Let all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God be set before him. (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter LVIII. Of the Discipline of Receiving Brethren into Religion)
The True Spirit of Our Vocation
The hard and rugged paths by which a novice walks towards God are set before him in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The novice has only to gaze upon the Sacred Host to discover the true spirit of his vocation.
In finem dilexit. “Before the festival day of the pasch, Jesus knowing that his hour was come, that he should pass out of this world to the Father: having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). Showing His “love unto the end,” Jesus walked towards His Father along the hard and rugged way of the Cross, leaving us the adorable mysteries of His Body and Blood as the abiding memorial of His Passion.
The true spirit of our Benedictine life is one of participation in Our Lord’s Eucharistic kenosis (self–emptying). Compelled by an excess of divine pity, it was not enough for Christ to become for our sake “obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:); He chose to perpetuate the kenosis of His passion, even after His glorious resurrection and ascension in heaven, in the adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood.
In the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar we find Our Lord Jesus Christ in a condition of profound humiliation that, until His return in glory, announces the mystery of His death. “For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
The States of the Sacred Host
The monk who contemplates the Sacred Host will, by the secret action of the Holy Ghost, come to resemble the One whom he contemplates. Mother Mectilde de Bar suggests that each soul is called to participate in some way in what she calls the states of Jesus the Host. The knowledge of each soul’s particular correspondence to the Divine Host is, she says, given only in the light that comes from prayer. Once a soul has discerned what this correspondence is, she must pray for the grace to adhere to it by love, even though it be a hard and rugged thing to enter into the mystery of the Christus passus (Christ suffering).
It is Christ who gives one the courage to live faithfully in correspondence the states that are His in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. It is He who prepares for each soul a particular way of relating to the Host; He applies it to the soul; He has already won for each soul the grace to enter fruitfully into correspondence with Himself in the various states of His sacramental presence.
What are these states? Writing in Le véritable esprit (The True Spirit), a spiritual handbook for her Benedictines, Mother Mectilde enumerates twenty–four of them. One must not, however, conclude that in her list of the twenty–four states of the Host, she has exhausted the diversity by which the Holy Ghost actualizes the infinite richness of Christ in the Church. Mother Mectilde offers her inventory of twenty–four states as a point of departure and as an indication of what the Holy Ghost may bring to light in each soul. “The Spirit breatheth where he will and thou hearest his voice: but thou knowest not whence he cometh and whither he goeth. So is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
And there are diversities of ministries. but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God, who worketh all in all. And the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man unto profit. To one indeed, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom: and to another, the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit: To another, faith in the same spirit: to another, the grace of healing in one Spirit: To another the working of miracles: to another, prophecy: to another, the discerning of spirits: to another, diverse kinds of tongues: to another, interpretation of speeches. But all these things, one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will. For as the body is one and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body: So also is Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:5–12)
Here then are the twenty–four states of the Host that Mother Mectilde discerned; to each of them corresponds a virtue or fruit. Each state constitutes a particular form of holiness; a hard and rugged path to glory; a grace given for the upbuilding of the Church, and a participation in the priesthood and victimhood of Christ.
1. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is the servant. The fruit of correspondence to Jesus in His Eucharistic servanthood is perfect charity. “In this we have known the charity of God, because he hath laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). “For which is greater, he that sitteth at table, or he that serveth? Is it not he that sitteth at table? But I am in the midst of you, as he that serveth” (Matthew 22:27).
2. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is the victim immolated for sinners. The fruit of correspondence to Jesus in His immolation is continual death, according to the Apostle’s word: “Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake; that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us, but life in you” (2 Corinthians 4:10–12).
3. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is silent. The fruit of correspondence to Jesus in His Eucharistic silence is perfect silence. “Jesus, for His part, was silent”; Jesus autem tacebat (Matthew 26:63). And the psalmist says, “Be still and see that I am God” (Psalm 45:11).
4. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is, as it were, exiled and banished from His homeland. The fruit of correspondence to Jesus in His Eucharistic sojourn is pure love. “Woe is me, that my sojourning is prolonged! I have dwelt with the inhabitants of cedar. My soul hath been long a sojourner. With them that hated peace I was peaceable: when I spoke to them they fought against me without cause.” (Psalm 119:5–7). Purified by much suffering, the Apostle says, “Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; Charity beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:6–7).
5. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is unrecognized. “Verily thou art a hidden God, the God of Israel the saviour” (Isaias 45:15). The fruit of correspondence to Jesus unrecognized in the Most Holy Eucharist is profound littleness. “In that same hour, he rejoiced in the Holy Ghost, and said: I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father, for so it hath seemed good in thy sight” (Luke 10:21).
6. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is contradicted and persecuted. “Often have they fought against me from my youth, let Israel now say. Often have they fought against me from my youth: but they could not prevail over me. The wicked have wrought upon my back: they have lengthened their iniquity” (Psalm 128:1–3). The fruit of correspondence to Jesus contradicted and persecuted in the Most Holy Eucharist is invincible patience.
7. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is powerless. The fruit of correspondence to the powerlessness of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is perfect submission. “Naked came I out of my mother’ s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away: as it hath pleased the Lord so is it done: blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). And the psalmist prays: “But be thou, O my soul, subject to God: for from him is my patience. For he is my God and my saviour: he is my helper, I shall not be moved” (Psalm 61:6–7).
8. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is forsaken and neglected even as it is written: “Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not” (Isaias 53:3). The fruit of correspondence to Jesus forsaken and neglected in the Most Holy Eucharist is flight from creatures.
9. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is consumed in such a way that the Sacred Species cease to exist. The fruit of correspondence to the destruction of the Sacred Species is the destruction of the old man, according to Saint Paul’s words: “Put off, according to former conversation, the old man, who is corrupted according to the desire of error. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth” (Ephesians 4:22–24).
10. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus makes expiation, being, as it were, a penitent, not in the sense of having had to repent of any sin, for He is, as we say in the Roman Canon, “the Pure Victim, the Holy Victim, the Spotless Victim,” but in the sense of being entirely turned toward His Father as the New Adam making perfect reparation for all mankind. “Him, who knew no sin,” says the Apostle, “God hath made sin for us, that we might be made the justice of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The fruit of correspondence to this reparation of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is penitence in a spirit of reparation.
11. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is exposed to the power of His enemies. The fruit of correspondence to the exposure of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist to His enemies is perseverance in suffering. Concerning this Saint Paul writes, “There was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me. And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10).
12. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is abandoned to His Father’s Providence. The fruit of correspondence to Jesus’ abandonment to His Father’s Providence in the Most Holy Eucharist is total abandonment to Divine Providence. “Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31–33).
13. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus suffers the outrages and wicked treatment of sinners. The fruit of correspondence to Jesus suffering the outrages and wicked treatment of sinners in the Most Holy Eucharist is the humble acceptance of suffering. “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? or distress? or famine? or nakedness? or danger? or persecution? or the sword? (As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of him that hath loved us” (Romans 8:35–37).
14. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is poor. The fruit of correspondence to the poverty of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is poverty in spirit. “And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:2–3), and again, “Yet one thing is wanting to thee: sell all whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me” (Luke 18:22).
15. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is as one buried. The fruit of correspondence to burial of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is a supreme indifference to changing things and an abiding repose in God. “In peace in the selfsame I will sleep, and I will rest: For thou, O Lord, singularly hast settled me in hope” (Psalm 4:9–10).
16. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is as one annihilated. The fruit of correspondence to the annihilation of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is a descent into nothingness before God, according to the word of the holy prophet Job, “I am brought to nothing: as a wind thou hast taken away my desire: and my prosperity hath passed away like a cloud” (Job 30:15).
17. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus renders sovereign homage to the holiness of God. The fruit of correspondence to the poverty of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is purity of life. The prophet Isaias bears witness to this state: “And I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts. And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed. (Isaias 6:5–7).
18. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is hidden. The fruit of correspondence to the hiddenness of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is an entire forgetfulness of self. This the Apostle teaches, saying, “Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2–3).
19. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is a prisoner of love. The fruit of correspondence to the enclosure of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is captivity of the senses. Saint Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you should abstain from fornication; That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour: Not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles that know not God . . .For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 3–5, 7).
20. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is solitary. The fruit of correspondence to the solitude of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is a profound solitude. “Therefore, behold I will allure her, and will lead her into the wilderness: and I will speak to her heart” (Osee 2:14). “And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God” (Luke 6:12).
21. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is all purity and centred in God alone. The fruit of correspondence to the poverty of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is the faithful reference of all things to God. “Purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new paste, as you are unleavened. For Christ our pasch is sacrificed. Therefore let us feast, not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7–8).
22. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is as one estranged among the wicked. The fruit of correspondence to the estrangement of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is the loss of oneself. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26–27).
23. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is obedient. The fruit of correspondence to the obedience of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is trusting obedience. In the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus is obedient to the commandment that He Himself gave to His Apostles: “And taking bread, he gave thanks, and brake; and gave to them, saying: This is my body, which is given for you. Do this for a commemoration of me. In like manner the chalice also, after he had supped, saying: This is the chalice, the new testament in my blood, which shall be shed for you” (Luke 22:19–20).
24. Under the appearance of the Host, Jesus is held captive. The fruit of correspondence to the captivity of Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist is the captivity of one’s whole self in a spirit of sacrifice. “But Jesus he delivered up to their will” (Luke 23:25). “For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 50:18–19).