Project Canterbury

Sermons on the Blessed Sacrament
Preached in the Oratory of S. Margaret's, East Grinstead

by John Mason Neale, D.D.

London: H. R. Allenson, n.d.


"For how great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids."--Zech. ix. 17.

[October 1857]

IN speaking to you, dearest Sisters, as I do, week after week, and that so often in each week, and with the knowledge that, except from me, you cannot hear from any Priest of those things which are nearest and dearest to you, those things which are entwined with your heart of hearts, those things which make your life what it is, I cannot but feel a responsibility in thus alone endeavouring to lead you and to guide you, that might well, if I trusted to myself, discourage me and humble me to the dust. But I know that our dear LORD can make choice of whom He will to speak to your hearts by. I would gladly call in others sometimes to take my place in thus talking to you in His Name; but, since He has not been pleased to give me that opportunity, I am bound to believe, and so are you too, my Sisters, that He can and will make use of my words to give His message to you. Only remember, that if you do not constantly pray for me, you cannot expect to have any blessing by my means; whereas, if you do, if you pray perseveringly, as well as earnestly, GOD can employ the feeblest instrument to the most glorious end. Of this, which is never out of my mind, I must sometimes speak to you. Now let us turn to the text, and see what GOD the HOLY GHOST will teach us from that.

As you have just heard it, it runs thus: How great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty! corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids. But we will rather take it, as it has been taken by such multitudes of Saints from the beginning, as it has been preached on by such multitudes of holy Doctors, who have long since drunk fully of the source of all wisdom, as it has been held forth to those who have chosen that same path of chastity which, as I earnestly pray, may some day set you all before the presence of the Great King. "For what is His Goodness, and what is His Beauty, save the Corn of the Mighty, and the Wine that blossoms into Virgins?" None ever doubted that it was spoken of the Blessed Eucharist. This prophet, in the old dispensation, saw under another type the loaf and the water of Elijah, the cake of barley bread that fell into the camp of Midian, the manna which lay every morning round the host of the Israelites.

And, first of all, it is as though our LORD had summed up all His goodness into this one great gift. He began His ministry with a type and earnest of it, when in Cana of Galilee He turned the water into wine. And now He closes the ministry of His mortal life by not only performing one of the greatest (I might say, the very greatest) of His miracles, but by delegating a power to all His Priests to perform the very same till the consummation of all things. Himself, in His own dear Presence, could not tarry longer with the Apostles. His place at the Right Hand of the FATHER had to be assumed: His intercession for His toiling and struggling people had to be begun: His reign, which must last till He had put all enemies under His feet, had to be inaugurated: the HOLY GHOST had to be sent down: it was expedient for them that He should go away. But yet His love found out a way whereby, though separated from His own, He should abide with them still; though exalted far above all principality, and power, and dominion, He should still be seen in great humility: yes, and did not disdain (though CHRIST, being raised from the dead, dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over Him) to expose Himself to the insults of a wicked and unbelieving generation, rather than withdraw that Presence, which is to our churches what the Shechinah was to the Jewish temple.

What is His goodness, indeed, if it be not this?--That He still enters into miserable hovels, to be the Viaticum of poor and distressed creatures; that He goes into hospitals, and there infuses His own grace and strength into many a dying Lazarus, now laid at His gate,--that gate which is always opened to them that knock,--that rich Man's gate Who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think,--laid at His gate full of sores, but presently to be carried by the Angels into Abraham's bosom. Think of the perpetuity, the unfailingness of that goodness: the millions of times which, since that First Eucharist, He has thus come down to visit His people: think, to come nearer ourselves, of the daily blessing He gives us here. What is His goodness, indeed, if it be not this?

And then notice that other expression. And what is His Beauty? I know very well it may mean, His Beauty, the Beauty bestowed by Him through this Heavenly Mystery, the beauty of His Saints and Elect, the glorious wounds of the Martyrs, the tears and labours of the Confessors, the purity and love of the Virgins. But I had rather take it in the other sense, and by way of reply to that which has gone before. What is His Goodness, the goodness which He bestows? What is His Beauty, the beauty which He receives? See how all the art, all the wealth, all the skill of the Church has been expended in beautifying the place of the LORD'S Sanctuary, for this very reason, not that it is the House of Prayer, not that it is the House where among the two or three that are gathered in His Name there is He by His SPIRIT; but because on His altar He comes down, Body, Soul, and Divinity. If the Incarnation be the source and fountain of all Christian Art, the Blessed Eucharist, which is indeed only the extension of the Incarnation, is the chief employment of it. What is His goodness, and what is His beauty, save this?

And what is this? The Corn of the Mighty. And now, why Corn, rather than Bread? Why, the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of Angels, the Bread of GOD, but the Corn of the Mighty? And doubtless for this reason: bread, without any further co-operation of our own than receiving it, necessarily and infallibly supports us;--not so with corn. When we have that, it still asks labour on our part. It asks the mill, the kneading, the fire, before it can be our support and strength. Do not misunderstand me. Let GOD be true, though every man be a liar. Let but the LORD'S own words be said; though Priest and people all be wicked, all unbelievers, nay, even if they were all blasphemers of this Heavenly Mystery, still this meek Lamb gives them His Very Flesh to eat, His Very Blood to drink, as much as He ever gave it to the greatest Saint. His Flesh and Blood indeed, but to their condemnation, not to their salvation. They derive no strength from it; they cannot resist temptations in its virtue. They take it, but it is to judgment; they take it, but it is to weakness; they take it, but it is to infirmity both of soul and body; they take it, but, unless they repent, it will be to shame and everlasting contempt. Corn indeed! The gift, to all, is His. The use we make of that gift depends on us. And, Corn of the Mighty. Well says one of our old poets--

"Oft have I seen brave spirits, when they rose
From this great banquet, filled with generous rage,
Flie in the face of sin, and nobly choose
Against its stoutest ramparts to engage
Their heavenly confidence: nor has their high
Adventure failed to draw down victory.
Oft have I seen them smile in sweet disdain
Upon misfortune's most insulting look:
Oft have I seen them kindly entertain
Those guests faint human nature worse can brook.
Oft have I seen them enter single figh
Both with the Peers and with the Prince of Night."

"O JESUS CHRIST," S. Bonaventura cries out, "incarnate for my sake, incarnate in my nature! O JESUS CHRIST, That didst take that nature and glorify it, and dost thus return it to us under the form of Bread and Wine, taking ourselves, and giving us Thyself: what hast Thou not wrought in Thy Saints, when thus Thou dost enter into them, incorporating them with Thee, making them bone of Thy Bone, and flesh of Thy Flesh! How hast Thou not triumphed in Thy Martyrs: impassible Thyself, but suffering a second time in them! How many dungeons hast Thou not filled with heavenly comfort and light, like the brilliance of the Eternal Throne! What long years of mocking and cruelty and imprisonment hast Thou not endured in them that confessed Thee bravely! What love hast Thou not infused into Thy Brides! causing them to be stayed with these apples, vouchsafing that they should be comforted with these chalices! And to Thee, thus incarnate, to Thee, thus veiled, I draw near this day; I, all sin, to Thee, all holiness; I, all want, to Thee, all supply; I, all sickness, to Thee, all health; I, all pollution, to Thee, all purity. But not to my condemnation! not, for Thine Agony's sake in the Garden! not, for Thy great Passion's sake on the Cross! not, for the nails' sake that pierced Thee! not, for the spear's sake that wounded Thee! Not to my condemnation, O LORD, but to my exceeding and everlasting strength!" Thus prayed the Seraphic Doctor. And how, dearest Sisters, ought we not to tremble, how ought we not to pray, lest th