John 6: 56-59
Never more strongly than on a day like his, is it brought home to us, how happy a thing it is, to belong to that one Fold of Christ that stretches into every land, and holds together in the golden links of faith and hope and charity, the countless multitude of the children of the Church of God. To-day, the lights are lighted that typify a people’s faith; the incense rolls towards heaven, a picture of a people’s pray going up to God; the music seems to carry thought beyond the limits of this sorrowing world; the flowers, that never seem so fair as when they spend their transient beauty before the throne of the Sacramental God, the flowers lend their perfume and their grace to holiness of our altars, and remind us how dear to the heart of Jesus are those innocent souls, that, filled with love, kneel flower-like before the altar. To-day the Church flings wide the door of the tabernacle, and the priest brings forth with special observance the hidden God, Who through the sleepless day, and through the lonely watches of the quiet night, sits enthroned amid the majestic lowliness of the most holy sacrament of the altar. For today we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi – Body of Christ – and thank our Blessed Lord for the gift He has given us in the Holy Eucharist.
Many a gift has Jesus lavished on His Church, but never a gift of all that can for a moment stand comparison with the gift, the giving of which we celebrate to-day. Other gifts were rich with grace, here is grace itself: other gifts bore in them the touch of God’s own loving hand, here that hand itself is stretched out in perpetual benediction over the faithful children of the Holy Catholic Church. Other sacraments prepare us for heaven, but here, where Jesus sis shrouded in the mystery of His sacramental presence, here, heaven seems to have come before its time, for heaven has nothing greater or more precious than the sacred Humanity and the uncreated Divinity that are found in the Blessed Sacrament where Jesus is.
The day on which the Blessed Eucharist was actually instituted, was a day on which the heart of the Church was growing heavy, in her intense sympathy with the coming sufferings of her Lord. The clouds of the approaching Passion were gathering fast around Him: the cold touch of death was on the sacred lips that pronounced the words of consecration: and even when she read the story of the Last Supper, the Church could scarcely see through blinding tears the page on which it was written. Gethsemane was near, and that midnight agony, when tears were turned to blood. Calvary was all too close, with its spectacle of unexampled suffering; and though the Church broke forth for a moment into a strain of joy, her eyes were heavy with unshed tears; there were tears in the very voice of her gladness; her melody had in it a sob-like sound; and, as quickly as might be, she drew a sable pall across the tabernacle, and turned away to fill her eyes and her heart with the crucified image of here Lord and Master. But love and gratitude were still there, all unspoken though they were, and she has waited till to-day to give full unstinted utterance to the rapture which fills her heart, when she gazes upon the Eucharistic presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.
You remember how our Blessed Lord, after His resurrection, appeared to two disciples as they traveled toward Emmaus. Preoccupied with their own thoughts – never expecting to see Him Whom they had seen last in the hands of His enemies, with the doom of death upon Him – they talked with the stranger on the road, and never recognized the face of the Lord Jesus. Words of wisdom came from the lips of the Man who walked with them; but they never suspected that these were the lips through which spoke the uncreated wisdom of their Father in heaven. And how, at length, did they come to recognize their guest when they ate with Him at supper in the village of Emmaus? Thus – He took bread and broke it; and then their eyes were opened. The Eucharistic act had stirred their sleeping memories, and they recognized their Master and their God. So has it been ever since: it is by the Sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist that the True Church, which is the image of Christ in the world, is most infallibly to be recognized. Every doctrine of the Church seems to meet in the Blessed Sacrament; every ritual observance finds there its measure and its end; every sacrament has special reference to this, and tends towards it as to the ultimate perfection of its own special work; and in it Jesus Christ seems to have gathered up and displayed in the most unmistakable manner the fourfold crown which He placed upon the brow of His Church, that all men might know that she was His spouse; for the Church is One, is Holy, is Catholic, is Apostolic, and these four gifts are most admirably expressed in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Let us see briefly how – In a few moments the Blessed Sacrament will be placed before you on the altar. Ask yourselves, how came it there. In order that it could be there it was necessary that a consecrated hand should take bread, even as Jesus took bread, and should pronounce the words of consecration with an authority that heaven must ratify. In other words, there must be a priest. Now, who can make a priest? Can the world, with all its power – can kings, or statesmen, or parliaments? No; the world itself would laugh at such as these if they even attempted to make a man a priest. The dignity of the priesthood is not a dignity that the powers of earth have in their gift. To make a priest it needs a bishop, consecrated himself by other bishops; and so going back in an unbroken line till he can trace his spiritual ancestor in one of those who sat in the supper-room at Jerusalem, and had addressed to them the command, “Do this in commemoration of me.” So, to have the Blessed Eucharist upon the altar requires that the Church that places it there be Apostolic – Catholic. What is the Blessed Eucharist? It is that clean oblation that the prophet, looking forward to the times that were to be, saw, as the distinctive mark of the Church of Christ. From the rising to the setting of the sun, a clean oblation was to be offered to God. Look up, and see in the Blessed Eucharist the clean oblation – see that the Church that possesses it, must of necessity be a Church that will cover all the space that lies between sunrise and the sunset. In other words, that Church is Catholic. Holy – Ah, is not this the Church’s test of sanctity – fitness for the Holy Communion. She has Jesus, she is consequently herself holy; she has been able – and she alone has been able – to several ages of Christian time. And why? Because she gathered her children around the altar, and broke to them the holy bread that nurtures saints. Apostles came, and rose up from the holy table like giants refreshed, and won the world to the faith. Martyrs had hearts as weak as ours, as keenly sensitive to pain, and yet they bravely bore and died, because the hearts that suffered, had been made the tabernacle of Jesus Christ. Confessors bore upon their lips the truth of God. What could they else? Had not their lips been consecrated by the passing of Jesus in the Eucharist? Virgins – ah! The flesh was weak, and passion had its spring-tides, and there was the flush and the glow of youth – and yet, withal, they kept their garment white, their bodies stainless, and their hearts unsullied, because they had fed upon the Sacred Flesh that makes youth pure, and age holy. Yes; the Church that has the Eucharist must be holy.
One! – One in very land, you know the Church by the magnificent unity, which is the most comprehensive of her gifts. And this unity – how can it be more admirably expressed than in the Blessed Eucharist? The priest who consecrates is in union with his bishop, that bishop with his fellow-bishops, all these with the Vicar of Christ; all speaking with one voice; all teaching the same doctrine; all administering the same sacraments, and all finding in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist the one Body of Christ, on the thousand altars of the world an emblem, pure and perfect, of that Catholicity which multiplies altars beyond counting, and that Unity that makes hem one, which, in their combination, can be found only in the Church of God, that Church which is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
Here, also, is constantly reproduced before our eyes, a faithful picture of that long portion of the life of our Blessed Lord that so nearly concerns us, because it was so like the manner of life of the great majority of men – the obscure life at Nazareth. For here is Nazareth come again, but with a fuller meaning and a deeper beauty – with a lowliness greater even than that of Nazareth, and a depth of humility deeper even than that which concealed the Holy Family from the eyes of men – “He went down with them to Nazareth, and was subject to them.” These words contain the history of the Sacramental Presence of Jesus-subject, not now to the reverential guardianship of Joseph, or to the motherly care of Mary, but subject to the sinners of the world. His priests, unworthy though they may be – and even the worthiest, how unworthy – His priests pronounce the mystic words, and as they come forth – weak words from human lips – their power is felt in the highest heavens, and Jesus becomes, so to speak, again incarnate in the hands of His ministers. “He is subject to the.” The Lord of Heaven descends to a depth of lowliness that would be simply inconceivable, if He had not made it a blessed reality. Where is now the splendor of that dazzling beauty before which the seraphim veil their eyes with awe, and the sweet-voiced cherubim grow mute with an ecstasy of love. Nay; where even is the dignity of the human presence that once rebuked the pride of the Pharisee and haunted the hearts of sinners till sin became unbearable. They are not here – these outward tokens of divine power of human dignity. He has laid them aside, that He might humble Himself to the lowliness of the weak and the necessities of the sinful. He is subject to them – even to the vilest sinner. Lips may have blasphemed Him but not even on such lips will He refuse to rest; He is glad to make His home in a soul from which Satan has been only just expelled. He condescends to beg for a heart whose first love was with His deadly enemy. The lips that have uttered their profanities and their obscenities, these are the lips through which Jesus will pass into the sinner’s heart. The tongue has babbled in its drunkenness, yet on that tongue the Lord of Heaven will not refuse to rest; the heart has been the home of evil thoughts, of vile designs, the very seat of rebellion against God, yet this very heart will be the shrine where Jesus will seat Himself, wrapped in the mysterious beauty of His sacramental presence. Ah! Ye people of God, ye children of the Church, why are you not saints, since saints themselves have never had a greater aid to sanctity, than has been given to you in the Adorable Sacrament of the Altar.