403 Years: Catherine–Mectilde de Bar

Birthday of Catherine–Mectilde de Bar
Four–hundred–three years ago today a little girl was born in Saint–Dié in the Lorraine in northeastern France. Mysteriously the words of the Gospel read on her birthday by priests all over Christendom were a kind of prophecy of her life and mission: “Let us see this word that is come to pass” (Luke 2:15).

This Word That Is Come to Pass
As Catherine de Bar grew into the fulness of her vocation, becoming Mectilde of the Holy Sacrament, she discovered the deeper meaning of the words of the Gospel read on her birthday, “Let us see this word that is come to pass” in words from the same Gospel of Saint Luke: “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). The “word come to pass” is the Word made present in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Word offering Himself to the Father as “ the pure victim, the holy victim, the immaculate victim, the holy Bread of eternal life, and the Chalice of everlasting salvation“.

Let all creatures fall silent. In fact, all that they should be able to say will never come near even to the minimal part of the reality. We can honour this mystery in no better way than by keeping a respectful silence, filled with awe and with admiration. The Eternal Word who keeps this silence gives us the example. All the mysteries, but in particular this one, enclose things so prodigious and incomprehensible for the human spirit, that everything one can find in books and everything that one say will always fall short of the reality. Let human reason, then, fall silent: it is not capable of laying hold of the mystery we celebrate today. This only faith can do. (Mectilde de Bar, Conference for the Vigil of Christmas 1694)

Dr Kwasniewski’s Contribution
Writing on The New Liturgical Movement (29 December 2014), Peter Kwasniewski argues that the terminology currently in vogue to refer to the two parts of the Mass — Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist — is not without problems.

The central and definitive “word” is Jesus Christ, the Logos or Verbum of the Father, made flesh for us men and for our salvation. It follows that the liturgy of the Word par excellence is the Holy Eucharist itself. To go further, the liturgy of the Word, in the fullest sense, must be the Eucharistic sacrifice, because in this sacrifice the Word which is “spoken” by the Father is offered back to Him, thanks to His human nature, in a perfect self-offering.

Dr Kwasniewski is, I think, correct in arguing  that the term “Liturgy of the Word” suggests that the Fore–Mass with its lessons from Sacred Scripture and preaching is, as Protestants would hold, somehow complete in itself. In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the Word remains, as it were, suspended until the bread and wine become the adorable Body and Blood of the Lamb, offered to the Father in sacrifice and given to the faithful for the forgiveness of their sins, the unity of the Church, and everlasting life. Just as the disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35) did not recognize the Word until He revealed Himself in the breaking of the bread, so too do the words of the Word remain unfulfilled until He Himself becomes present in the mystery of His oblation to the Father.  The meaning of the lessons and preaching that constitute the Mass of the Catechumens is only disclosed, insofar as it can be here below, in the Mass of the Faithful.

Mass of the Catechumens — Mass of the Faithful
Catechumens, having heard the announcement of the angels and the Church’s hymns of praise, are preparing to enter into the mystery of the Holy Oblation. They are waiting to “lay aside all earthly cares” (Cherubikon of the Divine Liturgy) so as to “see this word that is come to pass” (Luke 2:15) and to receive “the King of all, who comes escorted invisibly by angelic hosts”.

The Faithful are like the shepherds, “who said one to another: “Let us go over to Bethlehem, and let us see this word that is come to pass, which the Lord hath shewed to us. And they came with haste; and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. And seeing, they understood of the word that had been spoken to them concerning this child” (Luke 2:15). The full understanding of the word spoken to the shepherds concerning the child is given in the words of the Word Himself: “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19).

And the Star Came
The identification of the “word that is come to pass” with the Victim of the Holy Sacrifice is made explicit in Rite of Preparation of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy when the priest, placing the asteriskos (star) over the Lamb (the host of the Western Rites) says, “And the star came and stood over the place where the Child was (Matthew 2:9). Mectilde de Bar would have had no knowledge of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy; her mystical experience reflected, nonetheless, a fundamental theological intuition of the undivided Church.

Born 403 years ago under the sign of today’s Gospel — “Let us see this word that is come to pass” — Mother Mectilde de Bar adored its fulfillment in the word uttered in the Cenacle, “This is my body, which is given for you” (Luke 22:19). Leaving all else behind, Mother Mectilde said to her companions — even as she says to us today — Transeamus usque Bethlehem, et videamus hoc verbum, quo factum est, quod Dominus ostendit nobis (Luke 2:15). And she went with haste to the mystic Bethlehem of altar and tabernacle.

It is true that the mystery is past, I recognize it, and that it happened only once, but the grace of the mystery is not, in fact, past for the souls who prepare themselves to give birth to Jesus Christ in their heart. He was born one time in Bethlehem, and he is born every day in us with Holy Communion, which, as the Fathers say, is an extension of the Incarnation. (Mectilde de Bar, Conference, 17 December 1671)