Fr. Frederick W. Faber, D.D.
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1958
TAN Books and Publishers

Book I: The Greatest Work of God

Now all these peculiar excellencies and canons of beauty are united in Transubstantiation, in the Blessed Sacrament; and that in a very remarkable manner. The Incarnation for a fallen race, with the humiliations of our Lord's Thirty-Three years, seemed to carry the divine condescension to the lowest depth. But the Blessed Sacrament contrives to carry it lower still. Its littleness is more wonderful; its ignominies more mysterious; its humiliations more manifold and continual. It is, as we shall see hereafter, an exact parallel of the Incarnation, adding to each branch of that mystery some additional features of loving abasement and inexplicable condescension. No union between the Creator and the creature has been devised so awfully intimate as the sacramental union; neither has the creature in any other mystery been lifted to such a height as that he should be allowed, with a reality so real that no word is forcible enough to express it, to make his Creator his daily Bread. If we wish to select one mystery in which more than another the purely spiritual character of God's operations is peculiarly manifest, there is not one of the faithful who would not on the instant name Transubstantiation; for spirituality, as our Saviour teaches us in the sixth chapter of St. John, is its very excellence and crown. Where also shall we find continuity more marvellous than that Real Presence of our dear Lord which is to be with us all days even unto the end of the world; or where multiplicity more astonishing than in the number of masses daily all the world over, and the countless multitudes of communicants, and of Hosts reposing in our tabernacles?

Nowhere shall we find any mystery which shadows forth so many of the Divine Perfections as the Blessed Sacrament, nor ,with more amazing clearness and minuteness. We have only to look into any of our common theological or devotional treatises to see how completely the faithful have laid hold of and appropriated this consoling truth. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that from the contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament alone we could draw all that we know of God's goodness and dispositions towards us. If we seek for a disclosure of His love, where shall we find it more strikingly or more touchingly than in the Blessed Sacrament? He loved us "to the end," as St. John says when he speaks of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, not to the end of His life only, but as commentators explain it, to the end of the possibilities of the divine liberality, to the farthest end that love could go, even His love Who was God as well as Man. It is not only gifts and graces which He gives us here, but He is Himself the gift, Himself the grace. Calvary was not enough. The seven Blood-sheddings fell short of His merciful intent. Our ingratitude does not hinder Him. We have spurned His Cross and crucified Him afresh. We have trampled His Blood beneath our feet, and mixed it up with the mire of sin. Now we shall have another mystery in which we may still outrage Him, while He still keeps wooing us to His love. Was ever love like this? Was ever love so great? Was ever love so mournfully unrequited?
See too how sweetly the wisdom of God is glassed in the mirror of this heavenly mystery! It was the invention of Jesus to stay in the world even when he was quitting it; to be more than ever with His people when He was going away from them till the end of the world; to multiply Himself on earth when He was gone into heaven; and to consecrate the earth with the presence of His Body and Blood when he was elevating them both to their proper place at the Right Hand of the Father, and as it were leaving earth desolate and bare. "By the Incarnation," says Nouet, "the Son of God by a marvellous secret of wisdom found the means of making the invisible visible by covering Himself with our humanity, in order to converse familiarly with us; but in the Blessed Sacrament by a no less marvellous invention He makes the visible invisible, by covering His Sacred Humanity with the appearances of bread and wine, that He may nourish us with His Flesh and Blood. In the mystery of the Incarnation He hides Himself that He may be seen; in the divine Eucharist He hides Himself that He may be eaten. In the first mystery He lets us see the sweetness of His Divinity; in the second He lets us taste the sweetness of His Humanity. So again all the circumstances of the Blessed Sacrament are full of manifestations of His wisdom. The very concealment of His Flesh and Blood hinders our fear while it defrauds us not of the reality of that stupendous food; and the very familiarity of the commonplace species which He uses for His veils affords us a delightful exercise of our spiritual discernment and our ardent faith, while He makes Himself easy of access to the whole world by the cheapness and vileness of His disguise."

What a picture too is the adorable Host of the immensity of God. God by His immensity in the whole world: Jesus in the whole Host: God is entire in every part of the world, Jesus in every fraction of the Host. One Body is at one time in all Hosts and in all parts of all Hosts, and that without extension, while His presence is multiplied through the length and breadth of the earth in Hosts almost beyond number: and everywhere is the Blessed Sacrament rendering a homage to the Omnipresence of God, worthy of it and equal to it. So that while we admire in the Blessed Sacrament the extreme littleness to which the Eternal Word has reduced Himself, that very littleness is such an image of the Divine Immensity as is not to be found elsewhere in all creation.

But if the littleness of the Blessed Sacrament is the reflection of God's immensity, the frailty of the adorable Host is no less the image of God's eternity. For the bread we eat is nothing less than eternal life. We cannot break it, divide it, diminish it, corrupt it, even though we eat it. It is whole and equal in each part, and a million others eat it with us, and will continue to eat it until the end of time: when He will still remain the bread of life, Himself the life eternal. Nay, this seeming frailty is so strong that it can hinder and destroy eternal death, and make even our corruptible flesh incorruptible at the last. He whom we adore in that Blessed Sacrament is Himself the judge upon whom our entrance into eternal life depends: and that Blessed Sacrament is itself the energy of our glorious resurrection.

Of the omnipotence of God in the Blessed Sacrament we shall have to speak hereafter, so that we need not dwell upon it now. But most true it is that there is no work of God which shadows forth so many of the Divine Perfections, as the mystery of Transubstantiation. So that all the canons by which we can test the beauty and perfection of God's gracious works meet and are crowned in this one, in all that manifold work and various mystery which we mean when we pronounce those short but thrilling words, The Blessed Sacrament! If no mind of man can measure the grace it is to have inherited this glorious faith, what must they do for God who once in the full use of reason had it not, and by His special intervention have now received it? What can they do but sacrifice their whole selves to Him? It is but little, but what else is left them? And such a sacrifice is not generosity, it is barely justice. They are but as men who are said to have paid their debts, because they have paid all they can. The Blessed Sacrament once meant something which was not theirs, something external to themselves, the property and possession of a different religion; but now it is their own. It has become their life and joy, their solace and their strength, their worship and eternal bliss. O how worse than Egyptian is the darkness out of which the light of the sanctuary has drawn them, and in which so many souls they love are left! Alas! for us who love and those we love! no Saint upon the altars of the Church has ever spoken one consoling word of the dreary darkness of those who are without. Sad enough are the words of theologians, 2 but sadder far the words of Saints:-----sad indeed, and weighty with the wisdom of their spiritual discernment. Even the sunshine of the gentle Saint of Sales is gloom when he thinks of those who are not of the fold, and his sweet words turn bitter as he characterizes the lot of those who are not children of the Church. What then shall they do for their Lord, for whom that Lord has turned this dismal night to certain day?

Has anything been said of the Blessed Sacrament which the truth does not warrant? Has any statement been made which the Church does not either compel us to believe, or point to as an easy inference from her theological definitions? And has it not all been said as drily and prosaically as possible? Yet surely it is a very frightening consideration! Remember, all these great things which we have been thinking of have not to do with some past mystery, like the creation of the world, which took place thousands of years ago, and which we look up to with intellectual astonishment through the dimness of venerable time. and adore the council of the Most Holy Trinity, whose loving wisdom decided on the creation of our race. Neither does it concern a tremendous far-off mystery, like the general judgment, in which we shall all have to bear our parts, and wherein we do not know how we shall have to behave; and yet so much depends on our behaviour here. We can look at mysteries so long past or so far forward with calmness, or at least without permanent disquietude or serious agitation. But the Blessed Sacrament is a mystery of daily repetition, of ordinary familiarity. We are coming across our Lord continually. Either we are calling Him from Heaven ourselves, if we be priests, or we are witnessing that unspeakable mystery, or we are feeding on Him and seeing our fellow-creatures do so also, or we are gazing at Him in His veils, or receiving His benediction, or making our devotions at His tabernacle door. And what is our habitual behaviour to Him in this mystery? We are orthodox in faith; doubtless: every word of that queen of councils, the blessed and glorious assembly of Trent, is more precious to us than a mine of gold. But have. the intensity of our love, the breathlessness of our reverence, the earnestness of our prayers, the overbearing momentum of our faith, the speechlessness of our yearning desires, been all they should have been, or half they would have been if we had but corresponded to the grace which He Himself each time was giving us? There is no sign of lukewarmness more unerring than becoming thoughtless about the Blessed Sacrament, and letting it grow common to us without our feeling it. Even though the disciples on the road to Emmaus did not know Jesus till He vanished from their sight, at least their hearts, they knew not why, burned within them as they walked and talked to Him by the way. Yet how often have we been at the tabernacle door, feeling neither His presence nor our own miseries more than a beggar sleeping in the sun at a rich man's gate. True it is that the Blessed Sacrament is not a mystery of distance or of terror, but one of most dear familiarity. Yet the only true test of our loving familiarity is the depth of our joyous fear. Sacred things and sacred ceremonies, simply because they are things and ceremonies, may become common to us, though they ought not to do so. They may cease to make an impression, and it may be difficult for us always to be recollected in their presence, without this difficulty being a symptom of any very grave spiritual disease. But it is not so with the presence of our Lord's Own Self. We cannot become so familiarized with His sacramental presence as to be careless and unimpressed, without its betokening a most lamentable and dangerous state of spiritual tepidity. It is very common even for heretics to have a strange sensation come over them in Catholic churches, which they do not understand and cannot analyze; and shall we be less moved than they? Yet alas! whenever we hear or read some of the great things concerning the Blessed Sacrament, does it not often flash upon us that our conduct is not in keeping with our creed, and looking back on a long, sad line of indifferent communions, distracted masses, and careless visits to the tabernacle, are we not sometimes startled into saying, Do I really believe all this? O how many of us might simplify our spiritual lives and so make great progress, if we would only look to the Blessed Sacrament, to our feelings and conduct towards it, and its impression upon us, as the index of our spiritual condition! We are always trying to awaken ourselves with new things, new books, new prayers, new confraternities, new states of prayer; and our forbearing Lord runs after us and keeps blessing us in our changeableness and humouring us in our fickle weakness: how much better would it be to keep to our old things, to hold fast by Him, and to warm ourselves only at the tabernacle fire!

2. The author had a very long footnote in Latin, in reference to the theologians and the Pontiff. Since this presentation is an excerpted one only, your Web master elected to not include it here.


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