THE GREAT SACRIFICE
AND now we are coming to the end of the Great Sacrifice. And see how that end begins,--with the oblation of ourselves.
"Here we offer unto Thee, O LORD, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto Thee."
Every one in a most true sense. You in the truest sense of all,--you, whose lives are in His hands, not in your own,--you, whose souls you ought more especially to have committed to His keeping.
See how the servant follows the Master. We have offered the Immaculate LAMB; we have not only commemorated, but renewed, all His Sacrifice on Calvary: and now you yourselves,--in one sense, His own of His own; in another, your own of your own,--offer yourselves, in some poor imitation of that of which He Himself made oblation.
So that prayer, so that sacrifice of yourselves, naturally follows that one Oblation once offered. The words of that prayer, as we now have it, are not so old; the sense is as old as Christianity itself.
Because He for us,--therefore we for and with Him.
But then, the great hymn of praise with which we end, that is old; that, words as well as sense. And when do we know, of a surety, that it was first repeated? We must look back to some hundred and fifty years after our dear LORD'S Ascension; we must see the fire kindled, the stake erected, the Bishop bound to it,--S. Polycarp, the disciple of S. Ignatius, which latter was the little child whom our LORD set in the midst of the Disciples,--S. Polycarp, who himself had seen and conversed with S. John;--we must hear him, when asked to deny his LORD, reply, "Eighty and six years He hath been a good Master to me; and what hath He done that I should forsake Him now?" and then go on, even in the midst of the flames, with the Gloria in Excelsis, as we at this day say it.
Glory be to GOD on high. Even though here, He, in His great humiliation, conceals His Divinity under the form of Bread and Wine, on high still; on high, as He was during the greatest humiliation of His Passion.
"The SON of GOD, proceeding forth,
Yet leaving not His FATHER'S side,
And going to His work on earth,
Had reached at length life's eventide."
On high, that where He is, there we also; on high, that you, my Sisters, who have only the same kind of work as He,--often so (not only difficult, not only so wearying), but so low, so mean, so degrading, as the world would call it,--may look for that glory on high too: that where I am, there ye may be also.
Little, low, mean things! I have often felt, my Sisters, that you must have thought it so easy for me to speak to you about your work among the sick abroad, among the children here at home:--only, in a general way, conceiving what it is,--how (what the world would call) low, mean, wretched. Often have I wished to say something on that point. But now, some few lines of S. Thomas de Villanova, which I only lately met with, will speak much better than I. Thus he writes:--
"And so, my daughter in CHRIST, you think that I cannot realise the littleness, the meanness, the disgustingness of your labours among the sick. Suppose I could not--what then? This then: that it would be my loss; that I should lose the privilege of sympathy--not you the benefit of prayer; mine, such as it is; all Priests, who, in that respect, are on a par with me. But you are, I think, mistaken. No Priest, worthy of the name, but would try to realise all those little, mean, miserable offices, which he himself, being sick, has needed--(oh, what a blessing it is for a Bishop to have been previously sick!)--and to translate them to your work. You have thought," he continues, "that I have rested in generals; that I have said to myself, 'So much fatigue, so much labour, so much trouble, and then an end.' You are mistaken. I have reckoned all your work, and I have seen, the lower the ministry, the more the work is to be shrunk from, the higher reward at that judgment; the higher the seat at that banquet." Then he also goes on to say: "Did you ever try to realise how low, in the world's eyes, is the patient ministry of the Sacrament of Penitence?" And, my Sisters, remember this: how an evil world reviles, hates, abhors, loathes it, because it must probe into those sins which outward modesty will not have spoken of, any more than the sufferings and remedies of the sick-room could be expected to others.
We talk of humiliation. Do you remember to what humiliation He has subjected Himself?--His gift to us of Himself under the forms of Bread and Wine?
One thing more. That Gloria in Excelsis might give matter for a hundred sermons; but we are now drawing so near to the great Festival, that of one thing only more here must I speak.
We give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory. What is that great glory? Is it not man's salvation? Then why not, "We give thanks to Thee for Thy great mercy?" For this reason: Then, in her ecstasy of love, then in the fulness of her self-devotion, the Church thinks of her redemption, not so much as it affects her salvation, but His glory. There we have the highest of all lessons; there we have the dearest of all truths. The two must, of a verity, be one and the same; but the more we love Him, the more we shall forget our happiness in His victory. That it is to which all the highest aspirations of the Saints have stretched. His glory first; then our salvation, because of that. My Sisters, we probably shall never attain to that: only, it is well to keep the dearest, highest wish before our eyes.
That is not essential to salvation; but this is essential,--to try daily more and more to prepare ourselves for His appearing at His Advent; so to try, that, as His Apostle said, so may we be able to say, We know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is!