Project Canterbury

On Eucharistical Adoration
by John Keble

second edition
Oxford: John Henry and James Parker, 1859.



§1. THE object of this Essay is to allay, and, if possible, to quiet, the troublesome thoughts which may at times, and now especially, occur to men's minds on this awful subject, so as even to disturb them in the highest act of devotion. For this purpose it may be well to consider calmly, not without deep reverence of heart, First, what Natural Piety would suggest; Secondly, what Holy Scripture may appear to sanction; Thirdly, what the Fathers and Liturgies indicate to have been the practice of the Primitive Church; Fourthly, what the Church of England enjoins or recommends.

§ 2. For the first: is it not self-evident that, had there been no abuse, or error, or extravagance connected with the practice, all persons believing and considering the Real Presence of our Lord in Holy Communion, in whatever manner or degree, would in the same manner or degree find it impossible not to use special worship?--the inward worship, I mean, and adoration of the heart: for that, of course, is the main point in question; the posture and mode are secondary and variable, and may and must admit of dispensation.

The simple circumstance of our Lord Christ declaring Himself especially present would, one would think, be enough for this. Why do we bow our knees and pray, on first enter[1/2]ing the Lord's house? Why do we feel that during all our continuance there we should be, as it were, prostrating our hearts before Him? Why is it well to breathe a short prayer when we begin reading our Bibles, and still as we read to recollect ourselves, and try to go on in the spirit of prayer? And so of other holy exercises: in proportion as they bring with them the sense of His peculiar presence, what can the believer do but adore? I firmly believe that all good Christians do so, in the Holy Sacrament most especially, whatever embarrassment many of them may unhappily have been taught to feel touching the precise mode of their adoration.

And this may well be one of the greatest consolations, in the sad controversies and misunderstandings among which our lot is cast. 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 mother's consciousness of her love, and her outward manifestation of it, may vary; scruples, interruptions, bewilderments may occur; but there it is in her heart, you cannot suppress it. So must there be special adoration and worship in the heart of every one seriously believing a special, mysterious presence of Christ, God and man, expressed by the words, This is My Body.

§ 3. I say a special adoration and worship, over and above what a religious man feels upon every occasion which helps him to realize, what he always believes, that God is "about his path, and about his bed, and spieth out all his ways;" that in Him he "lives, and moves, and has his being." And this for very many mysterious and overpowering reasons. I will specify three, the most undeniable and irresistible. First, the greatness of the benefit offered; next, its being offered and brought home to each one personally and individually; thirdly, the deep condescension and humiliation on the part of Him who offers the benefit.

§ 4. When Joseph went out over all the land of Egypt, "they cried before him, Bow the knee." When Moses delivered the fist message from God to the Israelites in Egypt, concerning their deliverance, and the second message, con[2/3]cerning the Passover, "the people bowed their heads and worshipped." Would it not have been very strange, if, when the great promises were realized before their eyes, and they actually saw the token of the Lord's Presence, the fire coming down and consuming their first offering,--that fire which continued until it was quenched by their sins before the first captivity,--they had scrupled to own His Presence by like adoration? They did the same, and much more, when Aaron, for the first time after his consecration, "lifted up his hand toward the people and blessed them, . . . and the glory of the Lord appeared unto all the people. And there came a fire out from before the Lord, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat: which when all the people saw, they shouted, and fell on their faces." (Levit. ix. 22-24.) There was no one at hand to say to them, "Take care: people will call it fire-worship." And just in the same way did they acknowledge the finishing of the old dispensation by the building of the Temple. When David had completed his preparations, he said to all the congregation, 'Now bless the Lord your God. And all the congregation blessed the Lord God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the Lord and the king." (1 Chron. xxix. 20.) When, upon the day of consecration, "Solomon had made an end of praying, and when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the Lord upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the Lord." (2 Chron. vii. 1, 3.) The outward act of worship was more lowly, and no doubt in religious hearts the inward adoration was deeper and more fervent, as the mighty blessing made its approach more manifest.

§ 5. So, and much more, in the Christian Church. If we kneel, and bow the knees of our hearts, to receive a blessing in the Name of the Most High from His earthly representatives, Father, Priest, or Bishop, how should we do other than adore and fall prostrate, inwardly at least, when the Son of Man gives His own appointed token that He is descending to bless us in His own mysterious way? And with what a blessing!--"the remission of our sins, and all other benefits of His [3/4] Passion!" His Flesh, which is meat indeed, and His Blood, which is drink indeed! mutual indwelling between Him and us; we living by Him, as He by the Father! Surely these are gifts, at the very hearing of which, were an Angel to come and tell us of them for the first time, we could not choose but fall down and worship. And now it is no Angel, but the Lord of the Angels, incarnate, coming not only to promise, but actually to exhibit and confer them.

§ 6. Further, the Eucharist is our Saviour coming with these unutterable mysteries of blessing, coming with His glorified Humanity, coming by a peculiar presence of His own divine Person, to impart Himself to each one of us separately, to impart Himself as truly and as entirely as if there were not in the world any but that one to receive Him. And this also, namely, the bringing home of God's gifts to the particular individual person, has ever been felt by that person, in proportion to his faith, as a thrilling call for the most unreserved surrender that he could make of himself, his whole spirit, soul, and body: i.e. of the most unreserved Worship.

Look at the saints of God from the beginning. God made a covenant with Abraham, He promised to give him a son of Sarah, and both times Abraham "fell on his face." (Gen. xvii. 3, 17). His servant Eliezer "bowed the head and worshipped," when he found that he was miraculously guided to the person whom God had chosen to be Isaac's wife; and again, when her kinsmen had consented to the marriage. (Gen. xxiv. 26, 52). God descended in the cloud on Mount Sinai, and stood with Moses on the mount, in token that he had found favour in His sight, and He knew him by name: Moses "made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped." (Exod. xxxiv. 8.)

The captain of the Lord's host appeared unto Joshua, and Joshua "fell on his face to the earth, and did worship." (Josh. v. 14). The angel of the Lord went up in the flame of Manoah's altar, and Manoah and his wife looked on it, and "fell on their faces to the ground." (Judges xiii. 20.) When young Samuel was solemnly "lent to the Lord," Eli performed a solemn act of adoration, and Hannah accompanied it with an adoring [4/5] hymn. (1 Sam. ii. 1.) The Shunammite, when her child had been raised by Elisha, "fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground." (2 Kings iv. 37. Cf. 2 Chron. xx. 18; Dan. ii. 19.)

§ 7. If we go on to the New Testament, and take a few instances out of many, we shall still find that it is the nearness as well as the greatness of the blessing which prompts the special worship or thanksgiving. "Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me?" "Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation." The leper worshipped Him, saying, "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth His hand and touched him." On His walking on the sea, and quieting the storm, after the miracle of the loaves, those who were in the ship came and worshipped Him; so did Jairus, so did the woman with the issue of blood: some of them before, some after the mercy received. So did the woman of Canaan; so the father of the demoniac, after the transfiguration; so the poor slave, overwhelmed with debt, in the parable of the unmerciful servant; so the mother of Zebedee's children, asking the great wish of her heart; so the holy women, holding Him by the feet, when, being risen, He met them, and said, All hail! so the eleven, meeting Him by appointment in Galilee. So S. Peter, after the draught of fishes, "Fell down at Jesus' knees," (S. Luke v. 8.) the more overpowered by the greatness of the miracle, because of the nearness of Him who wrought it; coming into his boat, and directing him where and when to cast the net. So Magdalene, drawn to Him by His presence in the Pharisee's house; so the grateful leper, turning round to Him before He was out of sight; and the eager, rich young man. So Zaccheus, at His coming into his house; so the blind man in S. John ix., "'Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee' . . . . and he worshipped Him." So S. Thomas, on His specially addressing him; (for invoking Him as his Lord and God was surely an act of worship;) so Cornelius to S. Peter; so the jailor to S. Paul and Silas; so S. John to the Angel.

§ 8. But three cases there are, which bring out this law of devotion (so to call it) in a peculiar and very wonderful way. To Mary of Bethany it was said, "The Master is come, and calleth for thee;" for thee in particylar,--for thee by name: what else can Mary do but hasten and throw herself at Jesus' feet? Not so Martha, who had not been sent for. And again, either of the same holy woman, or of another very like her, we read, "Jesus said unto her, Mary:" it was that, His calling her by name, His coming to herself personally and individually, which had the thrilling effect upon her. She had heard before that He was risen,--she had heard of Him "by the hearing of the ear,"--but now she heard Him actually speaking, and speaking to her; and so her eye, which before only saw without resting on Him, came clearly to discern Him. It was the personal application to her by name which drove away for ever her melancholy dream that He was absent, and caused her to turn herself and cry out "My Master!" with an adoring voice and gesture, as the context shews; for the saying, "Touch Me not," implies an attempt on her part to embrace His knees, or hold Him by the feet, or some such action: and even if it had not been written, who could have doubted it?

And may we not here, too, remember that other Mary, her whom all generations shall call Blessed, when she not only saw and heard the Angel declaring the message of salvation to her, and to us all, but knew in herself that the Holy Ghost was come upon her, and the Power of the Highest overshadowing her, and that the Holy Thing that should be born of her was to be called the "Son of God?" What her feelings were we partly know by that hymn in which, as we may reverently believe, she even now joins with the Church continually: which hymn is surely as perfect an act of adoration as ever was performed on earth by any but her divine Son Himself. We know that her Magnificat begins with owning the Lord and God as her Saviour; with amazement that He had regarded "the lowliness of His handmaiden;" that He had marked her out for a perpetual blessing, and had done to her great things. In respect of the Incarnation itself, then, it was not only the immensity of the Gift, but its inconceivably near approach also to the Receiver, which she was taught of the Holy Ghost adoringly [6/7] to acknowledge. Why or how should it be otherwise in respect of that which divines have truly called "the extension of the Incarnation,"--the participation of the Incarnate One by His true members, in and through the spiritual eating and drinking of His present Body and Blood?

§ 9. Thus it would appear that God's holy Word from beginning to end abounds in examples to sanction those natural instincts of the devout and loving heart, which prompt to deeper and more intense adoration, in proportion to the greatness of the gift, and the directness with which it comes straight to the receiver from Almighty God.

Now the gift in the Holy Eucharist is Christ Himself--all good gifts in one; and that in an immense, inconceivable degree. And how can we conceive even Power Almighty to bring it more closely and more directly home to each one of us, than when His Word commands and His Spirit enables us to receive Him as it were spiritual meat and drink? entering into and penetrating thoroughly the whole being of the renewed man, somewhat in the same way as the virtue of wholesome meat and drink diffuses itself through a healthful body: only, as we all know, with this great difference, (among others,)--that earthly meat and drink is taken up and changed into parts of our earthly frame, whereas the work of this heavenly nourishment is to transform our being into itself; to change us after His image, "from glory to glory," from the fainter to the more perfect brightness; until "our sinful bodies be made clean by His Body, and our souls washed through His most precious Blood; and we dwell evermore in Him, and He in us:" "we in Him," as members of "His mystical Body, which is the blessed company of all faithful people;" "He in us," by a real and unspeakable union with His divine Person, vouchsafed to us through a real and entirely spiritual participation of that Flesh and Blood which He took of our Father Adam through the Blessed Virgin Mary; wherewith He suffered on the Cross, wherewith also He now appears day and night before His Father in heaven for us. So that a holy man of our own Church was not afraid thus to write of this Sacrament:--

"By the way of nourishment and strength
Thou creep'st into my breast,
Making Thy way my rest,
And Thy small quantities my length,
Which spread their forces into every part,
Meeting sin's force and art.

"Thy grace, which with these elements comes,
Knoweth the ready way,
And hath the privy key,
Opening the soul's most subtle rooms." (G. Herbert's Remains, p. 99, ed. 1826.)

§ 10. The sum is this. Renewed nature prompts the Christian, and Holy Scripture from beginning to end encourages him, to use special adoration to Almighty God at the receiving of any special gift;--adoration the more earnest and intense as the gift is greater, and the appropriation of it to the worshipper himself more entire and direct. So it is with all lesser, all partial gifts; how then should it not be so when we come to the very crown and fountain of all, that which comprehends all the rest in their highest possible excellency, and which is bestowed on each receiver by way of most unspeakable participation and union,--that gift which is God Himself, as well as having God for its Giver? "Christ in us," not only Christ offered for us; a "divine nature" set before us, of which we are to be made "partakers." Must we cease adoring when He comes not only as the Giver, but as the Gift; not only as the Priest, but as the Victim; not only as "the Master of the Feast," but as "the Feast itself?" (Bp. Taylor, Holy Living: Works, iv. 310, Heber's edition.) Nay, but rather this very circumstance is a reason beyond all reasons for more direct and intense devotion.

§ 11. This brings us to the third circumstance, mentioned above as an obvious motive of adoration in the Holy Eucharist. For consider,--to take the lowest ground first,--when men are receiving a favour from a superior, is not a sense of his condescension a natural ingredient in their loving acknowledgements? and if there is any thing generous and grateful in their hearts, do they not honour and revere him the more for every suffering, humiliation, debasement, indignity which he may have incurred in doing them good? and can they well endure to hide and repress their veneration for him? are they not the more bent on avowing it, the more they see him slighted by others, possibly on this very account, that he had not spared so to demean himself for their sake?

Caleb "still the people before Moses," when the spies were setting them against him. (Numbers xiii. 30.) Joshua was jealous for Moses' sake, when some appeared to be prophesying without commission from him. (Numbers xi. 28.) It is plain that their loyalty to him was quickened by the reproach they saw him enduring. So all the dark feelings and speeches of the unhappy Saul concerning David, served but to settled Jonathan's heart in loving and honouring him more than ever. So Shimei's cursing David in his affliction kindled the zeal of his soldiers and servants.

And our Master, when he was with us in the flesh, more than once gave token of especial approbation and blessing to those who confessed Him the more unreservedly for the wrong that was done Him; as to the sinful woman, who, unconsciously or not, supplied the Pharisee's discourtesy by a washing, anointing, and salutation of her own; to Simon Peter, speaking out before the rest, to own as the words of eternal life those sayings about Holy Communion, which had just driven away many of the disciples in disgust; and very significantly to man born blind, when he in dutiful and pious gratitude had stood up for Christ, his Restorer, against the Pharisees, and had incurred their scorn and hatred. "Thou wast altogether born in sin, and dost thou teach us? and they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when He had found him, He said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God? he answered and said, Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him? And Jesus said unto him, Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee. And he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him." (S. John ix. 34-38). The Pharisees' reviling of Christ, [9/10] and of himself for Christ's sake, led him not only to belief, but to adoration.

And what shall we say of the Thief on the Cross? It may appear by the tenor of the sacred history, that the providential instrument of his conversion was the revilings of the crowd and of his fellow-malefactor,--in which he himself at first ignorantly joined,--so meekly and majestically borne by the holy Jesus. When he saw that, he perceived at once that "This Man hath done nothing amiss;" and he became the first to know and own Christ, "and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death." The deep veneration he had conceived for our Lord, as for an innocent Man receiving the due reward of such wicked deeds as his own, was rewarded with an adoring faith in Him as Lord and Judge of the whole world; and he became the first example of those who should be saved by the blessed Cross. And beholding his Lord's glory through the veil of His extreme humiliation, and taught from above to understand that for that every humiliation's sake he was to surrender himself entirely to Christ,--to worship Him with all the powers of his soul,--he became also a pattern for all who would be worthy communicants. For what is that which we remember specially, and on which we fix our mind's eye in Holy Communion, but the same which he then saw with his bodily eyes?--the Body and Blood of Christ, i.e. Christ Himself, offered up by Himself for that thief and for each one of us? And if he worshipped, and was blessed, why not we?

We seem to have been drawn up unawares, by this enumeration of examples, from the contemplation of a high moral sentiment to that of a cardinal principle in the kingdom of heaven; for such undoubtedly has ever been the rule of acknowledging Christ's Incarnation, and all His condescensions and humiliations consequent upon it, by special and express acts of homage and worship, inward and outward, according to the time and occasion.

But this topic may better be referred to the second and [10/11] third heads of our proposed inquiry,--What are the more direct bearings of Holy Scripture, and ancient Church testimonies, on the practice of worshipping Christ in the Eucharist?

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