VATICAN CITY, DEC. 3, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Far from verging on quietism, Eucharistic contemplation enables the grace received in the sacraments “to assimilate the thoughts and feelings of Christ,” says the Pontifical Household preacher.
In response to John Paul II’s convocation of the Year of the Eucharist, and reflecting on the Eucharist hymn “Adoro Te Devote,” Father Raniero Cantalamessa proposed in his first sermon of Advent to the Pope and the Roman Curia a reflection on the depth of contemplation of the Blessed Sacrament.
Already in the first stanza of the hymn “Adoro te devote, latens Deitas” — O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee” — “the theological truth evoked refers to the manner of the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species,” the Capuchin priest said. “It means: You are hidden, but you truly are,” and “it also means: You really are, but hidden.”
“To the affirmation of the real presence, even if hidden, of Christ in the bread and wine, the one praying responds, melting literally in devout adoration and bringing with him in the same movement, the innumerable souls that for more than half a millennium have prayed with these words,” he said. He delivered his sermon in the Mater Redemptoris chapel of the Apostolic Palace.
“Adoro,” the “word with which the hymn opens is on its own a profession of faith in the identity between the Eucharistic body and the historical body of Christ,” Father Cantalamessa said.
Thanks to this “identity, in fact, and to the hypostatic union in Christ between his humanity and divinity, … we can be in adoration before the consecrated Host without committing the sin of idolatry,” he noted.
“But, in what exactly does adoration consist of and how is it manifested?” Father Cantalamessa asked.
It “may be prepared by long reflection, but it ends with an intuition,” he said. It “is like a flash of light in the night,” “the light of reality”; it “is the perception of the grandeur, majesty and beauty of God, together with his goodness and presence which takes one’s breath away. It is a sort of sinking in the shoreless and fathomless ocean of God’s majesty.”
“An expression of adoration, more effective than any word, is silence,” the papal preacher added.
In the hymn, “the meaning of adoration is reinforced … by that of devotion — ‘adoro te devote'” — a term which in the Middle Ages did not signify “exterior practices but the profound dispositions of the heart.” For St. Thomas Aquinas “it consists of the readiness and disposition of the will to offer itself to God which is expressed in a service without reservations and full of fervor,” in a word, “total and loving readiness to do the will of God,” Father Cantalamessa said.
“Contemplating you, everything fails,” the hymn continues. In addition to theological reasons, the facts and testimonies express the importance of Eucharistic contemplation: “innumerable souls attained holiness by practicing it and the decisive contribution it has given to the mystical experience is demonstrated,” recalled the papal preacher.
“In fact, contemplation is altogether other than indulging in quietism,” he stressed. Because, “remaining long and with faith, not necessarily with sensible fervor, before the Most Holy Sacrament, we assimilate the thoughts and feelings of Christ, not in a discursive but in an intuitive way.”
The one contemplated is “Christ, really present in the Host,” but it is not “a static and inert presence,” rather, it indicates “the whole mystery of Christ, the person and his work,” the preacher emphasized.
Contemplation, therefore, “is a listening silently to the Gospel again or to a phrase in the presence of the author himself of the Gospel who gives to the word a particular force and immediacy.”
“To engage in Eucharistic contemplation means then, concretely, to establish a heart to heart contact with Jesus really present in the Host and, through him, to be raised to the Father in the Holy Spirit”; it is “to look at one who is looking at me,” he said.
Just as “in meditation the search for truth prevails, in contemplation,” instead, it is the “enjoyment of Truth.”
This phase of contemplation is described in the “Adoro Te Devote” when it states: “Te contemplans totum deficit,” in contemplating the Lord “everything fails.” “What fails?” the preacher asked. “Not only the external world, people, things, but also the internal world of thoughts, images, worries.”
“It occurs as in the process of photosynthesis of plants. In the spring, green leaves appear on the branches; they absorb from the atmosphere certain elements that, under the action of solar light, are ‘fixed’ and transformed into the plant’s nutriment,” Father Cantalamessa said.
“We must be like those green leaves!” the preacher suggested to the Pope and his aides. “They are a symbol of Eucharistic souls that, contemplating the ‘sun of justice,’ who is Christ, are ‘fixed’ to the nutriment, which is the Holy Spirit himself, for the benefit of the whole great tree that is the Church.”