How much Jesus Christ deserves to be Loved by us, on Account of the Love He has shown us in Instituting the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Jesus, knowing that His hour was come, that He should pass out of this world to the Father: having loved His own . . . He loved them unto the end.1 Our most loving Saviour, knowing that his hour was now come for leaving this earth, desired, before he went to die for us, to leave us the greatest possible mark of his love; and this was the gift of the most Holy Sacrament.
St. Bernardine of Sienna remarks, that men remember more continually and love more tenderly the signs of love which are shown to them in the hour of death.2 Hence it is the custom that friends, when about to die, leave to those persons whom they have loved some gift, such as a garment or a ring, as a memorial of their affection. But what hast Thou, O my Jesus, left us, when quitting this world, in memory of Thy love? Not, indeed, a garment or a ring, but Thine own body, Thy blood, Thy soul, Thy divinity, Thy whole self, without reserve. “He gave thee all,” says St. John Chrysostom; “He left nothing for himself.”3
The Council of Trent says,4 that in this gift of the Eucharist Jesus Christ desired, as it were, to pour forth all the riches of the love he had for men. And the Apostle observes, that Jesus desired to bestow this gift upon men on the very night itself when they were planning his death: The same night in which He was betrayed, He took bread; and giving thanks, broke and said: Take ye, and eat: this is My body.5 St. Bernardine of Sienna says, that Jesus Christ, burning with love for us, and not content with being prepared to give his life for us, was constrained by the excess of his love to work a greater work before he died; and this was to give his own body for our food.6
This Sacrament, therefore, was rightly named by St. Thomas, “the Sacrament of love, the pledge of love.”7 Sacrament of love; for love was the only motive which induced Jesus Christ to give us in it his whole self, Pledge of love; so that if we had ever doubted his love, we should have in this sacrament a pledge of it: as if our Redeemer, in leaving us this gift, had said: O souls, if you ever doubt my love, behold, I leave you myself in this Sacrament: with such a pledge, you can never any more doubt that I love you, and love you to excess. But more, St. Bernard calls this sacrament “the love of loves;”8 because this gift comprehends all the other gifts bestowed upon us by our Lord,—creation, redemption, predestination to glory; so that the Eucharist is not only a pledge of the love of Jesus Christ, but of paradise, which he desires also to give us. “In which,” says the Church, “a pledge of future glory is given us.”9 Hence St. Philip Neri could find no other name for Jesus Christ in the Sacrament save that of love; “and so, when the holy Viaticum was brought to him, he was heard to exclaim, “Behold my love; give me my love.”
The prophet Isaias10 desired that the whole world should know the tender inventions that our God has made use of, wherewith to make men love him. And who could ever have thought—if he himself had not done it—that the Incarnate Word would hide himself under the appearances of bread, in order to become himself our food? “Does it not seem foilly,” says St. Augustine, “to say, Eat my flesh; drink my blood?”11 When Jesus Christ revealed to his disciples the sacrament he desired to leave them, they could not bring themselves to believe him; and they left him, saying: How can this Man give us His flesh to eat? . . . This saying is hard, and who can hear it?12 But that which men could neither conceive nor believe, the great love of Jesus Christ hath thought of and accomplished. Take ye, and eat, said he to his disciples before he went to die; and through them to us all. Receive and eat: but what food shall that be, O Saviour of the world, which Thou desirest to give us before Thou diest? Take ye, and eat; this is my body.13 This is not earthly food; it is I myself who give myself entirely to you.
And oh, with what desire does Jesus Christ pant to come into our souls in the Holy Communion! With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you before I suffer.14 So he spoke on that night in which he instituted this sacrament of love. With desire I have desired: so did the excessive love which he bore us cause him to speak, as St. Laurence Justinian remarks: “These are the words of most burning love.”15 And in order that everyone might easily receive him, he desired to leave himself under the appearance of bread; for if he had left himself under the appearance of some rare or very costly food, the poor would have been deprived of him; but no, Jesus would hide himself under the form of bread, which costs but little, and can be found everywhere, in order that all in every country might be able to find him and receive him.
In order, then, to excite us to receive him in the Holy Communion, he not only exhorts us to do so by so many invitations, Come, eat My bread; and drink the wine which I have mingled for you;16 Eat, O friends, and drink,17 speaking of this heavenly bread and wine, but he even gives us a formal precept: Take ye, and eat; this is My body. And more than this; that we may go and receive him, he entices us with the promise of paradise. He that eateth My flesh hath everlasting life. He that eateth this bread shall live forever.18 And still more, he threatens us with hell, and exclusion from paradise, if we refuse to communicate. Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, you shall not have life in you.19 These invitations, these promises, these threats, all proceed from the great desire he has to come to us in this sacrament.
But why is it that Jesus Christ so desires that we should receive him in the Holy Communion? Here is the reason. St. Denis says that love always sighs after and tends to union, and so also says St. Thomas, “Lovers desire of two to become one.”20 Friends who really love each other would like to be so united as to become one person. Now this is what the infinite love of God for man has done; that he would not only give us himself in the eternal kingdom, but even in this life would permit men to possess him in the most intimate union, by giving them himself, whole and entire, under the appearances of bread in the sacrament. He stands there as though behind a wall; and from thence he beholds, as it were, through a closed lattice: Behold He standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices.21 It is true, we do not see him; but he sees us, and is there really present: he is present, in order that we may possess him: but he hides himself from us to make us desire him: and as long as we have not reached our true country, Jesus desires to give himself wholly to us, and to remain united with us.
He could not satisfy his love by giving himself to the human race by his Incarnation and by his Passion, dying for all men upon the cross; but he desired to find out a way whereby he might give himself entirely to each one of us in particular; and for this end he instituted the Sacrament of the Altar, in order to unite himself wholly to each: He that eateth My flesh, he said, abideth in me and I in him.22 In Holy Communion Jesus unites himself to the soul, and the soul to Jesus; and this is not a union of mere affection, but it is a true and real union. Hence St. Francis de Sales says: “In no other action can the Saviour be considered more tender or more loving than in this, in which he annihilates himself, so to say, and reduces himself to food, in order to penetrate our souls, and to unite himself to the hearts of his faithful.”23 St. John Chrysostom says, that Jesus Christ, through the ardent love which he bore us, desired so to unite himself to us, as to become one and the same thing with us. “He mingled himself with us, that we might be one thing; for this is the property of those who ardently love.”24
“It was Thy wish, in short,” says St. Laurence Justinian, “O God, enamoured of our souls, to make, by means of this sacrament, Thine own heart, by an inseparable union, one and the same heart with ours!”25 St. Bernardine of Sienna adds, that “the gift of Jesus Christ to us as our food was the last step of his love; since he gives himself to us in order to unite himself wholly to us; in the same way as food becomes united with him who partakes of it.”26 Oh, how delighted is Jesus Christ to be united with our souls! He one day said to his beloved servant, Margaret of Ypres, after Communion, “See, my daughter, the beautiful union that exists between me and thee: come, then, love me; and let us remain ever united in love, and let us never separate again.”
We must, then, be persuaded that a soul can neither do, nor think of doing, anything which gives greater pleasure to Jesus Christ than to communicate frequently, with dispositions suitable to the great guest whom she has to receive into her heart. I have said suitable, not indeed worthy dispositions; for if worthy were necessary, who could ever communicate? Another God would alone be worthy to receive God. By suitable, I mean such dispositions as become a miserable creature, clothed with the unhappy flesh of Adam. Ordinarily speaking, it is sufficient if a person communicates in a state of grace, and with a great desire of growing in the love of Jesus Christ. St. Francis de Sales said, “It is by love alone that we must receive Jesus Christ in the Communion, since it is through love alone that he gives himself to us.”27 For the rest, with regard to the number of times a person should communicate, in this he should be guided by the advice of his spiritual Father. Nevertheless, we should be aware that no state of life or employment, neither the married state nor business, prevents frequent Communion, when the director thinks it advisable, as Pope Innocent XI. has declared in his decree of 1679, when he says, “Frequent Communion must be left to the judgment of the confessors . . . who, for lay persons in business, or in the marriage state, must recommend it according as they see it will be profitable for their salvation.”28
We must next understand that there is nothing from which we can derive such profit as from the Communion. The Eternal Father has made Jesus Christ the possessor of all his own heavenly treasures. The Father hath given all things into His hands.29 Hence, when Jesus Christ comes to a soul in Holy Communion, he brings with him boundless treasures of grace; and consequently after Communion we can justly say, Now all good things came to me together with it.30 St. Denis says, that the Sacrament of the Eucharist is far more powerful for the sanctification of souls than all other spiritual means of grace;31 and St. Vincent Ferrer, that one Communion does more for the soul than a week’s fasting on bread and water.
In the first place, as the Council of Trent teaches, Communion is that great remedy which frees us from venial, and preserves us against mortal sins.32 It is said “from daily faults;” because according to St. Thomas,33 a man is excited by means of this sacrament to make acts of love, by which venial sins are forgiven. And it is said that “we are preserved from mortal sins, because Communion increases grace, which will preserve us from great faults. Hence Innocent III. says, that Jesus Christ delivered us from the power of sin by his Passion, but that by the Eucharist he delivers us from the power of sinning.34
This Sacrament, moreover, above all others, inflames our souls with divine love. God is love.35 And he is a fire which consumes all earthly affections in our hearts. He is a consuming fire.36 And for this very purpose, namely, to enkindle this fire, the Son of God came upon earth. I am come to send fire on the earth; and he added, that he desired nothing but to see this fire enkindled in our souls: And what will I but that it be kindled?37 And oh, what flames of love does not Jesus Christ light up in the heart of every one who receives him devoutly in this sacrament! St. Catharine of Sienna once saw the Host in a priest’s hand appearing as a globe of fire; and the saint was astonished that the hearts of all men were not burned up, and, as it were, reduced to ashes by such a flame. Such brilliant rays issued from the face of St. Rose of Lima after Communion, as to dazzle the eyes of those who saw her; and the heat from her mouth was so intense, that a hand held near it was scorched. It is related of St. Wenceslaus, that by merely visiting the churches where the Blessed Sacrament was kept, he was inflamed by such an ardor, that his servant who accompanied him did not feel the cold, if when walking on the snow he trod in the footsteps of the saint.
St. John Chrysostom says that the most Holy Sacrament is a burning fire; so that when we leave the altar we breathe forth flames of love, which make us objects of terror to hell.38 The spouse of the Canticles says: He brought me into the cellar of wine, He set in order charity in me.39 St. Gregory of Nyssa says that Communion is precisely this cellar of wine, in which the soul becomes so inebriated with divine love, that it forgets and loses sight of creatures; and this is that languishing with love of which the spouse again speaks: Stay me up with flowers, compass me about with apples, because I languish with love.40
Some one will say: “But this is the very reason why I do not communicate frequently, because I see that I am so cold in the love of God.” Gerson answers such a one by saying: “Do you, therefore, because you are cold, willingly keep away from the fire? Rather, because you feel yourself cold, should you so much the more frequently approach this sacrament, if you really desire to love Jesus Christ.” “Although it be with lukewarmness,” wrote St. Bonaventure, “still approach, trusting in the mercy of God. The more one feels himself sick, the greater need has he of a physician.”41 In like manner, St, Francis de Sales: “Two sorts of persons ought to go frequently to Communion: the perfect, in order to remain so; and the imperfect, in order to be become perfect.”42 But for frequent Communion, it is at least necessary to have a great desire to become a saint and to grow in the love of Jesus Christ. Our Lord said once to St. Matilda: “When you go to Communion desire all the love which a soul has ever had for me, and I will receive your love according to your desire.”43
Affections and Prayers.
O God of love, O infinite lover, worthy of infinite love, tell me what more canst Thou invent to make us love Thee? It was not sufficient for Thee to become man, and to subject Thyself to all our miseries; not sufficient to shed all Thy blood for us in torments, and then to die overwhelmed with sorrow, upon a cross destined for the most shameful malefactors. Thou didst, at last, oblige Thyself to be hidden under the species of bread and wine, to become our food, and so united with each one of us. Tell me, I repeat, what more canst Thou invent to make Thyself loved by us? Ah, wretched shall we be if we do not love Thee in this life! And when we shall have entered into eternity, what remorse shall we not feel for not having loved Thee! My Jesus, I will not die without loving Thee, and loving Thee exceedingly! I am heartily sorry, and am pained for having so greatly offended Thee. But now I love Thee above all things. I love Thee more than myself, and I consecrate to Thee all my affections. Do Thou, who inspirest me with this desire, give me also grace to accomplish it. My Jesus, my Jesus, I desire nothing of Thee but Thyself. Now that Thou hast drawn me to Thy love, I leave all, I renounce all, and I bind myself to Thee: Thou alone art sufficient for me.
O Mary, Mother of God, pray to Jesus for me, and make me a saint! Add this also to the many wonders thou hast done in changing sinners into saints.
1“Sciens Jesus quia venit hora ejus, ut transeat ex hoc mundo ad Patrem, cum dilexisset suos qui erant in mundo, in finem dilexit eos.” – John, xiii. 1.
2“Quæ in fine in signum amicitiæ celebrantur, firmius memoriæ imprimuntur, et cariora tenentur.” – T. ii. s. 54, a. 1, c. 1.
3“Totum tibi dedit, nihil sibi reliquit.”
4“Divitias divini sui erga homines amoris velut effudit.” – Sess. xiii. c. 2.
5“In qua nocte tradebatur, accepit panem, et gratias agens fregit, et dixit: Accipite et manducate; hoc est corpus meum.” – 1 Cor. xi. 23.
6“In illo fervoris excessu, quando paratus erat pro nobis mori, ab excessu amoris majus opus agere coactus est, quam umquam operatus fuit, dare nobis corpus in cibum.” – Loco cit.
7“Sacramentum charitatis, Pignus charitatis.”
9“In quo . . . futuræ gloriæ nobis pignus datur.”
10Isa. xii. 4.
11“Nonne videtur insania: Manducate meam carnem, bibite meum sanguinem?” – In Ps. xxxiii. en. 1.
12“Quomodo potest hic nobis carnem suam dare ad manducandum?—Durus est hic sermo; et quis potest eum audire?” – John, vi. 53, 61.
13“Accipite et manducate; hoc est corpus meum.”
14“Desiderio desideravi hoc pascha manducare vobiscum.” – Luke, xxii. 15.
15“Flagrantissimæ charitatis est vox hæc.” – De Tr. Chr. Ag. c. 2.
16“Venite, comedite panem meum, et bibite vinum quod miscui vobis.” – Prov. ix. 5.
17“Comedite, amici, et bibite.” – Cant. v. 1.
18“Qui manducat meam carnem, . . . habet vitam æternam. Qui manducat hunc panem, vivet in æternum.” – John, vi. 55, 59.
19“Nisi manducaveritis carnem Filii hominis, . . . non habebitis vitam in vobis.” – John, vi. 54.
20“Amantes desiderant ex ambobus fieri unum.” – 1. 2, q. 28, a. 1.
21“En ipse stat post parietem nostrum respiciens per fenestras, prospiciens per cancellos.” – Cant. ii. 9.
22“Qui manducat meam carnem, ... in me manet, et ego in illo.” – John, vi. 57.
23Introd. p. 2, ch. 21.
24“Semetipsum nobis immiscuit, ut unum quid simus; ardenter enim amantium hoc est.” – Ad pop. Ant. hom. 61.
25“O quam mirabilis est dilectio tua, Domine Jesu, qui tuo corpori taliter nos incorporari voluisti, ut tecum unum cor et unam animam haberemus inseparabiliter colligatam!” – De Inc. div. am. c. 5.
26“Ultimus gradus amoris est, cum se dedit nobis in cibum; quia dedit se nobis ad omnimodam unionem, sicut cibus et cibans invicem uniuntur.” – T. ii. s. 54, a. 4, c. 1.
27Introd. p. 2, ch. 21.
28“Frequens accessus (ad Eucharistiam) confessariorum judicio est relinquendus, qui, . . . laicis negotiatoribus et conjugatis, quod prospicient eorum saluti profuturum, id illis prrescribere dcbebunt.”
29“Omnia dedit ei Pater in manus.” – John, xiii. 3.
30“Venerunt mihi omnia bona pariter cum illa.” – Wisd. vii. 11.
31“Eucharistia maximam vim habet perficiendæ sanctitatis.”
32“Antidotum quo liberemur a culpis quotidianis, et a peccatis mortalibus præservemur.” – Sess. xiii. c. 2.
33P. 3, q. 79, a. 4.
34“Per crucis mysterium, eripuit nos a potestate peccati; per Eucharistiæ sacramentum, liberat nos a voluntate peccandi.” – De Alt. Myst. 1. 4, c. 44.
35“Deus charitas est.” – 1 John, iv. 8.
36“Ignis consumens est.” – Deut. iv. 24.
37“Ignem veni mittere in terram; et quid volo, nisi ut accendatur?” – Luke, xii. 49.
38“Carbo est Eucharistia, quæ nos inflammat, ut tamquam leones ignem spirantes ab ilia mensa recedamus, facti diabolo terribiles.” – Ad pop. Ant. hom. 61.
39“Introduxit me in cellam vinariam, ordinavit in me charitatem.” – Cant. ii. 4.
40“Fulcite me floribus, stipate me mails, quia amore langueo.” – Cant. ii. 5.
41“Licet tepide, tamen confidens de misericordia Dei accedat; tanto magis æger necesse habet requirere medicum, quanto magis senserit se ægrotum.” – De Prof. rel. l. 2, c. 77.
42Introd. p. 2. ch. 21.
43Spir. Grat. l. 3, c. 22.