04 August 2011

Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare Tuum

The Church prays the Nunc Dimittis daily in her Night Prayer or Compline. They are the words of Simeon as he held the Christ Child in his arms at the Presentation in the Temple, the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary:

“Now Thou dost dismiss Thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace;
Because my eyes have seen Thy salvation,
Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples;
A light to the revelation of the Gentiles and the glory Thy people Israel.”

Saint Ephraem, in his “Homily on Our Lord,” tells us that Simeon is a priest. Our Blessed Mother, perhaps quite prophetically, passes our Lord from her hands into the hands of a priest. And certainly one can sense the overwhelming immensity of Simeon’s emotions as he holds the Saviour of the world in his hands. This is far too mysterious for the human intellect to fully grasp. To paraphrase Simeon, what he’s saying is: “Okay Lord, take me now, for what I am doing at this moment, nothing else in this life will surpass it.”

At each and every Holy Mass the priest has the incomprehensible privilege of holding the Saviour of the world in his hands on the altar. Please God, may your priests never take for granted the enormity of what they do on the altar!

Today is the Feast of Saint Jean Marie Vianney; he certainly was never nonchalant about the power given to him as a priest. The Curé d’Ars shed many tears of joy during Mass especially when he was holding our Eucharistic Lord in his hands during his thanksgivings and often long adorations. He would say: “To celebrate Mass one ought to be a seraph! I hold our Lord in my hands. I move Him to the right, and He stays there, to the left, and He stays there! To know what the Mass is would be to die. Only in heaven shall we understand the happiness of saying Mass! Alas, my God, how much a priest is to be pitied when he does this as an ordinary thing!”

It was on a Christmas night at Mass as he held the Sacred Host in his hands above the Chalice, and tears were flowing from his eyes when the Holy Curé prayed in his heart: “My God, if I knew that I was to be damned, now that I hold Thee, I would not let Thee go again.”

And how about those of us in the laity? What should our disposition be as the priest holds our Lord in his hands? We will never appreciate our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament as “un bain d’amour” (a bath of love), to quote Saint Jean Marie Vianney, until we establish a daily prayer life. The Holy Curé d’Ars referred to prayer as man’s noble task. As servants of God, prayer is not an option, but an absolute necessity. “With God all things are possible” (Saint Matthew 19:26). Saint Jean Marie gives us something to think about: “Saint Catherine of Genoa so hungered for this heavenly Bread that she could not see it in the priest’s hands without feeling as though she were dying of love, so great was her desire to possess it, and she would cry: 'Ah, Lord come into me! My God, come to me, I can bear it no longer! Ah, my God, come, if it please Thee, into my inmost heart; no, my God, I can bear it no longer. Thou art my whole joy, my whole happiness, and the only Food of my soul.’ Happy the Christian who comprehends this. If we understood it even a little, we could only desire life so far as it meant the happiness of making Jesus Christ our daily Bread.”

Do you think anyone would ever consider skipping Mass if they possessed the same love for the Blessed Sacrament as that of Saints Jean Marie Vianney and Catherine of Genoa?