Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bellarmine on the Holy Eucharist (12)

St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J. (+1621), Jesuit, Cardinal, and Doctor of the Church, wrote Ars bene moriendi, the Art of Dying Well, in 1619AD. Today's chapter, Chapter 12, is on the subject of the holy sacrament of the Eucharist.  Certainly written before Pope St. Pius X and the general permission to receive Communion daily, there remains excellent advice in how to approach and make best use of the Sacrament.

St. Robert Bellarmine (+1621AD)



THE holy Eucharist is the greatest of all the sacraments: in which not only is grace most plentifully given unto us, but even the author of grace Himself is received.

Two things are necessary as regards this sacrament, that a Christian may live well and die well. First, that he sometimes receive this sacred nourishment, as our Lord saith: " Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you -shall not have life in you." Secondly, that he worthily receive this excellent food, for, as the Apostle saith in his Epistle to the Corinthians: “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the
Lord."(Qui enim manducat et bibit indigne iudicium sibi manducat et bibit non diiudicans corpus) (1 Epist. xi. 29.) But the question is, how often we ought to receive this food; and again, whatpreparation is sufficient, that we may worthily, or at least not unworthily, approach to this heavenly banquet.

Concerning the first point, there have been many and different customs in the Catholic Church. In the Church of the first ages the faithful most frequently received the holy Eucharist. Therefore doth St. Cyprian, in his Discourse on the Lord’s Prayer, explain the words, “Give us this day our daily bread,” as relating to the holy Eucharist; and he teaches that this sacrament is daily to be received, unless some lawful impediment hinder us. But afterwards, when charity grew cold, many deferred their communion for several years.

Then Pope Innocent III. issued a decree, that at least every year, about Easter, the faithful, both male and female, should be obliged to receive the holy Eucharist. But the common opinion of doctors seems to be very pious and laudable, for the faithful to approach the divine banquet every Sunday, and on other great festivals. The sentence, supposed to have been uttered by St. Augustine, is very common amongst spiritual writers: "To receive the Eucharist daily, I neither praise nor blame; but I do advise and exhort all to receive it every Sunday.”

Although the work on "Ecclesiastical Dogmas," whence this opinion is drawn, does not seem to have
been written by St. Augustine, yet it is by an ancient writer, and his words are not contrary to the
doctrine of St. Augustine, who most clearly teaches in his Epistle to Januarius, " that neither those err who advise daily communion, nor those who think it should not be so often received."

Certainly, he who teaches this doctrine cannot in any manner blame those who choose a middle way, and advise communion every Sunday. That this was the opinion of St. Jerome, we may learn from his
Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, where, explaining the fourth chapter, he thus speaks: “Although it be lawful for us either to keep a perpetual fast, or always to be praying, and
continually to keep with joy the Lord s day by receiving the body of the Lord; yet, it is not lawful for the Jews to immolate a lamb," & c. This was the opinion of St. Thomas also.

With regard to the other question concerning the preparation necessary for receiving so great a sacrament, that we may receive it for our salvation, and not for our judgment and condemnation, it is first of all requisite that our soul be living in a state of grace, and not dead in mortal sin. For this reason it is called " food," and is given to us in the form of bread, because it is the food not of the dead but of the living. " He that eateth this bread, shall live forever," saith our Lord in St. John; and in the same place: " My flesh is true meat." The Council of Trent adds, that for a worthy preparation and reception, it is not sufficient that he who is denied with mortal sin should be content with contrition alone; but that he should also endeavour to expiate his sins by approaching the sacrament of Penance, if he has an opportunity. And moreover, because this sacrament is not only our food, but also a medicine, and the best and most salutary medicine against all spiritual diseases; therefore it is required in the second place, that the sick man should desire his health, and his deliverance from all diseases of his vices, and especially from the principal ones such as luxury, avarice, pride, & c. That the holy Eucharist is a medicine, St. Ambrose teaches in his fifth book on the Sacraments (cap. iv.): " He that is wounded requires medicine; we are wounded, because we are under sin; and the medicine is the sacred and heavenly sacrament." And St. Bonaventure says: "He that thinketh himself unworthy, let him consider how much the greater need he hath of a physician, by how much the more enfeebled he is." (De Profectu Religiosorum, cap. 78) And St. Bernard, in his Sermon on the Supper of our Lord, admonishes his brethren, that when they feel evil propensities or any other disorders of the soul diminishing within them, they should attribute it to this blessed sacrament.

Lastly, this holy Sacrament is not only the food of travellers and the medicine of the sick, it is also a most skilful and loving physician, and therefore is to be received with great joy and reverence; and the house of our soul ought to be adorned with all kind of virtues, especially with faith, hope, charity, devotion, and the fruits of good works, such as prayer, fasting, and almsdeeds. These ornaments the sweet guest of our soul requires, though He standeth not in need of our goods. Reflect also, that the Physician who visits us is our King and our God, whose purity is infinite, and who therefore requires a most pure habitation. Hear St. Chrysostom, in one of his Sermons to the people of Antioch: " How pure ought he to be that offers such a sacrifice! Ought not the hand that divides this flesh to be more pure than the rays of the sun ? Ought not the tongue to be filled with a spiritual fire?"&c.

Whoever, then, desireth to live well and die well, let him enter into the chamber of his heart, and
shutting the door, alone before God, who searcheth the reins and the heart, let him attentively consider how often, and with what preparation, he has received the body of the Lord; and it he shall
find that by the grace of God he has often and worthily communicated, and thereby has been well nourished and cured gradually of his spiritual maladies, and that he has daily advanced more and more in virtue and good works: then let him exult with trembling, and serve the Lord in fear not so much a servile fear, as a filial and chaste fear.

But if any one, content with an annual communion, should think no more of this life-giving
Sacrament, and forgetting to eat this heavenly bread, should feed and fatten his body whilst his soul is allowed to languish and starve, let such a one remember that he is in a bad state, and very far from
the kingdom of God. Annual communion is enjoined by the holy Council, not that we should partake of it only once, but that we should approach to it at least once a-year, unless we wish to be cut off from the Church, and delivered over to the devil. Those that act thus, (and many there are,) receive the Lord in His sacrament, not with a filial love, but with servile fear; and soon do they return to the husks of swine, to the pleasures of the world, to temporal gain, and to seeking after transitory honours.

Hence in death they hear these words that were addressed to the rich glutton: “Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy life-time.” But if anyone, frequently approaching this most holy Sacrament, either on Sundays, or every day, if he be a priest, should still discover that he is not free from mortal sin, nor that he seriously performs good works, nor is truly disengaged from the world, but that, like others who are of the world, he pants after money, is fond of carnal pleasures, and sighs after honours and dignities this man certainly "eats and drinks judgment to himself;" and the oftener he approaches the holy Mysteries, so does he the more imitate the traitor Judas, of whom our Lord speaks," It were better for him he had never been born."

But no one, whilst he lives, must despair of his salvation. Wherefore, he that remembereth in the chamber of his heart his years and his works, and feels that hitherto he hath wandered from the way of salvation, let him reflect that he has still time to repent; let him seriously begin to do penance, and return to the path of truth.

I will add, before I close this chapter, what St. Bonaventure writes, in his Life of St. Francis, of the admirable piety and love of this saint towards the holy Eucharist, that so from his burning love our tepidity and coldness may be inflamed: He burned with the utmost love of his soul for this blessed Sacrament, being lost in wonder at this most endearing condescension and boundless charity. Often did he communicate, and so devoutly, that he made others devout also; for when he received the immaculate Lamb, being, as it were, inebriated in spirit, he frequently fell into raptures. (*Vita St. Francisci, Cap. ix.)

How far distant from this saint are, not only many of the laity, but even many priests, who offer up the Sacrifice with such unseemly hurry, that neither they themselves seem to know what they are doing, nor do they allow others to fix their attention on the sacred service.


I shall be presenting this work at length, but in chapter-length installments each Sunday. If you simply can't wait for the next chapter, or want to read it all at once, you can find the full text here:

Live well.

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