Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Medieval Feast for Modern Man

From Modern Medievalism:
At the height of the Middle Ages in the west, adoration of the Eucharistic Lord--not the reception of Communion--was the climax of the liturgy for the average layperson. The faithful, called to attention by the ringing of the Sanctus bells, would jostle each other for a glimpse of the Host raised up by the priest over his head at the elevations. As told by Eamon Duffy in The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, zealous parishioners might not leave until they had satisfactorily gazed upon the Lord, shouting across the nave, "raise it higher, sir priest! Raise it higher!" 

No one did more to foster a devotion to Christ's real presence in these crucial centuries than Saint Norbert of Xanten: founder of the Praemonstratensian Order. Four hundred years before the Protestant Reformation, a wandering preacher known as Tanchelm had caused many people in the city of Antwerp to deny the saving power of the Eucharist and the authority of the bishop. St Norbert was invited by Bishop Burchard of Cambrai to take a few trusted disciples with him into the city and bring it back to the orthodox faith: a feat he accomplished with both gentleness of heart and zeal in preaching. He said to the people, 
“Brothers, do not be surprised and do not be afraid. Unwittingly you have pursued falsehood thinking it to be the truth. If you had been taught the truth first you would have been found effortlessly tending toward salvation, just as you now effortlessly lean toward perdition.”
Focusing on Christ's discourse on the "bread of life" in John 6, Norbert reconciled the city to the Church and was thereafter known as the Apostle of Antwerp. For teaching clergy and laity alike to reverently care for the altar cloths and handling of the Sacred Species wherever he went, even bringing the Blessed Sacrament away from the church to the battlefield, making Christ the instrument of peace between warring clans, Norbert became known as the Apostle of the Eucharist. 
A young woman soon picked up where Norbert left off to take the medieval Church's Eucharistic devotion to its apex. Saint Juliana of Liège, a Norbertine canoness, reported having a vision of a full moon, shining brightly but marred by a dark line across its surface. She understood the moon to represent the Church on earth, reflecting the light of Christ's glory. The dark line was a void in the Church's myriad cycle of celebrations: a lack of a day dedicated to the Lord's real presence in the Eucharist. Until then, Maundy Thursday was the only day to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist (at the Last Supper), but it was inevitably shadowed by the gloom of Good Friday. St Juliana petitioned her bishop to declare a feast for the Body and Blood of Christ within the diocese--which he did, though he died before he could act on it. (Read more.)

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