I have collected a few passages from various saints, which are either in the form of prayer or direct counsel, but all of which are directed towards preparing the soul for receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, where He is truly present – body, blood, soul and divinity. I shall begin with some counsel reminding us of this Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist from Saint John Chrysostom (347 – 407 AD), in one of his homilies (lxxxii) on Saint Matthew’s Gospel:
‘Let us then trust in God under all circumstances, and never gainsay Him, even when what He says seems contrary to our reasonings and to our sight; but let His word be more powerful than our reasoning and our sight. So let us act in regard to the mysteries, not seeing only that which is before us, but also embracing His words. His word is not to be set aside, whereas our senses are easily deceived. It has never failed, but our senses have erred over and over again. Since, then, the word is, This is My Body, let us trust and believe in it, and gaze at it with our mind’s eyes.’
from Leaves from St. John Chrysostom (1889), p.237, Burns and Oates.
Now Saint John has ‘set the scene’ so to speak, by affirming the presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist, and reminding us to see with the eyes of faith, I shall turn to a ‘Prayer before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ’ by Saint Anselm (1033 – 1109 AD), for understanding of which an affirmation of the Real Presence is absolutely necessary. This meditation has all the flowing, spontaneous character of extemporary prayer, but contains a clear underlying structure that looks to the past, present and future aspects of the Mass. Running throughout is a deep reverence for Jesus and His presence in the consecrated elements, coupled with a strong faith in His mercy and love:
‘Lord Jesus Christ
by the Father’s plan and by the working of the Holy Ghost
of your own free will you died
and mercifully redeemed the world
from sin and everlasting death.
I adore and venerate you
as much as ever I can,
though my love is so cold, my devotion so poor.
Thank you for the good gift of this your holy Body and Blood,
which I desire to receive, as cleansing from sin,
and for a defence against it.
Lord, I acknowledge that I am far from worthy
to approach and touch this sacrament;
but I trust in that mercy
which caused you so to lay down your life for sinners
that they might be justified,
and because you gave yourself
willingly as a holy sacrifice to the Father.
A sinner, I presume to receive these gifts
so that I may be justified by them.
I beg and pray you, therefore, merciful lover of men,
let not that which you have given for the cleansing of sins
be unto me the increase of sin,
but rather for forgiveness and protection.
Make me, O Lord, so to perceive with lips and heart
and know by faith and by love,
that by virtue of this sacrament I may deserve to be
planted in the likeness of your death and resurrection,
by mortifying the old man,
and by renewal of the life of righteousness.
May I be worthy to be incorporated into your body
which is the Church,
so that I may be your member and you may be my head,
and that I may remain in you and you in me.
Then at the Resurrection you will refashion
the body of my humiliation
according to the body of your glory,
as you promised by your apostle,
and I shall rejoice in you for ever
to your glory,
who with the Father and the Holy Spirit
lives and reigns for ever. Amen.
from The Prayers and Meditations of Saint Anselm (1979), pp.100-101, Penguin Classics.
The next piece comes from the pen of Saint Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622 AD). It is a letter written to one of the many correspondents that he gave counsel to throughout his life, and is a calm reminder, similar to the advice of Saint Chrysostom (though more pastoral in tone), to focus our attentions on what God has promised, not what our thoughts, senses and emotions might lead us to believe. His advice is simple but very important, as the distractions of the discursive mind, both before and after Communion, are a common contributor to spiritual discontent:
‘Keep to what I told you as to Holy Communion: direct your intention to union of your heart with Him whom you receive in body and heart together. After communion do not occupy yourself in thinking what your thoughts are about, since of all the thoughts that come to your mind, not one of them is your thought, save that which you have deliberately and voluntarily accepted; and that thought is to receive communion in order to be united to God, and as a means of your heart and that of your Bridegroom being one.’
from St. Francis de Sales in his Letters (1933), p.178, Sands and Co.
The final pieces of preparation for Holy Communion come from the diary of Saint Faustina Kowalska (1905 – 1938 AD). I have chosen two short prayers (from sections 1569 and 1591 in the diary) which affirm the same devotion to and affirmation of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist shown in the writings from the other saints above, as well as exhibiting a particularly intense yearning to meet Him there, and an unmitigated confidence that His love for us is beyond anything we can imagine:
‘O Everlasting Love, Jesus, who have enclosed Yourself
in the Host,
And there hide Your divinity and conceal your beauty,
You do this in order to give Yourself, whole and entire,
To my soul
And in order not to terrify it with Your greatness.
O Everlasting Love, Jesus, who have shrouded
Yourself with bread,
Eternal light, incomprehensible Fountain of joy and
Because You want to be heaven on earth to me,
That indeed You are, when Your love, O God,
imparts itself to me.’
from Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul (2014), p.557, Marian Press.
This second prayer particularly emphasises the hiddenness of God in the Host (and also implicitly in the world), contrasting this with His great omnipotence, and further illustrating the love He shows for us by limiting Himself in this way so that we might join ourselves to His very nature:
‘My heart is drawn there were my God is hidden,
Where He dwells with us day and night,
Clothed in the White Host;
He governs the whole world, He communes with souls.
My heart is drawn there were my God is hiding,
Where His love is immolated.
But my heart senses that the living water is here;
It is my living God, though a veil hides Him.’
Spanning approximately 1,500 years and the writings of four saints, one can see not only a remarkable consistency in belief here, but an intense faith in and love for God in His Holy Eucharist that speaks straight to the heart of those of us who commune with Him today. Aside from the incredible testimony to the unity of the Faith that these writings provide though, I hope that some of them may prove useful in helping to prepare others for receiving Our Lord with the same reverence and confidence in His love that these great saints had.