Some years ago, as a love offering for the feast of my dear Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, I translated Dom Eugène Vandeur’s doctrinal synthesis of Merciful Love, the Cross, and the Mass in her life. The original text appeared in 1925 as part of a commentary of the then new Propers for the Mass of the feast of Saint Thérèse.
The Cross Reveals Merciful Love
The greatest proof of love that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has given to His Father is His sacrifice on the cross. This sacrifice, the most freely given that ever was, — and from that derives the infinite merit of this oblation of a Man Who is God — was an act of filial and loving obedience. This act repaired the profanation of the absolute rights of God over His creation that was wrought by Adam and by his race. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross was supreme adoration, fulness of thanksgiving, victorious supplication, and total expiation. The offering of this immolation appeased God and, at the same time, assured our redemption. By virtue of this, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is also the greatest proof of Merciful Love that Jesus Christ has given to men.
Jesus’ Love for His Father and for His Friends
This doctrine is condensed for us in these two words of the Gospel: “But that the world may know, that I love the Father: and as the Father hath given me commandment, so do I: Arise, let us go hence” (John 14, 31). And He went out toward Gethsemani. And again: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Love for Love
The love that the Heart of Christ revealed to us there, on the cross, to all of us and to each one, is mercy: mercy bound up with an infinite tenderness, or rather, suffused into it. One who welcomes that mercy is sanctified and saved. He will assuredly be sanctified and assured of his salvation who, wanting to respond with love to this Merciful Love, and meditating the word of the Apostle, “He loved me, and delivered Himself up for me” (Galatians 2, 20), will return the proposition and, “offering himself voluntarily as a victim of holocaust to Merciful Love,” will exclaim, “Ah, then, I will love Him, and deliver myself up for Him.”
The Cross, the Altar, and the Mass
Know that what the Cross merited, what the Cross procured, what the Cross preached, the Altar applies to us, procuring and preaching it ceaselessly, and more and more. And so, to live the Mass, is for a soul to abide in the uninterrupted act of this offering: the response of love to Merciful Love. Thus does a soul draw Merciful Love to herself ever more abundantly.
Thérèse tells us that to be devoted to Merciful Love “continually allows the Love with which God loves a soul and the love with which that soul loves God to come together in the heart, there ceaselessly to conceive new flames, which transform the soul in God” (Thérèse, Act of Offering). Thus does one become a wide open vessel, the receptacle of a Love rich in divine mercies. This frees “the torrent of infinite tenderness enclosed in the Divine Heart to overflow into oneself” (Thérèse, Act of Offering); it is the martyrdom of love, Love’s direct work in the soul. The consequences of this will, nearly always, entail suffering, but suffering cherished because with it one can purchase souls, a multitude of souls who will love Merciful Love eternally. By making oneself, at the altar, an extension of Jesus, crucified by Love, one causes the abundance of the infinite merits of the Cross to shower down, especially upon sinners. What an ideal!
Consumed by Merciful Love
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus synthesized this doctrine in a practical way when, in her solemn consecration to Merciful Love — a ceaseless response to the consecration of the Cross and of the Mass — the Lord inspired her to say:
In order that my life may be one Act of perfect Love, I offer myself as a Victim of Holocaust to Thy Merciful Love, imploring Thee to consume me unceasingly, and to allow the floods of infinite tenderness gathered up in Thee to overflow into my soul, so that I may become a very martyr of Thy Love, O my God!
The Thirst of the Crucified
The entire Christian and religious life of Saint Thérèse is there, whole and entire. She herself provides the living commentary on the [liturgical texts of the] Mass composed for her [feast] by her Mother, the Church. This is what she was saying when, with a pen of fire, she wrote:
One Sunday, closing my book at the end of Mass, a picture of Our Lord on the Cross half slipped out, showing only one of His Divine Hands, pierced and bleeding. I felt an indescribable thrill such as I had never felt before. My heart was torn with grief to see that Precious Blood falling to the ground, and no one caring to treasure It as It fell, and I resolved to remain continually in spirit at the foot of the Cross, that I might receive the Divine Dew of Salvation and pour it forth upon souls. From that day the cry of my dying Saviour–“I thirst!”–sounded incessantly in my heart, and kindled therein a burning zeal hitherto unknown to me. My one desire was to give my Beloved to drink; I felt myself consumed with thirst for souls, and I longed at any cost to snatch sinners from the everlasting flames of hell.
The Souls of Priests
“I feel,” she wrote to one of her sisters,
that Jesus is asking us to quench His thirst by giving Him souls, especially the souls of priests. . . Yes, let us pray for priests; let our life be consecrated to them . . . These souls [of priests] ought to be more transparent than crystal; but, alas, I feel that there are some ministers of the Lord who are not what they should be. And so, let us pray and suffer for them . . . Understand the cry of my heart!
Merciful Love Spread Abroad
It is very clear. Thérèse lived the Mass, especially its expiatory character. She stood at the foot of the holy cross raised over the altar, to gather up the Merciful Love that quenched her own thirst; then she would spread abroad that same Merciful Love over souls, to save them.
The Mass Made Thérèse a Saint
The Mass is the application to souls of the fruits of the Redemption merited upon the cross. If Thérèse of the Child Jesus is a saint, it is the cross that merited sainthood for her, but it is the Mass that applied to her the merits of sanctification and of salvation.