Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament. Holy Viaticum.
Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament.
WE love to be blessed. We reverentially kneel to get a parent's blessing. How we covet the blessing of God's minister! But what to get the blessing of God himself! Is such a heavenly thing on earth? Is such happiness possible? Yes ; Jesus in the holy Eucharist is on earth, and benediction of the most holy sacrament is the blessing of Jesus ChristGod himself. Oh! the love of Jesus in the blessed sacrament! Not only can we visit Him whenever we please, but He Himself stretches out from the remonstrance His divinearms to bless us, and shower upon us His graces.
In the Old Testament we find the patriarchs and prophets blessed God's people, and the children of Israel appreciated the blessings of these holy men as special signs of God's love and care. Thus Melchisedech, King of Salem and priest of the most high God, blessed Abraham; "blessed him and said: Blessed be Abram by the most high God, who created heaven and earth." Gen. xiv. 19. The patriarchs, dying, invoked the blessing of heaven upon their Children: "May God," says Jacob, "in whose sight my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, bless these boys." Gen. xlviii. 15. Moses, at the close of life, stretched his hands over the kneeling twelve tribes of Israel, and blessed them. Solomon "turned his face and blessed all the multitude of Israel." II. Par. vi. 3. God even commanded his servants to bless his people. "The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Say to Aaron and his sons, thus shall you bless the children of Israel: The Lord bless thee and keep thee. The Lord show His face to thee and have mercy on thee. The Lord turn His countenance to thee and give thee peace." Num. vi. 22. The blessings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament are still more precious. "Blessed be God," says St. Paul, "and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Eph. i. 3. The last act of Jesus Christ on earth, before His ascension into heaven, was to bless His disciples: "Lifting up His hands He blessed them. And it came to pass whilst He blessed them He departed from them, and was carried up to heaven." Luke xxiv. 49.
How beautiful the practices and traditions of the Catholic Church
They show that she alone fulfils the promises, and is the reality of the types of the Old Law. Like the children of Israel five thousand years ago, we today kneel to get the blessing of an aged parent: we group round the bed of a dying father, we reverentially kiss his hand, and beg his benediction: in after life we call it to mind; it makes us happy. Abraham, God's chosen servant, knelt to get the blessing of Melchisedech, priest of the Most High. We, too, love the blessing of Christ's anointed priest, of whom Melchisedech was the type. More precious still is the blessing of a bishop, who is a more exalted minister of the Lord. But what shall we say to get the blessing of the Pope, the vicar of Jesus Christ on earth? The fervent Christian travels over thousands of miles by land and sea, braves the perils of the snows and the deep, to get the blessing of the holy Father. Conceive the feelings of the man of faith, who, after the fatigues and perils of a long journey, catches the first sight of the supreme visible head of the Church. He sees for the first time the Pope, Whose name he lisped on his mother's knee, and loved his life long. The Pope! Christ's Vicar on earth, the successor of St. Peter, the ruler of two hundred millions of souls, the infallible teacher of God's Church. He looks into his face; he kneels and kisses his feet; the Pope lifts his eyes to heaven, stretches out his arms, and blesses him! It is enough: fatigue and labor are forgotten. the tear of joy and love starts to the eye; the soul is stirred to its centre with the deepest emotions; the heart is full to overflowing; he is recompensed; it is an epoch in his life; he returns home happy, never to forget, though unable to describe, the feelings, of that precious moment. Such is the Pope's blessing! Thank God we have got it!
These blessings, so dear, so precious, so coveted; but still what are they compared with the benediction of the Blessed Sacrament? The Pope is but a man, the Blessed Sacrament is God; all is expressed in one word the Pope's benediction is the blessing of man; benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is the blessing of God himself.
To receive the blessing of God himself we need not travel to Rome, we need not undergo fatigues by sea and land, we need not expose ourselves to the perils of the Alpine mountains: in the very midst of us, so near our homes, in our little modest chapels, several times a month, if not every week, we can get the blessing of Jesus Christ God himself. How blessed the inspiration that has led the Church of God to grant us this consolation. Have we ever neglected benediction? Have we appreciated it as we ought? May heaven grant us the grace to know and esteem its value.
There are few ceremonies in the Church which so touchingly speak to the heart as benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament. What a blessed and delightful sight our churches present at benediction! The richest decorations are lavished upon the altar. It is bedecked with choicest flowers, and the most exquisite roses of the garden are not lovely enough to blush before the Lord who gave to them their tint and beauty. Blazing lights shed their rays around, and the odor of sweet incense ascends as prayer before the Lord of hosts. But all eyes and all hearts are centred in one object Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the holy of holies enthroned in the remonstrance. Oh, how heavenly to gaze on the Sacred Host, and like the blessed Virgin to behold and adore and love our God. The brilliant decorations, the gorgeous robes of God's minister, the waves of smoking incense, the strains of religious music, the sweetness of sacred hymns, the joyous peals of bells mingling with the deep, solemn notes of the organ; everything tends to raise the soul of man to heaven, to touch and melt the heart to love, to make us forget earth, and to exclaim with the disciples when they beheld the glory of Jesus on Mount Thabor, when "His face did shine like the sun, and his garment became as white as snow: Lord, it is good for us to be here." Matt. xvii. 4.
In a moment the music ceases, every, voice is hushed, the peals of the organ die away, every head is bowed, God alone speaks; and amidst this solemn silence the priest elevates the remonstrance, "The loftiness of man is lowered down, and the Lord alone exalted." Is. ii. 17. The Blessed Sacrament is raised aloft, and the blessing of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, descends upon the heads and hearts of the fervent congregation. What scene so calculated to inspire the soul of man with the most exalted notions of the majesty, goodness, and love of God. We see, and touch, and feel, so to speak, the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Benediction on Corpus Christi.
For the last three centuries heretics have spared no species of blasphemy and insult to Jesus Christ in the sacrament of His love. On the feast of Corpus Christi the Church of God invites her children to profess their faith publicly, and to make reparation to the Son of God in the holy Eucharist. This feast the Church celebrates with all possible splendor and spiritual joy. "That this most sublime and venerable sacrament," says the Council of Trent, "should be celebrated with special veneration and solemnity . . . . that all Christians may testify their graitude towards their common Lord and Redeemer, for so infallible and truly divine a benefit. And so, indeed, did it behoove victorious truth to celebrate a triumph over falsehood and heresy, and thus her adversaries, at the sight of so much splendor, and in the midst of so great joy of the universal Church, may either pine away weakened and broken, or, touched with shame and confounded, at length repent." Sess. xiii. c. 5. What a glorious profession of faith is the procession and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament on this feast in Catholic countries! The joybells usher in the happy feast; from every window float in the breeze the richest hangings of embroidered purple and gold; the pavements are strewn with green leaves and flowers; the streets are spanned with arches of evergreens; altars, which nature and art combine to decorate, are erected in the most conspicuous places. The procession moves through the streets. What a heavenly sight! First the little convent children, whose souls are as white and pure as the dress they wear, then the little boys, waving their beautiful banners, then the various confraternities, bearing the image of their respective patron saints, then the holy Levites of the seminary, the secular and regular clergy in their richest vestments, and lastly, the prelates in their Roman purple, the king or emperor in his royal robes, vie with the peasant to do honor to their common God. The hands of innocence scatter roseleaves in showers, and swing the smoking censers before their Lord. The Holy of Holies is borne under a magnificent canopy and the God of armies moves along in triumph, even as He made His triumphant entry in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Hundreds of sweet voices, the roaring of cannon, and the pealing of bells, proclaim to mankind that Jesus lives and reigns in the Holy Eucharist.
Now the thunder of the cannon ceases, the bells are silent, music and song die away, profound silence reigns through the vast crowd, the prelate and the peer, the prince and the peasant, bend their knees and bow their heads before their God; from the altar under the canopy of heaven, the benediction of Jesus Christ descends upon the enraptured multitude. What pencil could adequately sketch such an imposing scene? a scene which impresses upon the soul the noble solemnity of the Catholic faith in the God of the Eucharist. In the blessed Sacrament as in the flesh "Jesus goes through the cities and towns teaching," "doing good," bestowing His graces and blessings.
What a privilege from heaven is benediction of the most holy Sacrament, to kneel before Jesus, to join the angels in adoring Him, and to get His precious blessing! But this blessing, alas! how little esteemed, how little valued by some cold and faithless Christians. May Jesus warm their cold hearts and animate their weak faith. May the rays of divine love, issuing from the remonstrance, penetrate our hearts, and kindle in our souls such ardent love for the blessed Sacrament, that we may never omit even one opportunity in our whole lives of getting the benediction of Jesus Christ in the most holy Eucharist.
The Most Holy Viaticum.
O secrets of the love of Jesus! From the cradle to the grave His Providence shields us, His mercy surrounds us. Even long before we reposed in the cradle or on the bosom of our mother the hand of God conducted us in the path of salvation. There are millions of pagans who never heard of the sweet name of Jesus, who adore the most loathsome creatures for the Creator; that we are not among the number, thanks to God alone. There are millions of infidels, schismatics, and heretics who are outside the true Church, the only fold of salvation, who are "tossed about by every wind of doctrine," who are on board a sinking vessel without helm or pilot, every moment in danger of being swallowed up in the abyss of a miserable eternity. May God bring them back to the Catholic Church built upon a rock, which neither waves, nor storms, nor sin, nor error, nor earth, nor hell can ever shake. That we are not amongst the number let us give glory to God, saying with the Royal Psalmist: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory." Ps. xcii. Yes; have we often thanked God for giving us Catholic parents, from whom we drank in the faith with our mother's milk? At baptism God put His indelible seal upon our souls to mark us for Himself, and the waters of regeneration made us the children of Jesus, the heirs of heaven, even before we knew it. The enemy watches the dawn of reason to rob us of our baptismal innocence. God has prepared us by instruction and example to conquer the foul spirit. Age advances: the scandals of the world threaten our innocence; we are, weak: confirmation makes us strong and brave soldiers of Christ. Our passions grow with our growth, and strengthen with our strength. We require more aid. Jesus gives His body and blood to purify our souls, to chasten our bodies, to unite us to Himself. "He that eateth My flesh, and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me and I in him." At first communion we never forget the happy day we give our young hearts and our first love to Jesus in the holy Sacrament.
Alas! many of us sin: deep and deadly the fall, dark the dye of our guilt. Seventy times seven times number not our crimes. We are dead in sin; all is lost! O the goodness of God! by the sacrament of penance we can rise again, recover our lost innocence, make our peace with God, again become the children of Jesus and the heirs of heaven. Every day of our lives let us thank and bless the mercy of God. God has perhaps blessed us with youth, manhood, nay, gray hairs. During these years the most fierce passions assail us; the sins of the world scandalize us; the assaults of the evil spirits are unceasing by night and by day: trials and sufferings multiply round us; sorrows and tribulation darken our lives; every moment we are on the brink of the precipice, and hell is yawning wide to swallow us up. Who has been our support, our strength, our salvation in life? Jesus in the holy Eucharist. When our passions assail us, He rises, "stills the storm; a calm ensues." When the devil tempts us, Jesus is their terror; the fallen spirit of sin and death cannot enter the soul whose door has been sprinkled with the blood of the Paschal Lamb in holy communion. "The Son of God," says the apostle, "appeared, that He might destroy the works of the devil." 1 Ep. St. John iii. 8 In the midst of sorrows and tribulations, trials and persecutions, Jesus in the blessed sacrament is our comfort and hope, our shield and victory. Courageously we say with the Psalmist: "If a battle should rise up against me, in this will I be confident; If armies in camp should stand together against me, my heart shall not fear, since Thou art with me." Ps. xvi. 3. "If I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no danger, for thou art with me." "I am with him, says the Lord, in tribulation; I will deliver him, I will glorify him." xc. 15. No evil can harm us when Jesus is with us; and in the blessed sacrament He is with us all days, even to the consummation of the world. He will save us from all dangers, "of the arrow that flieth in the day, of the business that walketh about in the dark: of invasion of the noonday devil. A thousand shall fall at thy feet, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh to thee. Then shall no evil come to thee, nor shall the scourge come near thy dwelling. Because Thou, O Lord, art my hope, thou hast made the Most High thy refuge." Ps. xc. The blessed Eucharist is our food, our strength, our life when living, but how express the tender love of Jesus to us when sick and dying?
Death is approaching. The final struggle is at hand. All is to be lost or gained. Jesus is to be robbed of the fruit of His passion and death; the Church is to lose all her care during a life long; and the soul is to forfeit paradise: or one spirit more, bought so dearly, cared so tenderly, is to enjoy heaven, and bless God forever in glory. What a solemn moment, on the issue of which depends an eternity of bliss or woe! Does Jesus forget us? Far from it. His grace to us is increased tenfold when we tenfold want it. Perhaps there is no other manifestation of God's love for man so touching, so merciful, and so necessary, as the holy Viaticum. The holy Viaticum simply means, that when we cannot go to the altar to receive Jesus in the holy communion, Jesus himself comes to us; comes to our bedside; comes at the time when beyond all others we need Him most, at the awful hour of death, to help us on the way to heaven. Let us meditate on this last proof of the love of Jesus in the blessed sacrament.
After a long life, and perhaps a sinful life, the last illness overtakes us when we least expect it. "At what hour you think not, the Son of Man will come" (Luke xii. 40); nay, come "like a thief in the night." For a time the sick man thinks of nothing but life and recovery. Soon, symptoms but too fatal tell him the end is at hand. Pains too often excruciating multiply and afflict his body; cold languor benumbs his limbs, his eyes become dim, he feels strange sensations he never felt before. His soul! A thousand thoughts never known before darken his soul, already weakened by the pains and sickness of his body. First, his life his manifold sins graces, invitations, calls of heaven resisted talents and gifts of God misemployed perhaps the holy sacraments abused all crowd before the mind. God's awful judgments rise up before him; beyond the grave no mercy, but justice; he must stand face to face before the Almighty, in whose sight the angels themselves are not pure, to render an account of even every idle word. Who has not reason to fear? The eye of the soul now sees what it never saw before the two gates of eternity, one opening to eternal bliss, the other to eternal woe.
Nor is this all: the violent temptations of the devils heighten the terrors of the scene. The Council of Trent says: "At the hour of death the demons strain every nerve to damn the departing soul." If at all times "they go about like roaring lions seeking whom they may devour," at the last struggle their number and their assaults are increased tenfold to keep the soul in sin, or draw her into sin, and bear her away in triumph to Hell. "The devil," says St. John, "is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time." Apoc. xii. 12. The room of the dying man is filled with devils. They put before the soul the mockery of death-bed repentance, the enormity of past sins, the abuse of God's mercy; they whisper despair, and if they instil it, their victory is complete. Amid the thoughts, temptations, and terrors that wring the soul with anguish, the dying man feels that time is ebbing fast, and that the lamp of life is flickering, soon to expire. Supreme awful moment, on which hangs eternity! Friends speak consolation, human consolation! Vain words that fall upon the ear, but reach not the heart. God is wanted, and God in his mercy comes. Jesus in the Viaticum enters the house of the dying sinner. At the presence of the Redeemer the angels of darkness fly away in rage and confusion. During his mortal life the presence of Jesus struck such terror into the demons that they raised a cry of rage, begged of Him not to torment them so cruelly, and, despite their pride, they asked as a favor, to be allowed to enter the loathsome swine, and precipitated themselves into the sea. They now recognize the same God, and into the darkness of Hell they fly in confusion, robbed of their expected prey.
The minister of God, breathing the charity and mercy of his Divine Master for the sinner, approaches the bedside, the tale of sin and sorrow amid sighs and tears is whispered to his ear, the hands commissioned to bind and to loose, to forgive and retain sin, are lifted up, the mysterious words of pardon are pronounced, and quicker than thought the chains of sin are burst asunder, the lost soul is won back to the bosom of her God, and the angels sing a canticle of joy at the salvation of the repenting sinner. The reconciliation is sealed in the blood of Jesus Christ. The priest says, "Receive, brother, the viaticum of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ: may It protect thee from the wicked enemy, and conduct thee to life everlasting." O supreme happiness of the soul, tasting for the last time on the deathbed the sweetness of Jesus in the Holy Communion. Tears of joy glisten in the eyes a little before so dim, serene hopes displace the black despair that a little before sat upon the brow, the heart a little before steeped in anguish and sorrow is filled with the joyous love of God, a sunbeam of heaven plays round the countenance, and lights up the face a little before so dejected; and the Holy Viaticum gives the soul in this life a foretaste of the joys of paradise. If unbelievers witnessed such a deathbed scene, like the Jews after the miracles at the Crucifixion, they would strike their breasts and say, "Truly He is the Son of God" in the holy Viaticum. After receiving Jesus in the holy Viaticum, the soul is happy, resigned to the will of God, patient to bear and suffer the pains of death, and wishes to "be dissolved and be with Christ." A dead man was thrown one day by robbers into the tomb of Eliseus, and was immediately restored to life. If the withered bones of the prophet animated the dead, what will not the body and blood of Jesus do for the departing soul? Sweet Jesus! How good Thou art to come to our deathbed when we are sick and dying, to put to flight the demons, to smooth down the pillow of death, to take from the grave its sting and from death its victory, to make us happy, and to take us to Thyself!
Jesus comes to us at all times and to all places, in rain and in storm, in snow and in hail, in the pinching cold as in the burning heat, in midnight as in midday, to the wretched home of poverty in the bog or on the mountain, as well as to the stately palace of the king, to the poverty stricken creature rotting in the garret, or the castaway, forgotten on the wayside, as to the tenant of the lordly mansion. To the fetid abode of fever, cholera, or plague, where death stares God's minister in the face, go the priest of Jesus will, yea, and go cheerfully, like his Divine Master, offering the sacrifice of his life for his flock. Reverentially in his bosom, over his heart, he bears the "Holy of Holies" the holy Viaticum. On the way, while others may talk, he heeds not, all his attention being centred in the Blessed Sacrament, and his soul absorbed in prayer to his God prayers, perhaps, for the departing sinner. Thus Jesus in His mercy and love comes to the home of sickness and sorrow, to fortify the soul and help her to wing her flight to the bosom of her God. May we in dying receive this greatest and last of God's blessings, nay, God Himself the holy Viaticum.
The following fact is recorded by St. Charles Borromeo (Memorial of a Christian Life). During the great plague in Milan, a priest, bearing the holy Viaticum to the dying, passed by a heap of some sixty dead bodies, about to be interred. One man still living, and hearing the tinkling of the bell, cried out in a dying voice: "Father, for the love of God may I receive once again the holy communion'' The God whom he was carrying inspired the priest with courage; he hesitated not; walking over the dead, he gave holy Communion to the dying man, who in a few moments expired to enjoy and see that God face to face whom he had just received under the sacrament veil. Which is most worthy of admiration the priest or penitent?
In Catholic countries on the Continent the Holy Viaticum is carried to the sick under a rich canopy in solemn procession. The bells of the Church give notice to the public; the priest, vested in his holy robes, is accompanied by acolytes bearing lighted torches; one rings constantly a little bell to admonish the people that Jesus is passing by, and crowds of the faithful, especially members of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, join the procession and carry lights. To encourage the faithful to this holy practice, Pope Innocent XI. granted an indulgence of seven years and seven quarantines to all who accompany Jesus in the Viaticum with a lighted taper to the house of the sick. In Ireland the laws are against these public manifestations of faith and reverence; but we ought to do all in our power to mark our devotion and love to this most august Sacrament The chamber of the sick person should be as clean and neat as possible. In it there should be prepared a table covered with a clean white napkin, on the table a crucifix, two wax candles, a vessel of holy water, another vessel or glass of common water, a spoon, and a clean towel or napkin for a communion cloth. Everything should manifest our faith and love for the Lord of Glory about to come into the house.
If we cannot accompany our Blessed Lord to the sick in solemn procession with lighted torches, let us follow Jesus in spirit. whenever we see a priest going to or returning from the dying, let us adore and love Jesus whom he bears in his bosom. When we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, let us beg this favor the greatest favor which heaven can bestow to receive in peace the holy Viaticum on our death-beds; to receive for the last time our Divine Lord in faith, in hope, and love. To die with Jesus in the heart is "to fall asleep in the Lord," and "blessed are the dead who die in the Lord."
O happiness, to die after having received in our hearts the God who created and redeemed us, and who in a few moments will judge us! O happiness, to close our eyes to this miserable world after having received the pledge of eternal life! He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood," says the Redeemer, hath life everlasting, and I will raise him up in the last day." John vi. 55. "He that eateth this bread shall live forever." Consummation of supreme happiness! to see face to face the same God, whom during our lives long we adored and loved under the sacramental veils, to hear from His Divine lips this sweet invitation, "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of the Lord." Matt. xxv. 21. Joy which "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive." 1 Cor. ii. 9. Joy of the Lord! "To be inebriated with the plenty of God's house, and drink forever of the torrent of his pleasures," Ps. xxv. 9. May we see the joy of the Lord.
My soul, what a treasure to receive the blessing of God himself! Yet it is true Jesus blesses thee. In Benediction of the Mot Holy Sacrament thou dost receive the blessing of the Son of God himself. Hast thou appreciated it? How often hast thou neglected it?
Not only does Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament bless and feed thee during life, but in dying, at the supreme and awful moment of death He comes to thy bedside to fortify and comfort thee, to make thee happy, and take thee to Himself to heaven. O holy Viaticum!
In atonement for my past ingratitude, and in reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I resolve never to omit, even at considerable inconveinience, Benediction of the Most Holy Sacrament. Secondly, in love and thanksgiving to Jesus in the holy Viaticum, I resolve to be most zealous in preparing, whenever I have an opportunity, the requisites for the communion of the sick, and every day of my life to beseech the Almighty God to bestow upon me the greatest of all blessings the blessing of receiving worthily the Most Holy Viaticum.
Most Holy Sacrament, strengthen my weakness to keep for Thy greater glory these my resolutions.
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