Chapter VII. Of our Comportment in and after our Receiving the Blessed Sacrament. Section I. Of the Circumstances and Manner of Reception of the Divine Mysteries.
IT is the custom of the church of great antiquity, and proportionable regard, that every Christian, that is in health, should receive the blessed sacrament fasting. The apostles and primitive bishops at first gave it after supper, or together with it; but that soon passed into inconvenience; and some were drunken, and some were empty and despised, and the holy sacrament was dishonoured, and the Lord's body was not discerned; and God was provoked to anger, and the sinners were smitten and died in their sin; as appears in the sad narrative which St. Paul makes of the misdemeanors and the misfortunes in the Corinthian churches. Something like to which, is that, which Socrates tells of Christians in Egypt; they celebrated the holy communion at evening, but never "till they had filled themselves with varieties of choice meat." Of some also in Africa that communicated at evening, St. Austin speaks; and of others who communicated both morning and evening; at evening, because St. Paul called it deipnon Kuriakon, 'The Lord's supper;' and in the morning, from the universal custom of the church, which, in most places, from the very days of the apostles, prevailed, that the holy eucharist should be given to none, but to them that were fasting.--Which thing was also decreed in the third council of Carthage, and hath been observed ever since. And in this the church hath, not without good reason, taken up the custom. [Ut sacramenta altaris non nisi a jejunis hominibus celebrentur, excepto uno die anniversario, quo coena Domini celebratur.--Vide Zonar. in hunc Canon. et Concil. Matiscon. 2. et Petrum Abailardum, epist. 8.]
For besides that the intemperance of them that feasted before they communicated did not only give scandal to the religion, but did infinitely indispose them that came, and dishonour the divine mysteries; and such feastings would for ever be a temptation and a snare, and therefore could not be cured so well, as by taking the occasion away;--besides these things, the church observed, that, in the time of the synagogue, the servants of God did religiously abstain from meat and drink upon all their solemn feast-days, till their great offices of religion were finished: and, that upon this account, the Jews were scandalized at the disciples for eating the ears of corn early on the sabbath; and Christ excused them only upon the reason of their hunger, that is, upon necessity or charity. And after all, even by natural reason and experience we find, that they pray and worship best, who are not loaden with meat and drink; and that, therefore, this solemnity, being the greatest worship of God in the whole religion, consequently ought to be done with all advantages. It was, therefore, very reasonable, that the church took up this custom; and, therefore, they who causelessly do prevaricate it, shall bear their own burden, and are best reproved by St. Paul's words, "We have no such custom, nor the churches of God." But sick people and the weak are as readily to be excused in this thing, as the apostles were by Christ, in the case before mentioned: for necessity and charity are to be preferred before such ceremonies and circumstances of address.
1. When you awake in the morning of your communion-day, give God thanks particularly, that he hath blessed thee with so blessed an opportunity of receiving the symbols of pardon, the ministry of the Spirit, the sacrament of Christ himself, the seed of immortality, and the antepast of heaven; and hasten earlier out of your bed. The cock crowing that morning, is like the noise that is made of the coining of the bridegroom, and therefore go out to meet him; but rise that you may trim your lamp. When you are up, presently address yourself to do such things, as you would willingly be found doing when the bridegroom calls, and you are to appear before him, to hear your final sentence.
2. Make a general confession of your sins, and be very much humbled in the sense and apprehension of them. Compare the state and union of all your evils, with the state and grandeur of that favour, which God intends that day to consign to you; and then think what you are, and what God is; what you have done, and what God intends to do; how ill you have deserved, and yet how graciously you are dealt with. And consider what an infinite distance there is between that state which you have deserved, and that good which you are to have; by considering how intolerable your case would have been, if God had dealt with you as you deserve, and as he hath dealt with very many, who sinned no more than you have done; and yet in what felicities you are placed by the mercies of your good God; that you are in hopes, and in the methods, and in the participations, of pardon and eternal life.
3. The effect of this consideration ought to be, that you make acts of general contrition, for all your sins known and unknown. That you renew your purposes and vows of better obedience: that you exercise acts of special graces; and that you give God most hearty and super-exalted thanks, with all the transports and ravishments of spirit, for so unspeakable, so unmeritable, so unrewardable a loving-kindness.
4. Worship Jesus: love him; dedicate thyself to him: recollect what he hath done for thy soul, what glories lie laid aside, with what meanness he was invested, what pains he suffered, what shame he endured, what excellencies he preached, what wisdom he taught, what life he lived, what death he died, what mysteries he hath appointed, by what ministries he conveys himself to thee, what rare arts he uses to save thee, and after all, that he intercedes for thee perpetually in heaven, presenting to his heavenly Father that great sacrifice of himself, which he finished on the cross, and commands thee to imitate in this divine and mysterious sacrament; and in the midst of these thoughts, add proportionable exercises and devotions, address thyself to the solemnities and blessings of the day.
5. Throw away, with great diligence and severity, all unholy and all earthly thoughts; and think the thoughts of heaven: for when Christ descends, he comes attended with innumerable companies of angels, who all behold and wonder, who love and worship Jesus; and in this glorious employment and society, let thy thoughts be pure, and thy mind celestial, and thy work angelical, and thy spirit full of love,--and thy heart, of wonder; thy mouth all praises, investing and encircling thy prayers, as a bright cloud is adorned with fringes and margins of light.
6. When thou seest the holy man minister, dispute no more, inquire no more, doubt no more, be divided no more; but believe, and behold with the eyes of faith and of the spirit, that thou seest Christ's body broken upon the cross, that thou seest him bleeding for thy sins, that thou feedest upon the food of elect souls, that thou puttest thy mouth to the hole of the rock that was smitten, to the wound of the side of the Lord, which being pierced, streamed forth sacraments, and life, and holiness, and pardon, and purity, and immortality, upon thee.
7. When the words of institution are pronounced, all the Christians used to say 'Amen;' giving their consent, confessing that faith, believing that word, rejoicing in that mystery which is told us, when the minister of the sacrament, in the person of Christ, says, "This is my body, this is my blood; this body was broken for you, and this blood was poured forth for you; and all this for the remission of your sins." And remember, that the guilt of eternal damnation, which we have all incurred, was a great and an intolerable evil,--and unavoidable, if such miracles of mercy had not been wrought to take it quite away: and that it was a very great love, which would work such a glorious mercy, rather than leave us in so intolerable a condition. A greater love than this could not be; and a less love than this could not have rescued us.
8. When the holy man reacheth forth his hands upon the symbols, and prays over them, and intercedes for the sins of the people, and breaks the holy bread, and pours forth the sacred chalice, place thyself, by faith and meditation, in heaven, and see Christ doing, in his glorious manner, this very thing which thou seest ministered and imitated upon the table of the Lord; and then remember, that it is impossible thou shouldest miss of eternal blessings, which are so powerfully procured for thee by the Lord himself; unless thou wilt despise all this, and neglect so great salvation," and choosest to eat, with swine, the dirty pleasures of the earth, rather than thus to feast with saints and angels, and to eat the body of thy Lord, with a clean heart and humble affections.
9. When the consecrating and ministering hand reaches forth to thee the holy symbols, say within thy heart, as did the centurion, 'Lord, I am not worthy;' but entertain thy Lord as the women did the news of the resurrection, "with fear and great joy;" or, as the apostles, "with rejoicing and singleness of heart;" that is, clear, certain, and plain believing, and with exaltation and delight in the loving-kindness of the Lord.
10. But place thyself upon thy knees, in the humblest and the devoutest posture of worshippers, and think not much in the lowest manner to worship the King of men and angels, the Lord of heaven and earth, the great Lover of souls, and the Saviour of the body; Him whom all the angels of God worship; Him whom thou confessest worthy of all, and whom all the world shall adore, and before whom they shall tremble at the day of judgment. For if Christ be not there after a peculiar manner, whom, or whose body do we receive? But if he be present to us, not in mystery only, but in blessing also, why do we not worship? But all the Christians always did so from time immemorial. "No man eats this flesh, unless he first adores," said St. Austin. "For the wise men, and the barbarians, did worship this body in the manger with very much fear and reverence: let us, therefore, who are citizens of heaven, at least not fall short of the barbarians. But thou seest him not in the manger, but on the altar; and thou beholdest him not in the Virgin's arms, but represented by the priest, and brought to thee in sacrifice by the Holy Spirit of God." So St. Chrysostom argues; and accordingly this reverence is practised by the churches of the east, and west, and south, by the Christians of India; by all the Greeks, as appears in their answer to the cardinal of Guise; by all the Lutheran churches; by all the world, says Erasmus; only now of late, some have excepted themselves. But the church of England chooses to follow the person and piety of the thing itself, the example of the primitive church, and the consenting voice of Christendom. "And if it be irreverent to sit in the sight, and before the face, of him whom you ought to revere; how much more in the presence of the living God, where the angel, the president of prayer, does stand, must it needs be a most irreligious thing to sit, unless we shall upbraid to God, that our prayers to him have wearied us?" It is the argument of Tertullian.--To which many of the fathers add many other fair inducements, but I think they cannot be necessary to be produced here; because all Christians generally kneel, when they say their prayers, and when they bless God; and I suppose no man communicates, but he does both; and, therefore, needs no other inducement to persuade him to kneel: especially since Christ himself, and St. Stephen, and the apostle St. Paul, used that posture in their devotions, that or lower; for St. Paul kneeled upon the shore; and our Lord himself fell prostrate on the earth. But to them that refuse, I shall only use the words of Scripture, which the fathers of the council of Turon applied to this particular: "Why art thou proud, O dust and ashes?" And when Christ opens his heart, and gives us all that we need or can desire, it looks like an ill return, if we shall dispute with him concerning the humility of a gesture and a circumstance.
11. When thou dost receive thy Lord, do thou also receive thy brother into thy heart and into thy bowels. Thy Lord relieves thee, do thou relieve him; and never communicate, but be sure to give thy alms for one part of thy offering. St. Cyprian does, with some vehemency, upbraid some wealthy persons in his time, who came to the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and neglected the 'corban,' or the ministering to the saints. Remember, that, by mercy to the poor, the sentence of dooms-day shall be declared; because what we do to them, we do to Christ: and who would not relieve Christ, who hath made himself poor, to make us rich? and what time is so seasonable to feed the members of Christ, as that, when he gives his body to feed us, and that, when his members are met together to confess, to celebrate, to remember, and to be joined in their head, and to one another? In short, the church always hath used at that time to be liberal to her poor; and that being so seasonable and blessed an opportunity, and of itself also a proper act of worship and sacrifice, of religion and homage, of thankfulness and charity, it ought not to be omitted; and it can have no measure, but that of your love, and of your power, and the other accidents of your life and your religion.
12. As soon as ever you have taken the holy elements into your mouth and stomach, remember that you have taken Christ into you, after a manner indeed which you do not understand, but to all purposes of blessing and holiness, if you have taken him at all. And now consider, that he who hath given you his son, with him will give you all things else. Therefore, represent to God, through Jesus Christ, all your needs, and the needs of your relatives: signify to him the condition of your soul; complain of your infirmities; pray for help against your enemies; tell him of your griefs; represent your fears, your hopes, and your desires; but it is also the great sacrifice of the world, which you have then assisted in, and represented; and now you, being joined to Christ, are admitted to intercede for others, even for all mankind, in all necessities, and in all capacities; pray, therefore, for all for whom Christ died; especially for all that communicate that day, and for all that desire it; that their prayers and yours, being united to the intercession of your Lord, may be holy and prevail.
13. After you have given thanks, and finished your private and the public devotions, go home; but do not presently forget the solemnity, and sink from the sublimity of devotion and mystery, into a secular conversation, like a falling star, from brightness into dirt. The Ethiopians would not spit that day they had communicated, thinking they might dishonour the sacrament, if, before the consumption of the symbols, they should spit: but although they meant reverence, yet they expressed it ill. It was better which is reported of St. Margaret, a daughter of the king of Hungary, that the day before she was to communicate, she fasted with bread and water: and after the communion, she retired herself till the evening, spending the day in meditations, prayers, and thanksgiving, and at night she ate her meal. Her employment was very well fitted to the day; but for her meal, it is all one when she ate it, so that, by eating, or abstaining, she did advantage to her spiritual employment. But they that, as soon as the office is finished, part with Christ, and carry their mind away to other interests, have a suspicious indifferency to the things of God. They have brought their Lord into the house, and themselves slip out at the back-door: otherwise does the spouse entertain her beloved Lord, [Cant. iii. 4.] "I found him whom my soul loveth, I held him, and would not let him go." He that considers the advantages of prayer, which every faithful soul hath upon a communion-day, will not easily let them slip, but tell all his sad stories to his Lord, and make all his wants known; and, as Jacob to the angel, "will not let him go, till he hath given a blessing." Upon a communion-day, Christ, who is the beloved of the soul, is gone to rest; and every secular employment, that is not necessary and part of duty, and every earthly thought does "waken our beloved before he please;"--let us take heed of that.
14. But what we do by devotion and solemn religion that day, we must do every day; by the material practice of virtues we must verify all our holy vows and promises; we must keep our hearts curiously; restrain our passions powerfully; every day, proceed in the mortification of our angers and desires, in the love of God and of our neighbours, and in the patient toleration of all injuries which men offer, and all the evil by which God will try us. Let not drunkenness enter, or evil words go forth of that mouth, through which our Lord himself hath passed. The heathens used to be drunk at their sacrifices, but, by this sacrifice eucharistical, it is intended we should be filled with the Spirit. If we have communicated worthily, we have given ourselves to Christ; we have given him all our liberty and our life, our bodies and our souls, our actions and our passions, our affections and our faculties, what we are, and what we have--and in exchange have received him; and we may say with St. Paul", "I live: but not I, but Christ liveth in me." So that we must live no more unto the world, but unto God; and, having fed upon manna, let us not long to return to Egypt to feed on garlick. "For as when men have drunk wine largely, the mind is free, and the heart at liberty from care,--so when we have drunk the blood of Christ, the cup of our salvation,--the chains of the old man are untied, and we must forget our secular conversation:" so St. Cyprian".--But the same precept is better given by St. Paul?, "But the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that he died for all, that they which live, should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold, all things are become new." He that hath communicated, and does not afterwards live by the measures of that day's duty, hath but acted a scene of religion; but himself shall dearly pay the price of the pompous and solemn hypocrisy.
Remember that he is sick, who is not the better for the bread he eats; and if thou dost not, by the aids of Christ whom thou hast received, subdue thy passion and thy sin, thou hast eaten the bread of idleness; "For so," saith St. Jerome, does every one, who, when he hath taken of the sacrifice of the Lord's body, does not persevere in good works, imitating that in deed, which he hath celebrated in mystery."--Let us take heed; for the angels are present in these mysteries, to wait upon their Lord and ours. And it is a matter of great caution, which was said by Vincentius Ferrerius: the angels that assist at this sacrament, would kill every unworthy communicant, unless the divine mercy and long-sufferance did cause them to forbear a speedy execution, that the blessed sacrament might acquire its intention, and become a savour of life unto us."