|THE REAL PRESENCE
|CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST
Thus did the Lord appoint
This sacrifice sublime,
And made His Priests the minister
Through all the bounds of time. (1)
The glory of the Catholic priesthood springs, as we have said, from the Blessed Eucharist as from its first principle and tends to it as to its end. From this great Sacrament issues, as it were, a reflection of that bright supernatural light which encircles, as with a resplendent aureola, the head of the minister of the New Law.
In the eyes of the faithful the Catholic priest represents the sacred Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ, whose sanctifying work he continues upon earth. For this reason, every good Christian surrounds the priest with that respect and veneration which the crowds had for the Person of the Saviour when He lived upon earth.
For the followers of the devil, the Catholic priest is still the representative of God in the world. Hence he is hated, despised and persecuted by them as was the divine Master at the hands of the Pharisees.
In all nations the Catholic priest, for the very reason that he is the recognized minister of religion, occupies a special post in society. From the fact that he consecrates the very body and blood of Christ, he shares, in some way, in the infinite dignity of the Redeemer. The mouth that pronounces the mysterious words: This is My body, this is My blood, the hands that touch the host under which God Himself is hidden, that expose it to the adoration of the faithful and carry it to the dying are not the mouth or hands of a simple man. They are the mouth and hands of one with whom Jesus Christ has deigned to identify Himself. Sacerdos, alter Christus.
But the Blessed Eucharist is not only a sacrament; it is also a sacrifice: nay, it is first a sacrifice and secondly a sacrament. This means that we possess the blessed Sacrament of the Altar inasmuch as Jesus Christ instituted in the Mass the true sacrifice of His own body and blood. That most excellent sacrifice, which was foretold by the prophets and announced in sundry figures of the Old Testament, especially in the sacrifice of Abraham, in that of Melchisedech and in the slaying of the Paschal lamb, was to be accomplished in the very moment in which the Saviour was to die upon the cross for us.
Jesus Christ, by giving His life for the world, was to offer a sacrifice of sweet odor to His Father, acknowledging His supreme dominion, thanking Him for the benefits granted to mankind, appeasing His wrath justly kindled by our sins, and obtaining for us the graces we need to lead a life of holiness and attain eternal salvation.
But this bloody sacrifice, being infinitely perfect and agreeable to God, was to be offered once only, because Christ, as St. Paul says (2), "by one oblation, hath perfected forever them that are sanctified."
God, however, ordained that this same sacrifice should be commemorated to the end of time. Hence our Saviour instituted, on the eve of His death, the sacrifice of the New Law to be performed by the consecration of His body and blood under the sacramental species. At the same time He ordained His beloved apostles priests or, rather, bishops of the New Law, in order that they might, as His official ministers, offer this same sacrifice, though in an unbloody manner, as long as the world lasts.
Thus was fulfilled the celebrated prophecy of Malachias(3) "From the rising of the sun even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation: for My name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts."
It should be observed here that, although the holy Sacrifice of the Mass was instituted at the Last Supper, yet it is something more than the Last Supper, because the Last Supper preceded the death of Jesus Christ, whereas the sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated after the completion of His divine sacrifice.
Indeed, though Jesus Christ at the Last Supper offered to His Father, under the sacramental species, His very body and His very blood, yet this body had not yet been slain and this blood had not yet been shed for our sins upon the cross.
That sacrifice, therefore, which on the eve of His death Our Lord offered to the Father, lacked of itself what pertains to the very essence of sacrifice, that is, the mactation or real .mutation of the Victim. Hence, taken by itself, that is, abstraction made of the Sacrifice of the cross, the oblation made at the Last Supper did not come up to the dignity of sacrifice. If it was really such, it was only inasmuch, as, in God's mind, it was closely associated with Christ's death upon the cross, which was to follow soon after and which it was destined to commemorate and represent. Had the death on the cross failed to be brought about, the Last Supper would have been no sacrifice at all. It was, however, a sacrifice, not of itself, but on account of the Saviour's death which it commemorated and represented; and so it was no distinct sacrifice from that of the cross, but one and the same thing with it.
This truth may be brought out by the saying of the School: Propter quod unumquodque tale, et illud magis, which means that as the Last Supper was a sacrifice only on account of the sacrifice of the cross, this, therefore, is the true and real sacrifice instituted by Our Lord, to which our attention is drawn when speaking of the sacrifice of the New Law.
We said that, if the Last Supper was a sacrifice, it was such only inasmuch as it was closely associated, in God's mind, with the sacrifice of the cross. And in very truth, the Last Supper was not simply the consecration of the body and blood of Christ, that is, a sacrament, but in the first idea of its institution, it was the nearest possible foreshadow of the sacrifice of the New Law; and hence the primary notion in connection with the Last Supper is that of the death of Christ, as St. Paul remarks when, rehearsing the teaching he had received from the very mouth of Jesus, he said (4): "For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until He come."
On the other hand, our divine Saviour Himself, in the very act of instituting this great Sacrament, had clearly manifested His will, that it should be a memorial of His death, when he said: "This is My body, which is given for you; this is the chalice, the new testament in My blood, which shall be shed for you," (5)
In other words, the Blessed Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper to be first a sacrifice and secondly a sacrament: the one great sacrifice of the New Law and the most august of all the sacraments.
The Mass, then, is not, properly speaking, the commemoration of the Last Supper, but of the sacrifice of the cross. For the Last Supper preceded, as we said, the sacrifice of the cross, whereas our Mass follows it; and as a cause cannot physically influence its effect unless that cause exists in reality, hence the Last Supper was not physically but only morally influenced by the sacrifice of the cross. The world was not redeemed by the Last Supper, but only by Christ's really dying on the cross for us.
Hence the sacrifice we offer to God at Mass is, as it were, all bedewed and permeated by the sacrifice of the cross, which, as a light and warmth-giving beacon, ever standing on the shores of the sea of humanity, illumines and inspires each and all the sacrificial rites which are to be celebrated in the offering and consecration of the body and blood of Jesus Christ to the end of time.
Beautiful are the words of Melchior Canus on the subject: (6) "Although that exterior oblation and mactation [which took place on the cross] has passed away, it remains, however, acceptable before God and persists ever virtually in such a way that it is not less efficacious today in the sight of the Father than on the day when the blood gushed forth from the sacred side. Hence truly do we offer now the same of the cross with Christ, just in the same way as those offered it who were present near the cross."
We have, then, in the august sacrifice of the Mass a sacrifice, not only specifically, but numerically, identical with the sacrifice of the cross. We have the same Victim, the same principal offerer, Jesus Christ, the same sovereign God to whom the sacrifice is offered, the same members of the human family to whom the fruit of this sacrifice is applied.
There is, however, a twofold difference. First, in the Mass, the Secondary or instrumental minister is the priest, who had no place on Calvary; again, the sacrifice on the cross was marked by the shedding of blood, which does not happen on our altars.
But it should be noted that these two heads of difference do not touch the essence or substance of sacrifice, and so we have it that our Mass is the true representation, commemoration and application of the sacrifice of the Cross, as the Holy Council of Trent expressly declares. (7)
We must add, here, for a more complete elucidation of this great truth, how the words of consecration for both species are necessary to complete the notion of sacrifice in the Eucharistic rite such as is celebrated at Mass.
In fact, the notion of an exterior sacrifice is that it should be a sensible sign of the interior sacrifice to which it is directed. Now, precisely, the distinct consecration, while it puts us in mind of the death of Jesus Christ which was completed through the separation of His most precious blood from His immaculate body, is so necessary that the consecration of one species only, would fail to achieve the Eucharistic sacrifice, and this because the outward signification would be wanting.
Not that this twofold consecration is the constituting element of the sacrifice; but it is a condition of the same, a condition so necessary that a priest is never allowed to consecrate one species only, were it even to provide a dying person with viaticum. For, the Eucharist is, as we said, first a sacrifice and, in the second place, a sacrament, and the latter cannot be consecrated without the former being offered.
From this it can be seen how beautiful, great and sublime, is the rite which is performed at Mass and which is no other than that very same oblation which the love of Jesus accomplished on the cross.
A wonderful sight, indeed, is this august sacrifice of the Mass, in which the glorious figure of Jesus Christ on the cross dominates the world, and the voice of His blood, irrespective of space and time, cries to the Father without interruption, entreating Him with accents of infinitely intense supplication: Pity, 0 Father, pity for this poor humanity for the sins of which Thy only-begotten Son has given once on the cross and daily at Mass His life until the end of the world.
Finally, from the fact that the Eucharistic sacrifice is formally identical with the sacrifice of the cross, it follows that, since the Blessed Virgin Mary's cooperation was so conspicuous in this latter sacrifice, so also she plays an important part in the daily offering of the sacrifice of the Mass.
This most holy Mother, in fact, not only conceived in her chaste womb the divine Victim, engendered, fed and preserved it, but besides, acting as it were the part of mankind on Calvary, she offered it to the Eternal Father, and although she did not actually immolate the Victim, yet she would certainly have done so had this been God's holy will. For this reason, Mary is deservedly acknowledged as Minister of the sacrifice of the cross and associated with it, for which cause she is called by the Church the co-Redemptress of the human race.
As, then, the sacrifice of the cross endures identical in the Eucharistic sacrifice, it follows that the part which Mary had in the first, continues in some manner in the second; and as she assisted under the cross at the death of Jesus Christ, offering Him, her Son, to the Father for the redemption of the world, so even now she assists at the sacrifice of the Mass wherever it is being celebrated, and offers the divine Victim together with the priest, thus continuing her office of co-Redemptress on behalf of mankind.
Oh, how we should be grateful to this our sweet Mother for the benefits which she procured for us under the cross of her Son and which she does not cease now to procure at Holy Mass. Oh, indeed, holy and praiseworthy is the practice both of those devout priests who, when about to celebrate, call upon the assistance of Mary for this great act, and of those pious Christians who choose to assist at the Eucharistic sacrifice in her company!
We have seen how Jesus Christ entrusted the celebration of the holy sacrifice of the Mass to His apostles and, through them, to priests validly consecrated. The priest is, therefore, as the Imitation of Christ has it, "the minister of God, using the word of God, by the command and institution of God; but God is here the chief author and invisible worker, to whom all He willeth is subject, and all He commandeth is obedient." (8)
Our Lord, then, with the expressive words of His omnipotence: "Do this in memory of Me," instituted His apostles and all their successors until the end of time His accredited ministers, giving them power not only to consecrate His body and His blood but also, by so doing, to offer to God, in His name, this unbloody sacrifice, identical, as we have said, with the sacrifice of the cross.
And in this consists truly the apex of sacerdotal dignity. For, in the act of offering to the Father and immolating, in an unbloody manner, the Victim of Calvary, the priest puts on the person of Jesus Christ Himself, thus becoming, as it were, another Christ: Sacerdos, alter Christus.
The Church has embodied this thought in the beautiful verses: (9)
Thus did the Lord appoint
This Sacrifice sublime,
And made His Priests the ministers
Through all the bounds of time.
We can form an idea of the great esteem in which the Church holds the holy sacrifice of the Mass, by considering how the Catholic worship centers around it. And therefore the Eucharistic sacrifice is properly called the liturgy because it is the most excellent tribute of homage and servitude of man to God. Hence, the Church has always been anxious to surround this solemn act with all those circumstances of respect and reverence which might render it more venerable in the esteem of the faithful and more acceptable in the sight of God. Thus, she ordained that it should be accompanied by the recitation of devout prayers and by a whole apparatus of sacred ceremonies whose mystic meaning serves to bring home in a vivid manner, to those present, the principal scenes of the life, passion and death of Our Saviour.
High indeed is the signification of the Mass, by which man renders to God a homage worthy of His exalted Majesty and pays off his debt of gratitude to Him for the benefits received. Marvelous is the virtue which this august sacrifice possesses of obtaining for us fresh favors together with the pardon of our sins. Just, then, as pious priests are solicitous never to omit the celebration of the Mass, so also the devout faithful should themselves be anxious to assist at it whenever this is possible.
Touching are the facts of Christian heroism accomplished by pious priests and devout faithful in reference either to the celebration of the Mass or the assistance at the same during the bitter persecution of Queen Elizabeth in England and in the midst of the violent upheavals of the French Revolution. Then many priests, many faithful Catholics exposed themselves generously and joyfully to death only that they might, the former celebrate, the latter participate in the august sacrifice of the Mass.
The Eucharistic sacrifice not only marks the culminating point of Catholic worship, but also supplies for each Christian soul an abundant source of graces by which each one may more easily reach that state of true and lasting sanctification to which he is called by God.
In a special manner, the Catholic priest, anxious to cultivate the interior life, will find, in the devout and attentive celebration of this august mystery, abundant helps to reach easily and promptly the sanctification proper to his state.
By celebrating holy Mass with a quick faith and sincere piety every morning, the priest will have an easy and infallible means to preserve and augment in himself the Eucharistic life. He will find therein the secret of putting into effect that ideal of priestly sanctity which struck his mind, as with a sudden heavenly flash, on the day of his ordination.
A priest intimately persuaded of the sublimity of the action he performs at Mass, of the great worth of this august sacrifice, and of the innumerable graces of sanctity which God lays in store for those who worthily celebrate it, will easily keep himself recollected during the whole time of the celebration. He will perform the ceremonies of the sacred rite with reverence and dignity. He will carefully avoid precipitation or levity whether in reciting the liturgical prayers or in accomplishing the movements and gestures prescribed by the rubrics.
The Mass is truly the center of a Eucharistic life and the source of all sanctification for the priest. Priest and Mass are correlative terms. Mass devoutly celebrated calls forcibly to mind a holy priest, dear to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
"Behold," writes the author of the Imitation of Christ, (10) "thou hest been made a priest and ordained to celebrate; see to it now that thou offerest faithfully and devoutly sacrifice to God in due season, and that thy conduct be without blame.
" When a priest celebrateth Mass, he honoreth God, he delighteth the angels, he edifieth the Church, he helpeth the living, bestoweth rest on the departed and maketh himself partaker of all good things."
But, in order that he may worthily celebrate holy Mass, a priest must observe three things: first, he should make a previous befitting preparation; secondly, he should endeavor to perform the liturgical action in a worthy and holy manner; thirdly, he should crown the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice by a convenient thanksgiving. We shall say a few words of each of these duties.
Generally speaking, we may say that the devotion of a priest in celebrating holy Mass is in proportion to the preparation he makes. The liturgical prayers, however beautiful and touching, leave the soul cold and indifferent when the mind and heart are not well disposed. If, on the other hand, a priest wishes that the recitation of the prayers and the performance of the actions prescribed by the missal be accompanied with good and generous interior movements, he should previously excite in himself sentiments of faith, love and desire corresponding to the sublimity of the liturgical action.
We well know that, generally speaking, the success of our most important enterprises depends on the nature of the preparation we make beforehand. Dealing, therefore, with the most important of all priestly actions, which is the celebration of the great sacrifice of the New Law, in which the Lamb of God immolates Himself daily for our sins, we may confidently assume that it will be worthily accomplished if the priest is careful to dispose his heart and mind for this great action.
The preparation is twofold; remote and proximate. The remote preparation consists, first, in purity and holiness of life, for which weekly or at least fortnightly confession is greatly recommended (11); secondly, in frequently calling to mind the great action which the priest is called upon to perform every morning.
The proximate preparation consists in eliciting, before Mass, special acts of devotion and reciting special prayers directed to actuate the priest's devotion. We shall say a few words of this twofold preparation.
The remote preparation should consist, as we have said, in the purity of our lives and in a habitual union of thought and affection with Jesus Christ present in the Most Holy Eucharist.
To preserve entire that purity of life which is demanded by the holiness of the liturgical action, the priest will practise a habitual custody of the senses, inspired by the memory of the passion of Christ of which this Sacrament is a perpetual memorial.
In fact, Jesus Christ instituted this Sacrament a very short time before His passion and, moreover, in the shape of sacrifice, in order that we might continually remember all that He suffered for us. Hence the thought of the passion of our sweet Saviour should always accompany the priest, inspiring him with a health-bringing horror of sin and thus inviting him to embrace a penitent and mortified life.
As regards the habitual communication of thought with the Blessed Eucharist, this exercise will be greatly encouraged in the priest by a frequent offering of himself to the heavenly Father in full submission of his will to the divine decrees and in perfect abandonment of his whole self to the wise dispositions of Providence. Indeed, nothing pleases God more, nothing also better paves the way to divine blessings than a total offering of oneself to His Majesty, coupled with a humble adoration of His most just, most high and most sweet decrees.
Most consoling are the following words of the Imitation of Christ (12): "There is not a more suitable offering nor greater atonement for the cleansing of thy sins, than to offer thyself wholly and entirely to God, together with the oblation of the body of Christ in the Mass and in Holy Communion."
These other words, too, are worth remembering (13) : "As soon as thou resignest thyself to God with thy whole heart, and seekest not this or that according to thine own whim or wish, but committest thyself wholly to Him, thou shalt find thyself united with Him and at rest; for nothing will be so palatable and delightful to thee as the good pleasure of the divine will.
"Whosoever, therefore, will direct his mind and will in all simplicity to God, empty himself of all inordinate love or aversion for any created thing, he shall be very well prepared to obtain grace and deserve the gift of devotion."
Besides the remote preparation, consisting in purity of life and in perfect submission to God's will, a priest desirous of celebrating holy Mass with sincere devotion, should try to recollect himself immediately before ascending the altar steps, in order to dispose his heart better to perceive the fruit of that holy action.
Three things will particularly conduce to this purpose: first, the attentive reading of the Mass of the day and the foreseeing of the rubrics; secondly, a devout recitation of those psalms and prayers inserted in the missal or the breviary pro opportunitate sacerdotis; thirdly, eliciting acts of faith, hope, charity, contrition and desire.
These things are, indeed, easy to understand and not difficult of practice. Yet, if they be observed, they cannot fail to draw the priest ever nearer the adorable Heart of Jesus and thus produce in him a truly Eucharistic life.
The first thing to be observed by the priest anxious to grow in devotion toward the Blessed Sacrament through the worthy celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice is to get his inspiration from the liturgical prayers contained in the Roman missal.
It is indeed a holy custom, on the part of priests, to keep constantly a small missal on their writing desk and to read therefrom, the evening before, the liturgical text of the morrow's Mass. One may thus choose some more striking passages, apt to foster devotion and dwell at greater length on the truths contained therein.
This is particularly to be recommended in the recurrence of the Church's great solemnities and in the feasts of those ancient saints whose offices have a particularly liturgical flavor. Such are, for instance, the offices of St Cecilia, St. Agnes, St. Clement, St Andrew the Apostle and such like, from which it is easy to draw some beautiful thought which may accompany the celebrant whilst performing the sacred rite. These reflections will help him greatly in his devotion. They will impress upon him the necessity of a dignified behavior which may edify the faithful who assist at Mass and secure to him and to them the abundance of the divine blessings.
We go farther. Anyone wishing to enter into the spirit of the Church and thus to acquire a true and genuine devotion, ought not to content himself with cursorily reading those liturgical prayers. He should make them the object of his daily meditation, thus reducing to one and the same principle both the exercise of mental prayer and the celebration of the divine mysteries.
It is a fact, not perhaps sufficiently considered nowadays, that the liturgical prayers instituted by the Church have a very special virtue to excite devotion toward the Blessed Sacrament and foster in the soul a life of faith and spiritual union with God.
From the time of the apostles, that is, when the various liturgies which still bear their names began to be in use in the congregation of the faithful, the Church has never omitted to ordain with loving care the liturgical rite of the Mass. She wished the celebration of the Eucharist to be accompanied with appropriate prayers, as may be seen from most ancient books, especially from the Didache, or teaching of the twelve apostles.
In a particular manner, as regards the Roman liturgy, timely instructions, drawn from Holy Scripture, together with devout prayers adapted to the different circumstances, were added to the primitive Sacramentary books, all of which came to form the Ordinarium Missae, with the Commune Temporis and the Proprium Sanctorum.
Meanwhile, the daily recitation of the canonical hours, consisting of psalms intermingled with passages from Holy Scripture and ecclesiastical writers, came to form the nucleus of what was to develop, in course of time, into the breviary, which came then to be, as it were, the atrium and the complement of Eucharistic liturgy.
These liturgical prayers and the instructions accompanying them are so fraught with spiritual meaning and so full of unction, that they may easily furnish to the devout priest abundant food for the meditation which, in accordance with the prescriptions of the Code, he ought to make daily (14). To speak only of the Collects of the Sundays per annum, these are so beautiful, so rich with elevated thoughts exposed with concise, noble and appropriate words, as to seem to be truly inspired.
A priest, therefore, should read, before Mass, the liturgical prayers and instructions of the day, choosing some passage which may better appeal to his taste and actual wants, either from the Ordinarium Missae, the Commune Temporis or the Proprium Sanctorum or, again, from the divine office. He should make upon those passages timely reflections and appropriate acts of affection which his piety may suggest to him. Of a truth, this method constitutes an easy and fruitful preparation for Mass, apt to excite a spirit of sterling devotion and dispose the heart to receive the fruit of the august sacrifice in a plentiful measure.
Just as there is no more efficacious means to foster the devotion of the faithful than to make them partake of the liturgical life of the Church, so the purest and most health-giving source of sanctification for the priest is to be found in the prayers and instructions contained in the Roman missal and breviary.
Besides this devout mental preparation inspired by the liturgy of the Church, a devout priest will not omit, before he goes to celebrate Mass, to recite attentively the five psalms together with the prayers which go under the name of Praeparatio ad Missam, pro Opportunitate Sacerdotis.
The seven prayers which follow and in which the priest calls for an abundant grace from the Holy Ghost, serve to awaken in his heart esteem and reverence for this August Sacrament and to make him ask God to illumine his mind, inflame his heart with divine love and purify all his senses. In this manner will he be able to offer a worthy dwelling to that great God who makes Himself so little in His Sacrament, adapting Himself to our weakness and becoming our food and our drink.
Moreover, a priest about to celebrate the sacred mysteries will not fail to invoke the assistance of her who was present at the immolation of Jesus on the cross. He will recite for that intention the beautiful prayer, 0 Mater pietatis.
Remembering, too, how St. Joseph protected the life of Jesus in order that this divine Saviour might become our Bread of life, the priest will also direct his homage to this holy Patriarch, by reciting the prayer, 0 felicem virum. Remember how the great foster-father of Jesus had the enviable lot of carrying the Saviour of the world in his arms, of feeding, clothing and lovingly kissing Him, he will ask this glorious Saint to intercede for him that he may perform the great act of consecrating and offering the sacred body and blood of Jesus Christ with purity and innocence, special love and devotion.
Finally, to complete this preparation, the Eucharistic priest will renew the acts of faith, hope, charity, contrition and desire, making use of appropriate formulae either drawn from books or composed by himself and learned by heart, so that he may easily recite them in whatever place he may find himself.
Should time allow, the priest might yet entertain himself in friendly converse with his Beloved, laying before Him the many needs of his soul, even as the author of the Imitation counsels him to do, when he writes (15) : "Mourn and grieve because thou art still so carnal and worldly, so unsubdued in thy passions, so full of the motions of concupiscence, so unguarded in thy outward senses, so often occupied with many vain imaginations, so much inclined to exterior, so heedless of interior things, so prone to laughter and dissipation, so little moved to tears and compunction, so prompt to relaxation and material comfort, so sluggish to austerity and fervor, so curious to hear news and to see fine sights, so reluctant to choose what is humble and contemptible, so desirous of possessing much, so sparing in giving, so tenacious in keeping, so thoughtless in speech, so dissipated in time of silence, so disorderly in thy manners, so rude in thine actions, so absorbed in thy food, so deaf to the word of God, so eager to rest, so slow to labor, so vigilant in listening to tales, so drowsy at holy vigils, so hasty to end them, so inattentive in assisting at them, so negligent at the holy office, so cold in celebrating, so dry in communicating, so easily distracted, so seldom wholly recollected, so quickly moved to anger, so ready to be displeased with others, so rash in judging them, so harsh in censuring them, so elated in prosperity, so dejected in adversity, so often making many good resolutions, and putting so little into practice."
We may observe here that this preparation need not necessarily precede Mass immediately. It may happen that, for one reason or another, the priest may be prevented from reciting the above prayers or eliciting the enumerated acts just before he goes to celebrate Mass. This is the case, particularly when he has to hear confessions or assist the dying, or, again, when he does not exactly know at which time he will have to say Mass. It is therefore a praiseworthy custom, followed by many a good and holy priest, to make this preparation, wholly or in part, the evening before. This custom has an advantage of making him more independent of time and place and determining him to live in the habitual thought of the Eucharist. Moreover, he can, in that interval of time, repeat the acts of faith, hope, charity, contrition and desire of which we have spoken above.
Being thus prepared, the Eucharistic priest may joyfully proceed to celebrate the august mystery. He may be confident that he will draw from this great Sacrament abundant graces of salvation. He will also derive sweet consolations which will replenish his soul with spiritual gladness, so that, though oppressed by many actions, he may exclaim with the Psalmist (16) : "According to the multitude of my sorrows in my heart, Thy comforts have given joy to my soul."
Coming now to the celebration of the august sacrifice, we may observe, first of all, that there are three important moments in which the priest may derive many spiritual fruits.
The first moment is the Offertory, when the priest places on the paten, together with the host destined for the sacrifice, all his affections and desires, consecrating all that he is to God and asking Him to transform his person into that of Christ, just as the elements of bread and wine are to be transformed into the sacred body of the Saviour. This is what the author of the Imitation of Christ recommends (17): "With full resignation and perfect readiness sacrifice thyself in honor of My name, on the altar of thy heart, as a perpetual holocaust, faithfully committing both thy body and soul to Me."
The second moment, most precious for the priest, is that of the Consecration, when, after having pronounced the sacramental words, he raises first the host and then the chalice. In those short instants in which he holds up the body and blood of Christ for the adoration of the people, the priest may mentally recommend to his loving Lord the intentions he has most at heart, especially the grace of final perseverance in the divine service. Experience proves how the Sacred Heart of Jesus never omits to answer the fervent prayers which are offered to him at that most solemn moment.
The third moment, rich in spiritual fruits, is that of the Communion, after which, according to the prescription of the missal, the priest should recollect himself for a short while in the contemplation of this August Sacrament. It is then that he should pay his Lord his duty of thanksgiving for the benefits received, a duty which we are unfortunately too apt to neglect. It is useful to cast then a rapid glance over the innumerable favors which one had received during the course of his life, especially that of the sacerdotal vocation, which constitutes a priest an ambassador of Christ (18).
When Mass is over, the priest has still a duty to comply with, that of thanking his divine Lord for the benefits which the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice has brought along with it.
It is well to point out a defect which seems to be becoming more and more general, that is, the neglect of a serious thanksgiving after Holy Communion. Human nature, when bent upon procuring one thing, easily neglects the other, and so it has happened that, from the time the Church most wisely insisted on the benefit of frequent Communion, the care of worthily preparing oneself for this great act and that of thanking God for this benefit have been somewhat overlooked. This defect, indeed, is not general, and in this country especially the faithful are sufficiently well instructed in their duty of coupling the receiving of this Sacrament with a due preparation and a convenient thanksgiving.
Yet, it is well that they should occasionally be reminded of this duty by the pastors, who, to make their exhortations more efficacious, will unite example to words. They should bear in mind the words of the Code (19) : "A priest should not omit to prepare himself by pious prayers to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, and, when this is over, to tender thanks to God for such a great benefit."
The words of the Imitation should be noted here (20). "It behooveth thee not only to dispose thyself to devotion before Communion, but also carefully to continue in it after receiving the Blessed Sacrament. And watchfulness after Communion is no less necessary than a devout preparation before.
"Indeed, great vigilance after receiving it is again the best preparation to obtain a great grace. For if a person giveth himself up too much to outward comforts immediately after Communion, he becometh thereby inwardly very confused.
"Beware of speaking much, keep thyself in retirement, and enjoy thy God; for thou hast Him whom all the world cannot take from thee. It is to Me that thou must give thyself wholly; so that thou mayest live no longer in thyself but in Me, without any anxious care."
Thanksgiving after Mass, even as the preparation for this great sacrifice, should be both proximate and remote. The proximate thanksgiving, which should last about a quarter of an hour, should consist of those beautiful prayers set apart for that purpose in the Roman missal. We recommend the recitation of the prayer En ego, to which a plenary indulgence is attached.
Then, remembering the four ends for which the sacrifice of the Mass is offered, the priest will begin by adoring God, His first beginning and last end; next he will humbly ask pardon for his faults, promise to be more careful for the future; he will then thank God for the graces received and, lastly, with great confidence he will turn to his divine Lord for those timely helps so necessary to him every day of his life.
Oh, indeed, it is easy, with a little good will, to crown worthily the celebration of holy Mass with a thanksgiving which may be pleasing to God and profitable to the soul.
The remote thanksgiving should consist in occasionally recalling to mind the great favor God granted the priest that morning, of offering, consecrating and receiving his divine Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, together with pious desires of never losing Him by sin and of increasing the treasure of divine grace in his heart.
If a priest is careful to worthily celebrate holy Mass, accompanying it with due preparation and thanksgiving, he may truly be styled a Eucharistic priest and his life may be proposed as a living standard for the faithful to follow.
In fact, when the faithful see that the priest is careful to celebrate the divine sacrifice with attention and devotion, they are themselves penetrated with a sense of the Divine Majesty and are thus easily brought nearer to God!
Indeed, the great secret of a priest's sanctification redounding upon the faithful, is the attentive and devout celebration of holy Mass with due preparation and thanksgiving.
Great must the spiritual fruit be which a Eucharistic priest may derive for the benefit of his soul after having for many years celebrated the holy sacrifice of the Mass with purity of heart and fervor of devotion. He may rest assured that, when he shall stand before the great Judge and present Him with the inestimable treasure of so many Masses devoutly celebrated, he will hear from His lips the consoling words (21): "Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
On the other hand, terrible will be the responsibility of one who, forgetting the greatness and holiness of the Sacrament of the love of Jesus, will have offered the Eucharistic sacrifices with a tainted conscience. To him the threatening words of St. Paul may be applied (22) : "A man making void the law of Moses, dieth without any mercy under two or three witnesses: how much more, do you think he deserveth worse punishments who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath esteemed the blood of the testament unclean by which he was sanctified, and hath offered an affront to the Spirit of peace?"
Great also is the responsibility of a priest who, though exempt from grievous faults, notwithstanding habitually goes to the altar without preparation or fervor, or celebrates Mass with too great haste and without devotion. Such a priest deprives himself of innumerable graces of which the Holy Sacrifice is the source, and exposes himself to fall into grievous sins. Some catastrophes, inexplicable at first sight, had in very deed no other fatal cause than this.
The Eucharistic priest, who knows and appreciates God's gift and is conscious of his dignity of mediator between God and men, makes the celebration of the Mass the center of his more generous efforts and enriches thereby ever more and more his soul with abundant graces. He endeavors to keep himself simple and humble, avoiding vain curiosity and the pretension of thinking himself to be above others. For, as the Imitation of Christ (23) has it, "God walketh with the guileless, He revealeth Himself to the humble, He giveth insight to little ones, He openeth the understanding of pure minds, and He hideth His face from the curious and the proud."
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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