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Answering the Reasons which those Ministers give, which hinder the Faithful from Communicating, and the Priest from Celebrating, having their Consciences free from Mortal Sin.
Either the Communion must be forbidden to those that ask it and desire it without the guilt of Mortal Sin, because they are not worthy of it, or for the greater reverence of it, or, because much Familiarity breeds Contempt, or else for Mortification and Penance: The first reason, of not being worthy, is not sufficient; because if they make a Christian forbear, till he be worthy of the Communion, then he must never receive it: because no man is worthy to receive Christ, no not Heaven it self. Whereupon many holy men say, that the Communion taken to day is a disposition for that to morrow.
Besides, that Councils, the Saints and Doctors do assure us, that not being in Mortal sin, is that necessary worthiness and disposition which is required for the Communion; we are not to go to it, as worthy, but as having need of it: we do not go to sanctifie Jesus Christ, but to be sanctified and healed by him, by the means of the Sacrament, as St. Ambrose tells us, -- I who do continually sin, ought continually to receive the Medicine of this Sacrament against the pestilent Disease of Sin. (Ep 208.)
Nor may a Christian be debarr’d the Communion for the second reason of greater reverence, because ‘tis contrary to St. Austin’s Doctrine, who says, (Ep. 26. de verb. Dom. Serm. 28.) that ‘tis better to communicate through Devotion, than let it alone through Reverence. Dionysius Carthusianus says the same thing, ‘Tis better to communicate through Love, than abstain from it through Humility and Fear, (De Euch. cap. 5. sect. 6.) There is not more devotion, love and respect shewed to God by less frequent coming to the Sacrament: but rather he loves and fears God most, who without mortal sin, and with a desire of his own spiritual advantage, comes every day to it: and the delaying of it is not a greater disposedness nor veneration, but a manifest temptation.
By keeping away, they think to find better devotion and fervour, and in the mean time they are dry, luke-warm and cold, as we see by experience. These people that will not communicate unless they be sensibly and actually devout, are like those who are cold, who will not come near the fire, till they are warm; or like those sick men that will not ask the Physicians counsel, till they are grown well. Christ’s Body is like a spiritual fire, let us approach towards it, and it will warm us. The flesh of Christ, says Damascene, is a live coal, which heats and burns.
The third reason which some give for the hindring Christians the Communion, that desire and ask it, is a certain whimsey or capricio, which they imprint in their minds, telling ‘em, that to go frequently to the Sacrament is too much familiarity, and that this breeds contempt, Nimia familiaritas parit contemptum. O hurtful Deceit! O pernicious Doctrine! though, taught by the Ministers with no bad zeal. Is it possible, that among so many Saints and Doctors of the Church which have written professedly upon this Point, as is manifest by the former Chapter, none of ‘em should light upon the reason, that these Ministers talk of? ‘Tis well inferred therefore, that ‘tis of small consideration and account.
True it is, that to much familiarity is sometimes the occasion of contempt, but of what, and to whom? The too much familiarity with a vile thing, occasions contempt, but how can familiar conversation with a thing that is grave, good, and amiable, how can this cause contempt? In earthly things familiarity begets contempt; because the more one man gets acquainted and intimate with another, he discovers his defects by degrees, and so values him less then he did at first. But with God the thing is quite otherwise: because as the creature proceeds in the knowledge of that fountain of true perfection, by the same measure the love and esteem of that great Lord grows more.
If by communicating daily there could be any defect discovered in Jesus Christ, certain it is, that this frequency and familiarity would breed contempt of him; but the more that boundless ocean of perfection is received, the more is his goodness known, and the greater doth the love, the respect and the reverence to him grow. And if it were true, that to much frequency occasioned contempt, it would be necessary to give laws to God himself, and take care not to render himself so easie and familiar to the Saints and Angels of Heaven, with whom he hath so great and continual an intimacy. Who is more familiar with God than he Angels who continually behold his divine countenance? and what, doth this make ‘em leave off honouring, reverencing and loving him?
But they will say, it is not good to abuse this familiarity and intimacy with God. What a blindness is this! what should the meaning of this be, unless they would not have us so united with God, and have a mind that we should serve him at a distance, and not near and more by name than affection. These words arise rather from the little will they have that we should receive this divine Lord, than from the respect of not displeasing him: if they had true charity, and did but heartily love Jesus Christ, they would despise all fear, and not remove us from the frequency of this divine Sacrament; nay, they would desire and prompt us on to receive him daily, that we might be united unto God.
If they know, that Christ desires to be united with us, why should they be unwilling that we should be united with him our great Lord, fearing where no fear is? if they see that an infinite God desires our familiarity and friendship, what is it that they build upon, to hinder us from being his friends? do they think that by this continual frequency that will be tedious to us, without which every thing else is tedious? do they believe that that will make our life uneasie, which gives us life? that that good will be a trouble to us, from which all goodness proceeds? and in a word, that he who is the pleasure and delight of all Creatures, of all the Seraphims, of all the Saints, and of the whole Court of Heaven, will be a tediousness to us? true it is, that he satiates, but never becomes tedious.
Nor any less ought a Christian to be denied the Communion, to mortifie him, which is the fourth reason: because in Mortification, to be without the Communion, he only exercises one Vertue, and in the Communion he exercises ‘em all. Would it therefore be well that a Christian, for obtaining one Virtue, should be deprived of all the rest? ‘Tis great pity to deprive him of the great good he receives in the Communion, only for mortification-sake: which being well thought of, will prove rather a privation of good than the vertue of mortification.
Besides, to be able to say Mass and communicate perfectly, it is not the best way to leave off communicating and celebrating: but rather ‘tis the best that can be, to say Mass and communicate every day, though it be with some imperfections. To inable a man to pray perfectly, or to obtain some vertue in perfection, ‘tis not a good way to leave off doing acts of that vertue. Who will say, that to make a perfect Prayer, ‘tis a good way to let it alone some days? and that to have patience, ‘tis a good way not to do any acts of it? rather the best means to obtain patience and to make a perfect Prayer, is to exercise those things day by day, though there should be some imperfection in ‘em.
If the divine Majesty vouchsafes to be with sinners, to lodge in their houses, to eat with ‘em at the same Table, (for which he bears for his Arms and commands to be fixed on the doors of his house an Inscription, that says, This Lord receives sinners and eats at one Table with ‘em) why is the Minister and Servant of this same Lord so loath to receive a Christian, if he be changed and mended by repentance? is it therefore reason that the Ministers of this Lord should limit a thing not limited by their Master?
The Lord invitesus, and calls us to his banquet: and will the servant pretend to give leave to those who are invited, when they are introduced to God in his own house? Let ‘em come in, if they have no mortal sin about ‘em: and if they have, ‘tis washed away in the fountain of repentance. Put this on the account of their Lord, that will have it so, and commands it, though it seem inconvenient to the Minister, wherefore the Lord may answer him with great reason, “‘Tis well known, that the sinner costs the nothing, and that having so narrow a breast as thou hast, thou admittest him not to the Communion, though he desires it and I invite him to it: but I came down from Heaven for him, and was made man, suffering 33 years incredible torments, even to death it self. I will have him, thus penitent as he is, and because I am God, I have a heart of infinite extend, where all, how wicked soever they may have been, do come, if they turn to me and become reform’d by means of repentance.”
Christ our Lord moves the tongue of Angels to exhort men to frequent Communion, and the Prince of darkness moves the tongues of men to perswade ‘em the contrary. The Angel said to Elijah, (I Kings 19. 7.) Arise and eat, for thou hast a long journey to go. So the Angel perswades him to the Communion; and not only once, but twice he awaked the Prophet that was asleep, to eat Bread, the figure of the Eucharist. ‘Tis the propriety of Angels to invite to frequent Communion. Well did St. Jerom say, ---He is an Angel to thee who puts thee upon the Communion, and a Devil that hinders thee from it.
‘Tis plain, that the Devil shews himself against this Sacrament more than any other, in that he seeks by so many disturbances and ways to hinder it, amongst which ‘tis not the least powerful and effectual which he makes use of by Preachers and Confessors, and Ministers themselves, because many of ‘em with a cloak of zeal disturb it. Those who reckon themselves Ministers of Jesus Christ, ought to make it their proper work and business to set themselves against the Devil’s intentions; not depriving people of their Daily Communion, but advising ‘em to it, and procuring it for ‘em.
Fryer Joseph of St. Mary, after he had told us the words of the holy Council of Trent, where he says --- that he desires that all men would communicate daily (in his Apology for frequent Communion) has these following words --- Is it therefore possible, O my Christian Fathers and Brethren, that the Church should have any such children who do so openly contradict her; and that, understanding from their Mother, that it would be a good thing for Christians to communicate every day, they should say it is not convenient, and so oppose themselves to her and contradict her? Certainly this looks like the Devil’s temptation, to hinder the growth of Souls, though it be done with good zeal, and to such as be zealous of God’s honour, and of the Church their Mother, this will not look well --- Thus far the Author.
Now let any Summist and Learned Man, that has a great opinion of himself, see whether it be lawful to oppose the Authority of so great a Tribunal and the laudable Custom of the Church and her Declarations, against the Practice and Doctrine of the Apostles, and against the Preaching of the holy Doctors of the Church.
Let not man mutter or deny the holy Communion, (says Lewis Fundone, tract. de diu. Sacr. p. 2. c. 21. fol. 149.) as if there were no occasion for it, and let him have a care that God do not deny him Heaven; since to condemn this, is to condemn the commendable Customs and most ancient Practice of the Church and the greatest Servants of God. -- Thus far the Author.
Father Peter of Marselles, a Benedictine, (addit. ad memor. Compostel. fol. 62.) says, “That as often as a man communicates without the guilt of mortal sin, either by not having committed it, or by being pardoned it, he receives grace by it. This disposition is not of so small moment, as some think, since the holy Councel of Trent thinks it enough for reverence and holiness. They are mightily to be commended, that do their best to perswade the faithful to communicate daily; and consequently, what a great error and prejudice of Soul are they that hinder Lay-men the Sacramental Communion every day.
Nothing but Mortal sin (says St. Thomas) can keep a Christian from the Communion. How therefore does it come to pass, that the Ministers keep men from it, when they have no Mortal sin to indispose ‘em.
It would be well considered that Christ is in this Sacrament for salve for our wounds, for comfort to our troubles, and for strength in our adversities, and lastly for a pledge and memorial of the love that he bears to Souls, and that this great Lord stands crying out whether there be any that would have him, and the Souls answer that they will have him, but asking the Ministers of the Church to give ‘em their Lord, and divide to them their daily bread, the Ministers turn the deaf ear to it, being stewards for Gods house, and are very pinching and niggardly in distributing that which the Lord commands, and so freely gives.
Such a stinginess as this is to be lamented with Tears of Blood. Who would not weep to see that when Gods hand is so open in giving, his servants should be so close-fisted and covetous in distributing: and that God being so bountiful of his own blessings which cost him his blood, they should be so greedy in a thing that cost ‘em nothing? and in a word, this Sacrament being that open fountain of David, free to all the Sons of Jacob, who go to it for the precious water without giving any thing for it, the Ministers sell it so dear that it costs many even tears of blood to obtain it: which gives ‘em the lamentation of Jeremy, that they are fain to buy the water which is their own, as dear as if it did belong to some body else.
Master John d’ Avila, a Man known sufficiently for his exemplar Goodness and Learning and Preaching, being asked whether a Superiour or one that had the cure of Souls, might deny the Communion to him that should ask it of him every day, not having lawful impediment, made answer thus, My opinion is, that no lawful impediment appearing, the Prelate (and he that in his room hath the business of Administrating the Eucharist) is obliged to give it to him that is under him, every time that he asks it. He that denies the most holy Sacrament, is unjust, and deprives him of his right and due that asks it. A Christian (as S. Thomas says) has so much a right to ask it, that the Prelate cannot deny it him, except if be for a publick sin. Asking it in publick he ought to give it him, though he knows that he has Sin in secret: and then how much more ought he to one that asks it devoutly? he is cruel, he takes away the Spiritual Bread from his Child, and I must condemn him for a sinner in it. All this says the above mentioned Author (in his Treat. 23. Part 3.)
Will they say, if it be a good and holy thing to Communicate every day, why doth not the Church then command it? and why did not the Founders of Religions, who were indued with so much light, leave it for a rule? and why did not some Saints imbrace this frequency? Saint Mark the Evangelist cut off his Thumb, that they might not make him ordain. Saint Francis of Assise would never be a Priest. Saint Benet was a long time without Communicating. Before I come to answer, I will ask whether be well, that a man in health should not eat something every day, because the Law doth not command it? why have some Saints abstained from food some days? whether single life be good and not Marriage, as S. Paul says, (I Cor. 7.) because the Law commands it not? and why some Saints have not been Married? whether it be a good and holy thing to hear Mass daily, because the Church does not command it? and why some Saints have retired into the desert, where they could not hear it?
Again, before I come to answer, I will suppose that some examples of the Saints are more to be admired than imitated, and that therefore they do not make a general rule; that if some have not Communicated, they were only a few; and they that did Communicate, numberless: and therefore ‘twill be more safe to follow the most and not the fewest. I answer the difficulty and the question; that things necessary ought to be commanded, that which is evil ought to be prohibited, and that which is good and holy ought to be advised. The holy Church doth always act rightly, and therefore she doth not command the faithful to Communicate daily: because how holy and good a thing soever it be, yet ‘tis not essentially necessary: and the precept of the Church, always looks at the benefit of the faithful, and so great is our luke-warmness, and the frailty of our times, that a precept of Daily Communion would be an occasion of sin and ruine, and therefore the Church does not injoyn Christians by precept any more than one Communion in a year, though the desires that through devotion men would Communicate every day.
Many men shift off their coming daily to this Divine Banquet, that they may not be taken notice of for it, and that they may give no occasion to others to grumble: and the Ministers hearing this reason, hold their tongues and rest satisfied. O hurtful silence! must they permit, for worldly respects, that the faithful should lose so great a benefit? Is it possible that they should let ‘em live at a distance, and separate from God and his sweet and loving friendship, because the world should not censure ‘em? if there should be any great account made of what the world says, not only the soul would be lost, but also the judgment. Is it not known, that the world makes it its business to speak ill of what good is, and to persecute those that do not take part with it?
All those that serve great men, do make open shew of the degree of their office, greatness and dignity; and shall a Christian think it a shame to himself to communicate, and be seen in the service of Jesus Christ? If it were an evil work to Communicate every day, it might breed scandal; but if it be the best work that a Christian can do, why should he keep from it through an idle fear of offending his neighbour? The Jews were offended at the good works of Jesus Christ, but for all that, his Majesty never left off doing ‘em. He that doth ill and interprets the good that others do in an evil sense, ‘tis he that gives cause for the scandal: but to do well, was never a scandal, much less can so great good, as Communicating be one. If a man should take offence by seeing us eat, surely we would not for all that be such fools as to starve our selves.
We ought to take great heed of following vanities and wordly pleasures, that we many not by them offend or scandalize our Neighbour: from these vices we ought to keep our selves, not from Daily Communion, because this cannot cause scandal, but will rather edifie our Neighbour, and by our good example, it may be, he may come to change his life and resolve himself to frequent the Sacraments. O how many people are there that are cheated by these wordly respects! O unhappy men! they are not ashamed to be base in their lives, and yet they are ashamed to be Christians and to be known for such!
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