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.


"It is enough; the hour is come: behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners."--S. MARK xiv. 41.

AND that, when I last spoke to you of the Blessed Sacrament, had just been fulfilled. The Angels and Archangels, the Thrones and Dominions see their Prince, see the King of Glory obedient to the word of a sinful Priest. The words had been said, "This is My Body." And we may well take up that text in another sense: "There was no time like that, before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened to the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel."

And, behold, the blood of Calvary is flowing into the chalice. For this is My Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins. As David says, where we so poorly read: My cup shall be full:--"My ravishing chalice, how glorious it is!" And then: Do this in remembrance of Me. As a mediaeval Saint cries out, "And that all the command, after such a gift? Is that all the return Thou askest for such a humiliation? What cross mightest Thou not have enjoined us to take up in return for Thine own! what hard lot mightest Thou not have laid on us in remembrance of Thy sad and sorrowful life! And this all! this so gentle, so loving, so easy a precept, Do this in remembrance of Me. But to remember Thee, we must forget ourselves; and if, in this tremendous moment, when the heavens have opened, that the HOLY GHOST may come down, and make that which was bread Thy True Body, and that which was wine Thy Very Blood: if we cannot forget ourselves now, how can we profess even the coldest, poorest, deadest love to Thee?"

And then, as He showed that love in dying that He might be the LORD of the quick as well as the dead, then is the time in which, in almost all ancient liturgies, either verbally or mentally, supplication was made for the departed. You, my Sisters, each after your own reception, as the Priest after his, can have no better object of prayer, nothing that can more unite you with Him Who is the LORD of quick and dead. The order usually given in religious houses as to praying for the departed is this: first, for departed sisters of the same house: then, relations: then, those who may, in life, have annoyed or hurt us: then, for benefactors: then, for any one specially commended to us: then, for those who have none to pray for them: then, for those of whom there is no memory on earth.

And now, while the Priest is preparing himself with those words, LORD, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof; but speak the word only, and Thy servant shall be healed, to receive the Body and Blood of his LORD, you too are waiting, as Mary Magdalene at the Sepulchre. As the actual Death on Calvary did but send forth our LORD alive from the tomb, so the mystical death on the altar is but to send Him forth to you the Source of your spiritual life: Because I live, ye shall live also.

I have told you how S. Thomas of Villanova used to say that if a Priest realised what he did in Consecration, he would for terror be unable to proceed. And if you realised that, in stretching out your hands for those holy mysteries, you were about to touch, not the hem of His garment, like the Syrophoenician, but that very Body of which it was said to S. Mary, Touch me not, I think that your arms would fall powerless at your sides; and I am sure that those hands, so hallowed, would never commit the least sin, however venial, never write an idle word, never go idly about their work.

And when one thinks of the chalice, how can one fail to grieve for that rejection of half His gift? You know, my Sisters, hardly ever here, here, before the very mercy-seat of love--have I ever said, will I ever say anything controversial. But yet one cannot but feel deep sorrow for those servants of our dear LORD in later times who would have given anything, sacrificed all, to receive that Most Precious Blood, and were not able. I do think with veneration on that holy Bishop of Exeter, nearly six hundred years ago, who, when the custom was received for the first time by the English Church, in a provincial council, said, "You may dispose me as a schismatic, you may burn me as a heretic; but Bishop while I am, I will never deprive my flock committed to my charge of that which our LORD died on Calvary to give them." And while that true Bishop lived (and he lived many years), Devonshire and Cornwall were still privileged to taste of the chalice. What especial grace the chalice apart from the paten, or the paten apart from the chalice, may be to us, who would be presumptuous enough to say? But it is not without its significance, that in that first prophecy of Isaiah's about Antichrist, when he describes the Church as mustering her hosts to the last dreadful fight between herself and the Lawless One, somewhere in her ranks, There shall be a crying for wine in her streets.

One matter-of-fact remark. You know that many think--some of you may have thought--that it is more reverent to receive the chalice from the Priest than to take it in your hands. The history of this matter is this: For some six hundred years the chalice was received as we now receive it; then the idea began that the laity should not touch it. So, in some cases, our LORD'S Blood was given in a spoon; in some, imbibed through a tube. But the objection was to touching it at all. They would have made no difference between contact with the hands or the lips. That is a mere invention of the last twenty years. Through the feeling of a possible danger of accident, the early mediaeval Church discouraged the laity from touching it at all. The custom of which I have spoken is not a whit more reverent, and far more dangerous than the primitive custom.

But now, there is the deep, the terrible thought, You have received those Heavenly Mysteries--

"Ecce panis angelorum,
Factus cibus viatorum."

Now think, how, for better for worse, you are not what you were when you entered the Oratory. Ah me! Suppose that, like Confirmation, this Blessed Sacrament could only be received once. That once in your life you were to touch that Body; once in your life you were to taste that Blood; only think, not only what preparation you would have made,--but what time for thanks you would have taken after! Think, how differently you would have looked on the hands that had held that Body; how differently you would have felt as to the lips that had tasted that Blood! And shall the greater love cause the less return?

The more Sacraments, the less love? The more giving Himself to you, the less giving yourselves to Him?

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