|THE REAL PRESENCE||CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST|
By a disciple to be given
To rivals for His Blood athirst;
Himself, the very Bread of heaven,
He gave to His disciples first (1).
We have seen in the previous chapter, how the vocation to the holy priesthood has its beginning in the Eucharist, how in the Eucharist it receives its full development, until it reaches, always through the Eucharist, its crowning complement, the priestly ordination. From this we have drawn the conclusion that the priest's life should be a Eucharistic life, one animated by a sincere and constant devotion to the most august Sacrament of the Altar.
We shall now reach the same conclusion if we fix our attention on the works proper to the sacerdotal ministry. But we must show, beforehand, what that is which constitutes the very essence of the Catholic priesthood. This we shall now do with the help of the beautiful teaching laid down by St. Thomas when speaking of the priesthood of Christ. (2)
The office proper to a priest, says the Angelic Doctor, consists in being a mediator between God and the people. Now, it belongs to a mediator to join together and unite those between whom he acts as mediator, just as extremes are united in one middle term. Hence two things should be considered in a mediator: the first is that by reason of which he holds the place of a middle party; the second is the office proper to him, of uniting the two extremes. Now, inasmuch as a mediator is midway between the two extremes, he is distant both from the one and the other. Inasmuch as he unites them, he brings and transfers to one extreme the things which belong to the other.
Now, the Catholic priest is, on the one hand, on account of his hierarchical dignity, on a par with angels and so he is placed, as it were, in a middle position between God and man. On the other hand, he carries or transfers the things of God to the people, that is, His commandments and His graces, and he carries and transfers to God the things of man, his prayers and sacrifices with which man seeks to appease God and to conciliate for himself the divine favors.
Hence the priest is called, in Holy Scripture, "the angel of the Lord of hosts, (3) precisely because of his position between God and mankind. Besides that, just as angels continually go up and down the mystic ladder which rests upon the earth and reaches up to heaven, and present our prayers to God from whom they bring down to us the divine graces; even so a Catholic priest acts as a heavenly messenger presenting our supplications and sacrifices before the throne of God, then coming down from the mount of prayer and holocaust, he communicates to man the manifold gifts which gush forth in abundance from the most Sacred Heart of our sweet Redeemer.
This is why the Latin name sacerdos is said to be derived from sacra dans, one who gives to mankind things holy and divine.
Now, what are those things which a priest, as a heavenly messenger, should bring us on the part of God? In other words, which are the offices proper to his sacred ministry?
On close consideration, we find that all the offices entrusted to a priest by the imposition of the hands of the bishop can be reduced to four classes: first, a priest must instruct the people in the mysteries of our holy religion; secondly, to him is entrusted the care of administering the sacraments of the Church to the faithful; thirdly, it is his duty to console and comfort the poor, the sick and the afflicted; fourthly, he has to assist the dying by preparing them for the great journey of eternity.
Now, to perform this fourfold aspect of the sacerdotal ministry in a worthy manner, a priest should constantly be animated by a supernatural motive, and the devotional and habitual thought of the Blessed Eucharist is that precisely which will help him in the discharge of those sacerdotal duties.
We shall pause a little over each of the duties we have just enumerated. We shall see how a priest, anxious to cultivate in himself a special devotion to the Blessed Eucharist will be able to preach the word of God with singular efficacy; how he will administer the sacraments of the Church with holiness and fruit; how he will be able to bring consolation to the afflicted and assistance to the dying.
The first duty of a priest is, without doubt, that of distributing to the faithful the bread of the word of God, and to be, in one way or another, the herald of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As the holy Council of Trent teaches, faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification (4), so that, "without faith, it is impossible to please God (5). But, according to the ordinary ways of Providence, "faith cometh by hearing (6)," hence it is necessary to preach the word of truth in order that the intellect may adhere to it. Hence God sent St. Peter to Cornelius in order to instruct him in the mysteries of the Christian religion (7).
Now, in order that the good news of the Gospel might reach the ears of all men and, together with it, the great truths of revelation might enter into their hearts, our divine Saviour Jesus Christ sent His ambassadors through the world. These were, first, the apostles and the disciples and next, the bishops and priests, who are their successors. So when Our Lord, after His glorious resurrection, sent formally His beloved apostles throughout the world, He warned them, in the first place, to go and teach all nations, as we read in St. Matthew (8); or, as St. Mark more explicitly states (9), He said to them: "Go ye into the whole world, and preach the Gospel to every creature."
It is important to recall this truth to mind, especially at the present day. A priest is not ordained for himself alone; "he is ordained for men in the things that appertain to God," says St. Paul (10) that is, for the spiritual good of mankind redeemed by the most precious blood of Jesus Christ. His first duty, then, is to illumine those that know nothing of the incomparable charity of God, who sent His only-begotten Son into the world to save men from perdition. The mission of the Catholic priest is to show men the way to eternal salvation, consisting of the observance of the evangelical precepts.
What we say of the duty of priests to teach the people the word of God applies particularly to those in charge of schools or colleges where boys and young men are trained, under their supervision, in the various departments of human sciences. Such priests should remember that it is their bounden duty to provide the young people confided to their care with a solid and thorough religious instruction.
Unfortunately this obligation is not always fully realized. Forgetfulness or too worldly considerations sometimes cause sacerdotal educators to be remiss in this all-important part of their pedagogical duties. It is highly to be deplored that, in some Catholic educational institutions, religious instruction is at times relegated to the second place, with the result that young men often leave those schools with a but too insufficient religious foundation. On facing the dangers and temptations of the world, they in many cases find themselves inadequately prepared.
A similar observation applies to some Catholic schools or academies conducted by lay or religious persons of both sexes, in which an overanxious craving for academic degrees makes the teachers forego their all-important duty of imparting a solid religious instruction to their pupils.
A Catholic educator, whoever he may be, by the very fact of assuming the office of instructing young men or women, partakes, in the discharge of that office, of the priestly mission inasmuch as to a priest belongs the duty of announcing Jesus Christ. He should see, therefore, that the pupils entrusted to his care are thoroughly instructed in the mysteries of our holy Faith.
But if it is to be lamented that the teaching of religion is neglected in too many of our Catholic institutions, what shall we say of such schools, conducted by priests or religious, where the larger number of the students are pagans, and no word is spoken to them about Our Lord, about the redemption brought by Him or the Church which He founded to guide men to everlasting happiness? Surely, such educators have not realized what a strict obligation a priest is under, of making known, to the best of his power, our divine Lord Jesus Christ, nor have the words of St. Paul made any impression on his mind, when he says (11): "Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel."
If each priest, each Catholic educator, fulfilled this duty inherent in his sacred ministry, of divulging, in one way or another, that is, with spoken or written word, especially in educational institutions, the Gospel announced by Jesus Christ, what an amount of good would accrue to society! How many souls would be drawn from error to the light of truth, justice and honesty, both in the supernatural as well as in the natural order!
It is a priest's duty, we have said, to make known our divine Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the people. But, in order that his preaching or teaching may be blessed with copious fruit, it should be animated by the thought of the Holy Eucharist.
We do not mean to say by this that, for a preacher in order that he may announce in a worthy and fruitful manner the word of God, it is enough to remain kneeling for a few moments in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament before going up into the pulpit This might perhaps be thought a convenient course to follow by such as would shirk the task of a serious preparation. Our Lord is not wont to work the miracle of infusing science in those who neglect to acquire it by their personal efforts. If the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas said that he had learned at the feet of the crucifix more than in the long vigils be spent over his books, he did not deny, thereby, either that he had applied himself assiduously to study, or that study is, ordinarily speaking, the first condition for the acquisition of that sacred science which is necessary in a priest.
A minister of the New Law should carefully study especially that divine Book which contains the message of Christ to the world, the holy Gospel. That is God's testament to men and the most excellent source from which he may draw that supernatural science which he is called to impart to the faithful for their edification and salvation.
The end of a Catholic preacher in announcing the word of God is not the display of mundane eloquence or the pampering of human passions or the holding up before men's eyes of an ideal of worldly happiness impossible to reach. He must seek to please God above all things, for he knows that if he "pleased men, [he] would not be the servant of Christ (12) "
As our divine Saviour went out among the oppressed multitudes in order to free them from the burden of sin and misery, console them, assure them of the continual assistance of our heavenly Father and comfort them with the hope of future everlasting goods, so the Catholic priest, in his instructions to the people, should be wholly bent upon reminding them of the charity of Him who said (13): "I have compassion on the multitude," who multiplied bread to feed the crowds that followed Him into the desert(14) and instituted the most Blessed Eucharist in order to be with us all days and feed us with His body and blood.
Catholic oratory should, as we have said, be drawn from the unalloyed source of the Gospel, from which it derives its real efficacy and that mysterious strength of winning the hearts and minds of the hearers which no other kind of oratory possesses. But, just as the thought of the Blessed Eucharist pervades the holy Gospels through and through, so also Catholic preaching, to be efficacious, should be inspired by a remembrance of this Sacrament which contains in abridgement the love of Jesus toward mankind.
By thus calling to mind this special token of Our Saviour's love, the Catholic preacher will easily experience in his own heart those sentiments of tender compassion and sincere love for men which the Gospels describe to us as gushing forth from the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Being placed in close contact with this Eucharistic Heart, the Catholic preacher will find, in those evangelical accounts, eloquent accents to alleviate, in his turn, the misery of his suffering brethren and direct them to the fountainhead of every true consolation and solace.
But, for this, it is necessary that the priest should animate his life with a quick faith and a sincere love toward the Most Blessed Eucharist. Just as "out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh,"(15) the moment a sacred preacher's life is quickened by faith in this great Sacrament and his heart is where his treasure is (16), with great facility will he communicate to his hearers those sentiments of love toward the Blessed Eucharist which are kept aglow in his own heart.
A true preacher of the word of God, conscious of his dignity, with a keen sense of faith in the Holy Eucharist, and penetrated with a deep love for souls, will never be tempted to substitute profane subjects for the inspired words of the Gospel. He will avoid speaking of wars, civil or material progress, topics which may perhaps arouse the curiosity of persons greedy for emotions or satisfy the light-headedness of men and women of the world, but are at variance with the holiness of Catholic preaching precisely because they clash with the true evangelical concept which has its source in the Most Holy Eucharist.
There are yet other reasons of a more specific character which ought to convince the sacred orator of the usefulness of letting his preaching be inspired and, as it were, impregnated with the thought of the Blessed Eucharist and the devotion to this Holy Sacrament.
In the first place, it should be remembered that a great part of sacred oratory regards directly this August Sacrament. This is the case when, for instance, the priest prepares children for their first communion, or when general communions take place, or again, when Eucharistic Congresses are held either in towns or villages. It should also be borne in mind that in the teaching of the Catechism, which is one of the principal duties of a priest, the most important part of it is the instruction regarding the Blessed Eucharist, which is the most excellent of all the sacraments of the Church.
It is a thing worthy of note that the Christian people appreciate and love in a special manner that preaching which has for its object the Most Blessed Eucharist. Whether it be that the sacred orator explains the wonderful way in which, according to Catholic theology, the omnipotence of God transubstantiates the bread into the body of Jesus Christ and the wine into His blood, or that he treats of the four ends of the divine sacrifice, or that he enumerates the figures of this August Sacrament and the effects which it produces in the soulthe fact is that, on hearing such explanations, both the just are moved to sentiments of joy and spiritual consolation, and sinners are induced to leave their disorderly lives and give themselves to a sincere repentance of their sins.
Neither is it necessary, to obtain these effects, to have recourse to extraordinary oratorical devices. The subject, when handled with loving diligence, is, of itself, so eloquent and pathetic, that hearers, ever so little attentive, are easily moved and obdurate hearts are brought to compunction. If only sacred orators would treat this most important subject often and in an effective manner, they would certainly reap a plentiful harvest of sanctity. The words of the sacred liturgy are here most appropriate:
Strive thy best to praise Him well,
Yet doth He all praise excel:
None can ever reach His due (17).
It is not only when a priest has to speak about the Blessed Eucharist that his preaching should be inspired by the thought of that August Sacrament, but also when treating in general of the mysteries of our Faith, he should not omit to turn his thoughts toward this mystery of love.
First of all, the greater number of sermons are preached in the church, in the vicinity of that tabernacle in which Our Lord abides with us forever, that same sweet Lord who from heaven sees the preacher and hears his voice. There, near him, is Jesus Christ Himself, whose ambassador the priest is (18) acknowledged as such as well by Heaven as by earth. The preacher, by reflecting both on the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and on his own dignity of being His acknowledged ambassador, will certainly feel moved to announce the word of God with devotion and care.
But even when speaking outside the sacred precincts of the church, a priest whose mind is habitually occupied with the thought of the Holy Eucharist will thereby constantly be reminded that he is not a tribune bent on moving the crowds with artificial eloquence, but that his preaching must have for its object the great truths of our holy Faith. These truths have their natural center in the Blessed Eucharist, by which we are reminded of the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption, of Our Lord's passion and of the promise of future endless happiness with Him in heaven. The close association of these truths with the Blessed Eucharist is beautifully expressed in the following strophe (19) which the celebrated poet Sauteuil, author of much esteemed Church hymns, and which the celebrated Italian writer, Alexander Manzoni deemed so highly that he declared he would willingly have sacrificed all his literary compositions for the glory of having composed such exquisite verses.
In Birth, man's Fellow-man was He;
His meat, while sitting at the Board;
He died, his Ransomer to be;
He reigns, to be his Great Reward.
Truly, a Catholic preacher, whose thoughts, aspirations and whole life are centered round the Blessed Eucharist, will easily find in his heart words of unction to move his hearer, and his evangelical ministry will be blessed with copious fruit.
Speaking of the Blessed Eucharist in connection with the office entrusted to priests of announcing the word of God leads us to make here an important observation on the lack of religious instruction even in persons who often approach the Holy Table. It happens oftentimes that some spiritual directors are bent wholly on urging their penitents to practise frequent communion, neglecting the obligation of properly instructing them in the mysteries of faith. This takes place particularly in schools, colleges or such like institutions, where children are almost morally compelled to approach the Holy Table daily, while little or nothing is being done to teach them the truths of our holy Religion.
No doubt, our divine Lord, hidden under the sacramental species, augments sanctifying grace in those who receive Him with a right intention. However, He does not, ordinarily speaking, directly instruct the Christian soul in the mysteries of our Faith. And yet, as this knowledge is the natural foundation of a truly spiritual life, so it is also necessary in order that the soul may receive the effects of this August Sacrament in all their fulness.
It is well to reproduce here the beautiful prayer which the author of the Imitation addresses to Jesus Christ, while expounding the mystical wedding between the Blessed Eucharist and the word of God and the necessity of the one and the other for eternal life.
"For I find that here below I stand chiefly in need of two things, without which this miserable life would be unbearable to me.
"Whilst I am detained in the prison of this body, I acknowledge that I am in want of two things, namely, food and light. Thou hast therefore given me in my weakness Thy sacred body for the refreshment of my soul and body; and Thou hast set Thy word as a lamp to my feet. Without these two things I could not well live, for the word of God is the light of my soul, and Thy Sacrament is the Bread of life.
"These may also be called the two tables, placed on either side in the treasury of holy Church. One is the table of the sacred altar, on which is the holy Bread, that is the precious body of Christ. The other is the table of the divine Law, containing the holy doctrine, teaching the true Faith and leading us securely even within the veil where is the Holy of holies.
"Thanks be to Thee, 0 Lord Jesus, light of eternal light, for the table of holy doctrine which Thou hast provided for us by Thy servants the prophets and apostles and other teachers.
"Thanks be to Thee, 0 Creator and Redeemer of man, who, to manifest Thy love to the whole world, hast prepared a great supper, in which Thou hast set before us as food, not the typical lamb, but Thy most holy body and blood."(20)
In truth, it is no less important to instruct the faithful in the truths of Catholic Faith than it is to invite them to approach often the Holy Table.
To receive Jesus Christ in Holy Communion with only a vague and fleeting knowledge of His real presence or of the effects of His Sacrament in the soul, is equivalent to receiving Him coldly and with indifference. On the other hand, a soul that is well instructed in the essence of this august mystery cannot but feel in itself a sense of lively faith from which holy affections may spring and which may become a source of greater and more lasting graces.
The spiritual malady prevalent nowadays is, without doubt, the lack of faith, or at least, of a deep and lively faith. Now, this defect arises principally from the want of religious instruction in the great majority of men. The causes of this appalling ignorance are many and various. In some cases, the first cause is to be found in the family surroundings. How many, born of infidel or of Protestant parents, are not only brought up, without any fault of theirs, in a godless atmosphere, but are daily exposed to hear, over and over again, revilings against the Catholic Religion and its ministers. Others, more favored in this regard, neglect their duty of perfecting themselves in the knowledge of our holy Religion, or carelessly expose themselves to forget the little they have learned from their parents or in Catholic schools. Consequently, few are those who, though even they be practising Catholics, are well instructed in the mysteries of our Faith.
A sacred preacher, filled with love toward the Blessed Eucharist, as were in recent years St. Alphonsus Liguori and the holy parish priest of Ars, will have it at heart to instruct the people in the supernatural truths and especially in the two most excellent gifts of God, the Incarnation and the Blessed Eucharist. To such apply the words which we read in the book of Psalms (21) : "They shall publish the memory of the abundance of Thy sweetness My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord: and let all flesh bless His holy name."
Not from the pulpit only, but whenever occasion presents itself, a Eucharistic priest will make it a point to exalt the love of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, whether by writing or in private conversations. Thus did Blessed Peter Eymard, the founder of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, usually act; this, too, was the practice of a well-known pious prelate, Monsignor de Ségur, whose booklets on this Sacrament of Love have done so much good to souls.
In private conversation also, a word spoken by a priest to a wayward soul on this august mystery may touch the prodigal's heart and bring him back to God.
Again, in a gathering of friends a priest may, with skilful tact, cause the conversation to turn on this great Sacrament for the edification of hearers who often gain more light on the subject by these informal and homely talks than they would derive from more studied and eloquent sermons. A heart that is aflame with affection for a special object has no difficulty in bringing others to share in its own sentiments.
A priest has not only the duty of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He must, moreover, administer the holy sacraments of the Church, which are as so many channels of grace gushing forth from the most Sacred Heart of Our Saviour.
It is a well-known fact that the reformers abolished, one by one, the sacraments of the Church, with the exception of Baptism and the Last Supper. In consequence of this, the office of a Protestant minister was reduced to preaching the word of God only. But a Catholic priest, in virtue of his consecration, receives from Above, besides the office of preaching the word of God, that of administering the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ for the sanctification of the Christian people. However, as he cannot fulfill that first office worthily without his referring himself in some way to the Blessed Eucharist, so in the administration of the various sacraments committed to his care, he should, as it were, take his inspiration from this most excellent Sacrament, which is the end and center of all the other sacraments.
First of all, we may observe that, whenever the matter of some sacrament has to be consecrated, this rite has to be performed by the bishop in the vicinity of the altar and during the celebration of the unbloody sacrifice, as is practised, for instance, for the consecration of the holy oils on Maundy Thursday.
Besides that, the Eucharist is, as it were, a center in the administration of each of the other sacraments. Beginning with Baptism, which in olden times was immediately followed by Confirmation, everyone knows how the touching rite of the solemn blessing of the baptismal font and that of the subsequent baptism of Catechumens took place immediately before the solemn Mass on the Saturday preceding Easter and Whitsunday. The Pontiff then invoked in the Canon of the Mass the help of divine grace on those whom the Lord had deigned to beget again from water and the Holy Ghost, as we still read in the Roman Missal.
It is likewise during the Holy Sacrifice that clerics are ordained and the sacrament of Matrimony is performed. In ancient times, Extreme Unction, too, was commonly administered in the church and formed a part of the Mass pro infirmo. Finally, the solemn rite of reconciliation of penitents was wont to take place during a special Mass celebrated on Maundy Thursday.
Now, then, as the Eucharist is the most august of the sacraments, which all center around it, it is meet that a priest, who wishes to administer these means of divine grace with due regard and reverence, should endeavor to cultivate in himself a special devotion toward this August Sacrament. We may feel sure that, in proportion as his devotion toward the Blessed Eucharist will be more intense, his readiness to worthily administer the other sacraments will also be greater.
We need not here speak in detail of each of the sacraments whose administration is entrusted to the priest's care. But it may not be out of place to say something of the sacrament of Penance in connection with the Blessed Eucharist, as the minister of the New Law is often called upon to hear the confessions of the faithful, a duty which particularly supposes in him a sense of deep devotion to the holy Eucharist.
As is well known, the administration of the sacrament of Penance is one of the more absorbing functions of a priest's activities. It is one also which requires in him who exercises it a very special preparation.
This preparation consists, in the first place, in a serious and profound study of moral theology. By this we do not mean to say that a priest should keep in mind all those opinions which some moral theologians have excogitated in course of time and which serve to create confusion in the minds of clerical students rather than help them to the solution of difficult cases. A confessor's knowledge should embrace particularly those sure and unshaken principles which may help him to form an adequate judgment on the goodness or deformity of human actions in the particular cases which are presented to him. No one has laid down these principles with greater clearness and exactness than the Prince of Theologians, St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Secunda Secundae of his Summa Theologica.
Besides this science of moral theology, of which the bishop is the authoritative judge, a priest anxious to fulfil his office in a manner pleasing to Our Lord, should, in the act of hearing his penitents' confessions, have a special regard to the Blessed Eucharist, for the reception of which the sacrament of Penance is ordained. In fact, if he wishes to judge rightly of the dispositions of the penitent, of the penance to be imposed on him and of the counsels to be given him, he can find no better standard than the thought of the Blessed Eucharist, which acts as a mystic thermometer to judge the spiritual state of his penitents and also to know the remedies appropriate to their illness.
It is thus that the more illustrious confessors of later times acted, as can be seen from the life of St. Philip Neri, of the holy Curé of Ars and others, who, before administering the sacrament of Penance, would ask Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist to inspire them with suitable words to efficaciously move the hearts of sinners and subdue them under the sweet yoke of divine grace.
A priest imbued with a true spirit of devotion toward the Blessed Sacrament will not only find therein sentiments of compunction to move sinners to true repentance; he will also derive from the thought of Jesus Christ present under the sacramental species that holy broadness of spirit which will urge him to divest himself of too great personal attachment to his penitents. Seeing that this divine Saviour, though He might after His resurrection have continued to visibly rule His Church, yet would have it entrusted to the care of His apostles and their successors, a Eucharistic priest will not take it ill if his penitents choose to avail themselves of the opportunity of applying to other confessors, whenever this may prove useful to their souls. And for this purpose he will occasionally call missionaries from outside, in order that his parishioners may have an opportunity of setting their consciences at peace with God, should it happen that, through human shame, they had either made invalid confessions or had abstained altogether from having recourse to the sacrament of Penance.
Besides the office of administering the sacraments of the Church to the faithful, the Catholic priest has other duties also, viz., those flowing from his vocation, which consists in continuing upon earth that mission of mercy and goodness which Christ Himself displayed while living among men. And, again, in view of these duties it behooves a priest to cultivate in himself a Eucharistic life.
Indeed, it is especially at the school of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, present in the Blessed Eucharist, that he will draw that celestial unction which should inform the works of his ministry, works of charity and mercy both spiritual and corporal.
A priest accustomed to commune with the divine Guest of our tabernacles will feel ready, when occasion offers, to uplift with true, patient, delicate and merciful charity, the suffering members of Jesus Christ, whether these lie agonizing on a bed of sorrow, or experience the privations of life in their deserted homes. He will find, in his Eucharistic heart, the soothing word for such as ache under the weight of calumny or are made to grieve by the ingratitude and cruelty of men. To all these he will repeat the soothing word of Our Lord, (22) "Come to Me, all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you."
Among the duties of the priestly ministry that referring to the solemn moment when the soul is about to depart this life and appear before the tribunal of God is, without doubt, the most important of all. In that moment, on which depends the irrevocable sentence of eternal happiness or eternal misery, man has a special need of assistance to avoid the snares of the infernal foe. On the one hand, weak as he is, he can hardly elicit acts of faith and perfect con formity to the will of God; on the other, the powers of darkness, knowing the moment to be decisive, put forth all their weapons to snatch the soul from God. Hence the poor dying man has an extreme need of spiritual comfort both to obtain the pardon of his sins and to avoid offending God anew.
But see the inexhaustible goodness of Our Lord, who has secured for man in that supreme combat a potent help in the shape of three sacraments: of Penance, of Communion in the form of Viaticum and of Extreme Unction. Now, to the Catholic priest, precisely in virtue of his sacerdotal ordination, belongs the administering of these vivifying sacraments, and he will so much the more fruitfully do so, as he bears in mind the love of our Eucharistic Lord for men.
First of all, a priest who lives in close union with the Guest of our tabernacle knows how ardently Jesus desires the salvation of souls. Therefore he spares no trouble in order to comfort the dying man with the holy rites of the Church. He also endeavors to console him by his presence, suggesting to him pious sentiments and fortifying him by his priestly blessing.
Moreover, being accustomed to converse familiarly with Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, he can easily find in his heart words of encouragement and hope for the soul that is about to pass from this life. He can assure it of the love of Our Lord for sinners and forewarn it against the temptations of the devil.
The soul thus strengthened and solaced will confidently go to meet its Judge, who will be for it a tender father who lovingly welcomes in his arms the much loved and longed-for son. And this great benefit of a holy death will have been in great part the fruit of the priest's Eucharistic devotion.
A priest of a Eucharistic heart not only spares no pains to procure the comforts of religion for the dying, but he also warns the faithful against that baneful modern tendency of keeping away the minister of religion from the deathbed of Christians until the dying person is out of his senses, or, what is worse, is apparently dead.
Some opinions regarding the moment of death have of late been circulating, which, besides the stamp of novelty, bear also that of unwarrantableness. Some say that real death never sets in except after a lapse of time from the moment a man has been seen to give up the ghost. Others go further and imagine that, in that supposed interval, Jesus Christ appears visibly to the dying person, showing him the signs of His wounds and thus urging him forcibly to conversion. As a consequence of such opinions, it might well be thought enough to call the priest after a person has apparently breathed his last.
That such opinions, as just now exposed, cannot be held, follows from the fact that they are neither borne out by the nature of things, nor by the authority of Scripture or tradition. Moreover, they are harmful to souls, inasmuch as they deceive the faithful with a vain hope of conversion at the last moment of life and deprive them of that efficacious help of salvation which Jesus Christ instituted in the holy sacraments of the Church.
With this we do not mean to deny that, when there is a doubt whether the sick person be still alive, absolution and Extreme Unction may still be administered to him, as the Code of Canon Law suggests (23). But, to hold that, as a general rule, after death has apparently set in, life is still lingering in the body for a determined period of time, in which the soul is supernaturally excited to convert itself to God, is an opinion which cannot be sustained, as we have shown elsewhere (24) . Such an opinion has for its immediate effect to confirm tepid Christians in their fatal negligence of not calling the priest to the dying in due time, a negligence which has most baneful effects.
We may here be allowed to insist on the duty a priest has of strengthening the dying with the sacraments of the Church in due time, that is, before what is called apparent death and when the sick man still retains his consciousness. A priest educated at the school of the Blessed Eucharist, rightly understands the price of a soul. He realizes how much Christ has suffered to save us from eternal death. He then considers it one of his most important cares to assist the dying and provide them with all the helps of religion, when these are apt to produce all their effects.
He will, moreover, persuade the faithful not to reckon on a vain hope of salvation after death, such a hope being apt only to deceive souls and render fruitless the Redemption which our loving Saviour has procured for us with such an effusion of charity.
Oh! what a beautiful crown of glory awaits that priest who spares no pain to secure the dying those comforts of religion which may insure their eternal salvation! How those souls which he has thus saved from everlasting death and misery will meet him at his entrance into Paradise and sing forever a glorious hymn of gratitude to their benefactor!
To complete his work of procuring the salvation of the dying, the Eucharistic priest will also remember to recommend to the merciful Heart of Jesus, those souls that are about to be summoned to the judgment of God, by reciting for them, often during the day, the beautiful indulgenced prayer:
"0 merciful Jesus, lover of souls, I pray Thee, by the agony of Thy most Sacred Heart and by the woes of Thy Immaculate Mother, wash in Thy blood the sinners of the whole world who are now in their agony and about to die this day. Amen. Heart of Jesus, once in agony, pity the dying."
Copyright © 2005 by Rev. Alexis H. M. Lepicier, O.S.M.
Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association
718 Liberty Lane
Lombard, IL 60148
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