June 27, 2008

THEME 5: Gift of Bread and Of Himself

13 Spiritual Themes
St. Anthomy Mary Zaccaria

THEME 5: Gift of Bread and Of Himself
By Giuseppe M. Simone
There are three aspects of the Holy Eucharist which were emphasized by St. Anthony M.
Zaccaria. They are: Eucharist and Conversion, Eucharist and Word, Eucharist and Sacrifice.

The Most Important Conversion

The 1500's experienced a religious and social crisis very similar to the one we are experienc­ing today. During that era, St. Anthony Mary and St. Charles Borromeo adopted the Eucharist as the instrument to generate and increase the holiness of the faithful. What is the influence of the Eucharist on our lives as baptized Christians? A good celebration of the Eucharist requires first and most of all our continuous conversion.

Preaching in St. Vitale, Anthony Mary gave this exhortation, "All other discomforts and troubles of the world urge you, they keep you awake day and night, they do not let you rest for a moment..." (Sermon IV), but when it is a question of cultivating charity and love of God you do not get involved. Moreover, "Man in order to reach God and to be able to love Him, must purify himself and rid himself of all vices" (Ibid., 111).

How to bring about this conversion? Are we, perhaps, asking too much? In his letter to Charles Magni, Anthony Mary teaches how to practice prayer strictly intermingled with the ongoing daily events and worries, making them the object of a direct dialogue with Christ. Then he exhorts to a frequent elevation of the mind. Does not this remind us of the period of silence after communion during Mass? So a frequent elevation of the mind reaches its fullness through the Eucharistic "si­lence" when we put ourselves in communication with this Other Friend who is worthy of respect!

Now we can better understand the need for conversion. In fact, "it is no wonder that man has become lukewarm and like a beast; the reason is that he does not receive this sacrament often" (Sermon III).

The Two Tables

Going back to Sermon III, we read, "You will convert yourself to God by reading part of the Scripture, reciting or singing some of the Psalms…" (Sermon III). Not only a good, but the best preparation for the Eucharistic Table is provided by the celebration of the Word. To listen to the Word helps to commemorate the history of salvation. To understand the meaning of the Eucharist, we need to learn how to feed ourselves at the two tables, the Word, and the Eucharist. The Word helps us to pray, makes us pray with the very words of God. To listen to the Word and to zero in on a specific thought could become the object of our conversation with God. Once a thought has been transmitted to us by the Word during the Sunday Eucharist, we, then, can offer it in the silence after Communion, and during the week we can recall it when we elevate our mind to God. Anyway isn't the Christ we adore the Incarnate Word, who came on earth to convert man and lead him to the Father? Also, this acceptance of the Word as an expression of our prayer, instead of relying on our own human words, is a gesture of conversion.

Scripture is the nourishment of the interior man, capable of leading him to the conversion of the heart: "This is why you read the Scripture about the virtues and excellence of so many Patriarchs and Prophets and Holy Men, from the beginning of the world up to the time of Christ, so that you may imitate them; - and about the malice and punishment of the bad, so that you would avoid them" (Sermon VI).

Triple Sacrifice

Sermon III continues, “And, as an extra, offering a sacrifice! – the sacrifice, I say, of your body, mortifying it for love of God; - of the soul, uniting it to God: - and, first of all, which is the sacrifice of sacrifices, the Most Holy Eucharist" (Sr III, 101). It is evident that for Anthony Mary the Eucharistic sacrifice presupposes the sacrifice of one's very self and somehow it gives it efficacy. It is like saying that the Mass of the Church has to become the Mass of life. The sacrifice of one's self is further exemplified as "maceration" of the body and "union" of the soul with God. Already in other places the Founder had insisted on this theme, "Carry your cross, macerate your body with hunger and work, stay awake in prayer, use your time to help your neighbor…" (Sermon I). The language is coarse, but it transmits the very essence of a life given to God none less than to the brothers.

Anthony Mary's desire was for the world to receive communion everyday. Surely such a frequency needed special cure, this explains the insistence on personal conversion, tightly connected with the need to transform ourselves as "a perennial offering pleasing to God" (cf Sermon IV).

The sacraments must be allowed the fullness of efficacy both on the part of the celebrant and of the faithful. Since the good effect of holiness has to flow from such a supreme cause, the Eucha­rist, the Paulines were committed "to profoundly and frequently, rather, continuously reflect on, chew, digest and bring to effect the mysterious sacrament of the Altar" (Capitular Acts). This is why they paid great attention to the communitarian discernment so as to be aware who was "gaining" or "losing" through this sacrament. The access of each confrere to holy communion "was kept under the strict control" of the whole community to guarantee a most irreproachable life. Finally, we cannot skip a reflection by Paola Antonia Negri. To found and strengthen the Venetian mission she makes reference to Christmas, and centers the Eucharist in the mysterious light of the Incarnation, "The sky is in awe, nature is in awe, earth is in awe, the sea is in awe, and all created things are in awe, in front of the great mystery of the one Incarnation of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and of the many Incarnations of God made man and given as food to…the sinners." The contrast between the two perspectives could not be better emphasized.


(original text in Voce, 1989:5)

All the 13 Spiritual Themes of St Anthony M . Zaccaria were translated from Italian by Fr. Frank Papa, CRSP and edited by Ms. Fran Stahlecker.

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