THE RANSOM OF SINNERS
"Behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners."--S. MARK xiv. 41.
THE last time I spoke to you, my Sisters, it fell out well that the great festival of the multitude that no man can number, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation, should have been the day in which we had to consider that part of the Communion Office where we unite ourselves with all the company of heaven in the glorious Ter Sanctus.
But before we go on, I will say a word on another matter connected with this.
Of all the precious offerings that Saints and saintly men have cast into the treasury of the Church, I know of few more precious than the vast number of prefaces to the Ter Sanctus, now almost all disused. In the early ages of the Church, every Sunday and every festival had its own proper preface as regularly as its own Collect: the poor remains of the Spanish Church have them to this day. Rome cut them down to eleven; and we, as you know, have reduced those eleven to five, or rather to six, for there is a proper preface to the Coronation Office. I will give you an example of this; only it is necessary to listen attentively, for every word tells. The first shall be for Thursday in the octave of Easter.
"It is very meet and right, very salutary and convenient, that we should render thanks, utter praise, offer vows, and meditate on Thy gifts, Almighty FATHER, through JESUS CHRIST our LORD, Who, having now completed His most victorious Passion, offered to Thee the spoils of war in the redemption of His purchased people. His immutable Divinity knew no battle: His assumed humanity won the victory. Thus was the devil scorned, when flesh was overcome by flesh: so that Satan should be baffled, after its fall, by that humanity which, before its fall, he himself had overcome. Then that foul ravisher was utterly trampled down, when sin, in which he confided, was destroyed by the similitude of sinful flesh. Which victory, O LORD, added nothing to the power of the winner, but bestowed dignity on the won. For immutability cannot experience loss, nor plenitude acquire fulness. Not that the LORD of heaven needed the possession of earth, but that this world, a portion of Thy kingdom, might set forth His praises, Whose riches it could not increase. Behold, then, O FATHER, the love of thine Only-Begotten SON towards us:--the abyss of a Creator cannot be fathomed by a creature. That He might restore Thee that which was Thine, He assumed that which was not His. Thus He set forth to us Thy invisible glory by His own visible Majesty. He taught us what was Thine excellency in the heavens, Thy power in the waters, Thy wisdom in the earth, Thy virtue in the abysses, Thy brightness in the angels, Thy will in the patriarchs, Thy dignity in the prophets, Thy sublimity in the evangelists, Thy love in the apostles, the authority of Thy commandments, the loveliness of Thy temples, the joy of Thy burnt-offerings, the happiness of Thy servants, the zeal of Thy disciples, the worship of Thy ministers: what is Thy respect to the miserable, Thy love to the little ones, Thy hatred to idols, Thy favour to the Saints, Thy terrors of the lost, Thy pardon to them that confess, Thy splendour in Baptism, Thy Sweetness in the Eucharist. Therefore with Angels," etc.
The other, because it is appropriate to a House like this:--
"It is meet and just, sufficiently worthy and salutary, that we should give thanks always and praise to Thee, O LORD, heavenly FATHER.... Through JESUS CHRIST our LORD: by Whose grace, after that He had been born of Mary, Virgin of Virgins, the weaker sex becomes mighty, frailty is turned into victory. So that, in that which introduced the facility of sin, should be bestowed the happiness of victory: that that which merited the punishment, should obtain the crown; merited in the head, received in the progeny. And now let feminine nature, once deceived and in the transgression, gird itself for the battle and conquer: while a frail and delicate body, yielding to no torments, but entire victor over them, gives occasion, thousand times, of misery to that most ancient enemy. Wherefore, LORD, while Thou thus prostratest the elate adversary, Thou consolest Thy redeemed people. Divine love gave her audacity, and turned the sentence of her Judge into the confession of her GOD; so that she, having conquered the world, now reigneth with Thee for ever: Therefore with Angels," etc.
With such and so many preparations, the Church approaches this most august Sacrament; and yet there is one thing more. As the LORD, on His way up Calvary, fell three times beneath the weight of His Cross, so He falls, as it were, beneath the weight of our sins yet once more in the Prayer of humble access, We do not presume, etc. And then, finally, the Priest, rising from that, is with the LORD on Calvary. Think then that it is not the unveiling of the chalice that you see, but the LORD Himself, for the third time stripped of His raiment, and bleeding at every pore; not the preparation of the Host, but the soldiers arranging their nails and hammer; not the fingers of the Priest that lay on the paten the pure white wafer, so soon to become the Corn of the Mighty, but the hands of the executioners extending on the Cross the white and virginal Body of the LAMB of GOD: that you hear, not the breaking of the Bread, but the hammer which, by its sound, fulfils old Simeon's prophecy to the Blessed Virgin Mary: yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also.
Now is about to be fulfilled that which is written by Haggai: Yet a little while, and the Desire of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts. And must we not tremble, as we prepare ourselves for Him? But who may abide the day of His coming; and who shall stand when He appeareth?
Then the Priest, renewing with all his power his actual and present intention of consecrating the Body and Blood of CHRIST, proceeds for the last time to pray over the creatures of bread and wine: bread and wine even now after the order of Melchizedech's sacrifice, and in a moment to be changed into that Sacrifice, the one Pearl of great price: that we, receiving them, may be partakers of the Body and Blood of the Beloved SON, Who, on the same night that He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, Take, eat, This is My Body. Now, then, farewell for a while to sight and sense: all here is in the realm of faith. She only can pierce the cloud: can draw near into the thick darkness where GOD is. As a saintly writer says, Now thou art about, O priest, to pass through the nine orders of the celestial hierarchy, and seek the Eternal and Consubstantial WORD in the bosom of the FATHER: that Word by Whom all things were made, and without Whom was not anything made that was made: asking Him to violate the laws of that nature which He Himself established, and to substitute Himself for the material gifts.
Took bread. And here, as S. Bonaventura says, "if the priest had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, surely his hand would refuse to fulfil his office: to lift that which will in a few moments become his Creator, and his Saviour, and his Judge." And what if there should be among those who are assisting some unconscious Judas,--some Sister who, when she receives that Bread of Angels, will of a verity be betraying the Son of man with a kiss,--who will presently go out, and with those very lips utter some angry word, some provoking thing, some light sentence; with those very lips to which the petition has just been granted, Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth. It is not for the Priest, in that moment, to think of any human creature, however dear--of any earthly matter, however unspeakably important; but it is for you, my Sisters, as each moment brings you nearer the miracle of miracles, if you have fallen (there is now no time for formal repentance, but) to love--there is always time for that!
And when He had given thanks. And if He so gave thanks, if He, GOD of GOD, Light of light, very GOD of very GOD, gave thanks to His FATHER and our Father, to His GOD and our GOD, for this His help to us, His dear help, His chief help: what words have we that we can express our thanks by? When He had given thanks: That He had gone through those thirty-three years of misery on earth; that He had endured all evil, as well as done all good; that He had suffered what none else suffered, as well as performed what none else had performed: and that, for our sakes. Ah! it is said by a mediaeval saint: after that, in the great, in the dear moment, in the most precious moment of His life for us, He gave thanks. And what, my Sisters, of you? I firmly believe that sometimes, let the work have been what it may have been, you have tried (sometimes you have succeeded) to give thanks. Sometimes, I leave it to your own consciences how often, but--
And shall that Blessing, passing through the mouths of the priests of eighteen hundred years, be less powerful now?
Why?--to teach His own true lambs of His dear sufferings,--of the parting of His most holy soul from His most pure body;--or that, thus broken, He might teach His suppliants to imitate the bold humility and trust which said,--Truth, LORD; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the children's table.
To whom? To His FATHER, from Whom He had received all things? No, indeed.
To His disciples, to whom He had given all things, up to that time, His own powers of healing bodily diseases, His own more precious gift of Absolution. Now He gave them this; this, not only for themselves, but for their hands to pass on. And oh, my Sisters! think:--if it had pleased Him, of His infinite goodness, once, and only once, in inaugurating the apostolic succession, to give the Source--His own Body, His own Blood: what infinite love, what infinite power, should we have seen in such a gift! Ah me! and what should we have thought of them who received it! how they must have been struck dumb with amazement! how they must have, so to speak, fainted under such a load of tremendous benefit! Imagine the Gift bestowed once, and once for all; realise that; and then see that the marvellous gift is given no more to them than to us; nay, the miracle spreading as the faith spreads, not so much to them as to us!
It is enough; the hour is come; and the Son of Man shall be given into the hands of sinners.
Take, eat: but--is it to be as the sacrament of life, dearest Sisters, especially to you? or that of--I will not end the sentence--
And now, says an early Saint, are you on earth or in heaven? are you with angels or among men? There is the ransom of every sinner; there is the peace of all the world; there is a Sacrifice, to which you must add the sacrifice of yourselves, if you will ever be accepted before the heavenly throne.
And now, as another Doctor says--go, my Sisters, and keep your miserable little jealousies, your poor, petty, wretched distractions, your unworthy difficulties and misunderstandings; go, and keep any thought that is at variance with that one thought of that one love; go: and vowed, pledged, sworn to Him, give secret hiding in your heart to His enemies; go, and let that ring, His golden pledge, be on a hand that ever commits one deed not for Him; let that veil cover a head which indulges any thought wherein His enemies will rejoice; let that cross touch a breast which harbours any hankering after what is not His, hang over a heart which beats for any beside Him. You have heard the sentence, Take, eat; This is My Body. Go, and allow these things, my Sisters, if you can!