As of all the sacred mysteries bequeathed to us by our Lord and Saviour as most infallible instruments of divine grace, there is none comparable to the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist; so, for no crime is there a heavier punishment to be feared from God than for the unholy or irreligious use by the faithful of that which is full of holiness, or rather which contains the very author and source of holiness. This the Apostle wisely saw, and has openly admonished us of it. For when he had declared the enormity of their guilt who discerned not the body of the Lord, he immediately subjoined: Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep.
In order that the faithful, therefore, aware of the divine honours due to this heavenly Sacrament, may derive therefrom abundant fruit of grace and escape the most just anger of God, pastors should explain with the greatest diligence all those things which may seem calculated more fully to display its majesty.
In this matter it will be necessary that pastors, following the example of the Apostle Paul, who professes to have delivered to the Corinthians what he had received from the Lord, first of all explain to the faithful the institution of this Sacrament.
That its institution was as follows, is clearly inferred from the Evangelist. Our Lord, having loved his own, loved them to the end. As a divine and admirable pledge of this love, knowing that the hour had now come that He should pass from the world to the Father, that Hemight not ever at any period be absent from His own, He accomplished with inexplicable wisdom that which surpasses all the order and condition of nature. For having kept the supper of the Paschal lamb with His disciples, that the figure might yield to the reality, the shadow to the substance, He took bread, and giving thanks unto God, He blessed, and brake, and gave to the disciples, and said: "Take ye and eat, this is my body which shall be delivered for you; this do for a commemoration of me." In like manner also, He took the chalice after he had supped, saying: "This chalice is the new testament in my blood; this do, as often as you shall drink it, in commemoration of me".
Wherefore sacred writers, seeing that it was not at all possible that they should manifest by one term the dignity and excellence of this admirable Sacrament, endeavoured to express it by many words.
For sometimes they call it Eucharist, which word we may render either by good grace, or by thanksgiving. And rightly, indeed, is it to be called good grace, as well because it first signifies eternal life, concerning which it has been written: The grace of God is eternal life; and also because it contains Christ the Lord, who is true grace and the fountain of all favours.
No less aptly do we interpret it thanksgiving; inasmuch as when we immolate this purest victim, we give daily unbounded thanks to God for all His kindnesses towards us, and above all for so excellent a gift of His grace, which He grants to us in this Sacrament. This same name, also, is fully in keeping with those things which we read were done by Christ the Lord at the institution of this mystery. For taking bread he brake it, and gave thanks. David also, when contemplating the greatness of this mystery, before he pronounced that song: He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord, he hath given food to them that fear him, thought that he should first make this act of thanksgiving: His work is praise and magnificence.
Frequently, also, it is called Sacrifice. Concerning this mystery there will be occasion to speak more at length presently.
It is called, moreover, communion, the term being evidently borrowed from that passage of the Apostle where we read: The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For, as Damascene has explained, this Sacrament unites us to Christ, renders us partakers of His flesh and Divinity, reconciles and unites us to one another in the same Christ, and forms us, as it were, into one body.
Whence it came to pass, that i. was called also the Sacrament of peace and love. We can understand then how unworthy they are of the name of Christian who cherish enmities, and how hatred, dissensions and discord should be entirely put away, as the most destructive bane of the faithful, especially since by the daily Sacrifice of our religion, we profess to preserve nothing with more anxious care, than peace and love.
It is also frequently called the Viaticum by sacred writers, both because it is spiritual food by which we are sustained in our pilgrimage through this life, and also because it paves our way to eternal glory and happiness. Wherefore, according to an ancient usage of the Catholic Church, we see that none of the faithful are permitted to die without this Sacrament.
The most ancient Fathers, following the authority of the Apostle, have sometimes also called the Holy Eucharist by the name of Supper, because it was instituted by Christ the Lord at the salutary mystery of the Last Supper.
It is not, however, lawful to consecrate or partake of the Eucharist after eating or drinking, because, according to a custom wisely introduced by the Apostles, as ancient writers have recorded, and which has ever been retained and preserved, Communion is received only by persons who are fasting.
The meaning of the name having been explained, it will be necessary to show that this is a true Sacrament, and one of those seven which the holy Church has ever revered and venerated religiously. For when the consecration of the chalice is effected, it is called a mystery of faith.
Besides, to omit the almost endless testimonies of sacred writers, who have invariably thought that this was to be numbered among the real Sacraments, the same thing is proved from the very principle and nature of a Sacrament. For there are in it signs that are external and subject to the senses. In the next place it signifies and produces grace. Moreover, neither the Evangelists nor the Apostle leave room for doubt regarding its institution by Christ. Since all these things concur to establish the fact of the Sacrament, there is obviously no need of any other argument.
But pastors should carefully observe that in this mystery there are many things to which sacred writers have from time to time attributed the name of Sacrament. For, sometimes, both the consecration and the Communion; nay, frequently also the body and blood itself of our Lord, which is contained in the Eucharist, used to be called a Sacrament. Thus St. Augustine says that this Sacrament consists of two things, the visible species of the elements, and the invisible flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And it is in the same sense that we say that this Sacrament is to be adored, meaning the body and blood of our Lord.
Now it is plain that all these are less properly called Sacraments. The species of bread and wine themselves are truly and strictly designated by this name.
How much this Sacrament differs from all the others is easily inferred. For all the other Sacraments are completed by the use of the material, that is, while they are being administered to some one. Thus Baptism. attains the nature of a Sacrament when the individual is actually being washed in the water. For the perfecting of the Eucharist on the other hand, the consecration of the material itself suffices, since neither (species) ceases to be a Sacrament, though kept in the pyx.
Again in perfecting the other Sacraments there is no change of the matter and element into another nature. The water of Baptism, or the oil of Confirmation, when those Sacraments are being administered, do not lose their former nature of water and oil; but in the Eucharist, that which was bread and wine before consecration, after consecration is truly the substance of the body and blood of the Lord.
But although there are two elements, as bread and wine, of which the entire Sacrament of the Eucharist is constituted, yet guided by the authority of the Church, we confess that this is not many Sacraments, but only one.
Otherwise, there cannot be the exact number of seven Sacraments, as has ever been handed down, and as was decreed by the Councils of Lateran, Florence and Trent.
Moreover, by virtue of the Sacrament, one mystical body is effected; hence, that the Sacrament itself may correspond to the thing which it effects, it must be one.
It is one not because it is indivisible, but because it signifies a single thing. For as food and drink, which are two different things, are employed only for one purpose, namely, that the vigour of the body may be recruited; so also it was but natural that there should be an analogy to them in the two different species of the Sacrament, which should signify the spiritual food by which souls are supported and refreshed. Wherefore we have been assured by our Lord the Saviour: My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
It must, therefore, be diligently explained what the Sacrament of the Eucharist signifies, that the faithful, beholding the sacred mysteries with their eyes, may also at the same time feed their souls with the contemplation of divine things. Three things, then, are signified by this Sacrament. The first is the Passion of Christ our Lord, a thing past; for He Himself said: Do this for a commemoration of me, and the Apostle says: As often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show the death of the Lord, until he come.
It is also significant of divine and heavenly grace, which is imparted at the present time by this Sacrament to nurture and preserve the soul. Just as in Baptism we are begotten unto newness of life and by Confirmation are strengthened to resist Satan and openly to profess the name of Christ, so by the Sacrament of the Eucharist are we nurtured and supported.
It is, thirdly, a foreshadowing of future eternal joy and glory, which, according to God's promises, we shall receive in our heavenly country.
These three things, then, which are clearly distinguished by their reference to past, present and future times, are so well represented by the Eucharistic mysteries that the whole Sacrament, though consisting of different species, signifies the three as if it referred to one thing only.
It is particularly incumbent on pastors to know the matter of this Sacrament, in order that they themselves may rightly consecrate it, and also that they may be able to instruct the faithful as to its significance, inflaming them with an earnest desire of that which it signifies.
The matter of this Sacrament is twofold. The first element is wheaten bread, of which we shall now speak. Of the second we shall treat hereafter. As the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke testify, Christ the Lord took bread into His hands, blessed, and brake, saying: This is my body; and, according to John, the same Saviour called Himself bread in these words: I am the living bread, that came down from heaven.
There are, however, various sorts of bread, either because they consist of different materials, such as wheat, barley, pulse and other products of the earth; or because they possess different qualities, some being leavened, others altogether without leaven. It is to be observed that, with regard to the former kinds, the words of the Saviour show that the bread should be wheaten; for, according to common usage, when we simply say bread, we are sufficiently understood to mean wheaten bread. This is also declared by a figure in the Old Testament, because the Lord commanded that the loaves of proposition, which signified this Sacrament, should be made of fine flour.
But as wheaten bread alone is to be considered the proper matter for this Sacrament a doctrine which has been handed down by Apostolic tradition and confirmed by the authority of the Catholic Church so it may be easily inferred from the doings of Christ the Lord that this bread should be unleavened. It was consecrated and instituted by Him on the first day of unleavened bread, on which it was not lawful for the Jews to have anything leavened in their house.
Should the authority of John the Evangelist, who says that all this was done before the feast of the Passover, be objected to, the argument is one of easy solution. For by the day before the pasch John understands the same day which the other Evangelists designate as the first day of unleavened bread. He wished particularly to mark the natural day, which commences at sunrise; whereas they wanted to point out that our Lord celebrated the Pasch on Thursday evening just when the days of the unleavened bread were beginning. Hence St. Chrysostom also understands the first day of unleavened bread to be the day on the evening of which unleavened bread was to be eaten.
The peculiar suitableness of the consecration of unleavened bread to express that integrity and purity of mind which the faithful should bring to this Sacrament we learn from these words of the Apostle: Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new paste, as you are unleavened. For Christ our Passover is sacrificed. Therefore, let us feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
This quality of the bread, however, is not to be deemed so essential that, if it be wanting, the Sacrament cannot exist; for both kinds are called by the one name and have the true and proper nature of bread. No one, however, is at liberty on his own private authority, or rather presumption, to transgress the laudable rite of his Church. And such departure is the less warrantable in priests of the Latin Church, expressly obliged as they are by the supreme Pontiffs, to consecrate the sacred mysteries with unleavened bread only.
With regard to the first matter of this Sacrament, let this exposition suffice. It is, however, to be observed, that the quantity of the matter to be consecrated is not defined, since we cannot define the exact number of those who can or ought to receive the sacred mysteries.'
It remains for us to treat of the other matter and element of this Sacrament, which is wine pressed from the fruit of the vine, with which is mingled a little water.
That in the institution of this Sacrament our Lord and Saviour made use of wine has beep at all times the doctrine of the Catholic Church, for He Himself said: I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day. On this passage Chrysostom observes: He says, "Of the fruit of the vine," which certainly produced wine not water; as if he had it in view, even at so early a period, to uproot the heresy which asserted that in these mysteries water alone is to be used.
With the wine, however, the Church of God has always mingled water. First, because Christ the Lord did so, as is proved by the authority of Councils and the testimony of St. Cyprian; next, because by this mixture is renewed the recollection of the blood and water that issued from His side. Waters, also, as we read in the Apocalypse, signify the people; and hence, water mixed with the wine signifies the union of the faithful with Christ their Head. This rite, derived as it is from Apostolic tradition, the Catholic Church has always observed.
But although there are reasons so grave for mingling water with the wine that it cannot be omitted without incurring the guilt of mortal sin, yet its omission does not render the Sacrament null.
Again as in the sacred mysteries priests must be mindful to mingle water with wine, so, also, must they take care to mingle it in small quantity, for, in the opinion and judgment of ecclesiastical writers, that water is changed into wine. Hence these words of Pope Honorius on the subject: A pernicious abuse has prevailed in your district of using in the sacrifice a greater quantity of water than of wine; whereas, according to the rational practice of the universal Church, the wine should be used in much greater quantity than the water.
These, then, are the only two elements of this Sacrament; and with reason has it been enacted by many decrees that, although there have been those who were not afraid to do so, it is unlawful to offer anything but bread and wine.
We have now to consider the aptitude of these two symbols of bread and wine to represent those things of which we believe and confess they are the sensible signs.
In the first place, then, they signify to us Christ, as the true life of men; for our Lord Himself says: My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. As, then, the body of Christ the Lord furnishes nourishment unto eternal life to those who receive this Sacrament with purity and holiness, rightly is the matter composed chiefly of those elements by which our present life is sustained, in order that the faithful may easily understand that the mind and soul are satiated by the Communion of the precious body and blood of Christ.
These very elements serve also somewhat to suggest to men the truth of the Real Presence of the body and blood of the Lord in the Sacrament. Observing, as we do, that bread and wine are every day changed by the power of nature into human flesh and blood, we are led the more easily by this analogy to believe that the substance of the bread and wine is changed, by the heavenly benediction, into the real flesh and real blood of Christ.
This admirable change of the elements also helps to shadow forth what takes place in the soul. Although no change of the bread and wine appears externally, yet their substance is truly changed into the flesh and blood of Christ; so, in like manner, although in us nothing appears changed, yet we are renewed inwardly unto life, when we receive in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the true life.
Moreover, the body of the Church, which is one, consists of many members, and of this union nothing is more strikingly illustrative than the elements of bread and wine; for bread is made from many grains and wine is pressed from many clusters of grapes. Thus they signify that we, though many, are most closely bound together by the bond of this divine mystery and made, as it were, one body.
The form to be used in the consecration of the bread is next to be treated of, not, however, in order that the faithful should be taught these mysteries, unless necessity require it; for this knowledge is not needful for those who have not received Holy Orders. The purpose (of this section) is to guard against most shameful mistakes on the part of priests, at the time of the consecration, due to ignorance of the form.
We are then taught by the holy Evangelists, Matthew and Luke, and also by the Apostle, that the form consists of these words: This is my body; for it is written: Whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to his disciples, and said: Take and eat, This is my body.
This form of consecration having been observed by Christ the Lord has been always used by the Catholic Church. The testimonies of the Fathers, the enumeration of which would be endless, and also the decree of the Council of Florence, which is well known and accessible to all, must here be omitted, especially as the knowledge which they convey may be obtained from these words of the Saviour: Do this for a commemoration of me. For what the Lord enjoined was not only what He had done, but also what he had said; and especially is this true, since the words were uttered not only to signify, but also to accomplish.
That these words constitute the form is easily proved from reason also. The form is that which signifies what is accomplished in this Sacrament; but as the preceding words signify and declare what takes place in the Eucharist, that is, the conversion of the bread into the true body of our Lord, it therefore follows that these very words constitute the form. In this sense may be understood the words of the Evangelist: He blessed; for they seem equivalent to this: Taking bread, he blessed it, saying: "This is my body".
Although in the Evangelist the words, Take and eat, precede the words (This is my body), they evidently express the use only, not the consecration, of the matter. Wherefore, while they are not necessary to the consecration of the Sacrament, they are by all means to be pronounced by the priest, as is also the conjunction for in the consecration of the body and blood. But they are not necessary to the validity of the Sacrament, otherwise it would follow that, if this Sacrament were not to be administered to anyone, it should not, or indeed could not, be consecrated; whereas, no one can lawfully doubt that the priest, by pronouncing the words of our Lord according to the institution and practice of the Church, truly consecrates the proper matter of the bread, even though it should afterwards never be administered.
With regard lo the consecration of the wine, which is the other element of this Sacrament, the priest, for the reason we have already assigned, ought of necessity to be well acquainted with, and well understand its form. We are then firmly to believe that it consists in the following words: This is the chalice of my blood, of the new and eternal testament, the mystery of faith, which shall be shed for you and for many, to the remission of sins. Of these words the greater part are taken from Scripture; but some have been preserved in the Church from Apostolic tradition.
Thus the words, this is the chalice, are found in St. Luke and in the Apostle; but the words that immediately follow, of my blood, or my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for you and for many to the remission of sins, are found partly in St. Luke and partly in St. Matthew. But the words, eternal, and the mystery of faith, have been taught us by holy tradition, the interpreter and keeper of Catholic truth.
Concerning this form no one can doubt, if he here also attend to what has been already said about the form used in the consecration of the bread. The form to be used (in the consecration) of this element, evidently consists of those words which signify that the substance of the wine is changed into the blood of our Lord. since, therefore, the words already cited clearly declare this, it is plain that no other words constitute the form.
They moreover express certain admirable fruits of the blood shed in the Passion of our Lord, fruits which pertain in a most special manner to this Sacrament. Of these, one is access to the eternal inheritance, which has come to us by right of the new and everlasting testament. Another is access to righteousness by the mystery of faith; for God hath set forth Jesus to be a propitiator through faith in his blood, that he himself may be just, and the justifier of him, who is of the faith of Jesus. Christ. A third effect is the remission of sins.
Since these very words of consecration are replete with mysteries and most appropriately suitable to the subject, they demand a more minute consideration.
The words: This is the chalice of my blood, are to be understood to mean: This is my blood, which is contained in this chalice. The mention of the chalice made at the consecration of the blood is right and appropriate, inasmuch as the blood is the drink of the faithful, and this would not be sufficiently signified if it were not contained in some drinking vessel.
Next follow the words: Of the new testament. These have been added that we might understand the blood of Christ the Lord to be given not under a figure, as was done in the Old Law, of which we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews that without blood a testament is not dedicated; but to be given to men in truth and in reality, as becomes the New Testament. Hence the Apostle says: Christ therefore is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of his death, they who are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
The word eternal refers to the eternal inheritance, the right to which we acquire by the death of Christ the Lord, the eternal testator.
The words mystery of faith, which are subjoined, do not exclude the reality, but signify that what lies hidden and concealed and far removed from the perception of the eye, is to be believed with firm faith. In this passage, however, these words bear a meaning different from that which they have when applied also to Baptism. Here the mystery of faith consists in seeing by faith the blood of Christ veiled under the species of wine; but Baptism is justly called by us the Sacrament of faith, by the Greeks, the mystery of faith, because it embraces the entire profession of the Christian faith.
Another reason why we call the blood of the Lord the mystery of faith is that human reason is particularly beset with difficulty and embarrassment when faith proposes to our belief that Christ the Lord, the true Son of God, at once God and man, suffered death for us, and this death is designated by the Sacrament of His blood.
Here, therefore, rather than at the consecration of His body, is appropriately commemorated the Passion of our Lord, by the words. which shall be shed for the remission of sins. For the blood, separately consecrated, serves to place before the eyes of all, in a more forcible manner, the Passion of our Lord, His death, and the nature of His sufferings.
The additional words for you and for many, are taken, some from Matthew, some from Luke, but were joined together by the Catholic Church under the guidance of the Spirit of God. They serve to declare the fruit and advantage of His Passion. For if we look to its value, we must confess that the Redeemer shed His blood for the salvation of all; but if we look to the fruit which mankind have received from it, we shall easily find that it pertains not unto all, but to many of the human race. When therefore ('our Lord) said: For you, He meant either those who were present, or those chosen from among the Jewish people, such as were, with the exception of Judas, the disciples with whom He was speaking. When He added, And for many, He wished to be understood to mean the remainder of the elect from among the Jews or Gentiles.
With reason, therefore, were the words for all not used, as in this place the fruits of the Passion are alone spoken of, and to the elect only did His Passion bring the fruit of salvation. And this is the purport of the Apostle when he says: Christ was offered once to exhaust the sins of many; and also of the words of our Lord in John: I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me, because they are thine.
Beneath the words of this consecration lie hid many other mysteries, which by frequent meditation and study of sacred things, pastors will find it easy, with the divine assistance, to discover for themselves.
We must now return to an explanation of those truths concerning the Eucharist about which the faithful are on no account to be left in ignorance. Pastors, aware of the warning of the Apostle that those who discern not the body of the Lord are guilty of a most grave crime, should first of all impress on the minds of the faithful the necessity of detaching, as much as possible, their mind and understanding from the dominion of the senses; for if they believe that this Sacrament contains only what the senses disclose, they will of necessity fall into enormous impiety. Consulting the sight, the touch, the smell, the taste and finding nothing but the appearances of bread and wine, they will naturally judge that this Sacrament contains nothing more than bread and wine. Their minds, therefore, are as much as possible to be withdrawn from subjection to the senses and excited to the contemplation of the stupendous might and power of God.
The Catholic Church firmly believes and professes that in this Sacrament the words of consecration accomplish three wondrous and admirable effects.
The first is that the true body of Christ the Lord, the same that was born of the Virgin, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven, is contained in this Sacrament.
The second, however repugnant it may appear to the senses, is that none of the substance of the elements remains in the Sacrament.
The third, which may be deduced from the two preceding. although the words of consecration themselves clearly express it, is that the accidents which present themselves to the eyes or other senses exist in a wonderful and ineffable manner without a subject. All the accidents of bread and wine we can see, but they inhere in no substance, and exist independently of any; for the substance of the bread and wine is so changed into the body and blood of our Lord that they altogether cease to be the substance of bread and wine.
To begin with the first (of these mysteries), pastors should give their best attention to show how clear and explicit are the words of our Saviour which establish the Real Presence of His body in this Sacrament.
When our Lord says: This is my body, this is my blood, no person of sound mind can mistake His meaning, particularly since there is reference to Christ's human nature, the reality of which the Catholic faith permits no one to doubt. The admirable words of St. Hilary, a man not less eminent for piety than learning, are apt here: When our Lord himself declares, as our faith teaches us, that His flesh is food indeed, what room can remain for doubt concerning the real presence of His body and blood?
Pastors should also adduce another passage from which it can be clearly seen that the true body and blood of our Lord are contained in the Eucharist. The Apostle, after having recorded the consecration of bread and wine by our Lord, and also the administration of Communion to the Apostles, adds: But let a man prove himself, and so eat of that bread and drink of the chalice; for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. If, as heretics continually repeat, the Sacrament presents nothing to our veneration but a memorial and sign of the Passion of Christ, why was there need to exhort the faithful, in language so energetic, to prove themselves? By the terrible word judgment, the Apostle shows how enormous is the guilt of those who receive unworthily and do not distinguish from common food the body of the Lord concealed in the Eucharist. In the same Epistle St. Paul had already developed this doctrine more fully, when he said: The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? and the bread which we break, is it not the participation of the body of the Lord ? Now these words signify the real substance of the body and blood of Christ the Lord.
These passages of Scripture are therefore to be expounded by pastors; and they should especially teach that there is nothing doubtful or uncertain about them. All the more certain are they since the infallible teaching of God's Church has interpreted them, as may be ascertained in a twofold manner.
The first is by consulting the Fathers who flourished in the early ages of the Church and in each succeeding century, who are the most unexceptionable witnesses of her doctrine. All of these teach in the clearest terms and with the most entire unanimity the truth of this dogma. To adduce the individual testimony of each Father would prove an endless task. It is enough, therefore, that we cite, or rather point out a few, whose testimony will afford an easy criterion by which to judge of the rest.
Let St. Ambrose first declare his faith. In his book On Those Who are Initiated Into the Mysteries he says that the true body of Christ is received in this Sacrament, just as the true body of Christ was derived from the Virgin, and that this truth is to be believed with the firm certainty of faith. In another place he teaches that before consecration there is only bread, but after consecration there is the flesh of Christ.
St. Chrysostom, another witness of equal authority and gravity, professes and proclaims this mysterious truth in many passages, but particularly in his sixtieth homily, On Those Who Receive The Sacred Mysteries Unworthily; and also in his fortyfourth and fortyfifth homilies on St. John. Let us, he says, obey, not contradict God, although what He says may seem contrary to our reason and our sight. His words cannot deceive, our senses are easily deceived.
With this doctrine fully agrees the uniform teaching of St. Augustine, that most zealous defender of Catholic faith, particularly when in his explanation of the thirtythird Psalm he says: To carry himself in his own hands is impossible to man, and peculiar to Christ alone; He was carried in His own hands when, giving His body to be eaten, He said, This is my body.
To pass by Justin and Irenaeus, St. Cyril, in his fourth book on St. John, declares in such express terms that the true body of our Lord is contained in this Sacrament, that no sophistry, no captious interpretations can obscure his meaning.
Should pastors wish for additional testimonies of the Fathers, they will find it easy to add St. Denis, St. Hilary, St. Jerome, St. Damascene and a host of others, whose weighty teaching on this most important subject has been collected by the labor and industry of learned and pious men.
Another means of ascertaining the belief of the holy Church on matters of faith is the condemnation of the contrary doctrine and opinion. It is manifest that belief in the Real Presence of the body of Christ in the holy Sacrament of the Eucharist was so spread and taught throughout the universal Church and unanimously professed by all the faithful, that when, five centuries ago, Berengarius presumed to deny this dogma, asserting that the Eucharist was only a sign, he was unanimously condemned in the Council of Vercelli, which Leo IX had immediately convoked, whereupon he himself anathematised his error.
Relapsing, however, into the same wicked folly, he was condemned by three different Councils, convened, one at Tours, the other two at Rome; of the two latter, one was summoned by Pope Nicholas II, the other by Pope Gregory VIII.' The General Council of Lateran, held under Innocent III, further ratified the sentence. Finally this truth was more clearly defined and established in the Councils of Florence and Trent.
If, then, pastors will carefully explain these particulars, they will be able, while ignoring those who are blinded by error and hate nothing more than the light of truth, to strengthen the weak and administer joy and consolation to the pious, all the more as the faithful cannot doubt that this dogma is numbered among the Articles of faith.
Believing and confessing, as they do, that the power of God is supreme over all things, they must also believe that His omnipotence can accomplish the great work which we admire and adore in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. And again since they believe the Holy Catholic Church, they must necessarily believe that the true doctrine of this Sacrament is that which we have set forth.
Nothing contributes more to the spiritual joy and advantage of pious persons than the contemplation of the exalted dignity of this most august Sacrament. In the first place they learn how great is the perfection of the Gospel Dispensation, under which we enjoy the reality of that which under the Mosaic Law was only shadowed forth by types and figures. Hence St. Denis divinely says that our Church is midway between the Synagogue and the heavenly Jerusalem, and consequently participates of the nature of both. Certainly, then, the faithful can never sufficiently admire the perfection of holy Church and her exalted glory which seems to be removed only by one degree from the bliss of heaven. In common with the inhabitants of heaven, we too possess Christ, God and man, present with us. They are raised a degree above us, inasmuch as they are present with Christ and enjoy the Beatific Vision; while we, with a firm and unwavering faith, adore the Divine Majesty present with us, not, it is true, in a manner visible to mortal eye, but hidden by a miracle of power under the veil of the sacred mysteries.
Furthermore the faithful experience in this Sacrament the most perfect love of Christ our Saviour. It became the goodness of the Saviour not to withdraw from us that nature which He assumed from us, but to desire, as far as possible, to remain among us so that at all times He might be seen to verify the words: My delight is to be with the children of men.
Here the pastor should explain that in this Sacrament are contained not only the true body of. Christ and all the constituents of a true body, such as bones and sinews, but also Christ whole and entire. He should point out that the word Christ designates the Godman, that is to say, one Person in whom are united the divine and human natures; that the Holy Eucharist, therefore, contains both, and whatever is included in the idea of both, the Divinity and humanity whole and entire, consisting of the soul, all the parts of the body and the blood, all of which must be believed to be in this Sacrament. In heaven the whole humanity is united to the Divinity in one hypostasis, or Person; hence it would be impious, to suppose that the body of Christ, which is contained in the Sacrament, is separated from His Divinity.
Pastors, however, should not fail to observe that in this Sacrament not all these things are contained after the same manner, or by the same power. Some things, we say, are present in virtue of the consecration; for as the words of consecration effect what they signify, sacred writers usually say that whatever the form expresses, is contained in the Sacrament by virtue of the Sacrament. Hence, could we suppose any one thing to be entirely separated from the rest, the Sacrament, they teach, would be found to contain solely what the form expresses and nothing more.
On the other hand, some things are contained in the Sacrament because they are united to those which are expressed in the form. For instance, the words This is my body, which comprise the form used to consecrate the bread, signify the body of the Lord, and hence the body itself of Christ the Lord is contained in the Eucharist by virtue of the Sacrament. Since, however, to Christ's body are united His blood, His soul, and His Divinity, all of these also must be found to coexist in the Sacrament; not, however, by virtue of the consecration, but by virtue of the union that subsists between them and His body. All these are said to be in the Eucharist by virtue of concomitance. Hence it is clear that Christ, whole and entire, is contained in the Sacrament; for when two things are actually united, where one is, the other must also be.
Hence it also follows that Christ is so contained, whole and entire, under either species, that, as under the species of bread are contained not only the body, but also the blood and Christ entire; so in like manner, under the species of wine are truly contained not only the blood, but also the body and Christ entire.
But although these are matters on which the faithful cannot entertain a doubt, it was nevertheless wisely ordained that two distinct consecrations should take place. First, because they represent in a more lively manner the Passion of our Lord, in which His blood was separated from His body; and hence in the form of consecration we commemorate the shedding of His blood. Secondly, since the Sacrament is to be used by us as the food and nourishment of our souls, it was most appropriate that it should be instituted as food and drink, two things which obviously constitute the complete sustenance of the (human) body.
Nor should it be forgotten that Christ, whole and entire, is contained not only under either species, but also in each particle of either species. Each, says St. Augustine, receives Christ the Lord, and He is entire in each portion. He is not diminished by being given to many, but gives Himself whole and entire to each.
This is also an obvious inference from the narrative of the Evangelists. It is not to be supposed that our Lord consecrated the bread used at the Last Supper in separate parts, applying the form particularly to each, but that all the bread then used for the sacred mysteries was consecrated at the same time and with the same form, and in a quantity sufficient for all the Apostles. That the consecration of the chalice was performed in this manner, is clear from these words of the Saviour: Take and divide it among you.
What has hitherto been said is intended to enable pastors to show that the true body and blood of Christ are contained in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The next point to be explained is that the substance of the bread and wine does not continue to exist in the Sacrament after consecration. This truth, although well calculated to excite our profound admiration, is yet a necessary consequence from what has been already established.
If, after consecration, the true body of Christ is present under the species of bread and wine, since it was not there before, it must have become present either by change of place, or by creation, or by the change of some other thing into it. It cannot be rendered present by change of place, because it would then cease to be in heaven; for whatever is moved must necessarily cease to occupy the place from which it is moved. Still less can we suppose the body of Christ to be rendered present by creation; nay, the very idea is inconceivable. In order that the body of our Lord be present in the Sacrament, it remains, therefore, that it be rendered present by the change of the bread into it. Wherefore it is necessary that none of the substance of the bread remain.
Hence our predecessors in the faith, the Fathers of the General Councils of Lateran and of Florence, confirmed by solemn decrees the truth of this dogma. In the Council of Trent it was still more fully defined in these words: If any one shall say that in the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains, together with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, let hint be anathema.
The doctrine thus defined is a natural inference from the words of Scripture. When instituting this Sacrament, our Lord Himself said: This is my body. The word this expresses the entire substance of the thing present; and therefore if the substance of the bread remained, our Lord could not have truly said: This is my body.
In St. John Christ the Lord also says: The bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world. The bread which He promises to give, He here declares to be His flesh. A little after He adds: Unless you eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. And again: My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. Since, therefore, in terms so clear and so explicit, He calls His flesh bread and meat indeed, and His blood drink indeed, He gives us sufficiently to understand that none of the substance of the bread and wine remains in the Sacrament.
Whoever turns over the pages of the holy Fathers will easily perceive that on this doctrine (of transubstantiation) they have been at all times unanimous. St. Ambrose says: You say, perhaps, "this bread is no other than what is used for common food." True, before consecration it is bread; but no sooner are the words of consecration pronounced than from bread it becomes the flesh of Christ. To prove this position more clearly, he elucidates it by a variety of comparisons and examples. In another place, when explaining these words of the Psalmist, Whatsoever the Lord pleased he hath done in heaven and on earth, St. Ambrose says: Although the species of bread and wine are visible, yet we must believe that after consecration, the body and blood of Christ are alone there. Explaining the same doctrine almost in the same words, St. Hilary says that although externally it appear bread and wine, yet in reality it is the body and blood of the Lord.
Here pastors should observe that we should not at all be surprised, if, even after consecration, the Eucharist is sometimes called bread. It is so called, first because it retains the appearance of bread, and secondly because it keeps the natural quality of bread, which is to support and nourish the body.
Moreover, such phraseology is in perfect accordance with the usage of the Holy Scriptures, which call things by what they appear to be, as may be seen from the words of Genesis which say that Abraham saw three men, when in reality he saw three Angels. In like manner the two Angels who appeared to the Apostles after the Ascension of Christ the Lord into heaven, are called not Angels, but men.
To explain this mystery is extremely difficult. The pastor, however, should endeavour to instruct those who are more advanced in the knowledge of divine things on the manner of this admirable change. As for those who are yet weak in faith, they might possibly be overwhelmed by its greatness.
This conversion, then, is so effected that the whole substance of the bread is changed by the power of God into the whole substance of the body of Christ, and the whole substance of the wine into the whole substance of His blood, and this, without any change in our Lord Himself. He is neither begotten, nor changed, not increased, but remains entire in His substance.
This sublime mystery St. Ambrose thus declares: You see how efficacious are the words of Christ. If the word of the Lord Jesus is so powerful as to summon into existence that which did not exist, namely the world, how much more powerful is His word to change into something else that which already has existence ?
Many other ancient and most authoritative Fathers have written to the same effect. We faithfully confess, says St. Augustine, that before consecration it is bread and wine, the product of nature; but after consecration it is the body and blood of Christ, consecrated by the blessing. The body, says Damascene, is truly united to the Divinity, that body which was derived from the virgin; not that the body thus derived descends from heaven, but that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ.
This admirable change, as the Council of Trent teaches, the Holy Catholic Church most appropriately expresses by the word transubstantiation. Since natural changes are rightly called transformations, because they involve a change of form; so likewise our predecessors in the faith wisely and appropriately introduced the term transubstantiation, in order to signify that in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the whole substance of one thing passes into the whole substance of another.
According to the admonition so frequently repeated by the holy Fathers, the faithful are to be admonished against curious searching into the manner in which this change is effected. It defies the powers of conception; nor can we find any example of it in natural transmutations, or even in the very work of creation. That such a change takes place must be recognised by faith; how it takes place we must not curiously inquire.
No less of caution should be observed by pastors in explaining the mysterious manner in which the body of our Lord is contained whole and entire under the least particle of the bread. Indeed, discussions of this kind should scarcely ever be entered upon. Should Christian charity, however, require a departure from this rule, the pastor should remember first of all to prepare and fortify his hearers by reminding them that no word shall be impossible with God.
The pastor should next teach that our Lord is not in the Sacrament as in a place. Place regards things only inasmuch as they have magnitude. Now we do not say that Christ is in the Sacrament inasmuch as He is great or small, terms which belong to quantity, but inasmuch as He is a substance. The substance of the bread is changed into the substance of Christ, not into magnitude or quantity; and substance, it will be acknowledged by all, is contained in a small as well as in a large space. The substance of air, for instance, and its entire nature must be present under a small as well as a large quantity, and likewise the entire nature of water must be present no less in a glass than in a river. Since, then, the body of our Lord succeeds to the substance of the bread, we must confess it to be in the Sacrament after the same manner as the substance of the bread was before consecration; whether the substance of the bread was present in greater or less quantity is a matter of entire indifference.
We now come to the third great and wondrous effect of this Sacrament, namely, the existence of the species of bread and wine without a subject.
What has been said in explanation of the two preceding points must facilitate for pastors the exposition of this truth. For, since we have already proved that the body and blood of our Lord are really and truly contained in the Sacrament, to the entire exclusion of the substance of the bread and wine, and since the accidents of bread and wine cannot inhere in the body and blood of Christ, it remains that, contrary to physical laws, they must subsist of themselves, inhering in no subject.
This has been at all times the uniform doctrine of the Catholic Church; and it can be easily established by the same authorities which, as we have already proved, make it plain that the substance of the bread and wine ceases to exist in the Eucharist.
Nothing more becomes the piety of the faithful than, omitting all curious questionings, to revere and adore the majesty of this august Sacrament, and to recognise the wisdom of God in commanding that these holy mysteries should be administered under the species of bread and wine. For since it is most revolting to human nature to eat human flesh or drink human blood, therefore God in His infinite wisdom has established the administration of the body and blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine, which are the ordinary and agreeable food of man.
There are two further advantages: first, it prevents the calumnious reproaches of the unbeliever, from which the eating of our Lord under His visible form could not easily be defended; secondly, the receiving Him under a form in which He is impervious to the senses avails much for increasing our faith. For faith, as the well known saying of St. Gregory declares, has no merit in those things which fall under the proof of reason.
The doctrines treated above should be explained with great caution, according to the capacity of the hearers and the necessities of the times.
But with regard to the admirable virtue and fruits of this Sacrament, there is no class of the faithful to whom a knowledge of them is not most necessary. For all that has been said at such length on this Sacrament has principally for its object, to make the faithful sensible of the advantages of the Eucharist. As, however, no language can convey an adequate idea of its utility and fruits, pastors must be content to treat of one or two points, in order to show what an abundance and profusion of all goods are contained in those sacred mysteries.
This they will in some degree accomplish, if, having explained the efficacy and nature of all the Sacraments, they compare the Eucharist to a fountain, the other Sacraments to rivulets. For the Holy Eucharist is truly and necessarily to be called the fountain of all graces, containing, as it does, after an admirable manner, the fountain itself of celestial gifts and graces, and the author of all the Sacrament, Christ our Lord, from whom, as from its source, is derived whatever of goodness and perfection the other Sacraments possess. From this (comparison), therefore, we may easily infer what most ample gifts of divine grace are bestowed on us by this Sacrament.
It will also be useful to consider attentively the nature of bread and wine, which are the symbols of this Sacrament. For what bread and wine are to the body, the Eucharist is to the health and delight of the soul, but in a higher and better way. This Sacrament is not, like bread and wine, changed into our substance; but we are, in some wise, changed into its nature, so that we may well apply here the words of St. Augustine: I am the food of the frown. Grow and thou shalt eat Me; nor shalt thou change Me into thee, as thy bodily food, but thou shalt be changed into Me.
If, then, grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, they must surely be poured into the soul which receives with purity and holiness Him who said of Himself: He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him. Those who receive this Sacrament piously and fervently must, beyond all doubt, so receive the Son of God into their souls as to be ingrafted as living members on His body. For it is written: He that eateth me, the same also shall live by me; also: The bread which I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. Explaining this passage, St. Cyril says: The Word of God, uniting Himself to His own flesh, imparted to it a vivifying power: it became Him, therefore, to unite Himself to our bodies in a wonderful manner, through His sacred flesh and precious blood, which we receive in the bread and wine, consecrated by His vivifying benediction.
When it is said that the Eucharist imparts grace, pastors must admonish that this does not mean that the state of grace is not required for a profitable reception of this Sacrament. For as natural food can be of no use to the dead, so in like manner the sacred mysteries can evidently be of no avail to a soul which lives not by the spirit. Hence this Sacrament has been instituted under the forms of bread and wine to signify that the object of its institution is not to recall the soul to life, but to preserve its life.
The reason, then, for saying that this Sacrament imparts grace, is that even the first grace, with which all should be clothed before they presume to approach the Holy Eucharist, lest they eat and drink judgment to themselves,' is given to none unless they receive in wish and desire this very Sacrament. For the Eucharist is the end of all the Sacraments, and the symbol of unity and brotherhood in the Church, outside which none can attain grace.
Again, just as the body is not only supported but also increased by natural food, from which the taste every day derives new relish and pleasure; so also is the soul not only sustained but invigorated by feasting on the food of the Eucharist, which gives to the spirit an increasing zest for heavenly things. Most truly and fitly therefore do we say that grace is imparted by this Sacrament, for it may be justly compared to the manna having in it the sweetness of every taste.
It cannot be doubted that by the Eucharist are remitted and pardoned lighter sins, commonly called venial. Whatever the soul has lost through the fire of passion, by falling into some slight offence, all this the Eucharist, cancelling those lesser faults, repairs, in the same way not to depart from the illustration already adduced as natural food gradually restores and repairs the daily waste caused by the force of the vital heat within us. Justly, therefore, has St. Ambrose said of this heavenly Sacrament: That daily bread is taken as a remedy for daily infirmity. But these things are to be understood of those sins for which no actual affection is retained.
There is, furthermore, such a power in the sacred mysteries as to preserve us pure and unsullied from sin, keep us safe from the assaults of temptation, and, as by some heavenly medicine, prepare the soul against the easy approach and infection of virulent and deadly disease. Hence, as St. Cyprian records, when the faithful were formerly hurried in multitudes by tyrants to torments and death, because they confessed the name of Christ, it was an ancient usage in the Catholic Church to give them, by the hands of the Bishop, the Sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord, lest perhaps overcome by the severity of their sufferings, they should fail in the fight for salvation.
It also restrains and represses the lusts of the flesh, for while it inflames the soul more ardently with the fire of charity, it of necessity extinguishes the ardour of concupiscence.
Finally, to comprise all the advantages and blessings of this Sacrament in one word, it must be taught that the Holy Eucharist is most efficacious towards the attainment of eternal glory. For it is written: He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day. That is to say, by the grace of this Sacrament men enjoy the greatest peace and tranquillity of conscience during the present life; and, when the hour of departing from this world shall have arrived, like Elias, who in the strength of the bread baked on the hearth, walked to Horeb, the mount of God, they, too, invigorated by the strengthening influence of this (heavenly food), will ascend to unfading glory and bliss.
All these matters will be most fully expounded by pastors, if they but dwell or. the sixth chapter of St. John, in which are developed the manifold effects of this Sacrament. Or again, glancing at the admirable actions of Christ our Lord, they may show that if those who received Him beneath their roof during His mortal life, or were restored to health by touching His vesture or the hem of His garment, were justly and deservedly deemed most blessed, how much more fortunate and happy we, into whose soul, resplendent as He is with unfading glory, He disdains not to enter, to heal all its wounds, to adorn it with His choicest gifts, and unite it to Himself.
That the faithful may learn to be zealous for the better gifts, they must be shown who can obtain these abundant fruits from the Holy Eucharist, must be reminded that there is not only one way of communicating. Wisely and rightly, then, did our predecessors in the faith, as we read in the Council of Trent, distinguish three ways of receiving this Sacrament.
Some receive it sacramentally only. Such are those sinners who do not fear to approach the holy mysteries with polluted lips and heart, who, as the Apostle says, eat and drink the Lord's body unworthily. Of this class of communicants St. Augustine says: He who dwells not in Christ, and in whom Christ dwells not, most certainly does not eat spiritually His flesh, although carnally and visibly he press with his teeth the Sacrament of His flesh and blood. Those, therefore, who receive the sacred mysteries with such a disposition, not only obtain no fruit therefrom, but, as the Apostle himself testifies, eat and drink judgment to themselves.
Others are said to receive the Eucharist in spirit only. They are those who, inflamed with a lively faith which worketh by charity,' partake in wish and desire of that celestial bread offered to them, from which they receive, if not the entire, at least very great fruits.
Lastly, there are some who receive the Holy Eucharist both sacramentally and spiritually, those who, according to the teaching of the Apostle, having first proved themselves and having approached this divine banquet adorned with the nuptial garment, derive from the Eucharist those most abundant fruits which we have already described. Hence it is clear that those who, having it in their power to receive with fitting preparation the Sacrament of the body of the Lord, are yet satisfied with a spiritual Communion only, deprive themselves of the greatest and most heavenly advantages.
We now come to point out the manner in which the faithful should be previously prepared for sacramental Communion. To demonstrate the great necessity of this previous preparation, the example of the Saviour should be adduced. Before He gave to His Apostles the Sacrament of His precious body and blood, although they were already clean, He washed their feet to show that we must use extreme diligence before Holy Communion in order to approach it with the greatest purity and innocence of soul.
In the next place, the faithful are to understand that as he who approaches thus prepared and disposed is adorned with the most ample gifts of heavenly grace; so, on the contrary, he who approaches without this preparation not only derives from it no advantage, but even incurs the greatest misfortune and loss. It is characteristic of the best and most salutary things that, if seasonably made use of, they are productive of the greatest benefit; but if employed out of time, they prove most pernicious and destructive. It cannot, therefore, excite out surprise that the great and exalted gifts of God; when received into a soul properly disposed, are of the greatest assistance towards the attainment of salvation; while to those who receive them unworthily, they bring with them eternal death.
Of this the Ark of the Lord affords a convincing illustration. The people of Israel possessed nothing more precious and it was to them the source of innumerable blessings from God; but when the Philistines carried it away, it brought on them a most destructive plague and the heaviest calamities, together with eternal disgrace. Thus also food when received from the mouth into a healthy stomach nourishes and supports the body; but when received into an indisposed stomach, causes grave disorders.
The first preparation, then, which the faithful should make, is to distinguish table from table, this sacred table from profane tables, this celestial bread from common bread. This we do when we firmly believe that there is truly present the body and blood of the Lord, of Him whom the Angels adore in heaven, at whose nod the pillars of heaven fear and tremble, of whose glory the heavens and the earth are full. This is to discern the body of the Lord in accordance with the admonition of the Apostle. We should venerate the greatness of the mystery rather than too curiously investigate its truth by idle inquiry.
Another very necessary preparation is to ask ourselves if we are at peace with and sincerely love our neigh r. If, therefore, thou offerest thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.
We should, in the next place, carefully examine whether our consciences be defiled by mortal sin, which has to be repented of, in order that it may be blotted out before Communion by the remedy of contrition and confession. The Council of Trent has defined that no one conscious of mortal sin and having an opportunity of going to confession, however contrite he may deem himself, is to approach the Holy Eucharist until he has been purified by sacramental confession.
We should also reflect in the silence of our own hearts how unworthy we are that the Lord should bestow on us this divine gift, and with the centurion of whom our Lord declared that he found not so great faith in Israel, we should exclaim from our hearts: Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst enter under my roof.
We should also put the question to ourselves whether we can truly say with Peter: Lord, thou knowest that I love thee, and should recollect that he who sat down at the banquet of the Lord without a wedding garment was cast into a dark dungeon and condemned to eternal torments.
Our preparation should not, however, be confined to the soul; it should also extend to the body. We are to approach the Holy Table fasting, having neither eaten nor drunk anything at least from the preceding midnight until the moment of Communion.
The dignity of so great a Sacrament also demands that married persons abstain from the marriage debt for some days previous to Communion. This observance is recommended by the example of David, who, when about to receive the showbread from the hands of the priest, declared that he and his servants had been clean from women for three days.
The above are the principal things to be done by the faithful preparatory to receiving the sacred mysteries with profit; and to these heads may be reduced whatever other things may seem desirable by way of preparation.
Lest any be kept away from Communion by the fear that the requisite preparation is too hard and laborious, the faithful are frequently to be reminded that they are all bound to receive the Holy Eucharist. Furthermore, the Church has decreed that whoever neglects to approach Holy Communion once a year, at Easter, is liable to sentence of excommunication.
However, let not the faithful imagine that it is enough to receive the body of the Lord once a year only, in obedience to the decree of the Church. They should approach oftener; but whether monthly, weekly, or daily, cannot be decided by any fixed universal rule. St. Augustine, however, lays down a most certain norm: Live in such a manner as to be able to receive every day.
It will therefore be the duty of the pastor frequently to admonish the faithful that, as they deem it necessary to afford daily nutriment to the body, they should also feel solicitous to feed and nourish the soul every day with this heavenly food. It is clear that the soul stands not less in need of spiritual, than the body of corporal food. Here it will be found most useful to recall the inestimable and divine advantages which, as we have already shown, flow from sacramental Communion. It will be well also to refer to the manna, which was a figure (of this Sacrament), and which refreshed the bodily powers every day. The Fathers who earnestly recommended the frequent reception of this Sacrament may also be cited. The words of St. Augustine, Thou sinnest daily, receive daily, express not his opinion only, but that of all the Fathers who have written on the subject, as anyone may easily discover who will carefully read them.
That there was a time when the faithful approached Holy Communion every day we learn from the Acts of the Apostles. All who then professed the faith of Christ burned with such true and sincere charity that, devoting themselves to prayer and other works of piety, they were found prepared to communicate daily. This devout practice, which seems to have been interrupted for a time, was again partially revived by the holy Pope and martyr Anacletus, who commanded that all the ministers who assisted at the Sacrifice of the Mass should communicatean ordinance, as the Pontiff declares, of Apostolic institution. It was also for a long time the practice of the Church that, as soon as the Sacrifice was complete, and when the priest himself had communicated, he turned to the congregation and invited the faithful to the Holy Table in these words: Come, brethren, and receive Communion; and thereupon those who were prepared, advanced to receive the holy mysteries with the most fervent devotion.
But subsequently, when charity and devotion had grown so cold that the faithful very seldom approached Communion, it was decreed by Pope Fabian, that all should communicate thrice every year, at Christmas, at Easter and at Pentecost. This decree was afterwards confirmed by many Councils, particularly by the first of Agde.
Such at length was the decay of piety that not only was this holy and salutary law unobserved, but Communion was deferred for years. The Council of Lateran, therefore, decreed that all the faithful should receive the sacred body of the Lord, at least once a year, at Easter, and that neglect of this duty should be chastised by exclusion from the society of the faithful.
But although this law, sanctioned by the authority of God and of His Church, concerns all the faithful, it should be taught that it does not extend to those who on account of their tender age have not attained the use of reason. For these are not able to distinguish the Holy Eucharist from common and ordinary bread and cannot bring with them to this Sacrament piety and devotion. Furthermore (to extend the precept to them) would appear inconsistent with the ordinance of our Lord, for He said: Take and eat words which cannot apply to infants, who are evidently incapable of taking and eating.
In some places, it is true, an ancient practice prevailed of giving the Holy Eucharist even to infants; but, for the reasons already assigned, and for other reasons in keeping with Christian piety, this practice has been long discontinued by authority of the Church.
With regard to the age at which children should be given the holy mysteries, this the parents and confessor can best determine. To them it belongs to inquire and to ascertain from the children themselves whether they have some knowledge of this admirable Sacrament and whether they desire to receive it.
Communion must not be given to persons who are insane and incapable of devotion. However, according to the decree of the Council of Carthage, it may be administered to them at the close of life, provided they have shown, before losing their minds, a pious and religious disposition, and no danger, arising from the state of the stomach or other inconvenience or disrespect, is likely.
As to the rite to be observed in communicating, pastors should teach that the law of the holy Church forbids Communion under both kinds to anyone but the officiating priests, without the authority of the Church itself.
Christ the Lord, it is true, as has been explained by the Council of Trent, instituted and delivered to His Apostles at His Last Supper this most sublime Sacrament under the species of bread and wine; but it does not follow that by doing so our Lord and Saviour established a law ordering its administration to all the faithful under both species. For speaking of this Sacrament, He Himself frequently mentions it under one kind only, as, for instance, when He says: If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever, and: The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world, and: He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.
It is clear that the Church was influenced by numerous and most cogent reasons, not only to approve, but also to confirm by authority of its decree, the general practice of communicating under one species. In the first place, the greatest caution was necessary to avoid spilling the blood of the Lord on the ground, a thing that seemed not easily to be avoided, if the chalice were administered in a large assemblage of the people.
In the next place, whereas the Holy Eucharist ought to be in readiness for the sick, it was very much to be apprehended, were the species of wine to remain long unconsumed, that it might turn acid.
Besides, there are many who cannot at all bear the taste or even the smell of wine. Lest, therefore, what is intended for the spiritual health should prove hurtful to the health of the body, it has been most prudently provided by the Church that it should be administered to the people under the species of bread only.
We may also further observe that in many countries wine is extremely scarce; nor can it, moreover, be brought from elsewhere without incurring very heavy expenses and encountering very tedious and difficult journeys.
Finally, a most important reason was the necessity of opposing the heresy of those who denied that Christ, whole and entire, is contained under either species, and asserted that the body is contained under the species of bread without the blood, and the blood under the species of wine without the body. In order, therefore, to place more clearly before the eyes of all the truth of the Catholic faith, Communion under one kind, that is, under the species of bread, was most wisely introduced.
There are also other reasons, collected by those who have treated on this subject, and which, if it shall appear necessary, can be brought forward by pastors.
To omit nothing doctrinal on this Sacrament, we now come to speak of its minister, a point, however. on which scarcely anyone can be ignorant.
It must be taught, then, that to priests alone has been given power to consecrate and administer to the faithful, the Holy Eucharist. That this has been the unvarying practice of the Church, that the faithful should receive the Sacrament from the priests, and that the officiating priests should communicate themselves, has been explained by the holy Council of Trent, which has also shown that this practice, as having proceeded from Apostolic tradition, is to be religiously retained, particularly as Christ the Lord has left us an illustrious example thereof, having consecrated His own most sacred body, and given it to the Apostles with His own hands.
To safeguard in every possible way the dignity of so august a Sacrament, not only is the power of its administration entrusted exclusively to priests, but the Church has also prohibited by law any but consecrated persons, unless some case of great necessity intervene, to dare handle or touch the sacred vessels, the linen, or other instruments necessary to its completion.
Priests themselves and the rest of the faithful may hence understand how great should be the piety and holiness of those who approach to consecrate, administer or receive the Eucharist.
What, however, has been already said of the other Sacraments, holds good also with regard to the Sacrament of the Eucharist; namely, that a Sacrament is validly administered even by the wicked, provided all the essentials have been duly observed. For we are to believe that all these depend not on the merit of the minister, but are operated by the virtue and power of Christ our Lord.
These are the things necessary to be explained regarding the Eucharist as a Sacrament.
We must now proceed to explain its nature as a Sacrifice, that pastors may understand what are the principal instructions which they ought to impart to the faithful on Sundays and holy days, regarding this mystery in conformity with the decree of the holy Council (of Trent).
This Sacrament is not only a treasure of heavenly riches, which if turned to good account will obtain for us the grace and love of God; but it also possesses a peculiar character, by which we are enabled to make some return to God for the immense benefits bestowed upon us.
How grateful and acceptable to God is this victim, if duly and legitimately immolated, is inferred from the following consideration. Of the sacrifices of the Old Law it is written: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not; and again: If thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burntofferings thou wilt not be delighted. Now if these were so pleasing in the Lord's sight that, as the Scripture testifies, from them God smelled a sweet savour, that is to say, they were grateful and acceptable to Him; what have we not to hope from that Sacrifice in which is immolated and offered He Himself of whom a voice from heaven twice proclaimed: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
This mystery, therefore, pastors should carefully explain, so that when the faithful are assembled at the celebration of divine service, they may learn to meditate with attention and devotion on the sacred things at which they are present.
They should teach, then, in the first place, that the Eucharist was instituted by Christ for two purposes: one, that it might be the heavenly food of our souls, enabling us to support and preserve spiritual life; and the other, that the Church might have a perpetual Sacrifice, by which our sins might be expiated, and our heavenly Father, oftentimes grievously offended by our crimes, might be turned away from wrath to mercy, from the severity of just chastisement to clemency. Of this thing we may observe a type and resemblance in the Paschal lamb, which was wont to be offered and eaten by the children of Israel as a sacrament and a sacrifice.
Nor could our Saviour, when about to offer Himself to God the Father on the altar of the cross, have given any more illustrious indication of His unbounded love towards us than by bequeathing to us a visible Sacrifice, by which that bloody Sacrifice, which was soon after to be offered once on the cross, would be renewed, and its memory daily celebrated with the greatest utility, unto the consummation of ages by the Church diffused throughout the world.
But (between the Eucharist as a Sacrament and a Sacrifice) the difference is very great; for as a Sacrament it is perfected by consecration; as a Sacrifice, all its force consists in its oblation. When, therefore, kept in a pyx, or borne to the sick, it is a Sacrament, not a Sacrifice. As a Sacrament also, it is to them that receive it a source of merit, and brings with it all those advantages which have been already mentioned; but as a Sacrifice, it is not only a source of merit, but also of satisfaction. For as, in His Passion, Christ the Lord merited and satisfied for us; so also those who offer this Sacrifice, by which they communicate with us, merit the fruit of His Passion, and satisfy.
With regard to the institution of this Sacrifice, the holy Council of Trent has left no room for doubt, by declaring that it was instituted by our Lord at His Last Supper; while it condemns under anathema all those who assert that in it is not offered to God a true and proper Sacrifice; or that to offer means nothing else than that Christ is given as our spiritual food.
Nor did (the Council) omit carefully to explain that to God alone is offered this Sacrifice. For although the Church sometimes offers Masses in honour and in memory of the Saints, yet she teaches that the Sacrifice is offered, not to them, but to God alone, who has crowned the Saints with immortal glory. Hence the priest never says: I offer Sacrifice to thee Peter, or to thee Paul; but, while he offers Sacrifice to God alone, he renders Him thanks for the signal victory won by the blessed martyrs, and thus implores their patronage, that they, whose memory we celebrate on earth, may vouchsafe to intercede for us in heaven."
This doctrine, handed down by the Catholic Church, concerning the truth of this Sacrifice, she received from the words of our Lord, when, on that last night, committing to His Apostles these same sacred mysteries, He said: Do this for a commemoration of me; for then, as was defined by the holy Council, He ordained them priests, and commanded that they and their successors in the priestly office, should immolate and offer His body.
Of this the words of the Apostle to the Corinthians also afford a sufficient proof: You cannot drink the chalice of the Lord, and the chalice of devils: you cannot be partakers of the table of the Lord and of the? table of devils. As then by the table of devils must be understood the altar on which sacrifice was offered to them; so also if the conclusion proposed to himself by the Apostle is to be legitimately drawn by the table of the Lord can be understood nothing else than the altar on which Sacrifice was offered to the Lord.
Should we look for figures and prophecies of this Sacrifice in the Old Testament, in the first place Malachy most clearly prophesied thereof in these words: 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.
Moreover, this victim was foretold, as well before as after the promulgation of the Law, by various kinds of sacrifices; for this victim alone, as the perfection and completion of all, comprises all the blessings which were signified by the other sacrifices. In nothing, however, do we behold a more lively image of the Eucharistic Sacrifice than in that of Melchisedech; for the Saviour Himself offered to God the Father, at His Last Supper, His body and blood, under the appearances of bread and wine, declaring that He was constituted a priest for ever, after the order of Melchisedech.
We therefore confess that the Sacrifice of the Mass is and ought to be considered one and the same Sacrifice as that of the cross, for the victim is one and the same, namely, Christ our Lord, who offered Himself, once only, a bloody Sacrifice on the altar of the cross. The bloody and unbloody victim are not two, but one victim only, whose Sacrifice is daily renewed in the Eucharist, in obedience to the command of our Lord: Do this for a commemoration of me.
The priest is also one and the same, Christ the Lord; for the ministers who offer Sacrifice, consecrate the holy mysteries, not in their own person, but in that of Christ, as the words of consecration itself show, for the priest does not say: This is the body of Christ, but, This is my body; and thus, acting in the Person of Christ the Lord, he changes the substance of the bread and wine into the true substance of His body and blood.
This being the case, it must be taught without any hesitation that, as the holy Council (of Trent) has also) explained, the sacred and holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not a Sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving only, or a mere commemoration of the Sacrifice performed on the cross, but also truly a propitiatory Sacrifice, by which God is appeased and rendered propitious to us. If, therefore, with a pure heart, a lively faith, and affected with an inward sorrow for our transgressions, we immolate and offer this most holy victim, we shall, without doubt, obtain mercy from the Lord, and grace in time of need; for SO delighted is the Lord with the door of this victim that, bestowing on us the gift of grace and repentance, He pardons our sins. Hence this usual prayer of the Church: As often as the commemoration of this victim is celebrated, so often is the work of our salvation being done; that is to say, through this unbloody Sacrifice flow to us the most plenteous fruits of that bloody victim.
Pastors should next teach that such is the efficacy of this Sacrifice that its benefits extend not only to the celebrant and communicant, but to all the faithful, whether living with us on earth, or already numbered with those who are dead in the Lord, but whose sins have not yet been fully expiated. For, according to the most authentic Apostolic tradition, it is not less available when offered for them, than when offered for the sins of the living, their punishments, satisfactions, calamities and difficulties of every sort.
It is hence easy to perceive, that all Masses, as being conducive to the common interest and salvation of all the faithful, are to be considered common to all.
The Sacrifice (of the Mass) is celebrated with many solemn rites and ceremonies, none of which should be deemed useless or superfluous. On the contrary, all of them tend to display the majesty of this august Sacrifice, and to excite the faithful when beholding these saving mysteries, to contemplate the divine things which lie concealed in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. On these rites and ceremonies we shall not dwell, since they require a more lengthy exposition than is compatible with the nature of the present work; moreover priests can easily consult on the subject some of the many booklets and works that have been written by pious and learned men.
What has been said so far will, with the divine assistance, be found sufficient to explain the principal things which regard the Holy Eucharist both as a Sacrament and Sacrifice.Back