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.


"And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took cither of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD."--Lev. x. i, 2.

[Feast of Corpus Christi, 1863]

THIS day, my Sisters, reminds me--ought to remind me, ought to remind us all--if of the privileges, so most surely also of the dangers, of our Daily Sacrifice.

The question is this (and the longer we are together, the more I feel it, for myself and for you), I, so consecrating, you so receiving, the Body and Blood of Calvary, what reply are we making to so great a gift?

And this also: What things are we allowing ourselves to do, which arc utterly unworthy of those who so eat of That Body and drink of That Blood?

Is it not the one thing to be prayed against, out of all other things, that we should shut our eyes to this: that we should be content with a profession, and deny the substance of it?

My Sisters, I have a difficulty which I will give you in the words of a dear servant of GOD, though not a Saint, from whom came the institution of the Brothers of Christian Doctrine, who, as you know, teach in schools, educate boys for the reception of Holy Orders, and the like. And thus he says, word for word: "If I tell you that, with all the privileges you have, all the Sacraments, all the helps, I sometimes wonder that you, on the whole, make no more way, surely you might well retort on me, and say: Whatever privilege we have, you also; whatever Sacraments, you too; and can you so condemn us? And he says, so humbly, Be it so: what then? All, and more than all, you say of me is true; but what will that profit you? All, oh! how much more than you know of, or can fancy, may be my condemnation; but what will that avail you?"

My Sisters, I always think of what that good Priest there says, whenever, more especially, I wish to lay down to you what you must do, if you would be true, and honest, and good Sisters. Think that all said, and know that all thought; that I, that all Priests, to some extent, condemn ourselves. But, nevertheless, there is the same light in what we say, there is the same reality in our arguments.

And what does the strange fire mean in the text? Undoubtedly, in one sense, the strange fire consumed the burnt-offering, as any other fire would have done. Undoubtedly, any one of you may, outwardly, and for a certain time, do GOD service, only to be distinguished by Him, not by those around you, from the true, deep service of Saints.

Well: and what are questions, of such infinite magnitude to all, what are they to you, who, when you speak in the course of the day, speak with the lips which the Precious Blood of your dear LORD has so lately touched? Who, when you do anything, do it with those hands by which the Sacred Body of the same LORD has been so lately handled. Who, when you hear any provoking speech, and therefore reply to it hastily, hear it with those ears through which those dear words have so often come to your souls: "I absolve thee from all thy sins."

And what then is offering strange fire? If you offer that poor, half-lighted fire, miserably and lazily, dragging through its sacrifice, just doing what you ought, and not a whit more, just doing your own duty in your own place, and that with as little trouble as you can take; and, then never for one moment undertaking the duty of an overworked or tired Sister: I take it that that is strange fire. So, if whatever you do, is done for any but one reason, then that other reason, let it be what it may, is strange fire too. And this is, perhaps, the commonest fault (I am not especially speaking of you, but of all sisterhoods), to see things left undone by another, by her own fault, and to leave it so. "Am I my sister's keeper?"

My Sisters: sometimes this kind of thought does make me very sad. I look at the bright parts of what you do, and GOD knows, I thank Him, and take courage. But if I were to take the darker parts by themselves, what then? Look at it in this way. Think, each of you, what you would, as I was partly saying the other day, have said ten years ago, had it then been revealed to you how constantly you would now receive. My Sisters: remember this. This infinitive love, that marvellous power, cannot be lost. I go to a poor woman, living in the world, toiling for her daily bread, making only the general profession of trying to be GOD'S servant, with countless hindrances to draw her back, and remind her that she receives three times in the year the LORD'S Body and Blood. How should I, how should you, speak to such a one, if we knew that she ever neglected her prayers, if we knew that she ever lost her temper, if we knew that she was hasty and impatient with her children, disobedient to her husband, unneighbourly to those around her? And for her once, each of you receive that same Food of Angels one hundred times. Now, during this octave (what time better?) try and ask yourselves, each, how far you are acting up to that wonderful gift of GOD. Your receiving that dear LORD, your visiting that dear King: are you acting up to what the privilege, even in its lowest sense, infers? much more, how are you carrying out all the strength that Sacrament of all strength gives you?

My Sisters: you are offering your sacrifice to GOD with some fire or other. There is but One that is utterly pure, utterly holy, utterly heavenly. But, as S. Bernard says, that may be mixed also with other fire. It may be that pure love of which, in the New Testament, S. John stands forth the unrivalled pattern; it may be, the LORD much, and some inferior motives a little, as S. John Mark, that, in time of great trouble and weariness departed; it may be, the LORD a little, and ourselves much, as Jehu, when he destroyed Baal; it may be a false fire, an utterly truthless imitation of zeal, as--why says the same preacher, need I quote such crimes? But call to mind how loving, how hoping and believing the best, that Saint was, how much he saw of work, how much he knew of difficulty; and then listen how he speaks: he, indeed, to a brotherhood; but I am sure the lesson is no less true for you.

"Think, then, what you have professed, think what you do. In little things, say you, or in great things? And I make answer: In both; in great, because in little. If the LORD and Satan contend about one small duty in your hearts, that small duty is indeed increased. Be real; know that, as the wise man saith, for all these things GOD will bring thee into judgment. Remember what thou hast received; look forward to that which thou owest; hear that voice of most just upbraiding always sounding in your ears, Who hath required this at your hands? and then see whether there are not weights to be cast away, pet indulgences to be forsaken, very clinging temptations to be torn off."

So he says, and, on this the last of all our great festivals this year, O my Sisters! how would I not say it to you?

And so, with reference to this day, and to yourselves, my Sisters; take these two thoughts for your warning:

The one: the fire shall ever be burning upon the altar.

The other: remember the fate of strange fire.

And GOD give you grace, each of you, to offer herself, wholly, perfectly, heartily, on that Altar, of which the First Victim was the Spotless Lamb on Mount Calvary.

And now, etc.

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