The mystery of the Incarnation brought to life by the liturgy in the Christmas cycle is an inexhaustible source of contemplation. To facilitate this consideration, we present the second of two articles by Fr. Patrick Troadec summarizing the main teachings of the Church on this subject.
Three Inseparable Mysteries
If the study of the mystery of the Incarnation has revealed to us the fitness of the divine plan, that is to say the merits of this mystery, with respect to the sin of our first parents that Our Lord came to erase, the joint study of the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and communion will show us the harmony that exists among these three mysteries.
By leaving, in a sense, the bosom of His Father, in order to lead an earthly life, the Eternal Word has manifested Himself in creatures in three ways. He made His abode in Our Lord, He continues it in the Eucharist, and in the soul who receives Him in holy communion. From Heaven, the Eternal Word came into the womb of Mary; from the womb of Mary, He descends into the hands of the priest, and from the hands of the priest, He goes into the soul of the communicant: such are the three stages of Jesus Christ in this world.
Did the shepherds at the manger suspect that 2,000 years after the birth of the Infant God, there would be men privileged enough to receive into their hearts, the One they had had the joy of seeing? Did they suspect that this little baby, lying on the straw, through the most astonishing of miracles, was going make Himself go into the souls of communicants, thanks to the fruitful breath of the Christian priesthood?
Yes, Bethlehem, “the house of bread,” is found in Catholic buildings, whether in sumptuous cathedrals or in modest chapels and oratories. And there, the souls who hunger for God feed on the bread that came down from Heaven. In the tabernacle, wrapped in Eucharistic swaddling clothes, the Babe of the manger always receives homage from the rich and the poor, from young and old; and the angels of Heaven keep repeating around the altar the song of the good news: “Gloria in excelsis Deo. Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will” (Lk 2:14). The mystery of the Incarnation is perpetuated in the mystery of the Eucharist.
From the bosom of his Father, the Word of God already saw Himself clothed with humanity, an instrument of His tenderness for men, and He was already savoring the delights of His union with each of our souls. The Incarnation and the Eucharist, these are two very sweet visions for the gaze of a fervent Catholic.
If the contemplation of these three mysteries: the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and communion humiliates our intelligence, in spite of everything it is enough to arouse in us an ardent love towards the divine Master.
And if it is impossible for us to penetrate the depths of these mysteries, it is possible for us to discover the links which join us together.
Original Resemblance Between These Three Mysteries
The three mysteries of the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and communion are realized only through the simultaneous cooperation of God and the creature: of God, who is their main and effective cause, of man who consents to divine action.
At the word of Mary: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” God descended into her womb.
At the word of the priest who says: “This is my body. This is the chalice of my blood,” Our Lord makes Himself present on the altar under the veil of the host and under the appearance of wine.
To the Catholic who opens his heart to receive Our Lord in holy communion, Our Lord makes Himself present in his soul.
Just as the angel Gabriel said to Mary: “the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God”; just as Our Lord said to the Apostles: “This is my body. Do this in remembrance of me”; in the same way Our Lord says to Catholics in a state of grace: “Take and eat.” In these three mysteries, God asks for the consent of His creature.
Now if we look at the environment in which these mysteries are fulfilled, we can observe that:
- it is a Virgin who conceives the man-God and this miraculous conception consecrates the glory of virginity and enriches it with the prerogatives of motherhood;
- it is under the veil of a white host that Our Lord gives Himself into the hands of the priest. By its whiteness, the host in turn evokes the purity of Jesus who goes to the altar at the time of consecration.
So must it be with the communicant. In his turn, he must strive for ever greater purity so as to be ever less unworthy of approaching such a pure and holy God.
As Msgr. Izart said: “If it took the womb of a Virgin to receive the one who resides in the bosom of God; if the Son of God and of Mary needed the inviolate asylum of the Eucharistic species, with what delicacy of feelings, with what purity of body, with what integrity of soul, should the communicant not surround the sacred person of Jesus Christ? Yes, the holiness of innocence preserved or the holiness of innocence recovered by repentance, this is the vestment of honor that Jesus asks of us to [unite us with] Him.”
Resemblance in Nature Between the Mysteries
In these three mysteries, there is a visible aspect that hides an invisible aspect, and it is the invisible aspect that is most important.
In the Incarnation, what is visible is the humanity of Our Lord. But in reality, behind His humanity lies His divinity. In Our Lord we see a man, but faith teaches us that He is God. There is only one person in Him and He is a divine person. Thus, His divinity is hidden under the veil of His humanity.
In the Eucharist, the visible aspect appears to be bread. But the reality is quite different, for behind the holy species hides Our Lord dressed in His glorious body. So, on the outside, it looks like bread, but in reality it is Our Lord who is present there.
If in the mystery of the Incarnation, the divinity of Our Lord is hidden behind the veil of His humanity, if in the mystery of the Eucharist, Our Lord is hidden under the veil of the Host, in the mystery of Holy Communion, Our Lord is also hidden in the soul of the communicant.
But if Our Lord, while being hidden, is present in the soul of the communicant, it is not for Him to remain inactive. He wants to occupy the place He deserves. The Incarnate Word wishes to replace us little by little. Let us understand that the God who fills the heart of the communicant is too great to suffer the presence of a rival there. God wants to be everything for him. Thus each communicant is invited to realize what St. Paul said to the Colossians: “your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3); or what he said to the Philippians: “For to me, to live is Christ”
When we look at what is happening deep in the soul of the communicant, we see that Our Lord sustains and divinizes him. In return, the communicant must glorify Our Lord by manifesting Him. As Msgr. Izart says: “Since communion makes us the veil of Christ (veil to the extent that He is not visible), let us never be the tomb that hides Him, let us be the instrument that manifests Him… Let us walk in the footsteps of this beautiful legion of men and women saints who were or still are in the world the radiant and sanctifying hosts of Jesus Christ!” Yes, Our Lord shines through the veil of humility, of purity, of charity, and of the devotion of generous souls who receive Him with a willing heart.
Exterior and Physiognomy
Finally, the similarity of the three mysteries of the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and communion is revealed by three main features in what we can call their exterior aspect or their physiognomy.
It is characteristic of our soul to be whole in our body and whole in each of its parts. Likewise, the Word of God, taking possession of human nature, invades it even to its most intimate depths. The divinity of Christ is fully present in every part of His humanity.
If we now look at what is happening in the Holy Eucharist, faith teaches us that Jesus is present entirely under the Eucharistic species and entirely in the smallest part.
So! when we receive holy communion, Our Lord does not locate His presence either in our body or in our soul separately. He is entirely in our body to purify and control the inclinations, to deposit in it a germ of immortality. And He is also present entirely in our soul, and entirely in each of our faculties: He communicates particular light to our mind, He puts more pure and more faithful affections in our heart, He penetrates our will to correct its weaknesses and to give it more pugnacity in the fight. Thus, Our Lord seizes the communicant in the totality of his being. Of course, this action of God in the soul of the communicant depends on the dispositions of the latter. God only enters the soul as much as it allows Him. He only transforms it into Himself just as much as the soul lets Him act. All the disordered attachments to the creature unfortunately often prevent Our Lord from embellishing the soul as much as He would like.
The Incarnate Word had two lives: a life of beatitude in His divinity and a life of suffering in His mortal body. And these two currents of life circulated in the person of the Word simultaneously, parallel and without mixing.
This contrast between the humanity of the Savior suffering from the manger to the cross, and His divinity filled with ineffable happiness, is found in the mystery of the Eucharist between the body of Jesus and the sacramental species. The body of Our Lord is henceforth impassive and immortal; He is glorious; but the holy species can unfortunately be sullied in sacrilegious ceremonies.
And if we now look at the soul of the Christian who receives communion: it is, as we have said, enriched with extraordinary graces, but at the same time it can remain in the grip of great suffering. The real presence of Jesus in the soul does not eliminate the struggle to be waged to remain faithful to God. Also, at certain times, the communicant can find himself in the grip of illness, temptations, various attacks from the devil, spiritual trials. In these painful moments, we must remember what St. Paul said: “It is when I am weak, that I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10).
Finally, the last characteristic common to these three mysteries is that they are or must be indestructible.
Since the day of the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of Mary, the Word of God has not left His holy humanity. Even death was powerless to break their union. Even after the death of Our Lord, His soul remained united to His divinity as well as His body.
Likewise, as long as the holy species do not suffer the attacks of corruption, they contain Jesus the Host.
This is again a valuable lesson for those who take communion. Jesus so perfectly united to His humanity, so attached to the sacramental bond in the Holy Eucharist, comes into the soul of the communicant only with the desire to remain there always. As St. Augustine says, “He never leaves us unless we leave Him ourselves”; That is, He does not leave until the soul casts Him out by mortal sin. To avoid this misfortune, let us beg Our Lord to give us the grace to remain faithful to Him and to prefer death to defilement.
Also, let us follow this exhortation from Msgr. Izart: “Let us remain faithful to Jesus Christ at a time when the faithful are so rare! Let us remain faithful to His love at a time when selfishness shrinks or dries up so many hearts! Let us remain faithful to Christian virtue at a time when nameless licentiousness, like impure torrents, are dragging the world to the abyss! Let us remain faithful to the One who is the good, the true, and the beautiful, at a time when a scandalous mixture of vices and errors is happening around us! And at a time when disgust and despair are taking so many early victims, let us remain faithful to the sweet hope that communion places in our souls as a pledge of eternal bliss!”