The Blessed Sacrament
“Come to Me, all you that labor and are heavy burdened, and I will refresh you.” Matthew 11:28
God, my brethren, has employed two men to sing for every age, and with a voice that finds an echo in every human heart, the psalm of
human misery, Job, the most afflicted of the sons of men, and Solomon, lifted above them all by the greatness of his prosperity, both have
touched and with inspired hands, the mystery of human sorrow. This is, as it were, the key of all the history of God's dealings with His
creature man, the foundation-stone of all Revelation, both pre-Christian and Christian, that the state of man, being a state of fall from some
original high degree of privilege and perfection, consequently, a state of which misery and sorrow are the inevitable condition.
The whole teaching of history - of profane history quite as much as of sacred - goes to prove that, in the words of Job, "Man is filled with many miseries," and in the words of Solomon, that "all is vanity and vexation of the spirit." Hence is it not wonderful that the Savior of the world, who came as the representative before His eternal Father of the human race, should have been known to the prophets, who saw Him from afar, as He who was to be emphatically "the man of sorrows." And not wonderful that, when He did come, He came poor and mean and abject, attracting to Himself, as if by the intense sympathy for humanity that filled His Sacred Heart, every sorrow that could crown, as with a crown of thorns, a human life.
See if it were not so. For, mark you this, He might have appeared on earth a full-grown man; but not - by doing so He wuld have spared Himself a pang that was the keenest of the tortures of His Passion, for then His dying eyes would have seen no mother's heart pierced through and through by a sword of sorrow. He might have lived alone, gathering around Him no band of disciples to share His deepest thoughts, and know Him as friends and brothers know a brother and a friend, but then Judas could never have betrayed Him, the taint of a traitor's kiss could never have been laid upon His sacred lips, the bitter memory of traitor's malice would have been wanting to the chalice of His agony. He was emphatically the Man of sorrows, and He sought for sorrows.
Our Lord did not by His coming, did not even by His Passion, at once restore man to the original perfection from which he had fallen. Because man had fallen He came to redeem him; but not the less because of Redemption is the Fall and foundation-stone of Christianity. As man's free will had brought about the Fall, so God designed to re-consecrate that will by exacting from it a co-operation in the work of Redemption. Hence man, even after the coming of our Blessed Lord, is still fallen man; and even then the original sin that was the prime evil and the Fall has been removed by a man's absorption to the Body of Christ, which is the Church, he still retains a corrupt nature, prone to sin, and subject to sorrow. And hence it is that, even to those who have participated in the fruits of Redemption, even to them descends the ancient heritage of sorrow; and they, too, can take up the inspired books of Solomon and Job, and find in them, as if spoken for themselves, those unuttered and unutterable thoughts that have weighed so heavily on two hundred generations of human hearts. Even to His Apostles Jesus would promise only the hatred of the world, sufferings, persecution, death.
You will ask me, then, What has Jesus done, if, even to those wh follow Him, He has left the legacy of sorrow - in what respect are His followers the better for His coming? My brethren, only He could say, and He has said it . . . "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy." And how? Le me first ask, and answer, the question, how were His sorrows turned into the joy of Redemption? All Christianity answers - by His Passion and death. Here, then, we have the answer to the former question, for He Himself has given it by the institution of the Blessed Eucharist; for, in the words of St. Paul, "as often as you eat of this bread, and drink of this chalice, you shall show forth the death of the Lord until He come." Until He come! Yes, ye followers of Christ; though the streets of Jerusalem and the shore of Tiberias shall know Him in the flesh no more; thought the clouds of Olivet have hidden away from the eyes of men the glory of His transfigured face; though many a weary; day and many a desolate night must pass over humanity till the brightness of His Coming shall shine above the Valley of Judgment; though sorrow still shall be, as it has ever been a familiar presence by mortal firesides, the one unbidden but inevitable guest in every home and in every heart; yet for you remains the blessed promise, "Your sorrow shall be turned into joy," because Jesus shall still be with you in this memorial of His Passion, and ever, in the darkest hour, shall you find in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist Hi who said, and has never ceased to say, "Come to me, all you that labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you."
Is it wonderful, then, that the Church today should interrupt her mourning, and turn to the gaze of her children the silver lining of the cloud that this week of awful memories has flung upon her temples and her altars?
We shall, the, briefly consider the Blessed Eucharist, both in its promise and its institution, and shall endeavor to dwell specially upon such points of the history of this holy sacrament, as will be specially calculated to awaken in us those sentiments of love towards our Blessed Lord, which this sacrament was meant to kindle and to keep alive.
One day our Blessed Lord sat teaching in the synagogue of Capharnaum. It was a special occasion, and an unusually large multitude thronged to hear Him - a special occasion, for, only the day before He had performed a miracle, which gave rise, even n the minds of the most careless, to perplexing thoughts as to what manner of man this could be who exercised such power over the seemingly inflexible laws of the material world. With five barley-loaves and two fishes He had satisfied the hunger of five thousand persons, and may of those who had witnessed the miracle, felt a natural desire to gather up and treasure in their hearts, every word that fell from the sacred lips of Him, who exercised such power and manifested such compassion.
It is the way of God, my brethren, always to make one favor a preparation for a higher one. The more God does for anyone, the more on that account may we expect Him to do. It is, as I say, the way of God. If God has given us a body fashioned to its every purpose with marvelous skill, it was that He might breath into it an immortal soul stamped with His living image; and if that soul be endowed with wondrous gifts, it is only that with far-reaching desire it may stretch into the infinite, and find its last end and its everlasting happiness in nothing lower or less perfect than God Himself. And so, on this occasion, if Jesus had miraculously fed five thousand with five loaves, it was that the miracle might be the guarantee of the truth of the promise of an infinitely higher gift, and be the shadow - stupendous though it was, still but the shadow - of that unceasing miracle by which He feeds and shall feed all the generations of His Church with the sacred bread that comes down from heaven, and remains with the children of men in the sacrament of the Eucharist.
Accordingly, He begins to speak to them of some mysterious bread which He had on purpose to give them, a bread that was meant - not be sustain the life of the body, which must one day end, but a bread that would confer a life that could never perish. And when He had raised their expectations and their eagerness to the highest pitch, He exclaimed, with what must have seemed to many there a startling abruptness, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven." My brethren, the miracle He had so lately wrought had surely given Him a right to have His assertion believed, but the Jews laughed Him to scorn, Oh they had their own theory about Him - they grew indignant, and they said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know." And what has Jesus to reply? Does He hasten to explain away His words to satisfy them? On the contrary, He repeats His assertion still more emphatically - "I am the living bread that came down from heaven: if any man shall eat this bread he shall live forever." Ah, but He says more - says a thing still more calculated to try their faith - "The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." That they clearly understood Him to mean literally what He said is manifest from the fact that they never questioned His message, but set themselves at once to dispute His power. "The Jews therefore strove among themselves, how can this man give us His flesh to eat." Surely if they had mistaken His meaning it was His duty to have corrected the mistake. But they had not mistaken His meaning; they had doubted His power, as heretics have been doing ever since; and as the Church has always answered heretics, so He answered the Jews, by placing under the sanction of a threat the doctrine which He had previously taught as a blessed promise. "Except you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you." Some of those who had been His disciples walked with Hi8m no more, as heretics have been doing ever since they had been believing, not in Him, but in their own judgment about Him, and when their judgment was offended their faith was gone. Jesus turned to His Apostles, and asked them, "Will you also go away?" and St. Peter, as if in anticipation of the papal authority and infallibility which he and his successors were afterwards to enjoy, gave an answer that makes faith in the Holy Eucharist at once supremely easy and super-eminently rational - "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."
Nor do we, my brethren, know anyone to whom we shall go, no other than Jesus, speaking through Peter and His Church, and declaring, in words that stand forever against the doubt of the heretic and the scoff of the unbeliever, that "His flesh is meat indeed, and His blood drink indeed."
And time passed on - a time marked by the teaching, and preaching, and miracles of our Lord. He never again made allusion to this promise. It lay in the depths of His loving heart, waiting for a time when its fulfillment would gather around itself every circumstance that would be calculated to make it memorable for ever. The time came when the clouds of the coming Passion began to gather deep and dark about our Blessed Lord. Accordingly, in the room of the Last supper, we read that "Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke, and gave to His disciples, and said, Take ye and eat, this is my body; and taking the chalice, He gave thanks, and give to them, saying, Drink ye all of this, for this is my blood of the new testament which shall be shed for many to the remission of sins."
My brethren, having uttered these sacred and memorable words I shall not stay to dwell upon them, and for this reason - I should fear to spoil by a single word of comment the sublime simplicity of words that were formed n the loving heart and uttered by the sacred lips of Jesus Christ Himself. He would not, He could not juggle with the meaning of human words, or with the understanding of His creatures, and anything like discussion on the matter, after Jesus has spoken, must have as it basis that blasphemous question of those at Capharnaum, the first heretics on the subject of the Blessed Eucharist -" How can this man give us his flesh to eat." When God, when the son of God speaks, let even human reason decide, whether is it for us to reverently accept His words, or begin to put limits of our own to the Divine omnipotence. It is enough for us that Jesus has said it. I therefore believe it, and you believe it, as firmly as we believe in the existence of God or of ourselves; and on this belief both you and I are ready to stake our hopes of heaven, our immortal souls.
I shall pass, the, to those other words, spoken on the same occasion, and which the eye of faith sees written above every altar where Mass has since been said. When our Lord had completed the solemn act of consecration, He said to His disciples, "Do this in remembrance of me." He was about to die. The powers of earth and hell were about to have their triumph for the time - the Shepherd was to be stricken, and the flock dispersed. I ask you, my brethren - nay, I would even ask, if such were present, those who do not believe at all in the divinity of Jesus Christ - was it not amongst the sublimest sayings that the worlds has treasured in its memory. A Man who had come to the very brink of the grave, who was already looking over into the abyss of death, spends the last free hour His enemies will leave Him in the endeavour to make the memory of Him as lasting as the world itself. For, I ask again, is it not a fact, patent to all men, whether they believe in His divinity or not, whether they be Catholics or not, is it not a simple fact, that every since this very thing has been done, in memory of Him who did it first? The command that ell from lips that even while they uttered it had almost received the consecration of death, that command was not only a command but a prophecy: and the command has found obedience, and the prophecy fulfilment, at every altar that has since been crowned by the crucified image of Jesus Christ. And where has that been done which Jesus did? Ah, my brethren, heretics, taking the Holy Gospel from the guardian hand of the Church, have striven to do it many a time, but they have done it with wavering faith, and with uncertain voice, incredulous of the love or of the power of Jesus, explaining away, even while they uttered them, the very words that they uttered. The thing itself that Jesus did, has been done, and done as He did it, only by the anointed hands of the priests of the Holy Catholic Church. But to you, my brethren, children of the Catholic Church, I wish to dwell upon two things involved in these words, that will illustrate in a signal manner the love of our Blessed Lord in the institution of the Eucharist.
There are two things that no human power can ever overcome, and these two things are time and space. We cannot make the past present, we cannot make the distant near. Memory, strive as it may, gives back but the shadow of the past. Imagination seeks to picture a distant scene; it but succeeds in raising before the mind the phantom of a far-off place. Christ in the flesh, as He was on earth, we cannot see, for between us and that sight lie eighteen hundred years. We shall not see the face of Christ our Lord till the angel of death has touched our eyes, and we see it shining in terror or in love from the throne of judgment. Nay, the places consecrated by His earthly presence, by the memories of His footsteps, and the traditions of His love, even these we cannot see, for may a weary league of land and sea stretches between us and that holy eastern land. Time and space stand between the Gospel and ourselves, and no human hand can move those everlasting barriers. But in the institution of the Eucharist Jesus had leveled them to the dust. And how? That consecration in the supper-room at Jerusalem is separated from us - first, by time: to bring it near it was necessary to make it perpetual. It is separated from us by space, it was necessary to make it so common that it could be witnessed everywhere. These two miracles were effected by these five words, "Hoc facite in meam commemorationem." For, by these words Jesus made the consecration of the Holy Eucharist perpetual, and He made it common. Let us examine this a little.
It is conceivable that our Blessed Lord, having determined to institute the Holy Eucharist, might have consecrated just once at the Last Supper, and left the memory of that sublime action to cheer the future generations of His Church. To those few and faithful who were then present He might have said, "You are my Apostles, chosen from the world, the heralds of my Gospel, the pillars of my Church. A long toil is before you and a weary fight. You will bear my Name before kings, who will persecute you; before peoples, who will clamor for your blood. To the work I have given you to do, will strain the energies and tax the resources of your bodies and your souls. The world is hard, and against that hard world you will have to break your hearts before you conquer it. Though yours in the issue shall be the victory, yet shall it cost you tears and blood. Weeping blood and tears shall you sow the seed in the ungrateful furrows of the world, and many a toilsome day shall pass, and many a perilous night, before you garner in my kingdom the sheaves of the harvest." But He might have added, "Fear not; commensurate with the work you have to do, and with the perils you have to encounter, shall be the support I am about to give you. However long the way, you can never falter; however stern the conflict, you can never flinch; for I have reserved for you, and for you only, this Sacrament of the Eucharist."
But has Jesus done this? Ah, my brethren, answer for yourselves the question. You are not Apostles; you have never borne - shall never have to bear - the burden of the Church. Conquer your own passions, and you will have achieved the greatest conquest that God has called on you to achieve; and yet, even to you has He left the treasures of this Sacrament of Love. Time has rolled away, but Jesus, in the Holy Eucharist, is present with you still. Not for Apostles alone was this Heavenly Bread. Priests have carried it on through all the centuries of Christian time, and it has strengthened martyrs, inspired confessors, sanctified virgins - has been not only the bread of the strong, but of the weak, and has been given even to sinners like ourselves. For Jesus has made this gift perpetual in His Church.
Again, Jesus might have ordained that the Blessed Eucharist should be consecrated, say, once in a century in some grand temple in the favored city by him who holds in the Church the highest place on earth. And had Jesus so ordained, the man would think it the glory of his lifetime who had once been present at a scene so unutterable solemn. Has He done even this? Well, my brethren, I myself have seen the Vicar of Christ, standing beneath the dome of the grandest temple that human hands have ever raised, engaged in the consecration of the Eucharist. Lights blazed, and incense burned, the eye and the heart were over-whelmed by the glories of St. Peter's. But I have seen also, and you have seen, the self-same act performed in humble chapels, nay, beneath the lowly roof-tree of an Irish cabin, where Mass is said, and where Jesus comes down as really as He ever came at the grandest Mass in the world's stateliest temple. Yes, Jesus has made His greatest gift common as the very elements that sustain ur life. Wherever the Church has come, she has first built an altar and offered the unbloody sacrifice. She was driven into the Catacombs - the altar stood hard by the martyr's tomb; and to this day, wherever the Catholic missioner has set his foot, his first act has been to raise an altar and call down the Lord of Heaven to take possession of a new kingdom.
Any why has Jesus thus exhausted the resources of His wisdom and the treasures of His love/ Why has He determined to remain with us everywhere and for ever in this Sacrament of His Love? Why has He determined to remain with us everywhere and for ever in this Sacrament of His Love? Why is Jesus present upon ur altars? Is it that the Church may group around His sacramental throne everything of beautiful and grand that human genius can imagine and human hand make manifest to sense? Is it that the lights may blaze and the incense burn, and the loving reverence of the human heart translate itself into music that touches us to tears? Is it that flowers may lend the perfume and their grace to the holiness of our tabernacles, and that long processions of the faithful may wind down, as it were, through all the centuries, singing the "Pange lingua" with unceasing voice, that swells into ever-widening circles as kingdom after kingdom is added to the Church of God? Yes, it is for these purposes; but it is for more than these. It is for these - for all the ritual magnificence of the Church has grown out of and around the Blessed Sacrament, finding there its measure and its end. It is for more than these - for when the flowers bloom their fairest, and when the music is sweetest and most touching, fairer far than any flower that earth can grow, is the love that is throned upon the altar, and a voice sweeter than any earthly music is coming from the tabernacle whence Jesus speaks, with a deeper melody and a fuller meaning than in any other of His marvellous works - speaks and says, "Come to me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you."
Why is Jesus present in the tabernacle? No need to tell you who gather so often around the altar. You know it with a knowledge that is widened by every Communion you receive, by every visit you make to the Blessed Sacrament.
These two things are the sole return He asks for the unimaginable prodigality of love that He has shown in this Hoiy Sacrament - to visit Him as He waits in the silence of the tabernacle; to receive Him often in the Holy Communion.
My brethren, there is no faithful child of the Catholic Church who does not place it amongst the most cherished hopes and fondest wishes of his heart that, when the parting hour is close at hand, and the frightened soul shrinks back awestricken before the close vision of death, he may not die till he has received Jesus in the last Viaticum. Do you wish to secure for yourselves that unspeakable blessing? Well, as a man lives, so shall he die. If during life you have been devoted to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament; if you have loved to rest within the shadow of the altar; if you have felt and cherished a sacred hunger for the bread of life; if you have gone to the Holy Communion worthily and often; then be sure that in death He will not desert you. When the grasp of earth is loosening, when the ways of time are done, when the tired heart throbs on to the everlasting silence, then Jesus will be brought to you in the last Viaticum. His gracious presence will cheer the loneliness that the breaking of the bonds of life and earthly love leaves in the troubles heart. His gracious hand will wipe away the tears of your agony, and He will pass from the soul He shall have sanctified to the throne of judgment, whence He shall pronounce upon you the blessed sentence of everlasting life.