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Holy Week and Easter
Translated from the French of the
REV. FATHER LOUIS BOURDALOUE
REV. G. F. CROWTHER, M.A.
of s. john’s college, oxford
WELLS GARDNER, DARTON & CO.
2, Paternoster Buildings
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I. Sermon for Palm Sunday
II The Passion of Jesus Christ
IV. The Passion of Jesus Christ
V. The Passion of Jesus Christ
VI. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
VII. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
VIII. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ
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In presenting to the public this selection from the sermons of Bourdaloue, the translator has found it no easy task to express in clear and idiomatic English the well-balanced periods of the original. He hopes, however, that he has not entirely failed to convey to his readers some idea of the author’s style, and, what is of more consequence, that the translation, such as it is, is not an unfaithful rendering of the author’s impressive words.
The little that is known of the life of Bourdaloue is so familiar to all who are interested in such matters, that it is not necessary to repeat it here, As an orator, Bourdaloue was clear, antithetical, harmonious; his learning was wide, and he always handled his subject in a masterly way. In his references to the Fathers, it is not so much their very words, as their teaching and their arguments, which he reproduces in a modern form. But we do him an injustice if we regard him merely as an able reasoner. It has been well said that he was “one who valued a victory over the heart of the humble listener, more than over the judgment of the man of taste.”
There is one point which must strike those who read these sermons on the Passion; the preacher never permits us to lose sight of the great truth, that the sufferer is God. Keeping in view the impersonality of the Saviour’s Manhood, Bourdaloue does not shrink from saying, that it is a God who suffers, a God who is being tortured and crucified, a God who is dying. These eight sermons, most of which were preached before the French Court, will be found to be remarkable alike for their originality and completeness. The translator hopes they may be an aid to the better understanding and the deeper realization of the august mysteries of which they treat. I may add that in this translation the texts of Holy Scripture have generally been quoted from the A.V., except when the rendering of the Vulgate materially differs from it, in which case attention is called to the fact in a footnote.
G. F. C.
St. Luke’s, Soho.
S. Matthew 21:4, 5.—“All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy king cometh unto thee, meek.”
Sire,—The prophet had foretold that the Saviour of the world should enter into Jerusalem in glory and triumph; and it is in the mystery of this day that this utterance of the prophet ought to be fulfilled, as, indeed, it is fulfilled. But, why do the Jews receive the Son of God with so much pomp and solemnity to-day, and whence that zeal which they show in rendering Him honours that they had never bestowed before? They had seen Him amongst them a hundred times, without scarcely thinking of Him; but now, by an unlooked-for change, the Gospel represents Him to us in a kind of triumph, entering the city amidst public acclamations, escorted by a crowd of people, and solemnly recognized as Son of David and the sent of God. “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” Let us not be surprised at it, Christians, since the Evangelists teach us the reason. This adorable Saviour had just worked a miracle, the fame of which had spread throughout all Judea. All the inhabitants of Jerusalem had been witnesses of the resurrection of Lazarus, a man who had been four days dead and shut in the tomb. They had all admired this miracle, the circumstances of which rendered it indisputable; it was a miracle, as S. Augustine tells us, which appealed to people even in his day, and which the most obstinate incredulity could not disavow. This miracle was what had raised Tesus Christ so high in the estimation of the people of Jerusalem. It was, in consideration of this miracle, and as a public recognition of the Author, that they ran to meet Him, carrying palms in their hands, intending thereby, S. Chrysostom remarks, to honour the victory which that God-Man had gained over death. Such, my dear listeners, is the sum of our Gospel in its historic and literal sense; now listen to its mystical sense and its application. The time draws near, Christians—we are close upon it—the time when Jesus Christ, by a spiritual and internal, but yet more powerful and effectual, action, renews this great mystery of the resurrection of Lazarus, reviving, by the grace of penitence, souls which are dead in sin and buried in the habitual practice of it. After the manner of this miracle, the Church, which all the prophets have spoken of under the figure of Jerusalem, prepares for this divine Saviour a holy and honourable entrance into the hearts of the faithful by the Easter Communion; and, in accordance with her plan, it is my duty to speak to you to-day about this Communion.
Two sorts of people to-day, receive, as it were, the Son of God in Jerusalem. On the one hand, His disciples who made profession of following Him, and who were in a special manner attached to His side; and on the other hand, the Pharisees, the priests, the doctors of the synagogue, who, by an extreme blindness, had rejected His teaching, and were secretly banded together against Him. His disciples regarded Him with respect, with warmth, with joy; and that is why He came to them, as it were, in triumph, and, according to the prophecy, in the character of a King, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek.” The Pharisees, on the contrary, regarded Him with feelings of bitterness, and with a determination to take instant counsel against Him, and destroy Him: that is why He came to them like an enemy, and shed over these blind folk tears of compassion, “When He beheld the city, He wept over it.” Two very natural types of what passes each year in the Easter Communion: in the reception of the one I see the type of a worthy, and, in the manner in which this same God was received by the other, I see the type of an unworthy and sacrilegious communion. To the just who are the true faithful, the Saviour comes like a gentle and gracious King; but, to the wicked who obstinately persist in their sin, He comes as a terrible and an awful enemy. These are the points to which I would direct your attention.
I. Would you know, Christians, what is really meant by a communion made in a state of grace? Listen to S. Chrysostom, he will teach you. It is, saith this Father, a solemn reception by us of Jesus Christ into ourselves, and a triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into us. Could he explain the fact in a more noble way, and am I not right in adopting his theory, and speaking to you now of the triumph and entry of the Saviour of the world into Jerusalem as an expressive type of a good communion?
But, that we may understand this better, let us examine in detail the circumstances mentioned in the Gospel; it may even seem God’s purpose to set clearly before us by means of them the most perfect model of the holiest action in Christianity, that is, of communion. For, firstly, that God-Man is honourably received in Jerusalem; but by whom? By His friends, by the votaries of His teaching, by those who were pointed out in Judea as belonging to Him; in a word, by His disciples, who, notwithstanding the envy of some, yet made a considerable party, since S. Luke states that they came forth in a crowd: “The whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice.” Secondly, these warm-hearted disciples, full of zeal for the Person of their Master, did not wait until He reached the gates of their town before they got ready to receive Him. At the first rumour of His coming, they came out of their houses, and, to show Him respect, went to meet Him: “When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they went forth to meet Him.” Moreover, they presented themselves before Him, some carrying branches of palm trees, and others branches of olive trees, which they had plucked on the mountain. But the palm is the sign of victory, and the olive the sign of peace, and this has a mystic signification, as I am going to show you. Lastly, they stripped off their garments, and put them under the feet of Jesus, spreading them along the road, over which He was about to pass. An excellent figure of the communion of the just, and of the holy feelings which a Christian ought to bring to the participation of the Body of Jesus Christ, and of His adorable Sacrament. But it is not enough for us to have this idea; God wishes us to apply it to ourselves in practice, and that we should convert this figure into a truth. Try then, my dear listeners, to enter thoroughly into these holy lessons which I am going to unfold.
We must, then, be disciples of Jesus Christ so as to deserve to receive Him in His Sacrament; that is the first disposition. But in our character of Christians are we not all His disciples? It is true, my brethren, and I know it; but I say that, to participate in this divine mystery, it is not enough to be disciples of Christ by an outward profession, which often only increases our unworthiness, as when it is not proved true by our conduct. Hence I add that we must be disciples in spirit and religious feeling, since without this, far from acknowledging us as His disciples, Jesus Christ regards us as His enemies. It is urged, indeed, that He Himself declared that He would not celebrate the Passover but with His disciples. Then, however, He was only speaking of the Jewish Passover which He was going to celebrate according to the law. Ah! I admit it, replies S. Chrysostom; but if He spake thus of the ancient Passover, what did He think of the new Passover which was to be the gift of gifts, and the most excellent of all graces? And if they had to be His disciples, who ate with Him a passover which was only a type of His body, what must not he be who eateth that which is verily and indeed His body? In short, doth not faith teach us that all which took place in the Jews’ Passover was a lesson for us, even an exact and precise lesson, of what ought to take place in the Christian Passover?
Let not any one be rash enough, concludes S. Chrysostom, to presume to present himself at that Passover and receive the true Lamb which is sacrificed, without having this special title that he is the disciple of Jesus Christ. Let no Judas, no Pharisee, that is to say, no traitor, no hypocrite, no one who is guilty of simony or profanity, present himself there: these are the words of that holy Father,1* “Let no one approach except he be a friend, no covetous person, no usurer, no unchaste person. For I warn you,” adds that holy doctor, “that this divine table is not for them. If there be a faithful and sincere disciple, let him come,” because it is he who, by the choice of Jesus Christ Himself, ought to be admitted there. As for the worldlings, the easy livers, the impious, they are excluded from it; and if they dared to show themselves there, we, who are priests of the Lord and dispensers of His mysteries, we are not afraid of making use of the power, which the living God hath placed in our hand, to ward off such from His altar. Even though he were the greatest conqueror, or the chief monarch in the world, we would make known to him the prohibitions and threats of the Sovereign Master, whose heavenly banquet he was about to profane. It was thus that man of God, acquitting himself of the same ministry as mine, prepared the people of Antioch for the most important Christian act; and such is the import of those brief words addressed by the great Apostle to the whole Church, those words, which, according to the Council of Trent, nevertheless contain a summary of all the feelings requisite for a participation of the Sacrament of the Son of God, “Let a man examine himself.” That is to say, let a man consult himself, let him question his own heart; and without blindfolding himself, without flattering himself, let him examine, before God, if in reality he be of those who belong to Jesus Christ, and whom Jesus Christ acknowledges for His true disciples. For, if our consciences do not render us a favourable testimony on this point, and we cannot humbly apply to ourselves this name, we may not partake of the Passover, and we ought not to think of it. I am wrong here, Christians: let us speak more correctly, and say that we ought to think of it, and to think of it for the honour of Jesus Christ Himself; and if, from not having thought of it, we fail to receive Him in that solemn Passover, we are committing a new crime, and we are disobeying His orders. What then? Is it Jesus Christ’s command that we should receive Him without being of the number of His disciples? God forbid, Christian brethren; so far from that being the case, He expressly requires us to profess ourselves to be His disciples, and if we be not yet of that number, He wishes us to join it, so as to satisfy the indispensable obligation which binds us to take our place amongst the guests whom He invites. That is not only the precept of the Church, but the order of God, which is made known to you to-day by the shepherds of your souls: yes, the Saviour of men, whatever your state may be, wishes to celebrate the Passover with you. You are unworthy of that grace, but He wishes that you should render yourselves worthy of it; you are sinners, but He wishes that you should become just; you have sinful and worldly ties, but He wishes that you should break them off, and that you should prepare yourselves to approach Him. There can be no excuse, no delay; you must obey Him. At other seasons of the year, perhaps you might act deliberately, and set yourself a time in which to make your resolution; but to-day it is no longer a question of resolving, it is time to execute and carry out God’s purpose. The time is come, and the Master of masters sends to you to say that it is with you that the Passover is to be celebrated, “The Master saith, my time is at hand; I will keep the Passover at thy house.” To that end your heart, which is, as it were, the abode and sanctuary which He hath chosen, must be purified by penitence; and the same commandment which binds you to receive Him, obliges you also to prepare for Him. Hence you must break your bonds, and by noble efforts free yourselves once more from the creature and from yourselves. And therein the precept of the Son of God is admirable, I mean, in that it compels you to this. For otherwise nothing is left but for you to choose between being either sacrilegious or excommunicated: sacrilegious, if you receive this holy God without being prepared for Him by a sincere contrition; excommunicated, if by your impenitence you be in an unfit state to receive Him.
But, to be disciples of the Saviour it is not sufficient for us to deserve that He should come to us; we must run to meet Him and forestall Him. You know how those crowds which went out of Jerusalem proceeded as far as the Mount of Olives, and did not wait until Jesus Christ had arrived before they began to greet Him with their homage. “When they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they went forth to meet Him.” Thus did they with active zeal anticipate the coming of that God-Man; and this is a second disposition necessary for receiving Him according to the rules and the spirit of true piety. Let me explain what I mean; for the custom now-a-days—a custom which the indifference of the age hath rendered but too common—is to wait until the day of communion to think about it; to put off until the festival of Easter the preparation which religion demands; to believe that we have acquitted ourselves of our duty if we have snatched a few moments beforehand for silent meditation in God’s presence; coming in a hurry with a crowd of other people to accuse ourselves of our misdoings, and straightway presenting ourselves at the Holy Table; mixing penitential exercises with the Communion, and often communicating without having performed any penitential exercise. Ah, Christians! that is dishonouring God; and whoever acts in this way draws down upon himself S. Paul’s anathema, in which the Apostle reproaches him for not discerning the Lord’s body, and warns him that the participation of that heavenly food will add to his condemnation. I speak to you, my dear listeners, who, living a worldly and dissipated life, but rarely approach these sacred mysteries; you who content yourselves with eating perhaps once a year of that bread which Jesus Christ hath appointed to be our daily food; this concerns you. For, as for those innocent souls who make it their regular nourishment, although they have reason to fear, they have more reason to hope. One communion is a preparation for the next; the regulated life which these people lead, the good works which they practise, their frequent attendance at the altar; all that, according to the teaching of the Fathers, serves them as a continual preparation for this divine Sacrament.
But as for you who maintain a directly opposite line of conduct; you who hold it a duty not only to belong to the world, but to live according to the maxims of the world; you whose engagements, habits, amusements and occupations are nothing but a train of sins incessantly added one to another; you who make no use of the things of God, and who let whole years slip by without perhaps one serious thought concerning your salvation; you whose last care is to watch over your heart, and who, having made your conscience free, nay, rather, having made it indulgent, find it very convenient never to look into it, and to remain in ignorance of all that goes on there; you, in short, who only communicate when propriety requires you, and the rule of the Church obliges you, for you to put off your preparation until the very day on which you must fulfil that obligation, that, let me tell you, is an insult to God and an outrage to His Sacrament; in fact, it is to make His coming of none effect, and thus expose yourselves to an almost inevitable offence. For, indeed, my brother, suppose you were to apply to me during the days of this solemn season, and I do not find you fit to receive the grace of reconciliation, without which you cannot communicate (but among such men as you, what is more common than that state?), what, think you, should I do then? Should I grant you the grace of absolution which you ask from me? I should then betray my ministry. Should I refuse it to you? Then you cannot partake of the Lamb with the rest of the faithful, and must be absent from the table of Jesus Christ. If I admit you to it, I am unfaithful to my trust, and condemn myself with you; if I exclude you from it, you will shock the Church. Do you not see to what an extremity you force matters, because you have not taken the steps which God’s law and Christian prudence suggest to you? It is not likely that, out of consideration for your person, I should ever compromise the honour of the Sacrament which hath been entrusted to me. I know too well what are the limits of my power; and the splendour of your fortune and of your dignity will never dazzle me. What will happen then? Just what I say, that you will have neither Easter nor Sacrament, nor religious worship, and so you will be a marked person; he who is entrusted, as shepherd, with the care of your soul, will be anxious and troubled about it; your bad example will begin to spread to others, and recklessness will begin to get the upper hand, and you will be responsible for the abuse which will result from your conduct: why? because you have never used the diligence to prepare yourself. If, convinced as you were by your conscience of your unfitness, you had, from the commencement of this holy season, had recourse to the remedy which the Church offered you, and if with Christian forethought you had then come to submit yourself to her tribunal, all would have been well. You were not then fit to partake of the body of Jesus Christ, but you might have been made fit; you were too weak to eat of that Bread of Life, but you would have been strengthened, you would have been healed of your wounds, you would have been aroused to break off your evil habits, you would have had to pass through the trials of penitence; and, after these trials, clothed in the marriage garment, you would at last have been received into the festal room. Besides, Christians, Lent was appointed for that purpose, and we learn from the ancient councils that, during the first days of this solemn fast, the faithful were obliged to sanctify themselves, that is to say, as the Scripture expresses it, to purify themselves by confession, and in this way they prepared themselves for a worthy celebration of the Passover. If there were also any open sinners, they were made to appear on Ash Wednesday clothed in hair shirts, so as to be formally admitted, so to speak, among the penitents. Such was the custom; and there are still some churches where traces of this religious and praiseworthy discipline may be found. Moreover, as the angelic doctor, S. Thomas, remarks, these sinners were not more guilty than many of us; and the body of Jesus Christ, which they should receive, was not more holy, nor more worthy of adoration, from them than from us. But in the present day people have found out a way of cutting matters short, and, if I may make use of the expression, of getting acquitted much more cheaply.
I do not say this in support of any private opinion, and I have no need to justify myself on that point; but, in truth, my dear listeners, let us admit it to our confusion, we have much degenerated, and we are degenerating still more every day from the holiness of our faith. Of all those leading lives of sin whom I am now addressing, and who in all probability make up the majority of my audience, there are perhaps scarcely any who have made the least effort to get ready for their Easter Communion. Do I go too far, and can I be so fortunate as to be mistaken? On that festival, which is close at hand, we shall, I doubt not, see men corrupt with vice, and still buried in iniquity, men who have been dead, not four days as Lazarus was, but four months, four years, come forth in the face of the Church, full of a presumptuous confidence, and ask in the same breath to be unbound, and to be raised up, and to be admitted to the Lord’s Table. Ah, my brethren! exclaims S. Bernard, it belongs to the Lord Himself alone to accomplish such marvels: our authority and our power do not extend so far, such a miracle is above us. What then must you do? Just what those eager crowds did who went forth from Jerusalem, and who set out directly they heard of His approach, “When they heard, they went forth.” You will learn it yourselves, Christians, and I now make it known to you from Him, “Behold, the Bridegroom cometh:” yes, my brethren, He is almost at the door of your heart, and in a very few days He ought to enter into it. Do not let yourselves be taken unawares. “Go forth;” go forth, so to say, out of yourselves, out of the tumult of your passions, out of the entanglements of your wretched intrigues, out of the trouble and dissipation into which your temporal affairs drag you. Do not be like those foolish virgins who slept; but keep yourselves ready, and go to meet the Master who comes to visit you: “Go forth to meet Him.” If you have put off your preparation until to-day, after feeling shame in God’s sight on that account, do your best to make up for the time you have lost. Think both of the holiness of the action you have to perform, and of the greatness of the God whom you have to receive. To make Him a suitable triumph and one which will satisfy His wishes, do not forget to send before you the poor loaded with your liberality and your alms. There are those who are forsaken in the prisons, languishing in the hospitals, overwhelmed with shame at home: seek for them, alleviate their sufferings, and they will unite their prayers to yours. But, above all, call to mind the great lesson of the prophet contained in these words,2* “Let us come before His face with confession.” Before this God of glory comes to you, anticipate Him and gain Him by an exact and sincere confession of all the misdoings of your life. Do not wait until the moment when you must give Him the kiss of peace; your mouth would then be polluted by the impurity of your crimes. This very day, if possible, cast aside the heavy burden which oppresses you, so that your soul, free and unencumbered, may advance with quickened steps towards this Lord who condescends for your sake to come down from the throne of His majesty. What, my brother, pleads S. Chrysostom, would not you be ready to do, if you were even now told that the greatest king of the earth is coming in person to stay with you; that he hath himself, by his own private choice, wished to bestow that honour on you, and that in so doing he hath no less an intention than to ennoble you for ever, to make your fortune sure and to load you with favours; what would not you do? What care, what eagerness, what activity you would display! What do not you even do every day for a friend? and how do you treat him? These illustrations are familiar and commonplace; but that is the very reason, saith S. Chrysostom, why preachers of the Gospel ought to make use of them, because they help to impress things on men’s minds, and make the essential duties of Christianity more easy to be understood.
I say more. To receive Jesus Christ in communion, we must go before Him; but how? Like the disciples, with branches of palm and olive. From this circumstance I draw a third lesson. This is my thought. “They took,” saith S. John, “branches of palm-trees” in their hands; “others cut down branches off the trees;” but those trees were olives, since it was to that very mountain, which took its name from these trees, that the disciples went to meet the Son of God, “When He was come nigh, even now at the descent of the Mount of Olives.” What is the meaning of that? Nothing can be plainer, saith S. Augustine, than what the Holy Spirit teaches us by these two symbols: it is that neither you nor I ought to approach Jesus Christ, except we bear the palm in token of the victory that we have gained over sin, and the olive as a sign of the peace which we have concluded with God. Mark well, Christians, S. Augustine doth not say that to communicate well it is enough to have gained some advantage over the enemy, nor that we ought to be contented with having made a simple truce with him, and that it is enough if we have for a season escaped from his bondage, and have gained over him, or rather over ourselves, a reform of a few days. For that tempting spirit will not dispute with you for such a trifle, since he grants it to the most reckless; and it is a trick of his to bind them the more securely. There are few sinners so hardened but that during these holy days they curb and restrain themselves, and show the outward tokens of a Christian who is touched and converted. But that is nothing, my dear listener; that is not what Jesus Christ expects of you, nor the practical duty which is recommended to you. You have been told that to receive that God-Man, you must present yourself to Him with the palm, that is to say, after having truly, effectually, and perfectly overcome the sin which reigns in you. But you know that in this spiritual war, truces and suspensions of hostility have commonly no other effect than to strengthen your enemy more and more, to kindle your passion, and to stir up lust. You will give way then, by still more dangerous relapses, to new attacks. After an interval of liberty and false peace, you will find yourselves still more enslaved and more prone to sin than ever; and if that be the case, you are not of the number of those by whom Jesus Christ can be received in triumph. You must wear the palm, and be a conqueror: otherwise you have no right to join yourself to the band of His disciples. Why? Because you are still in fetters, and under the tyranny of the prince of this world. The fact is you must once get a fair start, and make the same effort which the Spouse of the Song of Songs made, when she said, “I will go up to the palm tree, I will take the fruit thereof.” What are these fruits? The fruits of a healthful penitence. Up to the present time, you will say, I have gathered only the leaves: I have had only the appearance, the externals, fine words, ideas, useless and profitless desires: but to day I am determined to climb higher, and I wish to gather the fruit, “I will go up to the palm tree, I will take the fruits thereof.” For a long time God hath been inviting me, and I can no longer resist Him. These fruits will not please the natural taste, but charity, whose taste is much more exquisite, will make me find in them delights which surpass all the pleasures of the senses. It is thus, I say, Christians, that you ought to act, and that you will make Jesus Christ triumph.
Lastly, the disciples stripped themselves of their garments and spread them on the path along which the Son of God was about to pass, “A very great multitude spread their garments in the way.” This is a ceremony the mystery whereof it is needless for me to explain, since you are already acquainted with it; a ceremony, which by itself teaches you, much better than I can, this great truth, that to receive the Saviour of men worthily in the sacrament of the altar, you must give up all that is called worldly superfluity, especially superfluity of dress, of attire, of ornaments, which, according to the thought of Tertullian, is a kind of idolatry and worship which you pay to the body: this, I say, you ought to give up, not for worldly reasons, but out of respect to religion. You have been told many times, ladies—and no one ought to know it better than yourselves—in God’s presence you recognize how this profane luxury is opposed to the humility of your religion, of how many sins it is the source, to how many occasions of falling it exposes you. But what I cannot understand is that with you, zealous as you are for everything which concerns true piety, so much persuasion should be required to induce you to renounce these things. What I cannot understand is, that after you have so often been remonstrated with; after the rules which S. Paul hath laid down for you—S. Paul who is the mouthpiece and interpreter of the Holy Spirit; after the urgent exhortations of the Fathers of the Church, who have treated on this point of morality, as one most important to people of your rank; after your own experience, which is better calculated to convince you than all sermons, you should still strive with God to keep these remnants of worldliness, which you cannot be made to lay aside. What astonishes me is, that after so many communions, there are always to be seen among you some who are as enamoured of that vanity, as much affected in your persons, as eager to please as the most reckless and unrestrained souls. That is what surprises me. But will this offence never cease? and will you refuse to Jesus Christ—I say to Jesus Christ, entering into your heart, such a trifling sacrifice, yet one which is so necessary and so pleasing in His eyes as that? Ah, my brethren, exclaims S. Ambrose, what an advantage for you to be able to make your God a triumph of the very things which are the subject of your irregularities! What a consolation to be able to honour Him, not only with your superfluities, but with your very vanities! You must put under the feet of Jesus Christ all that which the pride of the world invents to give itself a false splendour, and to gain itself distinction. It is thus that you will sanctify your communion, and that your communion will sanctify you. For listen what Jesus Christ will do on His part. He will come unto you like a king, but like a triumphant king, and that is what He Himself orders me to proclaim to you. “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy king cometh.” But what is that daughter of Sion? In the sense of the prophecy it is the just soul, and it is strictly in the communion that this prophecy has its fulfilment. Yes, Christians, it is then that the Son of God will make His entrance into you as a sovereign and as a king. For faith teaches us that He is a King, and, according to the express words of S. Luke, His kingdom—“the kingdom of God—is within you.” Heaven and earth are absolutely subject to Him; but it is in the heart of man, saith S. Augustine, that He is especially pleased to reign. Why? Because He looks upon it, continues this holy Doctor, as a kingdom gained by conquest. He wishes to be received into it, and to fix His abode there. But when I communicate in a state of grace, I say truly, not only that Jesus Christ is in me, but that He is in me as a Sovereign; that He reigns there, that He commands there, that He is obeyed there, that He holds all my passions in subjection under the law of His love; that He there represses my anger, that He there checks my vengeance; that He there rules over my lust; in a word, that He is my King. “Behold, thy King.”
If I were to stop at that first view which my religion gives me, I should remain paralyzed with fear, and surprised at the presence of so high a majesty; I should exclaim with S. Peter, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But this God of glory, by a wonderful contrivance of His charity, teaches me not to strain this profession of respectful diffidence, plausible as the excuse may seem. For if He come to me, it is in the character of a gracious King, full of gentleness, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek.” No, no, saith S. Chrysostom, His greatness is not a hindrance which prevents Him from identifying Himself with us, and in some manner becoming incarnate in us; and we have not grasped the first ideas of the mystery of His Body and Blood, if we be ignorant that He makes that infinite condescension minister to His greatness. His Divinity was a flood of light wherewith we should have been dazzled: so as to enable us to bear it, He hath covered it with the veil of His Humanity. His Humanity would have had too much brightness: He hath hidden it under the elements of the Sacrament, which outwardly are ordinary and simple. This Sacrament, by what it contains, might have kept us away from it: but He sets it before us as bread and wine, which ought to nourish us, and whereof we ought to partake. All that, to prove to us what He saith in the Scripture, that His delights, God though He is, are to dwell with the sons of men, and that He wishes to be our King, that He may have a right to anticipate us and to shower upon us the blessings of His gentleness, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek.” When He entered into Jerusalem, around Him was nothing but pomp and magnificence, and that magnificence was well bestowed on so great a God as He: but in His Person there was only modesty, poverty, humility. So when He cometh down upon the altar, millions of angels come down with Him to escort and accompany Him. This is not one of those pious thoughts which are based only upon conjecture. S. John Chrysostom was no weak-minded man, and he himself testifies to us that he saw these heavenly legions; that he hath seen them, I say, encircling and surrounding Jesus Christ.3* “I myself have seen crowds of angels coming down from heaven.” But yet, it is upon this same altar that the God of love veils all His splendour; it is here that He abases Himself, here that He makes Himself small and lowly, in order that we may be able more easily to have access to Him. For if He had not humbled Himself, saith S. Augustine,4† we should never have dared to take that divine nourishment nor to touch it. Ah! Lord, I perceive this, and henceforth I will render Thee all the homage which respect, obedience and gratitude constrain me to render Thee in my communion. It is only Thou who canst unite such boundless majesty with abasement so profound. If the kings of the earth only appeared in humiliation and entirely stripped of outward tokens, they could not maintain their royalty: but Thine maintains itself by itself, since Thou art King in Thyself, and Thy sovereign power is inseparable from Thy Being: “Tell ye the daughter of Sion, behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek.”
Now, Christians, let me direct your attention to that word, “Thy King cometh unto thee.” Perhaps you do not think of it; but consider the excellent gift that it refers to. It teaches you that the God-Man cometh in communion, not only to us and for us, but for us in a singular and special manner; so that if we alone in this world were capable of participating in this mystery, He would come out again from the sanctuary where He resides, and the tabernacles where He reposes, to come with all the fulness of His Divinity to take a place in our heart. And indeed, how many times hath He honoured you with that grace, when others have not presented themselves to share it? And how many times can it be said that He left the altar for you alone, and that He was borne, as it were, triumphantly in the hands of His priest: “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee?” To unfold unto you in detail all the advantages which you ought to draw from so intimate a union with Him would require a whole sermon to itself. But I should fail to take advantage of my subject, and of the most remarkable point it furnishes me for your instruction, if I did not tell you that the Saviour comes to work invisibly in our souls the same miracles which He worked visibly on men’s bodies after His entry into Jerusalem. For the Evangelist adds: “The blind and the lame came to Him and He healed them.” But this is no conjecture, it is a point of faith, that the special effect of the Holy Communion, or rather, of the presence of Jesus Christ in the Communion, is to heal our spiritual infirmities, those weaknesses, those languors, those distastes for what is good, those inclinations to evil, to which a just and converted soul may still be subject. And why should He not do it? He healed completely the most desperate sicknesses by the simple touching of His robe: can He have less virtue when He is so really and closely united to us? Yes, Christians, He wishes to heal those traces of corruption that sin, although blotted out by penitence, hath left in your heart; and if you do not hinder His working, He will accomplish in you marvels which will edify the whole Church, and will surprise you yourselves. However violent and hasty you may be, He will make you gentle and moderate; however sensual and fond of pleasure, He will make you forbearing and self-controlled; however vain and ambitious, He will make you humble and submissive; in short, He will transform you into other men. Let us come then to Him, my brethren; let us come to make known to Him all the wounds of our souls, and to say to Him, as the prophet said: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.” Lord, Thou seest in what state I am, attacked with many evils: but heal me, and I shall begin to enjoy perfect health. I am blind, enlighten me; I am fickle, make me steadfast; I am weak, strengthen me. Only Thou, O my God! canst work this miracle; and every other healing, which cometh not from Thy hand, would only be an apparent healing: “Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed.” You must then strive for that yourselves: but, to strive effectually, Lord, it is enough that Thou speakest one word. “Speak the word only,” that word of grace, “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation,” and it will be saved. He will do it, Christians, He will save you. But now, after having given you the idea of a good communion in the manner in which the disciples received the Son of God, let me also set before you the idea of a bad communion in the manner in which He was received by the Scribes and Pharisees. That is the second part.
II. If the prophecy of Simeon was ever accomplished in the person of the Saviour, so that the God-Man, who is at once a source of division and of blessing among men, hath been at the same time the resurrection of some and the ruin of others, we might say, Christians, that it is especially in the mystery of this day, or rather in what is represented to us in the mystery of this day; namely, in the extreme antagonism which appears between the communion of the just and the communion of sinners. Can we indeed picture to ourselves anything more holy than this triumph in which I have just represented to you the Son of God, blessed by a whole nation and blessing a whole nation, receiving honour and conferring favours, recognized as the Lord’s Messiah and as Himself Lord, acting in that twofold character, working miracles, converting souls, healing the sick, raising the dead? In that you see the first part of the prediction fulfilled; and it is also the type of the communion of the faithful, who in a state of grace partake of the Body of Jesus Christ. But look, on the other hand, at the sad type of an unworthy and sacrilegious communion in the way the Pharisees and their partisans received the Saviour, when He entered into Jerusalem; and by all the circumstances which I am going to point out to you, judge if the fulfilment have not completely answered to the prophecy: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against.” For in the first place the Pharisees and those of their faction receive the Saviour of the world to-day only by a kind of hypocrisy, by dissimulation, and on account of some necessity which compels them to do so; they receive Him on account of fear, or because of the opinion of others. If they had had it in their power to forbid Him ever entering into their town, that is what they would have liked to do; but the Evangelist observes, “they feared the people:” and that is the reason why, in spite of themselves, they joined the bands of disciples, and outwardly conformed with them. Secondly, as soon as Jesus Christ appeared in Jerusalem, they began to form plots against Him, they conspired together to take away His life, and took steps to get rid of Him; for it was on that day they assembled the detestable council, in which the death of Jesus, after much deliberation, was at length determined upon. Thirdly, they contradict His miracles, however incontestable, however glorious; they shut their eyes so as not to recognize them; far from being touched by them, they show indignation at them: “When the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did … they were sore displeased.” It is thus they received the Son of God: and how did the Son of God come to them? Ah, Christians! mark it well. At the sight of these infidels Jesus Christ was filled with grief, and shed tears: “When He was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it;” for the latter part of the mystery shows all this. He enters no longer as a gracious king as regards them; but as a terrible enemy, because they despised His grace; He comes to be the cause of their rejection and of the destruction of their city: “they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another;” why? “because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation,” wherein thy God hath visited thee. In short, He enters to exercise already on the Pharisees the severity of His justice, condemning them beforehand, and pronouncing against them that terrible sentence: “I say unto you that the stones will cry out,” the stones of the Temple will one day bear witness against you. What a similarity there is in this to the communion of sinners! Permit me to add a few words of application.
For that which these Pharisees and ministers of the synagogue did, is just what certain sinners do now, who, through policy and fear of the people, receive the Saviour of the world—sinners who are hardened in sin and by no means disposed to renounce it, but who nevertheless wish to keep up the appearance and externals of religion; men who at heart are enemies of Jesus Christ, but who dare not admit it to others, and who shut their eyes sometimes so as to hide it from themselves. They would be well content never to communicate, but they are pledged to do so by their condition and state, and do not know how to set aside these obligations. One man is a magistrate, and the offence which he would cause would fall upon himself; another is a father, and he would certainly be the subject of remark; another is a lady of rank, who would injure her reputation; another is a churchman who would lose respect and be counted a careless liver. They must guard against these consequences, and to that end present themselves, like others, at the table of the faithful, at least during this holy season. Otherwise they would meet with a clergyman who, to satisfy his ministerial obligation, would rise up against them, speak with, mark, and rebuke them: and that is a thing they do not wish to draw down upon themselves. Bold enough to shake off the yoke of the fear of God, they have not enough courage to free themselves from the fear of man. So they make up their mind, to do what?—to communicate; but how? By a kind of constraint: “for they fear the people.”
You can judge from this, Christians, what is the general accompaniment of such communions: at the very moment when these lost and impious men receive the sacrament of Jesus Christ, they set themselves against Him in their hearts; they form plans to satisfy their brutal passions, and the day of their communion becomes for them a day of excess and debauchery. You see, my dear listeners, what is the consequence; and it is better to tell you it to give you a horror of it than to be silent about it, while you are exposed to the contagion of that impiety. Every day other disorders are preached against, but not this; yet it is this nevertheless which directly attacks religion. Light imperfections, which are remarked in the devout souls which frequent the sacraments, are insisted on; but scarcely anything is said about the sacrilegious Christians who profane the Body of Jesus Christ; yet against them that evangelic zeal ought to be directed. If from time to time the wretchedness of their state were put before them, perhaps at last they would become aware of it; and sharp, but healthful remonstrances would awaken them from their drowsiness.
Besides, do not expect that God will work miracles for their sake, since they oppose to these miracles an almost invincible obstacle. For after the example of the Pharisees, and as a last feature of resemblance, they treat all these miracles as illusions: and when we tell them that a communion well made is capable of healing them of their weaknesses, they mock at the statement, and only reply by cutting and unseemly raillery. There is but one miracle which the Communion accomplishes in them, and which they cannot hinder. But what is that miracle? Ah, Christians! it is that this Sacrament, which ought to be for them a source of light, serves only to blind them; it is that this Sacrament, which ought to be for them a means of conversion, only serves to harden them; it is that this Sacrament of life becomes for them a Sacrament of death, of death eternal. I have, therefore, no difficulty in understanding why the Son of God only came to them in tears: “He beheld the city, and wept over it.” How could He help weeping? He sees that the same Sacrament which He hath instituted for the sanctification of souls, is going to cause their reprobation. He sees that these sinners, whom He would have saved, instead of taking advantage of this most excellent gift, and of the visit of their God, are going to draw upon themselves, as well as on Jerusalem, all the wrath of Heaven and its terrible vengeance. Is there a subject more deserving of His tears? “He beheld the city, and wept over it.”