18 - 25 minutes readTuesday Within the Octave of Corpus Christi ~ Dom Prosper Gueranger

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Tuesday Within the Octave of Corpus Christi

Christum regem adoremus dominantem gentibus, qui se manducantibus dat spiritus pingudeninem. Let us adore Christ, the King, who ruleth the nations; who giveth fatness of spirit to them that eat him.

Wisdom prosecutes the fulfillment of the divine plan framed before all ages. His union, or, to use the scriptural expression, his marriage, with human nature, in the womb of his Virgin Mother, has shown his love; and Jesus, that Son of Man who never had any personality but the Word Himself, immolated on the Cross, in a daily renewed Sacrifice, offers an infinite glory to the Eternal Father. But the august Victim, who comes down upon earth at the word of the Priest, does not return to heaven amidst some sacred flame, like that which used to consume the ancient holocausts. Immoveable and passive as are the elements whose substance has been changed into His by the marvellous power of the sacrifice,—He, Jesus, remains at the Altar under the appearance of Bread and Wine, for such they seem to be to the eyes and the other senses:—this is the Blessed Sacrament, the outward sensible sign of a mysterious banquet.

“O Sacrament of Sacraments! O most divine and holy Sacrament! lifting up the veil of the symbolic mysteries which surround thee, show thyself to us in thy perfection, and fill our mental vision with thine incomparable and pure light!” Thus, in his inimitable style, speaks the interpreter of the divine hierarchies, the Eagle of Athens, when, having explained the holy ceremonies of the Sacrifice, he soars aloft in the consecration of the archetypes, or principles, of the sacred rites, which he has just been describing. Let us follow, as far as may be, the sublime philosophy of our Christian Plato, who has given a sort of consecration to the language and formulas of pagan wisdom, by making them the receptacles and teachers of Christian dogma; and, like St. Paul, has made every height of science obey and subserve the mysteries of Christ.

The Priest, then, has just pronounced the words of Consecration, and the tremendous Mysteries are there on the altar: he shows them, veiled under the sacramental species. The host, after being concealed for a few moments, is held up before the adoring multitude; it was one, and now he divides it into several portions: he presents to all the faithful the one same Chalice; he mystically multiplies and distributes unity; and thus completes the Sacrifice. For the simple and hidden Unity of the Word, by uniting, by espousing, to himself the whole nature of man, came forth from the bosom of his Father into this visible, this many-creatured world of the senses; and, conforming himself to this multiplicity, without, in any way, changing his own oneness, uniting our lowliness with his own dignity, uniting our life with his own, uniting us as his members to himself as our Head, he would have us all be one with himself: so, the divine Sacrament, which in its own essence, is one, and simple, and indivisible, lovingly multiplies itself, under the exterior symbol of the species; in order that, returning from the multiplicity of the receivers into the unity which is its own principle, it will bring into Unity them that received it in holy dispositions.

The name of Eucharist is the most suitable; for Eucharist signifies thanksgiving; and this Sacrament holds within it Him who is the object of all praise, and all the heavenly gifts he has bestowed upon us. It is the admirable summary of all the divine operations which God has achieved for man: it is the stay of our life; it gives back to our souls the divine image, and that upon the model of an archetype which is eternal beauty; it leads us, by admirable ascensions, into a path which, naturally, we could never have entered; by it are repaired the ruins of the original fall; by it we cease to be poor; it takes our whole being, gives its whole self to us, and thereby makes us partakers of God himself and all his gifts.

“It is on this account,” continues St. Denis, “that what is common to all the Sacraments, is attributed, by excellence, to this one; and hence it is, by a special name, called Communion and Synaxis. For albeit every Sacrament be such as gathereth our lives, divided asunder as they are many ways, into that one state whereby we are joined to God, and by a godlike bringing together of things which stand apart, brings these our lives into communion and union with Him who is one; yet, to the reception of those sacred symbols, there is given consummation, by the divine and perfective gifts of this one Sacrament. For there is no function performed by the sacred minister, to which the most divine Eucharist does not succeed, bringing with it the completion of conjunction with the one God, and conferring on the receiver (of that previous Sacrament) the communion with God by the gift of the consummating Mysteries (of the Eucharist). So, then, if the other Sacraments, not giving what they do not possess, remain, so to say, incomplete, not able to achieve perfect union between us and the one God; if their aim is to prepare the receiver to become partaker of the more excellent Mysteries of God; it was with all reason and justice that the wisdom of the hierarchs gave it this name of Communion or Synaxis, which is grounded on the truth of what it contains.”

“O Sacrament of love!” cries out St. Augustine: “O sign of Unity! O bond of charity!” The unitive power of the Eucharist produces, as St. Denis so sublimely teaches, the union between God and his creature; but St. Augustine dwells on it as peacefully forming Christ’s mystical body; and so preparing it for the eternal sacrifice, and for the universal and perfect communion in heaven. This is the leading idea, which inspires the holy Bishop of Hippo with those magnificent passages, which we have already put, at least in part, before our readers. Though others of the Holy Fathers and Doctors are very fine when treating upon the Eucharist, yet we have kept to St. Augustine more closely than to the rest; and in so doing, we were but following the example set us by the Church herself, who finds her own teachings, regarding the Blessed Eucharist, so faithfully expressed by his words, that, up to this Tuesday, she has taken him, in the beautiful Homilies of her Matins during the Octave, as her exclusive preacher.

He was telling us, eight days back, and he was but giving us the echo of all tradition, that the Holy Eucharist is the center and bond of the great Catholic communion, in this land of exile. On the very Feast itself of Corpus Christi, he completes his teaching, when commenting the passage for the day’s Gospel; the Church took his commentary, making it the official explanation of her Gospel. The holy Doctor then told us that the words of our Savior, when announcing his intention to institute the Mystery of love, included not only the earth, but heaven itself; they signified the whole body of Christ’s Church. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh for the life of the world; for my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. This meat, this drink, which he promises to give us, is, truly and primarily, his own veritable Flesh, and the very Blood which flows in his veins; it is the very Victim slain on the Cross: but as a consequence of this, it is also the Church, which is established upon his own, his own real substance, and is immolated with him, as one same victim with himself, in one and the same Sacrifice: “It is the holy Church,” says St. Augustine, “the Church of all Christ’s members, the predestined and the called, and the justified, and the glorified … Seeing that men desire this, by the food and drink they take, that they may suffer neither hunger nor thirst,”this result is not gained by any other than this food and drink, which makes them immortal and incorruptible who take it,”that is, the very fellowship of the Saints, where there is peace, and full and perfect unity.” It is a banquet of ineffable sweetness and plenty, wherein each of the elect is a partaker of the whole body, and gives it, by the very fact of his own participation, increase and completeness.

This was the eternal Passover spoken of by our Redeemer, when he put an end to the figurative one by the reality, veiled though it was, of the Sacrament. I say unto you, that, from this time forward, I will not eat it again, till it be fulfilled (that is, till it be completed) in the kingdom of God; I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you, new (as it then will be) in the Kingdom of my Father. Oh! that day, that endless day, that day of light and vision whereof David sang! On that day, throwing aside all the veils that are now shrouding him from our eyes, and himself the first to be inebriated with love in that divine banquet, eternal Wisdom, with an embrace uniting both Head and members together, will give man to drink of the torrent of his own divine pleasures, and of that fount of life which himself has in the bosom of the Father. Christ, our Head, has long since ascended beyond the clouds; the Church, flowing with delights, and leaning upon her Beloved, is continually going up after him from this desert land; one or another of his members, our brethren, is every moment going in, to complete the number of guests at the heavenly and eternal and new Passover; and, as each one goes in, our Jesus says: This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; for all these are then united to him as the bride to her Spouse, for they are but one body. It is the Eucharist which has produced this marvelous capability of perfect union between the members and their divine Head. This union will not be manifested till the day of glory: but it is here below, under the shade and cloud of faith, that the Eucharist is thus transforming the elect into Christ, that is, into eternal union with him, so as to make one Body.

He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. “This, then, it is,” says St. Augustine, “to eat that meat, and drink that drink:—to abide in Christ and have him abiding in one’s self.” “The sign that a man has eaten and drunk (of this Sacrament) is the abiding in and the being abided in, the dwelling in and the being dwelt in.” Yes, this is the very nature of the Eucharistic banquet, this banquet of mutual abiding; a banquet at which man cannot worthily eat of the Bread of Life without his becoming, and that gradually more and more, the bread of Christ, that one bread spoken of by the Apostle, which is kneaded up by the Church in the holy Mysteries, that it may become one with the sacred Flesh of Christ, as St. John Chrysostom so forcibly expresses it, and give, as St. Augustine says, growth and strength in unity to the mystical body of Christ. “I am the wheat of Christ,” said the holy martyr, Ignatius of Antioch; “may I be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found to be the pure bread of Christ, … to be offered in sacrifice to God.” This same thought of the great martyr of the early ages was taken up, and enlarged upon, in the 8th Century, by the monk St. Beatus and his disciple Heterius: they are sending to Elipandus, Archbishop of Toledo, their reply to the Nestorians of Spain; and in the first portion of it [Adversus Elipandus, lib. i. 72], they thus speak of the treatment the Faithful receive from these Heretics: “They are our persecutors: but by persecuting us, they are but shaking the wheat out of the straw; when they torture us, they are but separating the dregs from the wine. We ought to go down on our knees, and pray for them that thus make us become the food of God. As wine, when it has come forth from the press, is put into the Chalice, so is it with you: after those fastings, after those fatigues, and humiliations, and crushings, you now are come into the Lord’s cup, in Christ’s name. You are bread upon his table; you are wine in his goblet. We are all one and the same together; for there is but the one Chalice, in which we all are, because there is but the one Passion and Death of Christ, whereby we have all been redeemed. We all drink together, though we do not live together. A heretic seeks to separate; this is his effort, to tear asunder, not to piece; to break, not to join. He separates the Word from the Flesh. He separates the Head from the body, by saying that the Head is by itself, and the body by itself. Unfortunate man! he knows not, how Christ is the Head of the Church; and that the Church is conjoined to that Head; and that that is the whole Christ, that is Head and body. Heretics are not food for the Lord; for it was not of them, that he said: My meat is, to do the will of Him that sent me, that I may perfect his work; and that work consists in his making one bread out of many grains, that is, out of many souls, the making one soul, one in one charity, one faith, and one hope. For if the souls which he makes one by one faith were not the food of God, he would not have said of the countries white and ready for the harvest, but which at that time were not visible to the disciples: I have meat to eat, which ye know not!”

He hungered after this food, and oh! with what hunger! He longed, he thirsted, for that banquet of his Last Supper, wherein He, the omnipotent guest, gives himself as food to man, and would make the whole of humanity his own food. “As the fire devours the wood that is thrown into the furnace, so our Redeemer eats and assimilates to himself, at this sacred table, the whole body of holy Church; he makes it his own, and thus it gains strength and grows.” So spoke William of Paris, at the beginning of the 13th Century; and he was but repeating what St. Leo the Great and St Augustine had taught, ages before, saying, “The participating of the Body and Blood of Christ has this as its chief work,”to change us into Him,” and in such wise, as that being made his body, and having become his members, we may be what we receive: (ut in id quod sumimus transeamus, ut simus quod accipimus.”)

Eternal Wisdom had all the children of men in view, when he assumed human flesh. If the unity, which marks all the works of God, seemed to require that he should unite himself to one only in the same hypostasis or Person,”that same law of unity was, so to say, a promoter of his loving design to make this Man-God the Head of a mystical body in which each of the elect was to be united to Christ. The economy of the Incarnation is described to us by the holy Fathers of the Church in this way,—that the great mystery is not quite completed, until, by the Eucharist, the Head joins to himself his members, and is united to the body, which he is to animate and govern. “It is on this account,” says Paschasius Radbert, “that he so rejoiced at the Supper, and gives thanks to God, his Father, for that his desires are, at last, fulfilled. He desired, before he suffered, to eat the true Passover; in order that, when the hour came for him to deliver himself up as the price of our ransom, we might already be in him as one body. And thus, we had to be crucified, and buried, and rise again, together with him.”

The union between the Head and the members produced by the Eucharist is so close that, taking the words of our Savior, who compares it to the union which exists between the Father and Himself, St. Hilary and St. Cyril of Alexandria adduce it as an argument, the one to defend the consubstantiality of the Word, against the Arians; and the other to prove against the Nestorians, the union, real and physical, and not merely one of influence or affection, which unites the Word and human nature in the Incarnation. One, by nature, with his Father, one, in Christ, with the flesh he assumed, Eternal Wisdom makes us, through that flesh, one with himself, in the Father.

But already, by anticipation, the Holy Ghost, that Bond eternal, had brought the elect into unity. He the divine indweller of the children of God, He the sanctifying, the indivisible Spirit, assembles the sons of Adam in the unity of his own spirit of grace. “As the power of Christ’s flesh makes one body of all nations,” says St. Cyril, “so the Holy Spirit makes all spirits one; and yet, hereby, neither spirits nor bodies are confounded; as the Apostle said: One body, and one spirit, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and in us all.” Still, in the marvellous union of creatures brought about, to the glory of the Father, by the Spirit of Father and Son,—it is to the Son, as Incarnate Word, that is, as eternal Wisdom, who is taken with love for the children of men,—it is to Him that belongs this immense work of union, which so gloriously terminates in, which so stupendously leads up to, the divine espousals with human nature.

So it is, too, with ourselves; we are just at the close of this Mystery of love, which we have been contemplating, though too briefly, in the most dear company of divine Wisdom; we are to spend the two days, still remaining of our Octave, in considerations which are less exclusively on the dogma of the Blessed Eucharist; and we now find ourselves returning to the thought which was our starting point. God is love, as we were then saying; and love demands union; and union must make the united alike. Now this resemblance between God and man could not be realized, save by man’s being raised to what St. Peter calls a participation of the divine nature; now this is the special work of the Holy Ghost; and he effects it by grace, which is the result of his own personal indwelling in the soul he has sanctified; like the unction of purest oil, he penetrates the inmost recesses, and the very substance, of that happy soul. It was thus he acted in Christ; he inundated, with his divine plenitude, the human nature assumed by the Word, in the womb of the Virgin Mother, when Eternal Wisdom united himself with that nature which, though inferior and created, was, from that moment, holy and perfect in the Holy Spirit. He, the Spirit, acts proportionately, in the same way with the Church; she is the holy City, and he prepares her for the feast of the nuptials of the Lamb; she is the Bride of Christ, and he gives her to be clothed with robes all glittering and white, which are the virtues of the Saints. When he has made her one by baptism, and strengthened her in holiness by the second of the Sacraments, he has but to lead her to her Spouse, saying with her that come of the Sacred Mysteries, which are to complete his work, and unite together the Bride and the Spouse. Thus the children of the Bride, being made one with Christ, one body with him, are made partakers of her own nuptials with eternal Wisdom. If, then, we have all been baptized in the one only Spirit, it was, as the Apostle teaches us, that we might all form that one body, in which Jews and Gentiles, bondsmen and free, are not individuals set off against each other by their personal differences,—they are members of Christ, and have all been made to drink in the one same holy Spirit, the divine Word, whose sacred Flesh is given to us in the mystery of salvation.

St. Peter, in his first Epistle, speaks of our taking the holy Eucharist as though it were not only food, but milk for babes. He says, speaking to the early Christians, and, through them, to us also: As new-born babes, desire ye the rational milk, he means our Lord Jesus Christ, as is evident from the context. Clement of Alexandria thus quotes the passage: As new-born babes, desire ye the word! Yes, it is the Word, the Milk of those who are converted, and become little children, who are born again of the Holy Ghost; it prepares them for the solid food of the eternal feast, that is, for the Word unveiled. It is a delicious food, sweet as grace, strengthening as life, pure as is the light. It is that heavenly dew which fell from the bosom of the Father into the womb of the Virgin Mother; and this same, the Word Incarnate, gives himself to the Church, for she too is Virgin and Mother. Pure as a virgin, and affectionate as a mother, she invites her children to come, and she feeds them on this rational milk, this Word, this most beautiful one among the sons of men; she gives her little ones the body of Christ, and strengthens them with the Word of the Father. Oh! let us run to this blessed Mother of ours, and drink of that Word, who turns all our evils away from us, making us forget, by correcting them. The mother’s breast is everything to her child,—life, joy, its whole world. With what eagerness it throws itself on its treasure, as St. John Chrysostom was saying in the Office of yesterday; with what ardor it kisses the fount of all its blessings! And yet, a mother’s milk is but an image of the One I am speaking of. That other ceases, when the first few months are gone; but the one I partake of is an exhaustless spring; it forms me into the perfect man, making me reach the age of the fulness of Christ.

All these sublime teachings were like household words to the early Christians; and we cannot be surprised, therefore, that one of the favorite symbols of the holy Eucharist was milk. St. Perpetua relates that, on the evening before she and her companions were to suffer martyrdom, Pastor put a delicious milk into her mouth: the details she gives of that touching scene show us that she is speaking of the Blessed Sacrament. Among the paintings in the Catacombs, we not unfrequently find this emblem, beautifully eloquent in its varied accompaniments. Sometimes, it is a vase of milk, held in Pastor’s hand or lying by his side; sometimes it is that same vase resting on a hillock, and the sheep are respectfully keeping guard over it; sometimes it is the Lamb of God, the Pastor of pastors, who is holding it hanging on his shepherd’s crook; but all this means and conveys the same mystery. In one of these paintings, however, the teaching is almost palpable: the precious vase of Milk is placed on the back of the Lamb, who is holding the palm branch of his triumph over death, though it cost him his Blood; the vase is thus incorporated, so to say, with him, and has a nimbus round it, as holding within it the divine Word, the food of the Angels, and yet, by the workings of love, adapted to suit our human weakness.

As St. Augustine so admirably explains this doctrine, “Man does not live on one food, and Angel on another: truth, divine Wisdom, is the one food of every intelligence. The Angels, the Powers, the heavenly spirits, feed on it; they eat of it; they grow upon it, and yet the mysterious food lessens not. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God: take it, if you can; eat it; it is food. Perhaps you will say to me: ‘Oh! yes, it is verily food; but I—I am a babe; what I must have is milk; else I cannot reach that Word you tell me of.’ Well! since it is milk you require, and yet there is no other food for you save this of heaven (the Word), he will pass through the flesh, that he may thus be brought within reach of your lips, for food does not become milk, except by its passing through flesh. It is thus a mother does. What the mother eats is what her child drinks; but the little one not being, as yet, strong enough to take the bread as it is, the mother eats it, and then gives it to her child under a form that very sweetly suits the babe. He does not receive the food such as it lay upon the table, but after it has passed through the flesh, and so made suitable to the child. Therefore was the Word made Flesh, and dwelt among us; and man hath eaten, thus the bread of Angels. Eternal Wisdom came down even to us, by the Flesh and Blood of Him that was our Saviour; he came as milk, which was full of all blessing to us.” Oh! truly, the Bride may well say to the Spouse: Thy breasts are better than wine. He, beautiful Wisdom, has carried out his loving design. From the first outset, right up to the attainment of his purpose, there have been numberless obstacles; but he has mastered them all, and with a power to which one thing alone can be compared,—his matchless sweetness.

The Antiphonary of the celebrated monastery of Benchor, in Ireland, published by Muratori, and which was drawn up not later than the 7th Century, gives us the following Hymn, which is, at once, dignified and simple:

Quando communicarent Sacerdotes
Sancti, venite,
Christi corpus sumite,
Sanctum bibentes
Quo redempti sanguinem.
Come, ye just, take Christ’s Body, and drink the sacred Blood, whereby ye were redeemed.
Salvati Christi
Corpore et sanguine,
A quo refecti
Laudes dicamus Deo.
By Christ’s Body and Blood we were saved; by the same being fed, let us sing our praises to God.
Dator salutis,
Christus Filius Deo
Mundum servavit
Per crucem et sanguinem.
Christ, the Son, the giver of salvation, saved the world to God his Father, by his Cross and Blood.
Pro universis
Immolatus Dominus,
Ipse sacerdos
This Lord, who was slain for all, was himself both Priest and Victim.
Lege præceptum
Immolari hostias,
Qua adumbrantur
Divina mysteria.
It was commanded in the Law, that victims should be slain; hereby were foreshadowed our divine Mysteries.
Lucis indultor
Et Salvator omnium
Præclarum sanctis
Largitus est gratiam.
He that gives the light, and is the Savior of all men, has given to the just a splendid favor.
Accedant omnes
Pura mente creduli,
Sumant æternam
Salutis custodiam.
Let all the Faith approach with pure minds, and receive the eternal pledge of salvation.
Sanctorum custos
Rector quoque Dominus,
Vitam perennem
Largitur credentibus.
The Lord, who is keeper and ruler of the saints, grants life everlasting to them that believe.
Cœlestem panem
Dat esurientibus,
De fonte vivo
Præbet sitientibus.
To the hungry, he gives bread from heaven; to the thirsty, he gives a drink from the living fount.
Alpha et Omega
Ipse Christus Dominus,
Venit venturus
Judicare homines.
He, Christ our Lord, Alpha and Omega, he is coming, who is to come to judge mankind.

Our readers, after this charmingly simple appeal, which was so long heard in Erin, will be interested, too, by the following lyric Antiphon, which, formerly, was used in the Church of Gaul. It was sung at the moment of Communion, on days of great solemnity, as an invitation calling the Faithful to a participation in the Immortal Mystery.

Venite, populi, ad sacrum et immortale mysterium, et libamen agendum. Come, O ye people! receive the sacred and immortal mystery, and the libation prepared for you.
Cum timore et fide accedamus manibus mundis, pœnitentiæ munus communicemus, quoniam propter nos Agnus Dei Patris sacraficium propositum est. Let us approach with fear and faith, holding out clean hands; let us take, in communion, the price of our repentance; for it was for our sakes that the Lamb was offered as a sacrifice to God the Father.
Ipsum solum adoremus, ipsum glorificemus: cum Angelis clamantes: Alleluia. Him alone let us adore, him let us glorify: and, with the Angels, sing: Alleluia!


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