"And I beheld, and lo, in the midst of the throne, and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders stood a Lamb, as it had been slain." Rev. v, 6.
There are few things that startle people unused to Catholic ways more than the adoration of the Host which is practised in some of our Churches. They enter such a Church for service on a Sunday afternoon, and when the Vespers are ended they see the priest clad in a gorgeous cope take from out the Tabernacle the pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament, lift it up and place it upon the marble Throne over the Tabernacle, and then bow down and worship the sacred Host while incense is offered before it, and the Choir sing the Eucharistic hymns, "Hail true Body," "O Saving Victim," and "Therefore we before Him bending this great Sacrament revere." This sort of worship of the Host is very displeasing to many people who witness it because it seems to them like idolatry. Even those who will tell you that they believe in the Real Presence are found to ask, Is there not danger lest some one worship the bread of the Sacrament instead of our Lord? It is important therefore that we look well into this matter, discovering what is to be said for and against it, in order that we may be quite sure the charge of idolatry is not well founded.
When God in the top of Sinai gave the Law to Moses He expressly forbade the Israelites to make any image to represent the Divine being, and also warned them against making any likeness of anything in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth, as an object of adoration. The reason was given for this Commandment, that they had seen no similitude, only they had heard a voice. Our Lord had not yet been pleased to reveal Himself in any form appreciable by man's senses.
So soon however as He had become incarnate His holy Body was an object of Divine adoration. When men have fallen down in adoration before Apostles or Angels they have been warned not to do so, but nothing like that is found in the case of our Lord manifest in the flesh. The Wise Men from the East adored Him when He was yet an infant, and at many times in His earthly life He accepted the lowliest worship from His followers with no word of rebuke or gesture of warning. This of itself is a strong argument, as it seems to me, for His Divinity for no mere righteous man would have dared accept such worship as He did.
We must not forget moreover that His human nature was a created thing. If one could separate the Body of our Lord from His Person it would not be an object of Divine adoration; but because it is inseparably united to God the Word therefore one might have lawfully worshipped that human Body while it lay in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea separated from the human Soul which was in Hades, but not separated for one moment from the Person of God the Word. But may it be said that our Lord had any thought, in becoming incarnate, of giving to man an object of adoration that should appeal to his senses? It is quite true that He became incarnate to redeem mankind and that must, always stand out as the supreme and all-sufficient reason for the Incarnation, yet it derogates not from the glory of that fact to believe that it was His will that man should have more direct and conscious communication with his Maker as a result of that fact. He delighted to have His faithful ones know Him in the intimacy of closest human friendship and to worship Him in the Body. How great a thing it was for aged Simeon that he was permitted to take the Holy Child up into his arms, and to say, Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation." Did our Lord not permit the Magdalene to wash His feet with her tears and to wipe them with the hairs of her head, to kiss His feet and anoint them with ointment? And was not St. John privileged to recline on His breast at the supper; and the faithful ones after the resurrection, did not they hold His feet and worship Him? May He not have meant that this sort of presence which should appeal to their senses was to remain with them after His Ascension when He said to His sorrowing Apostles, "I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you"?
Therefore many have believed that He instituted the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar not only that He might supply us with spiritual food, His Body and His Blood, nor yet only that' we might have an acceptable offering to present to the Father as the great unbloody memorial of His passion and death, but also that He might perpetuate in a very real way His incarnate presence upon earth, not after a natural and material manner, yet after a heavenly and spiritual manner that for all its heavenliness and all its spirituality should still appeal in a marvellously real way to our human senses.
That brings us to the doctrine of the Real Presence as it is called. There are different views and beliefs concerning the Eucharistic Presence.
1. Many Protestants believe that there is no real Presence at all, that when our Lord said This is my Body, He meant This represents or signifies my Body, though it is only bread. We need not delay upon this since it is effectually contradicted by the whole testimony of ancient Christendom from the days of the Apostles to the era of the Reformation.
2. Others tell us that they believe in a real Presence but not under the forms of bread and wine, only in the heart of the faithful communicant. When he reverently partakes of the bread and wine the Lord enters into his heart to abide with him. This belief is effectually contradicted for us by the fact that the twenty-eighth Article of Religion teaches that after an heavenly and spiritual manner the Body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the Supper. That which is not objective, that is external to ourselves, cannot be given and taken, therefore-our Church requires us to believe in an objective Presence in the holy Sacrament.
3. Still another view, strangely inconsistent, is that the Presence is real and objective but exists only for the purpose of the due administration of the Sacrament, and that so soon as the service is properly concluded the Presence is withdrawn from any particles of the holy species which might remain or be kept. This too is effectually contradicted by the fact that the whole Church, East and West, has from the days of Justin Martyr, not a hundred years after the Apostles, reserved the Blessed Sacrament that it might be always ready for any emergency.
4. The true doctrine then of the Eucharistic Presence, as held by the Catholic Church in all ages, is that our Blessed Lord is really and objectively present under the forms of bread and wine by virtue of the proper consecration of the same. Someone may say, "What of Transubstantiation?" As to that it makes not the slightest difference in the practical result, which is the reality of our Lord's Presence, whether Transubstantiation be held, or whether it be maintained that there is no change of the substance of the bread and wine. The Roman holds that the true Presence exists under the accidents of bread and wine the substance of them having been removed. The Anglican says Such a doctrine overthrows the nature of a Sacrament. Suppose it does, the fact remains that Roman and Anglican alike are agreed in this that the true Body of our Lord is present, whether it be under the accidents of bread or under the substance of bread. We may have our controversy with Rome upon many matters, but in this at least we are agreed, there is a true and objective Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
But is there not danger that in giving Divine honour to our Lord's Body under the veil of bread you may be guilty of idolatry in adoring the bread? I cannot conceive this, any more than I can conceive the Magi in danger of adoring the swaddling-clothes of the Holy Child when they knelt before Him in Bethlehem. Who thinks of the veil when he is aware of the Personality behind the veil?
It may be urged that the early Church, indeed the Church for many centuries, did not make any use of the Blessed Sacrament except for the due celebration of the Holy Mysteries and the Communion of the faithful, nor make any account of the Real Presence apart from this except incidentally, as when one coming into the place where the Blessed Sacrament was reserved would bend the knee or prostrate himself in homage. The idea of any formal act of worship in connection with the Holy Body apart from the Mass is certainly hardly as old as mediaeval Christianity. Why? Because the Blessed Sacrament was plainly instituted for the spiritual nourishing of the faithful and for the unbloody commemoration of the great sacrifice of Calvary, and not for anything else. Have we a right to say that? Can we be quite sure what our Lord had in His mind when He first instituted this wonderful mystery? Is it not conceivable that in this as in other things of His establishing there was to be a development in the history of the Church?
There is a true doctrine of development and a false one. The Church may develop her statements of faith and her modes of worship in the sense of amplifying the form and making more explicit the terms of the original deposit of faith, and in making more practical and flexible the use of the original form of worship; but she may not develop in the sense of adding new dogmas not contained implicitly in the original deposit of the faith, or by introducing forms of worship hostile to that which the Apostles used.
The Filioque ("and from the Son" in the Nicene Creed speaking of the Procession of the Holy Ghost) is a legitimate development of the doctrine of the Trinity, since of necessity in the order of the Divine Life the Father is first, the Son second, and the Holy Ghost third, therefore the Holy Ghost must proceed from the Father and the Son or as the Greeks prefer to say from the Father through the Son. But the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is no genuine development of the doctrine of the Incarnation, for all that is required to insure her absolute stainlessness at the time of our Lord's Incarnation is that she should have been wholly cleansed from both original and actual sin before the Annunciation, and to maintain her Immaculate Conception is to contradict the uniform teaching of the fathers and doctors of the Church upon the subject; they held that such a doctrine dishonoured Christ Who in that case would not have been her Saviour, for if she never contracted original sin she had no need of a Saviour.
Now if the doctrine of the real objective Presence be true, as the whole Church attests, it is surely a lawful development to make use of the Blessed Sacrament, reserved against emergencies, to stimulate the devotions of the faithful at such times as the holy Mass may not be lawfully celebrated. The Church has wisely ordained that the Eucharistic Offering should always be made in the morning--Evening Communion is one of the worst instances of unlawful development--or in any event not after three o'clock in the afternoon. So in the past three hundred years the custom has grown up in Western Christendom of having in the afternoon or evening a special service of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament which is taken temporarily from the Tabernacle and lifted up before the people for that purpose. To my mind the whole propriety or impropriety of this service is dependent upon belief or disbelief in the Real Presence. If our Lord be truly present under the forms of bread and mine in the Tabernacle, why should we not go there to worship Him, and if the priest shall take out and lift up before us the vessel which contains the Holy Body that we may the more sensibly worship, why should it be thought any way dishonouring to Him, or foreign to the true spirit of the Church's faith? There is at least this to be said in favour of it, that it reproduces upon earth most strikingly one very beautiful aspect of the worship of heaven. St. John in his wonderful vision describes it. He beheld the Throne of God surrounded by hosts of adoring spirits, and in the midst of the Throne a Lamb, as it had been slain. The Lamb can be no other than our Lord, and He is described as receiving the worship of the great host of heaven, "the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing." There is no thought here apparently of the Lamb making intercession for His people though that of course belongs to Him in heaven. The Eucharistic idea is necessarily associated with the heavenly worship, but here, in this passage, the significant thing is that what St. John saw was the worship of the Lamb, that is simply and directly the Adoration of the Host, for the Lamb, as it had been slain is exactly the Host of the Eucharistic mystery if the doctrine of the Real Presence be true.
I do not overlook the fact that St. John speaks of God on the Throne as well as of the Lam b in the midst of the Throne, and that the worshippers cry not only "Worthy is the Lamb," but also "Blessing, honour, glory, and power be unto Him That sitteth upon the Throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever;" nevertheless the Adoration of the Lamb is a most conspicuous and striking feature of the worship of heaven as here described.
In following the heavenly precedent we cannot go very far wrong. If the Adoration of the enthroned Host in the afternoon was substituted for the offering of the holy Mass in the morning, or if people were allowed to think they might omit their early Communion, and attendance upon the Solemn Mass at midday, provided they came to adore the Host after Vespers, in is clear that we should not be following the Divine will in the matter of the Blessed Sacrament; but that after the Masses are all ended for the day the faithful should come in the afternoon to worship the Lamb as the heavenly hosts above worship Him seems both reasonable and praiseworthy.
To my mind also there is a most strong argument in favour of the Enthronement and Adoration of the Host. Human nature craves an object of worship that shall in some way appeal to the senses. God answered that craving by the Incarnation, coming Himself to us in the flesh. He answers it in Heaven still revealing Himself in flesh in the Person of the Word. We believe He answers it on earth likewise at the present time by means of the Blessed Sacrament. It is no gross and materialistic appeal to the senses that we have in the holy Eucharist but a very real one though most spiritual. Coarser human nature does not easily appreciate this until educated to the truth of the Real Presence, and grasps at more palpable objects of devotion. The life of the Blessed Virgin or of some popular Saint fires the imagination, and the image or picture of the holy one supplies the sensible object of worship. Our Lord is thought of as altogether Divine and therefore incapable of entering into the temptations and sorrows of fallen humanity: but the Blessed Virgin is human and a woman and therefore an altogether admirable mediatrix between God and man. Her statue is much more conspicuous than the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle and the ignorant and sentimental throng about it rather than about the Altar.
Now I do not know that devotion to the Blessed Virgin is growing in our own Communion, but I suspect it is; and while I yield to none in honouring her as the mother of God and chiefest of Saints, I deplore the tendency to give her at least a semi-Divine place in religion. I believe further that the truest antidote for this sort of Saint worship is the use of services of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Some one may say, Yet the Roman Church which has above all the rest of Christendom developed the Adoration of the Host also leads Christendom in devotions to the Blessed Virgin and the Saints. That is quite true, but the explanation of the apparent anomaly is not a difficult one. The cultus of the Blessed Virgin has so large a place in the Roman system despite the honour given the Blessed Sacrament for two reasons. First because of its sentimental character which appeals to a large class of poetically disposed and romantic persons in the Roman Communion and moreover attracts many Protestants towards the Church. The other reason is ignorance, for it is simply lack of a true knowledge of the Catholic faith which makes the mass of the people ready to recognize the Blessed Virgin as more gracious and sympathetic than our Lord, and to believe that she can by her maternal influence over Him induce Him to do things out of love for her which His own justice would not otherwise move Him to do.
Sentimentalism is bound in the end to work its own cure. It develops rapidly and eventually becomes so grotesque that a revulsion of feeling follows and sober minds fall back upon what is true and logical in the faith. There are not wanting signs that the cultus of the Blessed Virgin among educated people is diminishing. It appears for the present only to be giving place to new cults, as that of St. Joseph, but this means, as I believe, that Sentimentalism is succumbing to the logic of facts. Ignorance will doubtless hold its ground for many years, and die hard, yet it is true that the masses of the civilized world are getting to know more than they used to, they read more, they discuss more and they understand things better than in past centuries. Superstition is the child of ignorance, and the faith in the spiritual efficacy of the Blessed Virgin's intercessions because she is our Lord's Mother and the Son must honour--shall we not be frank and say obey--His Mother is only superstition. Some of these days it will be put away entirely.
In our own Church there is a strong tendency in certain directions to ape Roman ways and beliefs. There is a poetical touch about the Hail Mary which is not felt in the mere saying of Our Father, and we thus seem to be in danger of taking what is unprofitable from Rome when there are many admirable things we might take but which we ignore.
I am persuaded that the truest way of meeting this tendency towards Mary-worship is the accenting of the devotional use of the Blessed Sacrament, by frequent Services of Adoration, Benediction and Processions of the Host. I have been asked sometimes how it is that in this parish Church of ours, while we make so much of the Blessed Sacrament we do not even use the Rosary nor say the Hail Mary. It is just for the reason I have tried to give you. In worshipping the Blessed Virgin we gain nothing but a sentimental pietism and run serious risk of idolatry, but in worshipping the Host, our Blessed Lord Himself, we stimulate all true piety, we honour Him with virile practical devotion, and we have the fullest enjoyment of an object of adoration which appeals to our senses, and yet cannot even suggest idolatry or anything but the most genuine worship of the one true God.