Of the Institution of the Worshipful and most August Sacrament
When, therefore, our Lord Jesus had instructed His disciples in true humility, both by word and example, and the time of His Passion was close at hand, He desired to teach both them and all of us another of His virtues, not less necessary for our salvation than the one already spoken of; that is to say, perfect love. These two virtues He left us as His testament for an everlasting remembrance, desiring to impress them on our inmost hearts, for in them lies our whole salvation, and without them we cannot be saved. Nay, even had we nothing else, these alone would suffice. Hear, now, what our most gracious Lord said to His disciples: “My little children, a new commandment I give unto you;” as if He would say: “Many lessons, and divers and numerous 30commandments have you from Me. But now, a new commandment I give unto you, the highest, indeed, of all commandments, and the compendium of all My teachings; and this is, that you love one another as I have loved you; that as I lay down My life for you, so also you should love one another unto death, and help one another; that, as I have loved him who betrayed Me, and have prayed for them who have brought Me to the cross, so also you should love your enemies, and do good to them, by lending loving help to all who persecute you, and bring evil upon you.” This new commandment of love our Lord Jesus taught, not only by word, but also by deed. And when He desired to make known to us that we were His true sons, and that out of His eternal love He bore us in His bosom, and that from everlasting we had been in Him, and, as it were, in our origin, had rested in Him from all eternity; and that no earthly father had ever embraced us with such exceeding love as that with which He had embraced us. Then it was that, as a most faithful father, He left us His most august testament, and bequeathed to us that excellent good, which is nobler and better than heaven and earth, even His own most sacred Body for food, and for our drink His most precious Blood. O wonderful mystery! O most high Sacrament! Oh, all ye, as many as love God, come, make ready, behold, wonder, marvel, praise, announce and magnify the Name of the Lord. For so great, so marvellous a work hath our Lord wrought in us, that whosoever desireth to look into it with his inward understanding, can only shrivel up in spirit, and faint away in mind, and lose all power for exceeding great astonishment. And even if a man desire, according to the poor little measure of his human frailty, and by the help of God’s grace, to look through and search the depth of this love by means of his reason and understanding, as far, namely, as God vouchsafeth out of love to allow him to do this, yet will his heart melt away, and burn, and glow with the flame and fire of love. For, although it was a great and wonderful work that God Almighty vouchsafed to take upon Himself the nature of man, and to clothe Himself with the sackcloth of our mortality, yet doth this work leave all His other works far behind. For, in the former work, He took upon Himself, indeed, our manhood, but in this work, joined and united with His Manhood, He poureth out upon us His own Godhead, so that we receive It within ourselves. In the former He took on Him our manhood, in the latter, we are clothed with His Godhead.
For, as the food taken by man passeth into his substance, and becometh of one nature with man, so whosoever worthily receiveth this Food, is made one thing with our Lord by grace. And as our Lord saith by Augustine, we change not this divine Food into our substance, but rather are transmuted and transformed by it into Himself, and thus are made deiform, and of one nature with Him. Now this is the way by which we put on Christ, as the apostle admonisheth. Oh! who can ever reach, by any act of the understanding, unto this infinite abyss of deepest love, which God hath willed to make known to us in this sublime and wonderful Sacrament? And this, indeed, He did at the end of His life, that it might be, as it were, the sum, and compendium, and everlasting remembrance of all His works. Moreover, although it was at the last supper that He first instituted this Sacrament, and gave It to man to take, yet It included within Itself the whole Christ, God Incarnate. For in this Sacrament He had His true Body, and His living soul, and He was Very God; and these three we receive in this Sacrament. Where, now, is the heart that will not glow with burning love, and be stirred and moved to devotion, when it considereth with what exceeding love He, the King of glory, the Lord of majesty, was consumed for us vile creatures, who are but dust and ashes, in whom, besides, He found nothing but frailty, and sin, and want? Yet of such He can say: “My delights are to be with the children of men.” Can He lift us higher than by setting up His own temple within us? Can He love us more than by vouchsafing to become the food of His own creatures? He is the highest and most perfect Good, with which no other good can be compared, and which can never fail; and because His fatherly and loving Heart could think of nothing better, nothing higher, He gave us Himself, so as to prove to us His bountiful goodness, and the deep love of His Heart. Bountiful altogether is the bestowal, when He giveth Himself, but how much more bountiful when He giveth Himself in this way! For He gave Himself to be out father, and brother, and companion, and food, and ransom, and mediator, and advocate. Lastly, He will give us Himself for our everlasting reward, and will so satiate us in Himself, that He will be to us all that we can desire.
Nor is this all, for over and above all this bountiful goodness, He is ever ready to come into our hearts, and to bestow upon us all the merits of His Incarnation, and Life and Passion. He saith by His prophet: “Thou shalt call and the Lord will hear thee. Thou shalt cry aloud, and He shall say, ‘Lo, here I am.’” And He Himself saith: “If any man love Me, My Father will love him, and We will come and make our dwelling with him.” Look, O my soul! to thy dignity, and rejoice exceedingly in thy God, Who hath lifted thee up from the dung-hill of thy sins, that thou mayest be the dwelling-place of the Adorable Trinity, thou who wert formerly the devil’s slave.
Nor was it enough for this most ardent Lover to show us such exceeding love. More deeply still must He lower and submit Himself unto us. He will not wait until He be invited and desired by us: He cometh Himself first, and knocketh, and prayeth us to let Him in. Hear what He saith in the Apocalypse: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man open unto Me, I will enter in, and sup with him, and he with Me.” O blessed and happy soul, that listeneth to his Lord’s knock, that watcheth, and with longing waiteth for His coming, so as not only straightway to open to her Lord and Bridegroom, but even with her lamp burning, and full of oil, to go out to meet Him, and to take Him back with her, saying: “Let my Beloved come into His garden!”
Oh! how great the happiness to receive Him, as He cometh back from the heavenly marriage-feast, drunk with wine, full of grace and truth, coming forth from His Father’s most pleasant Bosom, all delightful 35and full of comfort, flowing with spiritual delights, ready to give His loving bride the kiss of peace which He Himself had received from His Father. Oh! what a happiness to eat with Him, Who thus giveth Himself for food! Who, I ask, could ever have so cast himself down, or so raised us up? Heaven and earth are filled with the glory of His divine Majesty, and yet He refuseth not to be handled, and taken and eaten by us worthless worms of earth. The heaven of heavens is not large enough to contain His greatness, and He telleth us that it is His delight to be with us, who lie hidden in the filthy homes of earth.
Oh! whose is the spirit that will not marvel with exceeding wonder? Whose is the heart that will not melt away at the burning fire of this unutterable love? How could He have given us surer proof of this His burning love for us? It is a small thing to Him to send His holy angels to honour and visit us, but that He, the King of angels, should come to His own servants, that He should visit the sick, and comfort the weak, and lift up the fallen, and console the desolate, and give heart to them who despair, and instruct them who doubt, and call back them that wander, and refresh them that hunger, and give warmth to them that are lukewarm; in a word, that He should heal all 36our languor, and all our sins, and this not by any strange medicine, but by His own precious Body and Blood! O wonderful mystery, O most high Sacrament, O unutterable love, O unheard of bounty, in which the Giver is Himself the Gift, the servant eateth his Lord, the creature receiveth his Maker, the minister is commanded to sit at the table of the most high King, and is filled to overflowing with divine food; in which man is fed with the Bread of angels, the Father distributeth the Body of His only Begotten, and giveth His friends to drink, in all abundance, of the precious Blood of His dear Son! Who hath ever heard of greater or more lavish bounty? Where is the understanding that can look into and grasp the mysteries of this wonderful Sacrament? What more could God have done for us? How could He have more closely joined to us His most high Godhead, than to become our food, and to incorporate us wholly into Himself? For as bodily food, when taken by man, falleth down softly into his inward parts, and nourisheth all his members, and at length passeth into his substance, so, in like manner, Christ letteth Himself sink down into our souls, in order to fill us wholly with Himself, and He draweth all our powers into Himself. And if He meeteth our souls thus worthily made ready, so as to enable Him freely to accomplish within us His own pleasant work, then, too, according to the Scriptures, He buildeth up and destroyeth, He killeth and giveth life, He teareth up and planteth, He darkeneth and giveth light. For He is that Lamb Whom St. John saw sitting on the throne of heaven, and making all things new. Even as He once made our souls, when before they had no being, to His own image and likeness, so also He reneweth and marvellously reformeth them according to the same likeness, which in us hath become defiled and broken. Thus, too, thou mayest hear Him say by the mouth of one of His prophets: “I Myself will feed My sheep, and I will make them to lie down. That which hath perished I will seek; that which hath been cast away I will bring back; that which is broken I will bind together; that which is weak I will strengthen.”
Oh! who can grasp in mind, or who is able to discover in thought, all the marvels, and all the happiness, which this divine Food worketh in the soul that worthily receiveth It? Oh! how pure, how holy, and, above all, how divine doth such a man straightway become by means of this Food? For if the nature of the elements is such as, after the manner of their author, to consume all things, and make them like themselves, and transmute them into their own substance, how much more will this 38most noble Food, which is God Himself, consume whatever in man is vicious, or carnal, or sensual, and cause to spring up and encourage all virtue and all good; and, chief of all, will at last transform the whole man into Itself, and unite him with Itself, and, so far as is possible for a creature, make him of one essence with God, and like to Him. While this is being done, that is to say, while man is being conformed and made like unto this Food, he also becometh wholly quickened in spirit, for he receiveth the Bread of Life, so that now he may say with the apostle: “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” He is made, in like manner, wholly angelic and heavenly, for he hath eaten of the Bread of angels, and of their food. Lastly, he is made all divine, inasmuch as he hath received God Himself, Who hath so filled him, and, so to speak, deified his powers, that he can no longer seek, or desire, or meditate upon, or love anything, save only God, while to do God’s will, and whatever God’s love requireth, is for him enough. What, then, can be wanting to us, when we have partaken of this most noble Food? O merciful God! what more couldst Thou have done for us, or what hast Thou done? Even hadst Thou brooded with all Thy power and all Thy wisdom upon this one thing, namely, how to bestow upon man some great gift, and to show to him some striking proof of Thy exceeding love, yet so far as my understanding can grasp, no nobler, or higher, or more useful, or more saving gift couldst Thou have lavished upon us. For Thou hast poured out upon us the whole treasure of Thy grace. Thou hast opened to us Thy fatherly Heart, and allowed the veins of Thy exceeding love to flow in all abundance over us. Openly hast Thou made known to us with what great love for us Thou burnest and art wounded. And because Thou couldst no longer hide this blessed wound, and burning fire, the flame broke forth, and Thou sufferedst man to feel the force of Thy love, giving to him Thy most sacred Body for food, and Thy precious Blood for drink, that so man, looking upon the immensity of this love, might, in his turn, be inflamed and wounded by love, and, at the same time, by its sublimity, might be inwardly forced and admonished to repay it in some way, and satisfy its longings.
See here, how marvellous and unheard of hath been the meeting and the union of the Divine Wisdom with our nature. It took from us our weakness, and our mortal manhood, and bestowed upon us Its own adorable Godhead. And the better to do this, It could find no more suitable or pleasant way, than to leave Itself to us under the appearance of food and drink. 40O power of God, to be ever praised, that under the appearance of a little bread could give His own high Godhead, could give His own perfect Body and holy Soul unto all men, equally and wholly to be their food, which, while wholly received by every man, yet remaineth in Itself whole and incorrupt! O marvellous wisdom of God, that instituted this subtle and saving means of salvation for us, and decreed it! O incomprehensible goodness of God, that for the sake of our salvation hath perfected such sublime works of love! O saving Food, whereby the children of men pass into the children of God, and humanity is absorbed that God may remain! O longed-for, sacred, and adorable Bread, that refreshest the mind, not the belly; that strengthenest the heart, nor weighest down the body; that gladdenest the spirit, nor darkenest the understanding; whereby sensuality is killed, and our own will brought down to nothing, that God’s Will may have place, and God’s Spirit may have rule, and God’s working may come across no hinderance! Of a truth, it was needful for man, who had swallowed the serpent’s poisonous morsel, to drink the heavenly draught of Christ’s precious Blood, in order to recover the salvation he had lost. Clearly it was fitting that he who had fallen through food that brought him death should be raised up again by the Bread of life; that he who had died through the fruit of the tree, should come to life again in like manner, by the fruit of the Tree, and that he who, through the tree of disobedience, had been sentenced to everlasting death, should, by the Tree of obedience, be restored to everlasting glory. On that former tree hung the food of death, on this latter the medicine of life. In that ran the sap of concupiscence, on this hung the grape-clusters of salvation, which, pressed out in the vine-press of Christ’s Passion, gave us that new wine, by which the heart of man is gladdened. Clearly, this is that chosen grape-cluster, sweet to the taste, which they who were said to spy out the earth, that is, the holy apostles, carried on a staff, as they explored with interior eye the kingdom of heaven; as, for example, St. John, who saw in the Apocalypse the Lamb, as it were slain, and St. Paul, who himself also went forth to look at the Land of Promise, when he was rapt into the third heaven, and who, when he had returned to himself, confessed that he knew no other sign, save the grape upon the vine, that is, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. This is that true grape-cluster which hath no sourness mingled with it; this is that sweet-tasting Bread, or heavenly manna, full of spiritual delights, wherein there is nothing rough or coarse, for it is not made of the grain of the Old Testament, administered by Moses, but it is the flour of wheat, that is, of the grace shown through Christ Jesus; no mere figure, but the truth.
Wherefore, let no man forget to eat this Bread, lest his heart should wither. For as we fell into ruin through food, so by food we must be quickened again to life. Of that former food it was said: “In whatsoever day thou shalt eat thereof, thou shalt surely die.” But of this is it said: “If any man shall eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever.” As often, therefore, as, through the cheating of Satan, that wicked serpent, we have fallen into sins, and have drunk the cup of death when held out to us by the enemy’s temptation, so often ought we to make ourselves ready to partake of this heavenly medicine, with sorrow, and penance, and devotion, and burning longing. Never let us cease at all to succour our sick and suffering souls, since to no man doth our tender-hearted Lord refuse His grace, nor is there anything He is more ready to give than Himself. And, of a surety, whatever favours, whatever grace our Lord Jesus brought into this world, and gave to man when He took his nature, all this He bringeth with Him, and bestoweth upon every man who worthily partaketh of this worshipful Sacrament. Moreover, whatever virtues Christ performed during His Life,—all 43the fruit of His Death, Resurrection and Ascension, the blessedness of His gracious Body, the virtue of His precious Blood, and lastly, the merits of His most noble Soul,—all this He bringeth with Him into the soul that worthily receiveth Him. What more desirest thou? In this most august Sacrament, whatever can be thought of, or desired, is received. For herein is received the true Son of God, Jesus Christ, very God and very Man, ever one God with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Truly, then, it was right to say, that whatever virtues or merit Christ performed, and obtained in His Life and Passion, all this is received in this Sacrament by the soul that is worthily prepared. Nay, our sweet Jesus is ready to give us all these virtues through His tender and bountiful goodness, just as if we had performed them ourselves. Let us hasten, therefore, zealously to cleanse our hearts from every stain of sin, and to adorn them with virtues and good works, that we may be always fit and worthy to receive this saving food, to the everlasting glory of our most gracious Maker. Amen. Source: Meditations on the Life and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, Chapter 4, by John Tauler (1300-1363)