Skip to comments.[Catholic Caucus] The Feast of Corpus Christi (Gueranger)
Posted on 05/31/2018 3:51:53 AM PDT by CMRosary
A GREAT SOLEMNITY has this day risen upon our earth: a Feast both to God and men: for it is the Feast of Christ the Mediator, who is present in the sacred Host, that God may be given to man, and man to God. Divine union,—yes, such is the dignity to which man is permitted to aspire; and, to this aspiration, God has responded, even here below, by an invention which is all of heaven. It is today that man celebrates this marvel of God’s goodness.
And yet, against both the Feast and its divine object, there has been made the old-fashioned objection: How can these things be done? It really does seem as though reason has a right to find fault with what looks like senseless pretensions of man’s heart.
Every living being thirsts after happiness; and yet, and because of that, it only aspires after the good of which it is capable; for it is the necessary condition of happiness that, in order to its existence, there must be the full contentment of the creature’s desire. Hence, in that great act of creation which the Scripture so sublimely calls his playing in the world, when, with his almighty power, he prepared the heavens and enclosed the depths, and balanced the foundations of the earth, we are told that Divine Wisdom secured the harmony of the universe by giving to each creature, according to its degree in the scale of being, an end adequate to its powers; lie thus measured the wants, the instinct, the appetite (that is, the desire) of each creature, according to its respective nature; so that it would never have cravings which its faculties were insufficient to satisfy. In obedience, then, to this law, was not man, too, obliged to confine within the limits of his finite nature his desires for the good and the beautiful, that is, his searching after God, which is a necessity with every intelligent and free being? Otherwise, would it not be that, for certain beings, their happiness would have to be in objects which must ever be out of the reach of their natural faculties?
Great as the anomaly would appear, yet does it exist; true psychology, that is, the true science of the human mind, bears testimony to this desire for the infinite. Like every living creature around him, man thirsts for happiness; and yet he is the only creature on earth that feels within itself longings for what is immensely beyond its capacity. While docile to the lord placed over them by the Creator, the irrational creatures are quite satisfied with what they find in this world; they render to man their several services, and their own desires are all fully gratified by what is within their reach: it is not so with Man; he can find nothing in this his earthly dwelling which can satiate his irresistible longings for a something which this earth cannot give and which time cannot produce;—for that something is the infinite. God himself, when revealing himself to man through the works he has created, that is, when showing himself to man in a way which his natural powers can take in; God, when giving man to know him as the First Cause, as Last End of all creatures, as unlimited perfection, as infinite beauty, as sovereign goodness, as the object which can content both our understanding and our will,—no, not even God himself thus known and thus enjoyed could satisfy man. This being, made out of nothing, wishes to possess the Infinite in his own substance; he longs after the sight of the face, he ambitions to enjoy the life, of his Lord and God. The earth seems to him but a trackless desert, where he can find no water that can quench his thirst. From early dawn of each wearisome day, his soul is at once on the watch, pining for that God who alone can quell his desires; yea, his very flesh, too, has its thrilling expectations for that beautiful Infinite One. Let us listen to the Psalmist, who speaks for us all: As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after thee, O God! My soul hath thirsted after the strong, living God: when shall I come and appear before the face of God? My tears have been my bread, day and night, whilst it is said to me daily: “Where is thy God?” These things I remembered, and poured out my soul in me: for I shall go over into the place of the wonderful tabernacle, even to the house of God. With the voice of joy and praise, the noise of one that is feasting. Why art thou sad, O my soul? and why dost thou trouble me? Hope in God, for I will still give praise unto him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God.
If reason is to be the judge of such sentiments as these, they are but wild enthusiasm and silly pretensions. Why talk of the sight of God, of the life of God, of a banquet wherein God himself is to be the repast? Surely, these are things far too sublime for man or any created nature to reach. Between the wishes and the object longed for, there is an abyss,—the abyss of disproportion, which exists between nothingness and being. Creation, all powerful as it is, does not in itself imply the filling up of that abyss. If the disproportion could ever cease to be an obstacle to the union aspired to, it would be by God himself going that whole length and then imparting something of his own divine energies to the creature that had once been nothing. But what is there in man to induce the Infinite Being, whose magnificence is above the heavens, to stoop so low as that? This is the language of reason.
But on the other hand, who was it that made the heart of man so great and so ambitious that no creature can fill it; how comes it that, while the heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth how full of wisdom and power is every work of his hands, how comes it, we ask, that in man alone there is no proportion, no order? Could it be that the great Creator has ordered all things, excepting man alone, with measure and number and weight? That one creature who is the masterpiece of the whole creation; that creature for whom all the rest was intended as for its king; is he to be the only one that is a failure, and to live as a perpetual proclaimer that his Maker could not, or would not, be wise when he made Man? Far from us be such a blasphemy! God is love, says St. John; and love is the knot which mere human philosophy can never loosen, and therefore must ever leave unsolved the problem of man’s desire for the Infinite.
Yes, God is charity; God is love. The wonder in all this question is not our loving and longing for God, but that he should have first loved us. God is love; and love must have union; and union makes the united like one another. Oh! the riches of the Divine Nature, wherein are infinite Power, and Wisdom, and Love! These three constitute, by their divine relations, that blessed Trinity which has been the light and joy of our souls ever since that bright Sunday’s Feast, which we kept in its honor. Oh! the depth of the divine counsels wherein that which is willed by boundless Love finds, in infinite Wisdom, how to fulfill in work what will be to the glory of Omnipotence!
Glory be to thee, O holy Spirit! Thy reign over the Church has but just begun this Year of grace, and thou art giving us light whereby to understand the divine decrees. The day of thy Pentecost brought us a new Law, a Law where all is brightness; and it was given to us in place of that Old one of shadows and types. The pedagogue, who schooled the infant world for the knowledge of truth, has been dismissed; light has shone upon us through the preaching of the Apostles; and the children of light, set free, knowing God and known by him, are daily leaving behind them the weak and needy elements of early childhood. Scarcely, O divine Spirit! was completed the triumphant Octave, wherein the Church celebrated thy Coming and her own birth, which that Coming brought when all eager for the fulfilment of thy Mission of bringing to the Bride’s mind the things taught her by her Spouse, thou showedst her the divine and radiant mystery of the Trinity, that not only her Faith might acknowledge, but that her adoration and her praise might also worship it; and she and her children find their happiness in its contemplation and love. But that first of the great mysteries of our faith, the unsearchable dogma of the Trinity, does not represent the whole richness of Christian revelation; thou, O blessed Spirit, hastenest to complete our instruction and widen the horizon of our faith.
The knowledge thou hast given us of the essence and the life of the Godhead was to be followed and completed by that of his external works, and the relations which this God has vouchsafed to establish between himself and us. In this very week when we begin, under thy direction, to contemplate the precious gifts left us by our Jesus when he ascended on high; on this first Thursday, which reminds us of that holiest of all Thursdays,—our Lord’s Supper,—thou, O divine Spirit, bringest before our delighted vision the admirable Sacrament, which is the compendium of the works of God, one in Essence and three in Persons; the adorable Eucharist, which is the divine memorial of the wonderful things achieved by the united operation of Omnipotence, Wisdom, and Love. The most holy Eucharist contains within itself the whole plan of God with reference to this world of ours; it shows how all previous ages have been gradually developing the divine intentions, which were formed by infinite love, and by that same love, carried out to the end, yea, to the furthest extremity here below, that is, to Itself; for the Eucharist is the crowning of all the antecedent acts done by God in favor of his creatures; the Eucharist implies them all; it explains all.
Man’s aspirations for union with God,—aspirations which are above his own nature, and yet so interwoven with it as to form one inseparable life,—these strange longings can have but one possible cause, and it is God himself—God who is the author of that being called Man. None but God has formed the immense capaciousness of man’s heart; and none but God is willing or able to fill it. Every act of the divine will, whether outside himself or in, is pure love, and is referred to that Person of the Blessed Trinity who is the Third; and who, by the mode of his Procession, is substantial and infinite love. Just as the Almighty Father sees all things before they exist in themselves, in his only Word, who is the term of the divine intelligence,—so, likewise, that those same things may exist in themselves, the same Almighty Father wishes them, in the Holy Ghost, who is to the divine will what the Word is to the infinite intelligence. The Spirit of Love, who is the final term to the fecundity of persons in the divine essence, is, in God, the first beginning of the exterior works produced by God. In their execution, those exterior works are common to the Three Persons, but they are attributed to the Holy Ghost, inasmuch as he, being the Spirit of Love, solicits the Godhead to act outside Itself. He is the Love who, with its divine weight and influence of love, sways the Blessed Trinity to the external act of creation; infinite Being leans, as it were, towards the deep abyss of nothingness, and out of that abyss, creates. The Holy Spirit opens the divine counsel and says: Let us make man to our image and likeness! Then God created man to his own image; he creates him to the image of God, taking his own Word as the model to which he worked; for that Word is the sovereign archetype according to which is formed the more or less perfect essence of each created being. Like him, then, to whose image he was made, Man was endowed with understanding and free will. As such, he would govern the whole inferior creation and make it serve the purposes of its Creator, that is, he would turn it into an homage of praise and glory to its God; and though that homage would be finite, yet would it be the best of which it was capable. This is what is called the natural order; it is an immense world of perfect harmonies; and, had it ever existed without any further perfection than its own natural one, it would have been a masterpiece of God’s goodness; and yet it would have been far from realizing the designs of the Spirit of Love.
With all the spontaneity of a will which was free not to act, and was as infinite as any other of the divine perfections, the Holy Spirit wills that Man should, after this present life, be a partaker of the very life of God by the face to face vision of the divine essence; nay, the present life of the children of Adam here on this earth is to put on, by anticipation, the dignity of that higher life; and this so literally that the future one in heaven is to be but the direct sequel the consequent outgrowth of the one led here below. And how is man, so poor a creature in himself, to maintain so high a standing? how is he to satisfy the cravings thus created within his heart? Fear not: the Holy Ghost has a work of his own, and he does it simultaneously with the act of creation; for the Three Persons infuse into their creature, Man, the image of their own divine attributes; and upon his finite and limited powers graft, so to say, the powers of the divine nature. This being made for an end which is above created nature; these energies superadded to man’s natural powers, transforming, yet not destroying, them and enabling the possessor to attain the end unto which God calls him;—is called the supernatural order, in contradistinction to that lower one, which would have been the order of nature had not God, in his infinite goodness, thus elevated man above his own mere state as man, and that from the very first of his coming into existence. Man will retain all those elements of the natural order, which are essentials to his human nature; and with those essential elements, the functions proper to each: but there is a principle that, in every series, that should give the specific character to the aggregate which was the end proposed by the ruling mind. Now, the last end of Man was never other in the mind of his Creator than a supernatural one; and consequently, the natural order, properly so called, never existed independently of or separately from the supernatural.
There has been a proud school of philosophy called “free and independent,” which professed to admit no truths except natural ones, and practice no other virtues than such as were merely human: but such theories cannot hold. The disciples of godless and secular education, by the errors and crimes into which their unaided nature periodically leads them, demonstrate almost as forcibly as the eminent sanctity of souls which have been faithful to grace, that mere nature or mere natural goodness never was and never can be a permanent and normal state for man to live in. And even granting that he could so live, yet man has no right to reduce himself to a less exalted position than the one intended for him by his Maker. “By assigning us a supernatural vocation, God testified the love he bore us; but at the same time, he acted as Lord and evinced his authority over us. The favor he bestowed upon us has created a duty corresponding. Men have a saying, and a true one: ‘He that hath nobility, hath obligations:’ and the principle holds with regard to the supernatural nobility, which it has pleased God to confer upon us.”
It is a nobility which surpasses every other; it makes man not only an image of God, but like unto him! Between God,—the Infinite, the Eternal,—and Man, who but a while back was nothing, and ever must be a creature,—friendship and love are henceforth to be possible:—such is the purpose of the capabilities, and powers, and the life bestowed on the human creature by the Spirit of Love. So, then, those longings for his God, those thrillings of his very flesh, of which we were just now reading the inspired description by the Psalmist—they are not the outpourings of foolish enthusiasm! That thirsting after God, the strong, the living God; that hungering for the feast of divine union;—no, they are not empty ravings. Made partaker of the divine nature, as St. Peter so strongly words the mystery, is it to be wondered at if man be conscious of it and lets himself be drawn by the uncreated flame into the very central Fire it came from to him? The Holy Spirit, too, is present in his creature, and is witness of what himself has produced there; he joins his own testimonies to that of our own conscience, and tells our spirit that we are truly what we feel ourselves to be—the sons of God. It is the same Holy Spirit who, secreting himself in the innermost center of our being, that he may foster and complete his work of love,—yes, it is that same Spirit who, at one time, opens to our soul’s eye by some sudden flash of light the future glory that awaits us, and then inspires us with a sentiment of anticipated triumph; and then, at another time, he breathes into us those unspeakable moanings, those songs of the exile, whose voice is choked with the hot tears of love, for that his union with his God seems so long deferred. There are, too, certain delicious hymns which, coming from the very depths of souls wounded with divine love, make their way up to the throne of God; and the music is so sweet to him that it almost looks as though it had been victorious and had won the union! Such music of such souls does really win if not the eternal union,—for that could not be during this life of pilgrimage, and trials, and tears,—still it wins wonderful unions here below, which human language has not the power to describe.
In this mysterious song between the Divine Spirit and man’s soul, we are told by the Apostle that He who searcheth hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth, because he asketh for the saints according to God. What a desire must not that be, which the Holy Spirit desireth! It is as powerful as the God who desires it. It is a desire, new, indeed, inasmuch as it is in the heart of man, but eternal, inasmuch as it is the desire of the Holy Spirit, whose Procession is before all ages. In response to this desire of the Spirit, the great God, from the infinite depths of his eternity, resolved to manifest himself in time and unite himself to man while yet a wayfarer; he resolved thus to manifest and unite himself not in his own Person, but in his Son, who is the brightness of his own glory and the true figure of his own substance. God so loved the world as to give it his own Word—that divine Wisdom who, from the bosom of his Father, had devoted himself to our human nature. That bosom of the Father was imaged by what the Scripture calls Abraham’s bosom, where, under the ancient covenant, were assembled all the souls of the just, as in the place where they were to rest till the way into the Holy of Holies should be opened for the elect. Now, it was from this bosom of his eternal Father, which the Psalmist calls the bride chamber, that the Bridegroom came forth at the appointed time, leaving his heavenly abode and coming down into this poor earth to seek his Bride; that, when he had made her his own, he might lead her back with himself into his kingdom, where he would celebrate the eternal nuptials. This is the triumphant procession of the Bridegroom in all his beauty; a procession whereof the Prophet Micheas, when speaking of his passing through Bethlehem, says that his going forth is from the days of eternity. Yes, truly from the days of eternity; for as we are taught by the sublime principles of Catholic theology, the connection between the eternal procession of the divine Persons and the temporal mission is so intimate that one same eternity unites the two together in God: eternally, the Trinity has beheld the ineffable birth of the Only Begotten Son in the bosom of the Father; eternally, with the same look, it has beheld him coming, as Spouse, from that same Father’s bosom.
If we now come to compare the eternal decrees of God one with the other, it is not difficult to recognize which of them holds the chief place and, as such, comes first in the divine intention of creation. God the Father has made all things with a view to this union of human nature with his Son;—union so close that, for one individual member of that nature, it was to go so far as a personal identification with the Only Begotten of the Father. So universal, too, was the union to be that all the members were to partake of it in a greater or less degree; not one single individual of the race was to be excluded, except through his own fault, from the divine nuptials with eternal Wisdom, which was made visible in a Man, the most beautiful above all the children of men. For, as the Apostle says, God, who heretofore commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath himself shined in our hearts, giving them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in, and by, the face of Christ Jesus. So that the mystery of the Marriage Feast is, in all truth, the mystery of the world; and the kingdom of heaven is well likened to a King, who made a Marriage for his Son.
But where is the meeting between the King’s Son and his Betrothed to take place? Where is this mysterious union to be completed? Who is there to tell us what is the dowry of the Bride, the pledge of the alliance? Is it known who is the Master who provides the nuptial banquet and what sorts of food will be served to the guests? The answer to these questions is given this very day, throughout the earth; it is given with loud triumphant joy. There can be no mistake; it is evident from the sublime message, which earth and heaven re-echo, that He who is come is the Divine Word. He is adorable Wisdom, and is come forth from his royal abode to utter his voice in our very streets, and cry out at the head of multitudes, and speak his words in the entrance of city gates; he stands on the top of the highest places by the way, in the midst of the paths, and makes himself heard by the sons of men. He bids his servants go to the tower and the city walls with this his message: Come! eat my Bread, and drink the Wine which I have mingled for you; for Wisdom hath built herself a House; supported on seven pillars; there she hath slain her victims, mingled her wine, and set forth her table; all things are ready; come to the marriage!
O Wisdom, that camest forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end, disposing all things with strength and sweetness! we besought thee, in the season of Advent, to come unto Bethlehem, “the house of Bread;” thou wast the long Expected of our hearts. The day of the glorious Epiphany showed us the mystery of the Nuptials, and manifested to us the Bridegroom; the Bride was got ready in the waters of the Jordan; we commemorated the Magi, who, with their gifts, hastened to the royal nuptials, where the guests were regaled with a miraculous wine. But the Water which, to make up for the deficiency of a bad tree, was changed into wine, was a prophetic figure of future mysteries. The Vine, the true Vine, of which we are the Branches, has yielded its sweet-smelling flowers, and its fruits of honor and riches. Wheat hath abounded in our valleys, and they shall sing a hymn of praise; for this strength of the earth shall cover the mountain tops, and its fruit shall go up beyond Libanus.
O Wisdom, thou noble queen, whose divine perfections enamor, from early childhood, hearts that are taken with true beauty! the day of the true Marriage-feast is come. Thou art a mother full of honor, and a young Bride in thy charms, and thou comest to nourish us with the bread of life, and give us to drink of a cup of salvation. Thy fruit is better than gold; and thy blossoms, than choicest silver. They that eat thee shall still hunger after thee; and they that drink thee shall again thirst for thee; for thy conversation hath no bitterness, nor thy company any tediousness, but joy and gladness, and riches, and glory, and virtues.
During the days of this great Solemnity, when thou art seated in a pillar of a cloud and placest thy throne in the holy assembly, we would fain take each mystery of this thy divine banquet, and ponder over its marvels, and then publish them, yea, go to choir with thee, 0 beautiful Wisdom, and sing thy praise in the presence of thy Angels, who will be there adoring the Sacred Host! Do thou vouchsafe to open our lips and fill us with thy Holy Spirit, O divine Wisdom! that so our praise may be worthy of its theme, and, as thou hast promised in thy Scriptures, may it abound, may it be full to overflowing, in the mouths of thy faithful worshippers!
MASS.—The Procession, which immediately precedes Mass on other Feasts, is, today, deferred till after the offering of the great Sacrifice. In this Procession, our Jesus is to preside in person: we must, therefore, wait until the sacred Action (so our Fathers call the Mass) has bowed down to us the heavens where he resides. He will soon be shrouded beneath the mysterious cloud. He is coming, that he may nourish his elect with the fat of wheat, of that Wheat which has fallen on our earth, and is to be multiplied by being mystically immolated on the countless Altars of this earth. He is coming today, that he may receive a triumph at the hand of his people, and hear the songs we shall so joyously sing to the God of Jacob. These are the ideas expressed by the Introit, wherewith the Church opens her chants during the holy Sacrifice; it is taken from the 80th Psalm, which is so very sublime, and forms one of those already recited in the Matins of this Feast.
In the Collect, the Church reminds us of the intention our Lord had in instituting, on the eve of his Passion, the Sacrament of love;—it was to be a perpetual memorial of the Passion, which he was then going to suffer. Our Mother prays, that being thus imbued with the spirit which leads her to pay honor to the Body and Blood of Christ, we may obtain the blessings which were purchased for us by his Sacrifice.
The holy Eucharist, both as Sacrifice and Sacrament, is the very center of the Christian religion; and therefore, our Lord would have a fourfold testimony to be given in the inspired writings to its Institution. Besides the account given by Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we have also that of St. Paul, which has just been read to us and which he received from the lips of Jesus himself, who vouchsafed to appear to him after his Conversion and instruct him.
St. Paul lays particular stress on the power given by our Lord to his disciples, of renewing the act which he himself had just been doing. He tells us what the Evangelists had not explicitly mentioned, that as often as a Priest consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ he shows (he announces) the Death of the Lord: and by that expression, tells us that the Sacrifice of the Cross, and that of our Altars, is one and the same. It is likewise by the immolation of our Redeemer on the Cross that the flesh of this Lamb of God is truly meat, and his Blood truly drink, as we shall be told in a few moments by the Gospel. Let not the Christian, therefore, forget it, not even on this day of festive triumph. The Church insists on the same truth in her Collect of this Feast: it is the teaching which she keeps repeating, through this formula, throughout the entire Octave, and her object in this is to impress vividly on the minds of her children this, the last and earnest injunction of our Jesus: As often as ye shall drink of this cup of the new Testament, do it for the commemoration of me! The selection she makes of this passage of St. Paul for the Epistle should impress the Christian with this truth,—that the divine Flesh which feeds his soul was prepared on Calvary, and that, although the Lamb of God is now living and impassible, he became our food, our nourishment, by the cruel death which he endured. The sinner, who has made his peace with God, will partake of this sacred Body with deep compunction, reproaching himself for having shed its Blood by his sins: the just man will approach the holy Table with humility, remembering how he too has had but too great a share in causing the innocent Lamb to suffer; and that if he be at present in the state of grace, he owes it to the Blood of the victim, whose Flesh is about to be given to him for his nourishment.
But let us dread, and dread above all things, the sacrilegious daring spoken against in such strong language by our Apostle,—and which, by a monstrous contradiction, would attempt to put again to death Him who is the Author of Life; and this attempt to be made in the very banquet which was procured for us men by the precious Blood of this Saviour! Let a man prove himself, says the Apostle; and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. This proving one’s self is sacramental confession, which must be made by him who feels himself guilty of a grievous sin which has never before been confessed. How sorry soever he may be for it, were he even reconciled to God by an act of perfect contrition, the injunction of the Apostle interpreted by the custom of the Church and the decisions of her Councils forbids his approaching the holy Table until he has submitted his sin to the power of the Keys.
The Gradual and Alleluia-Verse are a further instance of the parallelism between the two Testaments, which we have already noticed in the composition of the Matin Responsories. The Psalmist extols the bounty of that God to whom every living creature looks for its food; and our Jesus offers himself to us, as we have it in St. John’s Gospel, as our truest nourishment.
Then follows the Sequence,—that well-known composition of the Angelical Doctor. The Church, the true Sion, expresses her enthusiasm, and love, for the living and life-giving Bread, in words which, at first sight, would see too precise and scholastic, to comport the poetry of form and sentiment. The Eucharistic mystery is here developed with that concision and solemnity for which St. Thomas had such a wonderful talent. The words are accompanied by a chant which is worthy of them; and the two together excite in the Christian soul the sentiments of unearthly joy, which are so peculiar to this Feast of the Sacrament of Love.
The beloved Disciple could not remain silent on the Mystery of Love. But at the time when he wrote his Gospel, the institution of the Eucharist had been sufficiently recorded by the three Evangelists who had preceded him, as also by the Apostle of the Gentiles. Instead, therefore, of repeating what these had written, he completed it by relating the solemn promise made by Jesus on the banks of Lake Tiberias a year before the Last Supper.
He was surrounded by the thousands, who were in admiration at his having miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes: Jesus takes the opportunity of telling them that he himself is the true bread come down from heaven and which, unlike the manna given to their fathers by Moses, could preserve man from death. Life is the best of all gifts, as death is the worst of evils. Life exists in God as in its source; he alone can give it to whom he pleases and restore it to him who has lost it. Man, who was created in grace, lost his life when he sinned, and incurred death. But God so loved the world as to send it, lost as it was, his Son, with the mission of restoring man to life. True God of true God, Light of Light, the Only Begotten Son is, likewise, true Life of true Life by nature: and as the Father enlightens them that are in darkness by this Son, who is his Light, so likewise he gives life to them that are dead, and he gives it to them in this same Son of his who is his living Image. The Word of God, then, came amongst men, that they might have life, and abundant life. And whereas it is the property of food to increase and maintain life, therefore did he become our Food, our living and life-giving Food, which has come down from heaven; partaking of the life eternal which he has in his Father’s bosom, the Flesh of the Word communicates this same life to them that eat It. That, (as St. Cyril of Alexandria observes) which, of its own nature, is corruptible, cannot be brought to life in any other way than by its corporal union with the body of him who is life by nature: now, just as two pieces of wax melted together by the fire make but one, so are we and Christ made one by our partaking of his Body and Blood. This life, therefore, which resides in the Flesh of the Word made ours within us, shall be no more overcome by death; on the day appointed, this life will throw off the chains of the old enemy, and will triumph over corruption in these our bodies, making them immortal (In Johan, lib. x. cap. 2). Hence it is that the Church, with her delicate feelings both as Bride and Mother, selects from this same passage of St. John, her Gospel for the daily Mass of the Dead; thus drying up the tears of the living who are mourning over their departed friends, and consoling them by bringing them into the presence of the holy Host, which is the source of true life, and the center of all our hopes.
Thus was it to be that not only the soul was to be renewed by her contact with the Word, but even the body, earthly and material as it is, was to share in its way of what our Savior called the Spirit that guickeneth. “They,” as St. Gregory of Nyssa has so beautifully said, “who have been led, by an enemy’s craft, to take poison, neutralize by some other potion the power which would cause death; and as was the deadly, so likewise the curative must be taken into the very bowels of the sufferer; that so the efficacy of that which brings relief may permeate through the whole body. Thus we, having tasted that which ruined our nature, require a something which will restore and put to right that which was disordered; and that when this salutary medicine shall be within us, it may, as an antidote, drive out the mischief of the poison which had previously been taken into the body. And what is this (salutary medicine)? No other than that Body which had both been shown to be stronger than death, and was the beginning of our life. For, says the Apostle, as a little leaven makes the whole paste to be like itself, so, likewise, that Body which God had willed should be put to death, when it is within ours, transmutes and transfers it wholly to Itself … Now, the only way whereby a substance may be thus got into the body, is by its being taken as food and drink.”
The Offertory is taken from those words of Leviticus (xxi, t), wherein God commands the Priests of the ancient covenant to be holy, because of their having to offer incense and loaves of proposition to him, as figures of something to be at another time. As much as the priesthood of the New Testament is superior to this ministry of the figurative Law, so much should the hands of Aaron be surpassed in holiness by those that have to offer, to God the Father, the true Bread of heaven, which is the incense of infinite fragrance.
In the Secret, the Priest prays that there may be, in the Church, that unity and peace, which are the special grace of the holy Sacrament, as the Fathers teach us. The very bread and wine which are offered express this: the bread is made up out of many grains and the wine out of many berries.
The Preface, both for the Feast and the Octave, is that of Christmas: we are thus reminded of the close connection which exists between the two mysteries of the Birth of Christ and the Eucharist. It was in Bethlehem, the house of Bread, that Jesus, the Bread of Life, came down from heaven through the Virgin, his ever blessed Mother.
Faithful to her Lord’s injunction, which she brought before us in the Epistle, the Church reminds her children, in the Communion-Anthem, that they announce the Death of Christ, when they receive his Body; and that consequently, they should tremble at the very thought of an unworthy Communion.
The Church concludes the Mysteries by praying that there be granted that eternal and unveiled union with the divine Word, of which she has a pledge and figure in the partaking, here below, of the real substance of his Body and Blood, under the veil of Faith.
Who is this who comes up, embalming the desert of the world with her clouds of incense and myrrh, and perfumes unnumbered? The Bride has awakened of her own accord today. Full of desire to please him, and very lovely, the Church is standing round the golden litter, wherein is throned her Spouse in his glory. Near him are drawn up the valiant ones of Israel,—the priests and levites of the Lord who are strong even with God. Go forth, ye daughters of Sion! fix your gaze on the true Solomon, so beautiful in the diadem, wherewith his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals, the day of the joy of his heart! That diadem is the Flesh received by the divine Word, from the Virgin Mother, when he took our human nature for his Bride. By this most perfect of Bodies, by this sacred Flesh, there is every day continued, in the Eucharistic banquet, the ineffable mystery of the marriage between man and eternal Wisdom. For our true Solomon, then, each day is the day of the joy of his heart, the day of nuptial rejoicing: could anything be more just than that once in the Year, holy Church should give full freedom to the transports of the love she has for her divine Spouse, who resides with her in the Sacrament of Love, although in a hidden manner? It is on this account that in today’s Mass, the Priest has consecrated two Hosts; and that, after having received one of these in communion, he has placed the other in the glittering Ostensorium, which is to be carried in his trembling hands beneath a canopy, while hymns of triumphant joy are being sung, and the Faithful, in prostrate adoration, are being blessed by their Jesus, who thus comes amongst them.
This solemn homage to the sacred Host is, as we have already said, a later institution than the Feast itself of Corpus Christi. Pope Urban the Fourth does not speak of it in his Bull of the Institution, in 1264. Twenty-two years later, Durandus of Mende wrote his Rational of Divine Offices, in which he several times mentions the Processions which were then in use; but he has not a word upon that of Corpus Christi. On the other hand, Martin the Fifth, and Eugenius the Fourth, in their Constitutions, which we have already quoted (May 26, 1429, May 26, 1433), plainly show that it was then in use, for they grant Indulgences to them that are present at it. Donatus Bossius of Milan tells us, in his Chronicle, that on Thursday the 24th of May, 1404, “there was carried, for the first time solemnly, the Body of Christ in the streets of Padua, which has since become the custom.” Some writers have concluded from these words that the Procession of Corpus Christi was not in use before that date, and that it first originated at Padua; but the words of Bossius scarcely justify such an inference, and words he uses may be understood of a local custom.
Indeed, we find mention made of this procession in a Manuscript of the Church of Chartres, in 1330; in an Act of the Chapter of Tournai, in 1325; in a Council of Paris in 1323; and in one held at Sens in 1320. Indulgences are granted by these two Councils to those who observe abstinence and fasting on the vigil of Corpus Christi, and they add these words: “As to the solemn Procession made on the Thursday’s Feast, when the holy Sacrament is carried, seeing that it appears to have been introduced in these our times by a sort of inspiration,—we prescribe nothing at present, and leave all concerning it to the devotion of the clergy and people.” So that the initiative to the institution of today’s Procession seems to have been made by the devotion of the Faithful; and that this admirable completion given to our Feast began in France, and thence was adopted in all the Churches of the West.
There is ground for supposing that at first the sacred Host was not carried in these Processions as it is now; it was veiled over or enclosed in a sort of rich shrine. Even so far back as the 11th Century, it had been the custom, in some places, to carry It in this way during the Processions of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday morning. We have elsewhere spoken of these devotional practices which, however, were not so much for the direct purpose of honoring the Blessed Sacrament as for that of bringing more forward the mystery of those solemnities. Be this as it may, the use of ostensoria, or monstrances as they are termed in a Council held in 1452 at Cologne, soon followed the institution of the new Procession. They were made, at first, in shape like little towers. In a Manuscript Missal, dated 1374, the letter D, which is the first of the Collect for the feast of Corpus Christi, gives us a miniature illumination, representing a Bishop, accompanied by two acolytes, who is carrying the Host in a golden tower, which has four openings. But Catholic piety soon began to offer to its Lord all the exterior honor it could; to that Lord who hides himself and his glory in the Mystery of Love; and to the Sun of Justice thus shrouded, it suggested the compensation, poor though it must necessarily be, of a crystal sphere, surrounded by rays of gold or of other precious material, and of exposing the sacred Host within it. Not to mention other, and more ancient records, we find a very marked instance of the rapidity wherewith this use of the Monstrance was adopted: it occurs in a Gradual of the period of Louis the Twelfth (1498-1515); the initial letter of the Introit for Corpus Christi has within it a sun or sphere, like those in present use; it is being carried on the shoulders of two figures vested in copes, who are followed by the King, and several Cardinals and Prelates.
And yet, the Protestant heresy, which was then beginning, gave the name of novelty, superstition, and idolatry to these natural developments of Catholic worship, prompted, as they were, by faith and love. The Council of Trent pronounced anathema upon these calumnies; and in a Chapter apart, showed how rightly the Church had acted in countenancing these practices. The words of the Council are as follows: “The holy Council declares, that there has been most piously and religiously introduced into God’s Church the practice, that each year, on a certain special feast, the august and venerable Sacrament should be honored with singular veneration and solemnity, and that It should be reverently and with every honor carried in processions through the public roads and places. For it is most just that certain holidays should be appointed, whereon all Christians should, with special and unusual demonstrations, evince their gratitude and mindfulness towards their common Lord and Redeemer, for this so unspeakable and truly divine favor in which is represented his victory and triumph over death. And it was also necessary, that thus invincible truth should triumph over lying and heresy; that her enemies, seeing all that splendor, and being in the midst of such great joy of the whole Church, should either grow wearied and acknowledge their being beaten and broken, or, being ashamed and confounded, should be converted.”
But to us Catholics, faithful adorers of the Sacrament of Love, “O the joy of the immense glory the Church is sending up to God this hour: verily! as if the world was all unfallen still! We think, and as we think, the thoughts are like so many successive tide-waves filling our whole souls with the fullness of delight, of all the thousands of Masses which are being said or sung the whole world over, and all rising with one note of blissful acclamation, from grateful creatures, to the Majesty of our merciful Creator. How many glorious processions, with the sun upon their banners, are now winding their way round the squares of mighty cities, through the flower-strewn streets of Christian villages, through the antique cloisters of the glorious cathedral, or through the grounds of the devout seminary, where the various colors of the faces, and the different languages of the people are only so many fresh tokens of the unity of that faith, which they are all exultingly professing in the single voice of the magnificent ritual of Rome! Upon how many altars of various architecture, amid sweet flowers and starry lights, amid clouds of humble incense, and the tumult of thrilling song, before thousands of prostrate worshippers, is the Blessed Sacrament raised for exposition, or taken down for benediction! And how many blessed acts of faith and love, of triumph and of reparation, do not each of these things surely represent! The world over, the summer air is filled with the voice of song. The gardens are shorn of their fairest blossoms, to be flung beneath the feet of the Sacramental God. The steeples are reeling with the clang of bells; the cannon are booming in the gorges of the Andes and the Appenines; the ships of the harbors are painting the bays of the sea with their show of gaudy flags; the pomp of royal or republican armies salutes the King of kings. The Pope on his throne, and the school-girl in her village, cloistered nuns and sequestered hermits, bishops and dignitaries and preachers, emperors and kings and princes, all are engrossed today with the Blessed Sacrament. Cities are illuminated; the dwellings of men are alive with exultation. Joy so abounds that men rejoice they know not why, and their joy overflows on sad hearts, and on the poor, and the imprisoned, and the wandering, and the orphaned, and the home-sick exiles. All the millions of souls that belong to the royal family and spiritual lineage of St. Peter are today engaged more or less with the Blessed Sacrament: so that the whole Church Militant is thrilling with glad emotion, like the tremulous rocking of the mighty sea. Sin seems forgotten; tears even are of rapture rather than of penance. It is like the soul’s first day in heaven; or as if earth itself were passing into heaven, as it well might do, for sheer joy of the Blessed Sacrament.”
There are sung, during the Procession, the Hymns of today’s Office, the Lauda Sion, the Te Deum, and, if time permit, the Benedictus, Magnificat, or other liturgical pieces, which are in keeping with the spirit of the Feast, such as the Hymns for the Ascension, as specified in the Ritual. Having returned to the Church, the function concludes, as at other Benedictions, with the Tantum ergo, the Versicle and Collect of the Blessed Sacrament. But after the Blessing has been given, the Deacon does not put the Sacred Host into the Tabernacle, but on the Throne prepared for it, and around which, for eight days, the Faithful will be keeping a devout and adoring watch.
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