Saturday, 6 June 2015

Corpus Christi lesson I: Human society and the Blessed Sacrament

The First National Eucharistic Congress of the Philippines was held from 11 to 16 December 1929. The sessions officially began on 12 December. The second day of the sessions, 13 December, was appointed as the día de los estudiantes or the Students’ Day. The day began at 6.30, with double Masses one offered in the cathedral by the Most Illustrious and Most Reverend James McCloskey, bishop of Jaro, for male students; and another at the church of Saint Dominic by the Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Sofronio Hacbang, bishop of Calbayog, for the female students. Both Masses were designated for the general Communion of the students.

The day was especially dedicated to the youth. Here we will follow the Young Women’s Session. At 7.30, after Mass, the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament commenced. The vigil was divided amongst different groups. [The vigil would end at 6.00 in the evening, with the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at 5.30.] At 9.00, after the start of the Exposition, each section proceeded to their respective venues. The Young Women’s Section proceeded to the Assumption Convent at 405 Herrán. The prelate in the session was the Most Illustrious and Most Reverend Constanz Jürgens, bishop of Tuguegarao. Presiding the open forum was Padre Francisco Muñoz, with Ms Dolores Paterno, president of the archdiocesan committee of the JCWL (Junior Catholic Women’s League), as chairwoman.

The first topic discussed was: Catholic Action—the restoration of human society in Christ and in the Eucharist. Below we reproduce the speech delivered by the first speaker, Ms María Vaca of the JCWL of Saint Scholastica’s College.

THE RESTORATION OF HUMAN SOCIETY
IN CHRIST MUST BEGIN WITH
THE RESTORATION OF HONOURING
THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
MARÍA VACA
13 DECEMBER 1929 

Saint Scholastica’s College

The World War with all its terror and disasters had come to an end bringing with it dethronement of so many rulers. Since then several attempts have been made by non-sectarians to establish universal peace. Let me mention here the great work of the League of Nations which pursued no other aim than to effect union by means of contracts. What characterised all these attempts was the exclusion of religion, Jesus Christ and the Pope from meetings. Must we, therefore, be astonished that this ardently desired universal peace has not been established? That all efforts in this regard have proved a failure? Our Holy Father, Pope Pius XI, in his ardent love for all immortal souls and as the head of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ could not let pass into eternity the year of jubilee 1925, which meant for every Catholic a year of innumerable graces, without making a challenge to all his faithful to [a] truly Catholic Action, thus attempting earnestly to effect a universal peace in the truest sense of the word. This he did by his encyclical of [11 December 1925] instituting the feast of Christ the King. Allow me to give here in a few words the content of this letter called Quas primas.
What does the title of King signify when applied to Christ? It indicates nothing greater and nobler than His peaceful and sovereign rule in mentibus hominum, in the minds and hearts of men. Through His Incarnation, Jesus Christ became truly a member of human society. It is needless to prove here that at the same time the person of Christ is divine. Can there be a doubt that Jesus Christ is therefore superior to all the rest of mankind, even to the most powerful earthly ruler? Besides, Jesus Christ exercised the office of a Redeemer. Through the fall of Adam and Eve, mankind was lost for Heaven, and no one else except Christ, True God and True Man, could render infinite satisfaction for an offence towards the infinite God. This act of divine mercy Christ performed by His life, sufferings and death here on earth, thus setting free His creatures and bringing them back to Heaven. He paid the debt for the release of men; therefore, all necessarily ought to acknowledge Christ as their superior, their master, their King. The third reason why Christ is entitled King is given by His office of establishing the new man supernaturally. Through His divine sacrifice on Calvary, Christ has merited an infinite treasure of grace which can never be lessened. It is by this grace that man is adopted as a child of God, as a member of the Catholic Church, and is made an heir of heaven, thus renewing man, not in so far as he is a human being, but as he is a future inhabitant of Heaven to which man can lay no claim. Our Holy Father emphasizes, especially in his encyclical, the great need of the world of our days, namely: the restoration of Christ as King of human society, and true peace that comes only from acknowledging Christ as King.
Today is the era of social service, world courts, courts for universal peace, and still, there is war, unrest and menacing anarchy, and, most of all, distressful conditions among the poor. Into what future does the Catholic Church in Italy look now? God alone knows; and our Holy Father is the Pope of Fides Intrepida, Intrepid Faith. No doubt, the Lateran treaties mark an epoch, not only in the history of the Church, but in the history of the world. The terrible and bloody war in Mexico seems to find its continuation in Russia where bolshevism and communism have the upper hand in the government. The Russian Communist Youth’s League has for its aim an antireligious struggle. Soviet regime and Soviet philosophy declare war on a happy family life causing divorce of 15.5% in European Russia and influencing other nations in the same manner. Austria fears civil war because civil-military organizations that are still loyal to the old monarchy demand strictly a reform in the [socialist] government. News from China, too, speaks of rebellion, civil war and massacres. Anarchy attacks family, state, church, society of any kind.
Selfishness, personal comfort, love for pleasure are ruling in human society, and self-denial, love of sacrifice, charity are little known, even by Christians and so-called Catholics. Where shall we find then consideration for others, understanding of another’s woe, a helping hand for the poor? Must we be astonished that these friends of Christ are still today in such distressful conditions? They grow up in poverty, in extreme neglect, in ignorance, not knowing even the purpose of their existence, not to speak here of their little knowledge in the Catholic Faith. How many do we meet who cannot tell whether they are Catholics or not! Never perhaps have they a chance to obtain instruction in the Catholic Faith. Church and school are simply much too far from their miserable huts to be reached on foot. Who can blame them for not hearing Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of obligation? When such districts of thousands of poor and sick people have the grace of a mission, one can hear facts like the following: This man of eighty years was baptised on his deathbed; those parents having lived together in wild marriage for thirty years have received the blessing of the Catholic Church; so many men and women of twenty, thirty and more years of age received their First Holy Communion; parents received again the Holy Sacraments after a sinful married life of thirty or forty years; hundreds of children and grown up people came to church for instruction and Holy Mass; many were reconciled with God on their deathbed; others again were provided with their material needs, as clothing and shelter. Shall the thousands and thousands of the poor now be left in their misery and ignorance? Shall they wait for years or perhaps for a lifetime till this or that fervent priest offers them the graces of conversion?
Godless principles have found their way into social service. Preachers can defend enthusiastically the statement “Catholicism destroys patriotism.” Calles’ strict and laconic command was: “Shoot them,” when asked for information as to the punishment to be meted out to certain priests under arrest. And what shall I say about the principles upheld in so many public schools of our country where God and religion are simply excluded? It is a sad fact that few Catholic students of these schools have great courage. How can we expect a God-fearing and happy future generation if Catholic Action does not begin its work of restoration right away in these places of education by teaching [the] Catholic religion! Agnosticism poisons [the] social service of today, being to a great extent antireligious, criticising not only the knowledge we have of God, but the grounds of belief in Him as well. It naturally leads to indifference towards religion, and, next, to disbelief. Human society will not be restored as long as social service upholds such principles. Human society will be ruined in spite of the unceasing efforts of the few who generously devote themselves to the service of God and their neighbour. We cannot deny that much has been done in recent years for the uplifting of human society—the Red Cross, for instance, gives a striking example of great activity for the poor and needy—yet there is no improvement.
The great work of social restoration must have as basis our Holy Catholic Religion and must begin with true love and devotion for its very centre, the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, without which nothing can be truly achieved. All treasures of this world taken together are nothing in comparison to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, through which Christ becomes our true Emmanuel, God with us, in the Blessed Sacrament, this Focus of Divine Love for man. Holy Mass is the Holy, the Divine Sacrifice; for according to the definition of the catechism, Jesus Christ offers “Himself to His Heavenly Father through His representative the priest in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine.” It is, therefore, without doubt, the renewal of the Sacrifice on Calvary, a tremendous and world-influencing spectacle for all mankind. I called Holy Mass the Focus of Divine Love. Yes, in this Divine Mystery are all perfections for man. What does Jesus give us in this Sacrament of Love? His very self Who is pure Love. Christ instituted the Holy Eucharist out of love for every one individually. Love prompts Him to stay in the tabernacle for us. It is love again which makes Him renew the sacrifice on Calvary in Holy Mass continually till the end of the world. Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is Wisdom, Humility, Meekness, Unselfishness, Patience, Goodness, Mercy because He is infinite Love. If the cold and indifferent world of today would approach and know Him better, no doubt, a restoration of human society would not be far off. It is love for the Holy Sacrifice that is lacking in so many people.
How can this be inculcated into the heart of every one? Let men study the graces that Holy Mass has in store for [them]. The pious Catholic might be inclined to nourish a holy envy towards Saint John, Saint Mary Magdalene, and the other holy women who witnessed the bloody Sacrifice on Calvary, and yet, if it would be possible, angels would envy us for having its perpetual renewal. In [the] Holy Mass, God the Father sends His Divine Son to us from Heaven for our salvation. Jesus Christ assumes the form of a little piece of bread for our sake. God the Holy Ghost works the miracle of Transubstantiation for love of us. Christ Himself is High Priest and Victim at the same time. He offers Himself to God the Father as the perfect sacrifice of adoration, of thanksgiving, of propitiation and of petition. Man can, therefore, render perfect worship to God by adoring, thanking, and petitioning Him with Christ and through Christ our Mediator. In [the] Holy Mass, Christ renews His Incarnation. Saint Augustine says: “As I have become Man in the virgin womb of Mary when the angel saluted her, so I begin to become Man again sacramentally in every Holy Mass.” He renews His nativity, His life, His prayer, His sufferings, even His death. If His earthly life of thirty years redeemed whole mankind, what shall we say then of the infinite graces stored up for men in every Holy Mass? It is of the greatest profit for men here on earth as well as in eternity. Is there a human heart in the whole wide world which will not be enkindled by love for the Holy Sacrifice when realising only to some extent its greatness and its graces?
This true love then will prompt men to assist at Holy Mass with great devotion and, if possible, every day. What are usually the reasons for not going oftener to Holy Mass? They are ignorance, laziness, love of ease, and prejudice against the Holy Sacrifice, considering the time spent for it as lost. Ignorance can only be removed by instruction. Laziness and love of ease will be overcome by realising the wonderful effects of [a] Holy Mass attended with true devotion. Time spent for the Holy Sacrifice is never lost and any work inaugurated by devout attendance of Holy Mass obtains a divine blessing. What gain does man obtain for work of half an hour? Surely very little; but incomparably greater is the gain of one Holy Mass for our salvation, as well as for our material welfare. From the biography of Reverend Father Arnold Janssen, Founder of the Society of the Divine Word, we read the following incident: “On weekdays, Mother would never miss Holy Mass except when she was sick. Despite her manifold tasks she always knew how to arrange her work so that she found time to hear Holy Mass. Once when we all had to go out to the fields early in the morning, Mother was left all alone to do the housework. At dinner, Father said, ‘Well, Mother, I am sure you could not go to church today on account of so much work.’ ‘How can you talk like that, Father,’ she replied, ‘do you think I could have done all this work without going to Holy Mass?’ ‘So you went, anyway?’ ‘Yes, after I had taken care of the cattle I locked the door and went to Holy Mass.’” What a prosperous country would the Philippines be, if all her mothers would act similarly! Saint Isidore, a Spanish peasant, worked with great diligence in the fields of a rich nobleman, but every day he attended Holy Mass with great devotion. This pious exercise was so pleasing to God that He sent His angels to help Saint Isidore to plough the fields. The saint did not see them but his wife who brought him his dinner did see them. Some peasants, subjects of the nobleman, out of jealousy accused Isidore of going to Holy Mass, therefore, coming too late for the work and performing only one half of it. Angrily the nobleman rebuked Isidore, calling him a lazy workman. The saint answered: “Lord, I am your tenant but I must also serve the King of Kings; if you fear that I do harm to you, I will pay you for it with my own fruits in harvest time.” Later the nobleman himself was taught in a vision while observing that two angels were working side by side with the pious peasant. On being asked for information about the vision, the saint answered, “I confess not to have seen any helper in my work, still less did I call one, except God alone for whose blessing I daily pray.” Saint Ferdinand,* archbishop of Granada, who lived in his former years at the court of the Spanish King, said so beautifully on a given occasion: “Just because of so much work I take my refuge to the Heavenly King and fetch for me supernatural strength in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass so that I may not succumb to the burden of my labours.” These true incidents show very clearly that devout attendance at Holy Mass does not prevent work but rather promotes it, for God arranges it so that the work has better success. The time which we take from work for this pious exercise wins His richest blessings for time and eternity.
One of the greatest blessings we derive from devout attendance at Holy Mass is the divine inspiration and grace which ought to influence all man’s thoughts, words and actions. What a wonderful change in human society would be easily brought about if this great blessing would fall on fruitful ground! To act as a true Catholic, a whole lifetime is surely not an easy task in the world of materialism and agnosticism, but if man makes Holy Mass the very source of inspiration, Catholic Action will be, no doubt, successful in the restoration of human society. The fact that Christ sacrifices Himself continually for this sinful, ungrateful world must inspire a Catholic to be ready to give his very self in an unselfish manner for the bodily and spiritual welfare of his neighbour, without expecting any reward if he truly loves the Blessed Sacrament and its graces. What made the first Christians ready to appear before the Roman tribunal and even to ask with joy for torments and the deadly blow? Holy Mass and Holy Communion made them lions in the fight before whom the wildest animals crouched in the sand of the arena. Where are the children and parents of our country now who would feel inspired in like manner! If Holy Mass can fill man with such an heroism, it is surely only his fault if he feels weak in the performance of his duties as a Catholic and becomes a victim of his passions and the Devil. Holy Scripture states about the first Christians that “they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles and in the communication of the breaking of bread and in prayers.” This means nothing else than that the first Christians were persevering in their faith in attending Holy Mass and Communion. “And all they that believed were together and had all things common. Their possessions and goods they sold and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart: praising God and having favour with all the people.” These passages from Holy Scripture illustrate excellently the life of a true Catholic inspired by Holy Mass. Because the life of the first Christians was one great act of charity, therefore, they reaped the virtues of unity, gladness, simplicity of heart, peace with God and all people. Can the Catholics of today not do what the first Christians have done?
Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, King of all Kings, King also of the Philippines, make us Thy faithful subjects for time and eternity.
* There are two archbishops of Granada named Fernando, (1) Don Fernando Niño de Guevara (1542–1546) and (2) Don Fernando de Valdés y Llano (1633–1639), but of whom are not canonised saints. The writer probably conflated one of these archbishops with the actual Ferdinand III, King of Castile, who is a saint.
Is it not astonishing that this address speaks to us even after more than 85 years? The world changes at the mere introduction of a petty societal norm, while the Church remains firm in Her foundations. The trajectory the world follows in its pursuit of power and temporary happiness borders more and more on the preposterous and insupportable as each day passes. Its greatest errors, its archheresies, remain the same, although continuously reimaged under different frocks of increasing provocativeness and voluptuousness. The Church watches and does Her best to coax the world to stay within the fold of our Redeemer, to renounce its wretched wardrobe of errors and run to the salvific doctrines of the Lord. Let us continue to work towards this effort, always lifting aloft the banner of the Most Holy Sacrament, Which we receive and worship each day at Mass.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

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