with aversion to the errors of modernism.
It would be a mistake to think that this sort of heresy has entirely disappeared from the face of the world. Modernism means new teaching, that is, a teaching not in conformity with that handed over to us by the apostles and preserved in the Catholic Church. It is therefore synonymous with heresy, and we know that heresy will never cease to molest the Spouse of Christ till the end of time, as Our Lord Himself foretold (9) : "It must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh."
However, the heresy of our time, which we are agreed to call modernism, has a special characteristic, that is, duplicity. It wishes to appear other than it is. It ruins faith while pretending to illumine and defend it.
The modernist, like Berengarius of old, readily retracts his errors but falls into them with equal facility. He multiplies, as much as may be desired, professions of faith from which he dissents in his heart. If he quote a Catholic author, he disfigures his meaning, choosing detached propositions and running them together so as to give them a sense different from that which they have. He mutilates texts or gives wrong translations of the same. He makes use of enigmatical speech by which he may catch the unaware in his net.
The modernist's weapon is the lie and misrepresentation. He uses them constantly, even as does the devil, of whom Our Lord says that "he was a murderer from the beginning, and he stood not in the truth; because truth is not in him. When be speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own, for he is a liar, and the father thereof." (10)
The Eucharistic priest, following the precept of St. Paul (11) will avoid these modern heretics "having an appearance of godliness and coming in the clothing of sheep." (12) He will guard himself against their conversation lest their perverse teaching should poison his mind. He will also unmask their doleful arts in order that others may not be entrapped by them. He will not be disheartened if he is made a butt of their persecutions and blows. As the holy apostles, he will go forth "rejoicing to be accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus," (13) of that same Jesus whom he loves, adores and serves in the Eucharist, who knows his intentions, his pains and fatigues, and who will reward him a hundredfold.
Happy indeed is the priest who possesses, regarding the dogmas of our Faith and especially the Sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, a lively and unalloyed faith which, illumined by the theological science, dispels the clouds of doubt, quenches his thirst of better understanding what he believes, and solves the sophisms of incredulity.
Of theological science, coupled with virtue, that may be said which the Holy Ghost declares of heavenly wisdom, namely, that all "good things come to us together with her, and unnumerable riches through her hands." (14)
In reality, the science of theology, inasmuch as it derives from the very science of God and the Blessed, recalls those truths which we believe by faith to their first principles and thus makes us perceive them under a new and more resplendent light. It almost sets aside the veil which covers the mystery, and makes us enjoy a foretaste of the beatific vision.
Should a priest, on the other hand, neglect this sure guide and possess, regarding the Sacrament of the Altar and the other mysteries, but a weak and languid faith, sufficient, at most, to prevent him from falling into the abyss of infidelity, he would be unhappy indeed. Such a faith would fail to keep the eye of his mind irremovably fixed on the great truths of our holy Religion, and to such a priest the bitter reproach of Dante (15) might be applied:
Thou didst, as one
Who, journeying through the darkness, bears a light
Behind, that profits not himself, but makes
His followers wise.
Copyright © 2005 by Rev. Alexis H. M. Lepicier, O.S.M.
Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association
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Lombard, IL 60148
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