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Vol. X, December 2004

 

God Sent His Angels to Prepare His Coming

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

The holy angels are messengers of the Eucharistic Lord. In the Old Testament they announced His coming by prophecy and prefigurations through their example and testimony. In the New Testament they revealed the real coming of the Son of God to this earth as man. In this Eucharistic Year the message of Advent and Christmas receive a particular accent. For “the Eucharist, while commemorating the passion and resurrection, is also in continuity with the Incarnation. At the Annunciation Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of His body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s body and blood” (EdE 55). Pondering during this Advent the angelic messages and responses can help us to a clearer appreciation of the mystery of the Blessed Eucharist.

1. The Announcement by the Angel of Jesus’ Divinity and Humanity

The angel announced the first coming of Christ in the flesh three times: to the priest Zechariah, to the Virgin Mary and to Saint Joseph. Similarly, the ministers of the Church proclaim the mystery of the Blessed Sacrament today to people of different conditions.

In the annunciation of the precursor, John, the angel simply referred to the coming of God: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer is heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son...He will turn many of the sons of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah...to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:13, 16-17).

To Our Lady the angel explained:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever...The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the Child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. (Lk 1:30-35)

While the angel made clear to Our Lady that the Son of God wanted to become man and so take over the kingship of David, he underlined for Saint Joseph the divine origin: “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Mt 1:20-21). Joseph knew only God can save men from sin (cf. Mt 9:2-6).

The angel proclaimed the whole truth about Jesus, His divinity and humanity, His royalty and saving intention. This Jesus is present in the Most Holy Eucharist. So teaches Mother Church, as we saw already in a former letter: “After the consecration it is the true Body of Christ, which was born of the Virgin...And it is the true Blood of Christ which was poured forth from His side” (cf. October Circ.), “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt 26:28).

2. The Response of Man

The angel did not receive a unanimous response from men, though to each grace was offered. Similarly, even greater grace was offered when the Son of God Himself declared His coming in the Blessed Sacrament: “I am the bread of life...which comes down from heaven...My flesh is food indeed and My blood is drink indeed” (Jn 6:48-49, 55). “This is My Body...This is My Blood” (Mt 26:26, 28). All can respond with faith. However, man continues to give different answers and to have difficulties in accepting this truth. What were the difficulties at the first coming?

a) Zechariah, the Prisoner of Reason

Zechariah would receive a son who was to be the precursor of Jesus with the prophetic function of the priests of today, namely, to prepare the way for Christ and to Christ by their preaching and example. Although Zechariah and his wife were “both righteous before God” (Lk 1:6), he did not believe the messenger’s word: He articulated his doubt: “How shall I know this?” (Lk 1:18) The priest Zechariah certainly knew that a barren woman could give birth from past examples of Sarah and Hannah (cf. Gen 17:15 ff., 21:1-3; 1 Sam 1:2,17,20). Why did he not want to believe that the power of God could exceed the law of nature, that His invention of love transcends human reason, “that God is able to work more than man can understand” (Imitation of Christ, IV,18)?

As with all divine miraculous intervention, it is especially true in the case of the Eucharistic Mystery: “The Eucharist is a mystery of faith which so greatly transcends our understanding as to call for sheer abandonment to the word of God” (EdE, 54). Was Zechariah just looking at the limitations of himself and his wife? Does he suffer a difficulty similar to that of many people of today, which rises from a certain rationalistic self-centeredness? Jesus hit on such difficulties at His first announcement of the Eucharist. The Jews murmured, but Peter confessed, “Lord, You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68; cf. 6:30,41,52,61).

There have been in the History of the Church priests who doubted the real presence of Jesus after the consecration. Different Eucharistic miracles took place which helped them to believe. One of the oldest documents speaks of the doubting monk of the Order of St. Basil in Lanciano (around 700 A.D.): The priest “had just spoken the solemn words of consecration when the host was suddenly changed into a circle of flesh and the wine was transformed into visible blood” (J. C. Cruz, Eucharistic Miracles, 3; cf. 56, 59, 109, etc.).

b) St. Joseph and the Light of Faith

St. Joseph was a man of sincere piety. He desired God’s coming and wanted to do God’s will. He stood before another difficulty: He found Our Lady to be with child “before they came together”. He searched for light, pondered her holiness and his indignity; he certainly prayed to God for understanding. But, “He did not know how to deal with Mary’s ‘astonishing’ motherhood” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, 3). “Being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, [he] resolved to divorce her quietly” (Mt 1:18ff.).

“If the Church and the Eucharist are inseparably united, the same ought to be said of Mary and the Eucharist” (EdE 57). Today, some find themselves with a similar question: How can this be? St. Joseph was about to turn his back on Our Lady and the divine Child when an “angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” (Mt 1:20) and explained him the mystery. Similarly, some turn away from the Eucharistic Mystery because there is no one offers them a fitting catechesis on the Eucharistic Mystery. It is true that we understand neither the Incarnation nor the Eucharist, and that love trusts and asks not for reasons. Yet, the Church acknowledges that faith searches for explanation and understanding (“fides quaerit intellectum”). Now, it is one of the most important missions of us priests to lead the faithful to a fuller understanding and acceptance of the Eucharistic Mystery just as the angel brought light into the darkness of St. Joseph.

c) The Blessed Virgin’s Faith and Love

The angel found in the Blessed Virgin Mary a soul who thirsted for God since her first years of life (cf. Feast of the Presentation, Nov. 21). We find her surprised by the greeting of the angel, but not about the mystery of the Incarnation. She was preoccupied about her own correct collaboration. “Mary...[was] a woman who was docile to the voice of the Spirit, a woman of silence and attentiveness, a woman of hope...” (John Paul II, Tertio Millenio Adveniente, 48). She believed that “with God nothing will be impossible” and said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:37ff.).

The Holy Father comments on her “Fiat” in view of the Mystery of the Eucharist with these words:

In a certain sense Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s Word…As a result, there is a profound analogy between the Fiat which Mary said in reply to the angel, and the Amen which every believer says when receiving the body of the Lord...When, at the Visitation, she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a “tabernacle”—the first “tabernacle” in history—in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed Himself to be adored by Elizabeth...And is not the enraptured gaze of Mary as she contemplated the face of the newborn Christ and cradled him in her arms that unparalleled model of love which should inspire us every time we receive Eucharistic communion? (EdE 55)

3. Parallel between Incarnation and Eucharist

The Eucharistic coming presupposes the Incarnation. The angels were asked in their test for living faith; they had not simply to believe, but to serve “God and His reign” (CCC 392). God sent them to prepare the Incarnation, and the Church unites herself with all of them (cf. prefaces of the holy Mass) before Christ’s Eucharistic coming. God prepared Himself a worthy reception in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

“In continuity with the Virgin’s faith, in the Eucharistic Mystery we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine” (EdE 55). “There can be no one like Mary to act as our support and guide in acquiring this disposition...Mary seems to say to us: ‘Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son’” (EdE 54).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

God wants to come to us in the Most Holy Eucharist. Let us call upon the help of the holy angels and not doubt. Let us ask them for guidance and light in this, one of the deepest (and therefore most obscure) mysteries of our Faith! May we with Marian confidence and love declare to Jesus our readiness, opening to Him our heart and will. May Advent and Christmas this Year bring each one of us not just the memory of Christ’s historical birth, but a much deeper experience of Jesus’ Eucharistic love. As “Mary is a ‘woman of the Eucharist’ in her whole life” (EdE 53), so may our “daily activity…become truly Eucharistic” (EdE 31,2) and we “priests of the Eucharist” through the graces of this Eucharistic Year. May you so have a blessed Advent and graceful Christmas!

        Fraternally,

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC