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Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, ye shall not have life in you. (St. John, c. vi., v. 54.)
And he sent ... to say to those who were invited, that they should come; for now all things were ready. And they began all at once to make excuse. (St. Luke, c. xiv., vv. 17-18.)
And if I send them away fasting ... they will faint in the way. (St. Mark, c. viii., v. 3.)
My heart is withered; because I forgot to eat my bread. (Ps. ci.)63
2. St. Bernard calls the Holy Eucharist the love of loves. Hence you should desire to receive it frequently in order to be filled with this divine love.
3. St. Francis de Sales says there are two classes of persons who should often receive holy communion; the perfect, to unite themselves more closely to the Source of all perfection, and the imperfect to labor to attain perfection; the strong that they may not become weak, the weak that they may become strong; the sick that they may be cured, and those in health that they may be preserved from sickness. You tell me that your imperfections, your weakness, your littleness make you unworthy to receive communion frequently; and I assure you it is precisely because of these that you ought to receive it frequently in order that He who possesses all things may give you whatever is wanting to you.
*The following words on this subject will not perhaps be considered by others as giving much additional value to the authority of the saintly Bishop of Geneva. They do so, however, in ours, because they are from the lips of a holy religious whose memory will always be dear to us——from a man whose last moments 64 were the occasion of the greatest edification it has ever pleased God to accord us. The Rev. Father Margottet, a Jesuit, died at Nice, April 1st, 1835, shortly after his return from Portugal where he had suffered a most cruel captivity with the courage that faith alone can inspire. During the last months of his life he took great pleasure in conversing with a certain young man who visited him regularly to be instructed and edified by his pious discourse. One day this young man confided to him the confusion he felt in availing himself of his director’s permission to receive holy Communion several times a week. This was due especially to the thought that St. Aloysius, whilst a novice of the Society of Jesus, went to Communion on Sundays only. “Come, come, my dear sir,” laughingly replied the good Father, “continue your frequent Communions—you need them much more than St. Aloysius did.” It is indeed an error to consider holy Communion a reward of virtue, and, in a measure, a guage of perfection, whereas it is above all a means to attain perfection, and the one pre-existing virtue required in order to employ this means is the desire to profit by it. Our divine Lord 65 did not say: Venite ad me qui perfecti estis—Come to Me all ye who are perfect: He said: Venite ad me qui laboratis et onerati estis77Matt. xi., 28.—Come to me all ye who labor and are burdened. (Read Chapters XX. and XXI., Part II., of the Introduction to a Devout Life; and Chapters X. and XVI. Book IV. of The Imitation.)
The spirit of the Church has at all times been the same in regard to this important subject. Fénelon says in his letter on frequent Communion that St. Chrysostom admits of no medium between the state of those who are in mortal sin and that of the faithful who are in a state of grace and communicate every day. In vain certain Christians, believing themselves purified and just, do no penance as sinners and nevertheless abstain from Communion, because, they say, they are not perfect enough to receive it. This intermediate state is not only most dangerous for one who wilfully remains in it, but is also injurious to the Blessed Sacrament. Far from doing honor to the Holy Eucharist by depriving ourselves of it, we offend our divine Lord when we decline to partake of the Banquet to which He invites us. In a word, according to this early Father 66 of the Church, we ought either to communicate with those who are in a state of grace, or to do penance that we may be united to them as soon as possible.
We will quote the Saint’s own words: “Many of the faithful are weak and languishing, many among them sleep. And how, you say, does this happen since we receive the Blessed Sacrament but once a year? That is precisely the cause of all the trouble! For you imagine that merit consists not so much in purity of conscience as in the length of time intervening between your Communions. You consider no higher mark of respect and honor can be paid to this Sacrament than not to approach the Holy Table often.... Temerity does not consist in approaching the Altar frequently, but in approaching it unworthily were this but once in an entire life time.... Why then regulate the number of Communions by the law of time, instead of by purity of conscience, which should alone indicate how many times to receive? This divine Mystery is nothing more at Easter than at all other seasons during which it is celebrated continually. It is ever the same, that is to say, ever the same gift of the Holy Ghost. Easter 67 continues throughout the year. You who are initiated will understand perfectly what I say. Be it Saturday, or Sunday, or the feasts of the martyrs, it is always the same Victim, the same Sacrifice.” “It was not the will of our divine Lord that His Sacrifice should be restricted by the observance of time.”
Other Fathers of the Church speak in the same way of Holy Communion:
“If it is daily bread,” says Saint Ambrose, “why do you partake of it but once a year?... Receive it every day in order that every day you may benefit by it. Live in such a manner that you may deserve to receive it every day, for he who does not deserve to receive it every day will not deserve to receive it at the end of the year.... Do you not know that every time the Holy Sacrifice is offered, the death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord are renewed to the atonement of sin? And yet you will not partake daily of this Bread of Life! When one has received a wound does he not seek a remedy? Sin which holds us captive is our wound: our remedy is in this ever adorable Sacrament.”
In order that it may be plainly proved that the faithful of the present day have no reason 68 to act differently in this respect from those of the primitive Church, let us see how this ancient discipline has been confirmed in later times by the Council of Trent:
“Christians should believe in this Sacrament and reverence it with such a firm faith, with so much fervor and piety, that they may often receive this Super-substantial Bread; that it may be, in truth, the life of their soul and the perpetual health of their spirit, and that the strength they derive therefrom may enable them to pass from the temptations of this earthly pilgrimage to the repose of their heavenly fatherland.... The Council would have the faithful receive Communion each time they assist at Mass, not only spiritually, but sacramentally, that they may derive more abundant fruit from the Holy Sacrifice.”
4. The evening before your Communion devote some little time to recollection in order to ponder the inestimable gift that God is about to bestow upon you, and endeavor also to excite in your soul the desire and the hope of finding therein your delight.
5. Do not conclude that you derive no benefit from Holy Communion because you find no perceptible increase in your virtues. 69 Consider that it at least serves to keep you in a state of grace. You give nourishment to your body every day but you do not pretend to say that it daily gains in strength. Does food appear useless to you on that account? Certainly not; for, though it fail to augment strength, it preserves it by repairing the constant waste. Now, this is precisely the case with the divine Food of our souls.
Observe, moreover, that there is no real increase in virtue without a corresponding growth in humility. Consequently the more virtuous you are the less so you will esteem yourself; the worthier you are to approach your God, the more profoundly will you feel your unworthiness. For man, no matter to what degree of virtue he attain, cannot be otherwise than weak and sinful here below, and he realizes his baseness more and more distinctly in proportion to his advancement in grace and in light.
Fénelon speaks as follows on the same subject:
“Hitherto you lacked the light to discover in your soul many movements of our malicious and depraved nature, which now begin to reveal themselves to you. In proportion as light increases we find ourselves 70 more corrupt than we supposed: but we should be neither surprised nor discouraged, for it is not that we are in reality worse than we were,—on the contrary we are better,—but because whilst our sinfulness decreases the light which shows it to us increases.”
6. Do not fear that you are ill-prepared for Holy Communion and abuse the Sacrament because in receiving it you are cold, indifferent, and devoid of feeling. This is a trial sent or permitted by God to test your faith and to advance you in merit. All that has been said in regard to dryness in prayer might be repeated here. Try to have an abiding desire to feel for the Blessed Eucharist as ardent transports of love as were ever experienced by the saints. A desire is equivalent before God to the thing desired, as I have already quoted for you from Saint Gregory the Great; therefore you should be satisfied with this when you can attain nothing higher. Everything over and above this is grace, not merit.
7. If you dare not receive Holy Communion often because you are not worthy, then you must never receive it, for you will never be worthy. What creature could be worthy to receive a God? Nay more, to follow out this 71 principle We should have to abandon the practice of visiting churches and of speaking to God in prayer; for a miserable, sin-stained human being is unfit to enter the House of the Lord or to converse with Him.
“How many scrupulous Christians do we not see languishing for want of this divine Food! They consume themselves with subtle speculations and sterile efforts, they fear, they tremble, they doubt, and they vainly seek for a certainty that cannot be found in this life. Sweetness, unction, are not for them. They wish to live for God without living by him. They are dry, feeble, exhausted: they are close to the Fountain of Living Water and yet allow themselves to die of thirst. They desire to fulfil all exteriorly, yet do not dare to nourish themselves interiorly: they wish to carry the burden of the law without imbibing its spirit and its consolation from prayer and frequent Communion!”—Fénelon.
8. In regard to Holy Communion, therefore, do not confine yourself to a consideration of your own unworthiness, but temper this with the thought of God’s mercy. The guests at the symbolic marriage-feast,—a 72 figure of the Holy Eucharist,—were not the great and the rich, but the poor, the blind, the lame. Whosoever is clothed in the nuptial garment, that is to say, whosoever is in a state of grace, is welcome to this banquet.
9. St. Francis de Sales says that when we cannot go to Holy Communion without giving annoyance to others, or without failing against duties of charity, justice or order, we should be satisfied with spiritual Communion. “Believe me,” he adds, “this mortification, this deprivation, will be extremely pleasing to God and will advance you greatly in His love. One must sometimes take a step backward in order to leap the better.” It was not by frequent Communion that the holy anchorites sanctified themselves, but by the exact observance of the duties of their calling. Saint Paul the Hermit received Holy Communion but twice during his long, penitential life, nevertheless he was precious in the sight of God. A propos of this subject Saint Francis de Sales gives us this admirable advice: “In proportion as you are hindered from doing the good you desire, do all the more ardently the good that you do not desire. You do not like to make such or such an act of resignation, 73 you would prefer to make some other; but offer the one you do not like, for it will be of far greater value.” Saint John the Baptist was more intimately united in spirit with our Lord than even the Apostles themselves: yet he never became one of His followers owing to the fact that his vocation required this sacrifice on his part and called him elsewhere. This is the greatest act of spiritual mortification recorded in the lives of the saints.
“I have often admired the extreme resignation of Saint John the Baptist, who remained so long in the desert, quite near to our Lord, without going to see, hear and follow Him. And after baptizing Jesus, how could he have allowed Him to depart without uniting himself to Him with his bodily presence, as he was already so united to Him by the ties of affection! Ah! the divine Precursor knew that in his case the Master was best served by deprivation of His actual presence. Well, my dear daughter, it will be the same with you in regard to Holy Communion. I mean that for the present God will be pleased if in accordance to the wish of the superiors whom He has placed over you, you endure the privation of His actual presence. It will be a great 74 consolation to me to know that this advice does not disquiet your heart. Rest assured that this resignation, this renunciation will be exceedingly beneficial to you.”—St. Francis de Sales.
11. Never refrain from receiving the Holy Eucharist because you happen to be beset by temptations; this would be to capitulate to your enemy without offering any resistance. The more combats you have to sustain, the greater the necessity of providing yourself with the means of defence, and these are to be found in the Blessed Sacrament. Go courageously then and renew your strength with the Food of the strong and victory shall be yours.
12. Be careful not to frequent the Holy Table because such and such a person does so: an imitation common for the most part to women’s vanity and jealousy, says Saint Francis de Sales. It is through love that our divine Saviour gives Himself to us in the Blessed Sacrament: love alone should lead us to receive it.
13. Holy Communion should not be partaken of with the same frequency by all the faithful. All, indeed, must have the same 75 object in view, that is union with God, but the same means to attain that object are not proper for every one. It is only by obedience to the advice of a spiritual director that each person can know what is suitable for him, as that which would be too little for one might be too much for another.76
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