The Holy Sacrifice, the Food of the Soul
Sitivit in Te anima mea (For Thee my soul hath thirsted
Every year the Church celebrates with great honor the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi. What is this heavenly food, “the bread of angels,” that God gives us when we approach the Holy Eucharist? Blessed John Henry Newman has a special gift of presenting complex matters in such a way that, through his words, he helps us understand the complex more simply; yet the profundity of the subject remains. He helps us to understand the awesome gift of the Eucharist through his straightforward meditation.This is the ability of a great teacher, such as Blessed Newman.
Newman begins a meditation (found in his Meditations and Devotions) with something even young children understand: that, through nature, God provides for the beasts of the field which He created:
“In Thee, O Lord, all things live, and Thou dost give them their food . . . To the beasts of the field Thou givest meat and drink. They live on day by day, because Thou dost give them day by day to live.”
But these beasts are not eternal beings or made in the image and likeness of God, as we are. Humans are eternal creatures, and therefore need more than the natural food of beasts. Eternal creatures need supernatural food. Newman writes:
“ But, as to us Thy children, Thou feedest us with another food. Thou knowest, O my God, who madest us, that nothing can satisfy us but Thyself, and therefore Thou hast caused Thy own self to be meat and drink to us. O most adorable mystery! O most stupendous of mercies! Thou most Glorious, and Beautiful, and Strong, and Sweet, Thou didst know well that nothing else would support our immortal natures, our frail hearts, but Thyself; and so Thou didst take a human flesh and blood, that they, as being the flesh and blood of God, might be our life.”
In other words, the only food for immortal creatures is immortal food, which can only be God Himself! Only God can provide this supernatural food … and this is the Mystery of Corpus Christi, the feast we celebrate today. But how can we, sinful creatures, be worthy of receiving this immortal food? How do we, stained by sin, dare to receive God Himself? Newman teaches that we need faith:
“Who can save me but Thou? Who can cleanse me but Thou? Who can make me overcome myself but Thou? Who can raise my body from the grave but Thou? Therefore I come to Thee in all these my necessities, in fear, but in faith.”
Thus, Newman writes that it is God’s grace that brings this faith, unworthy though we may be:
“I come to Thee, O Lord, not only because I am unhappy without Thee, not only because I feel I need Thee, but because Thy grace draws me on to seek Thee for Thy own sake, because Thou art so glorious and beautiful. I come in great fear, but in greater love. O 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 Thee. Make Thy 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 Thee, so much the fuller and stronger be Thy supernatural visitings, and the more urgent and efficacious Thy presence in me.”
When our human senses fail, we pray for the grace to receive His Body and Blood in faith so that, by so doing, we are transformed from within by this Bread of Angels. Do you make frequent acts of faith when in the presence of the Holy Eucharist? When at work or at home, are you aware of where Jesus is closest in the tabernacle in your area? Do you devoutly cross yourself when passing Catholic churches as a physical reminder of Christ’s presence? All these actions will help us become more fully filled with the reality of this supernatural food. And in consequence our love for Jesus will become more “youthful, eager and elastic,” making us much better children of God.