These five inspired writers gave the weight of their individual testimony to the doctrine of the Eucharist because they foresaw—or rather the Holy Ghost, speaking through them, foresaw—that this great mystery, which exacts so strong an exercise of our faith, and which bids us bow down our "understanding unto the obedience of Christ,"(366) would meet with opposition in the course of time from those who would measure the infallible Word of God by the erring standard of their own judgment.
I shall select three classes of arguments from the New Testament which satisfactorily demonstrate the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. The first of these texts speaks of the promise of the Eucharist, the second of its institution and the third of its use among the faithful.
To begin with the words of the promise. While Jesus was once preaching near the coast of the Sea of Galilee He was followed, as usual, by an immense multitude of persons, who were attracted to Him by the miracles which He wrought and the words of salvation which he spoke. Seeing that the people had no food, He multiplied five loaves and two fishes to such an extent as to supply the wants of five thousand men, besides women and children.
Our Lord considered the present a favorable occasion for speaking of the Sacrament of His body and blood, which was to be distributed, not to a few thousands, but to millions of souls; not in one place, but everywhere; not at one time, but for all days, to the end of the world. "I am," He says to His hearers, "the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert and died.... I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread he shall live forever, and the bread which I will give is My flesh for the life of the world. The Jews, therefore, disputed among themselves, saying: How can this man give us His flesh to eat? Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen, I say to you: Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, ye shall not have life in you. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood hath everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is meat indeed, and My blood drink indeed."(367)
If these words had fallen on your ears for the first time, and if you had been among the number of our Savior's hearers on that occasion, would you not have been irresistibly led, by the noble simplicity of His words, to understand Him as speaking truly of His body and blood? For His language is not susceptible of any other interpretation.
When our Savior says to the Jews: "Your fathers did eat manna and died, ... but he that eateth this (Eucharistic) bread shall live forever," He evidently wishes to affirm the superiority of the food which He would give, over the manna by which the children of Israel were nourished.
Now, if the Eucharist were merely commemorative bread and wine, instead of being superior, it would be really inferior to the manna; for the manna was supernatural, heavenly, miraculous food, while bread and wine are a natural, earthly food.
But the best and the most reliable interpreters of our Savior's words are certainly the multitude and the disciples who are listening to Him. They all understood the import of His language precisely as it is explained by the Catholic Church. They believed that our Lord spoke literally of His body and blood. The Evangelist tells us that the Jews "disputed among themselves, saying: How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" Even His disciples, though avoiding the disrespectful language of the multitude, gave expression to their doubt in this milder form: "This saying is hard, and who can hear it?"(368) So much were they shocked at our Savior's promise that "after this many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him."(369) They evidently implied, by their words and conduct, that they understood Jesus to have spoken literally of His flesh; for, had they interpreted His words in a figurative sense, it would not have been a hard saying, nor have led them to abandon their Master.
But, perhaps, I shall be told that the disciples and the Jews who heard our Savior may have misinterpreted His meaning by taking His words in the literal acceptation, while He may have spoken in a figurative sense. This objection is easily disposed of. It sometimes happened, indeed, that our Savior was misunderstood by His hearers. On such occasions He always took care to remove from their mind the wrong impression they had formed by stating His meaning in simpler language. Thus, for instance, having told Nicodemus that unless a man be born again he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven, and having observed that His meaning was not correctly apprehended by this disciple our Savior added: "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven."(370) And again, when he warned His disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees, and finding that they had taken an erroneous meaning from His word, He immediately subjoined that they should beware of the doctrine of the Pharisees.(371)
But in the present instance does our Savior alter His language when He finds His words taken in the literal sense? Does He tell His hearers that He has spoken figuratively? Does He soften the tone of His expression? Far from weakening the force of His words He repeats what He said before, and in language more emphatic: "Amen, amen, I say unto you, Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye shall not have life in you."
When our Savior beheld the Jews and many of His disciples abandoning Him, turning to the chosen twelve, He said feelingly to them: "Will ye also go away? And Simon Peter answered Him: Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."(372) You, my dear reader, must also take your choice. Will you reply with the Jews, or with the disciples of little faith, or with Peter? Ah! let some say with the unbelieving Jews: "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?" Let others say with the unfaithful disciples: "This is a hard saying. Who can hear it?" But do you say with Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."
So far I have dwelt on the words of the Promise. I shall now proceed to the words of the Institution, which are given in almost the same expressions by St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke. In the Gospel according to St. Matthew we read the following narrative: "And while they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke and gave to His disciples and said: Take ye and eat. This is My body. And taking the chalice, He gave thanks and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this; for this is My blood of the New Testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins."(373)
I beg you to recall to mind the former text relative to the Promise and to compare it with this. How admirably they fit together, like two links in a chain! How faithfully has Jesus fulfilled the Promise which He made! Could any idea be expressed in clearer terms than these: This is My body; this is My blood?
Why is the Catholic interpretation of these words rejected by Protestants? Is it because the text is in itself obscure and ambiguous? By no means; but simply because they do not comprehend how God could perform so stupendous a miracle as to give His body and blood for our spiritual nourishment.
Is, then, the power or the mercy of God to be measured by the narrow rule of the human understanding? Is the Almighty not permitted to do anything except what we can sanction by our reason? Is a thing to be declared impossible because we cannot see its possibility?
Has not God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing by the fiat of His word? What a mystery is this! Does He not hold this world in the midst of space? Does He not transform the tiny blade into nutritious grain? Did He not feed upwards of five thousand persons with five loaves and two fishes? What a mystery! Did He not rain down manna from heaven for forty years to feed the children of Israel in the desert? Did He not change rivers into blood in Egypt, and water into wine at the wedding of Cana? Does he not daily make devout souls the tabernacles of the Holy Ghost? And shall we have the hardihood to deny, in spite of our Lord's plain declaration, that God, who works these wonders, is able to change bread and wine into His body and blood for the food of our souls?
You tell me it is a mystery above your comprehension. A mystery, indeed. A religion that rejects a revealed truth because it is incomprehensible contains in itself the seeds of dissolution and will end in rationalism. Is not everything around us a mystery? Are we not a mystery to ourselves? Explain to me how the blood circulates in your veins, how the soul animates and permeates the whole body, how the hand moves at the will of the soul. Explain to me the mystery of life and death.
Is not the Scripture full of incomprehensible mysteries? Do you not believe in the Trinity—a mystery not only above, but apparently contrary to, reason? Do you not admit the Incarnation—that the helpless infant in Bethlehem was God? I understand why Rationalists, who admit nothing above their reason, reject the Real Presence; but that Bible Christians should reject it is to me incomprehensible.
But do those who reject the Catholic interpretation explain this text to their own satisfaction: "This is My body, etc?" Alas! here their burden begins. Only a few years after the early Reformers had rejected the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist no fewer than one hundred meanings were given to these words: "This is My body." It is far easier to destroy than to rebuild.
Let me now offer you some additional reasons in favor of the Catholic or literal sense. According to a common rule observed in the interpretation of the Holy Scripture, we must always take the words in their literal signification, unless we have some special reason which obliges us to accept them in a figurative meaning. Now, in the present instance, far from being forced to employ the words above quoted in a figurative sense, every circumstance connected with the delivery of them obliges us to interpret them in their plain and literal acceptation.
To whom did our Savior address these words? At what time and under what circumstances did He speak? He was addressing His few chosen disciples, to whom He promised to speak in future, not in parables nor in obscure language, but in the words of simple truth. He uttered these words the night before His Passion. And when will a person use plainer speech than at the point of death?
These words: "This is My body; this is My blood," embodied a new dogma of faith which all were obliged to believe, and a new law which all were obliged to practice. They were the last will and testament of our blessed Savior. What language should be plainer than that which contains an article of faith? What words should be more free from tropes and figures than those which enforce a Divine law? But, above all, where will you find any words more plain and unvarnished than those contained in a last will?
Now, if we understand these words in their plain and obvious; that is, in their Catholic, sense, no language can be more simple and intelligible. But if we depart from the Catholic interpretation, then it is impossible to attach to them any reasonable meaning.
We now arrive at the third class of Scripture texts which have reference to the use or reception of the Sacrament among the faithful.
When Jesus, as you remember, instituted the Eucharist at His last Supper He commanded His disciples and their successors to renew, till the end of time, in remembrance of Him, the ceremony which He performed. What I have done, do ye also "for a commemoration of Me."(374)
We have a very satisfactory means of ascertaining the Apostolic belief in the doctrine of the Eucharist by examining what the Apostles did in commemoration of our Lord. Did they bless and distribute mere bread and wine to the faithful, or did they consecrate, as they believed, the body and blood of Jesus Christ? If they professed to give only bread and wine in memory of our Lord's Supper, then the Catholic interpretation falls to the ground. If, on the contrary, we find the Apostles and their successors, from the first to the nineteenth century, professing to consecrate and dispense the body and blood of Christ, and doing so by virtue of the command of their Savior, then the Catholic interpretation alone is admissible.
Let St. Paul be our first witness. Represent yourself as a member of the primitive Christian congregation assembled in Corinth. About eighteen years after St. Matthew wrote his Gospel, a letter is read from the Apostle Paul, in which the following words occur: "The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? and the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord?... For, I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, brake it, and said: Take and eat: this is My body which shall be delivered for you. This do for the commemoration of Me. In like manner also the chalice, after the supper, saying: This cup is the New Covenant in My blood. This do ye, as often as ye shall drink, for the commemoration of Me. For, as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the cup, ye shall show the death of the Lord until He come. Therefore, whoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, _shall be guilty of the body and of _ the blood of the Lord_. But let a man prove himself; and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For, he who eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, _not discerning the body of the Lord_."(375)
Could St. Paul express more clearly his belief in the Real Presence than he has done here? The Apostle distinctly affirms that the chalice and bread which he and his fellow Apostles bless is a participation of the body and blood of Christ. And surely no one could be said to partake of that divine food by eating ordinary bread. Mark these words of the Apostle: Whosoever shall take the Sacrament unworthily "shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." What a heinous crime! For these words signify that he who receives the Sacrament unworthily shall be guilty of the sin of high treason, and of shedding the blood of his Lord in vain. But how could he be guilty of a crime so enormous, if he had taken in the Eucharist only a particle of bread and wine. Would a man be accused of homicide, in this commonwealth, if he were to offer violence to the statue or painting of the governor? Certainly not. In like manner, St. Paul would not be so unreasonable as to declare a man guilty of trampling on the blood of his Savior by drinking in an unworthy manner a little wine in memory of Him.
Study also these words: "He who eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh condemnation to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord." The unworthy receiver is condemned for not recognizing or discerning in the Eucharist the body of the Lord. How could he be blamed for not discerning the body of the Lord, if there were only bread and wine before him? Hence, if the words of St. Paul are figuratively understood, they are distorted, forced and exaggerated terms, without meaning or truth. But, if they are taken literally, they are full of sense and of awful significance, and an eloquent commentary on the words I have quoted from the Evangelist.
The Fathers of the Church, without an exception, re-echo the language of the Apostle of the Gentiles by proclaiming the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. I have counted the names of sixty-three Fathers and eminent Ecclesiastical writers flourishing between the first and sixth century all of whom proclaim the Real Presence—some by explaining the mystery, others by thanking God for his inestimable gift, and others by exhorting the faithful to its worthy reception. From such a host of witnesses I can select here only a few at random.
St. Ignatius, a disciple of St. Peter, speaking of a sect called Gnostics, says: "They abstain from the Eucharist and prayer, because they confess not that the Eucharist and prayer is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ."
St. Justin Martyr, in an apology to the Emperor Antoninus, writes in the second century: "We do not receive these things as common bread and drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior was made flesh by the word of God, even so we have been taught that the Eucharist is both the flesh and the blood of the same incarnate Jesus."
Origen (third century) writes: "If thou wilt go up with Christ to celebrate the Passover, He will give to thee that bread of benediction, His own body, and will vouchsafe to thee His own blood."
St. Cyril, of Jerusalem (fourth century), instructing the Catechumens, observes: "He Himself having declared, This is My body, who shall dare to doubt henceforward? And He having said, This is My blood, who shall ever doubt, saying: This is not His blood? He once at Cana turned water into wine, which is akin to blood; and is He undeserving of belief when He turned wine into blood?" He seems to be arguing with modern unbelief.
St. John Chrysostom, who died in the beginning of the fifth century, preaching on the Eucharist, says: "If thou wert indeed incorporeal, He would have delivered to thee those same incorporeal gifts without covering. But since the soul is united to the body, He delivers to thee in things perceptible to the senses the things to be apprehended by the understanding. How many nowadays say: 'Would that they could look upon His (Jesus') form, His figure, His raiment, His shoes. Lo! thou seest Him, touchest Him, eatest Him.' "
St. Augustine (fifth century), addressing the newly-baptized, says: "I promised you a discourse wherein I would explain the sacrament of the Lord's table, which sacrament you even now behold, and of which you were last night made partakers. You ought to know what you have received. The bread which you see on the altar, after being sanctified by the word of God, is the body of Christ. That chalice, after being sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ."(376)
But why multiply authorities? At the present day every Christian communion throughout the world, with the sole exception of Protestants, proclaim its belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament.
The Nestorians and Eutychians, who separated from the Catholic Church in the fifth century, admit the corporeal presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Such also is the faith of the Greek church, which seceded from us a thousand years ago, of the Present Russian church, of the schismatic Copts, the Syrians, Chaldeans, Armenians, and, in short, of all the Oriental sects no longer in communion with the See of Rome.
COMMUNION UNDER ONE KIND.
Our Savior gave communion under both forms of bread and wine to His Apostles at the last Supper. Officiating Bishops and Priests are always required, except on Good Friday, to communicate under both kinds. But even the clergy of every rank, including the Pope, receive only of the consecrated bread unless when they celebrate Mass.
The Church teaches that Christ is contained whole and entire under each species; so that whoever communicates under the form of bread or of wine receives not a mutilated Sacrament or a divided Savior, but shares in the whole Sacrament as fully as if he participated in both forms. Hence, the layman who receives the consecrated Bread partakes as copiously of the body and blood of Christ as the officiating Priest who receives both consecrated elements.
Our Lord says: "I am the living bread which came down from Heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world.... He that eateth Me the same also shall live by Me. He that eateth this bread shall live forever."(377)
From this passage it is evident that whoever partakes of the form of bread partakes of the living flesh of Jesus Christ, which is inseparable from His blood, and which, being now in a glorious state, cannot be divided; for, "Christ rising from the dead, dieth now no more."(378) Our Lord, in His words quoted, makes no reference to the sacramental cup, but only to the Eucharistic bread, to which He ascribes all the efficacy which is attached to communion under both kinds, viz., union with Him, spiritual life, eternal salvation.
St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says: "Whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord."(379) The Apostle here plainly declares that, by an unworthy participation in the Lord's Supper, under the form of either bread or wine, we profane both the body and the blood of Christ. How could this be so, unless Christ is entirely contained under each species? So forcibly, indeed, did the Apostle assert the Catholic doctrine that the Protestant translators have perverted the text by rendering it: "Whosoever shall eat this bread and drink the chalice," substituting and for or, in contradiction to the Greek original, of which the Catholic version is an exact translation.
It is also the received doctrine of the Fathers that the Eucharist is contained in all its integrity either in the consecrated bread or in the chalice. St. Augustine, who may be taken as a sample of the rest, says that "each one receives Christ the Lord entire under each particle."(380)
Luther himself, even after his revolt, was so clearly convinced of this truth that he was an uncompromising advocate of communion under one kind. "If any Council," he says, "should decree or permit both species, we would by no means acquiesce; but, in spite of the Council and its statute, we would use one form, or neither, and never both."(381)
Leibnitz, the eminent Protestant divine, observes: "It cannot be denied that Christ is received entire by virtue of concomitance, under each species; nor is His flesh separated from His blood."(382)
As the same virtue is contained in the Sacrament, whether administered in one or both forms, the faithful gain nothing by receiving under both kinds, and lose nothing by receiving under one form. Consequently, we nowhere find our Savior requiring the communion to be administered to the faithful under both forms; but He has left this matter to be regulated by the wisdom and discretion of the Church, as He has done with regard to the manner of administering Baptism.
Our Redeemer, it is true, has said: "Drink ye all of this." But it should be remembered that these words were addressed not to the people at large, but only to the Apostles, who alone were also commanded, on the same occasion, to consecrate His body and blood in remembrance of Him. Now we have no more right to infer that the faithful are obliged to drink of the cup, because the Apostles were commanded to drink of it, than we have to suppose that the laity are required or allowed to consecrate the bread and wine, because the power of doing so was at the last Supper conferred on the Apostles.
It is true also that our Lord said to the people: "Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye shall not have life in you." But this command is literally fulfilled by the laity when they partake of the consecrated bread, which, as we have seen, contains Christ the Lord in all His integrity. Hence, if our Savior has said: "Whoso eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, hath everlasting life," He has also said: "The bread which I will give is My flesh, for the life of the world."
It seems to me that the charge of withholding the cup comes with very bad grace from Protestant teachers, who destroy the whole intrinsic virtue of the Sacrament by giving to their followers nothing but bread and wine. The difference between them and us lies in this—that under one form we give the substance, while they under two forms confessedly give only the shadow.
In examining the history of the Church on the subject we find that up to the twelfth century communion was sometimes distributed in one form, sometimes in another, commonly in both.
First—St. Luke tells us that the converts of Jerusalem "were persevering in the doctrine of the Apostles, and in the communion of bread (as the Eucharist was sometimes familiarly called), and in prayer."(383) Again he speaks of the Christian disciples assembled at Troas on the Lord's day, "to break bread."(384) We are led to conclude from these passages that the Apostles sometimes distributed the communion in the form of bread alone, as no reference is made to the cup.
It was certainly the custom to carry to the sick only the consecrated Host. Surely if there is any period of life when nothing should be neglected which conduces to salvation it is the time of approaching death. Eusebius tells us that the aged Serapion received only the Sacred Bread at the hands of the Priest. In the Life of St. Ambrose we are told that in his last illness the consecrated Host alone was given to Him.
The Christians in time of persecution, confessors of the faith confined in prison, travellers on their journey, soldiers before engaging in battle and hermits living in the desert were permitted to keep with them and to fortify themselves with the consecrated Bread—as Tertullian, Cyprian, Basil, Ambrose and other Fathers of the Church testify.
Moreover, the Mass of the Presanctified, celebrated in the Latin church on Good Friday only, and in the Greek church on every day in Lent, except Saturdays and Sundays, the officiating Priest receives the consecrated Bread alone.(385)
In all these instances the communicants never doubted that they received the Lord's Supper in its integrity. Surely the conscientious guides of the faith would sooner withhold altogether the Sacred Host from their flocks than permit them to partake of a mutilated Sacrament.
Second—In the primitive days of the Church the Holy Communion used to be imparted to infants, but only in the form of wine. The Priest dipped his finger in the consecrated chalice and gave it to be sucked by the infant. This custom prevails to this day among the schismatic Christians of all Oriental rites. In some instances the Sacred Host, saturated in the cup, is given to the child.(386)
Third—Public Communion was, indeed, usually administered in the first ages under both forms. The faithful, however, had the privilege of dispensing with the cup and of partaking only of the bread until the time of Pope Gelasius, in the fifth century, when this general, but hitherto optional, practice of receiving under both kinds was enforced as a law for the following reason:
The Manichean sect abstained from the cup on the erroneous assumption that the use of wine was sinful. Pope Gelasius, in order to detect and condemn the error of those sectaries, left it no longer optional with the faithful to receive under one or both forms, but ordained that all should communicate under both kinds.
This law continued in force for several ages, but towards the thirteenth century, for various causes, it had gradually grown into disuse, with the tacit approval of the Church. The Council of Constance, which convened in 1414, established a law requiring the faithful to communicate under the form of bread only; and in taking this step, the Council was actuated both by reasons of propriety and of religion.
The wide-spread diffusion of Christianity throughout the world had rendered it very difficult to supply all the faithful with the consecrated wine. Such inconvenience is scarcely felt by Protestant communicants, whose numbers are limited and who ordinarily communicate only on certain Sundays of each month. The Catholics of the world, on the contrary, number about three hundred millions; and as communion is administered to some of the faithful almost every day in most of our churches and chapels, and as the annual communions in every parish church are generally at least twice as numerous as its aggregate Catholic population, the sum total of annual communions throughout the globe may be estimated in round numbers at not less than five hundred millions. What effort would be required to procure altar-wine for such a multitude? In my missionary journeys through North Carolina I have often found it no easy task to provide for the celebration of Mass a sufficiency of pure wine, which is essential for the validity of the sacrifice. This embarrassment would be increased beyond measure if the cup had to be extended to the laity, and still more in the coal regions, where the cultivation of the grape is unknown and where imported wine is exclusively used.(387)
It would be very distasteful, besides, for so many communicants to drink successively out of the same chalice, which would be unavoidable if the Sacrament were administered in both forms. In our larger churches, where communion is distributed every Sunday to hundreds, there would be great danger of spilling a portion of the consecrated chalice and of thus exposing it to profanation.
But above all, as the Church in the fifth century, through her chief Pastor, Gelasius, enforced the use of the cup to expose and reprobate the error of the Manichees, who imagined that the use of wine was sinful; so in the fifteenth century she withdrew the cup to condemn the novelties of the Calixtines, who taught that the consecrated wine was necessary for a valid communion. Should circumstances ever justify or demand a change from the present discipline the Church will not hesitate to restore the cup to the laity.
THE SACRIFICE OF THE MASS.
Sacrifice is the oblation or offering made to God of some sensible object, with the destruction or change of the object, to denote that God is the Author of life and death. Thus, in the Old Law, before the coming of Christ, when the Hebrew people wished to offer sacrifice to God they took a lamb or some other animal, which they slew and burned its flesh, acknowledging by this act that the Lord was the supreme Master of life and death. The ancients offered to God two kinds of sacrifices, viz., living creatures, such as bulls, lambs and birds; and inanimate objects, such as wheat and barley, and, in general, the first fruits of the earth.
All nations—whether Jews, idolaters or Christians, except Mahometans and modern Protestants—have made sacrifice their principal act of worship. If you go back to the very dawn of creation, you will find the children of Adam offering sacrifices to God. Abel offered to the Lord the firstlings of his flock, and Cain offered of the fruits of the earth.(388)
When Noe and his family are rescued from the deluge which had spread over the face of the earth his first act on issuing from the ark, when the waters disappear, is to offer holocausts to the Lord, in thanksgiving for his preservation.(389) Abraham, the great father of the Jewish race, offered victims to the Almighty at His express command.(390) We read that Job was accustomed to offer holocausts to the Lord, to propitiate His favor in behalf of his children, and to obtain forgiveness for the sins they might have committed.(391)
When Jehovah delivered to Moses the written law on Mount Sinai He gave His servant the most minute details with regard to all the ceremonies to be observed in the sacrifices which were to be offered to Him. He prescribed the kind of victims to be immolated, the qualifications of the Priests who were to minister at the altar, and the place and manner in which the victims were to be offered. Hence, it was the custom of the Jewish Priests to slay every day two lambs as a sacrifice to God,(392) and in doing this they were prefiguring the great sacrifice of the New Law, in which we daily offer up on the altar "the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world."
In a word, in all their public calamities—whenever they were threatened by their enemies; whenever they were about to engage in war; whenever they were visited by any plague or pestilence—the Jews had recourse to God by solemn sacrifices. Like the Catholic Church of the present day, they had sacrifices not only for the living, but also for the dead; for we read in Sacred Scripture that Judas Machabeus ordered sacrifice to be offered up for the souls of his men who were slain in battle.(393)
We find sacrifices existing not only among the Jews, who worshiped the true God, but also among Pagan and idolatrous nations. No matter how confused, imperfect or erroneous was their knowledge of the Deity, the Pagan nations retained sufficient vestiges of primitive tradition to admonish them of their obligation of appeasing the anger and invoking the blessings of the Divinity by victims and sacrifices. Plutarch, an ancient writer of the second century, says of these heathen people: "You may find cities without walls, without literature and without the arts and sciences of civilized life; but you will never find a city without Priests and altars, or which has not sacrifices offered to the gods."
The Indians of our own country were accustomed to offer sacrifice to the Great Spirit, as Father Jogues and other pioneer missionaries inform us. But all those ancient sacrifices were only the types and figures of the great Sacrifice of the New Law, from which they derived all their efficacy, just as the Old Law itself was the type of the New Law of grace. Since the ancient sacrifices were but figures and shadows, they were imperfect and insufficient; for "it is impossible," says St. Paul, "that by the blood of oxen and of goats sins should be taken away. Wherefore, when He (Jesus) cometh into the world, He saith: Sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldst not, but a body Thou hast fitted to me. Holocausts for sin did not please Thee. Then said I: Behold, I come."(394) As if He should say: The blood of oxen and of goats is not sufficient to appease Thy vengeance, and to cleanse Thy people from their sins; therefore I come, that I may offer Myself an acceptable sacrifice for the sins of the world.
The Prophet Isaiah declared that the Jewish sacrifices had become displeasing to God and would be abolished. "To what purpose," says the Lord by His prophet, "do you offer Me the multitude of your victims?... I desire not holocausts of rams, ... and blood of calves and lambs and buck-goats ... Offer sacrifice no more in vain."(395)
But did God, in rejecting the Jewish oblations, intend to abolish sacrifices altogether? By no means. On the contrary, He clearly predicts, by the mouth of the Prophet Malachias, that the immolations of the Jews would be succeeded by a clean victim, which would be offered up not on a single altar, as was the case in Jerusalem, but in every part of the known world. Listen to the significant words addressed to the Jews by this prophet: "I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For, from the rising of the sun, even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to My name a clean oblation; for My Name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord of hosts."(396) The prophet here clearly foretells that an acceptable oblation would be offered to God not by Jews, but by Gentiles; not merely in Jerusalem, but in every place from the rising to the setting of the sun. These prophetic words must have been fulfilled. Where shall we find the fulfilment of the prophecy?
We may divide the inhabitants of the world into five different classes of people, professing different forms of religion—Pagans, Jews, Mohammedans, Protestants and Catholics. Among which of these shall we find the clean oblation of which the prophet speaks? Not among the Pagan nations; for they worship false gods, and consequently cannot have any sacrifice pleasing to the Almighty. Not among the Jews; for they have ceased to sacrifice altogether, and the words of the prophet apply not to the Jews, but to the Gentiles. Not among the Mohammedans; for they also reject sacrifices. Not among any of the Protestant sects; for they all distinctly repudiate sacrifices. Therefore, it is only in the Catholic Church that is fulfilled this glorious prophecy; for whithersoever you go, you will find the clean oblation offered on Catholic altars. If you travel from America to Europe, to Oceanica, to Africa, or Asia, you will see our altars erected, and our Priests daily fulfilling the words of the prophets by offering the "clean oblation" of the body and blood of Christ.
This oblation of the New Law is commonly called Mass. The word Mass is derived by some from the Hebrew term Missach (Deut. xvi.), which means a free offering. Others derive it from the word Missa, which the Priest uses when he announces to the congregation that Divine Service is over. It is an expression indelibly marked on our English tongue from the origin of our language, and we find it embodied in such words as Candlemas, Michaelmas, Martin-mas and Christmas.
The sacrifice of the Mass is the consecration of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ, and the oblation of this body and blood to God, by the ministry of the Priest, for a perpetual memorial of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. The Sacrifice of the Mass is identical with that of the cross, both having the same victim and High Priest—Jesus Christ.
The only difference consists in the manner of the oblation. Christ was offered up on the cross in a bloody manner, and in the Mass He is offered up in an unbloody manner. On the cross He purchased our ransom, and in the Eucharistic Sacrifice the price of that ransom is applied to our souls. Hence, all the efficacy of the Mass is derived from the sacrifice of Calvary.
It was on the night before He suffered that our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the Sacrifice of the New Law. "Jesus," says St. Paul, "the night in which He was betrayed took bread, and, giving thanks, broke and said: Take ye and eat; this is My body which shall be delivered for you. This do for the commemoration of Me. In like manner also the chalice, after He had supped, saying: This chalice is the new testament in My blood. This do ye, as often as you shall drink, for the commemoration of Me; for as often as ye shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, ye shall show the death of the Lord until He come."(397)
From these words we learn that the principal motive which our Savior had in view in instituting the Sacrifice of the Altar was to keep us in perpetual remembrance of His sufferings and death. He wished that the scene of Calvary should ever appear in panoramic view before our eyes, and that our heart, memory and intellect should be filled with the thoughts of His Passion. He knew well that this would be the best means of winning our love and exciting sorrow for sin in our soul; therefore, He designed that in every church throughout the world an altar should be erected, to serve as a monument of His mercies to His people, as the children of Israel erected a monument, on crossing the Jordan, to commemorate His mercies to His chosen people. The Mass is truly the memorial service of Christ's Passion.
In compliance with the command of our Lord the adorable Sacrifice of the Altar has been daily renewed in the Church, from the death of our Savior till the present time, and will be perpetuated till time shall be no more.
In the Acts it is said that while Saul and others were ministering (or, as the Greek text expresses it, sacrificing) to the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Spirit said to them: "Set apart for Me Saul and Barnabas." St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, frequently alludes to the Sacrifice of the Mass. "We have an altar," he says, ""whereof they cannot eat who serve the tabernacle."(398) The Apostle here plainly declares that the Christian church has its altars as well as the Jewish synagogue. An altar necessarily supposes a sacrifice, without which it has no meaning. The Apostle also observes that the priesthood of the New Law was substituted for that of the Old Law.(399) Now, the principal office of Priests has always been to offer sacrifice. Priest and sacrifice are as closely identified as judge and court.
St. Paul, after David, calls Jesus "a Priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedech."(400) He is named a Priest because He offers sacrifice; a Priest forever because His sacrifice is perpetual; according to the order of Melchisedech because He offers up consecrated bread and wine, which were prefigured by the bread and wine offered by "Melchisedech, the Priest of the Most High God."(401)
Tradition, with its hundred tongues, proclaims the perpetual oblation of the Sacrifice of the Mass, from the time of the Apostles to our own days. If we consult the Fathers of the Church, who have stood like faithful sentinels on the watch-towers of Israel, guarding with a jealous eye the deposit of faith, and who have been the faithful witnesses of their own times and the recorders of the past; if we consult the General Councils, at which were assembled the venerable hierarchy of Christendom, they will all tell us, with one voice, that the Sacrifice of the Mass is the centre of their religion and the acknowledged institution of Jesus Christ.
Another remarkable evidence in favor of the Divine institution of the Mass is furnished by the Nestorians and Eutychians, who separated from the Catholic Church in the fifth century, and who still exist in Persia and in other parts of the East, as well as by the Greek schismatics, who severed their connection with the Church in the ninth century. All these sects, as well as the numerous others scattered over the East, retain to this day the oblation of the Mass in their daily service. As these Christian communities have had no communication with the Catholic Church since the period of their separation from her, they could not, of course, have borrowed from her the doctrine of the Eucharistic Sacrifice; consequently they must have received it from the same source from which the Church derived it, viz., from the Apostles themselves.
But of all proofs in favor of the Apostolic origin of the Sacrifice of the Mass, the most striking and the most convincing is found in the Liturgies of the Church. The Liturgy is the established Ritual of the Church. It is the collection of the authorized prayers of divine worship. These prayers are fixed and immovable. Among others we have the Liturgy of Jerusalem, ascribed to the Apostle St. James; the Liturgy of Alexandria, attributed to St. Mark the Evangelist, and the Liturgy of Rome, referred to St. Peter. There are various other Liturgies accredited to the Apostles or to their immediate successors. Now I wish to call your attention to this remarkable fact, that all these Liturgies, though compiled by different persons, at different times, in various places, and in divers languages, contain, without exception, in clear and precise language, the prayers to be said at the celebration of Mass; prayers in substance the same as those found in our prayer books at the Canon of the Mass.
We cannot account for this wonderful uniformity except by supposing that the doctrine respecting the Mass was received by the Apostles from the common fountain of Christianity—Jesus Christ Himself.
It was such facts as these that opened the eyes of those eminent English divines who, during the present century, have abandoned heresy and schism and rich preferments and who have embraced the Catholic faith, though, by taking such a step, they had to sacrifice all that was dear to them on earth.
The following passages from St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews are sometimes urged as an argument against the sacrifice of the Mass: "Christ, ... neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by His own blood, entered once into the Holies, having obtained eternal redemption." "Nor yet that He should offer Himself often, as the High Priest entereth into the Holies every year."(402) Again: "Every Priest standeth, indeed, daily ministering, and often offering the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins, but this Man, offering one sacrifice for sin, forever sitteth at the right hand of God."(403)
St. Paul says that Jesus was offered once. How, then, can we offer Him daily? I answer, that Jesus was offered once in a bloody manner, and it is of this sacrifice that the Apostle speaks. But in the Sacrifice of the Mass He is offered up in an unbloody manner. Though He is daily offered on ten thousand altars, the Sacrifice is the same as that of Calvary, having the same High Priest and victim—Jesus Christ. The object of St. Paul is to contrast the Sacrifice of the New Law, which has only one victim, with the sacrifices of the Old Law, where the victims were many; and to show the insufficiency of the ancient sacrifices and the all-sufficiency of the Sacrifice of the new dispensation.
But if the sacrifice of the cross is all-sufficient what need then, you will say, is there of a commemorative Sacrifice of the Mass? I would ask a Protestant in return, Why do you pray, and go to church, and why were you baptized, and receive Communion, and the rite of Confirmation? What is the use of all these exercises, if the sacrifice of the cross is all-sufficient? You will tell me that in all these acts you apply to yourself the merits of Christ's Passion. I will tell you, in like manner, that in the Sacrifice of the Mass I apply to myself the merits of the sacrifice of the cross, from which the Mass derives all its efficacy. Christ, indeed, by His death made full atonement for our sins, but He has not released us from the obligation of co-operating with Him by applying His merits to our souls. What better or more efficacious way can we have of participating in His merits than by assisting at the Sacrifice of the Altar, where we vividly recall to mind His sufferings, where Calvary is represented before us, where "we show the death of the Lord until He come," and where we draw abundantly to our souls the fruit of His Passion by drinking of the same blood that was shed on the cross?
In the Old Law there were different kinds of sacrifices offered up for different purposes. There were sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God for His benefits, sacrifices of propitiation to implore His forgiveness for the sins of the people, and sacrifices of supplication to ask His blessing and protection. The Sacrifice of the Mass fulfils all these ends. It is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, a sacrifice of propitiation and of supplication; hence that valued book, the "Following of Christ," says: "When a Priest celebrates Mass he honors God, he rejoices the angels, he edifies the church, he helps the living, he obtains rest for the dead, and makes himself a partaker of all that is good." To form an adequate idea of the efficiency of the Divine Sacrifice of the Mass we have only to bear in mind the Victim that is offered—Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
First—The Mass is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. If all human beings in this world, and all living creatures, and all inanimate objects were collected and burned as a holocaust to the Lord, they would not confer as much praise on the Almighty as a single Eucharistic sacrifice. These earthly creatures—how numerous and excellent soever—are finite and imperfect; while the offering made in the Mass is of infinite value, for it is our Lord Jesus, the acceptable Lamb without blemish, the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased, and who "is always heard on account of His reverence."
With what awe and grateful love should we assist at this Sacrifice! The angels were present at Calvary. Angels are present also at the Mass. If we cannot assist with the seraphic love and rapt attention of the angelic spirits, let us worship, at least, with the simple devotion of the shepherds of Bethlehem and the unswerving faith of the Magi. Let us offer to our God the golden gift of a heart full of love and the incense of our praise and adoration, repeating often during the holy oblation the words of the Psalmist: "The mercies of the Lord I will sing forever."
Second—The Mass is also a sacrifice of propitiation. Jesus daily pleads our cause in this Divine oblation before our Heavenly Father. "If any man sin," says St. John, "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just; and He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."(404) Hence the Priest, whenever he offers up the holy sacrifice, recites this prayer at the offertory: "Receive, O holy Father, almighty, eternal God, this immaculate victim which I, Thy unworthy servant, offer to Thee, my living and true God, for my innumerable sins, offences and negligences, for all here present, and for all the faithful living and dead, that it may avail me and them to life everlasting."
Whenever, therefore, we assist at Mass let us unite with Jesus Christ in imploring the mercy of God for our sins. Let us represent to ourselves the Mass as another Calvary, which it is in reality. Like Mary, let us stand in spirit beneath the cross, and let our souls be pierced with grief for our transgressions. Let us acknowledge that our sins were the cause of that agony and of the shedding of that precious blood. Let us follow in mind and heart that crowd of weeping penitents who accompanied our Savior to Calvary, striking their breasts, and let us say: "Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people." Or let us repeat with the publican this heartfelt prayer: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." At the death of Jesus the sun was darkened, the earth trembled, the very rocks were rent, as if to show that even inanimate nature sympathized with the sufferings of its God. And should not we tremble for our sins? Should not our hearts, though cold and hard as rocks, be softened at the spectacle of our God suffering for love of us, and in expiation for our offences?
Third—The Sacrifice of the Mass is, in fine, a sacrifice of supplication: "For, if the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of a heifer being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled to the cleansing of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who, through the Holy Ghost, offered himself without spot to God, cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"(405) If the prayers of Moses and David and the Patriarchs were so powerful in behalf of God's servants, what must be the influence of Jesus' intercession? If the wounds of the Martyrs plead so eloquently for us, how much more eloquent is the blood of Jesus shed daily upon our altars? His blood cries louder for mercy than the blood of Abel cried for vengeance. If God inclines His ear to us miserable sinners, how can He resist the pleadings in our behalf of the "Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world."
"Let us go, therefore, with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid."(406)
THE USE OF RELIGIOUS CEREMONIES DICTATED BY RIGHT REASON.
By religious ceremonies we mean certain expressive signs and actions which the Church has ordained for the worthy celebration of the Divine service.
True devotion must be interior and come from the heart, for "the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father indeed seeketh such to worship Him. God is a spirit; and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."(407) But we are not to infer from this that exterior worship is to be contemned because interior worship is prescribed as essential. On the contrary, the rites and ceremonies enjoined in the worship of God and the administration of the Sacraments are dictated by right reason, are sanctioned by Almighty God in the Old Law, and by Christ and His Apostles in the New.
The angels, being pure spirits without a body, render to God a purely spiritual worship. The sun, moon and stars of the firmament pay Him a kind of external homage. In the Prophet Daniel we read: "Sun and moon bless the Lord, ... stars of heaven bless the Lord, praise and exalt Him above all forever."(408) "The heavens show forth the glory of God, the firmament announces the work of His hands."(409) Man, by possessing a soul of spiritual substance, partakes of the nature of angels, and by possessing a body partakes of the nature of the heavenly bodies. It is therefore, his privilege, as well as his duty, to offer to God the twofold homage of body and soul; in other words, to honor Him by internal and external worship.
Genuine piety cannot long be concealed in the heart without manifesting itself by exterior practices of religion; hence, though interior and exterior worship are distinct, they cannot be separated in the present life. Fire cannot burn without sending forth flame and heat. Neither can the fire of devotion burn in the soul without being reflected on the countenance and even in speech. It is natural for man to express his sentiments by signs and ceremonies, for "from the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh;" and as fuel is necessary to keep fire alive, even so the flame of piety is nourished by the outward forms of religion.
A devoted child will not be content with loving his father in his heart, but will manifest that love by affectionate language, and by the service of his body, if necessary. So will the child of God show his affection for his heavenly Father not only by interior devotion, but also by the homage of his body. "I beseech you," says the Apostle, "by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies, a living sacrifice, holy pleasing unto God, your reasonable service."(410)
The fruit of a tree does not consist in its bark, its leaves and its branches. Nevertheless, you never saw a tree bearing fruit unless when clothed with bark, adorned with branches and covered with leaves. These are necessary for the protection of the fruit. In like manner, though the fruit of piety does not consist in exterior forms, it must, however, be fostered by some outward observances or it will soon decay. There is as close a relation between devotion and ceremonial as exists between the bark and the fruit of a tree.
The man who daily bends his knee to the Maker, who recites or sings His praises, who devoutly makes the sign of the cross, who assists without constraint at the public services of the Church, who observes an exterior decorum in the house of God, who gives to the needy according to his means and duly attends to the other practices and ceremonies of religion, will generally be one whose heart is united to God, and who yields to Him a ready obedience. Show me, on the contrary, a man who habitually neglects these outward observances of religion and charity, and I will show you one in whose soul the fire of devotion, if not quite extinguished, at least burns very faintly.
The ceremonies of the Church not only render divine service more solemn, but also rivet our attention and lift it up to God. Our mind is so active, so volatile, so full of distractions, our imagination so fickle, that we have need of some external objects on which to fix our thoughts.
Almighty God considered ceremonial so indispensable to interior worship that we find Him in the Old Law prescribing in minute detail the various rites, ceremonies and ordinances to be observed by the Jewish Priests and people in their public worship. What is the entire book of Leviticus but an elaborate ritual of the Jewish church. Not, indeed, that external rites are to be compared in merit with interior worship, but because they are as necessary for nourishing internal devotion as food is necessary for our animal life.
Our Savior, though He came to establish a more spiritual religion than that of the Hebrew people, did not discard the outward forms of worship. He was accustomed to accompany His religious acts by appropriate ceremonies.
In the garden of Gethsemani "He fell upon His face"(411) in humble supplication.
He went in procession to Jerusalem, accompanied by a great multitude, who sang Hosanna to the Son of David.(412)
At the Last Supper He invoked a blessing on the bread and wine, and afterward chanted a hymn with His disciples.(413)
When the deaf and dumb man was brought to Him, before healing Him, He put His fingers into his ears and touched his tongue with spittle, "and, looking up to heaven, He groaned and said: Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened."(414)
When He imparted the Holy Ghost to His disciples, He breathed on them(415) and the same Apostles afterward communicated the Holy Ghost to others by laying hands on them.(416)
The Apostle St. James directs that if any man is sick he shall call in the Priest, who will anoint him with oil.(417)
Now, are not all these acts which I have just recorded—the prostration and procession, the prayerful invocation, the chanting of a hymn, the touching of the ears, the lifting up of the eyes to heaven, the breathing on the Apostles, the laying on of hands and the unction of the sick—are not all these acts so many ceremonies serving as models to those which the Catholic Church employs in her public worship, and in the administration of her Sacraments?
The ceremonies now accompanying our public worship are, indeed, usually more impressive and elaborate than those recorded of our Savior; but it is quite natural that the majesty of ceremonial should keep pace with the growth and development of Christianity.
But where shall we find a ritual so gorgeous as that presented to us in the Book of Revelation, which is descriptive of the worship of God in the heavenly Jerusalem? Angels with golden censers stand before the throne, while elders cast their crowns of gold before the Lamb once slain. Then that unnumbered multitude of all nations, tongues and people, clothed in white raiment, bearing palms of victory. Virgins, too, with harp and canticle, follow near the Lamb, singing the new song which they alone can utter.(418)
How glorious the pageant! How elaborate in detail!
Surely there ought to be some analogy and resemblance, some proportion and harmony between the public worship which is paid to God in the Church militant on earth, and that which is offered to Him in the Church triumphant in heaven.
Strange would it be if God, who, in the dispensation past and that to come, is seen delighting in external majesty, should have deprived the Christian Church (the living link between the past and the future) of all external glory. "For," as St. Paul says, "if the ministry of condemnation is glory, much more the ministry of justice aboundeth in glory."(419)
It is true that God uttered this complaint against the children of Israel: "This people draw near Me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me."(420) It is also true that He was displeased with their sacrifices and religious festivals.(421) But He blamed them not because they praised Him with their voice, but because their hearts felt not what their lips uttered. He rejected their sacrifices because they were not accompanied by the more precious sacrifice of a penitent spirit.
The same Lord who declares that the true adorer shall adore the Father in spirit commands also that public praise be given to Him in His holy temple: "Praise ye the Lord," He says, "in His holy places.... Praise Him with sound of trumpet. Praise Him with psaltery and harp. Praise Him with timbrel and choir. Praise Him with strings and organs."(422)
If He says in one place: "Rend your hearts and not your garments,"(423) immediately after He adds: "Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather together the people, sanctify the Church.... Between the porch and the altar the Priests, the Lord's ministers, shall weep and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare Thy people!"(424) The Prophet first points out the absolute necessity of interior sorrow and contrition of heart, and then he insists on the duty of performing some acts of expiation, penance and humiliation, as you do when you have your forehead marked with ashes on Ash Wednesday, and when you observe the fast and abstinence of Lent.
When St. Paul says that though he speak with the tongues of angels and of men, and distribute all his goods to feed the poor, and deliver his body to be burned, and have not the love of God, it profiteth him nothing,(425) he points out the necessity of interior worship. And when he says elsewhere that "in the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those that are in heaven, on earth and under the earth,"(426) he shows us the duty of exterior or ceremonial worship.
When political leaders desire to influence the masses in their favor they are not content with addressing themselves to the intellect. They appeal also to the feelings and imagination. They have torchlight processions, accompanied by soul-stirring music discoursing popular airs. They have flags and banners floating in the breeze. They have public meetings, at which they deliver patriotic speeches to arouse the enthusiasm of the people.
What these men do for political reasons the Church performs from the higher motives of religion. Therefore, she has her solemn processions. She has her heavenly music to soften the heart and raise it to God. She consecrates her sacred banners, especially the cross, the banner of salvation. She preaches with a hundred tongues, speaking not only to our head and heart by the Word of God, but to our feelings and imagination by her grand and imposing ceremonial.
CEREMONIALS OF THE MASS.
Let us now, dear reader, walk together into a Catholic Church in time to assist at the late Mass, which is the most solemn service of the Catholic Liturgy. Meantime, I shall endeavor to explain to you the principal objects which attract your attention.
As we enter I dip my fingers into a vase placed at the church door, and filled with holy water, and I make the sign of the cross, praying at the same time to be purified from all defilement, so that with a clean heart I may worship in God's holy temple.
The Church, through her ministers, blesses everything used in her service; for, St. Paul says, that "Every creature of God is good, ... that is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer."(427)
Before Mass begins the Priest sprinkles the assembled congregation with holy water, reciting at the same time these words of the fiftieth Psalm: "Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall be made whiter than snow."
The practice of using blessed water dates back to a very remote antiquity, and is alluded to by several Fathers of the primitive Church.
As we advance up the aisle you observe lying open on the altar a large book, which is called a Missal, or Mass-book, because it contains the prayers said at Mass. The office of the Mass consists of selections from the Old and the New Testament, the Canon and other appropriate prayers. The Canon of the Mass never varies throughout the year, and descends to us from the first ages of the Church with scarcely the addition of a word. Nearly all the collects are also very old, many of them dating back to a period prior to the seventh century. I am acquainted with no prayers that can compare with the collects of the Missal in earnestness and vigor of language, in conciseness of style and unction of piety. It is evident that their authors were men who felt what they said and were filled with the spirit of God, despising "the persuasive words of human wisdom," unlike so many modern prayer-composers whose rounded periods are directed rather to tickle the ears of men than to pierce the clouds.
You are probably familiar with the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, and have no doubt admired its beautiful simplicity of diction. But perhaps you will be surprised when I inform you that this Prayer-Book is for the most part a translation from our Missal.
Let us now reverently follow the officiating Priest through the service of the Mass.
You see him advance from the sacristy and stand at the foot of the altar, where he makes an humble confession of his sins to God and His saints. He then ascends the altar, and nine times the Divine clemency is invoked in the Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison. He intones the sublime doxology, Gloria in Excelsis Deo, sings the collects of the day, reads the Lesson or Epistle and chants the Gospel, after which the sermon is usually preached. Next he recites the Nicene Creed, which for upwards of fifteen centuries has been resounding in the churches of Christendom. Then you perceive him making the oblation of the bread and wine. He washes the tips of his fingers, reciting the words of the Psalmist: "I will wash my hands among the innocent and will encompass Thy altar, O Lord." He is admonished, by this ceremony, to be free from the least stain, in view of the sacred act he is going to perform. The Preface and Canon follow, including the solemn words of consecration, during which the bread and wine are changed by the power of Jesus Christ into His body and blood. He proceeds with other prayers, including the best of all, the Our Father, as far as the Communion, when he partakes of the consecrated Bread and chalice, giving the Holy Communion afterward to such as are prepared to receive it. He continues the Mass, gives his blessing to the kneeling congregation, and concludes with the opening words of the sublime Gospel of St. John.
Here you have not merely a number of prayers strung together, but you witness a scene which rivets pious attention and warms the heart into fervent devotion. You participate in an act of worship worthy of God, to whom it is offered.
But you are anxious that I should explain to you the reason why the Mass is said in Latin. When Christianity was first established the Roman Empire ruled the destinies of the world. Pagan Rome had dominion over nearly all Europe and large portions of Asia and Africa. The Latin was the language of the Empire. Wherever the Roman standard was planted, there also was spread the Latin tongue; just as at the present time the English language is spoken wherever the authority of Great Britain or of the United States is established.
The Church naturally adopted in her Liturgy, or public worship, the language which she then found prevailing among the people. The Fathers of the early Church generally wrote in the Latin tongue, which thus became the depository of the treasures of sacred literature in the Church.
In the fifth century came the disruption of the Roman Empire. New kingdoms began to be formed in Europe out of the ruins of the old empire. The Latin gradually ceased to be a living tongue among the people, and new languages commenced to spring up like so many shoots from the parent stock. The Church, however, retained in her Liturgy, and in the administration of the Sacraments, the Latin language for very wise reasons, some of which I shall briefly mention:
First—The Catholic Church has always one and the same faith, the same form of public worship, the same spiritual government. As her doctrine and liturgy are unchangeable, she wishes that the language of her Liturgy should be fixed and uniform. Faith may be called the jewel, and language is the casket which contains it. So careful is the Church of preserving the jewel intact that she will not disturb even the casket in which it is set. Living tongues, unlike a dead language, are continually changing in words and meaning. The English language as written four centuries ago would be now almost as unintelligible to an English reader as the Latin tongue. In an old Bible published in the fourteenth century St. Paul calls himself the villain of Jesus Christ. The word villain in those days meant a servant, but the term would not be complimentary now to one even less holy than the Apostle. This is but one instance, out of many which I might adduce, to show the mutations which our language has undergone. But the Latin, being a dead language, is not liable to these changes.
Second—The Catholic Church is spread over the whole world, embracing in its fold children of all climes and nations, and peoples and tongues under the sun. How, I ask, could the Bishops of these various countries communicate with one another in council if they had not one language to serve as a common medium of communication? It would be simply impossible. A church that is universal must have a universal tongue; whilst a national church, or a church whose members speak one and the same language, and whose doctrines conveniently change to suit the times, can safely adopt the vernacular tongue in its liturgy.
A few years ago a Convocation was held in England, composed of British and American Episcopal Bishops. They had no difficulty in communicating with one another because all spoke their mother tongue. But suppose they had representatives from Spain, France and Germany. The lips of those Continental Bishops would be sealed because they could not speak to their English brothers; their ears also would be sealed because they could not comprehend what was said to them.
In 1869, at the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, were assembled Bishops from all parts of the world speaking all the civilized languages of Christendom. Had those Bishops no uniform language to express their thoughts, public debates and familiar conversation among them would have been impracticable. The Council Chamber would have been a confused Babel of tongues. But, thanks to the Latin language, which they all spoke (except a few Orientals), their speeches were as plainly understood as if each had spoken in his native dialect.
Third—Moreover, the Bishops and Clergy of the Catholic Church are in frequent correspondence with the Holy See. This requires that they should communicate in one uniform language, otherwise the Pope would be compelled to employ secretaries speaking every language in Christendom.
But if the Priest says Mass in an unknown tongue, are not the people thereby kept in ignorance of what he says, and is not their time wasted in Church? We are forced to smile at such charges, which are flippantly repeated from year to year. These assertions arise from a total ignorance of the Mass. Many Protestants imagine that the essence of public worship consists in a sermon. Hence, to their minds, the primary duty of a congregation is to listen to a discourse from the pulpit. Prayer, on the contrary, according to Catholic teaching, is the most essential duty of a congregation, though they are also regularly instructed by sermons. Now, what is the Mass? It is not a sermon, but it is a sacrifice of prayer which the Priest offers up to God for himself and the people. When the Priest says Mass he is speaking not to the people, but to God, to whom all languages are equally intelligible.
The congregation, indeed, could not be expected to hear the Priest, even if he spoke in English, since his face is turned from them, and the greater part of what he says is pronounced in an undertone. And this was the system of worship God ordained in the ancient dispensation, as we learn from the Old Testament and from the first chapter of St. Luke. The Priest offered sacrifice and prayed for the people in the sanctuary, while they prayed at a distance in the court. In all the schismatic churches of the East the Priest in the public service prays not in the vulgar, but in a dead language. Such, also, is the practice in the Jewish synagogues at this day. The Rabbi reads the prayers in Hebrew, a language with which many of the congregation are not familiar.
But is it true that the people do not understand what the Priest says at Mass? Not at all. For, by the aid of an English Missal, or any other Manual, they are able to follow the officiating clergyman from the beginning to the end of the service.
You also observe lighted tapers on the altar, and you desire to know for what purpose they are used.
In the Old Law the Almighty Himself ordained that lighted chandeliers should adorn the tabernacle.(428) Assuredly, that cannot be improper in the New Dispensation which God sanctioned in the Old.
The lights upon our altars have both a historical and a symbolical meaning. In the primitive days of the Church Christianity was not tolerated by the Pagan world. The Christians were, consequently, obliged to assemble for public worship in the Catacombs of Rome and other secret places. These Catacombs, or subterranean rooms, still exist, and are objects of deep interest to the pious stranger visiting the Eternal City. As these hidden apartments did not admit the light of the sun, the faithful were obliged to have lights even in open day. In commemoration of the event the Church has retained the use of lights on her altars.
Lighted candles have also a symbolical meaning. They represent our Savior, who is "the light of the world," "who enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world," without whom we should be wandering in darkness and in the shadow of death.
They also serve to remind us to "let our light so shine before men (by our good example) that they may see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven."
Lights are used, too, as a sign of spiritual joy. St. Jerome, who lived in the fourth century, remarks: "Throughout all the Churches of the East, before the reading of the Gospel, candles are lighted at mid-day, not to dispel darkness, but as a sign of joy."
You also noticed the Priest incensing the altar. Incense is a striking emblem of prayer, which should ascend to heaven from hearts burning with love, just as the fragrant smoke ascends from the censer. "Let my prayer," says the Royal Prophet, "ascend like incense in Thy sight."(429) God enjoined in the Old Law the use of incense: "Aaron shall burn sweet-smelling incense upon the altar in the morning."(430) Hence we see the Priest Zachariah "offer incense on going into the temple of the Lord. And all the multitude were praying without at the hour of incense."(431)
You perceive that the altar is decorated today with vases and flowers because this is a festival of the Church. There is one spot on earth which can never be too richly adorned, and that is the sanctuary in which our Lord vouchsafes to dwell among us. Nothing is too good, nothing too beautiful, nothing too precious for God. He gives us all we possess, and the least we can do in return is to ornament that spot which He has chosen for His abode upon earth. The Almighty, it is true, has no need of our gifts. He is rich without them. "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof." Nevertheless, He is pleased to accept our offerings when they are bestowed upon Him as a mark of our affection, just as a father joyfully receives from his child a present bought with his own means. Our Savior gratefully accepted the treasures of the Magi, though he could have done without such gifts. Some persons, when they see our sanctuary sumptuously decorated, will exclaim: Would it not have been better to give to the poor the money spent in purchasing these things? So complained Judas (though caring not for the poor(432)) when Mary poured from an alabaster vase the precious ointment on the feet of an approving Savior. Why should not we imitate Mary by placing at His feet, around His sanctuary, our vases with their chaste and fragrant flowers, that the Church may be filled with their perfume, as Simon's house was filled with the odor of the ointment?
Does not the Almighty at certain seasons adorn with lilies and flowers of every hue this earth, which is the great temple of nature? And what is more appropriate than that we should on special occasions embellish our sanctuary, the place which He has chosen for His habitation among us? It is sweet to snatch from the field its fairest treasures wherewith to beautify the temple made with hands.
The sacred vestments which you saw worn by the officiating Priest must have struck you as very antique and out of fashion. Nor is this surprising, for if you saw a lady enter church today with a head-dress such as worn in the days of Queen Elizabeth, her appearance would look to you very singular. Now, our priestly vestments are far older in style than the days of Queen Elizabeth; much older even than the British Empire. Eusebius and other writers of the fourth century speak of them as already existing in their times. It is no wonder, therefore, that these vestments look odd to the unfamiliar eye.
In the Old Law God prescribed to the Priests the vestments which they should wear while engaged in their sacred office: "And these shall be the vestments which they shall make (for the Priest): a rational and an ephod, a tunic and a straight linen garment, a mitre and a girdle. They shall make the holy vestments for thy brother Aaron and his sons, that they may do the office of priesthood unto Me."(433) Guided by Heaven, the Church also prescribes sacred garments for her ministering Priests; for it is eminently proper and becoming that the minister of God, while engaged in the sacred mysteries, should be arrayed in garments which would constantly impress upon him his sacred character and remind him, as well as the congregation, of the sublime functions he is performing.
The vestments worn by the Priest while celebrating Mass are an amict, or white cloth around the neck; an alb, or white garment reaching to his ankles, and bound around his waist by a cincture; a maniple suspended from his left arm; a stole, which is placed over his shoulders and crossed at the breast; and a chasuble, or large outer garment.
The chasuble, stole and maniple vary in color according to the occasion. Thus, white vestments are used at Christmas, Easter and other festivals of joy, also on feasts of Confessors and Virgins; red are used at Pentecost and on festivals of Apostles and Martyrs; green from Trinity Sunday to Advent, on days having no special feast; purple during Lent and Advent, and black in Masses for the dead.
One more word on this subject. Only a few years ago the whole Protestant world was united in denouncing the use of floral decorations on our altars, incense, sacred vestments, and even the altar itself, as abominations of Popery. But of late a better spirit has taken possession of a respectable portion of the Protestant Episcopal church. After having exhausted their wrath against our vestments, and vilified them as the rags of the wicked woman of Babylon, the members of the Ritualistic church have, with remarkable dexterity, passed from one extreme to the other. They don our vestments, they swing our censer, erect altars in their churches and adorn them with flowers and candle-sticks.
These Ritualists are, however, easily discerned from the true Priest. Should one of them ever appear before the Father of the faithful in these ill-fitting robes the venerable Pontiff would exclaim, with the Patriarch of old: "The voice indeed is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." I feel the garment of the Priest, but I hear the voice of the parson.
God grant that, as our misguided brothers have assumed our sacerdotal garments, they may adopt our faith, that their speech may conform to their dress. Then, having laid aside their earthly stoles, may they deserve, like all faithful Priests, to be seen "standing before the throne, and in sight of the Lamb, with white stoles and palms in their hands, ... saying: 'Salvation to our God, who sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb.' "(434)
THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE.
I. The Divine Institution Of The Sacrament Of Penance.
The whole history of Jesus Christ is marked by mercy and compassion for suffering humanity. From the moment of His incarnation till the hour of His death every thought and word and act of His Divine life was directed toward the alleviation of the ills and miseries of fallen man.
As soon as He enters on His public career He goes about doing good to all men. He gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, vigor to paralyzed limbs; He applies the salve of comfort to the bleeding heart and raises the dead to life.
But, while Jesus occupied Himself in bringing relief to corporal infirmities, the principal object of His mission was to release the soul from the bonds of sin. The very name of Jesus indicates this important truth: "Thou shalt call His name Jesus," says the angel, "for He shall save His people from their sins."(435)
For, if Jesus had contented Himself with healing the maladies of our body without attending to those of our soul, He would deserve, indeed, to be called our Physician, but would not merit the more endearing titles of Savior and Redeemer. But as sin was the greatest evil of man, and as Jesus came to remove from us our greatest evils, He came into the world chiefly as the great Absolver from sin.
Magdalen seems to have a consciousness of this. She casts herself at His feet, which she washes with her tears and wipes with her hair, while Jesus pronounces over her the saving words of absolution. The very demons recognized Jesus as the enemy of sin, for they dreaded His approach, knowing that He would drive them out of the bodies of men.
Our Lord makes the healing of the body secondary to that of the soul. When He delivers the body from its distempers His object is to win the confidence of the spectators by compelling them to recognize Him as the soul's Physician. He says, for instance, to the palsied man, "Thy sins are forgiven."(436) The scribes are offended at our Savior for presuming to forgive sins. He replies, in substance: If you do not believe My words, believe My acts; and He at once heals the man of his disease. After he had cured the man that had been languishing for thirty-eight years He whispered to him this gentle admonition, "Sin no more, lest some worst thing may happen to thee."(437)
As much as our spiritual substance excels the flesh that surrounds it, so much more did our Savior value the resurrection of a soul from the grave of sin than the resurrection of the body from that of death. Hence St. Augustine pointedly remarks that, while the Gospel relates only three resurrections of the body, our Lord, during His mortal life, raised thousands of souls to the life of grace.
As the Church was established by Jesus Christ to perpetuate the work which he had begun, it follows that the reconciliation of sinners to God was to be the principal office of sacred ministers.
But the important question here presents itself: How was man to obtain forgiveness in the Church after our Lord's ascension?
Was Jesus Christ to appear in person to every sinful soul and say to each penitent, as He said to Magdalen, "Thy sins are forgiven thee," or did He intend to delegate this power of forgiving sins to ministers appointed for that purpose?
We know well that our Savior never promised to present Himself visibly to each sinner, nor has He done so.
His plan, therefore, must have been to appoint ministers of reconciliation to act in His name. It has always, indeed, been the practice of Almighty God, both in the Old and the New Law, to empower human agents to execute His merciful designs.
When Jehovah resolved to deliver the children of Israel from the captivity of Egypt He appointed Moses their deliverer. When God wished them to escape from the pursuit of Pharaoh across the Red Sea, did He intervene directly? No; but, by His instructions, Moses raised his hand over the waters and they were instantly divided.
When the people were dying from thirst in the desert, did God come visibly to their rescue? No; but Moses struck the rock, from which the water instantly issued. When Paul, breathing vengeance against the Christians, was going to Damascus, did our Savior personally restore his sight, convert and baptize him? No; He sent Paul to His servant Ananias, who restored his sight and baptized him.
The same Apostle beautifully describes to us in one sentence of his Epistle to the Corinthians the arrangement of Divine Providence in the reconciliation of sinners: "God," he says, "hath reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.... For Christ, therefore, we are ambassadors; God, as it were, exhorting through us."(438) That is to say, God sends Christ to reconcile sinners; Christ sends us. We are His ambassadors, reconciling sinners in His name.
When I think of this tremendous power that we possess I congratulate the members of the Church, for whose benefit it is conferred; I tremble for myself and my fellow-ministers, for terrible is our responsibility, while we have nothing to glory in. Christ is the living Fountain of grace: we are but the channels through which it is conveyed to your souls. Christ is the treasure; we are but the pack-horses that carry it. "We bear this treasure in earthen vessels." Christ is the shepherd; we are the pipe He uses to call His sheep. Our words sounding in the confessional are but the feeble echo of the voice of the Spirit of God that purified the Apostles in the cenacle of Jerusalem.
But have we Gospel authority to show that our Savior did confer on the Apostles and their successors the power to forgive sins?
We have the most positive testimony, and our Savior's words conferring this power are expressed in the plainest language which admits of no misconception. In the Gospel of St. Matthew our Savior thus addresses Peter: "Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build My Church.... And I will give to thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven."(439)
And to all the Apostles assembled together on another occasion He uses the same forcible language: "Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven."(440) The soul is enchained by sin. I give you power, says our Lord, to release the penitent soul from its galling fetters, and to restore it to the liberty of a child of God.
In the Gospel of St. John we have a still more striking declaration of the absolving power given by our Savior to His Apostles.
Jesus, after His resurrection, thus addresses His disciples: "Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you.... Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins ye shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins ye shall retain, they are retained."(441)
That peace which I give to you you will impart to repentant souls as a pledge of their reconciliation with God. The absolving power I have from My Father, the same I communicate to you. Receive the Holy Ghost, that you may impart this Holy Spirit to souls possessed by the spirit of evil. "If their sins are as scarlet, they shall be made as white as snow; and if they be red as crimson, they shall be white as wool."(442) If they are as numerous as the sands on the seashore, they shall be blotted out, provided they come to you with contrite hearts. The sentence of mercy which you shall pronounce on earth I will ratify in heaven.
From these words of St. John I draw three important conclusions:
It follows, first, that the forgiving power was not restricted to the Apostles, but extended to their successors in the ministry unto all times and places. The forgiveness of sin was to continue while sin lasted in the world; and as sin, alas! will always be in the world, so will the remedy for sin be always in the Church. The medicine will co-exist with the disease. The power which our Lord gave the Apostles to preach, to baptize, to confirm, to ordain, etc., was transmitted by them to their successors. Why not also the power which they had received to forgive sins, since man's greatest need is his reconciliation with God by the forgiveness of his offences?
It follows, secondly that forgiveness of sin was ordinarily to be obtained only through the ministry of the Apostles and their successors, just as it was from them that the people were to receive the word of God and the grace of Baptism. The pardoning power was a great prerogative conferred on the Apostles. But what kind of prerogative would it be if people could always obtain forgiveness by confessing to God secretly in their rooms? How few would have recourse to the Apostles if they could obtain forgiveness on easier terms! God says to His chosen ministers: I give you the keys of My kingdom, that you may dispense the treasures of mercy to repenting sinners. But of what use would it be to give the Apostles the keys of God's treasures for the ransom of sinners, if every sinner could obtain his ransom without applying to the Apostles? If I gave you, dear reader, the keys of my house, authorizing you to admit whom you please, that they might partake of the good things contained in it, you would conclude that I had done you a small favor if you discovered that every one was possessed of a private key, and could enter when he pleased without consulting you.
I have said that forgiveness of sins is ordinarily to be obtained through the ministry of the Apostles and of their successors, because it may sometimes happen that the services of God's minister cannot be obtained. A merciful Lord will not require in this conjuncture more than a hearty sorrow for sin joined with a desire of having recourse as soon as practicable, to the tribunal of Penance; for God's ordinances bind only such as are able to fulfil them.
It follows, in the third place, that the power of forgiving sins, on the part of God's minister, involves the obligation of confessing them on the part of the sinner. The Priest is not empowered to give absolution to every one indiscriminately. He must exercise the power with judgment and discretion. He must reject the impenitent and absolve the penitent. But how will he judge of the disposition of the sinner unless he knows his sins, and how will the Priest know his sins unless they are confessed? Hence, we are not surprised when we read in the Acts that "Many of them who believed came confessing and declaring their deeds"(443) to the Apostles. Why did they confess their sins unless they were bound to do so? Hence, also, we understand why St. John says: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity."(444)
The strength of these texts of Scripture will appear to you much more forcible when you are told that all the Fathers of the Church, from the first to the last, insist upon the necessity of Sacramental Confession as a Divine institution. We are not unfrequently told by those who are little acquainted with the doctrine and history of the Church, that Sacramental Confession was not introduced into the Church until 1,200 years after the time of our Savior. In vindication of their bold assertion they even introduce quotations from SS. Basil, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Chrysostom. These quotations are utterly irrelevant; but, if seen in the context, they will tend to prove, instead of disproving, the Catholic doctrine of Confession. For the sake of brevity I shall cite only a few passages from the Fathers referred to. These citations I take, almost at random, from the copious writings of these Fathers on Confession. From these extracts you can judge of the sentiments of all the Fathers on the subject of Confession. "Ab uno disce omnes."
St. Basil writes: "In the confession of sins the same method must be observed as in laying open the infirmities of the body; for as these are not rashly communicated to every one, but to those only who understand by what method they may be cured, so the confession of sins must be made to such persons as have the power to apply a remedy."(445) Later on he tells us who those persons are. "Necessarily, our sins must be confessed to those to whom has been committed the dispensation of the mysteries of God. Thus, also, are they found to have acted who did penance of old in regard of the saints. It is written in the Acts, they confessed to the Apostles, by whom also they were baptized."(446) Two conclusions obviously follow from these passages of St. Basil: First, the necessity of confession. Second, the obligation of declaring our sins to a Priest to whom in the New Law is committed "the dispensation of the mysteries of God."
St. Ambrose, of Milan, writes: "The poison is sin; the remedy, the accusation of one's crime: the poison is iniquity; confession is the remedy of the relapse. And, therefore, it is truly a remedy against poison, if thou declare thine iniquities, that thou mayest be justified. Art thou ashamed? This shame will avail thee little at the judgment seat of God."(447)
The following passage clearly shows that the great Light of the Church of Milan is speaking of confession to Priests: "There are some," continues St. Ambrose, "who ask for penance that they may at once be restored to Communion. These do not so much desire to be loosed as to bind the Priest; for they do not unburden their conscience, but they burden his, who is commanded not to give holy things unto dogs—that is, not easily to admit impure souls to the Holy Communion."(448)
Paulinus, the secretary of St. Ambrose, in his life of that great Bishop relates that he used to weep over the penitents whose confessions he heard.