As time permits, I am continuing to work on translating into English some of the writings of Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement. Here is a little more than half of her Preface to the Constitutions of her Institute. After each section I have added, in italics, a little commentary of my own.
Preface of the Constitutions
The Vocation of the Religious of the Most Holy Sacrament
Professed to the Holiness and Purity of the Son of God
If Saint Bernard could say with truth that religious profession is very lofty in its excellence, that it raises one who makes it above the heavens, and that it makes one parallel to the condition of the angels, one can, in some way, say that this Institute is of a truly divine eminence and that the religious professed to it must be not only graced with a purity and a holiness that are more than heavenly and that make them equal to the angels. For beyond the great advantages that this Institute holds in common with other religious Orders, it gives to those who profess to it an altogether particular elevation; if we must believe that there is no power above the one held by priests, by reason of their [sacramental] character, over the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, we can say of the religious of the Most Holy Sacrament that only the holiness and purity of the Son of God are above that to which their profession engages them.
The traditional comparison of the monastic state with the angelic life was familiar to Mother Mectilde; she acknowledges the suitability of the analogy with regard to other Orders. When it comes to her own Institute, however, she feels held to the highest standard of holiness and purity: that of the Victim Christ, the Hostia Perpetua, in the Sacrament of His Love. All that she contemplates in the Divine Host becomes for her the very pattern of her own life. Her Benedictine Adorers are called not only to contemplate the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, but also to become what they contemplate.
A Particular Covenant with the Son of God
Religious Orders, according to Saint Bernard, owe much to the first school of virtue and of holiness that Our Lord held in this world. It is they who most perfectly imitate His first disciples, and their holy exercises are a renewal of the evangelical life, but the religious of the Holy Sacrament seem to enter into an altogether particular covenant with the very Person of the Son of God. They share in His own quality of Host and of Victim and become in Him and through Him veritable reparators of the offenses and irreverences that, in the Most Holy Sacrament, it may befall Him to receive from men.
Mother Mectilde adheres to the traditional understanding of the Vita Apostolica. Apostolic life is the imitation of the first school of holiness, the one constituted by the teaching and companionship of Christ, the Divine Master, in the midst of His chosen ones. Here again she holds herself and her Benedictine Adorers to a higher standard. She calls this higher standard “a particular covenant with the very Person of the Son of God.” This covenant signifies an atonement — a becoming-one-with — the very Person of the Son of God. Here, Mother Mectilde approaches the traditional Patristic doctrine of theosis or divinization. This union with the Word of God leads, in turn, to a participation in His kenosis, the self-emptying sacrifice of Love Crucified. She understands that there can be no union with Christ, the Immolated Lamb, apart from participation in His victimhood. Thus will her Benedictine Adorers “repair” or “make reparation” for the offenses and irreverences with which indifferent and ungrateful men repay the self-emptying love revealed and present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Reparation to God
But to live as a host [in the state of a host] and to exercise worthily the function of reparators, it is further necessary that they know that their profession renders them indebted to the Most Holy Sacrament in two things, without which it is impossible that they should ever make perfect reparation to Him. The first is to give back to Him all the glory taken away from Him in profaning the Most Holy Sacrament.
Essentially, this is to believe for those who do not believe, to hope for those who do not hope, to love for those who do not love, and to adore for those who do not adore. It is, furthermore, to approach the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar with the profound reverence and adoration that is our bounden duty to the Divine Majesty veiled beneath the Sacred Species. It is to surround the Blessed Sacrament with every fitting expression of love, adoration, thanksgiving, praise, and homage. It is to abide before Our Lord’s Eucharistic Face by day and by night in union with His ceaseless offering to Father and with His merciful love for poor sinners.
Solidarity with Poor Sinners
The second is that the religious of the Holy Sacrament must not only make it their office to give back to Jesus Christ contained in the Sacred Host as much honour as He suffers there from contempt and irreverence, but they must also resolve to satisfy for all the temporal punishment incurred by the guilt of the detestable profaners of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. Thus do they follow the example of our adorable Saviour, who, in taking our human nature, was not content [only] to restore to God His Father all the glory that sinners had taken away from Him by their crimes, but even more sacrificed Himself and suffered all the chastisements that they would have deserved in terms of rigorous justice.
Those who approach the Most Holy Sacrament unworthily are guilty of sacrilege. “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 11:29) The priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a state of grave sin, or irreverently, or hurriedly, or with little regard for the dispositions and attitudes laid down by the Church is guilty of ingratitude, impiety, and often scandal. Where are the souls who will stand in the breach for such priests? Where are the souls pierced through by compunction who will present themselves before the Divine Justice on their behalf? Where are there souls who will say to God, “Forgive, save, and sanctify those who have sinned against the Sacrament of Thy Love, and let me, with Christ the Lamb, suffer whatsoever Thou allowest to befall me, that they turn to Thee, and that Thou mayest draw out of them all of the love and all of the glory that Thou didst have in view in allowing them to approach Thy altars.” Mother Mectilde would have her Benedictine Adorers be just such souls.
In the Consuming Fire
This first obligation to honour and to glorify the Most Holy Sacrament, as much as It is despised and profaned by the wicked and by infidels requires of the religious consecrated to It as victims, firstly, an entire and continual consummation of themselves to the glory of Jesus Christ who so often wholly consummates Himself for them; that is to say that they must be like holocausts, which the sacred fire of love for the Most Holy Sacrament must consume totally, and they must be like sacred vessels to be used only at the altar lest they be profaned, or like the lights of the torches used to make the act of reparation (amende honorable), which burn and are consumed only in honour of the Most Holy Sacrament.
In the vocation of the Benedictine Adorer as presented by Mother Mectilde there are no half-measures. There is no place for the lukewarm and for those whose hearts are divided. The Benedict Adorer casts himself into the Furnace of Burning Charity, trusting that in the holocaust of all that he is and has, he will be united to the divinely fruitful Passion of Christ “for His Body, which is the Church.” (Colossians 1:24)
Purity of Heart
Secondly, it requires that this consummation appear in their life and in their actions, by an intention that is wholly deiform, which holds them at every moment raised above all the impressions of the senses and of nature, and which transforms them so universally into Jesus Christ veiled beneath the Species, that not only are they always in Him, as He is in them, but they also live and act only in Him, ceaselessly seeing themselves and all things in Him.
Here Mother Mectilde touches upon the purity of heart that, according to Saint John Cassian and the entire monastic tradition, is the aim of every ascetical labour, of detachment from created things, of chastity, and of the single-hearted pursuit of the One Thing Necessary. This purity of heart disposes the Benedictine Adorer to the grace of transformation into Christ, Priest and Victim, who at every moment offers Himself to the Father and draws sinners to His Eucharistic Heart. Christ does in the tabernacle what He does in the sanctuary of heaven; one who seeks Him in the tabernacle were He dwells sacramentally will necessarily be drawn into His heavenly life with the Father and the Holy Ghost.
No Commerce with the Life of the Senses
Thirdly, this intention must be followed by a life of pure faith, having no commerce with the life of the senses and with the reasonings of the human spirit, because the beasts (representing the senses) and the men (representing reason) who would dare to approach the holy mountain where the God of heaven has come to dwell in the cloud of the sacramental Species, meet only with fire, flashes of lightening and peals of thunder, and they will be stoned and crushed beneath the weight of Him who is the mystic cornerstone from which the waters of eternal life flow into us.
Mother Mectilde uses a number of biblical images here to describe what Saint John of the Cross would call the night of the senses and the dark night of the spirit. In order to be united to the Eucharistic Christ one must relinquish all that solicits the senses and appeals to human reasoning. Faced with the fragile whiteness of the Host and nothing else, one is compelled either to flee from the Divine Presence or to remain in adoration, clinging to faith alone and leaning on the experience of the saints of the Church through the ages. One who tries to penetrate or seize the Most Holy Eucharist by dint of imagination and reasoning will meet with a consuming fire that destroys all that is incompatible with the adorable Mystery. In the end, only the adorer who remains in naked faith before the naked Host will be given to drink of the mystic living water promIsed by Christ. “And on the last, and great day of the festivity, Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink.” (John 7:37)
The Dark Brightness of Faith
One must enter, then, into the darkness of faith and into the cloud of Divine Revelation alone, in imitation of Moses, so as to be able to take joy in the Real Presence and participate in the divine communications of the inaccessible sun of the Divinity hidden in the Most Holy Sacrament; this is why souls who would glorify this august Mystery must consult no other oracles nor borrow any lights apart from those of faith and Divine Revelation, for Divine Revelation alone can make known to them the greatnesses and incomprehensible perfections contained therein.
A legion of pious souls, in effect, run about consulting oracles and borrowing lights apart from those of faith and Divine Revelation. These souls, says Mother Mectilde, are far from the austere path shown us by Moses, a narrow path that passes through the darkness of faith and leads into the cloud of Divine Revelation alone. This is way to joy in the Real Presence. This is the way to the radiance that shines from the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.
Faith Perfected in Unitive Love
This obligation to honour Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament demands, in the fourth place that the life of pure faith be accompanied by a unitive love so as to make one single thing, so to speak, of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus with the religious who are vowed to His glory. In the same way as the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Species have no other substance than that of the Son of God, so too do they lose their natural being, drawn from the corruption of the old man, to be transformed into the divine being received from the new man, so as to have no other inclinations, no other spirit, no other thoughts, words, or actions than His and those that His grace and his Divine Spirit inspire.
Mother Mectilde’s image of unitive love is that of transubstantiation. Three centuries later, Saint Peter Julian Eymard, reflecting on his “vow of personality” will arrive at a similar conclusion. One who, moved by love, adores the Blessed Sacrament and is nourished by It will, ultimately, become one with the One upon whom he has fixed his heart’s gaze, the One whose Body and Blood have become his daily bread and drink.
Imitating the Two Cherubim of the Ark
Finally, this obligation requires a life of continual prayer by which, imitating the two cherubim of the Ark, they will at all times hold the face of their spirit and of their heart turned towards this Divine Propitiatory of the New Testament, from which they must receive all their oracles, and from which, they must believe, God speaks most ordinarily and most familiarly to them and makes them understand his Divine Will.
Catherine Mectilde de Bar engages her Benedictine Adorers in a life of ceaseless prayer. Whether actually in the Oratory before the tabernacle, or before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance, “whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter VII), the Benedictine Adorer is turned inwardly towards the Mercy Seat. It is in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament that one experiences the fulness of the Divine Hospitality. It is there that one grows in the Friendship of Christ. It is there that He speaks to the soul “face to face as a man is wont to speak to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)
To be continued.