By Fr. Leonard Feeney
(Note: The following, from Father Feeney's book, The Bread of Life, is one of the most profound and beautiful essays I have read on the mysteries of the Eucharist. It is well worth printing out and meditating upon slowly with a view to putting this magnificent teaching of Christ and the Church into action. Nothing is more important today.)
The word Eucharist means alternately “good favor” or “good thanks.” It preserves its shades of meaning, one for God and one for man. The Blessed Eucharist is God’s “good favor” to man, and man’s “good thanks” to God. The Blessed Eucharist goes both ways, — to God, and from Him, in one little wafer of white, in one small cup of red. The Blessed Eucharist brings God down to man; and it lifts man up to God. It is a communion between God and man.
In our liturgies and our devotions, in our catechisms, in our books of theology, there are four auxiliary titles the Blessed Eucharist requires so as to make its abundant purposes clear to us. These additional titles are: a) The Real Presence, b) The Sacrifice of the Mass, c) Holy Communion and d) The Blessed Sacrament. There must be some sublime reason why these not altogether identical expressions are used by the Church in regard to the Blessed Eucharist. I would like to make these reasons clear to you.
The four distinctions in the Blessed Eucharist which I have just named, are not divisions. It is one and the same Blessed Eucharist in all four holy purposes. But these purposes, rightly entitled, give us a marvelous sense of realization of the Gift of God to us in the Blessed Eucharist. They help us to see what a favor it is from God, and what thanks we owe God in return. The various reverential ways in which Our Holy Mother the Church refers to the Blessed Eucharist deepen our love for its reality.
God giving glory to God
You may ask: Of the four assignments given the Body and Blood of Jesus when He descends to our altars, which is the highest? I answer at once: The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the highest, the greatest, the most sublime. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is God giving God glory. It is more necessary, more essential, more adorable that God love God, than that I love God, or that God love me.
The Sacrifice of the Mass is the Blessed Eucharist offered to God immolatively. It is God loving God. It is God given to God by way of propitiation. Nothing is, or could be, more exalted than that. We love God most when we want God to have perfect adoration and perfect love. That is why we are always saying in our Catholic prayers: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost! As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Have you ever stopped to think what the world would be like without the Mass? Have you realized how much we must thank God for making the Holy Sacrifice possible to us all these years, and for giving us such dignity when we adore?
In the Sacrifice of the Mass occurs the great mystery of transubstantiation, when the substances of bread and wine are changed into the substance of the Body and of the Blood of Jesus. Let us speak of this wheat and this wine.
The earth does God a great favor by supplying Him with the materials of transubstantiation, with the vestiges He uses in the Eucharist. Have you ever stopped to realize that if the fields yielded no more wheat, or the vineyards stopped distilling the liquids that become wine, there would be no more Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? And without the Mass there would be no Church!
When you realize the elemental innocences out of which God gives us the Bread of Life in the Blessed Eucharist, rains have a new meaning, vines acquire fresh value as their grapes ripen in the sun, wheat fields assume a sudden significance, and clouds and foliage and silt and soil are all supersubstantially associated when we see them as necessities for the accoutrements, the wrappings, of this great Gift which makes our Holy Sacrifice, and which is the Flesh and Blood of Jesus under the eye-likenesses of bread and wine.
Bread is a product of fields and hands. Wine is the product of hills and feet. If Jesus did not have bread, there would be no Blessed Eucharist. No other food could serve Christ’s sacrificial purpose with the lightness and clarity and brilliance of wheat become bread. And it was the sun-charged grape bunches on the sides of villages that lured His generosity to pour Himself out in the guise of wine. This wheat and wine came to God the Son from God the Father. The Son thanks His Eternal Father for them at the Offertory of the Mass. He thanks Him for all the hosts and all the wheat fields until the end of time! What a harvest Christ requires for His sacrificial Suppers of Love. And what a wheat bill if God the Father were to charge the Son!
In the immediate prayer before the Consecration in the Mass, the priest reports of Jesus: “Who the day before He suffered took bread into His holy and venerable hands, and with eyes lifted up to Heaven, unto Thee, God, His Almighty Father, giving thanks to Thee, He blessed it . . . .”
What is Jesus giving thanks for in this prayer of report? Not for the Blessed Eucharist in Real Presence as yet, because the words of consecration have not yet occurred. It is for the bread of the Mass. It is just for the bread! Oh, the tons, the cargoes, the ships, the fields, the sun, the rains, the elements, the farmers, the sickles, the scythes, and the little nuns in holy bakeries, that are required to give us the bread for the Holy Eucharist, all down the centuries! Is not that beautiful?
At the Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus is not God to Whom we go to adore. That is His purpose as the Real Presence. In the Sacrifice of the Mass Jesus is God to Whom we go to adore with. He is God Whom we give. In the Real Presence, Jesus is the Magnum Donum, the Great Gift, given to us. In the Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus is the Magnum Donum, the Great Gift, given to God the Father!
We can give God, God! We can give the Eternal Father His own Divine Son! We can offer the Son to the Father! And this offering is the payment for all God has given us — full price!
The Sacrifice of the Mass is not only a Gift to God. It is a sacrifice in gift. We are sacrificing something that we give — sacrificing something that is now ours. The priest is asked to offer that great gift of God to God, in terms of sacrifice and in terms of immolation.
Jesus can never die again, but He can be immolated again. And the immolation is complete, which is inflicted on the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
When a priest takes bread in his hands, he has power only over the Body of Jesus. (That the Soul and Blood and Divinity will also come where the priest puts the Body of Jesus, is due to the inseparability of the constituents of the God-Man forever in the place where He is.) And when a priest takes wine in his hands, he has power only over the Blood of Jesus.
It makes no difference whether a power is a power with words or a power with hammer and nails. Power is judged by the effect, not by the devices by which the effect has been achieved. The walls of Jericho were overpowered just as much when they fell to the ground at the command of Josue, as when they fell under the ramming of Oriental wall-bangers.
Jesus gave us in His life examples both of His power directly, and of His power in command: directly, by driving the buyers and sellers out of the Temple with a scourge, and by command, causing to fall on their faces the men who came out with Judas to crucify Him. I might almost say there is more power in the person who can bring about his purpose with a word, than in the one who has to have a hammer and nails and violence to help him out.
There is more execution-power in Catholic priests than there was in the Roman soldiers who nailed Our Lord to the Cross, as far as power goes. The soldiers could put the Body of Jesus there only once. Priests can put the Body of Jesus there every morning; indeed, every time they choose! That is terrific power!
In the Mass, we offer the Son back to His Eternal Father, and His Eternal Father remembers the preciousness of this Body and Blood in separate offering, once having seen, to Divine horror, its separateness on Golgotha, when there was all corpse on the Cross and all blood on the ground.
The Sacrifice of the Mass is God’s Son dying and offering Himself in death to the Eternal Father, by way of adoration, propitiation, thanksgiving, petition. It is God’s Son thanking His Father for the gift of our existence, the graces given us, our Faith, the sacraments we have received. The Sacrifice of the Mass is God’s Son pleading with the everlasting majesty of God for the greatest and the tiniest favor the priest might have as his intention. The Mass is God’s Son mystically dying for whatever the priest pleases.
The priest can put in the Mass, in the Commemoration of the Living, anyone in the world he wishes to pray for. He can remember one or many of the souls of the Faithful Departed in the Commemoration of the Dead. The Eternal God will be immolated on the altar to thank His Father for whatever the priest or his people wish to thank Him for. He will plead with His Father for whatever the priest or his people wish to plead for.
That is great love for us on the part of Jesus, is it not?
I think you can see in the Mass the transcendence it has over the other sacred values in the Blessed Eucharist. Constructively, that is not necessarily so. But in the dignity of performance, there is nothing to equal it.
The priest indicates at the foot of the altar, as the Mass begins, his own unworthiness. He confesses his sins, and he says he is unworthy to go unto the altar of God. In the Canon of the Mass, however, the priest prays confidently. He does not speak so much of his own lowliness, in the Canon, because what he does now is, “through Him, and with Him, and in Him.”
At the end of the Canon, at the Little Elevation, the priest lifts the Host and the Chalice to God the Father, and he says:
Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, be unto Thee, O God the Father Almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
Nothing more than this can God the Father ever ask from this world. It is impossible for God to receive any more than to have His own Divine Son given to Him in the Sacrifice of the Mass. When that happens, well, little bell, might you ring; well, little altar boy, might you wear a white surplice; well, priest, might you bear a cross on your vestments!
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a Divine Giver giving a Divine Gift to a Divine Recipient. It is God giving God to God!
Real Presence compared to God's Immensity
The Real Presence is the second great value of the Blessed Eucharist. It must not be confused with God’s immensity.
As you know, God is present to all things. God is omnipresent. But that is not what we mean by the Real Presence. God’s omnipresence concerns the necessity of His being present to every created thing for its sake, so that it can continue to be and to act. Before the words of consecration, which put God in the Host, God is in the host by omnipresence. But you cannot, before the words of consecration, say of the host, “This is God.” Omnipresence means “God is here!” Real Presence means “God is this!”
Let me repeat. Were I to lift up a host, if I had one in my hand, I could say, “God is here,” because God is everywhere. But I could not say of that host, “This is God!” After the Consecration, however, I can say of the Host, “This is God!” And I could put that Host in the ciborium, lock Him in the tabernacle, put Him in a pyx. We can adore that Host.
Anything you could say about a thing present, God is submitted to, by the Real Presence in the Blessed Eucharist. If you open the door and put Him in the tabernacle, into the tabernacle He goes. It does not make the slightest difference that He was there by omnipresence. He is now there in space relation. The unlocated is now located. The supralocal is now local.
“This is My Body.” “This is the Chalice of My Blood.” Both the consecrating words of the host and the chalice begin with that real, presence-inflicting word, “This.”
What is Our Lord’s value to us in Real Presence — apart from His other beautiful benefits in graces in the Blessed Eucharist? Well, we now have a place to which we can go, in the presence of which we can say we are, in the direction of which we can bow our heads and fold our hands, to which we can sing our songs, strew our flowers, light our lights, shake our incense; for which we can build our cathedral, top it with a cross, stain-glass it with our windows, give it a center aisle that leads down to the Real Presence, before which we can genuflect. The Real Presence makes our bodies entitled to the prerogatives of adoration.
Were you just looking for God’s omnipresence and not Real Presence, His omnipresence — His being everywhere — would impress you more in the ocean if you lived on the shore, in the mountain if you lived inland, in the field if you were a farmer, or in the forest if you were a timber man. You would give Him an igloo if you were an Eskimo, a hut if you were a native at the Equator, a white meetinghouse if you were a New England Congregationalist, and none would ever house Him at all.
But once you get a “This” — a placeable, liftable, carryable, locateable Jesus — you have the Real Presence. In the adorational life of the Church, the Real Presence elicits from us those beautiful human observances, Eucharistic observances, which are sheerly adorational: Benediction, Exposition, processions, the little sanctuary lamp burning when there is no Mass and no communicant at the altar rail. It is what we raise our hats to, when we go by the Church. Its very “thereness” is our comfort, if we sleep in a town where It is, on a street where It is, or, favor beyond all favors, in a religious house where It is!
I could stay on that for a long time. The Curi of Ars in one of his simple sermons (which the proud French intellectuals never noticed were so deeply theological), in his saintly, priestly appreciation of the Real Presence, put it beautifully, challengingly, and theologically — for all he put it bluntly in peasant utterance. He said, about the Real Presence, “If I place Him on the right, He stays there; if I place Him on the left, He stays there; and if I drop Him on the floor (God help me!), He stays on the floor.”
That is the first point about the Real Presence in the Blessed Eucharist. You can meditate on that. You can realize how wonderful it is to have God “This”; to have God contained! God in a tabernacle, in a pyx, in a priest’s pocket, in a child’s mouth. God in a room, God before lights!
On her heart...
I shall never forget one night in England when I brought the Holy Eucharist to a lady who was dying. She was unconscious. She could not go to Confession. She could not receive Our Lord. Her sister was with her, and we stayed for many hours and prayed. I had placed the pyx containing the Blessed Eucharist on the mantelpiece. The sister said, “Would you put it on her heart?”
“That is a beautiful idea,” I said, and I put the pyx on her heart.
While she was unconscious, lying there and breathing up and down, Our Lord had a little, tiny Lake-of-Galilee ride on a little stormy breast, and He was not a bit afraid, not even of falling over to the side. All He was there was the Real Presence! There was no consciousness in His sick old child to know that He had come from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, or that He could be the Blessed Sacrament or Holy Communion, if called upon.
In Real Presence, the Blessed Eucharist is God at a terminal, instead of God beyond the stars, or God beyond the stratosphere, or God light-years away. It is God beside a wax light, beside a tabernacle lamp. One little match-lit star in a dark sanctuary will show you where God is in Real Presence.
I say It is a terminal, a terminus ad quem. You have arrived! This is God! You need go no further to find either Jesus, or, by virtue of the presence of Jesus, God the Father, or God the Holy Spirit — or God’s Mother, or His Angels, Archangels, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Dominions, Thrones, Cherubim and Seraphim! They are all here! However they relate themselves to this space, I do not know, but around this space, in which is contained the Real Presence, they are crowded — everyone trying to enter the circle of that little Host’s dislocation of the air.
The Real Presence is God waiting for attention — or inattention! Most of the time, alas, He is getting no attention. If you want an example of unselfishness, think — not of how many times He has companionship — but of the hours, and hours, and hours that He has none, at least of our kind of companionship, the kind of companionship which He was seeking when He came.
I remember a man telling me one day in New York (and I know the same thing is true here in Boston) of the number of occasions you can go into church, even in the daytime, and for weary hour upon weary hour there will be only one or two people in church. Sometimes there will be nobody but yourself. It is very easy to find an empty church during the day, in large cities. Outside the church, there will be automobiles, newsboys, traffic, business, crowds, parades, reviews, policemen, neon lights — everything! And inside, is God: ignored.
The Sacred Heart
You say, “Is Jesus hurt at being ignored?” Let me tell you a secret.
Jesus is hurt in the Blessed Eucharist when we do not come to visit Him and adore Him as our God and our King. He is not hurt in His hands or His feet, or in His back once so scourged with ropes, or His head, once so crowned with thorns. He is hurt in His heart. That was precisely what He came to say to Saint Margaret Mary, the great apostle of the Sacred Heart.
Jesus came to tell Saint Margaret Mary that His heart had been hurt, not by neglect during the slow three hours on Calvary on Good Friday afternoon, but by the long, long neglect of centuries in the tabernacles of our churches: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and every day of the week, week of the month, month of the year.
If you sometimes wonder why the Sacred Heart was so daring as to unbare His breast at Paray-le-Monial to Margaret Mary, a little nun who came to visit Him in prayer, and to let her see, through the bones and the flesh, the beat of His heart; — and if you sometimes wonder why He asked that a picture of Himself with heart exposed be placed in every Catholic home — know that Jesus wished to show the one part of Him that the ropes had not reached in the scourging, or the crown of thorns had not pierced when He was exposed to ridicule and mocked as a King. The one part of Him the nails did not penetrate. The one part of Him they forgot to wound when He was alive, and which the soldier’s spear pierced when the mind and soul of Jesus had gone, and the heart of Jesus was left to the silent entombment of His breast.
Saint Margaret Mary saw the incessant centuries of heartbeat of the Sacred Heart of Jesus — not in Galilee, not in Judea, not even in His glory in Heaven — but in the hiddenness and the lowliness of our tabernacles.
One final and doctrinal affirmation
Do you wish to let me tell you, in one final and doctrinal affirmation, what it was that forged the Eucharist? The Blessed Eucharist, which was to be God’s atonement to God in the Mass, God’s Presence in our tabernacles, God’s divinization of our spirits in the Blessed Sacrament, and God’s incorporation into Himself of us in Holy Communion? If you wish to know what it was in Jesus that thought to plunge Himself, in his divine and human majesty, into the semblance of wheat and wine and leave Himself there for us to adore and love until His second coming on the last day, I will tell you it was: — the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From the shedding of His blood, came our redemption. From the beating of His heart in love for us, came the Blessed Eucharist.
The Blessed Eucharist was too great a folly for the mind of Jesus to have thought of, all alone. The Blessed Eucharist was the folly of His heart. The folly of Love.
The one who knew that best, at the Last Supper, was John, the Beloved Disciple. John paid tribute to the Jesus Who gave us the Blessed Eucharist by resting his head on the breast of the Lord.
And now you know that it does hurt the heart of Jesus to be ignored and neglected in the Blessed Eucharist.
Faith is not merely an inner sense. It is an outward act — an adoration, an opening of the mouth, an assent. How can I bring home to you the enormity of the Gift of God to us in His Presence upon our altars?
The Real Presence is the Incarnational overture of the Eternity of God. So eternal is this beautiful Presence, so does It transcend all time, that we say about Jesus, “Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and the same forever.”
God forever in eternity is wonderful to think about. But God, never absent from our world since the night of the Last Supper, that is the ineffable thing! And this, despite the fact that His Presence depends on the frailties of wheat, of a host, of a bakery, of a priest’s hands — the frailty of love! If that is not a thunderous edition of the Eternity of God, I do not know what is.
In the Host, we have the Eternity of Jesus given to us humanly to adore. He is an Eternal Person. His flesh is lifted to the power and the grandeur and the dignity of that Eternal Person. The whole Beatific Vision is contained on our altars! The Father and the Holy Spirit have to be there with Jesus, personally, because where the Son is, the Father must be. And where the Father and the Son are, the Holy Spirit must be. And so, all Eternity is there!
Watches and Vigils
Was it not Saint Anthony the Abbot who said that one of the surest ways to drive out the devil is by watches and vigils? The vigil of all vigils is the vigil before the Presence of Jesus. When He decided between two saints at work — between Martha busy at many things and Mary sitting at His feet — Jesus said: “Mary hath chosen the best part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42.)
Nothing you could possibly do by way of activity: nursing, social work, slum clearance, nothing you could do by way of anything could equal your being in the Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist.
0 Everlasting, O Holy God! Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus! Dominus Deus Sabaoth! O, Holy, Holy, Holy!
The third purpose to which the Blessed Eucharist is put, is to be the Blessed Sacrament.
The Blessed Sacrament is not the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ without any further qualification. It is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, under the species of bread and wine — under the accidents of bread and wine, the appearances of bread and wine. If the accidents of bread and wine are missing, you have no Blessed Sacrament.
Were Jesus to strip Himself of the outward appearance of the bread or the outward appearance of the wine and walk down from the altar, you would have Him really present to you, but you would have no guise, no medium, for the Blessed Sacrament.
What is the purpose of the Blessed Sacrament — to be the Real Presence? No! To be an offering to God for your salvation, or for the good of the Church, or the interest of your friends in eternity? No! That is a purpose of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
To Divinize Us
The purpose of the Blessed Sacrament is to move into an action which will divinize us. The Blessed Sacrament is Pure Act in action in the created order. There is no action in the created order which of itself will divinize us. There is no action which of its intrinsic worth makes Pure Act act upon us. There always has to be covenant and institution. As the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Eucharist moves over and takes its part along with six other outward signs which Christ, for His own purpose and by reason of His own choice, made Sacraments.
The Blessed Sacrament in action is an outward sign attached to which, in time, the Eternal nature of God flows into us and divinizes us. The Blessed Sacrament in action is not just the Blessed Eucharist there on the altar — the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, under the appearances of bread and wine in repose. The Blessed Sacrament in action is: the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, under the appearances of bread and wine, eaten or drunk by us!
Because it is so important for you to understand the innocent overture of God fully, let me repeat it all to you again: The Blessed Eucharist is a sacrament which contains the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, under the appearances of bread and wine. If those species of bread and wine are not there, it is not the Blessed Sacrament, and it can do no sacramental work. If Our Lord walked into this room tonight, He would not be a sacrament — even if He took us in His arms, or washed out feet. It would be beautiful to have Him here. It would be beautiful to be in His presence, and it would be marvelous to listen to Him and to talk to Him. He would speak to us out of two depths — out of time and out of eternity.
But He would not be a sacrament. Jesus in sacrament is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the species of bread and wine. If you want to find out what is the indispensable, added thing that makes the Incarnate Second Person of the Blessed Trinity a sacrament, it is the species of bread and wine. Take them away, and there is no sacrament.
Those little species of bread and wine are things taken out of our order. That white look in the bread, that red look in the wine — that wheat taste and wine taste — were there before Jesus came. Jesus made use of them. Whenever He speaks about the divinization of us, Jesus says, “Whoever eateth this bread and drinketh this wine. . , .”
I am divinized by reason of the fact that two little local things — bread and wine — have surrendered their species to the Body and Blood of Jesus, so that I can swallow them; so that I can eat His Body and drink His Blood, in order to have life in me; in order to be divinized!
The individuating sacramental note in the Eucharist is the species of bread and wine. They give us the tangible — touching Immensity! The dimensioned — touching the boundless depths of God! Do you see that?
Comng down and going back
I would say in the Real Presence, that it is eternity coming down to time; and in the Blessed Sacrament, that it is time going back to eternity. The Blessed Sacrament is time dealing out eternity. It is helplessness dealing out power. It is finiteness dealing out infinity!
And now I shall go on to the last purpose of the Blessed Eucharist: to Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is Jesus, not giving, but taking me in.
When we receive the Host,— the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ — and swallow It, we are divinized because to that act is attached the increasing of sanctifying grace in our souls. When this Blessed Eucharist comes into our poor bodies as sacrament, we know that immediately all our powers move over to deal with It as food. The nutritive parts of us are very innocent. They do not know how deeply faith has taken hold of the communicant!
And so, when the Blessed Eucharist goes down into our stomach and our digestive processes move over and attack It, as if It were ordinary food, as far as species go, it is child’s play. Our powers of assimilation have all the devices for dealing with what rests like bread, folds up like bread, and seems to decompose like bread. So, our powers of assimilation attack the species, and in ten minutes the species are destroyed. Because the Blessed Eucharist in Sacrament is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, plus the species of bread and wine, when the species are gone, there is no more Blessed Sacrament.
But there is Holy Communion.
All the Blessed Sacrament asks is that it be an action — that it be the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, plus the species of bread, traveling into our bodies. Its sacrament work is over the minute It reaches our stomachs. Holy Communion work then takes over. In the Blessed Sacrament, I have taken in Jesus. In Holy Communion, Jesus takes in me.
Holy Communion is Jesus incorporating me into Himself. Jesus, as you know, has two natures, the nature of God and the nature of man. And we, it seems, have also to be little images of that hypostatic union, that union of Christ’s two natures, when we move into eternity. We have to have both a divine and a human phase to us. We must be both God and man — God by adoption and man by incorporation with Jesus. We must be other Christs!
Let me call the Sacrifice of the Mass, “when God meets God,” and let me call Holy Communion, “when Man meets man.” The Man is the God-Man. Holy Communion is the incorporation of my heart, my blood, my veins, my feet, my hands — everything, every part of me — into the Jesus of the Incarnation.
By way of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus makes divine entrance into my soul. By way of Holy Communion, Jesus makes my body one with His. How do you like that? “The Father and I are one; and you and I are one. I am the Vine and you are the branches. Abide in Me, and I in you . . . .”
It is a terrible thing that some Catholics who go to Mass do not receive Holy Communion. In the early ages of the Church, when martyrs were made, Holy Communion was the life of the Christians. Even little babies received a drop of the Precious Blood in their mouths!
Saint John Chrysostom said, in the fourth century, “Do you know how low the Faith has fallen? Some people come to Mass and do not receive the Holy Eucharist!”
The Blessed Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the sacramental appearances of bread and wine. Let us now see how the Divinity is hidden in this great gift of God to man.
Before Our Lord went over to die on Golgotha, He offered, at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday night, the first Sacrifice of the Mass. When Jesus said, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood,” His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity replaced the substance of the bread and the substance of the wine, although the appearances of both remained.
In the Host sense — in the material order, that is,— it is surprising and beautiful that the Body, Blood, and Soul of Jesus could be hidden under the species of bread and wine. But what takes your heart away, and makes your mind almost die in adoration, is how the Godhead could be there! After all, the human nature of Our Lord has a limited space. But for Infinity to become so finite, for Omnipotence to become so helpless!
The Smallest, Yet...
When you want to meditate on how powerful God is in His effects in the world — when you want examples of His omnipotence — you think of His mountains, rivers, oceans, planets, meteors, all His great physical forces. They give you some idea of His Divine majesty. Now, try to consider what would be the smallest, tiniest thing in which His omnipotence could be hidden? I think any little bug or worm would be more potent than a frail piece of bread, barely sticking together, and so fragile that it is the easiest thing in the world to break it.
I cannot imagine anything more frail than a host in the order of solid, nor anything more frail than wine in the order of liquid. I cannot imagine God going any lower in the material order, than into these two things. “Adoro Te Devote,” says Saint Thomas Aquinas, in his hymn to the Holy Eucharist. “I adore Thee devoutly, Oh buried Godhead!”
On Golgotha, Jesus Christ died once, and He will never die again. On Golgotha, Jesus died in His manhood. At the Last Supper, the night before Golgotha, Jesus died mystically, in His Godhead. The Godhead, as we know, of course, can never die, even once, and since a “mystical death” might be misunderstood, let us call that which befell the Divinity of Our Lord at the Last Supper, what Saint Thomas called it. Let us call it a burial.
Let us see what happened in that burial at the Last Supper, that burial which seemed so easy. “This is My Body,” Our Lord said. “This is My Blood. Do this in commemoration of Me.”
“Do this in commemoration of Me” meant that every man at that table was given the power to do what Jesus did! Jesus squandered Himself for us in His humanity, on the Cross. But, Good God! have you ever seen such helplessness as that which Jesus inflicted on Himself when He handed His very power in the Godhead over to the men who were His followers? That power meant a death for the Body of Jesus. And that power meant a burial for the Godhead!
Into such a state of summons and call, into such bondage and such helplessness did God go, that for nineteen-hundred odd years, wherever there has been in the world a man commissioned by Holy Orders to say: “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood,” all the brightness of God, all the power and splendor and glory, all His Divinity, must hide in the little round whiteness of a Host.
The priest who says “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood” does not even have to have the Faith! He does not even have to have love! All he has to have is will and intent. He can be a schismatic, or a priest who just goes through the Mass perfunctorily. He can be a cold show-off, much more interested in his own sermon and his own interests.
Can never fail
But, once he is ordained, every single time a priest says, “This is My Body” and “This is My Blood,” the Godhead will come. It will never fail — no matter how sinful the priest may be, no matter how much he has crucified Christ on different scores — such as belittling His Mother. That which is food, in his hands can become the Body and Blood of Christ. The priest may never refer to the Blessed Eucharist in his conversations for the rest of the day. He may go off and lunch and talk with heretics and infidels, who deny and hate Jesus Christ. But once the priest says the words of consecration, the Godhead will come.
If the little Host should fall on the floor and the priest did not notice It, the eternal and everlasting power of God would be there on the floor!
Good God, what a thought there is in the Blessed Eucharist! When you know it is God! Oh, the panoply of Its power, and the richness of Its love!
At night, when the sexton blows out the candles and when all the lights are quenched, you would think that the Godhead would pull away. There is no purpose for being there, there is no one present to love It. But no, It abides all through the night, all through the lonely night, in the tabernacle.
So faithful has been the Godhead to the burial bequeathed to It in the Blessed Eucharist that in every single city in the United States, in this unconverted country of ours, It is there in Its place. Think of just one city, and just one church. Think of New York City, and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. God is in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. President Truman or General Eisenhower rides by, in a parade. General MacArthur goes by. The Ambassador from France goes by. And never once does God get an acknowledgment from any of these men being honored, or from their followers, or from the people lining the street, watching them go by!
Enough to break one's heart
Think of Saint Paul’s Church, across the street from us, and the steady stream of scoffing students and skeptical professors passing all day long, to and from Harvard classrooms. The only worshipper in the church is probably some sleepy old man, saying his beads in front of the Blessed Eucharist.
You can never destroy God. But you can snub Him. God’s loneliness in the tabernacles of the world is enough to break one’s heart. All the display that sometimes goes on in the sacristies, with how little real love of the Faith! The exhibitions of reverence — and the cold, tepid hearts! Think of all the years when people were so little mindful of the great Life-giving powers of the Blessed Eucharist that they received It only once a year! Other things were more important: painting, sculpture, architecture, science, education, culture.
You feel like saying: “This is too much. Why not call off this covenant — this Sacrament?”
There is a special censure reserved to the Holy Father for those who desecrate the Sacred Species. The fact that that censure is there indicates that the sin of desecration must have been committed, and more than once. In the recent Spanish Civil War, the first thing the Spanish Communists did was to desecrate the Blessed Sacrament. It is true, Jesus can no longer receive any physical injury, nor is it possible to unseat Him as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. But oh! what a return for Love!
The work of our life as Catholics is to be thinking, not of the heights of God only, but of the depths and the lowliness to which He, the ineffable God, has plunged Himself for our love. What a reparation and what a delight is there possible in the love of the Blessed Eucharist!
That would be our great opportunity — to love the Blessed Eucharist.
Why does Jesus endure whole decades of being unloved? Why does He come, morning after morning, in the Mass, with no appreciation in those to whom He comes, of the majesty of What is in their midst? Why?
Jesus would do it through a whole century for the sake of the one boy or the one girl who will appreciate Him. He would rather be snubbed for a century than miss the love that might await Him when the century is finished. He would do it for the one bowed head, for the one adorational heart.
Jesus feels Himself repaid in His saints. They are worth the bounty, the abandon, the Divine recklessness, the absolute folly of giving Himself into our frail substance by way of food and drink.
By way of, the easily spilled cup! The easily broken-bread!