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.


"He that eateth My Flesh, and drinketh My Blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." S. John vi. 56.

[S. Margaret's. Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, 1858]

With the Blessed Sacrament thus set before us, with the Lord of Glory in His very Flesh and Blood presented to our eyes, how satisfied is Faith! how satisfied is Love! Hope only remains for the present unsatisfied. How satisfied is our Faith! for what greater, what more glorious truth can she be called to embrace? Here she may put forth all her strength and energy: sight fails, understanding fails. How can this Man give us His Flesh to eat? and Faith answers, "Be not afraid; believe only, and thou shall be made whole." Love, too is satisfied; for what greater proof of responsive love than when that Eternal Wisdom proclaims,--"Come, eat of My Bread, and drink of My Wine that I have mingled,"--than when man shall eat Angels' food, and he sends us meat enough? Enough to supply all our wants through the desert of this world: enough to satisfy the hundred thousand congregations who have this day received the Body that was taken of Mary, and drank of the Blood that streamed down from the Cross: enough, by a miracle infinitely surpassing that of the five loaves, in multiplying this celestial food a million of times, that the Church may be supported during one more day of her pilgrimage. But Hope yet remains unsatisfied. This is not the end and the sum of her wishes. She desires to see, as well as to believe; to look on her LORD face to face, and not under the shadow of a sacramental veil: she desires that the Master should reveal Himself to her under His own dear form, in the garden of Paradise, as once to S. Mary in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea. That, too, will be in time,--but not till the time when Hope itself shall have met with its own blessed end. Then will be heard those most happy words, Behold My Hands and Feet, that it is I, Myself.

Dearest Sisters, how those who have never been taught this most blessed of all doctrines can drag on in their Christian course, I, for one, cannot guess. This I know, that we all, who find in our Sacramental LORD our chief strength, who put in our Sacramental LORD our best and warmest hopes, we all find the Christian battle as much as ever we can fight, the Christian race as much as ever we can run. Take away that from us, and we should perish. But then, if we fail, if we walk unworthily of this great privilege, if He comes to His own, and His own receive Him not, what manner of danger do we incur here? of what manner of punishment shall we be thought worthy hereafter?

We can never hear the truth too often: let me speak to you once more of this blessed Eucharist. You may regard it as a Sacrament, which makes CHRIST present; or as a Communion, which makes Him received. In so far as it is a Sacrament, it was instituted by the LORD that He might be with us; in so far as it is a Communion, it was instituted by the LORD that He might be in us. In the Sacrament, He tabernacles on our Altars; in the Communion, He tabernacles in our hearts. Therefore, the Communion is, so to speak, a further stretch of that love which instituted the Sacrament. Love brought Him down from the Eternal Throne, and placed Him on the Altar, that we might there embrace Him as a Mystery of Faith; greater love brought Him from the Altar to the Heart, that we might there hold Him fast in a mystery of love.

Dwelleth in Me, and I in him. Why this double declaration? And those holy men who have written on the Sacrament tell us that the twofold assertion refers to a twofold union: the immediate union which we have with Him; the immediate union which we have through Him with each other. What was the first prayer that was offered after the first institution of the Sacrament? Think of the Garden of Gethsemane; of the low whisper of the trees in the spring night-wind; of the silent advance of Judas and his band across the valley of Jehoshaphat: think of the Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief, now drawing near to the sorrow of all sorrows, to the grief beyond all griefs; and then listen to that prayer," That they all may be one!" He asks, it would seem, an impossibility; therefore He asks it of the FATHER, to whom nothing is impossible; therefore He uses a comparison, that only the FATHER could understand. That they all may be one, as Thou, FATHER, art in Me, and I in Thee. He asks it by virtue of that Sacrament of Oneness, which alone can render it possible.

"Who can tell," says S. Cyril of Alexandria, "the incomprehensibleness of the love which can so warm our poor cold hearts, so soften our miserable hard hearts, so mould our unholy stubborn hearts as to make them one, not only with Him, but, miracle of miracles, with each other?" "If I had not heard the LORD Himself," says S. Augustine, "I could not have believed. That He could pass through the closed doors: it is marvellous, but my faith yields; that He can change perishable bread and wine into His imperishable Body and Blood, it is most miraculous: but my belief wavers not; that He should unite us with Himself, it is a miracle of love: but my credence still holds out; but when I hear those words, That they all may be one, I fall down and worship, and cry out with tears, LORD, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief."

And yet, see how, in the very materials of the Sacrament, in those visible accidents which, even after consecration, are alone visible to our earthly senses, the same unity is taught. The grains which composed the flour came from different stalks,--maybe from different fields, maybe still, from different parts of the land,--watered by different clouds, fed by different soils, reaped by different hands; but now all one. The grapes from which that wine was pressed grew on different trees, hung from different props, swelled and grew under the sweet feeding of different dews; now they are mingled in one wine.

And now, I want you to see how S. Paul speaks of the want of union among those that have eaten of the same Flesh and drunk of the same Blood. You have read the words a thousand times: I wonder if you ever, dear Sisters, traced their connexion? If not, see how you should weigh each sentence, each junction of sentences, if you would come at the whole meaning. First of all, when ye come together in the Church, that is, to celebrate the Liturgy, I hear that there be divisions among you, and I partly believe it. FOR there must also be heresies among you.

Heresies! but what have they to do with the subject on which the Apostle was speaking? Did any one in those days venture to give our LORD the lie direct, and to affirm that when He said, This is My Body, He meant, "This is not My Body,"--that when He promised, The Bread which I give is My Flesh, He meant, "The Bread which I give is not My Flesh"? Certainly not. A thousand years passed before that doctrine was taught in the Church; and then, like a poisonous serpent, it was crushed, and lay apparently lifeless for five hundred years more.

Then how heresies? Heresy is a sin against the faith: disunion is a sin against love; how, then, can disunion be heresy? Because it was disunion among those that had eaten of the same Body, and drunk of the same Chalice. There are heresies which are spoken, and there are heresies which are done. Heretics, in their obstinacy, affirm that the Sacrament is not a Sacrament; and Catholics, in their disunion, bring to pass that the Communion is not a Communion. That they all may be one, saith the LORD Himself: "We will not be one," say the servants. Ah! if we ever sin in that way, we are in some sort worse than heretics! Heretics say that the Sacrament is not a Sacrament, but it remains one, for all that: but we, if we disagree, actually make the Communion not a Communion. They may blaspheme it, but we destroy it; they deny its essence, we deprive it of its virtue. This, as S. Paul says, is not to eat the LORD'S Supper.

When we were reading the Book of Genesis, my Sisters, we came to that part where Abraham is commanded to offer a particular sacrifice to the LORD. A heifer of three years old, a ram of three years old, a she-goat of three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. The beasts he divided and laid in pieces on the ground; the birds divided he not. And why not? Because the birds, produced not from the earth, but from the water, the birds that soar up towards Heaven, the birds that cannot rise without making the sign of the Cross with their wings, are types of the Christian: and then comes in the LORD'S prayer, That they all may be one. Divide the beasts, if you will, the birds never: the birds divided he not.

And now, my Sisters, to speak to you more definitely and more individually. Who ought to be bound more closely together by this most blessed bond of union and love than you?--you, by your very name, Sisters: you, by the very Cross you wear, hanging alike over, hallowing every breast (what if it should hang over hearts not perfectly in unison?): above all, by the One Body and One Chalice which, day by day, you receive. Oh, sin grievous beyond all grief,--oh, proof how sadly, sadly vain are my words, here or in Confession, if there is anything which mars the brightness of that golden chain of Sisterhood! If there be in any case, and from any reason,--if there ever be any one single feeling which is not all love towards your Sisters, towards them whom He, your GOD and King, loves equally with yourselves, who are His Brides as much as you are,--oh, how fearfully dangerous to stretch out the hand for that glorious and immaculate Flesh, to clasp in your fingers the Chalice of perfect love. Better, a thousand times better, that you should draw back from it altogether, than that you should in effect say, "Thee, O GOD, I desire to love with all my heart and soul and strength. I desire to become bone of Thy Bone, and flesh of Thy flesh; but her, though Thou hast chosen her, though Thou hast sealed her for Thine, I will not have for mine own. I will acquiesce in it, because I could hardly do otherwise: I will tolerate, but I will do no more!"

Remember, dearest Sisters, in speaking so to you, all the time, as S. Paul says, I am persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though I thus speak. But we all know that Satan's great aim, since the very beginning of Sisterhoods, has been to sow discord and doubt between their members. He always has tried to do it; he always will try to do it. Let us be prepared for it. We are not to expect to be free from what the Saints have endured, and we are not to think ourselves worse than others, and so be discouraged, if he thus attacks us.

And this again I would have you all remember. We are drawing close to the end of the Church's year. Advent is rapidly approaching; now is the time when we should be beginning to make up the accounts of our stewardship. You are now nearly the largest of any Sisterhood in the English Church. Of all, your work is the most difficult: it is also the most to His glory. And, oh that He would give us more and more grace to remember that the time is short, and the work to be done very, very great! All to persist in laying aside every weight, all to resolve on running with more patience the race that is set before us! Oh, what marvellous strength belongs to us, strength which He has given; nay, rather, strength which He is! When I look round on all of you, there is nothing that I can despair of effecting. When I think of what GOD has brought you through, when I remember what, in one place or another, He has given you grace to attempt, ay, and to succeed in, I would not, GOD be my witness, change my office as regards you for any other work that could be offered me. I know that I must have, I am prepared to meet, many occasional discouragements among you. I know that you will not always run as by GOD'S grace you sometimes do; but I comfort myself with this hope,--that your failures you all more and more try against; your efforts you all strive longer and longer together to keep up.

For remember the text: Dwelleth in Me, and I in him. Dwelleth in Me. The Lamb was the Temple thereof. In that most pure and safe Temple you are invited to live for ever. "O most dear LORD," says S. Bonaventura, "what an hyperbole of love is this! Thou That didst make the glory of the heavens and the beauty of the earth; Thou That didst form every tree and flower; Thou That didst stretch out the curtains of the clouds and the pavement of the grass, Architect of all things, couldst Thou not have built an house for me, Thy sinful and unprofitable servant, far beyond all my deserts, far beyond all my hopes? Most surely, O LORD, Thou couldst. But this did not satisfy Thy love. Thou wouldst have me live, not in any work of Thine, but in Thee Thyself. In Thee, to Whom, but for Thy loving-kindness, I could not venture to look up, in Thee to dwell. Is this after the manner of men O LORD GOD? And that Thou shouldst take up Thine abode in me, in a cottage so mean, so unworthy at its best for a monarch, and besides that, so denied, so polluted, so stained by a thousand corruptions! But since Thou wilt have it so, come to me, O most loving LORD! since Thou vouchsafest to enter my poor, mean, little dwelling, help me to welcome Thee as Thou wouldest be welcomed there! Help me to remove every scrap of leaven from the abode, before the Paschal Lamb takes up His sojourn in it! Bestow on me Thyself the purity wherewith Thou wouldest be welcomed, the holiness wherewith Thou wouldest be detained! Send Thy messengers to prepare the way before Thee; those sweet messengers, Faith, Hope, and Love. They know how I should prepare for Thee; they know how I should receive Thee. Come then to me, for I am Thine! Come to me, for Thy vows are upon me! Come to me, for Thou hast promised to dwell with me! Even so, come, LORD JESUS!"

And now, etc.

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