Oct 1, 2014

Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th

Today we celebrate the Memorial of our Lady of Sorrows. As it happens the memorial, which has a proper Gospel, coincides this year with the reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians wherein he writes them concerning the Lord’s Supper. He has just finished chiding them for their behavior when they gathered together. Now he reminds them of what it is that is being done. He rehearses the account of the Last Supper by beginning, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed over to you.” The point is that the Eucharist is not something which the Church or the community or the Apostles came up with. It is something that Jesus instituted and which he commanded the Apostles to continue: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Then St. Paul says something rather shocking, although we have heard it so many times that we may hardly pay attention to it at all: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

Our Gospel relates the presence of the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross. On the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows it seems appropriate to proclaim this little section. This, of course, must have been the moment of her greatest sorrow. But the coincidence of these two readings: St. Paul’s teaching on the Last Supper and the Gospel account of what transpired between Jesus and his mother at the Cross, help remind us of the connection between the Supper and the Cross. And this connection is an excellent thing to reflect on.

In the upper room, on the day before he was to suffer, Jesus made an irrevocable offering of his body and blood to the Father for the remission of sins. The manner of this offering was as a solemn liturgical, sacramental and ritual sacrifice. In anticipation of his sacrifice upon the cross, he made that sacrifice-to-come present sacramentally under the signs of bread and wine and he made it really present. This is what he commanded his apostles to do as a remembrance of him.
And in order for there to be a sacrifice, there has to be a victim. A mere sign will not do. It would be one thing to ritualize the memory of what was done for us through the use of only symbolic signs, but that would not amount to a sacrifice in the proper and strict sense. In that case we would be offering to God something else than the one true sacrifice of Christ, namely, we would be offering our memory of his sacrifice. Now, that’s not a bad thing at all, but our memory of something is not the thing itself. But as with all ritual and liturgical ceremonies, a sacrifice must be carried out through signs – such is the nature of man – but it will need something greater than simply signs in order also to have the reality itself. This is the nature of sacraments. They are signs which pertain to divine realities and make effective what they signify.

We have reason to believe that such is the nature of the sacrament of the Eucharist. As St. Thomas so beautifully wrote in his hymn Adoro Te Devote: Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur; sed auditu solo tuto creditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius: nil hoc verbo Veritatis verius. “Sight, touch, taste are each in Thee deceived; but by hearing only can it safely be believed. I believe whatever the Son of God has said: Nothing is more true than this word of the Truth Himself.” Only the approach of faith makes sense of our Lord’s demonstrative use of the words: “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” Remember, in the Gospel of John chapter 6, our Lord uses increasingly stronger language and repeats the literal sense of his words, even to the point of letting some of his disciples reject his teaching and cease to follow him. He did not let them go away because they misunderstood him, but because they understood him quite well but found the teaching too hard. But in order to have this same one true sacrifice present, the same victim had to be present, which Jesus provided for in the institution of the Eucharist.

Because the Eucharist contains the same Victim and the one who offers is the same: the sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice. Here St. Thomas is quite helpful for us to begin to understand the depth of this Sacrament which Christ has left for us. In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas answers the question of whether it was fitting that Christ instituted the sacrifice at the Last Supper (ST III, q.73, a.5): “Firstly, because . . . Christ Himself is contained in the Eucharist sacramentally. Consequently, when Christ was going to leave His disciples in His proper species, He left Himself with them under the sacramental species; as the Emperor's image is set up to be reverenced in his absence. Hence Eusebius says: "Since He was going to withdraw His assumed body from their eyes, and bear it away to the stars, it was needful that on the day of the supper He should consecrate the sacrament of His body and blood for our sakes, in order that what was once offered up for our ransom should be fittingly worshiped in a mystery."

Secondly, because without faith in the Passion there could never be any salvation, according to Romans 3:25: "Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood." It was necessary accordingly that there should be at all times among men something to show forth our Lord's Passion; the chief sacrament of which in the old Law was the Paschal Lamb. Hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 5:7): "Christ our Pasch is sacrificed." But its successor under the New Testament is the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is a remembrance of the Passion now past, just as the other was figurative of the Passion to come. And so it was fitting that when the hour of the Passion was come, Christ should institute a new Sacrament after celebrating the old, as Pope Leo I says (Serm. lviii).

Thirdly, because last words, chiefly such as are spoken by departing friends, are committed most deeply to memory; since then especially affection for friends is more enkindled, and the things which affect us most are impressed the deepest in the soul. Consequently, since, as Pope Alexander I says, "among sacrifices there can be none greater than the body and blood of Christ, nor any more powerful oblation"; our Lord instituted this sacrament at His last parting with His disciples, in order that it might be held in the greater veneration. And this is what Augustine says (Respons. ad Januar. i): "In order to commend more earnestly the death of this mystery, our Saviour willed this last act to be fixed in the hearts and memories of the disciples whom He was about to quit for the Passion."

St. Thomas puts it more succinctly in his famous text called O Sacrum Convivium: O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis eius, mens impletur gratia, et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur. O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us. This only just begins to mark out the wonderful depths of the Eucharist. But until we begin to understand this connection of the Eucharist to passion and death of our Lord, we will miss much of its meaning for us.

And here we turn not only to doctrine and theological expositions of the Catholic faith, but to Mary. Mary is the woman “who kept all these things in her heart.” She knew docility to the Holy Spirit in immaculate receptivity to the Wisdom of God. She contemplated the Annunciation, she was filled with knowledge of sacred scriptures, as the references in the Magnificat demonstrate, She contemplated the Birth and hidden life of her Son. She contemplated him in his ministry to preach the Kingdom of God. She contemplated his healing power and the grace and authority with which he spoke. And she contemplated him from the foot of the Cross. Here, where our Savior suffered, where he consummated the sacrifice which he had offered in the upper room and left for his disciples in the future to perpetuate his sacrifice across the centuries, our Savior had another gift to give us. He gave us Mary for our mother, Mary standing at the foot of the cross – contemplating him in sorrow with a mother’s love. Mary’s knowledge of his sacrifice exceeds that of any other creature, human or angelic.

How many times and with what depth of love did the Mother of God contemplate all these things and especially his death on the cross, when she adored him in the Holy Eucharist at the Sacred Liturgy? Our Lord gave his mother into the keeping of the disciple whom he loved, in whose person we are all indicated, so that, we might contemplate his mysteries together with her who contemplated him from the beginning and has never ceased in her loving contemplation. He gave us to her as to our own mother so that with a mother’s love she might instruct us concerning the affection, tenderness and adoration which we ought to offer to her Son in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Seek the guidance of Mary as you contemplate her Son, hidden in the Eucharist. She will teach you to stand faithfully at the foot of the Cross, offering to him your own sufferings for the sake of the Church, in order to make up in yourself what was lacking to the sufferings of Christ. If we imitate her faith, we too, shall one day contemplate him, not hidden under the veil of the Eucharist but face to face.

Iesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio, Oro fiat illud quod tam sitio; Ut te revelata cernens facie, Visu sim beatus tuae gloriae.

O Jesus, whom veiled I now look upon, I pray grant that for which I so thirst; That seeing Thee with Thy countenance revealed, I may be blessed by the sight of Thy glory.


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