|THE REAL PRESENCE||CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST|
Jesu! the very thought of Thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far Thy face to see,
And in Thy presence rest.
Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame
Nor can the memory find,
A sweeter sound than Thy blest Name,
0 Saviour of Mankind.(1)
We have already observed how the habitual thought of the Blessed Eucharist is, for every Christian soul, but especially for the sacred ministers, a powerful means of sanctification. Indeed, it cannot be proved a difficult task for a priest who has made a serious study of this August Sacrament and is convinced of its excellence and sublimity, to accustom himself to make his thoughts converge toward the Blessed Eucharist, and, as it were, to constantly live in its atmosphere.
As St. Thomas justly observes, those actions to which we feel more inclined, in which we take greater delight and to which we particularly attend, are usually styled our lives. Thus, music is the musician's life, painting that of a painter, and theology that of a theologian.
What shall we say, then, of a sacerdotal soul, accustomed to turn its thoughts to its Friend in the tabernacle, to live with Him in habitual conversation? For such a devout priest, his life will be the Blessed Eucharist, and, oh, what a source of sanctification such a life will be for him!
Without doubt, the priest's perfection consists in the development of that spirit of interior life which constitutes his greatest and noblest prerogative and on which the fruit of his apostolate depends. Now, the shortest and most efficacious way to acquire that spirit is to accustom oneself to direct one's mind often and with affection to Jesus Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament, living, as it were, with the thought of Him, identifying one's own affections and aspirations with those of His most adorable Heart.
In reality, what Jesus Christ never ceased to teach His beloved disciples and what He particularly desires in His priests, is the acquisition of a spirit of interior, or spiritual, life. Anyone attentively reading the Holy Gospels cannot fail to notice how Our Saviour's preaching was all centered round this special object.
When, after thirty years of hidden life, of an exclusively interior life, He began to announce to the multitudes pining away without any pastor, in ignorance and vice, the word of truth destined to save them, He found Himself confronted with a most grievous obstacle.
It was generally believed that the kingdom of the Messias would be a kingdom of power, riches and glory; in a word, a kingdom of exterior greatness and splendor. But, instead of that, Jesus Christ made it understood that His was to be a kingdom of humility, patience and renouncement; in a word, an interior kingdom. This He declared most clearly and with great insistence when, as St. Luke relates, on "being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, He answered them, and said: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation; neither shall they say: Behold here, or behold there. For lo, the kingdom of God is within you."(2)
But it was no easy enterprise to change the general mind and persuade men that they were utterly mistaken. It was indeed a gigantic task to bring them to despise that which they had esteemed above all, and to embrace with joy that which they had hitherto abhorred. The plea was that they now should seek, in the peace of their hearts, that content and joy which they had believed to consist solely in an unbridled enjoyment of the goods of this world. Such an enterprise was so far above human strength, that it required a Man-God to bring mankind to the realization of a course so contrary to the aspirations of nature. Now, the command to teach mankind this great truth was part of the mission of Our Saviour, and He would comply with the will of His Father even at the cost of His own life.
Indeed, it cost Him His life. For the true and formal motive for which He was condemned and put to death was because he had called Himself a king. The King of the Jews, not a temporal king, as they well understood, but a spiritual King, the King of our hearts. (*) For the decree of death, of a death on the cross, was to be intimately joined with the declaration of war, on His part, against the prince of this world, against the prince of pride and worldly glory, against the prince of dissipation and exterior life. This the Saviour explicitly declared when He said (3) : "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself."
The first who were to learn that great lesson were the disciples of Jesus. Oh, indeed, it did cost great fatigue, on the part of the divine Master, and it required an infinite measure of patience to persuade those uncouth souls that His true kingdom consisted not in exterior pomp, but in the calm possession of the interior peace of the heart and in the exercise of the life of the spirit, of the "hidden man of the heart in the incorruptibility of a quiet and a meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God (4) "
Now, as it was with His beloved apostles that Christ began to inculcate the necessity of an interior spirit of union with God, so it behooves the priest, who is nearer the Heart of Jesus, to apply himself in a special manner to the study of that most precious spiritual life, which consists in the practice of faith, hope and charity, in the custody of the senses, in the elevation of one's heart to God, in an intimate and sweet converse of the soul with the Holy Ghost; in a word, in the full possession of the kingdom of God.
The author of the Imitation of Christ beautifully describes both the nature and the advantages of a spiritual life. We read (5) : "To the inward man He vouchsafeth frequent visits, sweet converse, delightful comfort, plentiful peace, and a most amazing intimacy." And again (6): "I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me. Blessed is the soul that heareth the Lord inwardly speaking, and receiveth a word of comfort from His lips. Blessed are the ears that catch at least a faint sound of the divine whisper, and hear nothing of the whisperings of the world. Blessed indeed are the ears that hearken not to the voice which soundeth without, but to Truth itself teaching within. Blessed are the eyes that are shut to outward and open to inward objects. Blessed are they who consider inward things and strive to prepare themselves more and more, by daily exercises, to understand heavenly secrets. Blessed are they who desire to live for God, and who rid themselves of all worldly hindrances. Attend to this, 0 my soul, and close the gates of the senses, that thou mayest hear what the Lord thy God will speak in thee."
If we wish to understand how great is the importance of a spirit of interior life in a priest, we may turn to consider the disastrous consequences which a neglect of this supernatural spirit is apt to bring along with it.
In connection with what we advance, we may here consider the immense amount of energy put forth on the part either of the clergy or of religious bodies for the benefit of the young of both sexes. Great indeed is the number of Catholic schools and colleges raised all over the world with the praiseworthy object of giving children a sound education and thus making them honorable citizens and good members of the Church. Following on the footsteps of St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Joseph Calasanctius, St. John Baptist de la Salle, St. Sophie Barat and a host of other holy personages, crowds of young men and young women have unsparingly dedicated themselves to the great work of education, hoping thereby to uplift the lower classes and to better society at large.
No doubt, such generous efforts are an eloquent proof that the Catholic religion, far from being opposed to the spiritual as well as the material welfare of the people is, on the contrary, wholly bent upon benefiting mankind in the natural, no less than in the supernatural, order.
Yet, with all this, it must be acknowledged that, as far as the spiritual good of the young and the truly Christian education of their conscience are concerned; in other words, as regards the increase of faith, of a lively, working faith, in their souls, or the forming of their Catholic conscience, too little indeed has been achieved.
The reason is the too frequent absence of interior, spiritual life in such educational institutions. First of all, religious instruction, that foundation of all true supernaturally moral life, has but too often been neglected, the attention of masters and mistresses being concentrated on the teaching of profane sciences or the acquiring of academical degrees. In the meantime, young men and young women grow up with but a scanty knowledge of the mysteries of faith and a very superficial, if any, conviction of the truth of our holy religion. The result is that, after spending six or seven years in such institutions, on their going back to the world, they soon abandon every religious practice.
Now, how is it that so great efforts have failed to be crowned with better results?
The reason is to be found in the fact that, in many such enterprises, the spirit of interior life, of union with our Lord, of a quick faith, was wanting. And that same Jesus, who said (7) : "Seek ye, therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you," did not bless such enterprises, the first object of which was not to form in Christian hearts the spirit of interior, spiritual life. Hence, in vain did they labor that built the house, in vain did they watch that kept the city, and the solemn sentence of Our Lord was once more confirmed(8) : "Without Me, you can do nothing."
In reality, what does it benefit the spiritual life of a young man or a young woman to be brought up in a Catholic institution, if religious instruction there is totally neglected or is imparted only in a much diluted dose, and if the sacred ceremonies of the Church are sacrificed for the sake of sport and enjoyment? Likewise, what would it profit to have men and women gather in Catholic guilds, if the main object of such meetings were to procure amusements for their members, irrespective of their religious duties?
Far different is the idea which the Church presents to us of sacerdotal action, when she puts the following words on the lips of the bishop in the act of consecrating priests (9) : "Pour thou, 0 Lord, the abundance of Thy blessing upon these Thy servants whom we dedicate to the honor of the priesthood: in order that, by the gravity of their acts and the purity of their lives, they show themselves elders; in order that, meditating on Thy law day and night, they may believe what they read, teach what they believe, and imitate what they teach." In short, these words mean nothing else but that the priest should endeavor to foster in his heart a spirit of interior life.
The holy Catholic Church has never ceased to inculcate, by the mouths of her Doctors or through the means of her pastors, how necessary it is for a priest to cultivate a spirit of interior life, of habitual union with God and a wish to work for Him and with Him alone in the way He Himself chooses.
Perhaps some members of the secular clergy will wonder if we place under their eyes the following words by which the Angelic Doctor brings, as it were, in compendious form, the teaching of tradition on this subject (10): "By means of sacred order, a man is deputed to most worthy ministries, by which he serves Christ Himself in the ministry of the altar; and for this reason, a greater interior sanctity is required of him than is required even by the religious state."
The holy Council of Trent further declares in clear terms in what this interior sanctity consists, while it requires that "clerics should surpass the people of God committed to their care by the holiness of their conversation, and of their speeches, as well as by their knowledge, being mindful of that which is written: `You shall be holy, because I Myself am holy.'" (11)
For this reason, St. Charles Borromeo concluded: "If we remembered what great and holy things the Lord God has entrusted to our hands, such a consideration would help us wonderfully to lead a life worthy of men consecrated to the divine service." And this is precisely what the Code of Canon Law inculcates with special force, when, speaking of the duties of clerics, it places the following Canon as a basis of priestly life(12) : "Clerics should lead a life both interior and exterior more holy than that of laymen and should surpass them in virtue and holy deeds, so as to be an example to them."
Priests, therefore, those especially who have the care of youth, should strive to foster in themselves the spiritual life of the soul in which the kingdom of God in man consists. They will witness then how the souls entrusted to their care will thrive in virtue and sanctity.
The question may be raised, How can a priest efficaciously feed this spirit of interior life and of constant union with God so that his whole life may be pervaded and, as it were, transformed by it?
We answer, this is done through a constant devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, a devotion which is the habitual food of the soul. By striving to direct his thoughts and affections to this August Sacrament, he will easily and with great delight entertain in his heart the fervor of spiritual life.
Indeed, this care of habitually turning our minds and hearts toward the divine Guest of our tabernacles, first preserves our souls from those faults into which we more easily fall. Moreover, it keeps aglow the flame of divine charity, which should never cease to be enkindled in our hearts. Besides that, this recollection infuses in us a holy joyousness which makes us exclaim, in the midst of the greatest anguish (13) : "My heart and my flesh have rejoiced in the living God." Further, it facilitates in us contempt for the perishable goods of earth and makes us desire those of heaven. "What have I in heaven? And besides Thee what do I desire upon earth? Thou art the God of my heart and the God that is my portion forever." (14) Finally, we may say that it even contributes to keeping the body in a healthy state by suppressing various passions which are ordinarily the source of much bodily ailment. In a word, the habitual thought of the Blessed Eucharist, while preventing us from falling into tepidity and languor, which cause such great harm to our souls, preserves in us the life of the spirit and infuses in our souls a holy gladness, a pledge of perpetual youth, for which the Eucharistic priest may repeat with truth the words of the Psalmist(15) : "I will go in to the altar of God: to God who giveth joy to my youth."
It may be well here to warn priests especially against a too great readiness to read whatever books may fall into their hands. We do not speak, of course, of decidedly bad books, which bear their own condemnation, but of books of a doubtful character or of uncertain moral standard. Such indiscriminate reading is easily calculated to destroy or at least diminish that fervor of charity which the sacred ordination usually enkindles in the priest's heart.
In truth, the kind of literature which we allude to here, is but too plentiful nowadays. Some writers, wielding a good pen but unwilling to draw their inspiration from the Catholic Faith, which perhaps they have rejected, and, on the other hand, being restrained from descending to the very lowest grades of immorality by a remnant of decency, try to make themselves popular by treating religious topics or Christian morals either with a supercilious contempt or with a tinge of ridicule and irony. One can see, through the thin embroidery of their suggestive novels or descriptions, the subtle texture of a mocking ungodliness or a pernicious license in matters of faith and morals.
Many are the victims of this morbid literature. It is the custom to praise such writings to the skies and to present them as novels of good, elegant and pleasant style. From a love of the form, the writer passes on unawares to adopt the author's ideas. His mode of thinking becomes lax in matters of faith and indifferent in matters of morals. He thus loses, little by little, the uprightness of thought and delicacy of sentiment which form the good odor of Christ. The bloom and perfume of virtue easily fade away. The soul feels itself as it were a stranger to the Guest of our tabernacles and finds no relish in partaking "of the corn of the elect and of the wine springing forth virgins (16)."
Another danger lies in using liturgical or sacred expressions in connection with profane subjects. The words apostolate, faith, baptism, martyrdom and such like are often on the lips of popular orators in reference to political or military subjects. This danger is perhaps not so great in English-speaking countries as it is among the Latin races where Church and Scripture expressions are familiar from childhood. But the inconsiderate habit which some have of copying the manners and customs of other countries may cause this danger to spread far and wide. To the people to whom we refer, brought up as Catholics, but who have fallen from the Faith, it would seem as if there were no more efficacious means of stirring popular sentiment than by borrowing the language of the Church and adapting it to profane uses. Such abusive language is not only ridiculous, but also blasphemous and cries for redress.
Not only will the Eucharistic priest abstain from similar aberrations, but he will also forbid those depending on him to make such ill use of sacred language. At the same time he will watch over the choice of his reading, lest he himself might become tainted by a spirit of baneful levity. He will think twice before taking up in his hands a book, a periodical or paper, the moral goodness of which may be called in question and when once aware of the perverse character of such writings he will set them aside. He will use the same circumspection with persons entrusted to his care, lest their minds and hearts might become defiled and unworthy of welcoming that virginal Lord who "feedeth among the lilies." (17)
We have said that, where the spirit of interior life is absent, the works of sacerdotal zeal are lacking in supernatural fruit and are, as it were, struck with spiritual anemia. On the contrary, when this spirit, fed at the Eucharistic source, abounds, oh then the work of the priest is not barren, but is blessed with copious and most healthy fruit.
Everything works, as St. Thomas justly observes, inasmuch as it is in act, that is, inasmuch as it is in the possession of its constituting form or principle. It is necessary, therefore, that this same form or principle which actuates a special agent be at the same time the principle of its action on other objects. Thus fire must possess the form by which it is warm in itself before it heats the objects that are near it.
Yet, continues the Angelic Doctor, not every agent endowed with its own form is capable of impressing that form on outward objects, but only such agents as possess that form in an eminent degree. Applying this principle to the grace of Christ, St. Thomas concludes that, in order that our divine Saviour might prove for mankind a principle of grace and sanctification, it was necessary that He should possess this precious gift in an eminent degree.(18)
The same thing may be said of the interior or Eucharistic life of the priest with regard to that of the faithful. In order that a priest may efficaciously influence those committed to his care, it is necessary that the spirit of spiritual life drawn at the Eucharistic fountain should abound in him. Likewise, in order that an educator may leave an impress of a truly Christian life upon the youth committed to his care, it is necessary that he should himself possess this same spirit and that he should continually renew his faith, hope and charity at the Eucharistic fountain. In a word, it is necessary that his thoughts should habitually converge toward Jesus Christ living in our midst in the Sacrament of His Love.
Now, how will the priest succeed in living with his heart habitually turned to the most Blessed Eucharist? Several means there are, easy and agreeable, which we shall now briefly enumerate.
The first and most efficacious means for maintaining alive in one's heart the thought of the Blessed Eucharist is to receive several times during the day this divine Sacrament in spiritual Communion. Very opportune, on this subject, is the observation which we read in the Imitation of Christ (19) : "Every devout person may, any day and at any hour, profitably and without restriction, approach to Christ by a spiritual Communion Now a man communicateth spiritually and is invisibly refreshed, as often as he devoutly considereth the mysteries of Christ's Incarnation and of His sacred passion, and is thereby inflamed with His love."
The one great desire of Jesus Christ in instituting the august Sacrament of the Altar was to give Himself to us entirely and thus consecrate that close union of ourselves with Him which will last for all eternity. This union, however, is not exclusively the effect of the sacramental partaking of His body and blood under the species of bread and wine. It may also be effected by a lively faith united with an ardent desire of possessing in our hearts that same sweet Saviour who said that "His delights are to be with the children of men."(20) On the other hand, these words of Jesus Christ: "He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him,"(21) apply not only to the sacramental, but also to the spiritual Communion, inasmuch as, by receiving spiritually, or in desire, with faith and charity, the sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist, there takes place that mutual cohabitation, that intimate union of the soul with Jesus Christ, by which He is in us and we are in Him.
For this reason the saints have always greatly exalted the advantages of spiritual Communion, which may easily be practised by using the well-known formula: "Soul of Christ," etc., or that other of St. Alphonsus: "Behold how far," etc.
Besides spiritual Communion, another more appropriate means to help the priest live a Eucharistic life is the frequent offering of the most precious body and blood of Jesus.
It is the special privilege of the Catholic religion to possess, in the Blessed Eucharist, the means of offering to God, at all times and in all places, a sacrifice of infinite value, and perfectly agreeable to His divine Majesty. The Lord Himself promised this by the mouth of the prophet Malachias (22) : "My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation," that is, the offering of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Now, the fruit of this sacrifice is received not only by those who are present at Mass, but also by those who, though absent, are united in heart with the offering priest, for which cause we read in the Canon of the Mass: "For whom we offer up to Thee or who themselves offer this sacrifice of praise."
Great efforts and long prayers are not necessary to obtain, for one's own spiritual benefit, the application of the fruit of this august sacrifice celebrated at a distance. It is enough to remember that it is being actually offered in some part of the earth, forming at the same time the intention of uniting oneself to the sacrificing priest. And for this act it may be enough to recite the following ejaculatory prayer which is enriched with indulgences (23) : "Eternal Father, I offer Thee the most precious blood of Jesus Christ in satisfaction for my sins, and for the wants of holy Church."
Another most efficacious means to keep alive in the priest's heart the fervor of Eucharistic life is the daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament, a practice inculcated on all clerics by the Code of Canon Law (24).
It may not always be possible to find a church at hand where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved; but a priest may always, in whatever place he be, turn his mind to the tabernacle where the sacred species are preserved. However, the very fact of daily repairing to a church where this is possible, is already of itself an act of affectionate homage toward our most sweet Redeemer really present in the tabernacle. It serves to keep alive, in the priest's heart, the spark of faith and the flame of love toward this August Sacrament. But when, for one reason or another, the priest cannot betake himself personally before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, he may very well perform the act of adoring it wherever he may be, that is, whether in his room or traveling. The important point is that he should not omit this act of love and reverence to Our Lord in the Eucharist.
Now, how will the priest perform this daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament in such a manner as to reap copious spiritual fruit therefrom?
First, where the priest has the opportunity of presiding or assisting at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, in the evening, the matter is simple enough. He has only to join in the prayers which are then collectively sung or recited.
Where this is not the case, a priest may perform this visit in sundry manners, each one choosing the method which is more in harmony with his interior dispositions and may better second his devotion.
Some may find it useful, especially in time of aridity, to have recourse to oral prayers. Others may feel inclined to contemplate some truth connected with this sublime mystery. Others, again, may like to entertain themselves in sweet colloquies with Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. It would be useful to fix, in the yearly retreat, a method to follow. The simpler and more orderly this method is, the greater the hope of spiritual profit.
A practical method may be the following. First we begin by invoking the Holy Ghost and making the following five acts: of faith, adoration, thanksgiving, reparation and humble petition, accompanying each with the recitation of one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory be to the Father.
We may also consider each of the five wounds of our amiable Saviour, who preserves, under the sacramental species, the glorious scars of those same wounds which once caused Him so much pain, but which now form the most beautiful ornaments of His sacred humanity.
Others may choose to recite some of those beautiful Eucharistic hymns composed by St. Thomas and which now belong to the Liturgy of the Church (25). These hymns, especially the Lauda Sion, the Pange Lingua, the Verbum supernum prodiens, the Adoro te devote, contain such depth of doctrine coupled with sublime lyrical poetry, that the soul cannot help feeling itself transported by love toward Jesus Christ, who in His immense goodness chose to bequeath to us, in this August Sacrament, a lasting memorial of His infinite charity for us. However, these prayers should be recited slowly and with reflection, in order that they may leave an impress on the soul. It is the case, here, to repeat: Non multa, sed multum.
In some places it is customary for priests, meeting together for the annual retreat or on occasion of solemn reunions or of Eucharistic Congresses to make a collective adoration, alternating mental prayers with instruction and the singing or reciting of devout Eucharistic praises. This is a very convenient and timely way of occupying with fruit the time which the sacred ministers spend at the foot of the altar.
We shall not tarry on this point any longer, because love is ingenious and will suggest to the Eucharistic priest methods even more adapted than those reviewed here.
Some devout priests, anxious to cultivate in themselves
the sacerdotal life, have justly thought a means
adapted to this end would be the reciting of the divine office in union of thought and affection with Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. This device appears, in reality, most efficacious both to secure the mind's attention in that pious exercise and to cultivate, in one's heart, a tender devotion toward the august Sacrament of the Altar.
It should not be imagined that such a pious practice involves excessive fatigue or overstrained attention. The only thing that is required is that our mind's eye, together with the motion of our will, should be kept directed to our divine Guest really present under the sacramental species. The fact alone that we thus think of Jesus Christ, is already in itself a sublime prayer. It is a living source of holy thoughts and chaste affections. It is as an ever bubbling spring of sweet spiritual consolations for the soul in the anxieties and travails of the present life.
Better still would it be if the devout priest should, as did the saintly parish priest of Ars, recite the divine office in presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament whether hidden in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar. The fact of knowing that Jesus Christ is thus near us and the intimate persuasion that He looks upon us from heaven with special complacency and mercy cannot but prove a fresh source and new pledge of spiritual graces.
If it be asked how should a priest keep alive in his heart during the day the thought of the Blessed Eucharist, in order thus to receive new graces through this spiritual contact with Jesus Christ, the answer is that each one can, through pious artifices which require but very little sacrifice, easily obtain this end.
"Where love prompts us," says St. Augustine, "there no fatigue is felt; and if there is fatigue, fatigue itself is loved."
Our first means consists in recollecting ourselves for a few moments each time we hear the hour strike, mentally reciting some pious ejaculation in honor of the Most Blessed Sacrament. How inspiring it is to hear in some Religious Communities specially devoted to the worship of the Most Holy Eucharist, as the hours succeed one another, the tower bells chiming out the sweet melody: Adoremus in aeternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum! This pious device is, for the members of the household as well as for the people of the vicinity, an efficacious reminder of the presence of our divine Guest and a sweet invitation to do Him homage in the Sacrament of His Love.
Special mention should also be made of the habit which some pious persons have of turning, while in their own houses, toward the church or the altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, as if to pay homage to Our Lord by the very position of the body. This was practiced(26) of late by a pious Tertiary of the Servite Order, named Theresa Rossi, who died in the odor of sanctity in Genoa, on March 14, 1918. While occupied with manual work in her room she would, even at the cost of putting herself to some inconvenience, choose a position which allowed her to turn toward the church, thus marking her faith and love toward the Blessed Sacrament.
Such facts are to be found in the lives of many servants of God, for instance in that of the young Capuchin novice, Vincent Diliberto, who died a few years ago in the odor of sanctity and is better known by his religious name, Brother Joseph Mary of Palermo.
This was also the practice followed by the pious Countess di Feria, who, after the death of her husband, embraced the religious life in the Order of the Poor Clares, taking the name of Sister Anna of the Cross. This devout servant of the Holy Eucharist had a special cell made for her, from the window of which she could see the altar of the Blessed Sacrament. There she would pass many hours of the day in sweet ecstasy, adoring and thanking our divine Redeemer hidden in the Sacrament of His Love.
It is likewise a pious custom of some good priests to direct their thoughts and affections, before retiring, toward the Eucharistic tabernacle, imagining themselves to be kneeling on the altar steps at the feet of Jesus Christ there present, and going to sleep in this disposition of mind. This simple exercise of the imagination has this good effect, of facilitating the remembrance of this Sacrament as soon as one awakes during the night or in the morning, thus provoking some act of love toward our divine Lord. It also helps to ward off idle or vain thoughts which, if unbridled, might lead to sin.
The thought of the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is also for priests a source of help and consolation in a trial to which they, more than laymen, are easily exposedthe trial of solitude or isolation. This is perhaps the heaviest of all the crosses which may press upon the priest's shoulders. It may originate from various causes.
In some cases this isolation is due to a bigoted opposition on the part of the enemies of the Catholic name who, having inherited from their forebears a deep hatred for all that is connected with the Church of Christ, look upon the priest as a weird being, a mixture of monstrous ignorance and wily cunning; in a word, a being to be shunned at all cost. This aversion to the Catholic priest, the fruit of gross ignorance as well as of subtle malice, is a sad feature of those countries where Protestantism, indifferentism or hostility to religion are at their best. This fact, however, should not astonish us, for Our Lord foretold to His disciples that they should be an object of hatred "on the part of all men for His Name's sake." (27)
It happens at times that priests, while living in the company of religious persons, are left aside and almost forgotten, God so permitting for the exercise of virtue. It may be that they are not understood or are neglected by those persons with whom they live, or, again, that a certain divergence of views creates around them a circle of painful isolation. And as these priests are deprived of those distractions and pastimes in which seculars may lawfully indulge, the feeling of solitude is so much the more painful to them.
Sometimes this state of isolation is not personal, but regards the priest's studies or the maxims and principles that rule his life. It is painful beyond description for a man who has dedicated himself wholeheartedly to a kind of scientific purpose, never or rarely meeting persons who take a like interest in such studies. Neither is it a lesser sorrow to be obliged to live with persons who do not share our feelings especially in the matter of faith and moral behavior.
Now, the constant, affective and vivid thought of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of His Love will not fail to provide the Eucharistic priest with that help and comfort which he needs to overcome the dreariness of his solitude or the state of melancholy to which his isolation would lead him. For he knows that that same Jesus who lives in our midst in the Eucharist Himself experienced how painful to a loving heart is the abandonment in which it is left by those very ones who ought to requite its love. He will draw from this Sacrament fresh courage to support this pain, while his Eucharistic Lord will console him with His sweet interior illuminings.
The pious artifices which we have now enumerated are of, great help to maintain the priest's soul in a habitual union with the Guest of our tabernacles and to keep him in a state of great interior peace and fervor. But there is the danger that all these good practices may vanish away little by little unless a spur sweet and strong at the same time, be found to bring them home continually to his mind. This is particularly necessary in the case of such priests as are not bound by vows to a fixed rule of conduct and who, living in the world, do not enjoy those advantages which common or conventional life brings along with it, especially that of having a special time assigned for each work of devotion.
For such members of the clergy Blessed Peter Julian Eymard has provided a powerful means in the "Association of Priests-Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament" This zealous apostle of the Most Holy Eucharist, not content with having instituted a Congregation of priests to honor the great Sacrament of Love by their continuous adoration, established the above association for the benefit of priests scattered all over the world, to invite them to pay greater honor to our Eucharistic Lord by dedicating one hour a week to the adoration of the Sacrament, thus promoting in its members the spirit of interior life in union with Jesus Christ hidden under the sacred species.
This pious association, though imposing on the priest but a very light burden, has been enriched with copious indulgences and privileges. It helps its members to maintain themselves in the sublimity of their priestly state and in the fervor of their divine vocation.
For those members of the clergy who are rectors of churches or sacristans an easy means of maintaining themselves in the fervor of devotion toward this August Sacrament is to give great attention to keeping clean and in good order all that pertains to the altar and tabernacle, the sacred vessels and utensils. By performing this duty with faith, a priest will find an easy means of living in uninterrupted spiritual intercourse with our divine Saviour and of receiving innumerable graces from Him.
Taking occasion from this remark, we would call the attention of priests zealous for the honor due to the Holy Eucharist to the prescriptions of Canon Law regarding the place where this Sacrament should be kept and the way in which the altar containing the tabernacle should be adorned.
As regards the choice of the place where the Blessed Eucharist should be kept, the words of the Canon Law are explicit enough. It should be kept continually, that is, habitually, on one altar only of the church and on the most worthy and noble altar, which is, generally speaking, the high altar. An exception is made when, for particular reasons of convenience or decency, it may be deemed preferable to keep it on another altar. Likewise cathedral, collegiate and conventional churches are excepted, when the choral office has to be recited near the high altar. In such a case it is better to reserve the Blessed Sacrament elsewhere, in order to prevent the ritual ceremonies from being disturbed.
As a general rule, we may say that it is the desire of the Church that the Blessed Sacrament be received at the high altar, which, because of its central position and elaborate structure, is more apt to draw the attention and satisfy the devotion of the faithful, who sometimes do not understand why in God's house the place of honor should not be given to the august person of Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer, hidden under the sacramental species.
As regards the adorning of the altar of the Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharistic priest, who "loves the beauty of God's house and the place where His glory dwelleth,"(28) will be careful to see that all its ornaments are kept with that neatness becoming such a great treasure, in order that, as Canon Law again prescribes, the faithful may from the ornaments themselves be drawn to a greater devotion toward this great Sacrament. (29)
For this reason also the Eucharistic priest will not show himself stingy when it is a question of adorning the church or tabernacle in which Our Lord dwells. For He is a King and has made good His claim to His Kingdom. And, then, is not the gold in the mine, the marble in the quarry, the finest wood in the forest, the pearls in the seaall the work of His hands? It is but just, then, that all these treasures should go to do homage to our sweet Eucharistic Lord and embellish the home of His dwelling among us.
We have hitherto enumerated several efficacious means of helping the priest to foster in himself a more intense Eucharistic life. Not least among these is a tender devotion to the great mother of God, Mary.
It is a fact which anyone ever so little acquainted with hagiography cannot fail to notice, that those same saints who were most conspicuous for devotion to the Blessed Virgin were also particularly noted for their zeal in fostering the Eucharistic worship. To convince oneself of this truth, it is enough to peruse the historical lessons of the Roman breviary, where mention is often made of this twofold allied devotion in one and the same servant of God.
In truth, we see that it could not be otherwise when we consider how closely the Blessed Virgin is associated with this Sacrament of the love of Jesus. It was she, in fact, who gave us that same Jesus whom we adore under the sacramental species. It was she who preserved His life, feeding Him first with her milk and then with the outcome of her daily work. She who protected Him from the fury of Herod, taking Him in safety, with much fatigue, to Egypt. She who with her fervent supplications obtained from Jesus that He should institute this August Sacrament. She who, as we may well believe, received Him, after the apostles, into her immaculate breast at the Last Supper. She, finally, who courageously and full of faith assisted at the great sacrifice of the cross, of which the Mass is the authentic and real commemoration. For all these reasons the faithful, with the sanction of the Church, love to invoke Mary with the beautiful title: "Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament, pray for us."
Since our blessed Lady is so closely related with the Holy Eucharist, it is no wonder that an increase of devotion to the Mother of God has for its habitual effect to lead the Christian soul to a greater appreciation and love of the divine Eucharistic gift.
This is true especially of the priest, who knows that Mary is the shortest and surest way to come to Jesus. He knows that, in order worthily to partake of this august sacrifice and sacrament no better disposition can be found than that which prompted the Immaculate Heart of our blessed Mother when she received Jesus at the Last Supper. He knows that, after the ascension of Jesus Christ, Mary made the Blessed Eucharist the center of her thoughts and affections and the mainspring of her whole life while, as a pious tradition has it, she would daily receive Holy Communion at the hands of St John the beloved disciple.
There is more yet. The Eucharistic priest knows full well that Mary protects with special care the ministers of her Son because they offer to the eternal Father that same Victim which she herself offered on Calvary in the name of mankind, and because she sees, in the Catholic priest, the person of Jesus Christ, her Son, the great Pontiff of our Faith. For the fact that Mary offered on Calvary and now offers with the priest the divine Victim at Mass, she is deservedly called the Virgo sacerdotalis; for the love she bears to each Catholic priest, she is invoked as Regina cleri.
After Jesus had departed this earth, Mary surrounded with a very special maternal affection, together with the apostles, the new priests ordained by them. Now, too, that she sits at the right hand of her Son, she watches with motherly solicitude over the priests of the New Covenant. During the last years of her mortal life, she would, with her kindly words, enliven the faith, enkindle the hearts and sustain the courage of those first levites. Now, also, she comforts the priests of Jesus Christ, her own chosen sons and servants, with her maternal assistance, in order that their brow may ever be encircled with that aureola of virtue and holiness proper to their sublime state.
There is yet another reason for invoking our blessed Lady as Virgo sacerdotalis and Regina cleri. This is because every sacerdotal vocation is in some respect due to the glorious Queen of heaven. It is, in fact, owing to the prayers of her who is the Mother of the Church, that the Holy Ghost inspires some privileged soul with the desire to join the ranks of the clergy, and it is to her maternal assistance that sacerdotal vocations blossom and grow to perfect day.
This many a priest readily acknowledges when recalling the devotion with which, even as a young lad, he placed his vocation under the protection of the Queen of heaven, and how this kind heavenly Mother assisted him throughout the whole course of his ecclesiastical studies until the time when the sacred ordination conferred upon him the great dignity of the priesthood.
When we consider all that Our Lady has done for us with reference to the Blessed Eucharist, we cannot help associating her, in our devotion, with this great mystery, asking her to make us learn the lessons of humility, charity and abnegation which Jesus Christ imparts to us in this Sacrament, and to intercede for us with her Son in order that, whether consecrating or receiving it, we may draw in abundance the graces of salvation and eternal life which God has prepared for us in this heavenly fountain.
But, if devotion to Our Lady leads us spontaneously to the Blessed Eucharist, vice versa a genuine and tender devotion to this Sacrament is apt to arouse in our hearts an increase of filial veneration for the Mother of God. For Jesus will not be outdone in courtesy by His mother. In recompense for that love which Mary stirs up in the hearts of her devout clients toward the Blessed Eucharist, Jesus, with a holy emulation, inspires those who receive Him to have recourse to Mary and to love her with a tender filial affection.
It is a beautiful sight to witness, at Lourdes for instance, this holy rivalry between the Mother and the Son, in that the one seems to be bent upon exalting the other. In fact, Jesus inspires the crowds to come to the sanctuary of His Mother and invoke her with full confidence; Mary, in her turn, when the hour of graces has come, withdraws and, as it were, conceals herself, leaving Jesus, carried in the Blessed Sacrament in the midst of the sick, to distribute with open hand His graces, the further effect of which is the glorification of the Immaculate Virgin in that wonderful sanctuary.
This should be kept in mind by those especially who, in virtue of their religious calling, are bound to practise and promote a special devotion toward the Queen of heaven. They should not fear to go against their holy vocation by fostering a tender devotion toward the holy Sacrament of the Altar. On the contrary, a more intense worship of the Blessed Sacrament, far from turning them away from Mary, will rather lead them, as it were, by the hand, to this dear Mother, teaching them the way to honor and love her, to compassionate her in her sorrows and have recourse with confidence to her motherly patronage.
A touching ceremony is that introduced by the Church, of singing some prayer or canticle in honor of Mary at the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Centuries ago, at the closing of the divine office, while the Marian anthem was being sung, it was customary to expose the Blessed Sacrament, as if to invite Jesus to take part in the homage paid to His Mother. Now, while we salute Jesus exposed for our adoration on the altar, we invoke Mary, asking her to deign to unite her voice to our accents of love, gratitude and reverence toward such an august Sacrament, and thus enhance our cold and poor adorations with her maternal fervor and seraphic devotion to her Son, who, hidden under the sacramental veils, listens with complacency to the words of enthusiastic praise sung by the faithful in honor of His most dear Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
De Maria Virgine!
Our divine Saviour, when about to send His apostles into the world, made them a threefold recommendation: first, they should be like the salt of the earth, to stem the tide of corruption and vice; secondly, they should shine forth as being the light of the world, to illumine those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death; thirdly, they should be like a city built upon the mountain top, to attract the wayfarer to its walls.
This recommendation applies alike to the priests of the New Covenant who are the successors of the apostles. The Catholic priest should, by the purity and sanctity of his life, prevent the spread of immorality and ungodliness; he should enlighten by the splendor of his doctrine those who lie in ignorance and error; he should, by his good example, show men the true way to heaven.
Now, a tender and heartfelt devotion to the Blessed Eucharist will enable him to respond fully to the appeal of Christ. It will preserve his heart, mind and body from the corruption of sin; it will illumine his intellect and enable him to break to the little ones the bread of truth; it will give his whole person that finish of sanctity which attracts men to the service of the divine Master. Let every priest, then, bear in himself a Eucharistic heart, a Eucharistic mind, a Eucharistic soul, and he will contribute greatly to furthering God's kingdom in himself and in others: he will be a true apostle of Jesus Christ.
* This truth has been brought out in our book, Jesus Christ the King of Our Hearts.
Copyright © 2005 by Rev. Alexis H. M. Lepicier, O.S.M.
Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association
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