"Christ our Eucharist": A sermon given at Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane

Corpus Christi: High Altar

On 3 September this year, I was asked to preach the sermon at the regular Mass of the Sodality of the Blessed Sacrament at the Church of Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane. It was a great joy to assist at Mass and Benediction and I am grateful to Fr Robinson for his kind hospitality and the members for their company at dinner afterwards.

Cur Deus homo? Why was God made man? I wish to propose respectfully to you the Franciscan thesis, that the incarnation of Jesus Christ was decreed in the eternal plan of God from before all creation, and therefore independently of sin.

We do, of course, believe that Our Lord came to take away our sins, but the Franciscan or Scotist thesis is that even without sin, He would nevertheless have become incarnate, and we would still have the unsurpassable gift of the Holy Eucharist.

Fr Faber was a thoroughgoing Scotist, a view which he expounds in his book The Blessed Sacrament. He says,

Those who hold it [this view] dwell very much on the doctrine that Jesus was decreed before all creatures, and therefore before the permission of sin. Thus we read in Scripture, I came out of the mouth of the Most High, the first-born before all creatures. And St. Paul, speaking of our Lord, says to the Colossians that He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature. For in Him were all things created in heaven, and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers. All things were created by Him and in Him, and He is before all, and by Him all things consist. And He is the Head of the Body, the Church, who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in all things He may hold the primacy; because in Him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fulness should dwell, and through Him to reconcile all things unto Himself. Much of this language is evidently not applicable to the eternal generation of the Word. So in the eighth chapter of Proverbs where St. Jerome translates from the Hebrew. The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, the Septuagint renders it, The Lord created Me; and the passage ends, I was with Him forming all things, and was delighted every day, playing before Him at all times, playing in the world; and my delights were to be with the children of men. St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. Cyril, St. Gregory Nazianzen, and St. Epiphanius have interpreted this passage of the Incarnation. Tertullian, in his book on the Resurrection of the flesh says, That mud, (he is speaking of the creation of Adam,) which then put on the image of the Christ that was to come in the flesh, was not only the work of God, but His pledge. Rupert commenting on the epistle to the Hebrews says, It is to be religiously said and reverently heard, that God created all things because of Christ who was to be crowned with glory and honour. From these and a host of similar authorities, the Scotists, with Suarez and others, particularly Franciscans and Jesuits, consider that it follows that all men came because of Christ, not Christ because of them, that all creation was for Him, and was not only decreed subsequently to His predestination, but for His sole sake.[1] 

Faber here lights upon the importance of the insight of the Blessed John Duns Scotus. The question is not a purely hypothetical one, a logical discussion of a counterfactual conditional, “Whether Christ would have become incarnate if man had not sinned?” Rather it is a statement of the primacy of Christ over all creation. The incarnation does not happen solely because of us; we come into existence solely for Christ. All of creation comes into existence to be fulfilled in Christ. Our existence is for Christ.

In this line of thinking, we can also affirm that we are in fact made for the Holy Eucharist. St Ephrem famously said, “Birds fly, fish swim, men pray” and that is an elegant statement of the end or purpose of our nature as human persons. Let us pursue this analogy with reference to the environment, since it is a popular theme at the moment. For all creation below man, the environment is the complex of interactions in the created order set forth by God in His infinite wisdom. Our discoveries through the natural sciences teach us more and more about the wonders of that created order and the awesome complexity of its relationships. The demonstration of the existence of God with reference to the design of the things that He has made, is of immensely greater cogency than it was when St Thomas Aquinas set it out so clearly eight hundred years ago.

When we consider the being created by God with a spiritual soul, we are taken beyond the material environment to the environment of the soul. In this case, we could personalise the idea: we are speaking of an “Environer” whom we call God. The human person is a part of and related to the physical environment; we need to breathe, eat and reproduce. However, we also have the One who is the home, and the fulfilment of our spiritual nature.

In fact, Our Lord affirms this beautifully when he says:

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches. (Jn 15:4-5)

In the material environment, there is a mutual dependence of being. Every part of the array of animal, vegetable and mineral life has effects on every other part. We know also that we can go beyond our own earth and understand that in the forces that exist in the universe, there is an interplay of effect one thing on another. All of these different parts of creation act according to those laws and constants which we have so far discovered; please God, science will continue and we will be able to discover more, rather than annihilate ourselves by sin and its effects.

In His superabundant mercy, God also provides for an interplay between ourselves and Him as our spiritual environment. Not only does Our Lord say that we should abide in Him; we can understand that easily enough and submit to it if we have faith. What Our Lord gives us in the Holy Eucharist is that we too can welcome Him into ourselves. Not only can we abide in Him, He also chooses to abide in us.

This Holy Communion as the Church has rightly called it from the beginning, is a call to the sacred which we could never have dared hope for, had not Our Lord Himself explicitly hammered home that His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed, and that when someone eats His flesh and drinks His blood, not only does that person abide in Him, God made man, but He, Christ, abides in that person. The listeners could not bear to hear this. Even St Peter had no answer except for His trust “Lord, to whom shall we go?” Our Lord called the disciples to faith by His blunt and shocking affirmation that they would eat Him, and so live by Him.

At the Last Supper, Our Lord showed them how this would happen by saying “This is my body, this is my blood.” Had he not laid down his teaching in so confrontational and unambiguous a manner at Capharnaum, perhaps they would never have understood what He was saying at the Last Supper. History shows us how easy it is for people to rewrite Our Lord as giving us a nice metaphor, a friendly meal to remember Him by, a communal celebration of niceness.

The teaching of Our Lord on the Eucharist of itself should make us treat the Holy Eucharist with the greatest reverence. The Holy Mass was never and could never be just a social occasion for a meal with friends. The Church through the centuries has never seen it as such. Increasingly today, those orthodox writers who address the question of the sacred Liturgy find Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper unhelpful. We know that the layout of the table was not like that, but more importantly, we know that it was a liturgical rite, not just a meal. Everything was prepared carefully from the cloths, the vessels, the matter and the ceremonies. The wheat from which the bread was made was not only of the first fruits and unblemished, it was cut with a specially polished scythe because it was to be offered to the Father. The Last Supper was not an informal gathering.

When the sacristan gets a clean corporal for Mass, and arranges everything neatly, he is much closer to the ritual of the Last Supper than someone who attempts to make things informal. When we solemnly carry out the rites given by the Church for the offering of the sacrifice of the Mass, we may rightly think of ourselves as imitating the apostles at the Last Supper.

Not everyone can be involved in the ceremonies however, but everyone can participate. This is not primarily by doing external things, whether physical actions, answering responses or singing. Those can all be worthy elements of our participation, but only if we are actually participating by offering the sacrifice in our heart and mind in union with Christ. Traditionally that participation is summarised as adoration, thanksgiving, contrition and supplication. A person who manages to do those things when they come to Mass, is participating, even if they are limited in their capacity for speech, sight or mobility.

Jesus Christ is the Lord of all creation and the Lord of our lives. He invites us to abide in Him and condescends to abide in us through His presence in the Most Holy Eucharist. Your Church has been gloriously restored with great beauty for the honour and worship of the Blessed Sacrament. Here we may fittingly do our best to focus our minds and hearts on the Lord who first shocked the disciples two thousand years ago with His teaching on Himself as our food and our sacrifice. May He look kindly on us whenever we praise and adore Him as He has so generously given Himself to us.


[1]      Faber, FW. The Blessed Sacrament; or The Works and Ways of God. 16th American Edition, Baltimore. p.429-430. I shortened this quotation for the actual sermon but have included the whole passage here. The book can be found at the Internet Archive: archive.org/details/theblessedsacram00fabeuoft

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