The application of the fourth petition to the Sacrament of the Altar is too evident to need any explanation. It has from the beginning been used by devout souls, -with this primary reference to that Heavenly Food, "the Bread which cometh down from Heaven," and S. Jerome's Latin version even gives us as the translation of the words we render "daily bread," panem supersubstantialem, or, as we would say, "supernatural" Bread. Let us notice the place which this petition occupies, midway in the prayer. It is the central petition as the Holy Eucharist is the centre of the sacramental system, "the Tree of Life in the midst of the Paradise of God." Every other mystery in the Kingdom of grace has its place with reference to this chief Sacrament. Baptism and Confirmation prepare us for It and look to Its reception; the highest privilege and the crowning glory of the Priesthood is Its consecration; Penance and Unction cleanse the soul that it may worthily approach It, while Marriage is the mystery of that union of Christ and His Church, which the Holy Eucharist consummates. The pre-eminence of the Holy Eucharist over all other Sacraments is seen in this, that whereas other Sacraments Confer upon us some particular grace as applying the merits of Christ, this gives us Christ Himself, in Whose Person all the treasures of grace are stored. Compare the Holy Eucharist with the other great Sacrament, as they are both defined in the Catechism, and the pre-eminence will appear. First, a Sacrament is defined as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace;" then this definition is applied to Holy Baptism and to the Holy Eucharist in turn. As applied to Holy Baptism only two questions need to be asked as regards the Sacrament: first, "What is the outward visible sign or form in Baptism?" second, "What is the inward and Spiritual grace?" These two questions draw out a complete definition of the Sacrament of Baptism. But when the general definition of a Sacrament is applied to the Holy Eucharist, two questions are not enough to elicit a full definition. The Catechism inquires, as before, as to the outward part or sign, and as to the benefits or the Spiritual grace conveyed, but a third question is necessary to draw oat as distinct, both from the outward form and the Spiritual' grace, the inward part or Thing itself of the Sacrament, namely, "the Body and Blood of Christ which are spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the LORD'S Supper "
This distinction is certainly simple enough, yet no one can read what is sometimes loosely written, without seeing how constantly the great difference between the Holy Eucharist and every other Sacrament is forgotten or ignored. The inward part of every other Sacrament is the special grace which it conveys: the inward part of this is Christ Himself, verily and indeed Present under the outward forms of Bread and Wine.
In the first petition we said "Our Father:" here we say "Our Bread." In both petitions we are reminded that we are praying not merely for ourselves as individuals, bat for the collective body of the faithful. Thus Holy Baptism and the Holy Eucharist are made prominent as especially the Sacraments of union--uniting us first to GOD, then to each other. For as "by One Spirit we are all baptized into One Body," and "have all been made to drink into One Spirit," so also "we being many are One Bread and One Body for we are all partakers of that One Bread." It were well if such texts were remembered in days when so much is said about Christian unity. Christian union begins in Holy Baptism where we have God for Our Father, it is continued in the Holy Eucharist, wherein alone we can have Christ as Our Bread, and that only as the outward elements are validly consecrated by rightly ordained Priests. In whatever sense the word which we render "daily" has been understood, it is satisfied in this reference to the Holy Eucharist. This is our "daily Bread," as never failing; "Sufficient Bread," as alone satisfying, as it is written "man did eat Angels' Food for He sent them meat enough." It is our "Supersubstantial Bread," and our "Convenient Bread," because exactly adapted to the wants of those in whom by Baptism there has been implanted the germ of a new and a super-substantial nature, which must be constantly nourished and sustained lest it be lost amid the corrupting influences of earthly passion. Here again we see the close relation which exists between the two great Sacraments. It is because we have been regenerated (born from above) in Holy Baptism, that the Bread which cometh down from Heaven through the Priestly blessing is "Convenient" to us; suited, that is, to the requirements of our new birth. Except we had been born again in Baptism, the Bread of the Eucharist were no Food "Convenient" for us. "It is not meet to take the Children's Bread and cast it to dogs."
But leaving other renderings, let us take that which is familiar to us: Our daily Bread. As with the common consent of Christendom we apply these words to the Bread of the Altar, surely they must imply that that Heavenly Food, which is as necessary to the soul as material food is to the body, should be easily accessible and frequently dispensed. We may be thankful that those grievous years of famine in the Anglican Communion, when there was no Bread, except once a quarter, or even once a year, have gone, let us hope, forever--that in churches where a little while ago the monthly celebration was the rule, the Blessed Sacrament is now celebrated every Sunday. Surely nothing less than this can be thought to preserve the spirit of the petition--"Give us this day our daily Bread." It would be more consistent with this petition, if every day the Priest stood at the Altar and offered to the faithful the Bread of life; nor would it follow from this that every one or even anyone (except the Priest), should receive Communion every day. We have already seen that in praying this petition, we are praying in the name of the whole Church. We do not say: "Give me this day my daily bread;" but "Give us this day our daily bread." As individuals we may not feel on any given day that we are prepared to receive, though there can never be a day when we would not do well to join in the solemn action in which the Church pleads the Sacrifice of Christ. But as individuals we are only a small part of all the Faithful, or even of our own Parish. And what day is there when some soul (if only one) may not have a special longing for that Immortal Food? For have we not all known days, which, though to others only as the rest, have been to us solemn days, full of some deep joy or of some great sorrow? And if on such days we have felt that the joy or sorrow was fully known only to ourselves, have we the less on that account felt the need of His Presence and support Who knows all, or because of the loneliness of our joy or sorrow uttered with less fervor the petition--"Give us this day our daily bread?" Besides we have our anniversaries, our birthdays, the anniversaries of Baptism, of Confirmation, of first Communion, of Orders perhaps, or of Marriage, or of the departure from this life of souls dear to us, parted from us but not from Christ in Whom all the faithful whether living or dead are one Body. And if we do well to keep such anniversaries at all, must we not feel ourselves defrauded if on days like these our daily Bread is not offered to us?
If we go further than this and, in view of the exigencies of the sick and the dying, desire that not only should that Heavenly Bread be daily consecrated upon our altars, but that with great reverence It should be perpetually reserved in our churches, we shall go neither beyond the spirit of this petition, nor the teaching and practice of the Church from the earliest times.
It may well form one part of our intention as we pray this petition, that in the hour of our death this daily Bread may be given us as our Viaticum. Too many even of those who when in health were wont to come with regularity to the Altar, have, in their last sickness and in the hour of death, when they most needed this life-giving Food, been left destitute of their daily Bread.
We may, it is true, partially account for this by the many practical difficulties which inevitably attend the communion of the sick, but certainly experience has taught us that were it known that the Blessed Sacrament could on any day or at any hour be brought directly from the church into the sick man's room, and reverently yet speedily administered, without the necessity of a special consecration, many of those practical difficulties would disappear, and unspeakable comfort would be given in many cases where it is now denied.
We have, alas, grown too sadly accustomed to the fact that the majority of our Communicants who depart this life are deprived in their last hours of what the Council of Nicaea calls "the last most indispensable Provision for the way." [Concerning the departing, the ancient Canonical law is still to be maintained; to wit, that, if any man be at the point of death, he must not be deprived of the last most indispensable provision for the way. But if any one should be restored to health again who has received the Communion when his life was despaired of, let him remain among those who communicate in the prayers only. But in general, and in case of any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist, let the Bishop, after examination made, impart to him the Oblation. Index Canonum. Nicaea Canon xiii.] Such a neglect of the dying would, we may be sure, have been rebuked in no mild term by this Council which in the case, first, of persons under ecclesiastical censure, and then of "any dying person whatsoever asking to receive the Eucharist," decreed that the ancient canonical law was still to be maintained, and those at the point of death were not to be deprived of the Viaticum.
In the presence of this tolerated neglect which does such wrong to the dying, which is at warfare not only with Catholic law but with the very instincts of Christian Charity itself, it is difficult to deal patiently with the objections of those who see "rubrical difficulties" in the way of reserving the Blessed Sacrament for the sick. [The whole question of legality is ably treated by the Rev. J. W. Kempe. "Reservation for the sick and dying not inconsistent with the Order of the Church of England."]
The exigencies of the case are very real. Not infrequently the urgent call to the bedside of the dying allows the Priest no time to make the necessary preparations for a celebration of the Holy Eucharist, even if he be himself prepared to consecrate at once. Much less will it admit of his finding the "two at the least," required by the rubric when there is to be a celebration in the sick man's room, who are prepared to receive with him. What is to be done in such cases? Must the dying man be denied the most indispensable Provision for the way, because the urgency of the moment will not admit of Its being consecrated anew on his behalf? There can be no doubt as to how the early Church and how Catholic Christendom would answer such a question. If we may say it reverently, we cannot doubt how our Lord Himself would answer it. In this petition of His Own Prayer He teaches us to pray "Give us this day our daily Bread." In speaking of Himself as the Bread which came down from heaven, and in choosing the element of bread as the outward form under which in the Sacrament He gives us His Sacred Body, our Lord cannot but have meant that we should think of Him and of this Sacrament according to the analogy thus instituted. Bread, then, is not an article of only occasional necessity. It is precisely that staple of life which we take care always to have at hand. It is in the houses of the rich: it is one thing we look for even in the houses of the very poor. It is prepared not only to be used, but to be kept. Surely then it cannot be our Lord's will that His House should be destitute of the Heavenly Bread at any hour when His children may call for It, or that any of us being a father, shall, if his son ask for bread, give him a stone.
It is certainly remarkable that the Lord's Prayer, as given in S. Luke's Gospel, is immediately followed by a parable which is based on an urgent call for bread at a most inconvenient hour.
"Which of you shall have a friend and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come unto me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth" (S. Luke xi. 5-9).
Surely the Church will have fallen into a deeper than midnight slumber if She shall ever withhold the wayfarer's Food at the importunity of her children. But She never has refused It. She never can refuse It. It will be no fault of Hers if when summoned to the dying the Priest shall have no Bread to set before the wayfarer at his journey's end. Though he be called at midnight he may betake himself to that Friend Who though under the sacred veils, in the quiet Church He seem to sleep, yet says of Himself, "I sleep but My heart waketh" (Cant. v. 2), Who hath both given His Life for His friends, and is Himself that Bread of Life which alone can strengthen them in their conflict with death. No importunity is needed with Him. "He will rise and give him as many as he needeth."
That in God's good time the primitive custom of reserving the Blessed Sacrament will be generally restored we need not doubt, and meanwhile we hasten the day of its restoration as often as we say "Give us this day our daily Bread."