EUCHARISTIC ADORATION CONSIDERED
PREACHED BEFORE THE
Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament of the Body
ON THURSDAY, MAY 31, 1866,
CHURCH OF S. ALBAN, THE MARTYR,
BROOK STREET, HOLBORN.
REV. W. UPTON RICHARDS, M.A.
INCUMBENT OF ALL SAINTS’, MARGARET STREET.
Published by request.
Psalm xcix. 5.
IT is impossible to speak of Eucharistic adoration without some thought of him whom God has lately taken to his rest, and who, by his deep, earnest, loving words has made that subject especially his own. That remarkable treatise is one of the most able vindications of primitive doctrine which in the Church of England has of late years been produced; and although he may be more widely and generally known as the author of “The Christian Year,” yet, methinks, he will be especially reverenced by us, the members of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, for his essay on Eucharistical Adoration: an essay of surpassing and characteristic beauty, abounding as it does with the deepest learning and research from Holy Scripture, the Fathers, and the early Liturgies. We learn from the Gospel narrative what manner of men they are who are ever the foremost to defend their Lord and His Truth, and who for their loyal fidelity receive His love and enjoy His favours most richly. Who on earth, save Blessed Mary, so near the Saviour, as he [3/4] who is known to us as "the disciple whom Jesus loved?" who so zealous for that Master's honour and truth? and who so rich in His favours? Ah! do we not read of him that he would not remain, no, not for an hour, under the same roof with Cerinthus, whose philosophical religion impeached the character of JESUS? Now we know full well why Jesus so loved him; now we see the fitness with which he enjoyed the privilege of leaning on his Master's breast, and receiving His only earthly legacy, His Blessed Mother! And methinks, beloved brethren, the character of our revered friend answered somewhat to that of the beloved Apostle—so humble, modest, and retiring; and yet, when occasion called it forth, how bold and forward in vindicating his LORD'S truthfulness, when it was assailed! Both so childlike, loving, and contemplative, and both so fearless in guarding their Master's honour and truth! Both most blessed, in that both defended the truthfulness of Jesus, not only by word, but also by a consistent, blameless life and profession! Yes, the highest love and the deepest reverence ever go together. Faith and reverence are kindred graces: there is no love where faith is wanting, and no true faith where there is no love.
It is not my intention, dear brethren, to compare the merits of the two versions of my text, nor shall I inquire whether it is right to render the latter clause, "He is holy," or "It is holy." It is sufficient for my purpose that this passage has been always taken by those expositors on whom the Church relies as implying the doctrine of Eucharistic Adoration. We are to worship God at His Footstool, and that Footstool is His Altar, in whatever sense His Presence is received. Ah! one would think that, if there was one subject in Holy Writ which by its very nature was safe from disputation, it would be, that “CHRIST, wherever He is present, in the Sacrament or not, is [4/5] to be adored." We can imagine a religious inquiry into the Being of a God; we can understand the question, whether a Revelation is possible; we can sympathise with a sifting of evidences; we have all gone through an examination of doctrines; but when we have passed all these things, we seem safe from any hesitation how to demean ourselves in the Presence of Jesus. Controversy may pursue her tempestuous voyage over the billows of surging opinions, and battle with opposing blasts of unbelief; but when she comes within sound of those gentle words, “This is My Body," she is like the crew of the ship on the stormy lake, listening to the command to the winds and waves, "Peace, be still!" and she glides into the haven of love, where there is a "great calm." No doubt, under certain circumstances, and to some minds, the beginning of the religious life is up the arduous staircase of conviction, where each step is crowded with objections which have to be resisted, mastered, and set aside; but when once the summit is gained, and the level of Christian feeling is attained, the freest inquirer must be hushed into awe before the Altar of the Eucharist, where "the LORD is in His holy Temple," and before which "let all the earth keep silence." By the time we have ascended into the upper room, and fixed our gaze upon that wonderful spectacle, where Jesus
“Gives Himself with His own Hand;
Faith alone, though sight forsaketh,
Shows true hearts the mystery:"
then the soul may be left to its own impulse, and, like the Corinthian borne down by the spiritual influence of a Christian assembly at worship, she will fall down and acknowledge the Presence of God. We cannot believe without worship: when the spring of Faith is touched, the prison-door of Love flies [5/6] open, and her first act of freedom is adoration—"My Lord and my God!"
For it has been well said, "If the humiliation of the Eternal Son of God, in the way in which it is revealed to us in the Gospels, be a fact, if it actually took place under the circumstances there recorded,—then the whole economy of which it is the beginning and root is raised up from earth to heaven." After admitting and acting upon this, there is no room for controversy as to adoration in Holy Communion. Jesus being such an one as the Gospels describe Him, there is no room for toning down any of His words: they belong to another and higher region. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." Yes, they are no earthly language, for the Church is the "kingdom of heaven" upon earth, and its great Head speaks to those whose citizenship is in heaven in the language of their new nature. The scale of man's nature was transposed by the Incarnation, and truths which sounded like discord in the natural scale become full harmonies in his redeemed state; and when Faith has tuned her heart to the new key, then the song of the Eucharistic hymn upon earth bows the hearts and knees of the faithful, as when in heaven "they sang a new song, the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped Him that liveth for ever and ever." And so, dear brethren, the words of Consecration are above all human gloss, all earthly criticism. When we have admitted the Incarnation, Faith lays her finger on the lip of Controversy, and Love alone adores. Eucharistic Adoration is not to be commanded—it is not to be proved; it is a result—a fruit—no more to be repressed than the early blossoms of spring, or the ripening of fruits in summer. For when we kneel before the Altar at the Footstool of GOD, where is the worshipper who hath sincerely fulfilled all [6/7] sacramental preparation but again in the upper room, in the Presence of Him Who still says, “This is My Body Which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me," with the expanded blessing, "Preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life"?
With such a vision before the eye of faith, and with such bright hopes nursed in the arms of love, to abstain from adoration is a spiritual impossibility. "The wind bloweth where it listeth." And the spiritual impulse is to bow the head and bend the knee. We may say to the coldest critic that the sharpest knife of scepticism cannot pare the doctrine of the Eucharist lower than the statement in our Service Book, "so divine and comfortable a thing;" divine, by its mystical union with God; comfortable, by its being applied to our souls by the Comforter; and so, whilst these two words are spared, Eucharistic Adoration will be a natural exercise of faith. As S. Peter grasped the Hand stretched out to save him, so faith must adore when she finds herself more immediately in His Presence Who said, "I am the Bread of Life."
A modern writer remarks, "The reverence which was shown to the inward part, or res sacramenti, in this ordinance is not referable to any express command; it was the instinctive expression of those feelings which the Christian mind naturally entertained upon the revelation of its Loam's Presence." [Wilberforce, “Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist," p. 264.] Is it not then that the double thought of the Psalmist, twofold but one, the same God in heaven and the same God at the same time on earth, is realised in the heart: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee, O Lord? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison of Thee." Jesus on the Throne and Jesus on the Altar; the Altar the Footstool of His Humanity. And as the happy Mary kneeled to kiss His Feet in His humiliation, so the penitent soul [7/8] touches with her lips His Feet in glory, veiled under the Sacrament, in all the reverence Of adoration. If the holy Elizabeth exclaimed in awe and reverence, “Whence is this to me, that the Mother of my LORD should come to me?" shall the believer be expected to draw nearer to that Loan than she did, with only a cold, intellectual inference, or an undemonstrative opinion? The thought of Him in the Flesh was always overpowering, always accompanied by a feeling of intense reverence. S. Peter so felt it, that he prayed Him to depart, to Whom he clung only the more tenaciously. The Centurion professed himself unworthy to admit beneath his roof Him on Whose love he relied. The very nearness of the Body of Jesus seemed, nay, rather, actually did exercise a spiritual influence, which bowed the hearts and bent the knees of the willing and the unwilling; and wherever the feeling. of His Real Presence is well founded, adoration is spontaneous.
This thought has been erected as the strongest defence of Eucharistic Adoration by him who is so eloquent on this subject, and to whom I have before alluded; and methinks with increased tenderness do his words fall upon our ears at this time. The light of his funeral torches has not yet faded from the pages to which his wisdom gave authority, which his love made persuasive and his genius attractive. There seems now a deeper tenderness in the comparison which he employed to show that his feeling was above rubrical directions. "It is as impossible for devout faith, contemplating Christ in this Sacrament, not to adore Him, as it is for a loving mother, looking earnestly at her child, not to love it.” The saintly Poet's most persuasive pages are those, where he traces the instinctive reverence invariably paid to our dear LORD'S Body, either when He went about doing good, or after His Resurrection, and even in death. [8/9] Oh, what deep adoration at His Presence was shown by all who believed! and what a mine of devotion is opened in the words, "Sir, if thou hast borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away." How does it tell that the worship due to the Body was not weakened by death, was of course intensified by the Resurrection, and is not therefore to be lost by His Presence becoming sacramental. Shall Joseph and Nicodemus and the holy women, nay, angels, reverence the dead Body of Jesus, and faithful worshippers now restrain their acknowledgment of His glorified Body sacramentally present to an intellectual assent? Did Jesus, I ask, ever restrain the most demonstrative love? "After a while," observes the same writer, of whom we may say that his pen had the power to open the fountain of' all that is lovely in everything which it touched, "After a while it came into the heart of the humble person with the issue of blood, to come and touch the hem of His garment; and instead of a reproof for superstition, she received not only the virtue which went out of Him to heal her, but also His solemn approval and a blessing upon her faith." And again he says, "It is no more natural to think, one way or the other, of worshipping the bread and wine, than it was for her to think of worshipping the garment which she touched instead of Him Who was condescending to wear it, and make it an instrument of blessing to her."
And this beautifully illustrates the pious communicant. Can the sacred elements be less to us than that garment which He condescended to wear? Are they not the veils of His Body, beneath the mystical folds of which we embrace His Feet? His immaculate Body is the lowest aspect now vouchsafed to our adoring gaze; and so there is a wonderful agreement amongst the early Fathers in applying such passages as that of my [9/10] text to Eucharistic Adoration. Why was it that our LORD forbad Mary to touch Him? Because she did not first adore. When she knew Him, she exclaimed "Rabboni," which was addressed to Him as Man and her Master, in the familiar intercourse allowed to His chosen human friends before His Passion, and her eager reaching forward to embrace either His hands or His knees as aforetime, Jesus at once checked; because it fell short of the realisation of the change of glory which had passed on His Human Form. No doubt it was natural in her, as He veiled Himself' under the appearance of the gardener, and her eyes were holden that she knew Him not. Hence her cry was not that of S. Thomas, “My LORD and my God." And her gesture was not that of those holy women who we know were suffered to touch Him; for they, we are expressly told, worshipped Him, and behaved towards Him with divine reverence as well as human affection. Yes, all touching of the risen Lord must be by faith in Him as God, accompanied with adoration, looking onward and upward to His ascension. His Feet the holy women were allowed to hold; and His Feet the disciples, kneeling round the sacred spot, where their last prints were made, last beheld at His Ascension. Most dear and precious, indeed, were all vestiges of Jesus! Had it been possible that those footprints could have been preserved, oh! bow sacred would they have been to all the world! Nay, methinks, there had been danger lest my text had been applied for ever to that holy spot, and it had been a religious duty to have visited and to have worshipped there. But that which God hath taken away from sight, He has richly preserved to faith and love.
Once more. Our revered Master, “who being dead yet speaketh," leaving about his written words a savour of the sweetness which attended his living speech, says, "If we cannot be pilgrims, we will at least, please Goon, be humble worshippers in the Holy [10/11] Eucharist." Yes, dear brethren, there are the footprints, nay more, the Feet, the Flesh and Blood of Jesus resting on His Footstool still; and every altar now is, with reverence be it said, more sacred than the best ascertained Holy Places. And it is the mission of your Confraternity to excite a spiritual crusade: not with troops of mailed warriors, not with worldly policy, not with polemic wisdom, but to guard each holy altar with loving care, to protect each spiritual pilgrim by your sympathy, and to educate all by your example. Is it not part of the education of children, to teach them to express their feelings of love, of generosity, of nobleness? And shall not Christ’s dear children be taught, by witnessing devotion to His Altars, to draw near His Footstool in sure confidence that He is on His throne, there to shed tears of penitence, and lay aside their pride, as she who used her hair as a towel wherewith to wipe His sacred feet; to gather strength from contact with Him, and to worship Him? Oh, to lift the weight of Rationalism from any weak believer's soul; to dissolve the reserve which checks any penitent; to prompt a generous devotion, are works most worthy of your combination and your prayers.
Jesus is Omnipresent. The sun in the heavens, methinks, fails as a type of the San of Righteousness, for it leaves half the world in darkness half the day; but He shines unceasingly on every soul. And as if that were not enough, as sunlight comes sometimes in a concentrated ray of light, making the spot it falls on brilliant, so besides Jesus' omnipresence, He sends the Eucharist as a ray of light from the Cross, and you may know each spot where it falls as an Altar. These are the beacon-lights which you delight to guard: I have not broken the continuity of the sacred imagery of my text. These bright spots. in the Church are the impress of His Feet. "His Feet were like unto [11/12] fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace." Burning now, not with consuming terror, but in brightest love, attracting all eyes to worship; melting all hearts in love, and kindling all souls into devotion. Oh greatest of all mysteries I Fire supporting life! The Bread of heaven feeding pilgrim man on earth! Almighty Power awakening the tenderest love and gratitude! The humiliation of Jesus the motive of adoration! " Wherein things highest and lowest, earthy and divine are united; where is the presence of holy Angels; where Thou, dearest Lord, art in a wonderful and unspeakable way both Sacrifice and Priest!" Oh! I ask, who can fail to adore?
“For now Thy people are allowed
To scale the mount, and pierce the cloud;
And Faith may feed her eager view
With wonders Sinai never knew.
“Fresh from the Atoning Sacrifice
The world's Creator bleeding lies,
That man, His foe, by whom He bled,
May take Him for his daily Bread." [Christian Year.]