Excerpts from THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
Fr. Frederick W. Faber, D.D.
TAN Books and Publishers
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1958
Book II: The Blessed Sacrament the Devotion of Catholics
THE MOTHER AND THE SON
VIEW THE MADONNA THAT MATCHES THIS BORDER BACKGROUND
LET us think for a little while of devotion to our Blessed Lady. Who can doubt that there is a close and invariable connection between devotion to our dear Mother and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament? The force of terms would be enough to prove it. The lives of the Saints and the teaching of spiritual books are both full of it. But we do not need them for proofs; for the experience of everyone of us proves it decisively, to ourselves at least. We have felt and known that in proportion as we loved our Blessed Lady, our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament grew more tender and more reverent, and the more we were with the Blessed Sacrament, even without seeming to think of Mary, the more an intense devotion to her took possession of the very depths of our heart. This is a phenomenon which is universal throughout the life of the Church, and which needs no further commentary than the remembrance that one is the Mother, and One the Son. What we are concerned to show chiefly now is the especial connection between devotion to the Mother of God, and the mysteries of the Sacred Infancy. Let us begin before our Lord was born, and sit for a while by the four first fountains of devotion to the blissful Mother.
What is it that makes the Espousals of our Lady so sweet and so fertile a source of contemplation? That mystery is as it were a woody mountain lighted up with the gold of the yet unrisen sun. It is a manifold prophecy of things to come. It is the preparation of that mysterious shield of secrecy behind which God would place the great mystery of the Incarnation. The double beauty of the Mother and the Maid is shining there beforehand. Moreover it contains within itself, all the circumstances considered, the exercises of an heroic virtue such as well beseems the Sinless and Elect Daughter of God. Obedience, faith, self-renunciation, humility, and virginity, all these graces were practiced there as the world had never seen them before, But this mystery of a twofold purity, at once a type of the virginity and yet fecundity of the Blessed Trinity, and of the Union of the Two Natures in the One Person of our Lord,-----what would it be but for the light which the coming mysteries of the Sacred Infancy already cast upon it?
So too the Presentation of our Blessed Lady is a mystery full of beauty, yet a beauty which hardly can be called its own. It is a lovely sight in truth to see; there is the miraculous Maiden of three years old, mounting the temple steps with the gravity and dignity of age, and offering herself to the House of God with the full use of the most comprehensive and majestic intellect which the world had ever known, even at that early age. Yet what is it but one step in an oblation which began in Anna's womb, rose in its heroic degrees of life-long self-sacrifice, attained its highest height on Calvary, and stayed there on that same mystical Calvary fifteen years after He had come down from it and was gone to His Father's glory? It is as one of the marvelous beginnings of the marvelous Mother that we gaze with so much devotion on Mary's Presentation.
Let us mount higher still, Earth never broke forth with so gay and glad a fountain as when the Babe Mary, the infant who was the joy of the whole world, the flower of God's visible creation, and the perfection of the invisible and hitherto queenless Angels of His court, came like the richest fruit, ready-ripe and golden, of the world's most memorable September. There is hardly a feast in the year so gay and bright as this of her Nativity, right in the heart of the happy harvest, as though she were, as indeed she was, earth's heavenliest growth, and whose cradle was to rock to the measures of the whole world's vintage songs; for she had come who was the true harvest-home of that homeless world. Yet it was the mystery of the maternity which made her Nativity a joy so great. It also must lean forward and catch its light from out the mysteries of the Sacred Infancy.
Higher still now, up to yonder primal fountain, around which at this moment 11 the Church of God is drawing her lines and raising her circumvallations, as it were, about the purest fountain of the waters of Sion. Here is the living water of divinest miracle, divinest redemption, divinest grace, divinest love, our Mother's Immaculate Conception. See how the whole Church is gathering round in crowds to gaze into the deep liquid bosom of the waters, and see the wonders of heaven and the operations of God faithfully and awfully imagined there. Countless souls are feeding highest sanctity upon its unworldly freshness. There are the doctors of the Church slaking their thirst for truth at its animating streams; and the blind multitudes drink and look up, and behold! their eyes are opened, and Jesus shows more beautiful and Mary shines more brightly: and the poor and the comfortless and all the careworn, high or low, mitred, crowned, or bareheaded, are there, and they throw the waters up into the air for joy, and as they fall they make countless rainbows all over the horizon of the storm-tost Church. And troops of Virgins keep glad watch over its waters days and night with special prayer and song. And the Chief Shepherd is there, kneeling on the fountain's marge, and at his sign from all the orders of the Church rises up in stern magnificence the old Veni, Creator, the prelude of the most glorious definition of the Catholic faith, one which the torment of cruel heresy has not wrung from the reluctant reverence of the Church, but which is the irresistible and spontaneous outburst of doctrine and devotion, too hot to be longer pent within her mighty heart. The wisdom of the schools and the instinct of the multitude have vied with each other, and who shall say which was conqueror in this holy strife. O happy they whom God has kept, like Simeon of old, to this glad day, when Peter has bid his shepherds pitch their tents and feed their flocks so high up the holy mountain, and by this well of purest waters! Yet it is the joy of Bethlehem which is beating in them. It is not only or chiefly the sinlessness of God's fair creature, but of God's dear Mother, which we are greeting with such triumphant acclamation. It is at the well-head of the Incarnation that we are worshipping. These waters of gladness, we look to drawing them one day out of another well, when they have changed their colour and had their price put on them; for they are the blessed elements of the Precious Blood.
But let us rest another moment at the Immaculate Conception, and from the height of that early mystery see what a vista is open before us. I said those waters would one day be Precious Blood. I might have said, They will one day be the Body and Blood of Christ upon the Altars of the Church. I called that mystery the well-head on earth whence first sprung to light the eternal decrees of God's redeeming love. Watch the current of grace, which way it flows. Down from the mountain of the Immaculate Conception for nine long months it wends its way through wonders unimaginable and graces incomparable. Once more it issues to the light when the outward eyes of men could gaze their fill upon the beauty of God's Infant Mother. Past the steps of the temple on the day of the Presentation, and around the holy two in the Espousals, and to the house at Nazareth, it has flowed for fifteen years. Let us look at the fountain once more. It is a fount of blood in Mary's Immaculate Heart, and lo! it ebbs away unseen, and see! it is another fount of Blood in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and round it gather all the mysteries of the Sacred Infancy, of the Boyhood in Nazareth, of the Three Years' Ministry, and of the Salutary Passion. What a vista, those Three and Thirty Years! Look at the fountain again! It was scattered; it was in the dust of Olivet, on the stones of Sion's streets, on the lashes of the scourge, on the cast-off crown of thorns, on the soaked vestments on Calvary, on Mary's hands and the darkly-stained tree of the cross; angels have gathered it together, adored it, worshipped it as God, as they were bound to do; and now behold! another fountain! It is in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Risen. He bears it secretly about the earth for forty days. It ascends with Him to heaven. There at this hour it is worshipped in its Divine beauty, on a higher mountain far than the Immaculate Conception, at the Right Hand of the Father. It has risen higher than its level. Onward still it majestically lapses through centuries of grace, whose rivers seem to widen and to grow more exuberant in every age: and at last all round about it, dear reader, stand the graces, the preparations of graces, the fruits of graces which have to do with you and me, and our turning all to God; and the vista that began with the Immaculate Conception closes with the Blessed Sacrament.
If it be true, as St. Thomas teaches, that all the grace we receive before we are participators in this queen of Sacraments, we receive only in proportion as we implicitly desire to receive the Holy Communion, 12 and if it be true that the Blessed Sacrament is both the augmentation and the perfection of the spiritual life within us, and that the Passion of our Lord is the fountain, origin, and principle of the Blessed Sacrament, then is it true that for each one of us that marvellous avenue of graces, which began in the Immaculate Conception, runs without a fault or break straight to the Blessed Sacrament. The one mystery answers to the other; the one illuminates the other; the one completes and consummates the other. The Blood that is in the Chalice is from the living Heart of Jesus. It was shed in the Passion before it was shed in the Chalice. It had lived long in His Sacred Heart before He shed it; and He took it at the first, with His spotless Flesh, from the Immaculate Heart of Mary; and that it was sinless and stainless there was from the Immaculate Conception. And so at one end of the avenue is Mary's sinless flesh, prepared for her as for the Mother of God, and at the other end the sinful flesh of man made immortal and incorruptible by the Flesh of Jesus, Mary's Son, and the sinful soul of man bathed to a glorious purity in the Blood of Jesus, Mary's Son, through the mystery of His sweet Sacrament of love; and the light that lies ahead, the light we are all approaching, and have not yet attained, the glow and splendour of our heavenly home, it is by the same sweet Sacrament that we shall attain it, and make it ours at last. So at every mass, and in each communion we look up to the Immaculate Conception. The light of that far-reaching mystery is in our faces on the altar-step. It beams direct upon us, and so full is it of the same light as the Blessed Sacrament that we seem almost to hear our Mother's voice from that distant fountain, 13 "Eat, O friends, and drink, and be inebriated, my dearly beloved." 14
But to return from this digression, if digression it really be. All that is Mary's seems to tell us more of Jesus than it does of her; and His mysteries again throw more light on her than they do on Him. Who shall sunder what God has so marvellously joined? This is my excuse. I have asked you to look at the four fountains of devotion to our Lady, which preceded the Sacred Infancy, and to see how they owe their light and glory to it.
Now, let us look at the four fountains of her glory which are subsequent to the Sacred Infancy. Never was mere creature exalted to such a position of power and empire as was Mary made mother of mankind at the foot of the Cross, when her woes were consummated and her heart broken, and yet she miraculously lived. Yet here again the light of the Sacred Infancy is on her. It is as Mother of God that she becomes Mother of men as well. It is because she bore Him that she had a right to share with Him what He bore for us. Again, when at Pentecost she, who was all light already, was inconceivably illuminated and gifted by the Holy Ghost, it was as the Mother of the Word that she became queen of the apostles of the Word. The glory of her death of love was also the earthly crown of the Annunciation; and the mystery of the Assumption involved the heavenly crown whereby our Lord paid her for the delightful ministries of her maternal love. Of course all these four mysteries have a beauty and a glory and a significance of their own; yet they are what they are, their full beauty and dignity belongs to them, because of the mysteries of the Sacred Infancy.
Our Lady's life may be divided into four mysteries preceding the Incarnation, the Immaculate Conception, the Nativity, the Presentation, and the Espousals, then into the four great mysteries of the Sacred Infancy, the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, and Presentation, and then into four mysteries subsequent, her Compassion, Pentecost, her Death, and her Assumption. These are her twelve stars. Between the Sacred Infancy and the Cross there intervene four mysteries of shadow, and of deepest import, full of glory, but a hidden glory, or rather a seeming shame. These I call the Eclipse of Mary, wherein she is most especially likened to her Son, and drinks deepest of the similitudes of the Incarnation. They are the Finding in the Temple, the Marriage at Cana, Jesus leaving Nazareth to begin His Ministry, and His words when He was told that she was at the door. Full as they are of doctrine and devotion, these four mysteries do not concern us now. What I wish to point out here is that the fountains of her honour are in the four great mysteries of the Sacred Infancy, the Annunciation whereby she became the Mother of God, the Visitation which implies His life in the Womb, the Nativity when He put Himself into her hands, and the Presentation when He enabled her to offer to God an offering as immense as God Himself: and that these four mysteries cast a light on the four that precede the Sacred Infancy, and the four that follow it: and the four mysteries of her Eclipse would be no mysteries at all but for her Divine Maternity. Then I argue thus: The devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is the same as the devotion to the Sacred Infancy. But devotion to the Sacred Infancy is in fact devotion to our Blessed Lady. Therefore devotion to our Blessed Lady is devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Judge whether I prove this sufficiently.
Those whose spirit leads them to look at everything as it comes from Jesus, as His doing, or permitting, or willing, base their devotion to our Blessed Lady simply on the will of her Son; and while they by no means think lightly of the decrees of God, the intrinsic rights of the Divine Maternity, or the theological conveniences which we learn in the schools, nevertheless, they repose the devotion to our Blessed Lady on these three axioms or facts: 1. Jesus did not come without her. 2. When He came, He made the access to Him lie through her. 3. When He went He left her to be to the Church what she had been to Him, and in fact always works in the Church by her and never without her. 15 Now, look at the first fact, Jesus did not come without her. She was an integral part of the plan of redemption, not a mere ornament, as some speak. Can anything be merely ornamental in any work of God? It may be doubted whether it is consistent with reverence to say so. The first thing that meets us in the Sacred Infancy is that He will not be incarnate without her consent. That there was the Incarnation was owing to her consent, and therefore, that there was the Blessed Sacrament, which is a daily and hourly renewal of the Incarnation, is owing to her consent. What is present in the Blessed Sacrament by the force of consecration is just what He took from Mary, and only that, His Flesh and Blood. All else is present by concomitance. Some theologians say deep things of the preservation of the original matter of His Body, and its not being liable to the usual changes. St. Ignatius had a mysterious vision in which Mary showed him what was in some sense hers in the Adorable Host. But these thoughts led once through an untheological exaggeration to an irregular devotion, mentioned by Benedict XIV; and so for the present I pass on. I have said enough for my present purpose. Let us come to the second fact. When He came, He made the access to Him lie through her. When St. John the Baptist was to be sanctified, it was through her that the grace came. She was as it were deputed to confer on him the insignia of original justice. But I have already shown the parallel which there is between the Blessed Sacrament and our Lord's life in the Womb. When the simple shepherds come to worship the new-born king in Bethlehem, our Lady stands guardian by the manger side. When the learned kings of the East knelt to make their mystic offerings to the Omnipotent Child, it was on Mary's lap they found Him. Her knees were the seat of wisdom. And if they kissed the Saviour's feet, it was she who interpreted His will, and permitted the familiarity and the grace. So too in the Blessed Sacrament, the light of her dignity shines upon the priests of her Son, and what was once her singular prerogative has become the office and the right of multitudes. For what is Benediction, but repeating what was done to the shepherds and the kings? only in this, as in all things else, the Blessed Sacrament multiplies and enriches the first privileges of the Incarnation; and whereas this happened once to the shepherds and once to the kings, it now happens many times a day all the world over, and freely to mixed multitudes of good and bad. Turn to the third fact. He always works in the Church by her, and never without her. In dogma, it has passed almost into a proverb that the doctrine about Mary shields the doctrine about Jesus, and contains it as she once contained Himself. 16 In ritual they are never separated. In devotion they have grown together: and in great ecclesiastical epochs, her action has been manifested to the Church in countless ways, both natural and miraculous. As M. Olier and his school have long since been prominent in teaching, just as St. Bernard taught in his doctrine about the mystical neck of the Church, our Lord never seems to act in any notable way in the Church without our tracing the instrumental hand and power of Mary. So it was in the Sacred Infancy; the world was governed through and from her: as the world is governed at this hour through and from the species of the Blessed Sacrament. So that if you examine it reverently and minutely, the Sacred Infancy is itself a picture of the Blessed Sacrament and of Mary in the Church: the Blessed Sacrament images the Sacred Infancy and Mary in the Church; and Mary in the Church is best seen, best explained, and best commented upon, by the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Infancy. And how far does experience bear out what has been said? Why, to so great an extent, that in the devout life it is almost the same thing to say of a man, that he has a great devotion to our Blessed Lady, or that he has a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
Much more might be said of devotion to our Blessed Lady in connection with devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; but it must be remembered I am only concerned with it now, so far as it bears upon the Sacred Infancy.
11. Written while the Vicar of Christ was gathering to the Holy City the Catholic episcopate to celebrate this most auspicious event of his grand pontificate.
12. De Euch. q. lxxix, art 1. ad prim.
13. Cant. v. 1.
14. How many hearts were set to ponder on eternal things by the unearthly joy which took visible possession of all the nations, tribes and languages of the Church, at the definition of the Immaculate Conception; and how it seemed to darken the dread shadow in which those were, who stood back hurt and scared by that outburst of light from the Eternal Truth, that making visible of Mary's Throne by the Incarnate Word Himself! It is as if the definition of the Immaculate Conception were the grand probation of our times, when the Mother is now, like her Son, set for the rise or fall of many who deemed themselves in Israel.
15. This last truth is wonderfully brought out in the letters of M. Olier, and was a principal characteristic of his beautiful spirit. It has descended upon his sons, and as it was in his own time the spirit of the saintly Lantages of Puy, so is it now of the writer of the life of Sister Bourgeoys, and other works, whose modesty it would be indelicate to offend by praise.
16. See Father Newman's Discourses On the Glories of Mary, xvii, xviii.