Several years ago I translated this splendid text of Mother Mectilde de Bar entitled “On the Solemnity of Thursday.” In it, Mother Mectilde pours out her soul in a torrent of amazement and thanksgiving and adoration. The 17th century Benedictine sets forth why, in the monasteries of her observance, Thursday is celebrated as a recurring festival of Corpus Christi, a weekly return to the Cenacle where Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of His Love. Catherine-Mectilde de Bar is, without any doubt, the most Eucharistic soul in what was a Eucharistic century par excellence, and a century of saints surpassing all others, le grand siècle, the epoch of France’s mystic invasion, and the full flowering of the Council of Trent’s renewal of the Church in holiness.
O Precious Day!
Thursday: one can name it the day of the magnificences and profusions of divine love. It is on this day that Jesus Christ unfurls all the grandeurs of His munificence and gives to men the most incomprehensible proof of His charity, by instituting the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. O precious day! Day that we shall never know how to celebrate enough! Holy day, happy day, of which every instant must be infinitely precious to us who have the honour of being wholly consecrated to this august mystery.
Thursday: a Day of Pascha
For the victims* of the Holy Sacrament, Thursday must be a day of Pascha, a day of solemnity and of rejoicing. This day is so abundant in graces that one can say that it exhausts all that Our Lord Jesus Christ is and can do. What more can He do after the institution of the divine Eucharist? What is there that is not [contained] in this august mystery?
Sunday and Thursday
Sunday is held in singular veneration among all christians, because it is dedicated and consecrated in a special manner to the Most Holy Trinity. One author has said that so abundant in blessings is this day that all creatures participate in them, each according to his nature and capacity. If this is so of Sunday, what then must be said of Thursday? The same God whom we adore on Sunday in Himself, gives Himself entirely to us on Thursday. Thursday is the day of God’s great communications to His creatures. Oh! who is not ravished by the infinite goodness of the King of kings! He gives us all that He has, all that He is, all — without reservation.
The Excessive Charity of God
Jesus, says Saint John, having loved his own, loved them to the end. And, in effect, what greater mark of love could He give them than to institute the Holy Eucharist? How great is the marvel that He works for us on this day, and who shall be able to understand it? It is here that all must remain in the silence of admiration. A God makes himself our food! O astonishing prodigy! What are all the miracles worked by Jesus Christ during the course of his earthly life in comparison to this one? What a spectacle! What bounty! What charity! A God who gives Himself to us! O love! He who with three fingers sustains the universe is held by the priest. He who commands all of nature obeys a being who is nothing. He who is all-powerful makes Himself so dependent that he is in the power of His creatures; they carry Him, they bring Him wherever they choose. This is too much. Your charity, my Saviour, goes even to excess! O incomprehensible miracle! Mystery forever inconceivable! No, the thought of man would not know how to attain it.
Man Can Love, Man Can Adore
Man cannot understand; but man can love, man can adore. We, especially, who by a special favour see the Most Holy Sacrament exposed on our altars every Thursday,** with what fervour should we not be animated? The solemnity of Thursday must be or us a solemnity forever new; it must also set our hearts ablaze with a love that is new. Let us not settle for drawing people to the feet of Jesus the Host by the outward worship that we render Him more particularly on this day. Let us redouble our readiness to attend to His holy presence. Let the whole Community, if possible, remain in adoration to recognize the gift that the Eternal Father has made to the world in Jesus Christ, His Son, in this God whose love constrains Him to stay among men even unto the consummation of the ages.
Paradise on Earth
In the Eucharist, our adorable Saviour has a love that surpasses all other loves; His heart is open to all as a wellspring abounding in graces and in mercies. How hard one would have to be not to be touched by so excessive a kindness, not to be burned by this most ardent charity! How obliged we are to Jesus Christ for having readily willed to set, in this way, Paradise on earth! A God makes Himself captive for us! He is in our new arks like a prisoner in his jail cell! How happy we are to possess in this way our most lovable Saviour in the Most Holy Sacrament, since we have in this august mystery the One whom the angels and the saints love and adore in heaven, the One who is the object of their eternal beatitude. What marvels! Can one contemplate them without falling into an eternal ravishment? Oh! the prodigious invention of divine charity! What is it, my God, what is the creature that You fill it so with the abundance of your graces? Man is but a nothing, and you are not satisfied with having created him, redeemed him, shed even the last drop of your blood for him, dying for his salvation. You yourself still give yourself to him . . . O ineffable grace! O inestimable gift!
If we but had a little faith, what meditations, what sublime contemplations would the sight of a God giving Himself to man not inspire us! But no, we are blind and know not how to appreciate so great a happiness; we are insensible and Jesus the Host does not touch us; we are so miserable that the least trifle occupies us entirely, and we remain closed to heaven’s most precious graces, to the infinite benefits of our God. Have we ever duly given thanks for the ineffable gift of the Eucharist? What thanksgivings have we made for it? Alas!, one must say in groaning that the greater number of men never even think of Jesus present among them.
Of All Marvels the Most Prodigious
A God — greatness, power, richness itself — reduces Himself to nothing for us in the Host, and we think no more of it than one would of something commonplace and ordinary. O stupidity! Oh, the ingratitude of men! One does not think of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and, yet, is this not this of all mysteries the most divine, of all marvels the most prodigious, the most inconceivable? What has one said of this divine mystery up until the present that in any way approaches the reality of it? What are the most learned men’s discourses next to what is in truth? No, no, there is not a tongue that would know how to express the grandeurs, the riches hidden in our tabernacles. It is an abyss impenetrable to the human spirit. You Yourself, O God, reveal to some privileged soul the secret of this mystery, and put your spirit within her, that she might speak of it worthily for, in truth, we know nothing of it.
If Thou but Knew the Gift of God
No, no, we do not know what the Eucharist is. We believe in this mystery, but it is with a faith that is languishing and unrefined; we are content to believe in the presence of Jesus Christ on the altar, without deepening anything, without penetrating ourselves through with the wonders that He works there. What is this, then, O my God, what is this great Sacrament, so incomprehensible, so admirable, so miraculous? What is Jesus the Host, and what does He do when He descends into His creature, when He loses Himself in her by Holy Communion? O my soul, if thou but knew the gift of God! Si scires donum Dei! If thou but understood something of this mystery of faith, mysterium fidei! If thou but knew the One who hides Himself, who buries Himself, who annihilates Himself in thee? If thou couldst but plumb the depths of His love! Wouldst thou be able to live a single instant without giving thyself to Him? A God who visits us, a God who gives Himself to us; He comes to raise us up from our woes and to deliver us from the tyranny of sin, and we do not die of love for Him? Ah, I pray You, lift the veil that conceals You from our eyes; let the torch of faith illumine us, that we might penetrate all that You are, all that You do for us on the altar and in our hearts.
A God Who Wants to Be Our Happiness
Let us try to recognize the excess of divine charity, and let this be the measure of our gratitude and of our love. What shall we give to God to pay Him for giving Himself to us? Let us not search outside of ourselves; it ourselves that He asks for, it is our love that He purchases with His own. He gives Himself to us only so that we might give ourselves to Him. He asks for ourselves, not that we should be His happiness, but that He should be ours; because the felicity of the creature is found only in the possession of God. Oh! Far too greedy is the soul for whom Jesus Christ is not enough! All of us, let us find our contentment in Him and leave to Him all the rest! He wants to be our unique possession, to the exclusion of ourselves and of all that is created. My God, what more can we desire after having received You in our hearts? In giving Yourself to us, do You not give all things with Yourself? No, no, the Holy Sacrament alone is enough for a true victim*; she finds all in Him; she has no need of anything else to sanctify herself, to perfect herself; for her, all is contained in the sacred Eucharistic Bread. Jesus Christ sacrificed in all her science, all her love, all her treasure. She finds in Him the lights and the knowledge she needs.
The Wisdom of the Father Remains in Silence
Let us draw near to Him and we shall be enlightened! Accedite ad eum et illuminamini. Jesus Christ, silent in the Host, carries out, as He did during His mortal life, the office of Master and of Doctor. A saint said that the cross was, as it were, a pulpit for this Man-God. One can say the same thing of our tabernacles: the different states that he there assumes are so many lessons that He is giving us: He wants us to live by His Eucharistic life, His life sacrificed, His life annihilated, His life of absolute death to all created things. Let us deepen this divine mystery; we shall see that the Author of Life is there in a state of death, that the Wisdom of the Father remains in silence, that Infinite Being encloses Himself in an imperceptible particle, that the Sovereign and All-Powerful obeys a weak mortal.
Let Your Sanctity Purify Us
Truly, it is in the Holy Eucharist that Jesus Christ is, according to the language of Scripture, the hidden God, the self-emptied God. . . . And what reduces him to this profound exinanition? Why, but little satisfied with having become a mortal man capable of suffering, does He make Himself, in this way, His creature’s most ordinary food? Always the same answer: Jesus Christ has loved us. When will it be given us to render love for love? Let us love, O my sisters, let us love without delay this lovable Saviour who hides the brightness of His glory that we might have a way to draw near to Him, who empties Himself of His grandeurs to honour His Father in our place, who ceaselessly sacrifices Himself to deflect from our heads the rigors of divine justice. Let us employ all our care to adore Him well; let us put all our glory in rendering Him the homage that we owe Him. Really let us be victims, according to the commitment we have made. Are we not very happy that God has chosen us to belong to Him in so particular a manner, and to keep Him company in His sacred mystery? For whom does He put Himself more specially in the Host, if not for us? One can say that Jesus Christ Himself produced us at the altar for Himself; because the Work He accomplished in establishing this Institute immolate us and sacrifices us altogether to His self-emptied greatness in the adorable Eucharist. Let us deepen the holiness of this Work and, seized with astonishment at the sight of our unworthiness, we shall cry out in transport: “O God, is it possible that you willed to suffer such poor and wretched creatures in Your temple and in the place of Your perpetual adorations?” Let us cast overselves low, let us empty ourselves out, in considering God’s bounties for us. O my Saviour! Let Your sanctity purify us! Let it render us worthy of adoring eternally Your divine Sacrament! Let us live henceforth only to glorify you, as so many hosts consecrated to Your august Majesty, and who, consequently, have no right at all over themselves!
Victimhood: Identification with Jesus Christ
By the vow of victimhood, in no way do we belong any more to ourselves; Jesus Christ claims all His rights over us. Our life, our movements, our thoughts, our operations both inward and outward, all belongs to Him; we are, in a word, daughters of the Holy Sacrament. How august and mysterious this name is! We are daughters of the Holy Sacrament, that is to say that we must be altogether entered and passed over into Jesus Christ, with crosses for our heritage with Him, with disgraces, humiliations, rejections, contradictions, sufferings, temptations, and whatsoever crucifies our nature. There is all our portion, there our heritage. We would be mistaken to expect anything else; we cannot be victims without the sword, without the cord, without torment, without sorrow, without death.
Associated to Jesus Christ in His quality of pledge for sinners, let us ever have before our eyes the obligations that this title confers and let us not forget that we are victims of the divine justice. By our profession, we only began our sacrifice; it must be consummated and brought to its final perfection. For that crosses are needed, agonies, and annihilations. Let us, then, run towards all that crucifies our nature. This is the example given us by Jesus Christ. This is what He expects of us. This is what we engaged ourselves to do in entering the Institute. Without crosses we would not truly be daughters of the Holy Sacrament; without crosses, Jesus Christ would not be able to take His delights in us. He gave Himself and still gives Himself to us entirely. He wills that, in the same way, we should give ourselves entirely to Him to become victim-hosts of His justice.
Participation in the Passion of Christ
By the sacrifice of ourselves, we shall yet arrive at establishing the life of Jesus Christ in us. This is His desire: He wills that we should live for Him as He lives for His Father, and so be able, all of us, to say with the Apostle: I live, no longer I, but it is Jesus Christ who lives in me. In this way, God will be uniquely and sovereignly glorified in us, for time and for eternity. Live no longer, then, except for our Victim; let us convert ourselves totally in Him; He expects this of our fidelity, and we owe it to our precious title of daughters of the Holy Sacrament. Let us work at renouncing ourselves, at mortification and, as Saint Paul says, let us accomplish in us what is lacking to the passion of Jesus Christ.
Strength from His Weakness
To strengthen our weakness, have recourse to Our Lord. Let us raise up our courage and our confidence: Jesus Christ suffers and dies for us; let us draw our strength from His weakness, and our life from His death. Pray Him to come into us, to show that He is our God and our absolute Sovereign. In spite of all the opposition and the repugnances of our nature, let Him bring us entirely into subjection to His empire, to His power, and to His laws. Let us make to Him as perfect a sacrifice of ourselves as He desires.
Emptying-Out of Self in His Presence
When we are before the Most Holy Sacrament, we must not be content merely to adore Him with lip-service; we need to lower ourselves into a profound emptying out of self, and recognize that we are nothing, that we are less than nothing and, in this disposition, offer to the spotless Lamb who immolates Himself for the salvation of the world not only a sacrifice of adoration and of thanksgiving, but again a sacrifice of submission, of abandonment, and of consecration. Let us adhere to His divine will, detach ourselves from creatures, and renounce all human consolation, so as to life in Jesus only and only for Jesus.
At the Feet of Our Divine Master
We must never lose sight of our holy tabernacles: it is there that we find our strength and our virtue. If human infirmity and affairs allowed, we should pass our whole life at the feet of our divine Master; at least let us go there as often as possible, and quit so many futile occupations that rob us of precious time claimed for what we owe the love of a God.
To Live with Jesus
Far from us be disgust, negligence, and frivolity. Alas! Is it possible that it should be burdensome for us to converse with our Sovereign Lord? Where is one better than close to one’s Father, to one’s Spouse, to one’s all? To live with Jesus, is this not to begin to live on earth the life that we are called to live in heaven? Ah! Can we say that we have faith if we complain of the length of time that we spend before the Most Holy Sacrament?
Imitate the Saints
What, however, does one see in the world, and perhaps even among us? Poor creatures, fragile nothings, worms of the earth to whom it costs to spend a half hour with the King of heaven and of earth. People consecrate days and nights to vain conversations, to futile entertainments, and always find too long the moments given to a God who forgets Himself for love of us. O heavens, be astonished! My Saviour, pardon them, or they know not what they do. Happy, says the Prophet, are those who dwell in Your house, O Lord, and who praise you unceasingly. The saints understand this truth; also, how many there are who spent their days and nights with God, and who complained all the same of the rapid passage of time. So do the saints act and think, because they are quickened by a lively faith: let us have their faith, and we will think and act as they did.
All Christians ought to be in perpetual adoration before the Son of God in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is to make up for their coldness and indifference that the Institute was established. Let us carry out fervently so glorious a function and make of the altar our delights. Let our spirit and our body be bound thereto like two victims under the mastery of a pure and simple faith. If we are without taste for it, without light, without sensible consolation, we can, by the obscurity of our senses, render homage to this God who is hidden and brought to nothing. Let us abide before Him with patience, humility, and abandonment. Always it is for us a great honour to be able to keep watch with Jesus Christ.
If nearly all Christians are ungrateful towards this mystery of love, we, at least, will not be and we will recognize the gift of God. One can say that the Eternal Father gives us, in our Institute, all that is most august of what He has; that He makes us the depositors and guardians of His most precious treasures. He gives us His divine Son, in whom He has placed all His good pleasure. This infinite gift, He gave first of all to men, and they failed to recognize it. He sought souls who would know how to appreciate its value, and He chose us. May Jesus find abundantly in us the glory and the delight that others refuse Him elsewhere! May we, by our ardour, worthily repair for the coldness and impiety of so many others. Weep without ceasing over their ingratitude, and ask our heavenly Father to take pity on those who profane His divine Son. Even if the humiliations He endures in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist had occurred but one time, we should want to groan all our life long to make reparation for them. They are renewed every day; yes, every day, and in an infinity of places, Jesus Christ is the object of the most cutting outrages, of the most horrible sacrileges. What shall we do at the sight of so many crimes? My God, we ought to die of sorrow . . . Ah, at least, I will consecrate to You the rest of my life to repair, as best I can, Your glory, and to obtain of You that these cruel indignities to which You are exposed, at last come to an end.
Humble and Contrite of Heart Before Him
We must be ready at all times to die for the interests of Jesus the Host, and as we would never have the courage to sustain His interests at the price of our own blood if we do not begin to sustain them by death to ourselves, let us hold ourselves like victims always ready and die ceaselessly to ourselves in all the occasions of sacrifice that present themselves. Let us begin by repairing in us the glory of our Saviour by establishing His reign within us, and let us abandon ourselves to the justice of God so that He may make of us true daughters of the Holy Sacrament. Let us keep ourselves from putting obstacles in the way of His designs, and that we might begin to enter into them, let us break our hearts with a sincere contrition at the sight of our past infidelities, and cast ourselves into a profound abasement before the infinite Majesty of God.
Fidelity to the Vocation
All our life, let us thank Him for having chosen us to consecrate us to His Son in so special a manner. Let us not forget the obligations that this favour imposes, and let us fear that our grace be taken away from us to pass into more faithful hands. Before the altar, let us often examine if we are corresponding to our vocation. What a sad thing it would be if the Institute were to come to nothing by our fault and if Our Lord were deprived of the glory that He rightly expects of us.
Let us make haste to enter into the usages of the precious quality of victimhood by a great simplicity of spirit, by a perfect obedience of heart and, above all, by a profound humility. Without humility, all our reparations would be no more than illusions.
Since Our Lord has made the Institute for us, since He has entrusted it to us, and since its progress and perfection depend on us, let us keep watch and pray. Take care lest we profane it rather than sanctify it. An exact account will be required of all our failings, of the graces of which we will have drawn no profit, and also of those which were destined for us, and of which we made ourselves unworthy. The account will be faithful, the judgment rigorous: think of that.
*The Meaning of Victim in the Writings of Mother Mectilde
The word victim frightens some people; it exercises an unhealthy attraction over others; and for still others has an unplesasantly melodramatic ring about it. When Mother Mectilde de Bar uses the word victim, what exactly does she mean?
First of all, Mother Mectilde uses “victim” as the proper title of those who are vowed to adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament under the Rule of Saint Benedict in her Institute. While others, she says, may enter religious life to save their own souls and gain eternal glory in heaven, the Benedictine of the Most Holy Sacrament must so forget herself, and even the needs of her own soul, that she sacrifices all self-interest and enters the monastery for one reason only: to adore and glorify the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and to make up by this sacrifice of all spiritual self-interest for those who never adore Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love or, even worse, offend Him by unspeakable sins of irreverence and sacrilege.
Secondly, Mother Mectilde uses the word victim in the same way the texts of the sacred liturgy use it. I could cite here any number of Secrets and Postcommunions from both the Temporal and Sanctoral Masses. A victim is a living being made over to God alone in so radical and irrevocable way that she no longer has any life outside of life in God, for God, and by God. The liturgical use of the term victim makes it very clear that this is the ordinary state of anyone who receives Holy Communion consciously and devoutly. By being at-oned [joined] to the Divine Victim, the Lamb of God, one becomes a single victim with Him, that is, an offering made over to the Father in a holocaust of love.
Thirdly, Mother Mectilde uses the word to express the profound communion of the soul with Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love, where He is forever the Christus passus, Christ in the very act of His immolation and self-offering to the Father. Our Lord present in the tabernacle is not there in a state of suspended animation or divine inertia; He is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament as He is in the sanctuary of Heaven: the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim, offered at every moment to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. One who adores the Blessed Sacrament will be, sooner or later, drawn into a mystic participation in the victimhood of the Lamb.
**On Adoration and Exposition
As I have written elsewhere, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament must not be confused with exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Among the Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament, exposition was limited to Thursdays and the following feasts: Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Annunciation, Assumption, Saint Benedict on 21 March and on 11 July, and Saint Scholastica. On all the other days the perpetual adoration was carried out before the closed tabernacle.