SCALABRINI AND DEVOTION
TO THE MOST BLESSED SACRAMENT
Love of the Eucharist "was the most marked feature in Scalabrini’s spirituality" (Francesconi). His 1902 Lenten pastoral letter - on devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament - can be seen as a spiritual testament, giving a good idea of his burning love for the Eucharist. The letter sets out to provide his people and clergy with a condensed version of the synod celebrated two years earlier.
It is important to recall that the celebration of the synod dedicated to the Eucharist at the end of the century was intended to provide a program and express a hope for the new century (see the "Dedication to the Synod" and the letter convening it, p. 10, as well as the Incipit, p. 21, which speaks of the Eucharist as of "hope and wish for the 20th century"). The opening and closing words of the pastoral letter are both important and moving, especially if we remember Scalabrini’s modesty over showing his feelings. At the start of the letter he says that he celebrated the eucharistic synod "with very lively joy in our hearts" (an endearing royal "we"!), and at the end he refers to himself as "that father who would willingly give his blood and life in order to kindle in you love for the sacramental Jesus"!
Again we find: "When the Lord in his infinite goodness and mercy has granted me the boon of seeing eucharistic devotion deeply rooted in my beloved diocese, I shall be left with nothing to do but exclaim with the prophet Simeon: ‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace ... for my eyes have seen your salvation’ (Lk 2:29-30), loved, thanked and venerated by those who are my joy and crown in time and in eternity." A similar attitude is expressed in the 1899 synod: "This is our greatest desire: that a solid and salvific devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament should enter the souls of all our children, putting down deep roots; and our joy will be perfect when we can say of our Church: ‘Your children are like olive shoots around Christ’s table’" (Synod, p. 58).
The pastoral letter has a very simple structure: eucharistic devotion means "solid and deep instruction" on the eucharistic mystery, and a "practice" in which "a perennial hymn of blessing and praise" is sung to the Eucharist. The practical part encompasses all those acts of private and public eucharistic devotion, ranging from visits to the Blessed Sacrament, vigils of adoration, and perpetual adoration (private worship), to the celebration of Corpus Christi, the Forty Hours, First Communion, Viaticum, and the Holy Mass as sacrifice as well as sacrament (public worship).
It is important to note the Scalabrinian definition of eucharistic devotion as "consisting in a pious movement of heart, an effective will to dedicate oneself generously to all that pertains to eucharistic worship." The second part of the definition applies the classic concept of devotio - "a will to dedicate oneself readily to all that pertains to the service of God" - to the Eucharist; the "pious movement of heart" is the most marked feature of this Scalabrinian devotion, which for the sake of greater clarity we can describe as Augustinian and Bonaventurian rather than Thomistic in type, and affective rather than intellectual. It seems to me that Scalabrini himself provides the key to interpretation in the conclusion of the letter: "Even if you do not feel called to a life that is deeply interior and of high contemplation, be with the sacramental Jesus in heart and deed, in private and public, now and always." This devotion takes the form of various devotions, with a spiritual approach marked by gentle tenderness toward Christ’s humanity and the "accessibility" of God, who, on the altar, "is not among the lightning and thunder, as he appeared to Moses on Sinai, but is like a teacher, father, spouse and friend to you, in order to pour graces and blessings over all."
However, misconceptions apart, this devotion is not sentimentalism, but is "the triumph of the spirit over the flesh, charity over selfishness, faith over proud reason," and is "nourished by the blood of the Redeemer, sacrificed on the cross" (p. 36); in other words, it is heroic.
These pages use "clear, simple language," and breathe forth the special quality of words that hold the joy of the wonderful truth they communicate, and the renewed and grateful wonderment over "the memory of all the wonders of a good and merciful God." They are words that fulfill to perfection the initial hope of the letter: "Oh! Let my poor words be a ray of that sun, penetrating your minds and making them walk in the wondrous light of Christ; let them be a spark of that fire, kindling your hearts and making them burn with love for Emmanuel, God-with-us, veiled under the sacramental species."
The miracles of the Eucharist
Priests have the duty of providing the faithful with "solid and deep instruction" on the eucharistic mystery. We do not love what we do not know, so it is vital "to enlighten the minds of men" in order to allow them to know and love. Scalabrini’s insistence ("speak often," "explain frequently," "priests have the very strict obligation to speak often to the faithful about all that concerns the Eucharist") is even in a way paradoxical: "We have to preach the divine Eucharist in season and out of season [St. Paul’s expression] in all places and at all times!"
The content of catechesis is a eucharistic summa summarizing Chapters I to IV of the first part of the synod. The Eucharist "is the masterpiece of God’s mind and heart." It is both Golgotha and Tabor, Gethsemane and Resurrection morning! It is a "miracle" - or, rather, a collection of "miracles of wisdom, power, force and divine goodness." We are struck by the passionate lyricism with which these views are given - seen not as theological facts, but as wonders of God, "the sweetest food of the intellect, the dearest delight of the heart."
The Eucharist is why we have no more regrets over not being born in Jesus’ time, hearing him at Capernaum and eating with him at Tiberias: "The whole earth has become God’s dwelling place," for the Eucharist is the fulfillment "of Emmanuel or God-with-us," a concept that is even more striking in a theological perspective and recurs three times in the letter.
The purpose of catechesis is to encourage devotion, practice and love. It is not some cold, abstract, speculative lesson, but engaging. This concern is also expressed in the synod: "Such instruction should be institutionalized and firmly based, with its various dogmatic, liturgical and moral aspects; it should not be dry and purely speculative, but ardent, full of unction, and practical; it should illuminate people’s minds and bring their spirits to a firm resolution to live in accordance with what they believe" (p. 29).
We should note the beautiful architectural comparison of eucharistic devotion to the structure of a cathedral, with the altar as the focal point. Vatican II uses another image to say the same thing, describing the Eucharist as source and culmination of the whole liturgy.
Lastly, in the warning addressed to the faithful, we should not overlook the implications of identification between Christian life and eucharistic life.
And, my revered brothers, in your noble mission of enlightening men’s minds, you should speak often of the eucharistic mystery.
This does not mean telling people about an individual truth of our religion, but about the supreme mystery of faith, so you must preach the divine Eucharist in season and out of season, in all places and at all times. The Lord must have his part in every contact of social life and in every outward action, so that Christ may be proclaimed in every possible way.
So speak of the real presence, the miracle of transubstantiation, the reasons for which the Eucharist was instituted, and the way in which the immortal, unfading and glorious Christ the Lord, King of kings, Sovereign of all, is found therein.
Explain often, as soon as you have pronounced the words, "This is my body, this is my blood," over a little bread and a little wine, that although nothing is visible, it is no longer bread or wine, but Jesus, with his whole being as God and Man. Tell people how, through a separation that goes beyond any natural order, a few accidents then remain separated from their substance, yet still subsist; how a body is enclosed in the narrow space of a few species, without losing its natural extension - a very real body, but one without weight, a body that is not everywhere, but that cannot be circumscribed by any place, a flesh that is eaten, but is not consumed, a food that is offered to many, without being divided.
Preach how the words "This is my body and this is my blood" hold the most perfect solution to the question of Emmanuel, or God-with-us, a question that has kept the heart of humanity in suspense for a long time - for humanity is divine in origin and therefore constantly strives to communicate personally with its source and ultimate end. Through these words, not only Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, Tiberias and Jerusalem - in other words, Palestine - but the whole earth has become the dwelling place of the Man-God. He dwells equally in the cathedrals of major cities, in the country churches that poor people offer him, or in the shelter of fronds where the savage adores him. He has made himself accessible to all - Greeks and barbarians, the people of Israel and the children of the desert.
It is true: no created intellect, not even an angelic one, will ever be able to understand these miracles of wisdom, power and divine goodness with sole natural power. But what does it matter? Let reason be confounded, let proud souls that understand nothing of the mysteries of God rebel; meanwhile, through your words the faithful will be illuminated by the faith that is concerned with things unseen, and will see in the Eucharist the reflection of all the wonders of a good and merciful God. Only then will they feel an irresistible need to hurry to quench their thirst at the spring of water that wells up to eternal life; only then will they exclaim with the bride of the Song of Solomon: "I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go" (Song 3:4).
You must realize, though, that abstract, speculative instruction, however excellent, is not enough: it must be accompanied by practice. If many Christians are fidgety and bored in church while the divine mysteries are being celebrated, detached from everything that is taking place, this is precisely because they see nothing but the outer form in the sacred rites. So you must teach them to recognize the different parts of the rites, enabling them to penetrate, so to speak, into the spirit of the sacred liturgy. Their minds will at once be concentrated on thoughts of God, and their lips will naturally open in prayer. There is no soul so cold that it is not capable of rising from the tangible to the supra-tangible, and does not feel carried away by Catholic worship, which converges in the Eucharist, in the same way that in temples raised up by Christian genius all the architectural lines are focussed on the altar.
Especially in instructing young people, you must strive to arouse them to practical love of the most August Sacrament, by accustoming them to being centered and devout in church, taken up by the holiness of the place and the majesty of him who dwells there. The society of the future lies in young people, as the plant lies in the seed. In a few years’ time they will be the population of country and city. Moreover, like soft wax, they can receive any imprint. If you are able to inspire eucharistic devotion in those virgin hearts before the pestilential breath of the world touches them, this devotion will quickly put down deep roots and develop in your parishes.
However, if priests have a very strong obligation to speak often to the faithful about everything concerning the Eucharist, the faithful have the duty of listening attentively to these words of eternal life.
So, my very beloved sons, let me speak to you now in the words of St. Paul: "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith" (2 Cor 13:5). Seek with all diligence to see if eucharistic faith and knowledge are whole or half within you, clear or dark, alive or dead. Come what may, strive - and especially in the Lenten season - to know it better, so that it may become the sweetest nourishment of your mind, the dearest delight of your heart and the surest guide of your pilgrimage, and so that it can be said of you that you truly want to live the life of the Christian, the eucharistic life.
Dedication to the acts of the 1899 Eucaristic Synod
The conceptual high-point of this dedication lies in the view of the eucharistic Jesus Christ as Emmanuel, or God-with-us. Through this "hidden presence" human history has its divine specific weight, its light, its bond of charity. The use of the superlative "sweetest" indicates the whole divine unction of Scalabrinian eucharistic piety.
O JESUS CHRIST
Lord and Savior of mankind,
hidden presence and ruler of all history,
in your benevolence accept with favor
this Third Eucharistic Synod
humbly offered to you by the Bishop
and clergy of Piacenza
for a happy beginning to the new century.
Way, Truth and Life,
through your grace, may shadows flee
may your sweetest light shine forth in souls,
and may the hearts of your faithful people be permeated
with the law of charity.
Communion is the spring from which the soul draws the water that wells up to eternal life; it is the place where its wounds are healed; it is, in a word, the principle and end of that union with God raised to the highest power and brought to that highest degree of perfection that can be hoped for in the present order. If the Word of God was united personally with human nature in the incarnation, it is united more to our personality in communion. In this way, he renders our essence divine, Christianizing, so to speak, our individual being; and his union with us has as its emblem the same one that transforms food into the substance of the body that eats it. So those who take communion, as a holy doctor wrote, have Jesus in their minds, hearts, breasts, eyes and tongue. This Savior corrects, purifies and vivifies everything. He loves in the heart, understands in the mind, imparts strength in the breast, sees in the eyes, speaks by means of the tongue, and moves every other faculty. He works all things in all people, and they no longer live in themselves, but it is the Word of God who lives in them, setting nobler and higher aims and purer and more perfect motives for their actions.