As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, it seems fitting that we should consider Newman's meditation on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. What we find in this meditation is not a developed theological treatise so much as a soul longing for what the Lord has given to sustain it. Newman understands the mystery into which we are drawn and that the sacrifice of the Cross is not a mere event in world history but the most sublime reality perpetuated until the end of all things. Our Lord places Himself into our hands and it should create within us a longing to remove every impediment that would prevent this gift from enabling us to enter into the Life to which we have been called.
Newman understands and is overwhelmed by what such a gift means. In Mary, God had prepared for Himself a holy habitation. Yet, Newman reflects: "how can this be so for us?" God sees us and knows everything about us and so the heart exclaims: "Lord, I am not worthy!" The sheer magnitude of the sins and infirmities, past and present, shake the soul. God Himself will have to provide the grace necessary for it to be possible for us even to receive Him. And so with Newman we must pray that God free us from our sin; indeed, remove all memory and recollection of sin within us. We must approach the altar with courage and humility, ever mindful of His mercy.
For this is the most adorable of mysteries and stupendous of mercies. God nourishes us upon Himself to eternal life. How can one go forward except with the knowledge that it is this Food of the Soul alone that saves us? May God provide the grace that makes up for the failure of our nature and increase our thirst for what He alone offers!
- The Holy Sacrifice
I adore you, O Lord God, with the most profound awe for your Passion and Crucifixion, in sacrifice for our sins. You suffered incommunicable sufferings in your sinless soul. You were exposed in your innocent body to ignominious torments, to mingled pain and shame. You were stripped and fiercely scourged, your sacred body vibrating under the heavy flail as trees under the blast. You were, when thus mangled, hung upon the Cross, naked, a spectacle for all to see you quivering and dying.
What does all this imply, O mighty God! What a depth is here which we cannot fathom! My God, I know well, you could have saved us at your word, without yourself suffering; but you chose to purchase us at the price of your blood. I look on you, the victim lifted up on Calvary, and I know and protest that that death of yours was an expiation for the sins of the whole world. I believe and know that you alone could have offered a meritorious atonement; for it was your divine nature that gave your sufferings worth. Rather than I should perish according to my deserts, you were nailed to the tree and died.
Such a sacrifice was not to be forgotten. It was not to be — it could not be — a mere event in the world’s history, which was to be done and over and was to pass away except in its obscure, unrecognized effects. If that great deed was what we believe it to be, what we know it is, it must remain present, though past; it must be a standing fact for all times. Our own careful reflection upon it tells us this; and therefore, when we are told that you, O Lord, though you have ascended to glory, have renewed and perpetuated your sacrifice to the end of all things, not only is the news most touching and joyful, as testifying to so tender a Lord and Savior, but it carries with it the full assent and sympathy of our reason. Though we neither could, nor would have dared, anticipate so wonderful a doctrine, yet we adore its very suitableness to your perfections, as well as its infinite compassion for us, now that we are told of it. Yes, my Lord, though you have left the world, you are daily offered up in the Mass; and, though you cannot suffer pain and death, you still subject yourself to indignity and restraint to carry out to the full your mercies toward us. You humble yourself daily; for, being infinite, you could not end your humiliation while they existed for whom you submitted to it. So you remain a priest forever.
My Lord, I offer you myself in turn as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. You have died for me, and I in turn make myself over to you. I am not my own. You have bought me; I will by my own act and deed complete the purchase. My wish is to be separated from everything of this world; to cleanse myself simply from sin; to put away from me even what is innocent, if used for its own sake, and not for yours. I put away reputation and honor, and influence, and power, for my praise and strength shall be in you. Enable me to carry out what I profess.
- Holy Communion
My God, who can be inhabited by you, except the pure and holy? Sinners may come to you, but to whom should you come except to the sanctified? My God, I adore you as the holiest; and, when you came upon earth, you prepared a holy habitation for yourself in the most chaste womb of the Blessed Virgin. You did make a dwelling place special for yourself. She did not receive you without first being prepared for you; for from the moment that she was at all, she was filled with your grace, so that she never knew sin. And so she went on increasing in grace and merit year after year, until the time came when you sent down the archangel to signify to her your presence within her. So holy must be the dwelling place of the Highest. I adore and glorify you, O Lord my God, for your great holiness.
O my God, holiness becomes your house (cf. Ps. 93:5), and yet you make your abode in my breast. My Lord, my Savior, to me you come, hidden under the semblance of earthly things, yet in that very flesh and blood which you took from Mary. You, who first inhabited Mary’s breast, come to me.
My God, you see me; I cannot see myself. Were I ever so good a judge about myself, ever so unbiased, and with ever so correct a rule of judging, still, from my very nature, I cannot look at myself, and view myself truly and wholly. But you, as you come to me, contemplate me. When I say, “Lord, I am not worthy,” you whom I am addressing alone understand in their fullness the words I use. You see how unworthy so great a sinner is to receive the one holy God, whom the seraphim adore with trembling. You see, not only the stains and scars of past sins, but the mutilations, the deep cavities, the chronic disorders they have left in my soul. You see the innumerable living sins, though they be not mortal, living in their power and presence, their guilt, and their penalties, which clothe me. You see all my bad habits, all my mean principles, all wayward lawless thoughts, my multitude of infirmities and miseries, yet you come. You see most perfectly how little I really feel what I am now saying, yet you come. O my God, left to myself should I not perish under the awful splendor and the consuming fire of your Majesty? Enable me to bear you, lest I have to say with Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).
My God, enable me to bear you, for you alone can. Cleanse my heart and mind from all that is past. Wipe out clean all my recollections of evil. Rid me from all languor, sickliness, irritability, feebleness of soul. Give me a true perception of things unseen, and make me truly, practically, and in the details of life, prefer you to anything on earth, and the future world to the present. Give me courage, a true instinct determining between right and wrong, humility in all things, and a tender longing love of you.
- The Food of the Soul
In you, O Lord, all things live, and you give them their food. Oculi omnium in te sperant — “The eyes of all hope in you” (Ps. 145:15). To the beasts of the field you give meat and drink. They live on day by day, because you give them day by day to live. And, if you give not, they feel their misery at once. Nature witnesses to this great truth, for they are visited at once with great agony, and they cry out and wildly wander about, seeking what they need. But, as to us your children, you feed us with another food. You know, O my God, who made us, that nothing can satisfy us but you, and therefore you have caused your own self to be meat and drink to us. O most adorable mystery! O most stupendous of mercies! You most glorious, and beautiful, and strong, and sweet, you knew well that nothing else would support our immortal natures, our frail hearts, but you; and so you took a human flesh and blood, that they, as being the flesh and blood of God, might be our life.
Oh, what an awesome thought! You deal otherwise with others, but, as to me, the flesh and blood of God is my sole life. I shall perish without it; yet shall I not perish with it and by it? How can I raise myself to such an act as to feed upon God? O my God, I am in a strait — shall I go forward, or shall I go back? I will go forward: I will go to meet you. I will open my mouth and receive your gift. I do so with great awe and fear, but what else can I do? To whom should I go but to you? Who can save me but you? Who can cleanse me but you? Who can make me overcome myself but you? Who can raise my body from the grave but you? Therefore I come to you in all these my necessities, in fear, but in faith.
My God, you are my life; if I leave you, I cannot but thirst. Lost spirits thirst in hell, because they have not God. They thirst, though they fain would have it otherwise, from the necessity of their original nature. But I, my God, wish to thirst for you with a better thirst. I wish to be clad in that new nature, which so longs for you from loving you, as to overcome in me the fear of coming to you. I come to you, O Lord, not only because I am unhappy without you, not only because I feel I need you, but because your grace draws me on to seek you for your own sake, because you are so glorious and beautiful. I come in great fear, but in greater love. Oh, may I never lose, as years pass away, and the heart shuts up, and all things are a burden, let me never lose this youthful, eager, elastic love of you. Make your grace supply the failure of nature. Do the more for me, the less I can do for myself. The more I refuse to open my heart to you, so much the fuller and stronger be your supernatural visitings, and the more urgent and efficacious your presence in me.
Newman, St. John Henry. Everyday Meditations. Sophia Institute Press.