Rorate Caeli

FONTGOMBAULT - Sermon for Corpus Christi: "The mystery of the Eucharist is a mystery of life. It is the life of God wanting to become the life of man."


Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, June 11, 2020

Hic est panis, qui de cælo descendit.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
(Jn 6:58)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

What a contrast! At dawn of mankind, an apple in the hands of man became the cause of his sentence. When the times had reached their fulfillment, a little portion of bread and wine in the hands of God became, and still remain, instruments of salvation. Such is the great mystery of this Bread, a living and lifegiving Bread, that the Church invites us to meditate, so as better to adore.

As the living Father hath sent Me and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He that eateth this bread shall live forever. (Jn 6:57-58)

The mystery of the Eucharist is a mystery of life. It is the life of God wanting to become the life of man. The same holds for all sacraments, which are the admirable means used by God to touch the heart of man, the precious manifestations of an unfathomable and boundless love for our poor humanity. In the case of the Eucharist, it is God Himself, the Author of every gift, Who is present and makes Himself a gift.

The work of creation had revealed a gratuitous love. If God creates, it is not because He would be needing something. He Who might seem to be compared to a pauper possessing nothing, is in reality immensely wealthy: He needs nothing at all, or more precisely, nothing that would be outside of Himself. Because He is devoid of anything that might draw our curiosity and interest, God is too often ignored by man, who would, as it were, set himself free from this gratuitous love, pride himself in a terrifying loneliness. 

Material creation, ordered by God “in measure, and number, and weight” (Wis 11:20), is already a huge work. Still, it is nothing as compared with the call to life of a spiritual creature, invited by the Maker to divine vision. The author of the Book of Wisdom writes:

O Lord, Who lovest souls, O how good and sweet is Thy Spirit, O Lord, in all things. And therefore Thou chastisest them that err, by little and little: and admonishest them, and speakest to them, concerning the things wherein they offend: that leaving their wickedness, they may believe in Thee, O Lord. (Wis 11:26-12:2)

We can see this divine pedagogy at work in the history of salvation. The long centuries of the Old Testament shape the world through the chosen people:

God, Who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days, hath spoken to us by his Son, […] the brightness of His glory and the figure of His substance. (Heb 1:1-3)

We are too busy, bustling about and providing for everyday, and we forget God’s invitation and will, this immense wealth He wants us to share in. Habit and carelessness make our hearts rigid. St. Paul warns us:

Whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. (1 Cor 11:27)

These lines should not be understood as an invitation to draw away from the sacrament of the Eucharist. No, the body and blood of Jesus are truly meant for us. Such is the will of God, manifested through the words of God during the institution of this sacrament. Rather, St. Paul’s words invite us to consider the depth and the topicality of the mystery of love that led to the institution of this sacrament, and which remains to this day.

In a world where human beings have dehumanized relationships, the Sunday Mass runs the risk of being limited to a fraternal sharing, a breath of fresh air on the first day in the week, a breathing space amidst an oppressive atmosphere. This fraternity between disciples of the same Lord is good.

Yet, it isn’t sufficient. Every priest, every Christian, is placed, either by celebrating Mass or attending it, at the heart of the history of salvation, at the inexhaustible fount from which springs God’s love. He is not merely among the community of brothers and sisters surrounding him. More precisely, it is by turning himself towards the Lord that he will meet the community of his brothers and sisters, and even all men and women, in a supernatural and efficient charity.

St. Paul’s lines require us to search the dispositions with which we enter the Eucharistic celebration. Are we aware of the love which is the source of the sacrament placed into our hands, into our so poor, so empty, and so soiled hearts? Are we willing to answer this love?

If we do take seriously the Eucharistic celebration, the communion to the Lord’s Body and Blood, let us be assured that our own lukewarm hearts will warm up, from a heart to heart contact with the life-giving furnace of divine love. Mission stems from communion.

Within a few days, we are precisely going to celebrate the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The truth of this human heart bears witness to the faithfulness of God, Who in Jesus has given us everything, His life for our lives. 

Let us quote an admirable prayer by St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon (130-202):

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Mt 5:8) […] For as those who see the light are within the light, and partake of its brightness; even so, those who see God are in God, and receive of His splendor. But His splendor vivifies them; those, therefore, who see God, do receive life. And for this reason, He, although beyond comprehension, and boundless and invisible, rendered Himself visible, and comprehensible, and within the capacity of those who believe, that He might vivify those who receive and behold Him through faith. For as His greatness is past finding out, so also His goodness is beyond expression; by which having been seen, He bestows life upon those who see Him. It is not possible to live apart from life, and the means of life is found in fellowship with God; but fellowship with God is to know God, and to enjoy His goodness. […] For the glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God. (Adv. hæereses, bk. IV, chap. 20, § 5 and 7)

May we therefore every day become more and more true and living worshippers of the living and true God, especially during celebration of Mass or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, so as to become His true and living messengers.

Amen, Alleluia