OUR LORD'S GREAT DESIRE [See Eucharistic Triduum, by Pere Lintelo, S.J.]
"He Himself more than once, and in no ambiguous terms, pointed out the necessity of eating- His Flesh and drinking His Blood frequently." These words are found in the early part of the famous decree of December 1905, in which the practice of frequent Communion is so strongly urged by Pius X. on the Faithful of our day, and they may here serve as a text for some instruction on the desire of Our Lord to see His Sacrament of love more freely received, than has been the custom in the recent past, for the greater welfare of souls.
At the outset, we must remember that our Divine Saviour—being God, our Lord and Master—might, had it so pleased Him, have required of all of us, by positive command, the daily reception of Holy Communion, and we, as His creatures, would have been bound by every title to comply with His precept. In His infinite goodness, however, and with divine moderation, He never gave such a precept, for His Wisdom foresaw the difficulties that would stand in the way of His followers always being able to comply with it; sickness and ailing health would prevent many, distance from church would likewise be an obstacle, while the greater number of people have their daily work to attend to, and the livelihood of dependents to provide for, so that it would be morally impossible for them to approach daily to the Holy Table. Then again, the general spirit of the Gospel is not a spirit of coercion and force, but rather an appeal to the generosity and love of the Faithful.
At the same time, while a loving Master never laid upon His disciples the obligation of daily, or even of frequent Communion, we feel that such was His earnest wish and desire, as may be learnt from three distinct considerations.
1. The Matter of this Sacrament.
Our Lord, Creator of all things, and Lord of the universe, could have chosen any substance for the miracle of transubstantiation other than bread. He did not take an attractive substance for this purpose, such as a bright and brilliant flower, that might lead men to admire Him, and pay Him all their homage and adoration. Nor did He choose some permanent substance, as, for instance, a diamond, that by its hardness and solidity could scarcely be disposed of. What He did choose was something that could be consumed and eaten, thus clearly showing what His wish was, namely, to be received as spiritual food by men.
Then, when He did make His choice, it was no dainty that He fixed upon, no delicacy that would be difficult to procure, but a substance that was easily obtained, one of daily use, namely, bread. Common bread is not considered a treat; you do not offer a child a piece of bread as a reward of merit, but bread is for everyone, and for everyday use for all. In thus choosing bread for the miracle of transubstantiation, Our Lord would seem to show forth His desire that the spiritual food He was providing should be for all His followers, and for their use every day.
This may also be gathered by comparing the matter and the effects in the Sacraments ; thus, water in the natural order serves to wash and cleanse, hence its use in Baptism, which is designed to purify the soul from the stain of original sin. So, in the Holy Eucharist, as bread feeds the body, it is the apt and appropriate matter for this Sacrament, and as bread is used daily in our physical life, so the Holy Eucharist should be received daily for the support of our spiritual life.
If further proof of this be necessary, it will be found in Our Lord's words, as given in S. John's Gospel, vi. 35, 56 : "I am the bread of life," that is, the living bread come down from Heaven, of which He was discoursing with His apostles, Himself living, and giving life to the soul, life more vigorous and active in proportion as the soul receives Him more frequently, just as man's bodily life is the more strenuous, as he takes his food more regularly. Then again : " My flesh is meat indeed," that is for the life of man's soul; therefore must we receive it frequently as we do bodily food.
Thus does Our Saviour long to be united to His creatures, abiding in them, with a close and intimate union, of which S. Cyril speaks thus : " If anyone pours more wax into a mass of melted wax, the two must necessarily mix and become one. So, he that receives the Body and Blood of the Lord must also be so joined to Him, that Christ will be found in Him and he in Christ."
To enforce these teachings and bring them home to all, the Catechism of the Council of Trent observes : " It is part of the duty of the parish priest frequently to exhort the Faithful not to neglect the nourishment and support of their souls, even as they deem it needful to give material nourishment to their bodies ; for it is evident that the soul has no less need of spiritual food than the body has of material." When we speak of taking food and nourishment, we imply the idea of a daily act, as is found everywhere and at every period of life ; the human system requires this much, to repair and preserve its vigour, and to provide against the exhaustion of its strength. What is true of the physical life, holds also for the spiritual, for which Our Lord in His Sacrament so earnestly yearns to provide. The very matter He chose for it shows the longing desire of His heart for its frequent reception.
2. The Manna, a Type.
This subject has already been dealt with at some length in the chapter on Types and Figures of the Holy Eucharist. It is referred to here again only as an argument to show that Our Lord, who spoke of it to His apostles, Himself used it to imply that we should frequently, and even daily, receive Holy Communion.
It is not a mere comparison we make between the manna and the Blessed Sacrament; but the manna is truly a type, and a chief one, of the Eucharist, proclaiming the nature and the effects of the marvellous gift God was in due time to bestow upon men.
Our Lord illustrated His discourse on the Blessed Sacrament by allusion to the manna. This was the daily food of the Hebrews in the desert; without it, they would have died of hunger and exhaustion. What is the inference ? That the Blessed Sacrament, the food of our soul, must be received as food, that is, regularly and as required, otherwise the soul will die the death of sin.
But the love of the Sacred Heart extends much further than this : Its burning desire is that we should go frequently, very frequently to receive this heavenly manna. For, reminding the Jews how their forefathers in the Desert of Sin partook daily of the bread that fell from the heavens, for the support of their bodies, Our Saviour argued and implied that His Flesh and Blood, the true Bread from Heaven, should likewise be received every day by men for the life of their souls, in the desert of this world through which they are passing.
The early Christians did indeed carry out this behest of Our Lord, and such was their piety that numbers among them received Holy Communion every day, and this was their practice for many generations. Their fervour, however, cooled down and the salutary habit fell into disuse. The present Pontiff, Pius X., has endeavoured, and with great success, to revive it among the Faithful, and once more we are urged to approach the Holy Table every morning, before entering on the day's work, with all its distractions and temptations and dangers.
The Jews, who through indifference failed to gather the manna day by day, brought their own punishment on themselves, for they lacked vigour and strength of body in consequence. If, then, we abstain from frequent Communion, through sloth or tepidity, we too shall experience exhaustion of the spiritual strength of our souls. Knowing this, Our Lord's great desire is that we approach even daily to the Holy Table.
3. Petition in the Lord's Prayer.
The fourth petition of the "Our Father" is : " Give us this day our daily bread," as to which the papal decree says : " The holy Fathers of the Church all but unanimously teach that by these words must be understood not so much that material bread which is the support of the body, as the Eucharistic bread which ought to be our daily food."
Though some of the Fathers, whose writings constitute the tradition of the Church on this matter, hold that the petition refers chiefly to the Holy Eucharist, yet others say exclusively, which seems to be the more common opinion.
All the petitions of the Lord's Prayer refer to the supernatural life of the soul in some way or other ; thus, the prayer that God may be known and praised by His creatures is true zeal that makes our souls more holy; the petition that God's kingdom may spread upon the earth is another expression of that same zeal, and so of the rest that concern the Christian as such. Now, it would seem inappropriate and out of keeping with the rest of the prayer that this fourth petition should refer chiefly to the bread that feeds the body; all the others are of the supernatural order, and this one alone would then be of the lower rank.
Often, in the Gospels, does Our Lord warn against over-anxiety about the concerns of the body : " Be not solicitous for your life what you shall eat, nor for your body what you shall put on. . . . Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matt. vi. 25, 33). " Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that which endureth unto life everlasting, which the Son of Man will give you " (John vi. 27).
After such admonitions, it would seem inconsistent that Our Lord should bid us daily ask for bodily food (our daily bread), whilst urging no such prayer for the infinitely more precious food of the soul! Hence, " daily bread " clearly means the Holy Eucharist. Behold in this His own prayer, the ardent desire of Jesus Christ that we should daily receive Him as our soul's food. The practice of the early Church and the earnest recommendation of daily Communion by Pius X. are a manifest interpretation of Our Lord's words : " Give us this day our daily bread."
S. Hilary says: " Our Saviour has such a desire to dwell within us, returning to us day by day, that He commands us to ask for it in our daily prayer." And S. Ambrose : " If this bread be 'daily,' why do you partake of it less frequently ? "
Our Lord, in one of His instructions, once said : "I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?" (Luke xii. 49). Similarly, if He offers us daily on the Altar the supernatural food of the soul, surely it is His ardent wish that we should daily partake of it. This is the normal measure in which He would desire us to use the generous gift He has left us. And if there be many who, for various causes, cannot partake of it daily, it must surely be His will that they should at least receive it frequently.
Be it therefore our endeavour now to approach more often than perhaps we have hitherto done, nay, as often as we can, this heavenly banquet of Holy Communion. We have seen how greatly Our Lord desires this, and we also know how His Vicar on earth has endeavoured to revive the ancient practice of the Church, daily Communion, if possible. With these considerations before our minds, we shall fail in loyalty to Our Lord and the Holy Father, as also to the best interests of our souls, if, through indifference or any unworthy motive, we neglect such an abundant source of grace, such a powerful aid to the spiritual life. The next chapter will deal more fully with this matter.