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THE CHRISTIAN SACRIFICE
“Quid retribuam Domino, pro omnibus quæ retribuit mihi?
-Ps. cxv. (cxvi.) 12, 17.
The Holy Communion the application of the Atonement—The Resurrection
of the body one result of the Atonement—The Eucharist not a cominemoration of the death of Christ only—The necessity man feels of offering Sacrifice-As the link between man and God is love, of which sacrifice is the expression, the restoration of love is the restoration of sacrifice-Love the motive of asceticism-Love the motive of action in the material order—also in the spiritual order— The love of man to God necessitates the Eucharistic sacrifice-That sacrifice identical with the sacrifice on Calvary-Christ, as head of humanity, combined in His Passion the idea of sacrifice to God with that of sacrifice to man—The idea of sacrifice an enigma to those who do not love-The idea of compensation creates ritual splendour—The love of the Church for Christ overflows in rite and symbol.
E have seen the Sacrifice of Christ under one aspect
alone, that of an atonement, and we have seen that by atonement is not meant the payment of so much suffering to the Almighty as expiation for the sins of men, but the sacrifice to man of everything, as a complete epiphany of the love of God; the descent of God into the anarchy of human nature to restore to that nature its lost principle of cohesion and order, by which alone it can reach its perfection.
The coherence of the sacramental system with this dogma is obvious.
If Christ came to restore to man what was lost by the fall, by placing him in a true relation to God, by means of which all his other relations will fall into place, it is evident that the introduction of this new principle into man is a first necessity; and that this new principle can be nothing other than Christ Himself, perpetually present in His Church for this purpose.
The law of the Incarnation is the indissoluble union of the material and the spiritual in all Christ's operations upon man.
The material is nothing without the spiritual, and the spiritual has accepted the condition of acting through the material. The Holy Communion therefore, in the Christian system, is the application to men of the atonement of Christ.
Let me place the argument syllogistically.
Christ is God and man, the spiritual and the material united. In Him this union was effected for the restoration of man, in whom the spiritual and the material are at variance.
To reconcile the spiritual and the material Christ must touch both.
Therefore His atonement must be applied sacramentally.
Also, Christ came to restore the harmony between man's opposed spiritual faculties.
Therefore Christ must enter spiritually into man.
Christ came to restore the harmony between man's opposed physical and material natures, i.e., to give life, by restoring the equipoise between the renovation and the waste of his body.
Therefore Christ must enter materially into man.
But it is impossible to separate the spiritual from the material in Christ, for they are indissolubly united.
Therefore again the application of the atonement must be sacramental.
It will be objected to this that Christ came, not to save men's bodies, but their souls.
This is a contravention of the whole system.
Is there, or is there not, an opposition in men's bodies? In another word-Do they die? This cannot be doubted.
Then there is antinomy in their bodies.
If Christ took a human body, it must have been to restore the equilibrium between the opposing forces in the human body.
For He came to be the universal Conciliator.
Death is a phase of opposition. He came to destroy all opposition. Therefore He came to destroy death.
But He could not destroy death without taking upon Himself a body. And He could not infuse into us the principle of conciliation between the opposing forces except by contact with our material bodies. Therefore He must be present with His Church in some material fashion by means of which He can effect the regeneration of our bodies.
The renovation of our moral life is the effect of the conciliation wrought by Christ acting spiritually on our spiritual natures. The restoration of our bodies, i.e. the resurrection of the dead, is the effect of the conciliation wrought by Christ acting materially on our material bodies.
The dogma of the Resurrection depends necessarily on the dogma of the Incarnation, and sacramental communion is the logical link and efficient cause, the link uniting the body of man with the body of Christ, and the cause of the resurrection of man by union with Christ.
As Christ is double, His action on men must be double. As man is double, he needs a double action for his proper restoration.
As ('hrist is indissolubly one, so His mode of acting on men must be spiritual and material at once; that is, it must be sacramental.
The popular idea of the Eucharist is that it is a cominemoration of the death of Christ. No doubt by a stretch of the imagination the ceremony may remind the communicant of Christ's Passion. But it must be allowed that it is scarcely possible to devise any more unlikely method of reproducing the scene on Calvary. The white cloth on the table, the paten and chalice muffled in linen, the priest wandering about the altar in his surplice and scarf and hood, the communicating of the kneeling recipients—in what single feature does it revive the event of Good Friday, the three crosses, the black heavens, and the piercing cries of the sufferer?
A crucifix, or the lection of the Gospel narrative of the Passion, is far more calculated to revive the memory of the atonement. Nothing more incongruous and irrational than the Protestant theory of the Eucharist can well be conceived.
That the Eucharist is a commemoration of the sacrifice of Christ is distinctly taught by the Church, but not that it is a commemoration to the assistants alone. The Catholic theory is that it is a sacrifice to God, the offering to God the Father of the life and passion of Christ.
This is the dogma to be considered in this chapter.
Sacrifice, I have said, is the language of love, the expression of mutual attachment. Thus the death of Christ was the culminating instance to men of a life of love manifest in self-abnegation for their sake.
It was the sacrifice offered by God to man to recover his heart.
Directly man begins to love God, the want breaks out within him of offering sacrifice to God. As he realizes how great was the love of God to him, how marvellous was His self-oblation, the desire becomes so imperious that he is ready to resign everything, he yearns to suffer even, in order that he may speak through his actions his gratitude to God. He knows well enough that all he can offer in return for what has been done for him is nothing, and yet he cannot restrain himself from making what return lies
in his power.
“Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my love, my life, my all!" As the mute stutters when excited, and is tortured with desire to give utterance to the passion which boils in his veins, so is man in an agony of impotence when inflamed with love to God, desiring but unable to express his passion except rudely and inadequately. The self-maceration of ascetics arises from no other cause; the Catholic recluse who imposes austerities upon himself does not suffer; he joys in his penances, because they case his soul of its inextinguishable love. He knows perfectly well that God does not desire pain, and loves not to see him suffer, but he is impelled by the force of his own nature to follow S. Peter, who, when from the ship he recognized his Lord, deserted companions, brothers, and means of subsistence, and plunge into the sea to swim towards Him.
This explains what must otherwise appear inexplicable to those who have made the acquaintance of asceties, their joyousness of spirit. There is no gloom and sadness. O účèv yàp exovoi dunpòv, said S. Chrysostom of the cænobites in his day, and it applies equally to those in our own. Rogers says of the monks of the Great S. Bernard,