Consider first, that those heavenly mysteries which we celebrate in the sacrifice of the altar, and the real presence of Jesus Christ the Son of God, whom we believe to be truly there both as priest and victim, require that we should assist thereat with all possible devotion, but especially with a lively faith, a love for that Lamb of God who there offers himself in sacrifice for us. The servants of God have sometimes seen angels assisting round the altar and adoring their Lord - open thou thy eyes, my soul, as often as thou art present at the sacred mysteries, to contemplate with a lively faith this Lord of angels upon our altars, accompanied with these heavenly spirits, and see thou worship him there with that awful reverence and tender affection which his infinite majesty and his infinite love for thee require at thy hands. Reflect on that profound respect with which the people of God in ancient times reverenced the sanctuary in which the ark of the covenant was deposited, so that no one but the high priest, and he but once a year, was allowed to enter within the veil. O how much more profoundly oughtest thou to reverence this true sanctuary of God, and the Lord himself of the covenant, present in our tremendous mysteries.
Consider 2ndly, that as this sacrifice has an especial relation to the passion and death of the Son of God, in such manner as to be in effect the same sacrifice, the same victim, and the same priest, so the devotion with which we are to assist at the altar should have a particular relation to the sufferings of Jesus Christ. As our Saviour himself here officiates in person, and acts as in a sacred tragedy his whole passion and death, we ought to accompany him in this action with suitable affection and devotion. Had we been present, with a true belief in him, when he was offering upon the cross the sacrifice of our redemption, with what sentiments of love and gratitude, with what deep sense of sorrow and repentance for our sins, with what fervour of devotion should we have waited upon him there, meditating upon his infinite goodness and love for us, manifested in his passion, and on the heinous enormity of our sins, which could not be expiated but with his sacred blood? With the like sentiments of devotion ought we to assist at this solemn memorial and representation of his passion in the eucharistic sacrifice.
Consider 3rdly, that as often as we assist at this sacrifice we are not only to commemorate by meditation the passion and death of the Son of God, but also to take along with us as it were to God the Father his Son slain for us, and his precious blood shed for us, and this in such a manner as to offer up ourselves also to him, with the whole church, which is the mystical body of his Son by his hands, and in union with the offering which he, who is our head, there makes of himself. We are also at the same time to join our intentions with his, as he is our chief priest and principal offerer, and with those of the whole people of God, according to the four great ends of the sacrifice, going as it were in a body, with Christ Jesus at our head; and with him we are to offer adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to God, and to pray and beg mercy through him both for ourselves and for all the world. Thus the whole church of God daily joins herself with Christ Jesus her head, both as the offerer and the offering, in these divine mysteries.
Conclude with a resolution of doing thy best to assist daily at this great sacrifice with a suitable devotion. Go thither in the same spirit as if thou wert going to mount Calvary to contemplate there thy divine redeemer offering himself a bleeding sacrifice for the sins of the world. And see thou remember to join thy offering of thyself by both his hands with the offering he there makes of himself, and thy intentions with his intentions.
Consider first, that next to the consecration, in which consist the very essence of the sacrifice of the altar - inasmuch as the body and blood of Christ are thereby exhibited, and presented to God for all the four ends of sacrifice - the principal part is the Communion. Now all the assistants ought to join with the priest in offering up by his hands, and by the hands of the invisible high priest, Christ Jesus, this most holy sacrifice for all those great ends; so it were to be wished that all would join with him in the Communion also - at least by making a spiritual communion as often as they hear Mass. This spiritual communion, when made with proper devotion, brings Jesus Christ into our souls in spirit, so that, though we do not receive verily and indeed his body and blood, we partake plentifully of his heavenly grace, and unite ourselves in spirit to him who is the foundation of all grace. O let us continually aspire after this union of grace and love.
Consider 2ndly, that in order to make this spiritual communion with fruit, we must be in the state of grace: Jesus Christ will not unite himself to a soul in which Satan dwells. Then we must invite our Lord into our inward house: 1. By a lively faith of his real presence on our altars, of what he is, of what he has done and suffered for the love of us, and what those treasures are which he carries about with him in this sacrament and which he desires to impart to us. 2. By an ardent desire, in the way of hunger and thirst after this life-giving food. 3. By a profound humility, in the acknowledgment of our great unworthiness to receive him sacramentally, and bewailing our manifold sins in his presence. And lastly, by inflamed affections of love, offering our whole selves to him, and pressing him to come and take full possession of our souls for time and eternity. Such devotion as this will not fail to bring him to us, and engage him to open his heavenly treasures in our favour.
Consider 3rdly, that a spiritual communion may be made with fruit to the soul, not only as often as we assist at the sacrifice of the altar, but also at any other hour we please, either of the day or night, and this by sighing after Jesus Christ, by inviting him into our souls, by offering our whole souls to him, by embracing him and loving him with all our power. For he loves all them that love him, he is quickly found by all that seek him, and gives himself to all that give themselves to him. O happy exchange! Give then thyself, my soul, at all times, to this thy true lover, to this thy sovereign and infinite good, and he will communicate himself to thee. This kind of communion is not tied to time or place, but will bring thy God to thee whenever thou pleasest, and what canst thou receive or desire either greater or better?
Conclude to make a spiritual communion every day of thy life, and even to repeat it often in the day, the oftener the better. This frequent repetition of acts of faith, love, and desire will unite thee to thy sovereign good, so that he will live in thee, and thou in him.
Consider first, the infinite goodness of God, who not content with instituting in our favour the sacrament of baptism, for the forgiveness of all forgoing sins, and to give a new birth to our souls, to make us his children; the sacrament of confirmation, to give us the Holy Ghost in our souls, to make us strong and perfect Christians and soldiers of Christ; and the sacrament of the blessed Eucharist, to feed and nourish our souls to everlasting life, with the body and blood of Christ; has also considered our frailty and misery, (by which we are so unhappily liable to lose the grace of our baptism, and to fall away from him by sin,) in the institution of the sacrament of penance, for the forgiveness of the sins we fall into after baptism - as a plank by which we may still escape to the happy shore of eternal life, after having by mortal sin suffered shipwreck, and lost the treasures of baptismal grace and innocence. Embrace, O my soul, this infinite goodness of thy God; adore, praise, and give thanks to thy Saviour, for this his merciful institution. Alas! what must have become of thee, after so many sins, if he had not ordained for thee this wholesome bath, of easy access, to wash away, with his own most precious blood, those strains of thine which otherwise must have been the eternal fuel of hell's merciless flames.
Consider 2ndly, what this sacrament of penance is, and of what extensive virtue and efficacy. We have the account of the institution of it, St. John xx. 21, 22, 23, where he, to whom 'all power is given in heaven and earth,' was pleased to impart one branch of this power to his apostles and their lawful successors in the ministry, in thee words 'As the Father hath sent me, I also send you: Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them, and whose sins you shall retain they are retained.' This absolution of penitent sinners we call the sacrament of penance. and a sacrament it is: because it is an outward sign of inward grace, even of the grace of the remission of our sins, by virtue of the institution of Jesus Christ, ascertained in the ample commission above rehearsed. A commission that comes to the church stamped with the broad seal of heaven, from him that has in his hands the whole power of heaven; a commission that is not restrained as to time or place, nor makes exception of any sin whatsoever, provided the sinner applies with proper dispositions to the power of the keys, granted by Christ to his church, Matt. xvi. O how rich art thou, O Lord, in mercy! O! how true it is that thy tender mercies to us are above all thy works! The angels committed but one sin, and that it thought only, and they were cast off, and condemned for ever, without being allowed either time or grace to repent, or any means of forgiveness or reconciliation; we sin again and again, and thou hast still a mercy in store for us, in this sacrament of reconciliation. O may all heaven and earth give glory to thee for ever, for the wonders o thy goodness and thy love for us.
Consider 3rdly, that the sacrament of penance, besides the absolution given by the minister of Christ in his name and by his authority, requires also, on the part of the sinner, contrition, confession, and satisfaction; at least in desire: the absolution pronounced by the priest will have no effect, it will only serve to the sinner's greater condemnation without those three necessary ingredients of this sacrament. Contrition is a hearty sorrow for having offended so good a God, with a full determination, by the help of is grace, not to be guilty of the like for the future. Confession is a full and sincere accusation of ourselves, as to the kind and number of our sins, to the pastors of the church, who have received from Christ the charge of our souls. Satisfaction is a faithful performance of the penance enjoined by them for our sins. Christians, see upon what articles you are to be admitted to a reconciliation with your Father, after you have gone away from him by sin. You must renounce, by sincere contrition, the husks of swine which you have unhappily preferred before him. You must humble yourselves by a sincere and sorrowful confession to his vicegerents, of your past errors and disloyalties. and you must offer yourselves to make all the satisfaction that lies in your power, and then he will receive you with open arms, as he did the prodigal son, St. Luke xv.
Conclude to set a great value upon this sacred institution, and to have a speedy recourse to it whenever you find you have fallen into sin. But see it be with due disposition.
Consider first, that God always expected from sinners an humble confession of their sins. This he prescribed in the Old Law, Numb. v. 6, 7.
'When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty, then they shall confess their sin which they have done,'
&c. This he ordained in the New Law by the
very institution of the sacrament of penance, which necessarily includes or presupposes confession. This was signified by the ordinance of the law, Levit. xiii., xiv., prescribing that such as were infected with the leprosy, which was a figure of sin, should show themselves to the priests and be under their inspection and direction. This was practised by the people that came to St. John the Baptist, St. Matt. iii. 6, and by the primitive Christians and disciples of the apostles, Acts xix. 18, and St. James v. 16. this was always insisted upon in the church of God. And surely nothing could be more just, than that the sinner should submit to this little humiliation, as some small atonement for the pride and presumption by which he had rebelled against his God.
Consider 2ndly, the many advantages the soul receives from the Catholic practice of humbly confessing our sins to the ministers of Christ, whom he has bound by all laws to a perpetual and indispensable secrecy. It procures us proper medicines and prescriptions for all our spiritual maladies, which we here lay open to the physician of the soul; it furnishes us with council in our doubts, comfort in our sorrows, and remedies against temptations; it gives present ease to the wounded conscience; it rectifies our errors, enlightens our ignorance, restrains our passions; it gives new strength of resolution and courage to do better for the time to come; and, what is one of its greatest advantages, it humbles the soul, and teaches us to know and to despise ourselves. O what blessings are entailed upon this sacred institution of confession! O how much do these outbalance the momentary confusion that may accompany the declaration of our sins!
Consider 3rdly, that the principal advantage of an humble and sorrowful confession of our sins is, that it is the means of divine appointment for obtaining the absolution and remission of all our transgressions, and reinstating us in God's favour and grace, and this by virtue of the commission given by Jesus Christ 'whatsoever they should bind upon earth, should be bound also in heaven; and that whatsoever they should loose upon earth, should be loosed also in heaven,' St. Matt. xviii. 18. O! how happy would that criminal account himself who should be allowed to escape the hand of human justice by a sorrowful acknowledgment of all his crimes in secret to his judge, or to one appointed by his judge! But how much more happy is the penitent Christian, when by a humble confession of all his sins, with a sincere repentance, to the minister of Jesus Christ, he is assured of being delivered, not out of the hands of men that can only kill the body and then can do no more, but out of the hands of the living God, who otherwise will cast both body and soul into hell - and not only of being delivered out of the hand of divine justice, but of being received into the arms of his loving kindness, and made once more a friend and a child of God, and an heir of his eternal kingdom.
Conclude by giving thanks to the divine bounty, for having ordained for us this easy means of reconciliation after sin, and annexed so many graces and blessings to it. But beware of abusing this most wholesome and sacred institution, by making it an occasion of sinning more freely, or by using it only as a thing of course, or as an empty ceremony, without any true change of heart.
Consider first, how just it is, that we should show particular honour and veneration to this saint, of whom our Saviour tells us, St. Matt. xi 18, 'That there hath not risen among them that are born of women, a greater than John the Baptist. He was a burning and a shining light,'
St. John v. 35. 'The special friend of the bridegroom,' chap. iii. 29. 'The angel sent before his face to prepare his way,' St. Matt. xi. 10. 'A prophet and more than a prophet,' v. 9. An apostle 'sent from god for a witness to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him,'
St. John i. 6, 7. A martyr, in laying down his life for justice and truth. A hermit, in retiring from his childhood into the deserts, and there consecrating his days and nights to the exercises of devotion and self-denial. A zealous preacher of penance, to reclaim sinners from their evil ways, and to prepare them for Christ. a virgin by the perpetual purity of his life. See here, Christians, what we have to honour in this great saint; what we have to embrace and love in him, and what lessons we are to learn from him.
Consider 2ndly, that, in other saints, the church honours the day of their departure out of this transitory life, which she celebrates as their birthday; because on that day they passed from their dying here below, to their true life with God above, and are happily born there, where they shall never die. But in St. John Baptist we honour also the day of his birth into this mortal life, by reason of his being sanctified in his mother's womb, and of the wonders which accompanied his birth, which was to the world, sitting till then in darkness and in the shades of death, like the first dawning of the new daylight, which the Son of God, whose forerunner he was, was coming to bring amongst us. Therefore we rejoice in his nativity, as an angel foretold, Luke i. 14, and glorify the author of all these wonders, by celebrating, with love and gratitude, this birth of St. John, as a prelude of our redemption. See, my soul, if these be thy dispositions of this day.
Consider 3rdly, that St. John was saint from his birth; he always preserved his innocence, and wholly dedicated himself, from his very childhood, to the love and service of his maker. To this end he retired, when very young, to the wilderness, to fly the corruptions and distractions of the world: 'The child grew,' says St. Luke, ch. i. 80, 'and was strengthened in spirit, and was in the deserts until the day of his manifestation to Israel.' Happy they that wholly consecrate themselves, from their tender years, to divine love! 'O! how good it is for a man, when he hath borne the sweet yoke of the Lord from his youth,' Lament. iii. 27. O my soul, that we had been so happy! Let us begin now at least, and, from this moment, let us dedicate ourselves to be servants of divine love henceforth and for ever.
Conclude if thou desirest to imitate the early piety and innocence of St. John to follow him, as much as possible, into the wilderness; by retiring at least from the wicked ways of the world, from the infected air of the world; from the company and conversation of the slaves of the world; from the dangerous pastimes of worldlings, and from all the occasions of sin, so common in the world. and especially take care to make a private cell for thyself in thy own interior; and to keep thyself there, by inward recollection, in a holy solitude with thy God!
Consider first, that the design of keeping the festivals of the saints is not only to honour God in his saints, and to give him thanks for the grace and glory bestowed upon them through Jesus Christ, but also to encourage the faithful to an imitation of their virtues, in hopes of arriving one day at their blessed company, by walking in their footsteps. If then we desire to keep the festival of St. John in a suitable manner, we must endeavour to learn the lessons he teaches by his great example. His whole life in the desert was one continued exercise of prayer and mortification; these are the lessons that all Christians must, in some measure, learn, that desire to come to the eternal society of the saints. If our daily occupations, if human frailty will not allow us to have that continual attention to God which St. John had, at least we must frequently and fervently aspire after him, in the midst of all our other employment, and give every day a regular and competent time to the holy exercise of prayer. If we cannot think of bringing ourselves to such hard diet, clothing, and lodging as his was, at least we must daily retrench superfluities in eating, drinking, clothing, sleep, and unnecessary diversions; we must mortify our vanity, curiosity, and sensuality, and learn on many occasions to renounce our own will, to give up our own humours, and to contradict our darling inclinations.
Consider 2ndly, the humility of St. John, how mean an opinion he had of himself, how little regard he had for the esteem and applause of the world; how he freely and openly professed to the people, who had the highest opinion of him, that he was neither Christ, nor Elias, nor a prophet, but only 'a voice of one crying in the wilderness,' &c., and unworthy of doing the meanest office for him that was to follow him; how glad he was when he saw himself decrease in the opinion of the world, and his glory eclipsed by the preaching and miracles of Jesus Christ. O blessed humility which alone art capable of making any one great before the Lord! All other virtues are grounded on thee - without thee they degenerate into vices. Christians, let us study well this most necessary lesson.
Consider 3rdly, the zeal of St. John for the glory of God, and his constancy in maintaining justice and truth, without respect of persons, even to the laying down his life in the cause. He was not 'a reed shaken with the wind:' he knew not what it was to flatter worldlings in their evil ways, or to comply through human respects, with anything contrary to conscience; he would not call evil good nor good evil. He zealously preached to sinners, of all degrees and conditions, the necessity of effectually renouncing their evil ways, and bringing forth worthy fruits of penance; he denounced the heavy judgments of God to the impenitent, and encouraged the penitent with the prospect of mercy. Christians, let us attend to these lessons which the Baptist so strongly inculcated both by word and work. The God whom we worship is the sovereign justice and the sovereign truth. If then we would be Christians indeed, we ought, like St. John, be willing to lay down our very lives rather than to offend against justice and truth.
Conclude to walk in the footsteps of St. John, and they will bring thee to Christ. He was sent to prepare the people for him, and to direct them to him; attend to his preaching and to his example, and he will do this good office for thee.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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