June 15, 2017: CORPUS CHRISTI
June 15, 2017: CORPUS CHRISTI
Rank: Double of the I Class.
The Christ, the Lord, being a Priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedec, offered bread and wine.
God from the very beginning required a sacrifice from the hands of man. The primitive sacrifice consisted of the fruits of the earth, which man, in his state of innocence, offered to God, as an acknowledgement and profession that he had received all from him. After the fall this acknowledgement was no less necessary than before; but then it was not alone sufficient. Man was now become a sinner: he had forfeited all right and title to life by eating of the forbidden fruit. As therefore in his first state he paid homage to god by his offerings, and acknowledged, by that action, and by abstaining from the forbidden tree, that he held all of God; so, after his fall, he was to make a public acknowledgement that his life was forfeited. This he did by joining the blood of animals, (over which God had given him an absolute power) instead of his own to the primitive sacrifice of the fruits of the earth. This practice was common to all nations, who had learnt it from Adam and Abel by Noah, and was not the expiation, but only the confession of guilt.
The Eucharistic repast of the Christians being the participation of the victim of the everlasting covenant of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, and the greatest and most august action of the Christian religion, we must form our ideas of it, not from our own reasoning, but from the testimony of the first teachers of the Christian doctrine.
To receive what the Church distributed in this repast, was not receiving common bread and wine. This is what St. Justin in his Apology, as well as St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Irenaeus assures us was the belief in their times, something above one hundred years after Christ: and they further add, that it was the very flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, who became man for us. This confession of the second century is perfectly agreeable to the self examination and trials always required of the faithful, before they approached the sacred mysteries.
Were the Eucharistic bread and wine nothing but a bare sign, or a symbol instituted to put us in mind of him, who was crucified, and shed blood for us, this sign, would undoubtedly, be a memorial of that institution. We might, at the sight and reception of it, excite in our souls sentiments of gratitude. But this action would neither require any great trial of ourselves nor give room for any severe regulations; or be followed by any alarming consequences. We may certainly look at a symbol, or a fine painting of the death of Christ, without incurring the guilt of any crime by not preparing ourselves before hand. The inspection of a symbol or painting, or the reading or hearing a circumstantial and pathetic account of the sufferings of Christ, is what the greatest sinner might safely be advised to; it is what may be of advantage to all, and ought to be refused to none.
But this cannot be said of the Eucharist. The words of St. Paul, I Cor. xi. where he gives the faithful of Corinth rules concerning the participation of this mystery, must necessarily fill every Christian with dread and awe; and at the same time shew us, that the necessity of the preparation required doth not arise from the express will and appointment of the institutor of these mysteries, but from the very nature of that which the faithful receive. Whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the Blood of the Lord. But, let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.
It is therefore the substitution of the real body and blood of Christ to the typical blood of other victims (which Christ himself appointed and performed the night before he suffered) the Church Commemorates on Maundy-Thursday. But as that day is chiefly employed in the contemplation of the sufferings of Christ, it may be said that for a long time, she contented herself with honouring the institution of the Eucharist by the daily consecration, and preparation thereof at Mass.
But about the middle of the 13th century Pope Urban IV instituted the present solemnity by a Bull he published, and which was received and confirmed by the general council of Vienne in the year 1311, in opposition to the unhappy error of some, who preferred a false Philosophy to the belief of all the Christians of the preceding ages.
The Office for this Festival has a special interest of its own: it is the memory of that holy night when, as the Church expresses it, faith shows us our Lord presiding, for the last time, at the figurative Pasch, and following up the feast of the typical Lamb with the banquet of his own Body.
O God, who, under the wonderful Sacrament, hast left us a memorial of thy Passion: grant us, we beseech thee, so to reverence the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that, in our souls, we may always feel the fruit of thy Redemption. Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
The following Sequence, is a well-known composition of the Angelical Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas. The Church, the true Sion, expresses her enthusiasm, and love, for the living and life-giving Bread, in words which, at first sight, would seem too precise and scholastic, to comport the poetry of form and sentiment. The Eucharistic mystery is here developed with that concision and solemnity for which St. Thomas had such a wonderful talent.
Rise royal Sion, rise and sing
Thy soul’s kind Shepherd, thy heart’s King.
Sound forth thy Cymbals strike thy Lyres
Tun’d to the voice of heavenly Choirs,
The subject sure is far above
The first ambition of thy love.
bread of life, this day’s
Triumphant text, provokes our praise;
The living, and life-giving bread
To all the twelve distributed;
When life itself about to die,
Of love was its own legacy.
Come, Love, and let us weave a song
Loud and pleasant, sweet and long;
Let lips and hearts lift high the noise
Of such just and solemn joys;
And may our loving hearts this day
Their joy and gratitude display.
Whist new law of Christ the Lord
With a new lamb doth bless the board.
The aged Pascha pleads not years,
But spies love’s dawn, and disappears;
Types yield to truth, shades shrink away,
And all their night is lost in day.
But lest that
die too, we are bid
Ever to do, what Christ once did;
And by a mindful, mystic breath,
That we may live, revive his death,
With consecrated bread and wine
Transform’d, and taught to turn divine.
The heav’n-instructed light of faith
Here a holy dictate hath,
That they but lend their form and face,
Themselves with rev’rence leave the place,
Nature and name to be made good,
By nobler bread, more noble blood.
Where nature’s laws no leave will give,
Bold faith takes heart and dares believe.
In different species, signs, not things,
Himself to me my Saviour brings;
As meat in that, so drink in this,
But still in both one Christ he is.
The mouth receiving
Nor wound, nor breach in what it takes.
Let one, or many thousands be
Dividers here, singly he
Receives no less, all they no more;
Nor leave they both less than before.
Tho’ in itself this sov’reign feast
Be all the same to every guest;
Yet from the same life-giving bread,
The good find life, the bad sink dead.
Nor is it love but direful sin,
Which thus from life can death draw in.
When the blest signs thou broke shall see,
Hold but thy faith entire as he,
Who, howsoever clad, can’t come
Less than whole Christ, in ev’ry crum.
In broken forms he lives the same,
And all, in each, his virtues reign.
See how the food
of Angels then
Bends to the lowly mouths of men!
The children’s bread, the bridegroom’s wine,
Not to be cast to dogs or swine.
Behold the final sacrifice,
On which all figures fix’d their eye.
The ransom’d Isaac, and his ram,
The Manna, and the Paschal lamb.
Jesus, master just and true,
Our food, and faithful shepherd too!
From dangers all vouchsafe to keep,
And feed us, as thy darling sheep.
O let that love, which maketh thee
Mix with our low mortality,
Lift our lean souls, and set us up
Convictors of thy heav’nly cup;
Co-heirs of saints, that so we may
Take the same food, and the same way;
Nor change the pasture, but the place,
To feed upon thee face to face.
Lesson of the Epistle of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians - I Cor, xi.
Brethren, for I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke, and said: Take ye and eat: this is my body which shall be delivered for you: this do for the commemoration of me. In like manner, also, the chalice, after he had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as often as ye shall drink, for the commemoration of me. For as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, ye shall show the death of the Lord, until he come. Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the Blood of the Lord. But, let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment unto himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.
Reflection on the Epistle.
The holy Eucharist, both as Sacrifice and Sacrament, is the very centre of the Christian religion; and, therefore, our Lord would have a fourfold testimony to be given, in the inspired writings, to its Institution. Besides the account given by Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we have also that of St. Paul, which has just been read to us, and which he received from the lips of Jesus himself, who vouchsafed to appear to him, after his Conversion, and instruct him.
St. Paul lays particular stress on the power given by our Lord to his disciples, of renewing the act which he himself had just been doing. He tells us, what the Evangelists had not explicitly mentioned that as often as a Priest consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ, he shows (he announces,) the Death of the Lord: and, by that expression, tells us, that the Sacrifice of the Cross, and that of our Altars, is one and the same. It is, likewise, by the immolation of our Redeemer on the Cross, that the Flesh of this Lamb of God is truly meat, and his Blood truly drink, as we shall be told, in a few moments, by the Gospel. Let not the Christian, therefore, forget it, not even on this day of festive triumph. The Church insists on the same truth in her Collect of this Feast:… and her object in this is to impress vividly, on the minds of her children, this, the last and earnest injunction of our Jesus: As often as ye shall drink of this cup of the new Testament, do it for the commemoration of me! The selection she makes of this passage of St. Paul for the Epistle, should impress the Christian with this truth,—that the divine Flesh which feeds his soul, was prepared on Calvary; and that, although the Lamb of God is now living and impassible, he became our food, our nourishment, by the cruel death which he endured. The sinner, who has made his peace with God, will partake of this sacred Body with deep compunction, reproaching himself for having shed its Blood by his sins: the just man will approach the holy Table with humility, remembering how he, too, has had but too great a share in causing the innocent Lamb to suffer; and, that if he be at present in the state of grace, he owes it to the Blood of the Victim, whose Flesh is about to be given to him for his nourishment.
But let us dread, and dread above all things, the sacrilegious daring, spoken against, in such strong language, by our Apostle,—and which, by a monstrous contradiction, would attempt to put again to death Him who is the Author of Life; and this attempt to be made in the very banquet, which was procured for us men by the precious Blood of this Saviour! Let a man prove himself, says the Apostle; and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. This proving one's self is sacramental confession, which must be made by him who feels himself guilty of a grievous sin, which has never before been confessed. How sorry-so-ever he may be for it, were he even reconciled to God by an act of perfect contrition, the injunction of the Apostle, interpreted by the custom of the Church and the decisions of her Councils, forbids his approaching the holy Table, until he has submitted his sin to the power of the Keys. (Council of Trent, Session IV. Chapter IV.)
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to St. John. Ch. VI.
At that time: Jesus said to the multitude of the Jews: My flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so, he that eateth me, the same, also, shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.
Reflection on the Gospel.
The beloved Disciple could not remain silent on the Mystery of Love. But, at the time when he wrote his Gospel, the institution of the Eucharist had been sufficiently recorded by the three Evangelists who had preceded him, as also by the Apostle of the Gentiles. Instead, therefore, of repeating what these had written, he completed it, by relating the solemn promise made by Jesus, on the banks of Lake Tiberias, a year before the Last Supper.
He was surrounded by the thousands, who were in admiration at his having miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes: Jesus takes the opportunity of telling them, that he himself is the true bread come down from heaven, and which, unlike the manna given to their fathers by Moses, could preserve man from death. Life is the best of all gifts, as death is the worst of evils. Life exists in God as in its source; (Ps, xxxv. 10) he alone can give it to whom he pleases, and restore it to him who has lost it. Man, who was created in grace, lost his life, when he sinned, and incurred death. But God so loved the world, as to send it, lost as it was, his Son, (St. John, iii. 16) with the mission of restoring man to life. True God of true God, Light of Light, the Only Begotten Son is, likewise, true Life of true Life, by nature: and, as the Father enlightens them that are in darkness, by this Son, who is his Light, so, likewise, he gives life to them that are dead, and he gives it to them in this same Son of his, who is his living Image. The Word of God, then, came amongst men, that they might have life, and abundant life. (St. John, x. 10) And whereas it is the property of food to increase and maintain life, therefore did he become our Food, our living and life-giving Food, which has come down from heaven; partaking of the life eternal which he has in his Father's bosom, the Flesh of the Word communicates this same life to them that eat It. That, (as St. Cyril of Alexandria observes,) which, of its own nature, is corruptible, cannot be brought to life in any other way, than by its corporal union with the body of him who is life by nature: now, just as two pieces of wax melted together by the fire make but one, so are we and Christ made one by our partaking of his Body and Blood. This life, therefore, which resides in the Flesh of the Word, made ours within us, shall be no more overcome by death; on the day appointed, this life will throw off the chains of the old enemy, and will triumph over corruption in these our bodies, making them immortal. Hence it is, that the Church, with her delicate feelings both as Bride and Mother, selects from this same passage of St. John, her Gospel for the daily Mass of the Dead; thus drying up the tears of the living who are mourning over their departed friends, and consoling them by bringing them into the presence of the holy Host, which is the source of true life, and the centre of all our hopes.
Thus was it to be, that not only the soul was to be renewed by her contact with the Word, but even the body, earthly and material as it is, was to share, in its way, of what our Saviour called the Spirit that quickeneth. (St. John, vi. 64) “They,” as St. Gregory of Nyssa has so beautifully said, “who have been led, by an enemy's craft, to take poison, neutralise, by some other potion, the power which would cause death; and as was the deadly, so likewise the curative must be taken into the very bowels of the sufferer; that so the efficacy of that which brings relief may permeate through the whole body. Thus we, having tasted that which ruined our nature, require a something which will restore and put to right that which was disordered; and that, when this salutary medicine shall be within us, it may, as an antidote, drive out the mischief of the poison, which had previously been taken into the body. And what is this (salutary medicine)? No other than that Body, which had both been shown to be stronger than death, and was the beginning of our life. For, says the Apostle, as a little leaven makes the whole paste to be like itself, so, likewise, that Body, which God had willed should be put to death, when it is within ours, transmutes and transfers it wholly to Itself... Now, the only way whereby a substance may be thus got into the body, is by its being taken as food and drink.”
I. Sermon of Saint Thomas of Aquinas
(from the Office of Corpus Christi)
The Angelic Doctor is made to provide us (in the today’s feast Office) with the second Nocturn Lessons: his own words are going to be read to us, words which will aid our faith to enter into the science of the divine Sacrament, “as far as it can be understood by man whilst on the way, and humanly be defined.” These were the words of our Lord, when approving the doctrine of Thomas, on the Sacrament of the Body. Three cities, Paris, Naples, and Orvieto,—had the honour of being, each in its turn, the scene of these manifestations of Christ to his faithful servant, the Angelic Doctor. There is still venerated in the Church of St. Dominic, at Orvieto, the Crucifix, by which our Lord spoke, when giving his divine approval to the Office... Let us, then, listen, with veneration, to the following passage, which the Church has selected from one of the Saint's Treatises. As to its scholastic phraseology, let us remember, that, although, in itself, it is not learning, yet it was the war-dress wherewith our forefathers of the 13th Century deemed it necessary to accoutre Theology, when she had to come to close argument with dry logicians.
The immeasurable blessings of divine bounty, which have been shown upon the Christian people, confer an inestimable dignity upon it. For neither is there, nor ever was there, any nation so great, that hath gods so nigh them, as our God is present with us. For the Only Begotten Son of God, wishing that we should be partakers of his divinity, assumed our nature, and was made Man, that he might make men gods. And, moreover, he conferred upon us, unto salvation, the whole of that which he assumed of ours. For he offered to God his Father, for our reconciliation, his own Body, as a victim, on the altar of the Cross: he shed his Blood, that it might be our ransom and our laver to cleanse us: that being redeemed from a miserable slavery, we might be cleansed from all sins. But that the remembrance of so great a benefit might abide in us, he left to the Faithful, under the species of bread and wine, his Body for food, and his Blood for drink.
O precious and wonderful banquet! health-giving, and replete with every sweetness! For what can possibly be more precious than this banquet? wherein, not the flesh of calves and goats, as heretofore in the Law, but Christ, very God, is put before us, that we may take him. What more wonderful than this sacrament? for, in it, bread and wine are substantially changed into the Body and Blood of Christ; and, therefore, Christ, perfect God and Man, is contained under the species of a little bread and wine. He is, therefore, eaten by the Faithful, but not lacerated: nay, when the Sacrament is divided, he remains whole, under each particle of the division. But, the accidents subsist, in the same, without a subject, in order that there may be room for faith, inasmuch as the visible is invisibly taken, being hid under a species not its own; and the senses are kept free from deception, for they judge of accidents (which are the only things) known by them.
Again, there is no sacrament more health-giving than this, in which sins are wiped away, virtues are increased, and the mind is made rich with the abundance of all spiritual gifts. It is offered, in the Church, for the living and the dead; that what was instituted for the salvation of all, may profit all. Finally, no one can adequately express the sweetness of this Sacrament, by which, spiritual sweetness is tasted in its very source: and remembrance is solemnly made of that most perfect charity evinced by Christ in his Passion. Wherefore, in order that the immensity of this charity might the more deeply be impressed on the hearts of the Faithful, it was at the last Supper,—when, having celebrated the Pasch with his disciples, he was about to pass out of this world unto his Father,—that he instituted this Sacrament, and left it as the perpetual memorial of his Passion, the fulfilment of the ancient figures, the greatest of the miracles done by him, and the special consolation to them that were to be sad because of his absence.
II. Homily of Saint Augustine, Bishop
(from the Office of Corpus Christi)
Here is read the first sentence of the Gospel of the Mass of this Feast; and the interpretation of it, as given by St. Augustine, is immediately added. The holy Doctor dwells particularly on the unity which our Lord intended to produce among his followers by the august Sacrament. He shows the necessity of the interior dispositions required for receiving this Sacrament with fruit; and lays special stress on this one effect,—that it is to make man live for Christ, just as He lives for his Father.
“At that time, Jesus said to the multitude of the Jews: My flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.” (St. John, vi. 56)
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. For,—as also men of God, who preceded us, understood this subject,—it was for that purpose that our Lord Jesus Christ commended his Body and Blood in such things as are brought, from being many, into one. For the first of these is made into one, out of several grains; and the second flows into one, out of several berries. He now, at last, explains how that is effected which he is speaking: and what it is to eat his Body, and drink his Blood.
He that eateth my Flesh, and drinketh my Blood, abideth in me, and I in him. This, then, it is to eat that meat, and drink that drink,—to abide in Christ, and have Him abiding in one's self. And, therefore, he that abideth not in Christ, and in whom Christ doth not abide, certainly does not spiritually either eat his Flesh, or drink his Blood, although he may, carnally and visibly, press the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood with his teeth: but rather, he eateth and drinketh the sacrament of so great a thing to his own judgment, seeing, that he, unclean as he is, had presumed to approach Christ's sacraments, which no one worthily receives, unless he be clean: of whom it is said: Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
As, says he, the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so, he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. It is as though he should say: “That I should live by the Father, (that is, should refer my life to him as to one greater,) it was done by that emptying of myself, in which he sent me. But that anyone live by me, it is done by that participation whereby he eateth me. I, therefore, being brought low, live by the Father; man, being raised up, liveth by me.” But if the words, I live by the Father, are taken in this sense,—that the Son is of the Father, not the Father of the Son,—they must be so taken without lessening the equality (between Father and Son). And yet, we are not to take those words, So he that eateth me, the same shall live by me, as meaning equality between Christ and ourselves: (they do not mean that,) but they show the grace (bestowed by him in his office) of Mediator.
Taken from: The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806; and
The Liturgical Year - Time after Pentecost, Vol. I, Dublin, Edition 1879.
Thou hast given them bread from heaven. Alleluia. Which abounds with whatever is delicious. Alleluia.