Sacramentum Caritatis: Eucharistic Stupefaction

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This Wondrous Sacrament

Sacramentum Caritatis calls the Most Holy Eucharist "this wondrous sacrament." It goes on to speak of the amazement -- the stupefaction -- that the Apostles felt in witnessing what the Lord did and said during the Mystical Supper. "What wonder," writes Pope Benedict XVI, "must the Eucharistic mystery also awaken in our own hearts" (Sacramentum Caritatis, 1).

Eucharistic Amazement

Sacramentum Caritatis resonates with the words of Pope John Paul II in the Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia"

"I would like to rekindle this Eucharistic “amazement” by the present Encyclical Letter, in continuity with the Jubilee heritage which I have left to the Church in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte and its Marian crowning, Rosarium Virginis Mariae. To contemplate the Face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the “programme” which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization. To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of His Body and His Blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by Him she is fed and by Him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a “mystery of light”. Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Lk 24:31)" (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6).

The Priest: A Man Amazed by the Eucharist

If the priest approaching the altar for the Holy Sacrifice is not seized by a sacred stupefaction, if the priest pronouncing the very words of Christ over the bread and over the chalice is not amazed by the Mystery of Faith, if the priest kneeling before the tabernacle or exposing the Blessed Sacrament to the gaze of the faithful is not, as Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it, "lost, all lost in wonder," how can the souls entrusted to his care be expected to approach the Most Holy Eucharist with reverence, and with the tremor of joy mingled with fear that comes from a lively faith? A single Mass celebrated with sacred stupefaction is of more pastoral value than a hundred homilies on the Mass. The priest who at the moment of the Consecration, lends his voice to Christ with humility and adoring wonder gives, at the same time, a most convincing testimony of faith in the holy and lifegiving Mysteries. The priest who approaches the tabernacle or raises the monstrance with the reverence born of Eucharistic amazement touches hearts profoundly and nourishes the seeds of faith planted in them by the proclamation of the Word.

In Sacramentum Caritatis Pope Benedict XVI points to a number holy priests remarkable for their love of the Eucharist. Among them are Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Saint Peter Julian Eymard, Saint Gaetano Catanoso, Blessed Charles of Jesus, and Saint Pio of Pietrelcina. To these I would add the hermit of Lebanon, Saint Charbel Mahklouf. Each of these were awestruck by the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. Each one is a model of Eucharistic stupefaction.

Concretely, what can a priest do to avoid routine and accedia in the celebration and adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist? A few suggestions emerge from my own experience over the years.

1. Lectio divina on the liturgical texts of the day is the best preparation for Holy Mass. The degree of one's Eucharistic stupefaction is, I am convinced, directly proportionate to one's fidelity to lectio divina.

2. Keep silence in the sacristy before Mass and invite others to do the same. Become familiar with the traditional prayers before Mass contained the Roman Missal, especially that of Saint Thomas Aquinas, and the series of seven prayers attributed to Saint Ambrose. Make use of the traditional vesting prayers.

3. Cultivate the ars celebrandi, by knowing the rubrics of the Missal and their meaning. Celebrate reverently, deliberately, and, above all, without haste. Respect the moments of silence prescribed and recommended in the Roman Missal.

4. Whenever possible sing the Preface Dialogue, Preface, and Sanctus. Sanctus XVIII flows directly out of the cantilena of the Preface; it is simple and widely known. Sing the words of Consecration, the Mysterium Fidei, and the Doxology. Consciously address the Eucharistic Prayer to the Father. Remember that you stand at the altar facing God as an icon of Christ the Head "who entered once for all into the Holy Place . . . taking His own Blood" (Heb 9:12).

5. Pray the prayer of the priest before Holy Communion as given in the Roman Missal with attention and devotion.

6. Upon returning to the sacristy after Mass, take a few moments of silent prayer, then remove the sacred vestments, and make a proper Thanksgiving After Mass. Again, the Roman Missal offers a selection of prayers that never grow stale or old.

7. Don't let anyone tell you that these things cannot be done, that they are monkish, or too pious, or not suited to parish life.

1 Comments

Father Mark, The way in which you describe the Eucharist brings it so much to life. I cannot help but think if these posts reached a much wider readership, their veracity alone would bring more souls back to Eucharistic adoration.And that would be wonderful indeed.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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