Project Canterbury

The Priests’ Convention

Philadelphia, April 29-30, 1924

From The American Church Monthly, June, 1924, Vol. XV, No. 4.

Edited by Selden Peabody Delany, D.D.

Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012

The Holy Communion
The Mystery of Transformation

UNION with God is the goal of all Christian enterprise. If we seek for the motive of this activity, we discover that it rests not upon human desire primarily, but first upon the essential purpose of God as revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ. "Herein is Love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." [St. John IV-10.] The integrity of religious thought is secured by the recognition of this initial, prevenient overture of Divine Love. Man does not achieve union with God; it is a divine prerogative. "Salvation lies primarily in God's gift of Himself; not primarily in drawing out a good thing already possessed by man." [P.N. Waggett, “The Holy Eucharist.” pg. 4.] The exercise of this activity and man's response to it establish the true nature of the Christian religion.

The Incarnation revealed both the purpose and the method of the Divine Love. "God so loved the world, that he gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." [St. John III-16.] In His Sacred Manhood, Jesus exposed Himself to the faith of men whom He came to save.

In the response to this Divine Adventure during the days of His Humiliation, we can distinguish three courses of human approach. There were those who received Him as man, and nothing more. A second class welcomed Him as man, and as man were devoted to Him. Again there were those who knew Him as God in Man, and surrendered themselves to Him in complete faith.

Now in the Eucharist is continued that one offering of Christ perpetually thru the bestowal of Himself according to the mode of His Creaturely Nature, now glorified. In the Blessed Sacrament "Our Lord offers Himself to the just and the unjust, as on the Cross He offers Himself for all." [St. Bonaventure IV-Dist., a. 2, qu. 1.] For that which is uniquely characteristic of the Holy Eucharist is the real gift of [300/301] the Lord's Body and Blood. "Unlike the other sacraments, the Eucharist conveys to its recipients the substantial gift or res sacramenti, the Body and Blood of Christ; and the benefits of the Sacrament are conveyed in and by means of this gift rather than, as in the other sacraments, by the rite at large. [R. I. Wilberforce, "The Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist."] We recognize the three-fold distinction of the Sacrament itself, the sign, signum; the thing signified, res; and the benefits received, beneficia, or virtus.

By a true analogy, we may indicate three ways in which He may be received in this Holy Sacrament. Some partake of it sacramentally only, as those who are in a state of sin, "not discerning the Lord's Body." [I Cor. XI-29.] Others spiritually only, i. e. those who, eating in desire the Heavenly Bread before them, by living faith working thru love, seek to make their own the fruit and the advantage thereof. This is to condition the approach by the query, "What shall we have therefore." [St. Matt. XIX-27.] And others, in the third place, at once sacramentally and spiritually; and these are they who so prove and prepare themselves before that they approach the Divine Table clad in the wedding garment. These in the joy of completed union join in their Lord's declaration, "My meat is to do the Will of Him Who sent me." [St. John IV-34.] For clarity and convenience we may speak of these three ways as sacramental, physical or material, and spiritual, meaning communion in desire.

The primary notion of the Christian faith is Christ's Continual Presence in His Body, the Church. We return in thought to the aspect of the Eucharist which was emphasized during the first period of the Church's life to find that the purpose of this provision was to make possible the union of God with His Own. For the first disciples it was a restored Presence and the blessing of the renewed intercourse. This is the abiding privilege of all Christian discipleship. The test of this discipleship comes thru the effort made to establish union with God's Will. It was to this end Christ endeavored to cultivate the faith of the disciples. We are to be governed by this thought in our approach to Him in the Blessed Sacrament.

In answer to the question, "What are the benefits whereof [301/302] we are partakers thereby?" [Book of Common Prayer, Catechism.] we count this to be the preservation of our bodies and souls unto everlasting life. We are constrained to ask in the interpretation of this answer if we have not given a too narrow response to the essential purpose of Christ's Ordinance. For while it is true that "our sinful bodies may be made clean by His Body" as well as "our souls washed by His most precious Blood," yet this is only indirectly and after a spiritual process. [Wilberforce, pg. 350.]

The special gift of the Holy Eucharist is the bestowal of Our Lord's Own Life for the nourishment of the soul. "While the sacramentum, or outward part, is assimilated to the human body as natural food, the res sacramenti, or the Body of Christ, becomes the food of the soul. 'Our Lord feeds His Church with these sacraments (i. e. the Body and Blood) by which the substance of the soul is strengthened.' Therefore the benefit of this sacrament cannot be obtained without faith, seeing that it is only thru faith that the inward part, or res sacramenti, can be apprehended by the mind. 'Christ is touched by faith, Christ is seen by faith. He is not touched with the Body, He is not taken with the eyes'." [Wilberforce, pg. 349.] It is the measure of faith that we endeavor to enfold our minds wholly within the Divine Will.

This is not to impugn the doctrine of the Real Presence, but rather to exalt it. For the object of the Holy Eucharist is not only to preserve the bodies and souls of the receivers, but to build up the Body of Christ. So St. Cyril says that the purpose of reception is "that thou, by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, mightest be made of the same body and the same blood with him." [St. Cyril. Myst. Cat. IV-3.] The work of the Holy Eucharist is to transform man into the likeness of Christ by love.

Thus St. Paul speaks of the life "in Christ" as the mystery of Transformation or Incorporation into Christ. He tells of his travail until Christ be formed in his disciples. [Gal. IV-19.] Grace was given, he says, according to the measure of the gift of Christ for the building up of the body of Christ, that we dealing truly in love, may grow up into Him, which is the Head, even Christ. [Eph. IV.]

[303] "The actual graces given by the reception of the Holy Eucharist have been variously described by the Fathers, by theologians and by spiritual writers. But they all fasten upon that text of St. John, 'He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me and I in him!' [St. John VI-56.] These words are justly taken to mean transformation into Christ. They are illustrated by a passage from the first Epistle of the same Evangelist, 'He that abideth in Love, abideth in God, and God in him.' [I St. John IV-16.] That Jesus should abide in man signifies that He becomes intimately present to man, not substantially, but touching by His efficacious contact man's powers and springs of activity. That man should abide in Jesus means that all his powers are subjected or held close to this divine influence. This implies that the living energy of the soul takes the same direction as that of Christ, and is imbued with His spirit. This is transformation. [J. C. Hedley. "The Holy Eucharist" pg. 115.]  The more closely and lovingly we project our inquiry as to the Mind of Our Lord the more does this purpose stand forth as the supreme and essential benefit of the Holy Communion.

We proceed to consider further the nature and the effect of this incorporation and assimilation into Christ thru the Holy Communion.

It is clear that when we speak of being incorporated into Christ by partaking of His Body and Blood we are addressing our thoughts not to the bodily organs, but to the inner man. In the same mind, the action is not after a physical or material manner, but according to the laws of a spiritual process. The seed of Union with God is implanted in Baptism wherein we are incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. We are thereby made members of Christ and partakers also of His life. It is the possession of this life which is the necessary qualification for the receiving of the Holy Eucharist, "Holy things for Holy persons." But chiefly it is the motive of the Divine activity in the Holy Eucharist to come into contact and so to sustain and influence that life according to the spiritual desires of Him, the Head of the Body. "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." [St. John X-10.] "I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any [303/304] man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." [St. John VI-51] The over-ruling and compelling thought of the gift of Christ in the Holy Eucharist is that of the Divine energy moving towards the satisfying of Eternal Love.

The Divine purpose in the Holy Eucharist, with which in faith we cooperate, is to incorporate men more completely into the Body of Christ. The process of assimilation is different from that of ordinary nourishment. "Since it is Christ's Body which is built up; in Him, and not in us, must be the informing Spirit. It is the life of Christ which has its source in Him. It does not become part of us, but we of Him; He is not resolved, as it were, into the structure of our minds but we pass, on the contrary, into His Divine organization. The Sacramentum indeed, or outward part, is assimilated, like other food to the body which receives it; but the res sacramenti is the energizing principle, which takes up and quickens that upon which it is bestowed." [Wilberforce pg. 352.]  "The effect of participating of the Body and Blood of Christ is nothing else than that we pass into that which we receive." [St. Leo. Serm. LXIII-7.] "As a result, 'Christ liveth in us'; our thoughts, our senses and impulses, our will and activity assume a resemblance to the hidden life of the Eucharist Saviour, and become Divine." [Hedley, pg. 118.] Our life is hid in Christ. So, St. Paul "I live, yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me." [Gal. II-20.]

This power of transformation or assimilation into Christ is revealed more clearly as the chief and crowning glory of the Holy Eucharist when we consider the unique place of this sacrament in the Divine Economy. With the exception of the sacramental effect conferred in Penance and Unction, the other Sacraments are said to bestow what is called "character." This is a permanent endowment of the soul, never to be repeated unless the condition of the subject is altered. Now in the Holy Eucharist no "character" is conferred. This is not needed because the Sacrament itself is a permanent thing, viz., the Body of Christ under the species. Moreover the sacramental reality is intended to be used constantly. "It is meant to be daily food of the Christian sanctifying the soul's ceaseless [304/305] activity by repeated intercourse with the life-giving and transforming Christ." [Hedley. Pg. 108.]

It is apparent that the fulness of the fruit of the Blessed Sacrament can only be enjoyed by those who communicate in complete faith and in the proper disposition. The transforming effect of the Eucharist has a negative and a positive aspect. "On the negative side it must be the quenching of egotism; the neutralizing of what spiritual writers call Self. The consciousness of Self, the appreciation of Self, the gratification of Self, is what chiefly prevents the soul from being transformed into Christ. On the positive side, there is imparted a peculiar influence from the Sacred Humanity of Christ. It seems that it overshadows the human impulses with Christ's Spirit." [Hedley. Pg. 114.] Particularly the soul of man, in this way, receives a permanent inclination or bias. Thus the motions of Christ's Spirit become the first desire of a soul, sensitive to the Life which now controls its every aim and purpose. This is the true end of the intercession "that He may dwell in us, and we in Him." [Communion Office.]

Union with Christ is not an individualistic experience. We are incorporated as integral parts into the Body of Christ, and in that sacred bond, we become members one of another. Christ is the Head of the Body; we become, by His gracious favor, members or parts in union first with the Living Head and then with the several members. This is the burden of Christ's Will, "that they all may be one." [St. John XVII-21.] This sense of communion within the unity of the mystical Body was a precious and immediate reality to the first disciples. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, "the unity of the mystical Body is the fruit of the real body sacramentally received." Hence the Eucharist is the symbol of that unity and charity in which Christ desires all Christians to be united and joined together. "Each heart being a partaker of Christ and being transformed into Christ, is linked and united with every other heart. The putting on of Christ's ways and Christ's life, which is the primary fruit of the Sacraments, makes all Christian souls resemble one another. Souls and hearts which are one with Jesus, are essentially united with one another. They live by His living Spirit, and the [305/306] same spirit lives in them all, and that spirit is the vivifying spirit of Christ's Mystical Body." [Hedley. Pg. 119.]

There is occasion to emphasize the implications of the process of transformation into Christ in its corporate aspect. Christian unity is essentially an interior and spiritual reality. It is not a far distant goal to be achieved thru the valiant efforts of man. In Christ stands that union with God perfect and entire. There is, therefore, the distinct obligation upon those who are incorporated into this Oneness to manifest it truly in social thought and action. Christian Brotherhood is more than a gesture of good will and kindly endeavor. It is a spiritual enterprise exercised under the constraint of a divine pulsation. The fact of Christian unity cannot be taken away. Its existence is obscured by the loss of social vision and corporate activity.

We appreciate the desire of Christ, The Head of the Body, to be in continuous union with all the members of the Body. The same thought should be employed in the extension of this purpose in the mutual interaction of one member with another. Individually our lives are sustained by the consciousness of constant, loving dependence upon the ceaseless energy of our Head. Essentially we view this relationship in its spiritual content. We do not appropriate this favor selfishly. Hence it is that the nature of our fraternal relationship is established. In Christ we are sacramentally united to one another. The obligations are first spiritual, involving the necessity of sharing what we have found worth while. Much more, it is a sharing that bids for the interchange of like experience. We strive for communion in the bonds of a spiritual fellowship.

The possession of this ideal gives body to the larger aspects of brotherhood. We are constrained to manifest a divine endowment. This has a definite missionary implication. A large measure of the efforts pointed towards human welfare represent the futility of purely humanitarian endeavor. Knowing this, and aware also of our spiritual inheritance, there is the greater condemnation of our failure to throw ourselves whole-heartedly into the enterprise of real acts of Christian brotherhood. True faith in God is lacking when we fail to express—to manifest—the ends for which Christ bequeathes Himself to us. In the [306/307] midst of artificial and ill-advised programs there is high urgency that we do not merely criticise from the supposed security of our possession. Rather we should be forward in our eagerness to release the saving influence of true brotherhood exercised within the communion of an eternal unity.

The broad interests of the Church stand before all else. Our highest concern is not with the benefits of the individual communion, nor the parochial eucharist; but rather thru the agency of a majestic and catholic vision, for the welfare of the whole Christian family. "Whether one member suffer, all suffer." [I Cor. XII-26.] We find in our pursuit of this thought a fresh sense of our obligation "to those departed in the Lord." The benefits we seek in the Eucharist are not separate from our relationship with every member of the Body, the living and the departed, the known and the unknown, the seen and the unseen. Upon this broad basis we are the better prepared to interpret the social implications, here and now, of the Christian Brotherhood in the light of the good estate of the whole Body of Christ.

"He who cometh to God must believe that He is; and He is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him." [Heb. XI-6.] Are we not ready to establish the labor of faith in our approach to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament upon a much higher and more worthy basis? On the one hand we cry out of our unworthiness, "Who is sufficient for these things? " [II Cor. II-16.] This is counterbalanced by Our Lord's promise, "him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out. [St. John VI-37.] There is always the danger of yielding to the subtle temptation that in the enterprise of the higher law we can dispense with the due regard for the lower. Yet it is possible so to exaggerate the meticulous care of the creaturely ordinances that we are disproportionate in our emphasis. Both the mind and the body have their proper functions to be cultured and directed, and these gain a real importance because they are so immediate and insistent. Those who approach the Blessed Sacrament "not discerning the Lord's Body" certainly imperil the good health of their own minds and bodies by undue and faulty preparation. Still, in the last analysis, we are here dealing with an ecclesiastical injunction that has established its [307/308] warrant thru long years of pious and demonstrable experience. He would be an unwise and an altogether discredited guide who would presume to minimize the awful importance of this exercise of faith. We have far too many reasons to sound the most zealous challenge and warning to all persons "so to prepare and diligently to try and examine themselves." [Communion Office.]

We are concerned to "divide the word of truth aright." Have we given sufficient heed to the preparation of the soul's desire? Those who approach in faith and love, if this be under the constraint of a constantly developing consciousness of proximity to God, as He has been pleased to accommodate His Presence, ever will be striving for the full extent of His pleasure.

Their quest will be upheld by a like eagerness of purpose that animated those first disciples, "who knew Our Lord after the flesh" and who found Him again is His Restored Presence in the Breaking of the Bread. Forth from this consummated union they went as men inflamed with holy passion for the service of the Master's Will. They were ambassadors of the Divine Love whose chief concern it was to witness to the transforming power of God as it was pleased to operate in the lives of those who surrendered themselves in a perfect faith.

Have we not in this a new incentive and inspiration? The increase of days has not taken away from the truth that "apart from Him, we can do nothing." [St. John XV-5.] We have His promise, "and I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me." [St. John XII-32.]  As we scrutinize our various and sundry programs, fashioned for the most part by exigencies resulting from hard and trying experiences, do they not exhibit too baldly and rather pointedly the marks of forced endeavor, albeit quite justifiable and honorable? Yet surely there is a superior glory of faith which would have God's servants rest with greater confidence upon His Power. Customs tend rapidly to command those who should create them. We do become aware of a certain rigidity in the exercise of a ministry that soon develops an apparently mechanical tinge. This appears not so decidedly nor decisively in a glorious ceremonial inheritance as it does in a failure to consult other and perhaps happier opportunities of providing [308/309] for the fulfillment of Christ's promise thru His constant exaltation in the Holy Eucharist. We ever are to have before us the true ends of God's ordinance, and the consequent obligation of our appointed office in the ministry of reconciliation. To be fishers of men is not exhausted in the exercise of the prophetic ministry. Verily this is but the initiation of our labors. We are to lead men not merely to Christ but to guide them into Christ. The sacrifices involved in the first phase of this endeavor are noble and exacting. What will a true servant of God sacrifice of himself to make for the consummation of this supreme desire of His Master's Will.

The prosecution of the Church's business seems at times to be overcome by the demands of modern methods. This cannot be avoided. It can be controlled. Nothing, it can safely be said, has priority over the frequent offering of Our Lord, after the manner of His provision in the Holy Eucharist. The Daily Eucharist is not a fetish custom. If we have any warrant for the unique position ascribed to the Holy Eucharist and have interpreted rightly, the supreme purpose of its institution, can it be thought that one day should pass without the exercise of the chief service for the whole estate of Christ's Body? In a very practical way we can become slaves of a conventional hour for this daily ministration: or, which is less defensible and more unfortunate, too solicitous for personal convenience. Herein are we liable to become, perhaps unconsciously factitious and unconvincing. A true fisher of men is more sagacious and self-sacrificing.

It has been said very pointedly, "We have a way of assenting to truth which we have not in fact assimilated." [Barry. The Holy Eucharist. Pg. 214.] We have become accustomed to ascribe various reasons for the daily offering of the Holy Sacrifice. These will be found to be well established and in themselves sufficient argument for the increase of this practice. Yet we are on safe ground in asserting that the evident mind of the early Church in connection with the daily Eucharist was concerned chiefly with the privilege of the renewed intercourse, and of receiving the daily food of the Christian. To make this assertion is not to question a devotion that has established itself thru a natural and legitimate development. [309/310] We are, however, not to surrender the primary notion of frequent communions, of advisedly seeking to increase the occasions when we shall welcome the Divine Guest.

This leads us to return in our thinking to the higher ground of faith. Here it is that we hear Our Lord's cry of keen momentary disappointment, "Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life." [St. John. V-40. ] Always He would press beyond the immediate and the evident that He may consummate that union with His own thru the medium of His Sacred Flesh. There is the feeling of timidity and the existence of a certain danger as we draw close to Our Lord. But there is a greater danger, and this comes thru our little faith in not placing ourselves, by the attitude of implicit confidence, more completely at His disposal. "The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence and the men of violence take it by force." [St. Matt. XI-12.] "Our Lord loves the violence of love, that spectacle of spiritual eagerness; in His earthly life such violence always constrained Him." [Barry. Pg. 98.]  Surely we can argue that the same divine yearning awaits our response to His overtures.

"The Mystery of the Incarnation has not ceased to be with us here on earth. By the power of the Holy Ghost, Jesus is present still. We live still in the days of Jesus Christ." [M. R. Carpenter-Garnier.] From His altar-throne, He lovingly calls as of old; "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me." [Rev. III-20.] By faith we behold Him as He condescends to tabernacle with us. Faith passes into love as we hear His voice, and open the door that "He may ever abide in us, and we in Him."

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