Project Canterbury

John Bull Series.

Christmas in June.

London: Church Literature Association, no date.

Perhaps when you saw the title of this tract you wondered what could possibly be its subject. How on earth can Christmas be in June? Well, not exactly Christmas, but a festival which has a very striking likeness to it, the festival of Corpus Christi, which we keep in honour of the most holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. Maundy Thursday, the day of the Institution, falls amid the deepening shadows of Holy Week, when our minds are so heavy with the remembrance of our Saviour’s bitter Passion that we have no heart to make our joyful thanksgiving to him for the great gift of his Sacramental Presence. So, for many centuries past, the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday (which nearly always comes in June) has been observed in the Western Church as the Festival of the Blessed Eucharist, and has been regarded as one of the great solemnities of the Church. We look forward hopefully to the time when this feast will be restored to its rightful place in our Kalendar. Meanwhile, we observe it as we observe other days which are not officially recognised—the harvest thanksgiving, the feast of dedication, All Souls’ Day, and the like—falling back for our authority on long-established general custom. With the revival of Catholic life and devotion in the English Church, this festival is once more coming to its own; and the fact that [1/2] it is being observed year by year in an increasing number of churches is a striking witness to the way in which devotion to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is once again spreading over the length and breadth of England.

Now, Corpus Christi may fittingly be called Christmas in June, a second feast of the Nativity of our Lord in the summertime, because of the close relation between the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament is the extension of the Incarnation to us. It is the means whereby our Saviour continues to do for all ages and for all countries what he did in his earthly life for one age and for one country. The difficulties in the one mystery are much like the difficulties in the other; the objections to the one are very similar to the objections to the other; and the reason for the one is the reason for the other. As at Bethlehem the Divine was hidden and the earthly was apparent, so it is in the Eucharist. “Christ in the Sacrament,” said the saintly Bishop Andrewes, “is not altogether unlike Christ in the cratch [i.e., crib or manger]. To the cratch we may well liken the husk or outward Symboles of it. Outwardly it seems little worth, but is rich of contents, as was the crib with Christ in it. For what are they but weak and poore elements of themselves, yet in them we find Christ, even as they found in the beasts’ crib the food of Angels.”

Think, for instance, of the way in which both the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament display the wonderful condescension of Almighty God. In the Incarnation, Jesus Christ [2/3] emptied himself of his glory; he took upon him the form of a servant, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross. Think of the humiliations of the Sacred Infancy. Remember who he is, God over all blessed for evermore, and then think of him at Bethlehem a little new-born babe, without speech or use of limb, wrapped up as the poorest baby would be and laid upon a bed of straw. His mother, a poor maiden from an obscure village; his foster-father, a simple peasant employed in a humble trade; his attendants, a few poor shepherds. Who could see in him as he lies there the Eternal Word of God, the brightness of everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty? He is unable to speak or to understand what is said by those around him; he is weak, helpless, and dependent. Think of all this, and remember that the humiliation of the Manger was but the prelude to the humiliation of the Cross. Christ came unto his own, and his own received him not.

So it is with our Lord’s presence in what has been beautifully called the Sacrament of the Divine Condescension. When we come to worship Jesus at the altar, we see him not indeed cradled in a manger, but with his glory hidden from our sight beneath the lowly veils of bread and wine. And in the Blessed Sacrament, as throughout his earthly life, he is exposed to the insults and ingratitude of men. I am not thinking of those ignorant blasphemies uttered against the Eucharist by those who know not what they say, but of our own conduct, of the treatment he receives from us [3/4] who believe. It has been well said that if our Lord had appointed only one place on earth where the Sacrifice of the Mass could be offered, and only one priest who could administer the Blessed Sacrament, and only one Tabernacle where it could be reserved, with what eager devotion Christians from all over the world would make pilgrimage to adore at so privileged a place! But now that there is hardly a town where Mass is not offered daily, and now that in a large and constantly increasing number of churches the Holy Sacrament is reserved, how little we many of us appreciate our great privileges, how slack we are about coming to the daily Mass, how little we heed the real Treasure which our churches contain. There is a lamp burning day and night before the Tabernacle; our hearts should burn too as we kneel there, but too often we seem to let the lamp do duty for us. And this is not all. When, in the Incarnation, Christ Jesus entered the womb of Mary, he found his chosen dwelling-place pure at least and holy. But when in the Holy Sacrament he comes to take up his dwelling in our hearts, he finds so often a place quite unprepared for his reception, from which his great enemy, sin, has been driven out only an hour or two before by a hasty repentance. And what if, as, God forgive us, too often happens, on the very day we receive him we offend him again, and betray him in our own house to his enemies, while dipping our hand with him into the same dish, and feasting with him at the same table? And yet, in spite of it all, Christ still comes to us, still stands at the [4/5] door of our hearts and knocks, beseeching us to let him in. As in the Incarnation, so in the Blessed Sacrament, our Lord is content to drink the cup of humiliation to the very dregs that we may dwell in him and he in us.

Another striking likeness between the Incarnation and the Blessed Sacrament is to be found in the fact that in both mysteries the presence of the Eternal Son of God is only to be fully realised by faith. There are three ways in which we see—by sense, by reason, and by faith. The unbelieving Jews, who saw Jesus only with the eye of sense, could see that he was a carpenter, but nothing more. Nicodemus, by the exercise of his reason, knew him to be a teacher sent from God, for no man, said he, could do such miracles except God were with him. But St. Peter knew Christ to be not only a man and a teacher sent from God, but to the evidence of sense and’ reason he added the illumination of faith. When Jesus asked him, “Whom say ye that I the Son of Man am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said, “Flesh and blood [that is, the knowledge that comes by sense and reason] hath not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in Heaven” (that is to say, you have learnt it by the illumination of faith).

Is it not just the same with regard to the Blessed Sacrament? Sense tells us that what we see has all the qualities of bread and wine, and sense can go no further. Reason considers the promises of our Lord, the teaching of St. Paul, the age-long tradition of the Church, and the [5/6] wonderful effect of Holy Communion on the souls of men, and thus leads us to believe with our minds in the doctrine of the Real Presence. But sense and reason need to be enlightened by faith before they can so realise the Presence of our Lord under the outward veils as to behold his glory. This does not mean, of course, that faith makes Jesus present in the Sacrament any more than faith made him present during his earthly life. He was there in the fullness of his Godhead, in the manger, in the Temple, by the shores of the lake, on the Cross, whether men recognised him or not; the power and the virtue were in him whether men had faith to be healed by him or not. But as then, so now, it is faith which recognises, and. faith which adores, and faith which takes the benefits he offers. And now, as then, if he can do no mighty works among us, it is because of our unbelief.

So we might go on to think of one likeness after another between the earthly and the sacramental life of Jesus. I have only space left to remind you of one other, which is indeed the summary of them all; in both our Saviour demands from us the same worship and adoration. We must worship him in the Holy Sacrament as Mary worshipped him when she held him to her breast, as Thomas worshipped him when he fell at his feet and cried out, “My Lord, and my God!” as the disciples worshipped him upon the mountain in Galilee. The Word made Flesh dwells among us in the Eucharist, and we give him exactly the same adoration as we should give to him if he were visibly present among us. This is the real test of true faith in [6/7] the Real Presence. Those who believe that Jesus is present in the Sacrament must adore him in it; those who do not adore him in it cannot really believe that he is there. The Catholic Church, which by Divine faith knows and teaches the mystery of his presence, adores him in the Sacrament always and everywhere; and she will adore him till the end of time, till faith becomes vision, and the sacramental veils shall fade away, and at last we shall see him as he is.

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