Meditations on the Eucharist written by Jeff Armbruster
Popular ‘opinion’ among many Christians, including many who identify themselves as Catholic (even a surprisingly large percentage of those attending Mass weekly), is that the Eucharist is just a symbol—a good symbol, but no more than that. Yet, there is a remarkable treasury of evidence (based on Jesus’ own word and recorded in scripture) to the opposite, i.e., that the Eucharist is, in fact, the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ Himself. In our most recent post on the validity of the Real Presence of the Eucharist, we shared what many of the Early Church Fathers had to say in support of that foundational teaching of the Church. But such support and verification are not just from the early days of the Church, it spans the two millennia since then, including the meditations included here.
Arguably one of the most remarkable intellectual and spiritual giants of the nineteenth century is one of the Church’s newest saints, St. John Henry Cardinal Newman. Newman spent the first half of his 90 years as an Anglican (he was an ordained priest in that Protestant tradition) and the remainder as a Roman Catholic priest, rising to the rank of Cardinal. He is now being considered for designation as ‘Doctor of the Church.’ His scholarship is noteworthy on a wide range of topics, but his meditations on the Holy Eucharist are simply extraordinary. In these two reflections (from a collection entitled, Everyday Meditations (2013)), ‘Holy Communion’ and ‘Food for the Soul,’ Newman shares from the depth of his heart the realities of this beautiful, loving, compassionate, salvific gift our loving Savior has given to us, His unworthy creations. Jesus did not give us a symbol of Himself, He gave us Himself. One of the most beautiful of Newman’s descriptions of Jesus giving of Himself in the Eucharist is, “My Lord, my Savior, to me, you come, hidden under the semblance of earthly things, yet in that very flesh and blood which you took from Mary. You, who first inhabited Mary’s breast, come to me.”
Should you choose to read these two brief meditations, please know they are not a simple read. They are written in Victorian English and it is sometimes a bit tough to understand, so consider reading slowly, with the intent of meditating on each phrase. While not simple, the meditations are rich, beautiful, and remarkably insightful. Newman knew what he wrote about—and he did not write about a symbol! My hope is that if you will take the time to absorb the magnificence of his words, you will be rewarded.
“Everyday Meditations” (2013)
(41) Holy Communion
Saint John Henry Cardinal Newman
My God, who can be inhabited by you, except the pure and holy? Sinners may come to you, but to whom should you come except to the sanctified? My God, I adore you as the holiest; and, when you came upon earth, you prepared a holy habitation for yourself in the most chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin. You did make a dwelling place special for yourself. She did not receive you without first being prepared for you; for from the moment that she was at all, she was filled with your grace, so that she never knew sin. And so she went on increasing in grace and merit year after year until the time came when you sent down the archangel to signify to her your presence within her. So holy must be the dwelling place of the Highest. I adore and glorify you, O Lord my God, for your great holiness.
O my God, holiness becomes your house (cf Ps 93:5), and yet you make your abode in my breast. My Lord, my Savior, to me you come, hidden under the semblance of earthly things, yet in that very flesh and blood which you took from Mary. You, who first inhabited Mary’s breast, come to me.
My God, you see me; I cannot see myself. Were I ever so good a judge about myself, ever so unbiased, and with ever so correct a rule of judging, still, from my very nature, I cannot look at myself, and view myself truly and wholly. But you, as you come to me, contemplate me. When I say, “Lord, I am not worth,” you whom I am addressing alone understand in their fullness the words I use. You see how unworthy so great a sinner is to receive the one Holy God, whom the seraphim adore with trembling. You see, not only the stains and scars of past sins, but the mutilations, the deep cavities, and the chronic disorders they have left in my soul. You see the innumerable living sins, though they be not mortal, living in their power and presence, their guild, and their penalties, which clothe me. You see all my thoughts, my multitude of infirmities and miseries, yet you come. You see most perfectly how little I really feel what I am now saying, yet you come. O my God, left to myself should I not perish under the awful splendor and the consuming fire of your majesty? Enable me to bear you, lest I have to say with Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
My God, enable me to bear you, for you alone can. Cleanse my heart and mind from all that is past. Wipe clean all my recollections of evil. Rid me from all languor, sickliness, irritability, feebleness of soul. Give me a true perception of things unseen, and make me truly, practically, and in the details of life, prefer you to anything on earth, and the future world to the present. Give me courage, a true instinct determining between right and wrong, humility in all things, and a tender longing love of you.
(42) The Food of the Soul
In you, O Lord, all things live, and you give them their food. Oculi omnium in te sperant—“The eyes of all hope in you” (Ps. 145:15). To the beasts of the field you give meat and drink. They live on day by day, because you give them day by day to live. And, if you give not, they feel their misery at once. Nature witnesses to this great truth, for they are visited at once with great agony, and they cry out and wildly wander about, seeking what they need. But as to us your children, you feed us with another food. You know, O my God, who made us, that nothing can satisfy us but you, and therefore you have caused your own self to be meat and drink to us. O most adorable mystery! O must stupendous of mercies! You most glorious, and beautiful, and strong, and sweet, you knew well that nothing else would support our immortal natures, our frail hearts, but you; and so you took on human flesh and blood, that they, as being the flesh and blood of God, might be our life.
Oh, what an awesome thought! You deal otherwise with others, but, as to me, the flesh and blood of God is my sole life. I shall perish without it; yet shall I not perish with it and by it? How can I raise myself to such an act as to feed upon God? O my God, I am in a straight—shall I go forward, or shall I go back? I will go forward; I will go to meet you. I will open my mouth and receive your gift. I do so with great awe and fear, but what else can I do? To whom should I go but to you? Who can save me but you? Who can cleanse me but you? Who can make me overcome myself but you? Who can raise my body from the grave but you? Therefore, I come to you in all these my necessities, in fear, but in faith.
My God, you are my life; if I leave you, I cannot but thirst. Lost spirits thirst in hell, because they have not God. They thirst, though they fain would have it otherwise, from the necessity of their original nature. But I, my God, wish to thirst for you with a better thirst. I wish to be clad in that new nature, which so longs for you from loving you, as to overcome in me the fear of coming to you. I come to you, O Lord, not only because I am unhappy without you, not only because I feel I need you, but because your grace draws me on to seek you for your own sake because you are so glorious and beautiful. I come in great fear but in great love. Oh, may I never lose, as years pass away, and the heart shuts up, and all things are a burden, let me never lose this youthful eager, elastic love of you. Make your grace supply the failure of nature. Do the more for me, the less I can do for myself. The more I refuse to open my heart to you, so much the fuller and stronger be your supernatural visiting, and the more urgent and efficacious your presence in me.