Day of Recollection at St. Mary’s Church, Ryde
(Sat. 25th September 2004)
Morning Address given by Fr. Andrew Southwell.
Theme: “The Holy Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity”
First of all it is a pleasure to be back amongst you in Ryde once again. I am pleased to be invited back again for my third visit to the Island.
So today’s talks are going to be focussed on the Blessed Sacrament. I will concentrate on the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of the Mass this afternoon.
I want to look this morning at the Real Presence or what we traditionally call “transubstantiation”. In order to understand the real presence of Our Blessed Lord in the Blessed Sacrament we need to have a proper understanding of what the Catholic Church teaches with regard to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The word “sacrifice” is important because if we drop that word we are left with just a memorial and it becomes a meal and the whole concept of the real presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is diminished. The Sacrifice of the Mass was handed down to us through the apostles. How did the apostles come to understand the Mass as a sacrifice? In fact sacrifice goes right back to the begining. Human beings have always made sacrifice to God. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were told that they were not allowed to eat the fruit of one particular tree, therefore they had to make that sacrifice. They were not allowed to touch one particular fruit. Then we have the story of Cain and Abel. Abel offered the best of what he had. Whereas Cain offered something less. We know the story. Cain was jealous and murdered his brother. Then if we look further one we can see the sacrifice made by Abraham, who was prepared to offer the greatest thing that he had – his own son. We see from the story Abraham taking his son Isaac who carried the wood. Who else carried the wood? Jesus Our Lord carried the Cross. They went up the same mountain – namely Calvary. So we can see Isaac as a prefiguration of Our Lord. But when it comes to the actual sacrifice Isaac says, “where is the victim”? Abraham answers that God will provide, – God will provide the victim. So God does provide the victim. Ultimately the victim is his own son. God spares Isaac and in return Abraham offers the sacrifice of the Lamb. Again a prefiguration of the Lamb of God.
Sacrifice was offered also by Noah and by the patriarchs. But the sacrifice which is most significant is the sacrifice of Moses at the time of the Passover. God specifically told Moses to ask the Pharoh to release his people to go out into the wilderness for a specific reason, namely to offer sacrifice to God. Pharoh refused so we have Moses instructed by God to prepare the Pascal Lamb. The people had to take a lamb that was spotless. None of its bones had to be broken and the lamb was led to be slain. All of its blood had to be shed from its body because for the Jews blood is a symbol of life. Therefore its life had to be completely given in sacrifice. It was the blood of the lamb, the life of the lamb that was going to save them. It would be painted on the door posts so that the angel of death would “pass over”. The Israelites benefitted by being saved. God allowed them to eat the lamb and that food was to give them sustinence for their journey. So immediately we can see a connection here between the Passover and the Last Supper. The Passover when the Israelites were freed from Israel. They were saved by the blood of the lamb, a spotless, perfect lamb, and they are allowed to eat of the flesh of the lamb to help them on their journey. They were told that they must commemorate this Passover every year. Now commemorate is not the same as a birthday. No they believed that the Passover was actually taking place. That somehow spiritually, the Passover which happened in Egypt was being brought to them every year that they celebrated the Passover. So in a way they were benefitting from that one event. That is something to remember when you attend Mass. It is a past event being made present here and now.
So when Our Lord was celebrating the Passover with his apostles they remembered the past event as being made present. But Our Lord did something greater because he took bread and wine and He said “This is my Body …….. This is my Blood, the blood of the new covenant”. The old covenant was being superseded. This is the covenant in Our Lord’s Blood. Immediately the apostles who were very familiar with the Passover …. who were very familiar with the regular sacrifices for sin that used to take place in the temple. They were familiar with a sacrifice being the separation of body and blood. So when Our Lord said “This is my Body” and with the wine “This is my Blood” they would have immediately recognised that there was something sacrificial. They would not fully understand it because Our Lord was prefiguring what was actually to happen the following day … on the Friday. It was on the Friday that the sacrifice was brought to its full realisation, when like Isaac before him he carries the cross. It is interesting reading St. John’s gospel. We are told that when Pilate was condemning Our Lord to death the lambs were being sacrificed in the temple at that exact moment. So St. John is highlighting a very clear connection between the Passover lamb being sacrificed and Our Lord being sent to his death. He goes up the same mountain as Isaac ascended and there he sheds his blood. We are told by St. John that blood and water came from his side, emphasising that He gave his life completely for us. So if we have that in mind then we must realise that when the apostles came to celebrate the Mass Our Lord told them “Do this as a memorial of me”, – the same words used for the Israelites when they were told also to remember what happened in Egypt. In other words the sacrifice of the cross is made present whenever the Mass is offered because it is always a sacrifice. It is an unbloody sacrifice because we are not actually sacrificing Our Lord in that physical way. The Lord we receive in Holy Communion is our glorified risen Lord; we are not receiving the dead Christ. It is no good at all to us to receive a dead body. So what sense can we make of the separation of the bread and wine? That is the question that is always asked. The separation of the bread and wine is in fact ceremonial. It emphasises that this is a sacrifice because for a sacrifice you have to have the separation of body and blood. So we do that ceremonially by following what Our Lord laid down, consecrating the host, “This is my Body” and remember when the priest says those words he is speaking in the first person singular. It is Our Lord using the priest’s actions and speaking using the priest’s tongue. So in fact it is Our Lord Himself who is saying the words of Consecration.
So at each Mass what is happening is that the past event, – the Last Supper and the Crucifixion is being made present to us at each Mass; so in other words we are there standing at the foot of the cross with Our Blessed Lady and St. John. But the fruit of that sacrifice is Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity risen and glorified as He rose glorified at the resurrection on the third day. So we can see from this that the Mass cannot simply be reduced to a meal. It is a meal in the sense that it is a sacrificial meal and just as God always allowed the Israelites to eat something of the sacrifice which they offered to Him, but God chose to give back something so that the Israelites could participate by eating of the fruit. So in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass God chooses to give someting to us, namely His own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity which we receive in Holy Communion. The bread and the wine are taken by the priest and offered to God at the Offertory. God then transforms them, changing them into His own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Then He gives us back something of what we have offered, only what He gives back is something far greater than what we offer to Him. Just as the flesh of the lamb fed the Israelites and gave them strength for their journey through the wilderness so Our Lord gives us Himself to help us on our journey through this life to the next.
We can also see a clear association with the manna which came down from heaven to feed the Israelites on their journey once they were in the wilderness as Our Lord said “I am the true bread which has come down from heaven and the bread which I give is my flesh for the life of the world”. So we can see in St. John’s gospel that Our Lord is speaking about Himself as the true bread which has come down from heaven and which is His flesh for the life of the world. It is interesting that many of His followers could not accept this. They thought that He was promoting a sort of cannibalism so they took it literally. They did not take it in a spiritual sense. Many of them left because they wouldn’t accept this; whereas His own immediate apostles they did not leave Him. Our Lord in fact says to Peter, ” Do you want to go as well”? He answers, “Lord where else can we go. You have the words of eternal life”. So they were prepared to accept what Our Blessed Lord was saying. They did not fully understand it of course until after the Last Supper, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. That came to a deeper understanding with the coming of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. But clearly they would have understood the Mass as a Sacrifice. If we look at the preparation for the Passover, Our Lord would have gone up to the temple. He would have stood at the temple steps and said those same words that are said by the priest in the Old Rite, “Introibo ad altare Dei” (Psalm 42). So many of the symbols that we have in the Old Mass have been taken from the ritual of the temple which Our Lord himself would have been familiar with and practised, as indeed would his apostles. The idea that these were much later additions to the Mass in untrue as we know that they were there in the temple ritual.
With regard to the lamb; once it had been slain and all the blood drained from its body would then have its skin peeled off it. This reminds us of Our Lord being scourged at the pillar when Our Lord’s skin was taken from his body. The lamb would then be taken and the priest would then make the sign of the cross over the altar with the lamb. Again we are reminded of the true Lamb who died on the cross. Also not one of the lamb’s bones had to be broken. This is the same with Our Lord on the Cross. Remember the two thieves had their legs broken but Our Lord did not. The apostles therefore would surely have understood that the Mass was a sacrifice. You could say it was a meal but you have to qualify that by saying it is a sacrificial meal.
The Protestant reformers argued that the Mass is not a sacrifice, – that it was simply a commemoration. Remember that in the Last Supper Our Lord follows the Jewish ritual and at the Passover there were four cups of wine which had to be blessed. Now we think that Our Lord took the third cup blessed and changed that into His Precious Blood. There is no mention of them consuming the fourth cup. We are told that after that they sang psalms and then they went out into the garden of Olives so there is no record of them drinking from the fourth cup. Now to omit the fourth cup at the Passover would be like the priest forgetting to consecrate the chalice at Mass. It was fundamental. No part of the ritual could be omitted. So what are we to make of this? Well Our Lord goes out to the garden of Gethsemane and then he prays. What does He say. “Father if it be possible let this cup pass me by”. Now why does He say cup? Could He not have said “Let this suffering pass me by”? So what is this cup that He mentions? It has been suggested that this cup is the cup of suffering which Our Lord endures on the Cross. So the sacrificial death of Our Lord on the Cross is the cup of suffering. So the reason we have the fourth cup being omitted at the Last Supper is so that we can see a transformation. Our Lord himself becomes that fourth cup by sacrificing Himself on the Cross. So we can see the very close connection between the Last Supper and Our Lord’s death on the Cross. In fact the Last Supper does not end until Our Lord’s death on the Cross on Good Friday. They are one and the same event. So the apostles would have understood that it was a sacrificial death on the Cross. So again, whenever we come to Mass, we are not as the Protestants say, simply commemorating the Last Supper. For Catholics the Mass has never been called the Last Supper. It is the Sacrifice of the Mass, – the Sacrifice of Calvary (which takes in the Last Supper). So the Protestant view of a commemoration is to completely misunderstand the whole background to the Last Supper. It really credits the apostles with very little intelligence. What good is a simple commemoration of what happened, -a sort of nice little cosy meal together, – a friendship meal. Nice from a romantic point of view perhaps. Where is the redemption in that? A cosy meal cannot save us and redeem us. But this sacrificial death on the Cross did save and redeem us.
Remember that if you receive only the host you are still receiving Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. The same if you received only from the chalice because it can be no more divided because we are receiving the risen Body of Our Lord. That is why just before Communion the priest takes a small part of the host and places it into the chalice to emphasize the unity of the Body and Blood after the Resurrection. In the Old Rite the priest says, “Pax Domine sit semper vobiscum” (The peace of the Lord be with you always) The same as when Our Lord meets the apostles after the Resurrection he says, “Peace be with you”.
How are we to understand transubstantiation? Luther believed in Consubstantiation. He believed that there was a presence of Our Lord in the host and in the chalice. So the bread and the wine still remain and His Body and Blood are spiritually present. Now St. Thomas says that if we believe this we are committing idolatry. Because if we believe it is still bread and wine we are genuflecting before bread and wine which is idolatry as there is no real substantive change. There can be no mere spiritual presence. It has to be a real presence because of the whole concept of the Mass as a Sacrifice. Christ gives Himself to us as the fruit of that sacrifice. Once the concept of the Mass as a Sacrifice is removed or played down (which is undoubtedly happening today) then it will affect how we view the Blessed Sacrament. There seems to be this emphasis today that we are at Mass simply as a community sharing a meal and that the priest or people decide what is the theme of the Mass and what should happen or not happen. In fact many of these ideas are Protestant. They completely misunderstand at its basic level, what Our Lord was doing at the Last Supper.
We must get back to emphasizing the sacrificial nature of the Mass. Then we will appreciate more His sacrificial death on the Cross. If we are simply celebrating a meal with bread and wine Our Lord might be spiritually present in the community, but in the Sacrifice of the Mass He is present in an unique way in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Remember Our Lord said, “This is my Flesh to eat and my Blood to drink”. Who are we to deny it? If so we are denying that Jesus was the Son of God. Once there is an attack on the Blessed Sacrament there is an attack on the very person of Our Lord. Look at how the Mass is celebrated today in some of our churches. If someone came in who was not a Catholic I don’t think they would be in any way inclined to believe in the Real Presence from what they witnessed.
Mother Teresa said that one of the worst things to be introduced was Communion in the hand. This was stopped in the Early Church about the third or fourth century because of abuse. It led to a lack of respect. How many people check to see if they have particles of the Sacred host in their hand? Very few. So what do they believe? Do they believe that they are receiving Our Lord’s Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity? If you had some gold and saw some particles of gold dust in your hand you would make sure that you removed every bit of the gold dust into a bottle. But here we have God Almighty yet He is treated with a lack of respect which ultimately leads to a lack of faith. This will also lead to a breakdown in the identity of the priest. Look at the Protestant churches. They have no concept of the priest as a sacrificing priest. Today the role of the priest and the laity are becoming confused. Hence there is a shortage of vocations because young men don’t know what they are going into. What is the priesthood? This is clearly associated with what is the Mass. What is happening at the Mass? What is the real presence? Is Our Lord there or isn’t He there? Someone was saying to me before we started this morning about all the talking that goes on in church with Our Lord present in the tabernacle. What is that saying? What is it saying about the presence of God? How many take time after Holy Communion to pray? How many make a preparation before going to Holy Communion? These days it is an automatic thing. Everyone else is going up so I am going up too. Do we think what we are doing? Do we appreciate what Our Lord did for us? And what did He do for us? He died on the Cross to make up for all the sins of the world. Do we really appreciate what Our Lord has done for us when we approach the altar rail? That is a question which I will leave you to ponder on before we go to the church to celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Afternoon Address given by Fr. Andrew Southwell
Theme: “The Holy Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity”
In this afternoon’s talk I want to concentrate on Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament outside of the Mass. The first official document in which Benediction is stated as being part of the liturgy is the “Instruction on Sacred Liturgy” from 1958 by the great Pope Pius XII. Despite this we have seen a gradual decline in devotion to the Blessed Sacrament since Vatican II, – not least with the Service of Benediction which has almost vanished with a few exceptions. So many people today complain that they never have Benediction. Fortunately and happily there does seem to be a revival in recent years of Eucharistic Adoration among more conservative groups within the church, particularly among some of the new Orders being founded, such as the “Little Brothers of St. John”. They focus all their devotion upon the Blessed Sacrament. There are also some youth groups which emphasize devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. So it is coming back, – but slowly.
Many of the objections to Eucharistic Devotion outside of the Mass stem from the misconception that it was a medieval accretion, introduced at a time when people were discouraged from going to Holy Communion. In fact Eucharistic Adoration is an ancient practice. It is believed that the Eucharist was reserved in the Early Church not merely for the purpose of taking Holy Communion to the sick. We know that less than one hundred years after the Last Supper the Blessed Sacrament was reserved for a theological reason. Particles from the papal Mass were distributed to other bishops who would consume the particles at their Masses as a sign of their ecclesiastical unity with the Pope. We know this from a letter of St Iranaeus to Pope Victor I. In a similar way the Blessed Sacrament was reserved from the Ordination Masses of bishops and priests in order that particles might be used at subsequent Masses of the divinely ordained. Again this symbolized unity with the wider church.
During periods of persecution of the church, the faithful were permitted to take the Blessed Sacrament home in order to receive Holy Communion even though they could not attend Mass. This practice was allowed only as a temporary measure in time of persecution. But it was not without its dangers. In fact from the second to the fifth century some of the faithful attended Mass less and less and received Holy Communion at home. Thus there arose the problem of seeing Mass and Holy Communion as something separate. So some gave up going to Mass as they had the Blessed Sacrament in their homes. One of the problems today of course is that people tend to equate Eucharistic Services with the Mass. The Mass of course is the Holy Sacrifice of Calvary. Receiving Holy Communion flows from that. The Eucharistic Service can never take the place of the Mass or fulfill the Sunday obligation for the faithful. Other reasons for reserving the Blessed Sacrament included carrying it on a journey or in dangerous situations such as in a battle so as to seek Our Lord’s protection. The Celtic monks on their missionary journeys carried the Blessed Sacrament with them for protection. We might tend to think of these customs as rather superstitious or perhaps even abusive but the devotion that these men had for the Blessed Sacrament is expressed in the severe penances imposed for any abuse or negligence. In fact in the Rule of St. Columba, up to a year’s fasting on bread and water is prescribed as a penance for those monks guilty of allowing loss or damage or negligence towards the Blessed Sacrament. Perhaps we should think about bringing that penance back!
Public liturgical acts to the Blessed Sacrament appear to have had their origin in the 11th century as a reaction to the doubts about the Real Presence expressed by some in the previous century. It is in this context that we see the introduction of the elevation of the Blessed Sacrament after the consecration during the Mass and the carrying of the Blessed Sacrament in procession. Upon the Norman conquest, this and other acts of devotion were introduced into England by the Benedictines. It is however later on in the Middle Ages that we find a great flowering of Eucharistic devotions especially with the introduction of the feast of Corpus Christi. At the heart of all devotion there must be a desire to worship and adore Our Lord in a reverential, devotional and faith-filled way. This is made clear by the early Fathers of the Church who exorted the faithful to treat the Blessed Sacrament with the utmost reverence and respect. We also have evidence of liturgical ritual in which the Pope reverenced the Blessed Sacrament as he approached the altar at Mass. The sacred host was shown to him in order for him to decide if some needed to be consumed. Some of the clearest examples of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament are cases in which the Pope, bishops and priests carried the sacred host with them on a journey. They prayed to Him in the Blessed Sacrament as they travelled so they must have really believed that He was present with them.
It is in the 13th century that we see these public devotions increasing. This was attributable in large measure to Corpus Christi devotions. It was Pope Urban IV who encouraged universal acceptance of the feast of Corpus Christi and he asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write the Offices and the Mass for the feast. So the Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament which we had here in the church this morning was written by St. Thomas Aquinas himself. The growth of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the Middle Ages was associated with the popular desire to see the sacred host. Could this not be associated with the people at the time of Our Lord to see Him and to draw closer to Him in a tangible way?
The strict penances and long periods of preparation to receive Holy Communion had resulted in a decline in the number of the faithful receiving Our Lord. In the late Middle Ages there was a call for more frequent Communion. St. Thomas Aquinas is a representative figure. Not only did he compose two Offices for the feast and numerous hymns, he also argued that through frequent Communion we are better aided in our fight against sin. The Council of Trent in the 16th century argues for frequent Communion and defends the legitimate right for Catholic devotions to the Blessed Sacrament against the Protestant reformers. The Church continued to encourage frequent Communion despite the influences of Jansenism in the 17th century. The Jansenists believed that we were so corrupt, so evil that there was no way that we were ever worthy enough to receive Our Lord. This was a misunderstanding because the whole purpose on the Incarnation is that we are to be redeemed body and soul and the purpose of Christ giving us His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity was to feed us, – to help us on our pilgrim journey through this life to the next where, please God, we will enjoy eternal life with Him in heaven.
It was finally with Pope St. Pius X with his decree in 1910 that the voice of the Magesterium was heard and the frequency of Communion increased. Perhaps one of the most important scriptural contexts supporting devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is the eleventh chapter of St. Paul’s first chapter to the Corinthians. He is horrified by the way the Corinthians abuse the Blessed Sacrament. They don’t behave towards each other or towards what they have come to eat in a way that shows an understanding that they are the Mystical Body of Christ that comes together to eat the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ the sacrificial victim. St. Paul reminds them that they will bring judgment upon themselves if they fail to eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood worthily. That text we had in the Epistle at Mass this morning. That text is also read on the feast of Corpus Christi in the New Rite of Mass, but they have cut out the part which says if we eat and drink unworthily we will bring judgment on ourselves. Why cut it out? Don’t we need to be reminded that we have to do our best to be as worthy as we can? We cannot take this great Sacrament for granted. So St. Paul is worried that the Corinthians do not fully appreciate the reality of what it is that they are receiving. It is the realization of what we are receiving that brings about reverence, devotion and adoration. And it is precisely this which is at the heart of Eucharistic devotion.
The 16th century Protestant reformers (and if there is any doubt I include the Anglicans as well) protested at Eucharistic adoration as they claim that the Eucharist was given to be eaten not adored. However as St. Paul reminds us, if we take and eat as Our Lord commanded without discerning who it is we are eating then that eating might well become a profanation and a sacrilege. How many today remember that if they go to Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin they are committing a great sacrilege?
Our attitude towards the Blessed Sacrament should always be one of utmost reverence. If we do not realize who it is that we are kneeling before in the Blessed Sacrament and do not show that which is his right, – adoration, reverence, devotion; then we bring judgment upon ourselves. It is interesting today that there is an emphasis on receiving Holy Communion standing up, but the Anglicans who don’t believe in the Real Presence, they kneel down; whereas we are standing. Surely there is something wrong there?
There is the story of the person who was not a Catholic who said, “If I believed what you believe I would be prostrate on the floor ……. I wouldn’t want to leave the church”. If we really love Our Lord we should be spending time with Him praying and in silent meditation. We must give witness to our belief in the Real Presence and in recognizing the Real Presence we are prepared to adore Him as Our Lord and Our God.
St. Thomas Aquinas when he was on his deathbed they brought him the viaticum and he got out of his bed and prostrated himself on the ground before receiving Our Lord for the last time. When we speak about sacred things we can only say so much. Then we have to bow down in silence and reverence before the mystery of God. This is what we will do now as the Blessed Sacrament is exposed in the monstrance at Benediction.