Friday, June 17, 2022

Preview: Newman and Corpus Christi

Since the Catholic dioceses in the USA will begin the USCCB's Eucharistic Revival following the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) on Sunday, June 19, Matt Swaim and I will discuss St. John Henry Newman and the Holy Eucharist on Monday, June 20. As you know, I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at my usual time: about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern time. Please listen live on EWTN Radio.

This may seem a strange place to begin, but whenever I think of Newman and the Holy Eucharist this passage at the end of the Apologia Pro Vita Sua comes to my mind:

In Chapter 5, Newman proclaims that after becoming a Catholic, he had “no further history of my religious opinions to narrate”. Of course he was still thinking about theological and doctrinal matters, but he didn't have to form private judgments about them in the same way as he did before. For instance, he mentions the Catholic Church's teaching on transubstantiation:

People say that the doctrine of Transubstantiation is difficult to believe; I did not believe the doctrine till I was a Catholic. I had no difficulty in believing it, as soon as I believed that the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation. It is difficult, impossible, to imagine, I grant;—but how is it difficult to believe?

Then he cites a comment by Thomas Babington Macaulay:

Yet Macaulay thought it so difficult to believe, that he had need of a believer in it of talents as eminent as Sir Thomas More, before he could bring himself to conceive that the Catholics of an enlightened age could resist "the overwhelming force of the argument against it." "Sir Thomas More," he says, "is one of the choice specimens of wisdom and virtue; and the doctrine of transubstantiation is a kind of proof charge. A faith which stands that test, will stand any test."

For your reference, here's the passage from Newman's Tract 90, in which he attempted to reconcile the doctrines of the Catholic Church with the Thirty-Nine articles of the Church of England. He focuses on Transubstantiation in this article. Tract 90 was the last of the Tracts for the Times and presaged the end of the Tractarian or Oxford Movement, and particularly Newman's leadership of it. The Tract was condemned by the University and Oxford's Bishop (presiding at the Cathedral of Christ Church) and Newman barely escaped censure. He moved out to the College at Littlemore.

This is the statement from the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England against the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion:

The supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves; but rather is a Sacrament of our redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to those who rightly and with faith, receive the same, the bread that we break is a partaking of the body of Christ, likewise the cup of blessing is a partaking of the blood of Christ. Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of scripture, overthroweth the nature of the Sacrament and hath given occasion to many superstitions. The Body of Christ is given, taken and eaten in the Supper, only after an Heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith. The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up or worshipped.
— Articles of Religion No.28 "The Lord's Supper": Book of Common Prayer 1662

As an Anglican minister, Newman did speak of Holy Communion, as in one of his Parochial and Plain Sermons, "The Eucharistic Presence":

The text speaks of the greatest and highest of all the Sacramental mysteries, which faith has been vouchsafed, that of Holy Communion. Christ, who died and rose again for us, is in it spiritually present, in the fulness of His death and of His resurrection. We call His presence in this Holy Sacrament a {137} spiritual presence, not as if "spiritual" were but a name or mode of speech, and He were really absent, but by way of expressing that He who is present there can neither be seen nor heard; that He cannot be approached or ascertained by any of the senses; that He is not present in place, that He is not present carnally, though He is really present. And how this is, of course is a mystery. All that we know or need know is that He is given to us, and that in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. . . 

Nothing can show more clearly how high the blessing is, than to observe that the Church's tendency has been, not to detract from its marvellousness, but to increase it. The Church has never thought little of the gift; so far from it, we know that one very large portion of Christendom holds more than we hold. That belief, which goes beyond ours, shows how great the gift is really. I allude to the doctrine of what is called Transubstantiation, which we do not admit; or that the bread and wine cease to be, and that Christ's sacred Body and Blood are directly seen, touched, and handled, under the appearances of Bread and Wine. This our Church considers there is no ground for saying, and our Lord's own words contain marvel enough, even without adding any thing to them by way of explanation. Let us, then, now consider them in themselves, apart from additions which came afterwards. . . .

So that's enough proof of Newman's difficulties and disbelief while he was an Anglican in the True, Real, Substantial Presence of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, as defined by the Council of Trent: "by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance (substantia) of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation". (While the outward accidents of bread and wine remain.)

Now, if you consult his Meditations and Devotions, you'll see Newman's great love of the Mass and of Holy Communion, and particularly of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament after he became a Catholic and also a Catholic priest.

He composed a prayer for "A Short Visit to the Blessed Sacrament before Meditation":

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

I place myself in the presence of Him, in whose Incarnate Presence I am before I place myself there.

I adore Thee, O my Saviour, present here as God and man, in soul and body, in true flesh and blood.

I acknowledge and confess that I kneel before that Sacred Humanity, which was conceived in Mary's womb, and lay in Mary's bosom; which grew up to man's estate, and by the Sea of Galilee called the Twelve, wrought miracles, and spoke words of wisdom and peace; which in due season hung on the cross, lay in the tomb, rose from the dead, and now reigns in heaven.

I praise, and bless, and give myself wholly to Him, who is the true Bread of my soul, and my everlasting joy. Amen.

That might be useful for those of us with an assigned time of prayer in an Adoration Chapel or during a Forty Hours celebration.

He translated the Anima Christi (this is the translation I use every day):

Soul of Christ, be my sanctification;
Body of Christ, be my salvation;
Blood of Christ, fill all my veins;
Water of Christ’s side, wash out my stains;
Passion of Christ, my comfort be;
O good Jesu, listen to me;
In thy wounds I fain would hide,
Ne’er to be parted from Thy side;
Guard me, should the foe assail me;
Call me when my life shall fail me;
Bid me come to Thee above,
With Thy saints to sing Thy love,
World without end. Amen.

And, finally, this excerpt from his meditation on receiving Holy Communion, part of his "Meditations on Christian Doctrine":

O my God, holiness becometh Thy House, and yet Thou dost make Thy abode in my breast. My Lord, my Saviour, to me Thou comest, hidden under the semblance of earthly things, yet in that very flesh and blood which Thou didst take from Mary. Thou, who didst first inhabit Mary's breast, dost come to me. My God, Thou seest me; I cannot see myself. Were I ever so good a judge about myself, ever so unbiassed, and with ever so correct a rule of judging, still, from my very nature, I cannot look at myself, and view myself truly and wholly. But Thou, as Thou comest to me, contemplatest me. When I say, Domine, non sum dignus—"Lord, I am not worthy"—Thou whom I am addressing, alone understandest in their fulness the words which I use. Thou seest how unworthy so great a sinner is to receive the One Holy God, whom the Seraphim adore with trembling. Thou seest, not only the stains and scars of past sins, but the mutilations, the deep cavities, the chronic disorders which they have left in my soul. Thou seest the innumerable living sins, though they be not mortal, living in their power and presence, their guilt, and their penalties, which clothe me. Thou seest all my bad habits, all my mean principles, all wayward lawless thoughts, my multitude of infirmities and miseries, yet Thou comest. Thou seest most perfectly how little I really feel what I am now saying, yet Thou comest. O my God, left to myself should I not perish under the awful splendour and the consuming fire of Thy Majesty. Enable me to bear Thee, lest I have to say with Peter, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"

I cannot omit this brief quotation from Newman's Sermon Notes on May 25, 1856 (Sunday within the Octave of Corpus Christi), "Devotion to the Holy Eucharist":

. . . Our Lord came 1800 years ago. How shall we feel reverence of what took place 1800 years ago? . . .

How almighty love and wisdom has met this. He has met this by living among us with a continual presence. He is not past, He is present now. And though He is not seen, He is here. The same God who walked the water, who did miracles, etc., {129} is in the Tabernacle. We come before Him, we speak to Him just as He was spoken to 1800 years ago, etc. . . .

[I can't help but hear G.K. Chesterton's echo of that statement: "Christ is on earth today; alive on a thousand altars; and He does solve people’s problems exactly as He did when He was on earth in the more ordinary sense."]

[Yes, the feast of Corpus Christi once had an Octave; Pope Pius XII suppressed it in 1955.]

So although Newman may have begun believing in the fullness of the Catholic Church's teaching on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, in Transubstantiation, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc., simply because he had come to be believe that "the Catholic Roman Church was the oracle of God, and that she had declared this doctrine to be part of the original revelation" he obviously grew in his dedication to celebrating the Mass, receiving Holy Communion, and adoring Jesus Christ, truly Present in the Holy Eucharist.

Blessed be Jesus in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar!

Saint John Henry Newman, pray for us!

Image Credit (public domain): Christ with the Eucharist, Vicente Juan Masip, 16th century.

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