Father John A. Perricone
There was one part of the house I had yet visited, and I went there now. The chapel showed no ill-effects of its long neglect; the art nouveau paint was as fresh and bright as ever; the art nouveau lamp burned once more before the altar. I said a prayer, an ancient, newly learned form of words, and left, turning towards the camp…
Something quite remote from anything the builder had intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame - a beaten copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burning again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit except for the builders and tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning new among the old stones.
I quickened my pace and reached the hut which served us for our ante-room.
“You’re looking unusually cheerful today,”, said the second-in-command.
So ends Brideshead Revisited. An ending sweetly triumphant. Not only does the bon-vivant Ryder come to the Faith, but the thing that transfixes him in that manorial house he knew so well was the burning red flame of the sanctuary lamp. Like a magnet, it drew him. It announced, like a hundred silver trumpets, that the King sat upon His throne again. With the understatement of a true genius writer, Waugh simply concludes: “You’re looking unusually cheerful today.” Little did the second-in-command know that that singular joy climbed deep from within Ryder’s soul. It was the joy of a Man meeting his God. It is the joy which fills all of us when we spot the flickering flame in the red sanctuary lamp. No joy on earth matches this joy.
Corpus Christi is the grand feast that reminds of that great Mystery – Man meeting God. This happens only in the Most Holy Eucharist. Yes, man meets God in the inspired words of the Bible; the infallible teachings of Mother Church; the intimate conversations with God in prayer and even in the vast sweep of God’s marvelous creation. But in all those meetings, we meet God spiritually. In the Most Holy Eucharist, we meet Him physically. This astonishing mystery causes us to fall to our knees, or should, unless we have suffered a fatal breach of Faith. It has prompted the Church to build her breathtaking churches, compelling even unbelievers to stare in wonderment. It has stirred the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in constructing the sublime drama of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; as a spiritual monument, ineffable; as a cultural jewel, a pièce de résistance All this for one purpose: homage to the Immolated Lamb who lays upon our altars, and Who houses Himself in golden tabernacles.
He promised that He would not leave us orphans. The sacred Host is everlasting testimony to that. With a display of divine condescension that baffles the mind, He Who crafted the universe now resides in a tiny room dwarfed by the universe. This disguise of his Kingly majesty is done out of love, lest His ravishing glory make us tremble as It did Moses on Sinai, or the Apostles on Tabor. Our Savior permits nothing to stand in the way of sinful man’s approach to the Son of God. Yet, when we plumb the depths of the Mystery of the Tabernacle, we understand Chesterton who confessed to being ‘frightened by that tremendous Reality.”
In attempting to shed light upon the doctrine of the Holy Eucharist, the esteemed Thomist, Fr. Dominic Hughes, unveils the dogma under the rubric of the Gift of Understanding, given us by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation:
Understanding is likewise aware that Christ is not present (in the Holy Eucharist) as in the Upper Room, but substantially and without any distinguishable bodily position. His arms are not outstretched, but His mercy is unrestrained. He is not a captive in the Tabernacle, but rather He captivates the hearts of all who leave the imprisonment of their own selfishness long enough to share His happiness. In the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ is not some prelate of past ceremonies but the principal priest Who offers the holocaust of Himself to His Heavenly Father. Nor is He passive in the act of Holy Communion; He absorbs the soul to Himself in a union of love which binds the soul to all who share in Him.
When J.R.R. Tolkien was writing to his son, Michael, during the dark days of the Nazi bombing of London, he told him to bind his heart to the Most Holy Eucharist:
Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: The Blessed Sacrament…There you will find romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth…”
Do you find ‘romance’ when you pray before the Tabernacle? Impulses of greater ‘fidelity’? Do all your ‘loves’ find their way, their perfection, their raison d’etre when you gaze upon the Holy Eucharist? As you adore Our Savior truly present in the Tabernacle, think of this. Of all God’s actions in the economy of salvation, the mystery of the Holy Eucharist is most perfect. In the Creation, God gives us things out of nothing; In the Incarnation, He gives the sight of His Sacred Humanity; on Calvary, He gives us the offering of His life; in the Resurrection, He gives us the manifestation of His power; in the Ascension, He gives us the delight of His glorification. But in the Holy Eucharist, He gives us Himself. Even hearts stiffened by sin soften before the Eucharistic Mystery. Graham Greene’s whiskey priest in The Power and the Glory is distributing Holy Communion in a secret hovel to a group of Mexican peasants. As he does, Greene writes hauntingly that the reprobate priest realized that “he was placing God on the tongues of men.” Reflecting upon the Holy Eucharist, St. John Henry Newman writes:
Thou dwellest on our altars, Thou the Most Holy, the Most High, in light inaccessible, and angels fall down before Thee there; and out of the visible substances and forms, Thou choosest what is choicest to represent and to hold Thee. The finest wheat flour, and the purest wine, are taken as Thy outward signs, the most sacred and majestic words minister to the sacrificial rite; altar and sanctuary are adorned decently or splendidly, as our means allow; and Thy priests perform their Office in befitting vestments, lifting up chaste hands and holy hands.
Artists have composed some of the most transporting music to express our homage and devotion to the Most Holy Eucharist. Though they all touch the hem of the Mystery, perhaps the words of the Divine Liturgy of St. James capture most fully man’s spellbound awe:
Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded
For with blessings in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand
At His feet the six-winged seraph;
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the Presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, Lord Most High!
After receiving Holy Communion St. John Chrysostom writes, “we are like lions breathing forth fire, thus do depart from this altar, being made terrible to the devil.”
Where are the Catholics that leave the altar rail “like lions breathing forth fire?” Where are the altar rails? Where are the Churches reminding us of the Paradise that every church is because the Kings of Kings reigns there among us? Why aren’t Catholics in rapt wonder as are the Cherubim and Seraphim?
Do you mourn the disintegration of Western civilization? Do you weep at the tidal wave of nihilistic rage besetting our beloved America? Do you now know fully the pain of the memorable words of Yeats, when he moaned in the Second Coming, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”? Do you retch at wave after wave of every once reliable institution in America groveling before the Barbarians in our midst?
Then know that on this Corpus Christi 2020 only a return to a robust and visible adoration of this august Sacrament will bring these agonies to an end. Yes, our enemies are not only outside the Church. But we must brave them all. Think what hangs in the balance.