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O sacred banquet!

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, transferred from the usual Friday after Trinity Sunday. The texts for the Divine Office and the Mass for the feast were composed by St. Thomas Aquinas, and they show the poetical side of the man, not often on view. The Antiphon for the Magnificat of Second Vespers is in prose but might as well be poetry: “O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur, recolitur memoria passionis ejus, mens impletur gratia, et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur–"O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his passion is recalled, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.” 

The antiphon has been put to music many times. Here it is in Gregorian chant; here by Tallis; here by Messiaen; here by Ludovic da Vladana ; and the one I came to love in the seminary, by Roberto Remondi, here, here, and here.  

As elsewhere in Aquinas's texts for this liturgy, there is profound theology in the antiphon, which he spelled out in his Summa theologica (III, q. 73, a. 4) in which he considered the question whether it was appropriate that the sacrament had more than one name. His crisp answer is Yes because believers have many names for the eucharist. And he explains:

This sacrament has a threefold sign-value. One is with regard to the past insofar as it commemorates the Lord's Passion, which was a true sacrifice... and this is why it is called the “sacrifice.”  A second sign-value is with regard to the present reality of the Church’s unity to which people are gathered through this sacrament; and this is why it is called “communion” or “synaxis.” St. John Damascene says that “it is called ‘communion’ because through it we communicate with Christ, because we share in his flesh and godhead, and because through it we are united with one another. Its third value has to do with the future because it prefigures our enjoyment of God in our homeland, and this is why it is called “Viaticus” because it offers us the way to get there. In this respect it is also called “Eucharist,” that is, good grace because God’s grace is life eternal, and because it really contains Christ, who is full of grace. In Greek it is also called metalepsis, i.e., “assumption” because as Damascene says, through it we assume [take on] the Son’s Godhead.

The historians argue over whether St. Thomas also composed the much-loved Adoro te devote.  Ann Olivier complained on another thread that we don’t ask enough of poets when it comes to translation.  Here is what two poets did with this hymn.

First, the metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw:

With all the powers my poor heart hath

Of humble love and loyal faith,

Thus low (my hidden life!) I bow to Thee,
Whom too much love hath bow'd more low for me.
Down, down, proud Sense! discourses die!
Keep close, my soul's inquiring eye
Nor touch nor taste must look for more,
But each sit still in his own door.

Your ports are all superfluous here,
Save that which lets in Faith, the ear.
Faith is my skill; Faith can believe
As fast as Love new laws can give.
Faith is my force : Faith strength affords
To keep pace with those pow'rful words.
And words more sure, more sweet than they,
Love could not think, Truth could not say.

O let Thy wretch find that relief
Thou didst afford the faithful thief.
Plead for me, Love I allege and show
That Faith has farther here to go,
And less to lean on : because then
Though hid as God, wounds writ Thee man;
Thomas might touch, none but might see
At least the suffering side of Thee;
And that too was Thyself which Thee did cover,
But here ev'n that's hid too which hides the other.

Sweet, consider then, that I,
Though allowed nor hand nor eye,
To reach at Thy loved face; nor can
Taste Thee God, or touch Thee man,
Both yet believe, and witness Thee
My Lord too, and my God, as loud as he.

Help, Lord, my faith, my hope increase,
And fill my portion in Thy peace :
Give love for life; nor let my days 
Grow, but in new powers to Thy name and praise.

O dear memorial of that Death
Which lives still, and allows us breath!
Rich, royal food! Bountiful bread
Whose use denies us to the dead; 
Whose vital gust alone can give
The same leave both to eat and live.
Live ever, bread of loves, and be
My life, my soul, my surer self to me.

O soft, self -wounding Pelican!
Whose breast weeps balm for wounded man :
Ah, this way bend Thy benign flood
To a bleeding heart that gasps for blood.
That blood, whose least drops sovereign be
To wash my world of sins from me.

Come Love ! come Lord ! and that long day
For which I languish, come away.
When this dry soul those eyes shall see,
And drink the unseal'd source of Thee :
When Glory's sun Faith's shades shall chase,
And for Thy veil give me Thy face. Amen. 

And here is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s version:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran---
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory's sight. Amen.


Commenting Guidelines

When I was a kid in the upper rural Midwest, Benediction was one of THE most popular communal prayer activities and was held immediately after the principal Sunday mass.  It was popular, among other reasons (I guess), because it was one of the few times when the attendees could actually sing together in English. something was wasn't insipid Marian stuff.   "Holy God We Praise They Name" was a real tub-thumping roof raiser.

Jim McC. --

You are so right about the insipid Marian stuff.  It's enough to discourage devotion to her.   Talk about superstitions!

ISTM that the official Church needs to do a much better job teaching about all the different sorts of prayer available.  Some kinds are entirely private and appropriate for monks and contemplative nuns.  Others are private, but for everyone.  And some are communal.  And, yes, some popular stuff is superstition, but if the people who used h practices understood the real stuff better superstition wouldn't be a problem.

I'd add to Catholic practices some of the Asian ones that help with contemplative practices -- some of the different sorts of concentration and mindfulness ones -- the ones that are also very good for both mental and physical health.  And I'd teach about the mental and physical benefits of all prayer.  And, of course, I'd teach Centering Prayer and the Jesus Prayer to the laity.  I'm sure there are many Catholics who have never ever heard that such prayers are for everyone, not just nuns and priests.  All this concern about evangelizing other people seems strange to me when the already baptized have been so badly taught about prayer.  Further, if people understood more about the various storts of prayer I bet there wouldn't be nearly so many shameful Catholic fights over what that Mass is and isn't.



Totally agree! And to the extent that adoration facilitates that kind of space, then it should be supported. But this is a good direction for the Church to engage in. Mindfullness, of the sort developed through centering prayer, has been used for treatment of PTSD. Anti-anxiety and anti-derpressants are two of the top five pharmaceuticals being sold. I am not anti-med but there are other reliable, psychospiritual practices that help and we should be front and centre with those. 

The EEGs of Carmelite nuns have shown marked changes during mystical experiences when they felt they were at one with God. In a state like this, individuals may also feel as if they have found the ultimate truth, lost all sense of time and space, are in harmony with mankind and the universe, and are filled with peace, joy, and unconditional love. Neuropharmacological studies show how crucial the activation of the dopamine reward system is in such experiences. \

"The Anglophone bishops are always obedient and quick off the mark."

True.  But then they were subject to some unseemly "persuasion" (read 'interference in the democratic process) by Cardinal George, who brought the "do it or else" message from the Curia.  A shameful display of cowardice by the American bishops.  I don't know what transpired in the other Bishops' Conferences, but it must have been something similar.

All described in John Wilkins' 2005 article, "Lost in translation: the bishops, the

Vatican & the English Liturgy" in this very journal (Dec 2, 2005).


George D. ==

While the article you quote from no doubt has a lot of reliable data concerning certain experiences and brain chemicals, and while the author does at least ask 'why are people reiigious?', it displays a total ignorance of the evidence showing that there is not just one basic sort of religious or mystical experience, but there are many of them, and some that are called "religious" do not seem to involve God at all.

This is not surprising considering the obviously neo-atheist assumptions of the author.  This reduction of all experiences *called* religious to one kind is a huge mistake.  It allows some personal, private, supremely pleasurable experiences to be mistaken for what are apparently genuine meetings with a transcendent Other, which is what, I daresay, most scholars of mystical experience would call genuinely religious mystical/religious experience.  And he doesn't even consider the possibility that "religious faith" might be of various kinds and be based on more than one kind of experience or one kind of evidence.

The over-simplifications and ignorance of the holders of scientism such as Shaub, the author of this article, are truly breath-taking.  Why aren't the mystical theologians engaging with these ignoramuses? The ignoramuses seem truly interested in their subject.  They deserve more he

John Page, I think you'll find that the Italians have not been allowed extraordinary license in the instance that you mention. I don't have the books in front of me, but I think you'll find that "Ecce panis angelorum" begins a section of the sequence "Lauda Sion." What's more, in the only chant book that came out of the Second Vatican Council (Graduale Simplex), that section is given as the sequence rather than the much longer Graduale Romanum text that begins "Lauda Sion."

I've been looking for reference to Benediction in Vatican II's constitution on the liturgy but couldn't find it. Paul VI brought out Mysterium fidei while the Council was still on, perhaps to counter threats he saw to full belief in the Real Presence and to encourage eucharistic adoration. I wonder was there some tension between pope and bishops on these fronts?


I did grad research on spirituality and mental health. Probing brain chemistry reactions to prayer and meditation is no more reductionistic that probing brain chemistry reactions to love and other form of flow and aesthetic appreciations. As Aquinas said all revelation is received in the mode of of the recipient. Our brain receives and synthesizes all of our experiences.

There have been clinical criterial developed to differentiate between the mystical experience and the psychotic one which it sometimes resembles.

One of the major differences between psychotic states and mystical states is that phenomena that may occur in acute psychotic states, such as self-destructive acts and aggressive and sexual outbursts, are not part of the mystical experience, though the latter have been observed in some states of ‘possession. Another noticeable difference between the psychotic and mystical experience is the experience of terror and fear. It was observed that people with schizophrenia who reported mystical experience also reported a significantly higher incidence of terror and fear. 


But, indeed, more work needs to be done and further study to assist pastoral workers, spiritual leaders, and psychologists and psychiatrists.



D'Aquili and Newberg are two neuroscientists engaged with theology

Also Meister Eckhart said that if your mind should be such that you seek God and ensure that all your good intentions and endeavours are directed from him and appropriately detach from things (his version of mindfullness and detachment). 


"If you trod on a stone while in this state of mind, it wourl be a mroe godly act than if you were to received the body of our Lord while being concerned only for yourself and having a less detached attitude of mind"

Absent some degree of self-discipline, moderation, and ascetic practices, benediction and adoration, etc. will not have their intended effect. And the converse is true, if you practice proper ascetics, discipline, and mindfullness then it will not matter where you are or what you are doing.

But the priority needs to be on lifestyle changes, psychological dispostion, and all of that. Not just a pious practice.

Thus, these practices should not be promoted as a stand alone kind of ritual but in a broader context of simple, mindful practices.

Not that I am anywhere near either of these by the way. But I have been in the past and I know there is a diference in my affect, mood, and ability to handle stress. And others notice too. But it is work and requires quiet time alone. The computer and internet is a major distraction (for me anyway)

"There have been clinical criterial developed to differentiate between the mystical experience and the psychotic one which it sometimes resembles"\

George D. --

I'm glad to hear that D'Aquila and Newburg now realize that some of the people called "mystics" are in fact schizophrenic.  When I read them, and Gazzaniga, many years ago, they didn't seem to realize the fact that some "mystical" thinking is indistinguishable from schizophrenic thinking.. They lumped all mystics together.  But the psychiatrists realized long, long ago that many who are called "mystics" are in fact schizophrenic.  True, it  seems that some psychiatrists thought that *all* mystics were schizophrenic (Freud maybe?), and they were wrong about that.  .  

To belabor my old point, R.C. Zaehner's extraordinary scholarship supported the psychiatrists' conclusion in holding that *some* mystics are schizophrenic, while he also held that the other mystics are not crazy; some of them are *wrong* - they have nto met God, but they arent' crazy.  (I DO wish you'd read the Zaehner!)

My continuing problem with D'Aquila and Newburg (at least last I read of them)  is that, with the panenhenic mystics, they are willing to dispense with the principles of logic (i.e., dispense with rationality) -- specifically they accept, with the panenhenics,  that a thing can be itself and other than itself..  D and N really just retrogress back to the old thesis of Rudolf Otto and what he called the "superior" sort of knowing that he claims all mystics have.  This is what the psychiatrists call crazy.  I'm with the psychiatrists on this one.  I'm just surprised that there hasn't been a battle started between the psychiatrists and psychologists such as D'Aquila and Newburg.  Or has there been?

(No, I don't remember the last thing I read by D and N.  Sorry.)

George D, --

About mindfulness -- there are different sorts of mindfulness, and the uses of them no doubt vary from person to person. i don't doubt that you are right that the practices shouldn't be pushed at all people.  But there is a great deal of evidence from the cardiologists that the practices are valuable from a physical perspective, and they don't seem to have noticed that there are many people who have been harmed by it.  So how much evidence is there that the practices are damaging psychologically for many folks?

What I'm getting at is that it seems to me that mindfulness meditation would probably be very valuable *religiously* for many, many Christians. I know from my own experience with it that it helps eliminate non-essentials when trying to focus on the Lord.  Granted,more research on the subject may be needed so that damage isn't done to those whom it might injure spiritually in some way..

Would it be apposite to recall that that Christianity is not centrally about meditative techniques but about faith in the salvation won by Christ's sacrifice? We walk by faith, not by such auxiliaries as mindfulness.

Terms like "slavation" and even faith for that matter are pretty murky. Returning to Witt, he saw these terms as having meaning only to the extent that they produce meaningful, observable changes in people and not to the extent that they signify some supra-meaning detached from particularized human contexts.

So, that leaves us with establishing criteria by which we can determine whether any relgious practices lead to positve outcomes. And those outcomes (or fruits) as they are described in Romans 8:9-11 are:

love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

The outcomes opposed to these are:

sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy

So, what kinds of practices facilitate the above? Notwithstanding grace, there are tangible things that we can do to facilitate these spiritual fruits. Generally, most effective have been psychospiritual practices.

Many people today say that they are spiritual and not religious. And by spiritual they mean they try to live according to what is described in Romans.







On the theme of spiritual but not religious, we need to ask some pretty critical questions around the structure of the Christian faith. Bonhoeffer wrote towards the end of his life of the challenge of a religionless Christianity.

The questions to be answered would surely be: What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world? How do we speak of God--without religion, i.e., without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness, and so on? How do we speak (or perhaps we cannot now even "speak" as we used to) in a "secular" way about God? In what way are we "religionless-secular" Christians, in what way are we those who are called forth, not regarding ourselves from a religious point of view as specially favored, but rather as belonging wholly to the world? In that case Christ is no longer an object of religion, but something quite different, really the Lord of the world. But what does that mean? What is the place of worship and prayer in a religionless situation?

The Pauline question of whether [circumcision] is a condition of justification seems to me in present-day terms to be whether religion is a condition of salvation. Freedom from [circumcision] is also freedom from religion.


Practices that lead to positive outcomes:   St Teresa of Jesus, well-known as a reformer and foundress, left her followers no methods but the "prayer of recollection".    "I tried as hard as I could to have Jesus Christ, our God and our Lord, present within me.  That was my way of prayer."   Teresa was at first taken by neo-Platonic theories and thought to eliminate focusing on Christ (!).    Her directors, many of whom were members of the newly formed Society of Jesus, instructed her to never prescind from "the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ".    One of her well-known phrases is: "to represent Christ" (within), for her not discursively but with a simple image.     Her Order, the Discalced Carmelites, has produced thousands of contemplatives over five centuries (500th anniversary of her birth in 2015).    Pretty good "fruit"!

George D. --

I agree with your last two posts wholeheartedly, especially what you say about practices helping outcomes.  If I regularly fly off the handle at my brother and mindfulness helps me to not get mad at him, then the practice is itself a grace.  And it can have other sorts of spiritual benefits besides.

Christ died for us when we were yet sinners, and clothes us with the mantle of his own righteousness despite our sinfulness. This is what is called justification. There follow on it sanctification, the fruits of the Spirit. But if you make the justification of the sinner contingent on his having the fruits, and indeed on have the fruits in an empirical, measurable way,you are putting the cart before the horse. Salvation is a gift claimed by faith, not a reward for spiritual attainments or for having spiritual graces and charisms. If spirituality without religion means spirituality without faith in Christ's saving death then you can throw your hat at it! 

This has been an interesting discussion. It is interesting to see how a range of people respond to the mass - in a way that I don't. It almost seems at times, however, as though the part of the mass that "touches" most is the music.   Centering Prayer brings some (including me) much closer to God than the mass, especially large Sunday masses, crowded with people. I have no problem missing mass because I don't feel that it is the summit of anything, really, at least in my personal spiritual life. Quiet, contemplative masses with a handful of people, no music, and a very brief homily are much more meaningful to some. Like me. But, I still have a lot of trouble with the mass because I struggle with the church's definition of the eucharist to begin with (literal understanding of "this is my body" and "this is my blood" instead of a metaphorical understanding - already discussed here ad nauseum and I don't wish to get into that again, fortunately for all of you), and with atonement and sacrificial death theology. I don't believe that Jesus had to die for us to be "saved" - to be forgiven by a loving God. I believe that Jesus' life was meant to save us (not just his death) - from ourselves, really, not from the wrath of a vengeful God who would insist his son become a human sacrificial "lamb" in order to forgive human sinfulness. There are many prayers in the mass that I can no longer say.  The understanding that Christ died for our salvation is a teaching that seems repellant in many ways, on the surface at least for we ordinary, non-theologically trained folk, and makes some not want to have anything to do with a god that would demand such a thing. 

how a range of people respond to the mass

I heard today that one reason why people start taking heroin is that it makes them feel profoundly at peace, and gives them heightened awareness of what's around them. So Mass is a little like heroin!


Claire, I also have heard that some types of drugs give a pseudo-religious or mystical experience.  I would guess that this is one of the reasons that people are suspectible to abuse and addiction: people search for meaning.

R,C. Zaehner met the problem of distinguishing pseuo-religious experiences from real meetings with God.  He concluded that the genuine religious mystics say that they have met a benign/loving Absolute,  that they are inspired by the meeting to be loving to all things and some are recognized as saints.  They do not confuse themselves with God, at least not on reflection.  Some mystics have had all three basic sort of experiences, and they tell us not to confuse one kind of with the other.

Zaehner even found that some 'mystics' whose experiences have been caused by drugs have done somevery evil deeds.  The most famous example is the infamous Charles Manson who claimed he was God and plotted to slaughter a number of people.

Christ died for our salvation is indeed a difficult truth to grasp and believe, yet it is the very core of the Christian fatih. I love this somewhat sentimental rendering of it:

Here is the most beautiful of all eucharistic anthems:


@ Anne Chapman - please,  could you guide me to what you call discussions that you have raised 'ad nauseam'?! They are  not  'ad nauseam' to me - I may not have been reading Commonweal for long enough.  Everything you say resonates with me and I am trying to  understand the issues and reasons more clearly. I've had such technical difficulties wth Commonweal today I dare not say more -  I wrote at greater length this morning and lost it all!  I have no theological training either.  Lorna

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihayl has done a lot of research into the phenomenon of what he refers to as "flow". Flow refers to that feeling of ease and postivity and being lost and absorbed that athletes experience at times, poets immersed in their writing, dancers, artists, any occupation which requires skill, attention, and challenge.

He discusses how consciousness is altered through drugs and the difference between that and flow:

Any activity that tranforms the wy we percieve reality is enjoyable, a fact that accounts for the attraction of "consciousness-expanding drugs" of all sorts, from magic mushorooms to alcohol to the current Pandora's box of hallucinogenic chemicals. But consiousness canot be expanded; all we can do is shuffle its content, which gives us the impression of having broadened it somehow. The price of most artifically induced alterations, hower, is that we lose control over that very consciousness we are supposed to expand.

In contrast to that he writes that:

In our studies, we found that every flow activity, wheter it involved competition, chance or any other dimension of experience, had this in common. It provided a sense of discovery, a creative feeling of transporting the person into a new reality, It pushed the person to higher levels of performance, and led to previously undreamed of states of consciousness. In short, it transformed the self by making it more complex. In this growth of self lies the key to flow activities.

William Blake who was a Catholic poet wrote of the importance of perception and clarification of the mind.  "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern"

I don't think that it is realistic or healthy to chase after flow or mystical experiences as ends in and of themselves. They are byproducts of disciplined life of the mind and spirit. 

"I struggle with the church's definition of the eucharist to begin with (literal understanding of "this is my body" and "this is my blood" instead of a metaphorical understanding."

The church teaching is that the accidents remain unaltered while the substance is transformed -- that is so mysterious that it cannot be "literal". I suggest that we can think of it more dynamically as follows: the entire meal event is transubstantiated into a participation in the Paschal Mystery. 

" atonement and sacrificial death theology. I don't believe that Jesus had to die for us to be "saved"

The Fathers of the Church agree with you. But they defend the actual economy of redemption because it enters fully in the fabric of our mortal flesh. It gives a clear redemptive significance to suffering and death -- not only to Jesus's death but to mine -- and that is Good News.

"I believe that Jesus' life was meant to save us (not just his death) - from ourselves, really, not from the wrath of a vengeful God who would insist his son become a human sacrificial "lamb" in order to forgive human sinfulness."

But that is not the image projected either by the New Testament or by the texts of the Mass. God lovingly lays on Christ the iniquity of us all and Christ lovingly accepts this role. By his stripes we are healed. The entire story is gracious from beginning to end.

I remember a time when one prayed to Mary to hold back the arm of her wrathful Son, prepared to strike. But the New Testament language is far deeper than such popular conceptions.

"The understanding that Christ died for our salvation is a teaching that seems repellant in many ways, and makes some not want to have anything to do with a god that would demand such a thing."

Do you blame God that we must suffer and die? So why blame him for giving positive meaning to suffering and death, and for making the death of his beloved son the powerful means of washing away our sins and allowing us to stand before God with confidence, in the hope of the resurrection.

"Christ died for our salvation" is the very center of the Christian faith -- we need to meditate on it long and deeply. 






William Blake's family were dissenters but he was baptized at a C of E church, St James' Piccadilly. 


Blake saw Dante as an atheist. .

Blake is reported to have been in the forefront of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots.

Blake is recognized as a saint in the Ecclesia Catholica Gnostica...

Except that some over Blake's intuitions have been validated by social science research. Where is that index of forbidden books when you need it eh!

Social research is not needed to validate Blake's intuitions -- he was a prophet of the first magnitude -- but to call him "a Catholic poet" is odd.