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



IF WE pass from the great devotions connected with the Sacred Infancy to its own details and minute circumstances, we still find the same striking picture of the Blessed Sacrament. What our Blessed Lord allowed to happen to Himself in the days of His childhood, He allows to happen to Himself daily in His sacramental life.
The Creator of the world lay as a weak Babe in the manger, and the irrational creatures, the patient ox, the despised ass, stood where the kings of the earth did not deserve to be. They gazed fearlessly with their meek, unintelligent eyes on the veiled majesty of the Eternal. They warmed His cold limbs with their neighbourhood and their breath. Just so He lies upon the altar, and the lights twinkle round Him, and the flowers shed their fragrance and wither away before Him, and the curls of sweet smoke from aromatic gums rise up daringly to His throne, and entwine themselves amid the rays of His monstrance, and dim the crystal of His home, and leave their odour upon His veil. All that is little, simple, innocent, is gathered for Him out of His own creation, and put to attend on Him, as it was in His Nativity. In Bethlehem He slept; and Mary and Joseph saw the closed eyes, and heard the regular breathing, and watched all the graceful circumstances of childhood's sleep. Nothing could be more complete than His seeming inobservance. For awhile it looked, as if the cold and the misery of the cave were buried for Him in a happy oblivion, the outer world cut off from Him, the current of bitter thought sundered in twain, and the awful omnipresence, so to call it, of His prescience suspended in an infant's light but refreshing slumber. But no! beneath that breast the heart is awake though the body sleeps. Beneath those restful eyelids the terrific vision of Calvary is strong and clear, and fierce as in the hours of vigilance. Sleep has touched not the operations of His commanding reason, where ineffable acts of sacrifice, religion, merit, and dignity, are being multiplied with every one of the precipitate pulsations of the new-born Babe. Just so in the tabernacle. There He sleeps in the embrace of a mystical death. He debars Himself from the use of His senses. He sees not with His eyes, He hears not with His ears; He stretches not forth His hands, nor do His lips part to speak, neither does the incense strike upon His sense of smell. But He is there under the species governing the world, dispensing grace, and living a multiform life which it baffles our words to tell, and our love to worship worthily.
But let us leave Bethlehem. The cold starlight is over the great desert, and the chill breeze of morning is circulating freshly over its vast fields of dew-damped sand. God is a little spot, a speck in the horizon of His own wilderness. He has come whom the world has unutterably yearned for these thousands of years, and now, though His beautiful presence has been but a few weeks among them, He has to fly like a fugitive from His own creatures. Borne in St. Joseph's arms He leaves the land where for centuries He has been doing wonders of grace and mercy, and He seeks to hide Himself in the darkest recesses of idolatrous Egypt. To the world's eye St. Joseph is in an attitude of guilt and shame. He is flying before the powers of the world to save the Child whom a king's ordinance has doomed. Mary's heart is full to overflowing. She knows, as never apostle knew, as never doctor of the Church has known yet, the excessive beauty of her Child; and now the world, instead of drawing towards Him, throws Him off from its skirt as a troublesome and undesirable thing. For Himself He rests passively in St. Joseph's arms. He lets the cold wind of the desert meet Him in the face, till His tender limbs tremble in the cold. The vivid, glaring sun rains out its intolerable light upon the sparkling sands, and Jesus is painfully dazzled by the burning reflection. The bubbling of the infrequent fountain is pleasant to His ear with a human pleasantness; and the cool shade of the palm is grateful to its own omnipotent Creator. What a mystery is all this! Vary all the conceivable circumstances of that flight, and what volumes upon volumes of devotional theology they will give out. All that art has imagined, or that poetry has sung, all that the world knows of epic grandeur, or lyric pathos, what is it to the beautiful and the sublime of our Saviour's Infant Flight?

But look at that wild and lawless modern town. [Described from some American papers of the day.] The people are up in arms. The frightful spirit of sedition has gathered together its reckless masses, who have lost their individual consciences for the moment in the excitement of multitude. They have gathered round a Catholic chapel. Their gestures are those of madmen, their cries the yells of angry savages. There is not a trace of education left in them, not a vestige of moral restraint, not a gesture of gentle feeling. The very traces of civilization are obliterated, as by a deluge, from that barbarian horde. The dark spirit, who is God's enemy, has swept into their minds; he has possessed their souls; he boils in their blood; he thinks in their brain. They throw themselves with axe and fire upon the sanctuary of God; they are burning to massacre the Innocent who lies upon its altar. Wending through the crowd, fearful and in disguise, though with intrepid soul, is the priest of God. He makes no effort to stay the frenzied populace. Not a word to dissuade them from their black design. His end is to escape notice, to seem, now as if he were one of them, and now as if a passenger importunely hindered as he goes along the street. He is flying with Jesus. For himself he would willingly court Martyrdom. But he bears his Lord. Jesus is among those blinded wild beasts. They brush against Him, press rudely upon Him, thrust His little silver home against the bosom of His priest, who is flying with Him from the sacrilege. It is now, in the streets of that city of the Western Republic, whose name it would be ungenerous to record, as it was when the people of Capharnaum would fain have taken our Lord and cast Him headlong from the rock on which their city was built; He passed through the midst of them and they saw Him not. Or, once more, look in the streets of London. The streams of public vehicles are meeting and passing, the equipages of the rich and noble dashing by, the pavements crowded to rudeness and discomfort, and a thousand signs of a powerful and corrupt civilization glittering in the windows. A priest is threading his difficult way amid it all, with his eyes cast down, and a look of bashfulness about him which they who notice him account a consciousness of guilt. His Roman collar betrays him, and to many, as he passes along, is he a source of bitter thought and of unkindly suspicion. Many a curse is laid on him that he knows not of, and God is commuting them into blessings. Here and there one of the poor Irish salute him and do him reverence. He returns not the salute; he answers not so much as a Benedicite; and they, alone of all that crowd, they know thereby, that he is flying with our Lord to the sick and dying, like Joseph through the streets of Heliopolis, and they stop and turn and look back till he is out of sight, and they, think a thought and breathe a prayer, which are more to God than the wealth and art and politics and all the changes of ministry in that royal Babylon. They, the Irish outcasts of haughty Protestantism, the ragged pariahs of proud and heartless London, they alone have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to love and minds to understand and illuminated souls to worship and adore. Where is the antitype of these pictures, but in the Infant Flight?
But let us return from Egypt. What a mystery is that fresh hiding of Himself in the Holy House of Nazareth and Loretto! The Redeemer of the world is seemingly inactive, as if He were capable of some uncertainty of purpose, or as if the prospect made Him draw back and delay, or as if He were so delighted with the dear human nature which He had condescended to assume, that He could not tear Himself away from the consecrated walls which had witnessed the stupendous mystery. Theology and devotion can people that obscurity with wonders. But we must not delay upon them now. Look at Him simply so far as He was known and unknown in that quiet town of Nazareth. Mary knew Him, as none have known Him since. Joseph knew Him and adored Him, even while by the ordinance of God his humility was mastering itself to command Him. St. Elizabeth when she came there knew Him. The young Evangelist St. John, and others perhaps with him, were attracted to Jesus they knew not why. They felt pure and holy and good while they were with Him. His lips dropped wisdom and love. His tears were music. His manners like some wonder of heaven, tranquilizing, awe-inspiring, attractive. The atmosphere around Him was charmed. It was in itself a preparation for Messias. There were outer circles still where He was looked at as He followed Joseph to his shop or Mary to the well. These thought Him strange. The sight of Him cast their minds back perforce on Hebrew glories, and people quoted scripture about Him almost unconsciously. Everything He did, or most things, were prognostics. If they lived they should expect to hear of Him in times to come. Others saw Him, and to them He was all very well; but what was there extraordinary? It was good not to exaggerate about Him. He was too quiet, shy, reserved, silent, as a child, to make a hero when a man. It was enough for Mary that she was the Mother of an inoffensive Son, Who would never bring trouble to her heart nor shame to her home. Others again were piqued at what they deemed the discreet notice taken of Him. They were of such tempers as to be vexed because He was admired, and to depreciate Him because He was praised. They were of that overwhelmingly numerous class to whom the excellence of others is really a mental and physical discomfort. Upon the whole it was with the Child then, as it was with the Man afterwards; the Prophet had not honour in His own country. Now change Nazareth into the world, the Holy House into a Catholic Church, His room into the Tabernacle, the Child into the Host; there is the same hiddenness, the same secrecy, the same intimate sweetness, the same exterior reception varying from faithful praise to kindly doubt, from contemptuous neglect to angry belief. Both as far as He is known and as far as He is unknown, how faithful the copy, how wonderful the parallel!

We may pass from the different mysteries and details of His Infancy to the states in which He vouchsafed to be during it, and still there results the same analogy with the Blessed Sacrament. His state of poverty in the adorable Host equals, if it does not exceed, the poverty of Bethlehem, of Egypt, and of Nazareth. He is shorn of everything, so shorn that it is a great act of faith to believe that He is there at all, or can submit to what the Catholic doctrine involves respecting His sacramental life. If the world was scandalized at the littleness of the Incomprehensible and Immense within the dimensions of an Infant, what will it be at His littleness in the Host where He exists without any dimensions at all! When He clothed His radiant and flashing majesty with the flesh and blood of a puny Child, and hid in tiny, perplexed, and entangled fingers the Incorporeal Right Hand that wields the thunder, and swings huge solar systems up in the loose void of homeless. space, it was a meanness of disguise which struck Isaias with holy stupor when he beheld the word of God, long as eternity, broad as perfection, deep as omnipotence, thus "abbreviated" [Verbum abbreviatum.] in a Virgin's Womb and on a Mother's lap. How much more incomparably mean this new disguise of Bread and Wine? If the obedience of the Omnipotent and His subjection to Joseph were mysteries which marvellously rebuke our human pride and the conceit of our free will, is not His state in the Blessed Sacrament eminently and above all other things a state of obedience, obedience to His own words, to His priests, nay, to the very accidents of the substance whose place He has taken, the subjection, may I dare to say it? of His Soul to His Body, of His divine to His human nature, by the force of consecration? And as to the state of helplessness, who would venture to compare even the helplessness of the Infant with the helplessness of the Host? And as His state of dereliction at His Nativity was such that He had only Mary and Joseph by His Manger, as afterwards Mary and John by His Cross, so here how often has He but the priest and his server in attendance on Him? And if, by His own will, He was deserted by His angels on the Cross, yet as His dereliction in His Infancy included not the heavenly host, who sang aloud in the sky, proclaiming His Nativity, so neither does His dereliction in the Blessed Sacrament extend to the holy Angels who are round Him ever in thickly wreathed choirs of spiritual beauty, with the souls of saints who in lifetime have loved with a peculiar love to haunt the tabernacle. So that here we have a parallel with the Infancy, in a matter where the Infancy is distinguished from the Passion, where He Himself held back the eager legions of Angels, and suffered but one solitary and O! how deeply favoured spirit to console Him in the garden, as if to show it was His will, not their coldness, which made them mute, inactive, and invisible in the noontide darkness upon Calvary.

Now, at the risk of repetition, let me ask you to look back upon these Devotions, Mysteries, and States of the Sacred Infancy: and when you see how like they are to the Devotions, Mysteries, and States of the Blessed Sacrament, omit not to notice how in each one of them the Blessed Sacrament first comes up to the Sacred Infancy, and then goes beyond it. If He dwelt in one Womb, He has dwelt in millions of Tabernacles; and if He dwelt there for nine months, He has dwelt here for ages. If He was hidden in one Holy House, He hides now in countless Churches. If He had two seats whereon He vouchsafed to rest, joseph's arm and Mary's knee, He rests now in the hands of numberless priests, and on the tongues of daily multitudes. If Mary showed Him to the shepherds and the kings, His priests show Him often, to mingled crowds of bad and good. If He were incarnate once, He has been consecrated in the mystery of Transubstantiation numberless and simultaneous times. If He once caused the Baptist to exult by His imparted sweetness, He has done so to millions at benediction and in communion, and to the same souls over and over again. If He ,vas once in a manger and between animals, hiddenly, He has been openly upon a thousand altars amid His creatures. If He slept so many given hours in the Sacred Infancy, what are they to the hours He has slept His mystic sleep in the pyx? He fled once into Egypt with Joseph; He has fled with His priests from sacrilege or to the sick times out of number. If His poverty in the Blessed Sacrament does not exceed, as it does, in actual destitution His poverty at Bethlehem, it has this pre-eminence, that whereas Bethlehem was His first choice of poverty, now He has been enriched with the glory of His resurrection, Ascension and Session, and yet, so enamoured is He of that state, that He goes out of His way to make choice of it a second time in the Blessed Sacrament. If He was little as an Infant, at least He had the commensurable dimensions of an Infant; in the Host He has no dimensions at all; He neither measures, extends, nor weighs. His meanness of disguise we have already seen to be more complete in the Blessed Sacrament, and His abandonment more utter. If He was obedient to one joseph, He is here obedient to thousands of priests, and comes from heaven at their bidding, and runs swiftly, nay, in one indivisible moment, through a scale of unequalled miracles, at Five Words from them. And as to helplessness as an Infant, the very sign of it, the Infant's cry, was a power which the Blessed Sacrament has not. There He has abjured even the power of complaining.

It will be remembered that among the observations which gave rise to this lengthened parallel between the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Infancy there were two which deserved to have particular stress laid upon them. One was the fact, that the Church appointed the Preface of the Nativity as the Proper Preface for the Masses of the Blessed Sacrament, and had several times in the hymns and office of Corpus Christi alluded significantly to the Sacred Infancy. It was partly therefore the example and practice of the Church which indicated this particular course of inquiry. And we are now in a condition to consider the objection which St. Thomas puts to himself in the Summa, and which will still further illustrate this ritual teaching of the Church. If, he says, the Eucharist is the renewal of the Passion and Sacrifice of Christ, why is it not that on Good Friday, the annual and solemn commemoration of the Passion, there is no consecration, whereas on Christmas Day, when we have no memorial of the Passion, we have the singular custom of three Masses? He replies that the Eucharist, as a Sacrifice, renews the Sacrifice on Calvary, and therefore on the day when the actual and bloody Sacrifice took place, the Church, by a beautiful instinct, forbids the unbloody immolation of Christ upon her altars. But in order that on no one day she might be deprived of the fruit of the Passion offered to us by this Sacrament, the Body of Christ consecrated the day before is reserved to be consumed on that day; the Precious Blood, however, is not reserved, because on Good Friday the Blood was separated from the Body, and because it is in a special sense "the image of the Lord's Passion." But he finds a peculiar fitness in the triple celebration of mass on Christmas Day, because of the remarkable connection between the Blessed Sacrament and the Nativity, a connection wider than the one here indicated between the Eucharist and the Sacred Infancy. For he says that Christ has three nativities, His Eternal Nativity in the Bosom of the Father, represented by the midnight mass, with its appropriate Introit; His spiritual Nativity in the souls of His elect, and this is represented by the Mass of the Aurora, when Christ.

the morning star, to use St. Peter's expression, is born in our hearts; and finally His temporal and corporal Nativity at Bethlehem, which is celebrated in the third Mass, whose Introit announces that now unto us the Child is born, while, most deeply and most naturally, its Gospel leads us back to the Eternal Generation of the Word. This connection then between the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Infancy is not a fancy, or a piece of poetic imagery; but it is true in the nature of things, and has been apprehended by the Church, and beautifully embodied in these ritual arrangements.
But the authority of the Church was not all, though it was of course abundantly sufficient. The second observation on which stress was laid was the fact, that God was pleased to allow frequent apparitions in connection with the Blessed Sacrament, and in almost all the cases, or in by far the greater number of them, the appearances which the Saints have seen have been those of infants. So it seemed as if God Himself indicated the connection between the Blessed Sacrament and the Sacred Infancy. For several reasons this observation must now be dwelt upon at greater length, and these apparitions explained.

There is no depth in creation which is shrouded with a more Divine and impenetrable secrecy than the residence of Jesus beneath the accidents of the consecrated Host. He has drawn close the pavilions of His tent, so that none can see Him, and has made purposely for Himself a supernatural darkness which the most subtle vision is utterly unable to penetrate. Take the most practised eye of anyone of God's greatest Saints, expert on visions and ecstasies and in all the sights and sounds, the apparitions and locutions of mystical theology; let it be purified with the most unheard of mortifications, and fortified with a celestial light; and all is in vain. It can see nothing. There is no possible power of vision which can be given to it, that will enable it to see our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Let death come; let all the restrictions of this life, and its imperfect use of the senses, pass away; let the resurrection of the just be anticipated for that saint, and let his body bloom in no common measure with the gifts of glory, and the brilliant awakening of unknown senses and of marvellous dormant powers, and let the light of glory, the lumen glorire, the medium in which the Blessed Trinity is visible, float like an atmosphere about the glorified Saint, and yet His corporal eye can see in the Host no more than ours. It is not gifted to pierce that veil. The eye of the Immaculate Mother herself is turned upon the Blessed Sacrament, and meets only the clouds and darkness that are round about our Lord. The Body of Jesus in its own species at the Right Hand of God she sees and adores and feeds her gaze upon; but the same Body under the sacramental species she beholds not. The Angels have no vision by which they can discern it; like the Blessed, they see it only by intelligence in their vision of the Divine Essence. The devils know it, feel it, fear it, are stupefied by it; but they cannot profane the sanctuary of that incomparable darkness. Some doctors have thought that even by the absolute power of God no corporal eye could be strengthened to behold our Lord, living visibly unextended, beneath the accidents. His own eye alone beholds Himself, for it is there with Him beneath the veil; yet even there, St. Thomas ventures to say that it sees not the manner in which our Lord is and lives under the species. 21 To see Him there is the prerogative of faith. Faith is to us what our Lord's eye is to Himself; perhaps it is more, for faith, if it tells not all, tells much of the manner of His sacramental being.

But if this be so, if the seal of this secrecy be never broken, what is to be said of these apparitions? Do they not break the secret? Are they not our Lord Himself? Most certainly they are not. Are they then unreal? As certainly not. They are most real, and yet they are not our Lord; and they leave inviolate and intact the mysterious laws of the Blessed Sacrament. 22 See how this comes to pass. It is a law of the Sacrament that as soon as the sacramental species cease to exist, the Body of our Lord ceases to exist beneath them. Thus, if He were to break through the species and show Himself as a veritable Infant, with the accidents of an Infant and its dimensions, He would cease to be in the Blessed Sacrament, and the Host out of which He had thus broken forth would cease to be the Blessed Sacrament, in virtue of His Own law. The apparition therefore is not our Blessed Lord Himself. Again, wherever our Lord's Body is, it is in one of two ways, either in His own proper species in heavenly glory, or without dimensions under the sacramental species, and under the sacramental species He is as He was the day He ascended into Heaven. Hence if He appeared as a veritable Infant, He would appear under a third species, which is impossible. He was once an Infant, but He is not so now, either in His proper species in heaven or under the species of the Sacrament; for if He were under the sacramental species as all Infant, the whole truth of the Sacrament would be destroyed; and it is named pre-eminently the sacrament of truth. The apparition therefore is not our Lord Himself. Once more,------whatever is in the Blessed Sacrament and beneath the species is there by consecration and transubstantiation. This infant which is seen, with its flesh and blood, has never been converted into the Body and Blood of : Christ. It is not there by consecration and therefore it is not veritable. Finally, then, the apparition is not our Lord Himself.

How, then, does it come to pass? There are two sorts of apparitions; and both of them true, supernatural, and Divine, the handiwork of God. First of all, God by His absolute power can make such an impression on the senses of His servant, that, while others see the usual whiteness, roundness, thinness, and quantity of the sacramental species, he beholds a beautiful vision of the Babe of Bethlehem, presented to him by the Divine will; and it is no deceit; for as St. Augustine says, a fiction which is referred to a signification is not a falsehood, but a figure of the truth. Or, again, when it is God's will that a whole multitude should behold this vision, instead of miraculously impressing their senses, He may please to change all the accidents of the Host, its commensurable quantity excepted, which is the root and support of all the accidents, 23 and may convert them into this appearance; and thus the laws of the Sacrament are not injured, falsified, or fundamentally disturbed, the dimensions remaining inviolate. Hence it follows that this infant is not an object of Divine Worship; nor if blood were to drop from the Host, as has repeatedly happened, and were preserved, could it be treated otherwise than we should treat a robe or fringe or sandal of our Lord. We could not fall down and worship it, as we must have done a drop of Blood flung from the scourge or curdled on the crown of thorns in the triduo of the Passion, before our Lord had re-assumed it on Easter morning. Thus, as appearances of flesh and blood are astounding evidences of the truth of the Blessed Sacrament, these apparitions of an infant are literally types, figures of its spirit, manifestations of its sweetness, disclosures of the devotional character which it is apt to form. The Blessed Sacrament blossoms as it were, and the product is not a passion-flower, but the little slender white ornament of our hedgerows, which the peasants in the north of England call the Star of Bethlehem.

21. In another place St. Thomas distinctly teaches that our Lord saw Himself under the species on the evening of Holy Thursday.
22.  For instances of these apparitions see Thyroeus de Apparitione Christi Sacramentali usitata et peregrina, Cologne, 1605.
23. This is the Thomist view, and is put forward by the angelical doctor as diminishing the number of miracles in Transubstantiation. There are very strong arguments. however, against the other accidents being supported on the commensurable quantity, and I have not been able to convince myself of the truth of the Thomist view.


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