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Friday, January 05, 2007

Thomas a Kempis: 'On the Blessed Sacrament'


On The Blessed Sacrament

The Voice of Christ

`COME TO ME, ALL WHO LABOUR AND ARE HEAVY LADEN, AND I WILL REFRESH YOU, says the Lord (Matt. 9:28),

`THE BREAD THAT I WILL GIVE IS MY FLESH, FOR THE LIFE OF THE WORLD.'( John 6:51)

`TAKE AND EAT; THIS IS MY BODY WHICH SHALL BE OFFERED FOR YOU; DO THIS IN COMMEMORATION OF ME. '( Luke 22:19; I Cor. 9:24)

`WHOSOEVER EATS MY FLESH AND DRINKS MY BLOOD, DWELLS IN ME, AND I IN HIM.'(John 6:56) `THESE THINGS THAT I HAVE TOLD YOU ARE SPIRIT AND LIFE. ' (John 6:63)

On the Deep Reverence with which Christ should be Received

THE DISCIPLE. 0 Christ, Eternal Truth, these are Your own words, although not spoken all at one time or in one place. And since they are Your words and are true, I must accept them with gratitude and trust. They are Your words and You have spoken them; they are also mine, since You have given them to me for my salvation. Gladly do I receive them from Your lips, that they may be the more deeply imprinted in my heart. Your words, so tender, so full of sweetness and love give me courage; but my own sins appal me, and a stricken conscience restrains me from receiving so high a Sacrament.

You command me to approach You in faith if I wish to have part in You and to receive the food of immortality if I desire life and glory. `Come to Me,' You say, `all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.' 0 Lord my God! How sweet and loving in the ears of a sinner are these words, with which You invite the poor and needy to the Communion of Your most holy Body! But who am I, O Lord, that I should presume to approach You? The very Heaven of Heavens cannot contain You; (I Kings 8:27) and yet You say, `Come you all to Me.'

What is the meaning of this kindly invitation? Unaware of any good in me on which I may presume, how shall I dare to come? How shall I invite You into my house, who have so often done evil in Your sight? The Angels and Archangels do You reverence; Saints and holy men stand in awe of You ; yet You say, `Come you all to Me'! Unless You Yourself had said it, who would believe it true? And who would dare approach, unless it were Your command?

Noah, a good man,(Gen.6:9) is said to have worked a hundred years to build the ark, so that he and a few others might be saved .(I Pet. 3:20) How, then, can I in one short hour prepare myself to receive with reverence the Creator of the world? Moses, Your great servant and especial friend, constructed an Ark of imperishable wood, (Ex. 25:10) and covered it with purest gold, in order to house the Tablets of the Law : and how shall I, a corruptible creature, dare so lightly to receive You, the Maker of the Law and Giver of life? Solomon, wisest of Israel's kings,( I Kings 5:7) spent seven years in building a splendid Temple in praise of Your name. For eight days he kept the Feast of its Dedication, and offered a thousand peace offerings. To the sound of trumpets, he solemnly and joyfully bore the Ark of the Covenant to its appointed resting-place. How, then, shall I, unworthiest and poorest of men, welcome You into my house,(Luke 7:6) when I can hardly spend half an hour devoutly? If only I could spend even haf an hour as I ought!

0 my God, how earnestly did all these strive to please You! And how little, alas, can I do! How short is the time that I employ in preparing myself for Communion ! Seldom am I entirely recollected, and very seldom free from all distraction. Yet in Your saving presence, 0 God, no unbecoming thought should enter my mind, for it is not an Angel, but the Lord of Angels who comes to be my guest.

How great a difference there is between the Ark of the Covenant and its relics, and Your most holy Body with its ineffable powers : between those sacrifices of the old Law which foreshadowed the Sacrifice too come, and the true Victim of Your Body, which fulfils all the ancient rites!

Alas, why does not my heart burn within me at Your adorable presence? Why do I not prepare myself to receive Holy Communion, when the Patriarchs and Prophets of old, Kings and Princes with all their people, showed so great a devotion in Your holy worship?

The holy King David danced before the Ark with all his might,(2 Sam.6:14) recalling Your blessings to his fathers; he wrote psalms, and taught his people to sing with joy; inspired by the grace of the Holy Spirit, he often sang and played on the harp ; he taught the people of Israel to praise God with thewhole heart, and to bless Him every day. If all these performed such acts of praise and devotion before the Ark of the Covenant, how much greater devotion and reverence should I and all Christian people have in the presence of this Sacrament, and in receiving the most adorable Body of Christ?

Many make pilgrimages to various places to visit the relics of the Saints, wondering at the story of their lives and the splendour of their shrines ; they view and venerate their bones, covered with silks and gold. But here on the Altar are You Yourself, my God, the Holy of Holies, Creator of men and Lord of Angels! When visiting such places, men are often moved by curiosity and the urge for sight-seeing, and one seldom hears that any amendment of life results, especially as their conversation is trivial and lacks true contrition. But here, in the Sacrament of the Altar, You are wholly present, my God, the Man Christ Jesus ; here we freely partake the fruit of eternal salvation, as often as we receive You worthily and devoutly. No levity, curiosity, or sentimentality must draw us, but firm faith, devout hope, and sincere love.

O God, invisible Creator of the world, how wonderful are Your dealings with us! How sweetly and graciously You welcome Your chosen, to whom You give Yourself in this Sacrament! It passes all understanding; it kindles the love and draws the hearts of the faithful to Yourself For Your faithful ones, who strive to amend their whole lives, receive in this most exalted Sacrament the grace of devotion and the love of virtue.

O wonderful and hidden grace of this Sacrament, known so well to Christ's faithful, but hidden from unbelievers and servants of sin! In this Sacrament, spiritual grace is conveyed, lost virtue restored to the soul, and its sin-ravaged beauty renewed. Such is the grace of this Sacrament, that from the fullness of devotion You afford greater powers not only to the mind, but to the frail body.

We cannot but regret and deplore our own carelessness and tepidity, which hinders us from receiving Christ with greater love, for in Him rests all our merit and hope of salvation. He is our Sanctification ( I Cor. 1:30) and Redemption : He is the comfort of pilgrims, and the everlasting joy of the Saints. How sad it is that so many have small regard for this saving Mystery, which is the delight of Heaven and preservative of the whole world. Alas, man is so blind, and his heart so hard, that he does not appreciate more fully this wonderful gift, and, from frequent use of it, grows even less reverent towards it!

If this most holy Sacrament were celebrated in one place only, and were offered by one priest only in the whole world, men would rush to this place and to the priest of God, to be present at the divine mysteries. But there are now many priests, and in many places Christ is offered, that the grace and love of God may be better known to men, the more widely Holy Communion is diffused through the world. 0 good Jesus, eternal Shepherd, we thank You that You deign to refresh us poor exiles with Your precious Body and Blood, and invite us to receive these Mysteries, saying, `Come to Me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.'

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    O God, most glorious, most bountiful, accept, we humbly beseech thee, our praises and thanksgivings for thy holy Catholic Church, the mother of us all who bear the name of Christ; for the faith which it hath conveyed in safety to our time, and the mercies by which it hath enlarged and comforted the souls of men; for the virtues which it hath established upon earth, and the holy lives by which it glorifieth both the world and thee; to whom, O blessed Trinity (+), be ascribed all honour, might, majesty and dominion, now and for ever. Amen.
    --Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

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