Archbishop Alban Goodier, S.J.
|The Blessed Sacrament|
(Photo: aeternus photos)
In the records left to us by the first missioners among the American Indians there is an ancient practice described which is much to our purpose here. In a certain tribe - the noblest-spirited that the Fathers had yet met - it was the custom when a great brave died to take the following means that his name and memory might not perish. The chiefs and priests would gather together round the corpse, would invoke the guidance of the spirit of him that was dead, and then would choose out from the youth of the tribe one that gave good promise for the future, one that seemed both likely and willing to emulate the valour of the hero that was gone. He was brought into the middle of the village, he was told in detail all that the dead man had been, and all that he had done - his fleetness of foot, his dexterity of hand, his prowess in hunting, his courage on the field of battle; his wisdom in council, his power of command, the awe with which he filled his enemies; last, his devotion to his tribe, and his sacrifice of himself for its sake. And when the tale had been told the youth was asked whether he was willing to inherit the dead man's spirit, and to reproduce his life, and to pay the price of that reproduction.
And when the boy had sworn over the body of the dead that he would do this so far as in him lay, and that to give life and expression to that spirit should be the ambition of his life, then the oldest brave would stoop down to the corpse and cut out a portion of the heart, and put it on the tongue of the boy, and pray that by that act the spirit of the dead might pass into him, and in him find a new home. And forthwith the boy laid aside his own name, and received the name of the dead man. He stripped himself of his own clothing, and put on the clothing of the dead; he passed out from his own family, and was adopted into the family of the brave. Boy as he was, he was given a place in the Great Council of the tribe, because of the spirit that was now assumed to dwell in him. On the battlefield he was given the place of honour, and that was the place of greatest danger; at home and abroad it was assumed of him that he would sacrifice himself at any need.
Is there not some likeness between this Indian custom and the Christian's reception of the Blessed Sacrament? Yes; but with how great a difference! For the Chieftain whom we revere is no mere brave of a tribe, but Lord of heaven and earth. He is not dead, but is risen again and alive. "If Christ be not risen, then is our faith in vain." He has not passed away, but abides and will abide: "Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and the same also for ever." And hence our initiation is not a mere form; it is a solemn reality. We do not receive upon our tongue a portion of a dead man's heart but a heart that beats with quickened life. The spirit that passes into us is not a figure only; it is a real, living, quivering thing. The full meaning of our words we do not know, for they are His words and not ours; but we do know that He has said: "He that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me," for "My Body is meat indeed, and My Blood is drink in very deed." We know that He has said: "If any man love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode in him." We know that "to as many as receive Him He has given power to become sons of God," and we know that one who understood the heart and soul of the God-man far better than ourselves has said: "Brethren, we are now the sons of God, but we know not what we shall be."
And we believe, with a faith that is not only surmise, that all this is not mere metaphor, mere figure of speech, and no more. Such emphasis, if figure of speech only is intended, is not the manner of the Word of God. We believe that there are states of being far transcending our own, surpassing ours more than the moving creature surpasses the stone, than man surpasses the brute animal, than his immortal soul surpasses his mortal body. We believe that human language has been made to express the facts of human life; that it is therefore utterly inadequate to express the facts of a life that is above it; that often, then, its words must appear but metaphorical and figurative when they are really attempts to utter the most solemn truths. And this is what we see to have happened here. Man feebly guesses at the fact of the Blessed Sacrament and Its life within the soul of man. He babbles words which express but a shadow; but the shadow they express is cast by a still greater reality. Though we do not understand, we know it must be true. When we adopt the name of Christ, and call ourselves Christians, there is a real adoption corresponding to that name. Having received the living Body of Christ, there is a real meaning in our words when we say : "I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me."