SCALABRINI AND DEVOTIONS
SCALABRINI AND DEVOTIONS
TO THE MOST BLESSED SACRAMENT
Scalabrini’s most compelling quality is his capacity to translate pastoral ideas into concrete actions, which should permeate the whole Christian being from dawn to dusk of both day and life, just like his model St. Charles Borromeo. Grass-roots action is one of the main aspects of his pastoral approach: "He worked out all the means for an adequate preparation of young people for communion, he recommended even daily attendance, he spread the practice of the Forty Hours, and from the start of the new century he organized perpetual adoration ...; he also obtained commitments from priests for night adoration. He reactivated the confraternities of the Most Blessed Sacrament. He also renewed the outward signs of eucharistic worship, consecrating over two hundred churches, decreeing that altars of the Blessed Sacrament should be made of marble, chalices at least of gilded silver, and vestments decorous. He revived the practice of eucharistic processions for Corpus Christi, as well as monthly parish processions .... The monument to his eucharistic piety was the third synod ...; written personally by him in its entirety, it is ... an extension of eucharistic worship to all aspects of the life of priests and people, and also an example of the energy and enthusiasm of the Servant of God.
"We should also remember the creation of the Tabernacle Society, the founding of the Deaf and Dumb Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, affiliated with the Daughters of St. Anne, the support given to various priests’ initiatives in Piacenza, such as the Pages of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the Association of Guards of Honor, and the League for Feast Day Mass.
"The main impulse to eucharistic piety came from his example" (Francesconi).
The extracts given in this publication are taken from the 1902 pastoral letter on devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Frequent and daily Communion
The extract speaks of frequent - indeed, daily - communion, with an openness that foreshadows Pius IX (to whom Scalabrini sent the acts of the eucharistic synod). Communion is not a prize, but a necessity, and in order to have access to it, it is enough to be in the grace of God, without demanding an "extraordinary purity of mind." The adjectives with which Jansenistic rigors are stigmatized - "dry and frozen piety," "small-hearted and savage doctrine" - well describe the opposite of Scalabrini’s own attitude to the "memorial of all the wonders of a good and merciful God."
The first synod, held in 1879, had already in fact laid down the legal basis for this practice of frequent communion, and the underlying theological and pastoral motivations (pp. 65-70).
It should be emphasized that for Scalabrini the Eucharist brings not only personal, but also social advantages - and not only to Christians, but to "the whole of civil society."
The words of the second paragraph are a real hymn to communion, in other words to that union with God "raised up to the most sublime power" which makes our person Christ-like. The "holy doctor" referred to is St. Francis de Sales.
Especially the acts of preparation and thanksgiving, but also the fruit of sacramental communion, are typical aspects of Scalabrinian spirituality. See also Francesconi, Vita, pp. 368-370.
However, eucharistic devotion requires much more. It requires that in each parish a considerable number of people should take communion several times a month; others several times a week; and others every day. Where this frequency is not found, even the most essential part of Christianity gradually languishes and fades because it lacks life.
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 even more so to our personality in communion. In this way, he divinizes our essence, 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 power. He works all things in all people, and they no longer live in themselves, but is the Word of God who lives in them, setting nobler and higher aims and purer and more perfect motives for their actions.
As you can see, my loved ones, there is nothing beyond this union but heaven. So when the divine substance is conjoined with ours, if God were to transform our understanding into his and our will into his love in the same proportion, then we would see him clearly and love him with the love of the blessed. Now, what else is this if not eternal life?
However, if these are the fruits of communion, what can we say about those confessors and spiritual directors who do not exhort the faithful to attend it, preferably every day, but instead remove them from it, under the pretext of zeal for honor and reverence toward the sacramental Jesus? This is the result of a misunderstood, dry and frozen piety. These people are unintentionally contrary to the mysteries of divine love, perhaps because they are still permeated with a small-hearted, hypocritical and savage doctrine, and could do no better if they wanted to take Satan’s side in bringing about the loss of souls. No, this is not the example left us by the early Christians, who nourished themselves on the eucharistic bread every day; it is not the teaching of the Council of Trent and the Roman catechism; it is not what we are taught by the most eminent fathers, doctors and theologians of the Catholic Church. The authoritative voice of St. Augustine can stand for all when he says: "This is daily bread: receive it every day so that it may be of help to you every day." Lastly, is this not the wish of the divine Master, who excluded nobody from the solemn feast described in the Gospel, which prefigures the Eucharist, except the person who dared come to it without a wedding garment, in other words lacking in grace. So a Christian who is adorned with sanctifying grace may even have imperfections and fall into venial sins, but he is still a child of God, an heir of heaven, and hence worthy of seating himself, even daily, at the great banquet that Jesus Christ keeps laid out in his Church, so that Christians can go forth from it with ever-increasing fervor and a greater desire to return. So why should the faithful be asked for an extraordinary purity of mind, heart and deed before being admitted to this feast? Surely daily communion is in fact the best disposition for approaching the Eucharist worthily? Ah, if everybody had a higher concept of the beauty and nobility of a soul in grace, frequent communion would certainly soon be revived, to the very great - indeed, incalculable - advantage of the Christian people and the whole of civil society.
Take communion, I shall now say to all of you, my very dearest children, take communion often, and you will find all you need. If you lack help, Jesus is strength; if you fear death, he is life; if you desire heaven, he is the way that leads there; if you flee the shadows, he is light; if you seek your food, he is the living bread; so taste how sweet is the Lord. However, so far as you are able, let your life be such as to be worthy of receiving the holy Eucharist each day. Come to Jesus with purity of mind, heart and body, and with the firm intention of never offending him again. Urge yourselves to the liveliest acts of faith, humility, hope and love before receiving him in your breast, and, after receiving him, stay with him for a long time, thanking him for every good thing. Then I am sure that you will always leave the eucharistic table better, and more disposed and ready to walk to the eternal pastures in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd.
Showing with your deeds
This passage is an exhortation to his priests for renewed eucharistic devotion. And we should again note how this devotion entails (as was seen in essay no. 2) the "pious movement of the heart" ("What do the sanctuary, the altar, the tabernacle say to you? What impression do they make on you?" etc.) and the firm will to sacrifice oneself for Jesus. The Scalabrinian priest is thus seen as "a man who lives, works and sacrifices himself for the sacramental Jesus, the sole goal of all his aspirations." His solid but tenderly affectionate piety, made up of gestures, thoughts, and gentle attentions which extend to flowers, perfumes and decoration, finds its consecration in the very words he uses, which are the expression of a nuptial attitude: "Let your tongue speak often of him, let your heart sigh after him, nor let any hour of the day pass without dedicating a thought of affectionate gratitude to him." And the last adjective (printed in bold here) shows once more the special nature of Scalabrinian eucharistic piety, as was seen in fold-out 2.
In other words, revered brothers, if you truly yearn to call eucharistic devotion back to life in your parishes, show with deeds that you yourselves have it deeply rooted in your hearts. Let your devotion be interior and exterior, and let it proceed from a living faith and a sincere love for Jesus, the divine host.
Alas, however, we must admit that faith is often lukewarm, and often, after many years of priesthood, people no longer love the divine Master, or love him with a lifeless love. Nonetheless, the true priest is simply a man who lives, works and sacrifices himself for the sacramental Jesus, the sole goal of all his aspirations. Does this describe you? What do the sanctuary, the altar, the tabernacle say to you? What impression do they make on you? After receiving the body and blood of Jesus, do you not feel, as St. Vincent de Paul said to his priests, do you not feel your hearts being kindled with the divine fire? Now, does this fire, which burned so strongly in the breast of that humble priest, that hero of Christian charity, also consume your own, or does your heart remain always cold and frozen? ... How can you ever have the zeal to inspire a devotion in others that is a thousand miles distant from you? I beseech you, even if you do not feel called to a deeply interior life of high contemplation, be with the sacramental Jesus in heart and deed, in private and public, now and always. Let your tongue speak often of him, let your heart sigh after him, nor let any hour of the day pass without dedicating a thought of affectionate gratitude to him. Take the words that St. Lawrence Justinian addressed to the priest in general as spoken to yourself personally: "Approach the tribune of the altar like Christ, be present there like an angel, act there like a saint, offer the prayers of the people like a priest, beseech peace like a mediator, and pray for yourself like a man."
The practise of daily Mass
Scalabrini had a sense of values or degrees, and the Mass was the pinnacle of the scale. He heard Mass every day if he could, apart of course from celebrating it. "I celebrate and hear the holy Mass. Deo gratias!" (from Diario di bordo). The thought "If only a single Mass were celebrated a year" is taken whole from The Imitation of Christ (IV, I, 13). As we have already seen (fold-out 2), Scalabrinian eucharistic devotion echoes that type of spirituality.
So if it is a holy thing to foster eucharistic worship with processions and other solemn celebrations, is it not perhaps even more beautiful and obligatory to establish the practice of attending the divine sacrifice not only on feast days but other days as well, and spread it among peoples? If even Caesar’s decrees or violent persecution were never able to prevent Christians from gathering in the catacombs in the days of the early Church to attend the bloodless sacrifice of our altars, why can people today not take half an hour from their ordinary occupations in order to devote it to the same most noble and holy purpose? If only one Mass were celebrated a year, and in a single place on earth, who would not feel happy to be there at least once in their life-time? And when Jesus sacrifices himself each day and in every place, why should you remain cold and indifferent? My very dearest brothers, this would be the worst form of ingratitude. You must therefore commit yourselves to taking part in such an august mystery at least as often as the concerns and tasks of your state allow you; and, in order to attend with those sentiments of faith, humility, hope, compunction and love with which you would have been present at the great sacrifice on Calvary, make use of the prayers that the holy pastors of the region of Emilia publish for this purpose.
Then work so that the association of the faithful that already exists in various places in the diocese with the intention of attending Mass each day if possible should be formed in your parish. It is impossible to say how much good you will obtain from this. The mystery of faith will lead to a salvific reawakening in individuals and families of that faith without which it is impossible to please God; the mystery of love will lead to that rekindling of charity which is the bond of perfection; the mystery of the sacrifice will lead to the practical Christian life, which seeks not its own, but thinks solely of the things of heaven ....
May you be given thanks, O good Jesus, O eternal Shepherd, that you have deigned to sustain us poor exiles with your body and precious blood - indeed, inviting us with your own words: "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest" (from The Imitation of Christ, IV, I, 13).