18 - 25 minutes readTuesday After Trinity Sunday ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

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Tuesday After Trinity Sunday

The history of the blessed Eucharist is one with that of the Church herself: the liturgical usages, which have varied in the celebration of the most august of all the Sacraments, have followed the great social phases of the Christian world. This was a necessity; for the Eucharist is the vital center here below, whither everything in the Church converges; it is the inner bond which unites together that society of which Christ is the head, the society whereby he is to reign over the nations, which are to be his inheritance. Union with Peter, the Vicar of Christ, must always be the indispensable condition, the external mark, of the union of the members with the invisible Head; but supported, in an ineffable manner, on the Rock which bears the Church, the divine Mystery, wherein Christ gives himself to each one of his servants, must ever be the essential mystery of union; and as such, the center and the bond of the great Catholic communion. Let us, today, get a clear notion of this fundamental truth, on which was based the very formation of the Church at her commencement; and let us consider the influence it exercised on the forms of eucharistic worship during the first twelve centuries. Tomorrow, we will continue the subject by examining how subsequent loss of fervor, and heresy, and social degeneracy, induced the Church to gradually modify these forms, which, after all, are but accidental; they were admirably adapted to the favored times they had served, but would scarcely suit the changed circumstances and requirements of later generations of the Church’s children.

It was on the eve of his Passion that our Lord instituted the great Memorial which was to perpetuate, in all places, the one Sacrifice whereby are perfected, for ever, they that are sanctified. The Cross was the “Altar of the world,” as St. Leo calls it; and on that Cross, says the same holy Doctor, was made a few hours after the Last Supper, “the oblation of the whole human nature;” for the whole human race was united with this last act of infinite adoration and reparation offered by its Head to the supreme Majesty of God. The Church, issuing as she did with the Blood and Water from the side of her Savior, was then but in her infancy; and the Mystery of divine union, which Jesus had come upon the earth to produce by himself uniting to the Father, in the Holy Ghost, the members of his mystical body,—this union was not to have its immediate realization for each separate member except by its successive application to each one as his time came. This was the object of the sublime institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper. It was a New Testament, which gave to the future Church the possession of the Mystery, whereby each generation, linked on to its predecessors by the unity of the one same Sacrifice, would find itself in union with the Word Incarnate; and in that union, would have the tie which mutually binds his members together, and the unity of his mystical body.

Immediately after instituting this new Passover, Jesus said to his Disciples: A new commandment I give unto you: that ye love one another, as I have loved you: and by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples. This was the first injunction given to his disciples, by Jesus, after giving himself to them in the Eucharist; this love of and union with each other was to be the mark of the Covenant which he then, through his Apostles, contracted with all them who were to believe in him through the word of their preaching. His very first prayer, after that first giving his Body and Blood under the eucharistic species, is for that same union,—the union of his Faithful, one with another; a union admirable as is the Mystery which produces and maintains it; a union so intimate that its model is the union existing between Jesus and his Eternal Father: May they all be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they may be made perfect in one,—one, as we also are one.

Under the direction of the Holy Spirit, the Church understood, from the very first, the intentions of her divine Master. The three thousand who were converted on the day of Pentecost are described in the Acts as persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles, in the communication of the breaking of bread, and in prayers. And so great is the power of union derived from their all partaking of the heavenly Bread that they were remarked by the Jews as a class of men forming a society distinct from every other, which won the esteem of all that beheld them, and drew others daily to join them.

A few years later, and the Church, led on by the same Holy Spirit, passed beyond the narrow limits of Judea and carried her treasures to the Gentiles. It was a world of corruption, where all was discord between man and man, and where the only remedy to the outrages of individual egotism was the tyranny of a Cæsar; and it was into such a world that the Christians came, and showed it, from east to west, the marvel of a new people, which by the sole influence of its virtues, recruited its members from every class of society and from every clime, and was stronger and more united than any nation that had ever appeared on earth. The Pagans were in admiration at this strange and inexplicable novelty; without knowing what they were doing, without troubling themselves with any further inquiry, they bore testimony to the perfection wherewith these Christians fulfilled the dying wishes of their Founder; they thus spoke of them: “See how they love one another!”

It was indeed a mystery; but the Faithful, the Initiated, understood it; for it had been thus explained to them by the Apostle: We, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one Bread.

This text is admirably commented by St. Augustine in a sermon he preached to the Neophytes a few hours after their Baptism: “I remember,” says he, “the promise I made of explaining to you who have been baptized, the mystery of the Lord’s Table, which you now see, and of which you were made partakers in the night just past… That Bread which you see on the Altar, that Bread which has been sanctified by the word of God, is the Body of Christ: that Chalice. or rather. what that Chalice contains. which has been sanctified by the word of God. is the Blood of Christ. By these did Christ our Lord will to give us his Body and his Blood, which he shed for us, unto the remission of our sins. If you have properly received them, you are what you have received, for the Apostle says: We, being many, are one bread, one body, Yes, it was thus that he expounded the sacrament of the Table of the Lord: We, being many, are one bread, one body. We are, by this Bread, instructed how we are to love unity. Was this Bread made out of one grain? Were there not many grains of wheat? But before they came to be bread, they were separated one from the other; they became joined by means of water and by a certain bruising: for unless the wheat be ground and be moistened with water, it could never take the form we call bread. It was the same with you, until you were, so to say, ground by the humiliation of fasting and by the sacrament of exorcism. Baptism and water came to you; you were moistened that so you might come to the state of bread. But even so, there is no bread without fire. What, then, does fire signify? It is the Chrism; for the oil which makes our fire is the sacrament of the Holy Ghost… The Holy Ghost, therefore, comes; after water comes fire; and you are made Bread, which is the Body of Christ… Christ willed that we should be his Sacrifice,—the Sacrifice of God… Great, very great, are these mysteries! … Do you so receive them as to take care that you have unity in your hearts.” “Be one, by your loving one another, by holding one faith, one hope, and undivided charity. When the heretics receive this Bread, they receive testimony against themselves; for they are seeking to make division, whereas this Bread is the sign of unity.” The Scripture, speaking of the first Christians, says that they had but one heart and one soul; and it is the unity which is signified by the Wine in the Holy Mysteries; “For,” continues St. Augustine, “the wine was once in so many bunches of grapes; but now it is all one, one in the sweetness of the chalice, for it has gone through the crushing of the winepress. So you, after those fastings, and labors, and humility, and contrition, have come in the name of Christ to the Chalice of the Lord; and you are there on that Table, and there in that Chalice. You are there together with us, for we have eaten together and drunk together, and that because we live together… Thus did Christ our Lord (by the Wine made one out of many grapes) signify us, and wished us to be one with him, and by his Table, consecrated the mystery of our peace and unity.”

These admirable expressions of St. Augustine are but the substance of the doctrine regarding the holy Eucharist, held by the Church in the 4th Century. They give us the very essence of that doctrine in all its fullness and in all the clearness of its literal truth; no other could have been given to Neophytes, who, up to that time, had been kept in complete ignorance of the august Mysteries, of which they were henceforth to partake:—as to the discipline of that secrecy, we shall have to speak of it a little further on. The doctrine of the Eucharist here laid down by the great Bishop of Hippo is identical with that given by all the Fathers. In Gaul, St. Hilary of Poitiers, and St. Cesarius of Arles; in Italy, St. Gaudentius of Brescia; at Antioch and Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom; at Alexandria, St. Cyril;—all had the same way of putting this dogma of faith before their people. Christ is not divided: the Head and the members, the Word and his Church are inseparably one in the unity of the mystery instituted for the very purpose of producing that unity. And this unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who lived in the golden age of Christian eloquence, was reproduced by Paschasius Radbert in the 9th Century, by Rupert in the 12th, and by William of Auvergne in the beginning of the 13th.

It would be too long to give the names, and still more to quote passages, in testimony of how all the Churches for the first twelve Centuries looked upon the holy Eucharist in this same way,—that is, as instituted for the purpose of union. If we follow this traditional teaching back to the apostolic source whence it originated, we shall find St. Cyprian, in the age of Persecution, speaking to his people upon the union between the divine Head and his members, which is the necessary result of the holy Sacrament; he shows this, not only by the nature of bread and wine, the essential elements for the consecration of the mysteries, but likewise by the mingling of water with the wine in the eucharistic cup: the water, he says, signifies the faithful people; the wine denotes the Blood of Christ; their union in the chalice—union necessary for the integrity of the Sacrifice—union the most complete and inseparable—expresses the indissoluble alliance between Christ and his Church, which consummates the Sacrament. The same St. Cyprian shows that the Unity of the Church by the Chair of Peter, which is the subject of one of his finest treatises, is divinely established on the sacred Mysteries; he speaks enthusiastically of the multitude of believers, the Christian unanimity being held together in the bonds of a firm and indivisible charity by the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ in his Sacrament, and Christ in his Vicar, is in reality but the one same Rock that bears the building which is erected upon it; the one sole Head, visible in his representative, his Vicar, and invisible in his own substance, in the Sacrament.

This sentiment of union, as the result of the Eucharist, was rooted in the soul of the early Church; her very mission was to bring about the union of all the children of God that were dispersed throughout the world; and when the violence of her enemies obliged her to provide her children with some secret sign, whereby they might recognize each other and not be recognized by pagans or persecutors or blasphemers, she gave them the mysterious icthus, the fish, which was the sacred symbol of the Eucharist. The letters which form the greek word for fish (icthus) are the initials of a formula in the same language, which gives this sentence: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. The Fish is shown to us in the Book of Tobias as a figure of Christ, who is the food of the wayfarer; casts out the devil by his virtues; and gives light to the world, grown old in iniquity. Again: it is not without a prophetic and mysterious purpose that the fish is mentioned in Genesis as being blessed by the Creator at the commencement of the world, just as man himself was. It goes with the bread which is miraculously multiplied in the Gospel, when our Lord prefigures the marvels of the Eucharist. It is brought again to our notice after the Resurrection; it is found lying on hot coals, and is offered by Jesus, together with bread, as a repast to seven of his disciples, on the banks of lake Tiberias. Now, what is this Fish? this Bread? The Fathers answer: Christ is the Bread of that mysterious repast; he is the Fish taken from living water, and is roasted on the altar of the Cross by the fire of his love, and feeds the Disciples on his own substance, and offers himself to the entire world as the true icthus. No wonder, then, that we find this sacred symbol on almost everything that the Christians of the first three centuries possessed; on precious stones, rings, lamps, inscriptions, paintings, there was the Fish, in some shape or other. It was the watchword, the tessera of the Christians in those days of persecution. An inscription of the 2nd Century, discovered in modern times at Autun, thus speaks of the Christians: “This divine race of the heavenly icthus, this noble-hearted race, receive from the Saviour of the Saints the nourishment which is sweet as honey, and drink long draughts of the divine fount, holding icthus in their hands.” A holy Bishop of Asia Minor, of that same early period, by name Abercius of Hierapolis, who was divinely led into various lands everywhere, recognizes the disciples of Christ by the holy Fish, which makes all however separated by distance to be one. “I have,” says he, shortly before the close of his life of travel, “I have seen Rome; I have be held the queen city in her robes and sandals of gold; I have made acquaintance with the people decked with bright rings. I have visited the country of Syria and all her cities. Passing the Euphrates, I have seen Nisibis; and all people in the East were in union with me, for we all formed but one body; everywhere, faith presented to all, and gave as nourishment to all the glorious and holy icthus, which came from the only fount, and was taken by the most pure Virgin.”

This, then, was the bond of that mighty union between Christians, which was such a puzzle to the pagan world; and the more the real cause of that unity was kept concealed from its eyes, so much the more violent was the fury wherewith it attacked the Church. Our Lord had said: Give not that which is holy to dogs; neither cast ye your pearls before swine. These words contained, in principle, the discipline of secrecy which was observed in the Church till the conversion of the Western world was completed. The holiness of the Sacraments, the sublimity of the Christian doctrines, necessitated an extreme reserve on the part of the Faithful, living as they had to do, amidst people whose moral degradation and brutal corruption rendered them what our Savior had told us men would sometimes make themselves. But there was nothing which it was so imperative to hide from the stare and sacrilege of pagans as the most holy Eucharist,—that “great pearl of the sacred Body of the Lamb,” as Venantius Fortunatus calls it. It was this that gave rise to the essential distinction, into two classes, of a Christian assembly when met for divine worship; there were the initiated and the uninitiated, the Faithful and the Catechumens. The distinction began with the apostolic age and was kept up till the 8th Century. A few weeks before the solemn administration of Baptism, there took place, as we have elsewhere explained, the giving, or, as it was termed, the Tradition of the Symbol, to the future members of the Church; but the eucharistic mystery, the arcanum by excellence, was even then kept back from the fortunate candidates for holy Baptism. This explains the varied precautional expressions, the reticence, the studied obscurity of phraseology, used by the Fathers in their discourses to their flock, and this for years after the times of Constantine and Theodosius. The Catechumens were admitted while the holy Scriptures were being read, or while the Psalms were being chanted; but as soon as the Bishop had given his discourse on the portion which had been read, either of the Gospel or other passages of the Sacred Volume, these Catechumens were dismissed by the Deacon; and this missa, or missio, gave its name to that first portion of the Liturgy; it was called “Mass of the Catechumens;” just as the second part, which was from the oblation to the final dismissal, was called the “Mass of the Faithful.”

And yet this same holy Mother Church, which kept so jealous an eye to her treasure, as not to let it be fully known, except to her true children, made such by Baptism,—with what delight did she not, at the feasts of Easter and Pentecost, reveal to her newborn children, as soon as they came from the font, the ineffable secret hitherto kept in her heart as Bride, the full mystery of the icthus! Incorporated to Christ by the saving waters, enrolled in his army and marked with the sign of his soldiers by the anointing received from the Bishop,—with what maternal fondness did she not lead them from the Baptistery first, and then from the Chrismarium to the hallowed precincts of the Mysteries instituted by the Word Incarnate! Yes, it was there that Jesus, their Head, was awaiting his new members, that he might draw all the more closely the bonds which already knit them to his mystic Body, and unite them to himself in the infinite homage of that one great Sacrifice, which himself was offering to the Eternal Father.

This wondrous unity of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which, in its ever the same one oblation, included both Head and Members; this unity of Sacrifice which kept alive and strengthened the union of each Christian community and of the whole Church, was admirably expressed by the magnificent forms of the primitive Liturgy. After the Catechumens had been dismissed and the unworthy expelled, all the Faithful, without exception, from the Emperor and his Court down to the poorest cottager, whether man or woman, advanced towards the Altar, each one offering their share of bread and wine for the sacred Mysteries. Themselves a kingly priesthood, as St Peter calls them, a living victim figured by the gifts they brought, they assisted, standing, at the immolation of the divine Victim, whose members they truly were; then, united in the kiss of peace, the external sign of their union of heart, they received in their hands, and still standing, the sacred Body their spiritual nourishment; the Deacons offered them the Chalice, and they drank of the precious Blood. Even babes in their mothers’ arms were eager for the divine drink and received some drops, at least, into their innocent mouths. The sick who could not leave their rooms, and prisoners, were not deprived of being united with their brethren in the sacred banquet; they received the precious Gifts at the hands of ministers who were sent to them, for the purpose, by the Bishop. The Anchorets in their deserts, Christians living in the country, and all such as could not be present at the next assembly, took the Body of our Lord with them, that thus they might not, because of distance, be deprived of uniting at the coming celebration of the Mysteries of salvation. Those were ages when Christian unity was continually being attacked by persecution, schism, and heresy, all three at once; and the Church, to counteract the danger, had no hesitation in facilitating, by every lawful means, the use and application of the venerable Sacrament, which is the sign of unity, and the innermost center, and the strongest tie of the Christian community.

It was from the same principle of unity that, although in each city there were generally several churches or centers for the assemblies of the Faithful, and a greater or less number of Clergy, yet all the Faithful and Clergy came together for the collect, or synaxis, into some one place fixed upon by the Bishop. “Where the Bishop shall show himself,” says St. Ignatius of Antioch, “there let the multitude be; just as where Christ Jesus is; there is the catholic Church. It is not lawful either to baptize or to celebrate the agape (the Eucharist) without the Bishop Do all of you assemble for prayer in the one same place; let there be unity of common prayer, unity of mind, unity of hope… Do all of you come together, as though you were one man, into the temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Christ Jesus, the great high-priest of the unborn God. Let us enjoy the one Eucharist; for one is the Flesh of our Lord Jesus, and one his Blood which was shed for us; one also is the Bread which was broken to us all, and one the Cup which was distributed to all; one altar to the whole Church, and one Bishop, surrounded by the Presbyterium and the Deacons.”

The Presbyterium was the college of Priests of each city; they kept near the Bishop, were his council, and celebrated the sacred functions together with him. It would seem that at the beginning, they were twelve in number, the closer to represent the Apostles; but in the great cities, that number was soon doubled. We find that, towards the close of the first century, there were in Rome five and twenty Priests who were respectively set over twenty-five Titles, that is, Churches, of the metropolis. The Pontiff took first one, and then another, of these Titles for the celebration of the Mysteries. The twenty-four Priests of the other Titles united with the Pontiff in the solemnity of one and the same Sacrifice, and concelebrated at one and the same Altar. In their respective places, the seven Deacons and all the inferior clerics, each according to his rank, cooperated in the thrice holy Mysteries. We have already seen the active part taken in the same by the faithful People.

It was the very time when the Eagle of Patmos, St. John the Evangelist, was being favored with his inspiration and vision of the gorgeous ritual of heaven. He beheld the Lamb that was slain, yet standing in the midst of the four and twenty Elders who were seated on thrones encircling the throne of God,—which is also the throne of the Eternal High Priest. Clad in white garments and wearing golden crowns, these four and twenty Elders held harps in their hands and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of Saints. Then came the seven Spirits, who were before the throne of God like so many burning lamps; and then, thousands of thousands of Angels, who were round about the Throne, singing praise to the sacrifice and triumph of the Lamb; and then every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, all cried out, giving benediction, and honor, and glory, and power,—to him that liveth for ever and ever. This admirable vision represented the fullness and unity of the Sacrifice, which was offered once, but to last forever, and was offered by him who is the Head of all created beings. The Church on earth, the exiled Bride of that Jesus, did her best when offering that same Sacrifice, to repeat the sublime ritual of heaven. And as in heaven, the divine Lamb, the eternal High Priest, drew after him the celestial hierarchy, so likewise on earth, all the Churches came round the officiating Pontiff and united with him in the holy Sacrifice, each one according to the sacred Order he held.

It was impossible for the universal Church, subject as she is to the conditions of place and time, to meet here below at one Altar; but the unity of the Sacrifice, which was everywhere offered, was like the unity of the Church, herself expressed by the mutual transmission between the various Bishops of the sacred species that had been consecrated by them; and these, each one put into the chalice from which they received the precious Blood. St. Irenæus, who lived in the 2nd Century, tells us that the supreme Hierarch, the Pontiff of Rome, used to send these sacred gifts not only to Churches in the West, but even into Asia, as emblems of the unity existing between the Churches there, and the Church, the Mistress and Mother of all others. So, too, when the number of the Faithful became so great as to induce the Church to allow individual Priests to celebrate alone the holy Mysteries, the Priests of the town where a Bishop resided never thought of exercising this isolated function until they had received from the Bishop a fragment of the bread he had consecrated and which they mingled with their own Sacrifice. It was the fermentum, the sacred leaven of Catholic Communion.

As an appropriate conclusion to the above subject, we append the following beautiful liturgical formula, taken from the Apostolic Constitutions, a writing which, as we now have it in its entirety, has been admitted by critics as a work of the 3rd Century.

Thanksgiving for the Mysteries
Gratias agimus tibi, Pater noster, pro vita quam manifestasti nobis per Jesum Filium tuum; per quem tum omnia creasti, tum universis provides; quem et misisti, ut ad salutem nostram homo fieret; quem etiam permisisti pati et mori; quem et resuscitans glorificare voluisti, et sedere fecisti ad dexteram tuam; per quem et promisisti nobis resurrectionem mortuorum. We give thanks unto thee, O Father, for the life thou hast manifested unto us by thy Son Jesus; by whom, thou hast both created all things, and providest for all; whom thou also sendedst, that, for our salvation, he might be made Man; whom thou also permittedst to suffer and to die; whom also, raising him up again, thou willedst to glorify, and madest him to sit at thy right hand; by whom also thou didst promise us the resurrection of the dead.
Tu, Domine omnipotens, Deus æterne: quemadmodum hoc erat dispersum, et quum fuit congregatum, factus est unus panis, ita congrega Eccelsiam tuam a finibus terræ in regnum tuum. O almighty Lord, eternal God! as this (element), which was once disunited, being united, hath become one Bread, so do thou assemble together thy Church, from the ends of the earth, into thy kingdom.
Adhuc gratias agimus, Pater noster, pro pretioso sanguine Jesu Christi effuso nostra causa; et pro pretioso corpore: cujus et hæc antitypa celebramus, quum ipse nobis constituerit mortem illius annuntiare: per ipsum enim tibi gloria in sæcula. We also give thanks to thee, our Father, for the precious Blood of Jesus Christ, which was shed for our sake; and for his precious Body; of which we are now celebrating the antitypes (the Mysteries); for he himself did appoint that we should announce his death; for, by him, is glory (given) to thee for ever.
Amen. Amen.


This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)