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

Book II: The Blessed Sacrament the Devotion of Catholics

IT MAY seem at first sight strange, and not altogether respectful, to the Real Presence of our Blessed Lord in His great Sacrament to number it among the subjects of a special devotion. For a special devotion, in the sense in which spiritual writers use the words, means that, from a natural turn of mind, or from certain associations with the secret history of our souls, or from the peculiar attraction of divine grace, we are drawn to particular mysteries of our Lord's life, or particular attributes of God, or particular Angels and Saints, rather than to others. It is intelligible that an active professional man should experience greater sweetness in meditating on our Lord's public ministry than on His hidden life in the holy house of Nazareth. The examples come more home to him and are more readily applied to his own trials and difficulties in the discharge of public duties. While the nun, the seminarist, or one who from any cause is leading a retired life, goes to the house of Nazareth as, to such persons at least, a fresher and a fuller fountain of consolation, encouragement and strength, some for the moment, like Peter, seem to prefer Thabor to Calvary, which is an instance of an indiscreet special devotion. Some prefer Bethlehem to Calvary, and as the Cross is equally in both, this is an example of a legitimate and safe special devotion. A virgin Saint is more to some minds than a Martyr; and there are those who prefer a doctor of the Church to both. All this is intelligible, even when it concerns the choice and preference of certain mysteries of the Incarnation over others. But how is it at all rightly applicable to the Blessed Sacrament, which is nothing else than Jesus Himself in the veils which He has chosen? This surely we may say is rather a part of the direct universal worship of God, than the lawful subject of a special devotion. We do not directly worship the Visitation, or the Finding in the Temple, or the Agony in the Garden; but we do directly worship the Blessed Sacrament, as the living God Himself in mystic veils. How then can we speak of persons having a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; by which we do not simply mean that they are distinguished themselves by an unusual amount of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; but that it is their special devotion?

A very little consideration will suffice to explain the difficulty. The adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is truly part of the direct universal worship of God which is paid to Him by the faithful. In the daily Sacrifice of the Mass, in the receiving of Holy Communion, and in the proper observant homage of His Sacramental Presence in Churches, this worship is bound by the Church on the consciences of her children; and Benediction has now become to the people almost what choir is to religious, or the divine office to the clergy. And this worship and homage is of course not included under the idea of a special devotion. It is something which every one must have, which every one must do, else is he a rebel, a renegade, or a heretic. It belongs to Catholic dutifulness. It is a necessary part of the profession of Christian faith, and of the homage which the instructed reason of the creature owes to the majesty and presence of his Creator, wheresoever they are revealed to him.

But as it is a kindred mystery to the Incarnation and almost a part of it, or rather its very complement, there is another view which may be taken of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; according to which view it may be truly and reverently regarded as the subject of what we call a special devotion. For example, some persons can keep themselves in the presence of God anywhere, in their own rooms or in the crowded streets, as well as in Church and before the tabernacle. The Blessed Sacrament does not seem to be necessary to their devout recollections or to the fervour of their prayers. At the time, the fact of their being in Church does not seem to exercise any discernible influence on their devotion. Others again find the utmost difficulty in praying well anywhere except before the Blessed Sacrament. Prayer is quite another thing to them when they are in church. However much outward duties and distractions, or internal conflicts and struggles, may have caused them to lose the sensible presence of God, they are no sooner before our Lord than they are calmed almost without their own cooperation; all disquietude is allayed, and the spirit of prayer triumphantly resumes its happy empire over their minds. The Blessed Sacrament is to the latter class of people something which it is not to the former, and yet the former may be in a far higher spiritual condition. Again, some persons will by preference say mass at an altar where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved; because they find themselves so much more fervent and recollected there. Others will by preference say mass where it is not reserved, because they realize our Lord's Sacramental Presence with such an absorbing intensity of faith that it disturbs them, makes it difficult for them to observe with the proper calm attention the minute ceremonies and rubrics of the mass, and hinders for the moment their realizing the Sacrifice. Others, again, experience a distinct loss of sensible devotion at High Mass or in great functions, because the lights, incense, vestments, and actions of the sacred ministers, combined with the tumult of the music, seem to disturb and disarrange the quiet supremacy of the Tabernacle. While multitudes of excellent persons experience none of these three things. Obviously these are three modes in which a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament variously discloses itself. Again, there are some, with a really tender and intense devotion to the Passion, who actually do not know what to do with themselves on Good Friday, because there is no Blessed Sacrament, and whose minds are occupied less with the mystery of our Lord's death, or the expectation of His resurrection, than by the thought of the many sacristies in which the Blessed Sacrament is lying hid, to be ready as viaticum for those in their agony. Their thoughts are haunting these hiding-places, with a feeling of almost perverse devotion, 8 seeing that the Church so studiously withdraws them from our homage and our gaze. Sometimes members of a community, from which the Blessed Sacrament is temporarily withdrawn for some unavoidable reason, feel so unhinged that the observances of their rule, or the practices of penance, or even acts of obedience which do not appear to have so much as a remote connection with the Blessed Sacrament, are almost impossible, or require an absurdly disproportioned effort, just as a family goes wrong in slight things when its master is away. While in the same community others are merely deploring one means of grace suspended, one spiritual exercise intermitted.


To some the Crucifix is almost cold, because the Blessed Sacrament is so completely their all in all. Others feel as if in some hidden way all their devotion to our dear and holy Mother arose out of the Blessed Sacrament and returned into it again. Some saints and great contemplatives have shaped their whole lives upon an imitation of the abasements of the Blessed Sacrament. Others, in a more simple and unmystical expression of their love, have bound themselves by vow to do all they can to promote the knowledge and love of this great Sacrament, and have devoted their time, talents and energies to this end in a more commonplace way. Some families of the spouses of Christ live only to make reparation to our Lord for the indignities committed against that one manifestation of His mercy and hidden majesty. Several give all the indulgences they gain to the soul that in lifetime had most devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. To some God has given the gift of discerning by a feeling in their soul where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, to others of detecting by the taste a consecrated from an unconsecrated Host, and to others of being led to the tabernacle of our Hidden Love by the smell of His indescribable fragrance. The predestination of some, as of the Martyrs of Gorcum, was that they should lay down their lives for the Blessed Sacrament. Some have been communicated by our Lord Himself, others by angels; others see visions and beautiful apparitions in the Host; others receive our Lord through their flesh, in the same way as He passed with His glorified Body through closed doors after the Resurrection. This was the privilege of St. Juliana Falconieri. Others are raised up to make revelations to the Church about it, as the feast of Corpus Christi was revealed through St. Juliana of Retinne, just at a time when the insidious poison of secret infidelity and Ghibelline irreligion was ravaging the world; as if infidelity made supernatural demonstrations on the part of the Church all the more seasonable, contrary to the ideas of human prudence, just as it has pleased God to confront the unbelief of our own day by the definition of the Immaculate Conception. Others have their natural life nourished and sustained by the Blessed Sacrament, like St. Philip, and many servants of God. It was given to St. Pascal Baylon, that his dead body should teach this devotion, by knocking in its coffin whenever the Host was elevated in the Church where it was. These were the famous Colpi di San Pasquale about which so much has been said and written.

All these are so many developments and disclosures of a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, which are plainly quite different from the direct and necessary worship of it which is an essential part of the Christian religion, and cannot be confounded with the devotion. They are badges and tokens which distinguish particular good persons from the great multitude of the good. At the least they show a particular turn of mind, a particular taste in devotion, an unusual delight in and apprehension of particular doctrines, an intelligent significant choice in sacred things, or the influence of the spiritual genius of a confessor and director. But far more often they indicate a secret but undeniable attraction of the Holy Ghost, or it would almost seem sometimes an almost magnetic attraction from our dearest Lord Himself beneath His sacramental veils. And this has often begun, and grown up, and almost stereotyped a man's whole spiritual life, before he was aware of it; the very attraction partaking of the secrecy which characterizes the mystery itself. Thus a preacher once acknowledged that he had made a rule to himself never to preach a sermon without mentioning our Lady in it; and it was very seldom that he missed of doing so, in season or out of season. He was surprised when a friend told him that many persons were noticing that he never preached, on whatever subject, without bringing on the Blessed Sacrament, and grafting allusions to it in the matter in hand; though he himself had never been aware of it, until it was pointed out to him. What had seemed to others almost an affectation was to himself quite unknown; and so strongly was the habit formed in his mind that the knowledge of it became in time to come a positive constraint. All this will illustrate the position not only that there may be such a thing as a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, in the technical sense of those words, but that it exists, as a specialty With abundantly various manifestations, in the Church. The Blessed Sacrament, besides being the object of the divine worship due to God, takes rank with and above the Infancy, the Passion, the Precious Blood, the Sacred Heart, the Five Wounds, and the Immaculate Mother, as the subject of a Catholic special devotion; and it is in this light we are to consider it in the present Book.

Special devotions, whether they spring from a natural turn of mind and a peculiar bent of disposition, or from the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, in both cases alike, though not equally so, exercise an important sway over the whole spiritual life. It is quite true that the varied riches of the Catholic devotion, as it were, allure our souls to God, and fix their restlessness, while they also satisfy that desire for change, and turn aside that weariness of uniformity, which are infirmities of our nature; infirmities pursuing us even into the sanctuary and meddling with our most intimate communications with God. But this is by no means the whole account of them, notwithstanding that such functions as have been named are of no slight consequence to our sanctification. Special devotions are something more than pious whims or a man's devotional idiosyncrasy. They have an inward life of their own, a strong hidden spirit, whereby they can impress a positive spiritual character, peculiar to themselves, upon our souls. They are more than the beauty of holiness; they are part of its life. They do not blossom only; they bring forth fruit, and that abundantly. It is very often difficult to find the intrinsic connection between themselves and the fruits they bear. It often eludes intellectual discovery; but the fact that there is such a connection is not the less certain, and all pious persons who look much into themselves are well aware of its existence. We know a plant by its leaf and form and the tint of its foliage, and we know from past experience whether its yet unopened buds will be yellow, red or blue in blossom, and we often wonder at the hidden virtue which makes plants of the same family at once so various and so uncertain in the colour of their tints, and in the distribution of the patches of colour. Just so it is with special devotions. They are of much more importance in manufacturing Saints, than outward circumstances for the most part are. Indeed in the case of the greatest number of contemplative Saints they have the work all to themselves. One devotion produces one kind of a Saint, another devotion another; and a mixture of devotions equally represents in the developments of holiness the proportions of those which composed it. God has given to one devotion to convey one grace, to concur in the formation of one habit of virtue, or to lead to one kind of prayer; while others are equally but differently gifted in all these respects. Thus, in those many cases in which no particular attraction of grace seems to be discernible, it forms no unimportant part of spiritual direction to guide pious souls judiciously in the choice of their devotions, and to enable them to extract from each devotion, as bees draw honey from the flavours of the flowers, that particular spirit with which God has been pleased to endow it. The first question to be asked about any devotion concerns the spirit which it conveys to the soul, the grace it has received for its own, the character, like a sacramental character which it impresses and seals upon our entire spiritual life. If then the Blessed Sacrament be the subject of a special devotion, we must first discern its spirit, before we can fall in love with its beauty, or give ourselves up to the effects of its power.

The spirit of the Blessed Sacrament is plainly two-fold, according as we look at the Sacrifice or the Sacrament. The spirit of the sacrifice is, without doubt the spirit of Calvary, for it is a renewal of the mysteries of the Passion, and it is itself the very same Sacrifice. But this is hardly the subject with which we are concerned. It is true that in one sense of the words persons may have a special devotion, meaning thereby a peculiarly great one, to the Adorable Sacrifice of the Mass; but it is scarcely true that, in the other sense of the words, the Mass can be the subject of a separate special devotion to Catholics. It enters too much into our duties, obligations, and the essence of the whole system of the Christian religion, which is eminently a religion of Sacrifice. It is the spirit of sacrifice which creates the Church, maintains it, multiplies it, holds it together, and circulates through its veins as its life's blood. Sacrifice is the key to the difficulties of its dogmas; it is the soul of its mysteries, the cause of its asceticism, the pattern of its mystical unions with God. Ritual is the action of sacrifice, prayer is the language of sacrifice, contemplation is the thought of sacrifice, and interior mortification is sacrifice itself. Sacrifice is to the Church what the soul is to the body; it is whole in the whole body, and whole in every part of the body, and whatever part of the body has ceased to be informed by it, has thereby ceased to be a living part of the body at all. Where there is no Mass, there is also no Christianity. Wherever we turn there is sacrifice. The outward life of the Church is nothing but a glorious and unmistakable preaching of sacrifice: the papacy is itself only an incessant, continuous, unflinching martyrdom. To the discerning eye, the Church has never left the catacombs, or if it has, it has been only to seek for new ways of suffering, as St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi 9 says that our Lord finding all delights in Heaven, save the jewelled stole of suffering, left Heaven and the bosom of the  Father and came on earth to seek it. If we penetrate into the inner life of the Church, her solitudes of Divine union, her peopled deserts of silent love, her cloisters of vowed and supernatural loveliness, the further in we penetrate the more do we discover that it is nothing but a concentration, a transformation, a spiritualising, of sacrifice. All this lies in the vital force and omnipotent energy of the Mass. That far reaching Sacrifice is everywhere, and does everything for every one. It belongs therefore too much to the existence of the Church to be the subject of what we call a special devotion, one of many, something which can be compared with other things, a shining mystery with other mysteries shining round about it. The wants of souls are almost infinitely various; some have the grace to feel the want of much, and to be ever wanting more; others unhappily want little, and can be contented with almost less; but just as the running stream fills the vessels, great or small, which are dipped into its abundance, and just as the sun gives full light to the various powers of vision of different men and animals, so it is with the Mass. It is coextensive with the wants of all, embraces all, satisfies all, stimulates all. Our all is there, our bread for the day, our viaticum for the journey to eternity. It is enough if the daily Sacrifice of the Mass cease, for the Church at once to fall on those unutterable latter days when Antichrist shall persecute and reign. Laws against Mass, insults to it, inabilities to bequeath foundations for it, all these are of the essence of persecution. In the same way that all souls are equal, so Mass is equal to all; and in the same way that every degree of mental power and glorious giftedness, from the sublimest intelligence of the theologian to the limited understanding of the peasant, is secured and sustained, as much as it wants and no more, by the immortal soul, so the broad edifice of the Saint's sanctity and the small beginnings of the sinner's efforts have all they want, and no more, in the sacrifice of the Mass. The adorable Sacrifice fills all spiritual depths and shallows; it is its gift that it should fill wherever it is; fulness is its prerogative. Hence its character does not admit of its being precisely the subject of a special devotion.

When we speak, therefore, of the Blessed Sacrament being the subject of a special devotion we mean, not the Sacrifice, nor the Communion, but the Sacramental Life of our Lord, the residence of Jesus amongst us under the mystic veils of the species. The presence of God is as it were the atmosphere of the spiritual life, and the practice of His Presence includes and combines all the practices of devotion; and just as God's putting on a visible nature in the Incarnation enabled men to picture Him to themselves and to avoid idolatry, so to many souls the practical though not absolute omnipresence of the Sacred Humanity in the Blessed Sacrament supplies them with a practice of the Divine Presence, which in their case far surpasses what they could attain by endeavouring to realize the spiritual presence of God. The Blessed Sacrament does for the immensity of God, what the Incarnation does for His invisibility. It is this life of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament which is the subject of a special devotion.

8. St. Paul of the Cross used to spend part of  his Good Friday in the secret chapel before the Blessed Sacrament.----Life, vol. ii., p. 198.
9. On her death-bed St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi uttered the following words; "Sappiate the l'esercitio del patire é
rosa tanto pregiata e nobile, che il Verbo trovandosi nel Seno del suo eterno Padre, abbondantissimo di richezze e delitie di Paradiso, perchè non era ornato della stola del patire, venne in terra per questo ornamento; e questo era Dio e non si potea ingannare."


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