Rorate Caeli

Easter duty: Are you ready to receive the King?
A Sermon by Bp. Massillon

The oracles of the prophets, the manifestations of the Lord to the patriarchs, the sacrifices and oblations of the law, together with its mysterious signs and figures, announced to the unfaithful Jerusalem, during the space of several ages, that her Deliverer and her King would visit her in the fulness of time, and be seen in the midst of his people. At length the Precursor appeared, and by the command of God announced his arrival.

These happy tidings, so far from being the subject of universal joy to this ungrateful city, occasioned a general uneasiness and alarm. At the triumphal entry of the Son of David, the whole city was in commotion; the priests and pharisees were agitated by fear, jealousy, and rage; only a few simple and pious souls went forth to meet him, and formed a harmless triumph by their acclamations of joy, and by the palm-branches which they strewed before him to adorn his entrance.

In the same manner is the Lord received by Christians at the present time. From the beginning of this holy season [of Lent], the Church has incessantly admonished you that the King of Glory would come, and be himself your passover. On this day, in order to inflame your ardour, she announces that he is near at hand: tell ye the daughters of Sion, behold thy King cometh.

But, my beloved, what are the impressions which these happy tidings create in your souls? Are they impressions of fear and sadness? Are you sorrowful at the thought of your Easter duty? These, at least, are the impressions which are made on the generality of Christians. A few pious souls only will welcome him with salutations of gladness and love. The law, however, is obligatory on all. Every one is summoned, and commanded to go forth to meet him; and, probably, not an individual in this assembly will refuse to obey.

What, therefore, are your dispositions? This is a question of the utmost importance; for on them depends the worthy reception, or the profanation of the most tremendous mysteries of the Deity. This, I say, is a question of the utmost importance, and I entreat you, as you value your salvation, not only to favour me with your attention, but to endeavour with the utmost solicitude to acquire the dispositions for a Worthy communion, which will be displayed before you in this discourse.

Let a man prove himself, says the apostle, and so let him eat of that bread, 1 Cor. xi. 28.; or in other words, let a man prove himself, and examine, first, whether he be truly converted from the error of his ways; secondly, whether he has reduced his passions into subjection, and commenced a course of penitential atonement; thirdly, whether he be animated with an ardent and sincere desire of being united to Jesus Christ in the holy communion. This is the triple proof, by which alone the Christian can certify whether he be properly disposed to receive his Lord at the approaching solemnity.

1. In the first place, therefore, my beloved brethren, have you given proof that you are truly and sincerely determined to forsake the ways of iniquity?


This is an indispensable point. If you are not thus disposed, you still continue in the shades of sin and death, and consequently the table of the Lord is forbidden you; for the holy communion is the bread of life; the soul must be alive in the sight of God, in order to be capacitated to receive it; it is the table of the children of God, his enemies are strictly charged not to approach it; it is the precious pearl mentioned in the gospel, it must not be cast before the unclean.

Question yourselves, my beloved, on this subject. Examine the state of your souls. Have you removed every defilement of sin? Are you truly penitent and contrite? Is it probable that your reformation will be permanent and Complete?

In order to proceed regularly in this investigation, let us enter into particulars. I will suppose that you have scrutinized the affections of your hearts in their innermost recesses, and that you have made an entire confession of all your sins: but have you reduced your passions into order? Have you renounced your criminal habits ? I will suppose that you were regularly absolved by your director; but was the absolution ratified in heaven? Were you truly justified? With what sentiments were you animated? Did you feel the fervour of compunction and sorrow? Were you sincerely desirous of atoning for the past? Did you form; real and effective resolutions to begin a new life? Had you determined on proper expedients for breaking off your criminal engagements, and removing yourselves from the occasions of sin? Had you planned in your mind the duties, the occupations, the connections, the whole detail of the moral conduct which ought to be embraced, in order to ensure your perseverance?

These are the cares, these are the solicitudes, which, for a length of time beforehand, engross the whole attention of the man who is sincerely resolved on a change of life. By this you may know whether the conclusion of your dissipated life is at hand; and whether our Lord, when he enters the house of your souls, will address you, as he formerly addressed Zacheus, with these words: This day salvation is come to this house, Luke xix. 9.

But is this the description of your state? Ah! perhaps there is reason to apprehend that your disorders maintained their influence in your souls to the yery day of your repentance; that hardly any interval existed between your iniquities and the confession of  them; that, after communion, you will return to your former ways; that you will take no greater precautions against sin than you did before; that your illicit connections will continue; and that your tepidity, your spirit of detraction and immortification, will be as prevalent as ever.

This is what too many have always hitherto experienced after the paschal solemnity. And if you have experienced the same, can you suppose that you succeeded, and succeeded so repeatedly, in perfecting the great work of justification, during that short period which intervened between your former crimes and your relapses? And that you approached to the altar with that penitent heart, that purity of soul, which is required for a worthy participation of the Lamb?

No: my beloved friends, whoever you may be: instead of eating the bread of life, you ate and drank your own condemnation. Good God, can any rational Christian entertain the idea, even for an instant, that these certain and immediate returns to the vomit, this incongruous mixture of sacred and profane, do not disqualify the soul for the reception of the tremendous mysteries? It is not my intention to insinuate that the worthy participation of the holy Eucharist invariably establishes the soul in a permanent state of justice: this privilege belongs not to the inhabitants of the earth, but to the pure spirits in the heavenly Jerusalem. The life of man is a continual temptation; the most holy are not free from danger; no one stands so firm, but he has reason to tremble lest he fall. But I mean to say, that it is absolutely required, that, after the remedy of penance, you should not appear infected with the same disorders; and that your cure should be, if not entirely, at least almost complete. I mean to say, with St. Chrysostom, that it is absolutely required, that when you leave the altar, you should resist with a firmer resolution the allurements of flesh and blood; that you should avoid with greater care the occasions of sin; and that the blood of the covenant should infuse into your hearts and souls the sentiments and the inclinations of Jesus: in a Word, that your communion should not be the business only of a day.

He who eateth my flesh, says our Saviour, abideth in me, and I in him, John vi. 57. He does not say, he uniteth himself to me, but he abideth in me; and in the same manner, he does not say, I unite myself to him, but I abide in him: as much as to say, I form in his heart a fixed, solid, and permanent abode; I make with him a firm and constant alliance. Whence St. Augustine concludes that the Christian who receives Jesus Christ, and, instead of abiding in him, quickly expels him from his heart by sin, has not spiritually, that is, worthily, received his Lord, but has eaten and drunk his own condemnation.

A worthy communion, my beloved brethren, enriches the heart with so many graces, unites it to Jesus in as manner so intimate and ineffable, invigorates it with such strength and courage that the soul is enabled to advance for a length of time in the paths of salvation, and is, in some degree, rendered incapable of frustrating in an instant the good effects produced by the most powerful remedy of religion, and of falling back immediately into the most shameful weaknesses that can disgrace a Christian.

Look, therefore, into the state of your souls, and ascertain whether your communions have been profanations or not. The process is easy: you have only to examine their fruits. What change did they operate in your interior? What was your subsequent mode of life? Holy and profitable communions are never received by the man whose morals are uniformly worldly and profane. As long, therefore, as you continued to indulge the same passions, and to adhere to the same criminal engagements; as long as you were addicted to the same failings after communion as you were before, so long, you have too much reason to fear, that you were deficient in your preparation, and that your communions were sacrilegious in the sight of God.

2. From this short view of the subject, you will be convinced that confession is not the only proof of a reform of life, which the law requires. The minister who rashly absolves habitual sinners, exceeds his commission; for his delegated powers extend only over the truly contrite: his sentence will not be ratified in heaven; or rather, his sentence will be reversed, and your condemnation will be pronounced in heaven, instead of your pardon: the blood of the Lamb, which he pours on your head, will cry to heaven for vengeance; you will receive the stroke of death from the hand that was stretched out.to save you from destruction.

The pastor, therefore, is authorised and required to exact proofs of the sincerity of your protestations, (if your protestations have hitherto been without effect,) before he admits you to the sacraments, and to certify whether you have renounced the occasions of sin, whether you are for ever divorced from the objects of your passions, and whether you have commenced the course of penitential atonement for your former offences.

According to the ancient discipline of the Church, the notorious sinner was not allowed to receive the holy communion until he had devoted whole years to the painful works of humiliation, fasting, and prayer: the Eucharist was the bread of life, which the sinner ate, as it were, in the sweat of his brow. And can you suppose, that, because the Church has consented, for prudential reasons, to the abolition of this point of discipline, can you suppose that to confess your inveterate crimes, is to atone for them, and that the purity of soul which is required in the worthv communicant, is attained by the bare exposure of the malignity and infection of his spiritual sores? Ah! my friends, the law of God can never be abrogated by custom: the Church, indeed, may dispense with public proofs, but she will not, she cannot dispense with private proofs from the sinners of whom I speak: primitive fervour may abate; but the sanctity of the Lord is the same, and the sanctity of the receiver must be the same.

The Church appointed that the forty days of Lent should precede the paschal communion, on purpose that time and opportunity might be given to habitual sinners to weep over their offences to purify their souk by prayer antifasting, and thus to dispose themselvesfor a worthy participation of the holy mysteries. By this she indicates, that the necessity still exists of devoting some time to penance after a sinful life, before we presume to sit down to the banquet of our Lord.
There may, indeed, be exceptions to this rule. It may be sometimes expedient, on account of the lively compunction, and the wonderful conversion of a sinner, or even necessary, on account of the danger which would attend delay, when the penitent, who is sincerely converted, is of a fickle and inconstant disposition, to abridge the time of trial. The laws of the Church are replete with wisdom, charity, and prudence. The salvation of sinners is her only object: and the means which conduce more immediately to that end are the most conformable to her spirit. But this does not operate against the general rule, namely, that sinners should do penance, and that they should prove themselves, before they eat of this bread.

You, perhaps, may say, that the law of the Church requires that you communicate within a given time, and that you cannot defer it in order to give proofs of your sincerity. What! do you insinuate by this, that the Church commands you to communicate unworthily? and that she considers a sacrilegious communion as the full accomplishment of the paschal duty? You would, indeed, by such a communion, avoid her censures, because her cognizance extends only to exterior appearances, but you Would not avoid the anathemas of heaven, which would witness your concealed profanation. She commands you to receive at this time, on the supposition that you will approach to the altar with a pure conscience; on the supposition that you have employed this time of Lent in doing penance for your sins, and in making the necessary preparation for a worthy communion.  ...

3. If, indeed, you were animated with a supereminent degree of compunction, and with a sincere and ardent desire of being united to your Lord, no delay would be necessary, as I have said above. This your fervent love, which is the third proof required, would excuse your immediate admission to the sacred banquet.

But, alas! in what breast does this fervent love reside? The greater part of Christians are uneasy at the approach of this holy time. They loath the bread of life. These days of joy and gladness to the Church, are to them days of melancholy and sadness. Like the young man in the gospel, whom our Saviour counselled to sell all he had and follow him, they are sorrowful when they hear the solemn proclamation of the Church summoning them to throw off the defiled garments of sin, and to prepare for the nuptials: and were it not for her threats and anathemas, they would willingly renounce the table of the Lord for ever.

Great God! is it necessary, then, to drive thy beloved children into thy embraces! Are their hearts so far estranged from thee, as to be callous to all the attractions of thy infinite love! Could the primitive Christians have believed that the authority of the Church would ever have been exerted for these purposes? And that her threats, which in those times were employed only to deter the rebellious and unworthy from daring to partake of her mysteries, would in after ages have been necessary to prevent her children from entirely forsaking thy holy altar?

Were you animated with the true spirit of Christianity, you would declare that a prohibition from partaking of the body of the Lord, would be the greatest punishment which the Church could inflict: you would declare that life was insupportable without the Blessed Eucharist. Then it would be unnecessary to exhort you to the participation of this sacred food: you would tell me, that in religion there was nothing more consolatory, in virtue nothing more desirable or beneficial. You would tell me, that it was the sweetest soother in affliction, the only comfort in your banishment, the daily remedy for your weaknesses, and the universal reliever of all your wants.

But you say that the holy Eucharist requires such perfect dispositions in the receiver. I grant it. But, my Christian brethren, these dispositions are attained by the frequent participation of it. By its means alone you will be enabled to resist your spiritual enemies, to subdue your passions, and to live a holy life. By its means alone will you be enabled to receive it worthily. One communion ought to be a preparation for the next. The farther you remove yourselves from the holy table, the more will your tepidity increase, the greater strength will your passions acquire, and the more will both the reign of Jesus be weakened in your hearts, and the man of sin be established and fortified. Be not deterred, therefore, by a plea which is not the offspring of humility, but the child of sloth. Fly to the altar on the wings of love. Open your hearts to the sweet attractions of your Jesus; invite him to take full possession of them, and to make them his abode for ever.

Pour forth your souls before him, and say with St. Augustine: Lord, who will give me, that I may be for ever united to Thee; that Thou alone mayest possess my affections, and reign without a rival in my soul?

Ah! perhaps, Lord, my inward house is not sufficiently adorned for thy reception; but do Thou come; thy presence alone will embellish it. Perhaps thy secret and invisible enemies are not entirely dislodged; but art not thou stronger than the strongest in armour? Thy presence alone will expel them: all will be in peace, when Thou hast taken possession of my heart. Perhaps my soul is as yet defiled with spots and stains, which disfigure her in thy sight: but thy sacred blood will remove every defilement, and Thou wilt renew my youth and my beauty, like that of the eagle.

Only come, Lord, and delay not. With Thee I shall possess all things; but without Thee, I shall possess nothing, although surrounded by all the pleasures and favours which the world can bestow. Are these, my beloved friends, the holy sentiments of eagerness and impatience, which lead the greater number of you to the table of the Lord? Ah, if the Church left you at full liberty to communicate or not, the table of the Lord would be abandoned at this holy time; very small indeed would be the number of true disciples, who, with repentance and love, would keep the Pasch with their divine Master.

My soul hateth your moons and your solemnities, says the Lord, by the mouth of his prophet; they are become troublesome to me, I am weary of bearing them, Isa. i. 14. You behold all the people hastening to the foot of my altar, and partaking of the sacred offerings during the days of this solemn festival. You suppose that the only motive which actuates them, is the sanctification of my name; that I am pleased with their incense and sacrifices; and that these extraordinary acts of homage will induce me to forget their iniquities: but you are deceived. They are a perverse race; they have put no difference between what is impure, and what is holy; and so far from being glorified, was profaned in the midst of them, Ezek. xxii. 26.

Adulterers, fornicators, the slaves of hatred, animosity, revenge, rapine, and calumny, appear with confidence in the holy place. The hands, which you behold extended towards my throne, are filled with abominations; and their sacrifices pollute the sanctity of my eyes, when I look down upon them. Be on your guard, my beloved brethren, and profit by the experience of others. Prove yourselves, before you presume to appear before the altar of God. Be animated with the pure sentiments of compunction and love. Put on the new man, and take precautions that Jesus Christ enter not your souls in vain. Preserve the holy treasure, after you have received it; and guard it, I do admonish you, carefully against the enemies of your salvation, who will then redouble their efforts to wrest it from you. Make yourselves worthy to become the temple and the abode of God, who is about to incorporate himself with you; and do not fill up the measure of your iniquities, in a place where you may find a plentiful source of grace, and a pledge of immortality.
Sermon for Palm Sunday
Bp. Jean-Baptiste Massillon


2 comments:

  1. Gratias5:03 AM

    "One communion should be the preparation for the next". The Easter communion is the highlight of our year. I am so happy we will be able to attend the Triduum in a Latin Mass.

    A very Holy Week, everyone!

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  2. Simply Awesome! This sermon should be used as a meditaton not only during Lent but throughout the year, especially on saturday night for Sundays Holy Mass. It is essential for a proper understanding of the nescessary dispostion to receive the most Sacred Species. I am indebted for the rest of my earthly life to keep this meditation in my my mind and heart and never grow tired in deepening my understanding of its message. Pax Christ and my deepest thanks Bishop Massillon

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