Photo: Felix Carroll
The Very Rev. Daniel Cambra, MIC, celebrates the "sum and summit" of our faith — Holy Mass — at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
By Dr. Robert Stackpole, STD (Dec 17, 2008)
As we saw last week, St. Faustina was filled with wonder and awe at the Real Presence of the Merciful Jesus in the tabernacle. In fact, she was so overwhelmed by His love for her in the Blessed Sacrament that she penned what has to be one of the most beautiful prayers ever written in praise of Jesus in the tabernacle. You can find it in her Diary, entry 80. It's a wonderful prayer that anyone can use during their times of Eucharistic adoration:
O Jesus, Divine Prisoner of Love, when I consider Your love, and how You emptied Yourself for me, my senses fail me. You hide Your inconceivable majesty and lower Yourself to miserable me. O King of Glory, though You hide Your beauty, yet the eye of my soul rends the veil. I see the angelic choirs giving You honor without cease, and all the heavenly powers praising You without cease, and without cease they are saying: Holy, Holy, Holy.
Oh, who will comprehend Your love and Your unfathomable mercy toward us! O Prisoner of Love, I lock up my poor heart in this tabernacle that it may adore You without cease night and day. I know of no obstacle in this adoration, and even though I be physically distant, my heart is always with You. Nothing can put a stop to my love for You. No obstacles exist for me. ...
It is interesting that St. Faustina hears the angelic choirs praising the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament by singing "Holy, Holy, Holy," for that is the formula of praise used by the angels in the Old Testament book of Isaiah to praise and glorify the Holy Trinity (Is 6:3) — and this brings us to another mystery of Divine Mercy in the Holy Eucharist. Simply put: The Eucharist does not just unite us with the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity. Rather, the Eucharist unites us, through the Son, with the Father and the Holy Spirit as well.
After all, when Jesus becomes present for us in the Blessed Sacrament, He does not abandon His divine Sonship and leave His Father and the Holy Spirit behind in heaven! Saint Faustina learned this herself one day during Holy Mass. She heard an angel singing "Holy, Holy, Holy" at the elevation of the Host, and suddenly this mystery became more clear to her. She wrote:
I knew more distinctly than ever before the Three Divine Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But their being, their equality, and their majesty are one. My soul is in communion with these Three; but I do not know how to express this in words; yet my soul understands this well. Whoever is united to One of the Three Persons is thereby united to the whole Blessed Trinity, for this Oneness is indivisible (Diary, 472).
We find this same truth expressed by the Church's magisterium at the Second Vatican Council in its "Decree on Ecumenism." The Council Fathers said that in the celebration of the Eucharist we "gain access to the Father by the Son ... and enter into communion with the Holy Trinity." To put it another way, it is impossible to be united with the Son of God in Holy Communion without being drawn into the embrace of the heavenly Father, for the Son Himself is eternally in the embrace of the Father. And if we are united with the Father through the Son, in Holy Communion, then we must be united with the Holy Spirit, too, for the Holy Spirit is the eternal bond of love between the Father and the Son. By receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, therefore, we are being ushered by the Son of God into the very inner life of the Blessed Trinity Himself, what C.S. Lewis once called the eternal "dance" of love between the Father, His Beloved Son, and their eternal Spirit of Love.
On one occasion, St. Faustina had this truth dramatically impressed upon her soul immediately after receiving the Sacrament:
Once after Holy Communion, I heard these words: You are Our dwelling place. At that moment I felt in My soul the presence of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I felt that I was the temple of God. I felt that I was a child of the Father. I cannot explain all this, but the Spirit understands it well (Diary, 451).
I want to go back now to that prayer by St. Faustina recorded in her Diary, entry 80, in praise of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It holds the key to yet another mystery of Divine Mercy in the Mass. She wrote:
O King of Glory, though You hide Your beauty, yet the eye of my soul rends the veil. I see the angelic choirs giving You honor without cease, and all the heavenly powers praising You without cease, and without cease they are saying: Holy, Holy, Holy.
What Faustina saw was all the heavenly powers, all the angelic choirs, all the blessed saints surrounding Jesus in His Eucharistic presence, and praising and glorifying Him forever. In other words, what she saw is that when Jesus comes to us in the Holy Eucharist, He never comes alone! The whole company of heaven comes with Him, too! After all, when He makes Himself miraculously present for us under the outer signs of bread and wine, He does not leave heaven behind in order to do so. Remember the statement we quoted last week by Pope Paul VI about the Blessed Sacrament: "It is our very sweet duty to honor and adore in the blessed Host which our eyes see, the Incarnate Word whom they cannot see, and who, without leaving heaven, is made present for us." So, if Jesus becomes present for us in a special way in the Eucharistic elements, yet "without leaving heaven," then all those who are with Him in heaven must in some way be present with Him also at the Holy Eucharist. I mean, of course, the angels who adore Him, the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints who glorify Him, all those who have finished the race, who "fought the good fight," and who now rest with Him in eternal light, awaiting the glorious resurrection on the Last day. Even the English word we use for the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist conveys a hint of this double meaning: We call it the consecrated "Host." Jesus is indeed the "Host" of the Eucharistic banquet, but He comes to us with all the hosts of heaven at His side! Every Eucharist unites us not only with the King of Heaven, but in a mysterious way with the whole Kingdom of Heaven too; "Holy Communion" with Jesus brings us into the whole "communion of saints."
This is the reason why Catholic churches in the West traditionally have statues of the apostles and the saints set in a "reredos" behind the altar, and why Eastern Orthodox churches traditionally have an icon screen (iconostasis) covered with holy images of the angels and saints between the nave of the church building and the altar. The message these church buildings were trying to convey was not hard to figure out: When you come to Holy Communion, you are coming to the border between heaven and earth, and Jesus Christ is there, with His Blessed Mother and all the angels and saints to worship with you and to pray for you.
Then St. Faustina speaks of one more incredible mystery of Divine Mercy in the Mass in that same prayer in her Diary, entry 80:
O Prisoner of Love, I lock up my poor heart in this tabernacle that it may adore You without cease night and day. I know of no obstacle in this adoration, and even though I be physically distant, my heart is always with You. Nothing can put a stop to my love for You. No obstacles exist for me.
Saint Faustina knew very well that she could not remain praying before her beloved Jesus in the tabernacle 24 hours a day, and yet here she tells us that even if she has to be physically distant from Him her "heart" is always with him. "Nothing can put a stop to my love for You," she writes, "no obstacles exist for me." Not even obstacles of time and space, it would seem, can keep her from being united with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, not even for one moment!
Now, how can this possibly be true? How could a person enjoy a never-ending sacramental communion with Jesus Christ. After all, no one can stay in church all day and night and continue receiving Him in the Eucharist round the clock!
Well, one way a person might remain perpetually united with Jesus in the Eucharist is simply by having in one's heart a pure and overwhelming desire to be continually united to Him there. In fact, Jesus has told a number of His saints that He looks not so much on what we can do for Him in His service, or even what we are capable of doing. What matters to Him most is the purity and intensity of our desire to love Him. If we truly desire to love Him in a way that is, physically and practically speaking, impossible, still, He takes our pure desire to serve Him as the equivalent of the accomplished deed and rewards us accordingly. For example, I think it was St. Gertrude the Great who saw in one of her visions that St. Dominic had attained a very high place in heaven. When she asked our Lord about this, Jesus explained to her that during his lifetime St. Dominic carried in his heart such a pure and intense desire for the conversion of the whole world that Jesus accepted that loving desire from Dominic as if he had actually achieved that (humanly speaking) impossible task, and our lord exalted him in heaven accordingly. Similarly, if there is a soul who ardently longs to be continually united with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, then Jesus takes that pure desire as equivalent to the accomplished deed, and He pours into that soul all the graces of Holy Communion at every moment.
Perhaps that is why St. Faustina could write in all honesty and sincerity these astonishing words in her Diary, entry 1302:
Today I have come to understand many of God's mysteries. I have come to know that Holy Communion remains in me until the next Holy Communion. A vivid and clearly felt presence of God continues in my soul. The awareness of this plunges me into deep recollection, without the slightest effort on my part. My heart is a living tabernacle in which the living Host is reserved.
Not many of us have attained that degree of pure and loving desire for the Eucharistic Jesus! Nevertheless, as we grow in our love for Him, we can always commune with Him in another Eucharistic way, enjoying all the graces of Holy Communion even on those days when we are not physically able to receive Him. This is what is called in the Catholic tradition the practice of making a "spiritual communion." The saints, such as St. Maximillian Kolbe, encourage us to make spiritual communions throughout the day. It is a great way to increase the intensity of our desire to be united with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, if our intentions are good, and our hearts are free from attachment to sin, then we can actually receive all the graces of Holy Communion in such a spiritual communion.
Whenever you make a spiritual communion, you can use this famous prayer of St. Alphonsus Liguori to guide you. Why not make it a practice to make a spiritual communion at least once a day, in preparation for the great Mass of the Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas, that will be here before you know it!
My Jesus, I believe that Thou art present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. I love Thee above all things, and I desire to receive Thee into my soul. Since I cannot now receive Thee sacramentally, come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace Thee as if Thou wert already come, and unite myself wholly to Thee. Never permit me to be separated from Thee. Amen.
To be continued next week.
Dr. Stackpole would specially like to thank Vinny Flynn, who taught him many of these truths about the Eucharist and Divine Mercy many years ago, and whose extended reflections on this subject are now published by Ignatius Press in his book 7 Secrets of the Eucharist, available for purchase from the Marian Helper's Center. Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press). Got a question? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.