‘[N]ever forget that the principal form of Eucharistic prayer is contained in the holy Sacrifice of the Altar. It is Our opinion that this point ought to be considered more carefully, Venerable Brethren, for it touches on a particularly important aspect of priestly life.
…We… hope to say something worthwhile in this matter by showing the principal reason why the holy Cure of Ars, who, as befits a hero, was most careful in fulfilling his priestly duties, really deserves to be proposed to those who have the care of souls as a model of outstanding virtue and to be honoured by them as their heavenly patron. If it is obviously true that a priest receives his priesthood so as to serve at the altar and that he enters upon this office by offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice, then it is equally true that for as long as he lives as God’s minister, the Eucharistic Sacrifice will be the source and origin of the holiness that he attains and of the apostolic activity to which he devotes himself. All of these things came to pass in the fullest possible way in the case of St John Vianney.
For, if you give careful consideration to all of the activity of a priest, what is the main point of his apostolate if not seeing to it that wherever the Church lives, a people who are joined by the bonds of faith, regenerated by holy Baptism and cleansed of their faults will be gathered together around the sacred altar? It is then that the priest, using the sacred power he has received, offers the divine Sacrifice in which Jesus Christ renews the unique immolation which He completed on Calvary for the redemption of mankind and for the glory of His heavenly Father. It is then that the Christians who have gathered together, acting through the ministry of the priest, present the divine Victim and offer themselves to the supreme and eternal God as a “sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God”. There it is that the people of God are taught the doctrines and precepts of faith and are nourished with the Body of Christ, and there it is that they find a means to gain supernatural life, to grow in it, and if need be to regain unity. And there besides, the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, grows with spiritual increase throughout the world down to the end of time.
It is only right and fitting to call the life of St John Vianney a priestly and pastoral one in an outstanding way, because he spent more and more time in preaching the truths of religion and cleansing souls of the stain of sin as the years went by, and because he was mindful of the altar of God in each and every act of his sacred ministry!
It is true of course that the holy Cure’s fame made great crowds of sinners flock to Ars, while many priests experience great difficulty in getting the people committed to their care to come to them at all, and then find that they have to teach them the most elementary truths of Christian doctrine just as if they were working in a missionary land. But as important and sometimes as trying as these apostolic labours may be, they should never be permitted to make men of God forget the great importance of the goal which they must always keep in view and which St John Vianney attained through dedicating himself completely to the main works of the apostolic life in a tiny country church.
This should be kept in mind, in particular: whatever a priest may plan, resolve, or do to become holy, he will have to draw, for example and for heavenly strength, upon the Eucharistic Sacrifice which he offers, just as the Roman Pontifical urges: “Be aware of what you are doing; imitate what you hold in your hands”’.
from his encyclical Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, 1 August 1959, by Pope St John XXIII, 1881-1963
‘As son, husband, father, ruler and Crusader, Saint Louis strove, in everything, to embody his holding on to God by faith. If we read the account of his daily life, written by Jean de Joinville, who knew the King most personally and fought alongside the King in the Crusades, beginning in 1248, we discover the source of the faith and good works by which Saint Louis held on to God, steadfastly remaining in the company of our Lord. Jean de Joinville writes:
“He so arranged the business of governing his country that every day he heard the hours of the Office sung, and a Requiem Mass without chant, and then a sung Mass of the day or the feast, if there was one. Every day after dinner he rested on his bed, and when he had slept and rested he said the Office of the Dead privately in his room with one of his chaplains, before hearing Vespers. In the evening he heard Compline (The Life of St. Louis, p. 36, n. 54)”.
Clearly, every day of the life of Saint Louis was centred in the Sacred Liturgy, above all, the Holy Eucharist.
When we consider the richness of virtue in the life of Saint Louis, for example, his daily and generous provision for the poor, his establishment of institutions to educate the young and to care for the sick and those in need, and his devotion to the sacred places of our Lord unto the giving of his last energies, we ask how it is possible that so many Christ-like qualities could be embodied in one man, in one lifetime.
The answer to our wonderment is the Eucharistic Sacrifice in which Saint Louis participated daily and which transformed him more and more into Christ’s own likeness. When we consider the complexity of his life as father of a large family and as ruler of a nation, we marvel at his wisdom, truly wisdom from God, by which he formed his every activity in daily Mass and praying of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Recalling the memory of Saint Louis, let us ask him to intercede for us, so that we may become men and women of the Eucharist. May we imitate Saint Louis, finding in the Holy Eucharist the grace to live every moment of our lives in and with Christ for the glory of God the Father and for the good of our neighbour, especially our neighbour who is in most need.
Imitating our beloved patron, Saint Louis, let us, each day, lift up our poor, sinful and doubting hearts to the Lord, placing them into His glorious pierced Heart. May we live every moment of our lives in the communion with the Lord, which is ours in the Holy Eucharist’.
from a homily, 2007, by Raymond, Cardinal Burke (Archbishop of St Louis, 2004-2008)
O God, who didst exalt blessed Louis from the cares of earthly rule to the glory of thy heavenly kingdom: grant, we pray thee, through his intercession; that, by fulfilling our duties on earth, we made be made heirs of the King of kings, even Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
Bangor Antiphony, 7th century, translated by Fr Adrian Fortescue, 1874-1923
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity from The Christian Year, 1827
by John Keble, 1792-1866
‘Later than Cajetan of Vicenza and earlier than Ignatius of Loyola, Anthony was called to be the father of one of those religious families which arose in such numbers during the sixteenth century to repair the ruins of the house of God. Lombardy, exhausted and demoralised by the wars for the possession of the duchy of Milan, was encouraged by the sight of the heroic virtues of Zaccaria to believe, hope and love once again. She listened to his fiery exhortations calling her to repentance, to meditation on the Passion and to more fervent devotion to, and more solemn adoration of, the Blessed Sacrament. (St Anthony Mary Zaccaria was the first who exposed the sacred Host unveiled for the adoration of the faithful for forty hours, in memory of the time spent by our Saviour in the tomb. This pious custom passed from Milan to become the practice of the whole Church, and allusion has been made elsewhere to its special significance during the three days immediately preceding Lent.) Thus he was truly the precursor of St Charles Borromeo, who in his reform of the clergy, people and monasteries of Milan had as his earnest supporters Anthony’s sons and daughters, the Clerks Regular and the Angelic Sisters of St Paul.
It is noteworthy that out of love for Jesus crucified he would have the mystery of the cross brought to the mind of all by the ringing of the bell on Friday afternoon about vesper time. The holy name of Christ was ever on his lips, and in his writings, and as a true disciple of St Paul, he ever bore the mortification of Christ in his body. He had a singular devotion to the Holy Eucharist, restored the custom of frequent communions, and is said to have introduced that of the public adoration of Forty Hours. Such was his love of purity that it seemed to restore life even to his lifeless body. He was also enriched with the heavenly gifts of ecstasy, tears, knowledge of future things, and the secrets of hearts and power over the enemy of mankind. At length, after many labours, he fell grievously sick at Guastalla, whither he had been summoned as arbitrator in the cause of peace. He was taken to Cremona, and died there amid the tears of his religious and in the embrace of his pious mother, whose approaching death he foretold. At the hour of his death, which took place on the third of the Nones of July, 1539, when he was thirty-six years of age, he was consoled by a vision of the apostles, and prophesied the future growth of his Society. The people began immediately to show their devotion to this saint on account of his great holiness and of his numerous miracles. The cult was approved by Leo XIII, who solemnly canonised him on Ascension Day, 1897’.
from The Liturgical Year by Dom Prosper Guéranger OSB, 1805-1875
Grant us, O Lord God Almighty: that we, being filled with the spirit of thy blessed Apostle Paul, may learn that pre-eminent knowledge of Christ Jesus, whereby thou didst wondrously teach blessed Anthony Mary to establish in thy Church new households of priests and virgins; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holty Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc - one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei - the holy common people of God’.
Dom Gregory Dix OSB, 1901-1952
O God, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy Passion: grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood; that we may ever know within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption; who livest and reignest with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Collect for Corpus Christi from Divine Worship: The Missal.
‘And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the overseer verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things.
Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the overseer in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.
And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the overseer, who provides for the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead’.
St Justin Martyr, 100-165 AD
O God, who through the foolishness of the Cross didst wondrously teach blessed Justin Martyr the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ: grant to us by his intercession; that driving away the errors that beset us, we may attain unto steadfastness of faith; through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen. - Divine Worship: The Missal.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, Bishop Davies of Shrewsbury writes to the faithful on the worthy reception of Holy Communion. Here is his pastoral letter in full.
My dear brothers and sisters,
On this Second Sunday of Easter, the Gospel tells of the encounter of the Apostle Thomas with the Risen Jesus which leads to his supreme profession of faith, “My Lord and my God!” I want to recall today how we who have not seen and yet believe come to this encounter of faith with Jesus Christ now in His Risen Body. It is an encounter which leads us in the Holy Eucharist to constantly renew Thomas’ profession of faith: “My Lord and my God!” In this Year of the Eucharist, I have reflected with you on how Christ loved us to the end by entrusting to the Church the Sacrifice and Sacrament of the Eucharist. Today, I want to recall how He invites us to the most intimate communion with Himself which we rightly call “Holy Communion!”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us: “To receive Holy Communion is to receive Christ himself”.
On this Sunday of Divine Mercy, we glimpse the mercy which led Our Lord to so entrust Himself to us and are moved to reflect on how we must be ready to receive Him and prepared in our own hearts “for so great and so holy a moment”. We may face the danger today of seeing the reception of Holy Communion in terms of secular inclusiveness. It would then become a token of our hospitality, rather than as the gift of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ which constitutes the most radical call to holiness and the means to becoming the saint we are each called to be.
At the end of his life, Saint John Vianney reflected, if only all his parishioners had accepted his call to frequent Holy Communion “they would all now be saints”. Holy Communion offers such an immediate path to holiness, to complete union with Christ Himself that He Himself told us: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”. The Catechism reminds us that we will always find in Holy Communion our true nourishment which restores our strength; separates us from daily sin; breaks disordered attachment to creatures; and roots the whole of our lives in Christ; and makes us so completely one with His Mystical Body the Church that we are truly “united heart and soul”.
We see why we can never approach Holy Communion casually, still less if we have not confessed and repented of any mortal sin or of a lifestyle in contradiction with our Christian calling. The Apostle Paul urged the first Christians to examine themselves carefully before receiving Holy Communion because anyone who did so in an unworthy state would, he said, be “guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord”. The Church calls us to frequent Holy Communion, prepared by the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation so that we might become holy, might become saints. The Second Vatican Council urged us to “frequent” both these two Sacraments eagerly and devoutly as the path to holiness.
This Eastertide, I want to invite you to consider how we each prepare for this moment of Holy Communion in the days, hours and minutes before we approach the Altar. Let us ask ourselves how we seek to receive Him with the deepest reverence and love, and how we spend the precious moments after receiving Holy Communion. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote beautifully of this time when she reflected “we are as close to Him, as we can be... He will do miracles within us, and will give us what we ask, since having come to visit us, He is as it were in our very house”. With the Apostle Thomas, may we not allow these moments to pass without many renewed acts of love, of adoration, of reparation, of thanksgiving, and of that Easter faith which cries out: “My Lord and my God!”
United with you in this Eucharistic faith and love,
+ Mark, Bishop of Shrewsbury
Looking to change something this Lent? Cardinal Sarah has some wise words on how to approach the altar and encounter Our Lord in the Most Holy Sacrament of his Real Presence...
‘Let us... look at how faith in the real presence can influence the way we receive Communion, and vice versa. Receiving Communion on the hand undoubtedly involves a great scattering of fragments. On the contrary, attention to the smallest crumbs, care in purifying the sacred vessels, not touching the Host with sweaty hands, all become professions of faith in the real presence of Jesus, even in the smallest parts of the consecrated species: if Jesus is the substance of the Eucharistic Bread, and if the dimensions of the fragments are accidents only of the bread, it is of little importance how big or small a piece of the Host is! The substance is the same! It is Him! On the contrary, inattention to the fragments makes us lose sight of the dogma. Little by little the thought may gradually prevail: “If even the parish priest does not pay attention to the fragments, if he administers Communion in such a way that the fragments can be scattered, then it means that Jesus is not in them, or that He is ‘up to a certain point’”.
The liturgy is made up of many small rituals and gestures — each of them is capable of expressing these attitudes filled with love, filial respect and adoration toward God. That is precisely why it is appropriate to promote the beauty, fittingness and pastoral value of a practice which developed during the long life and tradition of the Church, that is, the act of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. The greatness and nobility of man, as well as the highest expression of his love for his Creator, consists in kneeling before God. Jesus himself prayed on his knees in the presence of the Father.
Why do we insist on receiving Communion standing and on the hand? Why this attitude of lack of submission to the signs of God? May no priest dare to impose his authority in this matter by refusing or mistreating those who wish to receive Communion kneeling and on the tongue. Let us come as children and humbly receive the Body of Christ on our knees and on our tongue. The saints give us the example. They are the models to be imitated that God offers us!
I hope there can be a rediscovery and promotion of the beauty and pastoral value of this method. In my opinion and judgement, this is an important question on which the Church today must reflect. This is a further act of adoration and love that each of us can offer to Jesus Christ’.
Robert, Cardinal Sarah, from his preface to a new work on the reception of Holy Communion,
La distribuzione della comunione sulla mano. Profili storici, giuridici e pastorali
by Don Federico Bortoli
A Lenten Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Shrewsbury.
In this Eucharistic Year for the Diocese I am inviting us all to reflect more deeply on the mystery and reality of the Eucharist. My Advent Letter was an invitation to recognise with renewed faith and love the Blessed Sacrament of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ at the heart of all our churches. At the beginning of Lent, I want to draw your gaze especially towards the Altar where Christ’s Sacrifice, by which He loved us to the end, is made present anew (cf Jn 13:1). In Lent we think of the many sacrifices we are all called to make; yet Saint Peter draws our attention today to the one Sacrifice by which “Christ himself, innocent though he was, died once for sins, died for the guilty to lead us to God” (I Peter 3:18).
At the Altar this one Sacrifice of the Cross is made present for us anew in the offering of every Mass. As the Second Vatican Council taught, “At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the Eucharistic Sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until he should come again…” (Sacrosanctum Concilium n 47). Lest we should lose sight of this, the Liturgy requires that there should be “a cross with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, either on the Altar or near it… a cross clearly visible to the assembled people… so as to call to mind… the saving Passion of the Lord” (General Instruction of the Roman Missal n 308).
It is our Catholic faith that “Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present” in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar and that the Sacrifice of Christ, made once on the Cross, is truly made present and its grace applied in the Sacrifice of the Altar (CCC 1374, 1366). This, the Church’s Catechism explains, is “manifested in the very words of institution ‘This is my Body given for you’ and ‘This chalice which is poured out for you is the New Covenant in my Blood’” (CCC n 1365).
Yet, we might ask ourselves whether we have allowed the Mass to become reduced in our minds to merely a communal meal and celebration rather than the paschal banquet, the supper of the Lamb of God sacrificed for us? Have we thereby allowed new generations to become bored and uninterested in the Mass, by not allowing them to glimpse the awesome reality of this Sacrifice and Sacrament?
Might we also fail to appreciate why the Second Vatican Council taught so clearly that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the source and summit of the whole Christian life because in every Mass the central event of salvation becomes really present and the work of redemption is carried out (cf Lumen Gentium n 11, 3).
As Saint John Paul II explained in his last letter to the Church, “This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it… What more could Jesus have done for us? Truly, in the Eucharist, he shows us a love which goes ‘to the end’, a love which knows no measure” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia n 11). How, then, could our hearts ever remain unmoved by this love beyond all others? At the Altar, we learn love and sacrifice not only by imitation, but we receive the grace and power to live sacrificial lives in the service of Christ and one another in all of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. In the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we find the grace and power to live every Christian vocation which leads us to make before the Altar the promises of marriage, of ordination or of the consecrated life.
This year, I pray we may each come to appreciate more deeply why Saint John Vianney declared that: “if we glimpsed for a moment what the Holy Eucharist truly is, we would die not out of fear but out of love!” In turning our gaze towards the Altar and the Cross, let us pray that we may recognise with faith and ever growing wonder the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
United with you in this Eucharistic faith and prayer,
+ Mark, Bishop of Shrewsbury
Fr Lee Kenyon
A Treasure to be Shared
The Acolyte’s Toolbox