Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J.
|(Photo: Pontifical Missionary Union)|
There is an instinct in us all, no matter how unaccustomed we may be to pray, which seems to tell us that, if ever our prayer should be real and from the depth of the soul, it should be at the moment of Holy Communion. If the Blessed Sacrament is that which, on the authority of our Lord's own words, we believe it to be, His own true Body and His own true Blood, then there must be no imitation, there must be no mere playing at devotion, there must be a strong soul's genuine expression of itself, whenever we receive it into ourselves. Hence the universal custom of regular preparation for Communion, and regular thanksgiving after it, which in practice are made of almost as much account as the receiving of the Sacrament itself; hence, too, the further common custom of spending the first moments after Communion in intent contemplation, as if one feared that the use of a book, or of any other help to prayer, might be almost a desecration of a moment so solemn.
Undoubtedly the instinct is a good one, and both the resulting practices are good. At the same time, as with all things good, the importance of both can be exaggerated; preparation and thanksgiving are very far from being the Sacrament itself, while to one who is wholly unaccustomed to contemplation a book may help to prayer when without it the soul will be wholly distracted. But not on that account should one decline to make the effort. Rightly understood, contemplation is less beyond our range than is sometimes assumed, and there are none but may attain to it in some degree.
The following method of preparation and thanksgiving for Holy Communion is built upon this first principle. It is an easy form of contemplation; it is drawn from the three most elementary facts of Holy Communion; it is intended to be going on, no matter at what moment Communion is received, so that it is at once preparation and thanksgiving. It is reduced to the fewest possible words, for by many words contemplation is often only distracted; instead, it endeavours to take the affections that are immediately suggested, crystallizes them in a single sentence, and then offers them to the communicant to be held in the mind, and meant by the heart for so long as mind and heart are able to retain them.
What, then, is Holy Communion? It contains three facts: the fact of Jesus Christ, its Substance; the fact of myself, its recipient; the fact of the union between Him and myself, from which Communion takes its name. These three facts make three points, and they contain enough, for they suggest affections which will stay.
1 . The Fact of Jesus Christ
(a) The moment I say this to myself, meaning it, I make an Act of Faith. Hence with St. John in the boat on the Lake of Tiberias I say, and repeat with even more realized meaning: "It is the Lord." Or with the poor man appealing for his cure: "Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief." Or with St. Peter I can cry with my whole heart: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
(b) Knowledge is the forerunner of love. Of how many men and women is it said that to know them is to love them! And if this is true of ordinary mortals, how much more true must it be of our Lord! The Act of Faith, then, persisted in and meant, insensibly develops into an Act of Love; if we go on saying and meaning, "Lord, I believe," we shall soon find ourselves saying: "Lord, I love." So in the words of Peter let my thoughts express themselves: "Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee; Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee." Or with the Spouse in the Canticle: "I to my Beloved, and my Beloved to me." Or I can keep the words of à Kempis echoing in my heart: "Love Him, and keep Him for thy Friend who, when all leave thee, will not forsake thee, nor suffer thee to perish in the end."
(c) But when I say this, I find my Act of Love is insensibly going a step farther. As knowledge leads to love, so love expresses itself in confidence and trust; as, then, an Act of Faith leads insensibly to an Act of Love, so an Act of Love falls naturally into an Act of Hope. Hence, once again with St. Peter, we say: "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life"; or with the Psalmist: " The Lord is my Shepherd; who shall I fear? The Lord is the keeper of my soul; before whom shall I tremble?" Or with the writer of the Te Deum: " In Thee, Lord, I have hoped; I shall not be confounded for ever."
2. The Fact of Myself
(a) What a contrast! What an opposite extreme! In circumstances like these, in associations such as these, how inevitable is the Act of Humility, of self-abasement, whether saying with St. Elizabeth: "Whence is this to me that my Lord should come to me?" or with the soldier: "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof "; or with the Psalmist: "What is man that Thou shouldst be mindful of him? or the son of man that Thou shouldst visit him!"
(b) Not only of my nature am I, who am but dust and ashes, and, even at my best, but the work of His hands, compelled to humble myself before our Lord; I am lower down than that. I have lowered myself still more by misuse of that which He has made, by infidelity to Him, by sinfulness. In this way and that I have offended Him and soiled myself. Then, as I approach Him, I can but say: "Lord, be merciful to me a sinner." Or with the Prodigal: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight. I am no longer worthy to be called thy son." Or in the words of the Miserere: " Have mercy on me, God, according to Thy great mercy."
(c) And yet, even while I speak, "while I am yet a great way off," like the father of the Prodigal, He comes to me and embraces me. This is the matter of fact; unworthy as I am, stained as I am and in rags, He will take me as I am if I will come. Then I cannot refuse. I can only say: "Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty." I can only cry: "Into Thy hands, Lord, I commend my spirit." I can only plead, offering myself to Him in the meantime: "Lord, he whom Thou lovest is sick."
3. The Fact of the Union
(a) This is the climax. My Lord and I are brought together, made actually one, so far as that is possible. It is not to be wondered at that at that moment words seem to fail us. We can only adore, and adoration is best expressed by silence. Our thoughts can only repeat, with St. Thomas: "My Lord and my God "; or the words of the Te Deum: "Tu Rex gloriae, Christe" (Thou, O Christ, art the King of Glory); or with the other St. Thomas: "Adoro te devote, latens Deitas" (Hidden Godhead, devoutly I adore Thee).
(b) When at length, as it were, I recover my power of speech, and my heart longs to express itself, what else can it do but break out in words of thanksgiving? It says with the priest in the Mass : "What return shall I make to the Lord for all He has given to me?" or, "Laudamus te, benedicimus te, adoramus te, glorificamus te, gratias agimus tibi" (We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we adore Thee, we glorify Thee, we give thanks to Thee). Or, again, in the words of St. Paul: "Christ loved me, and gave Himself up for me."
(c) But there is no gratitude, no proof of confidence, greater than that which makes further appeals; and even while I thank Him for all that He is, and for all that He has done, I seem to hear Him say: "Hitherto you have asked nothing in My name. Ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be filled." So I turn my prayer, or my prayer turns itself, to one of petition; that I myself may do His will, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" that His will may be done in and by all His creatures, "Hallowed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven"; and that if this thing or that, this favour or that, dear to my heart, for myself or for another, is in accordance with His will, it may be granted.
Hence the form here suggested will be summed up as follows:
What is Holy Communion?
- It is the Fact of Jesus Christ, which implies:
- An Act of Faith:
- "It is the Lord"
- "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief."
- "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."
- An Act of Love:
- "Lord, Thou knowest all things; Thou knowest that I love Thee."
- "I to my Beloved, and my Beloved to me."
- "Love Him, and keep Him for thy Friend, who, when all leave thee, will not forsake thee, nor suffer thee to perish in the end."
- An Act of Hope:
- "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."
- "The Lord is my Shepherd, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the Keeper of my soul; before whom shall I tremble?"
- "In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped; I shall not be confounded for ever."
- It is the Fact of Myself, which evokes:
- An Act of Humility:
- "Whence is this to me that my Lord should come to me?"
- "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof."
- "What is man that Thou shouldst be mindful of him, or the son of man that Thou shouldst visit him?"
- An Act of Contrition:
- "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."
- "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in Thy sight; I am no longer worthy to be called Thy son."
- "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy."
- An Act of Oblation:
- "Take, O Lord, and receive all my liberty."
- "Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."
- "Lord, he whom Thou lovest is sick."
- It is the Fact of the Union, which draws forth:
- An Act of Adoration:
- "My Lord and my God."
- "Thou, O Christ, art the King of Glory."
- "Hidden Godhead, devoutly I adore Thee."
- An Act of Thanksgiving:
- "What return shall I make to the Lord for all He has given to me?"
- "We praise Thee, we bless Thee, we adore Thee, we glorify Thee, we give Thee thanks."
- "Christ loved me, and gave Himself up for me."
- An Act of Petition:
- "Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?"
- "Hallowed by Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
This is, of course, no more than a suggestion and a guide. The variety of acts that each might make for himself is very great, the prayers that might be given are infinite; and as every soul is different, so will each have its own different form of self-expression. Let it choose as it will, and pray in the way it finds best.