Thursday, January 27, 2011

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Eucharist

(Meditation during the Holy Hour, Triduum for the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, Sacred Heart Seminary, Palo, Leyte, January 27, 2011)

With your leave, Sovereign Lord Jesus present in this Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

With hearts and minds set as we enter into this earnest conversation with God who waits for us in the Blessed Sacrament this evening, in third day of the triduum that we have for the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, we remind ourselves that traditionally the Church remembers on this day the institution of the Eucharist and of the Priesthood. Thursday has always been traditionally dedicated to these two great sacraments, because both have been instituted by Our Lord as he took his last Passover Meal with those whom he loved and trusted most, His Apostles. Tonight, in this final day of our preparation for the feast of the Angelic Doctor, we meditate upon the great mystery of the Eucharist, with St. Thomas by our side. St. Thomas had written considerably on every field of theological and philosophical thought that aside from being Angelic he was also called the Common Doctor of the Church. In common language a common doctor would be understood as one who is acquainted with every sickness so as to be able to cure them; in the realm of Catholic philosophy and theology St. Thomas occupies a place that is pretty much the same. We are referring to a man whose doctrine on the Eucharist was also very beneficial for the Church, for he had expressed what the faith of the Church is concerning the Eucharist, and he had illuminated her as she contemplates and gives thanks for this Mystery which is none other than the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection. The Eucharistic doctrine of Thomas is remarkable for its clarity and perception, its depth and fidelity to the tradition of the Scriptures and of the Church. However for us gathered here in worship, what matters to us most is that his teaching is one that is full of faith. It a fruit of his own faith, something which he nourished from the faith of the Church. His teaching about the Eucharist leads us likewise to share his same faith and ardent Love for the Lord who is a prisoner of Love in the Tabernacle for us. It is in this that we could understand that doctrine is a food that nourishes our piety, as the theme for this third day would suggest. Let us feed ourselves then, from this teaching of the Common Doctor, as we contemplate with love the Lord whom Aquinas also gazed upon with so much love and faith.

Adoro te devote, latens Deitas! Prostrate I adore Thee, Deity unseen! I devoutly adore you, O hidden God, truly hidden beneath these appearances! With these words of a famous anthem composed by St. Thomas we stare and contemplate with wonder at the humility of God, who comes to us, not in the appearance of his own flesh, which he shares with us, but even in a form that it much humbler than that, in the appearance of everyday nourishment, under the appearance of bread and wine. This is something more humble than when he first came among us, when he hid behind our own humanity his own divinity. No trace of this Divinity was visible when Our Lord lay as a newborn Baby upon the manger. During his years of ministry He was undoubtedly a strong figure who oozed gentle authority and power, but no Godhead was revealed here. Much less could we say this as we see Him hanging upon the Cross, when covered with wounds and spittle, we declare in him no beauty nor comeliness; despised and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity…therefore we esteemed him not (cf.Is 53:2-3). No, no divinity was visible even there.

But here in the Eucharist, not even the humanity upon which depended our salvation is not seen; it has been hidden in the humility of God. In cruce latebat, solaDeitas, at hic latet simul et Humanitas…On the Cross was hidden your Deity; here is also hidden your humanity. Many things could be said of this Sacrament, I think I would not be heretical were I to describe it as the Sacrament of the Humility of God, a God who goes down in order to be seen under the appearances of something lower than man himself, something even more basic than the animals. He comes to us under the appearance of bread and wine, helpless in themselves, open to adoration and love, but also subject to the worst of abuses. This is the humility of God, a humility which is impelled by Love. Jesus Christ waits for us under the appearances of these humble elements; he waits to love us and also because he wants to be loved by us, who come to moved by both love and faith. The reality a humble and humiliated God waiting for us in this Sacrament teaches us a thing or two about humility and love; that these two always go together, for there could be no authentic love if it were to be proud and presumptuous, that humility is something which impelled by love, and not out of mere desire to debase oneself.

He has so humbled himself, so that man could be able to approach easily, so that he would be readily accessible to him. but he could not be approached in his humility and love by us without the faith that is needed in order to recognize him there. Only faith can give us the vision that we need in order to see and affirm His Presence there. It is no accident that in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, soon after the priest utters the words that bring God down to among and be among us, the priest exclaims: the Mystery of Faith!!! Mysterium Fidei. For this is precisely what the Eucharist is: it is a Mystery of Faith. Plagas sicut Thomas non intueor, Deum tamen meum te Confiteor. Thy dread wounds, like Thomas, though I cannot see, his be my confession, Lord my God, of Thee. It takes the faith of a doubting Thomas, who was confirmed in his faith when he touched the wounds of the Risen Christ, to see this Christ whose glorious wounds are hidden from us. In fact it takes even MORE  faith than that of Thomas to be able to confess Him to be present there, and since it requires more faith as a gift from God, the more blessed we are.

This is also a mystery of faith because not only does it invite our faith; it also increases it. It increases our life of faith, and our life of hope, and our life of Love. Before the Eucharist we repeat the same words uttered by the apostles who had once asked to be able to see the invisible Father: Domine, audage fidem nostram! Lord increase our faith! This sacrament, which is the nourishment of our souls, provides us with everything that we need in order to grow in our life of faith. St. Thomas prays:

I pray that this Holy Communion may not bring me
condemnation and punishment but forgiveness and salvation.
May it be a
helmet of faith and a shield of good will.
 May it purify me from evil ways and put an end to my evil passions.
May it bring me
charity and patience, humility and obedience,
growth in the power to do good.
May it be my strong defense against all my enemies, visible and invisible, and the perfect calming of all my evil impulses,
bodily and spiritual.

May it be that we learn to pray first and foremost with concern to that which would increase our lovelife with the Lord, that our life of charity in the Lord may increase as the first fruit of our communion with Him!

That our love increase is a prayer which is most dear to our Lord and that which brings us to the center of this great mystery of the Eucharist, because over and above all, the Eucharist is that great Mystery of Love. I say it because there is no other reason for its being but love, the love of our Lord that knows no limits, that takes all risks, that loses everything so as to gain that which for Him is everything: US. it is a love which makes him give even of himself for us, just like that pelican, which according to pious legend is always ready to feed its starving young with the force of its own life through the sacrifice of its blood. Pie pellicane, Iesu Domine! Like the good pelican, the Son of God offered body and shed blood on the Cross so us to give us life through the remission of our sins. He continues to offer Himself for us, present there day and night, whether we mind Him or not, the love-crazed prisoner of the Tabernacle.

It is a mystery of love because it has the power to increase our love. Just as the example of the Lover’s sacrifice done out of love is able to elicit a response of the same love from the Beloved, so too the love of the Lord is able to wound the soul who seeks him out in the Blessed Sacrament, in the Holy Eucharist. The love of the Lord in the Tabernacle increases the soul’s capacity to love. It makes one rabid for love. No wonder that the ones who learned how to love most—the saints—were those who shared the hours with the Lord in front of the Tabernacle.

Our time is nearly spent, and yet we have St. Thomas to be grateful for as he was our companion as we made this meditation. May this great lover of the Lord, hidden in the Eucharist, intercede for us and with his help obtain for us the grace to love the Lord more and more. We end with a prayer of his, which we direct to Our Lord:

Grant me, O Lord my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
faithful perseverance in waiting for you,
and a hope of finally embracing you.


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