Imitation of Christ, Book IV, Chapter 1

With How Great Reverence Christ Is to Be Received


THESE are Your words, O Christ, the eternal truth, though not all delivered at one time, nor written in one place.

Since, therefore, they are Your words, and true, they are all to be received by me with thanks and with faith.

They are Yours, and You have spoken them; and they are also mine because You have delivered them for my salvation.

I willingly received them from Your mouth, that they may be more inseparably ingrafted in my heart.

These words of such great tenderness, full of sweetness and love, encourage me; but my sins terrify me, and my unclean conscience keeps me back from approaching such great mysteries. The sweetness of Your words invites me, but the multitude of my offenses weighs me down.

2. You command me to approach You with confidence if I would have part with You; and to receive the food of immortality if I desire to obtain life and glory everlasting.

“Come,” You say to me, “all you that labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.”

O sweet and amiable word in the ear of a sinner, that You, O Lord my God, should invite the poor and needy to the Communion of Your most sacred Body!

But who am I, O Lord, that I should presume to come to You?

Behold, the Heaven of heavens cannot contain You; and You say, “Come you all to Me.”

3. What means this most loving condescension, and so friendly invitation?

How shall I dare to approach, who am conscious to myself of no good on which I can presume?

How shall I introduce You into my house, who have oftentimes provoked Your indignation?

The angels and the archangels stand with a reverential awe; the saints and the just are afraid; and You say, “Come you all to Me.” Unless You, O Lord, said it, who could believe it to be true?

And unless You did command it, who would dare attempt to approach?

4. Behold Noah, a just man, labored a hundred years in building the ark, that he with a few might be preserved; and how shall I be able in the space of one hour to prepare myself to receive with reverence the Maker of the world?

Moses Your servant, Your great and special friend, made an ark of incorruptible wood, which he also covered with the most pure gold, that he might deposit therein the tables of the law; and shall I, a rotten creature, presume so easily to receive You, the Maker of the law, and the Giver of life?

Solomon, the wisest of the kings of Israel, employed seven years in building a magnificent temple for the praise of Your name:

And for eight days together celebrated the feast of the dedication thereof; he offered a thousand victims as peace offerings, and brought the Ark of the Covenant in a solemn manner into the place prepared for it, with sound of trumpet and jubilee.

And I, a wretch, and the vilest of men, how shall I bring You into my house, who can hardly spend one half hour devoutly? And would I had even once spent one half hour itself as I ought!

5. O my God, how much did they endeavor to do to please You!

Alas! how little is what I do! How short a time do I spend when I prepare myself to communicate, being seldom wholly recollected, very seldom free from all distraction!

And yet, surely in the life-giving presence of Your Deity, no unbecoming thought should occur, nor anything created take up my mind; for it is not an angel, but the Lord of angels that I am to entertain.

6. And yet there is a very great difference between the Ark of the Covenant with its relics, and Your most pure Body, with its unspeakable virtues; between those sacrifices of the law, which were figures of things to come, and the true sacrifice of Your Body, which is the accomplishing of all those ancient sacrifices.

7. Why then am I not more inflamed, considering Your venerable presence?

Why do I not prepare myself with greater care to receive Your sacred gifts, seeing that these ancient holy patriarchs and prophets, yea kings also and princes, with the whole people, have shown so great an affection of devotion towards Your divine worship?

8. The most devout King David danced before the ark of God with all his might, commemorating the benefits bestowed in times past on the fathers. He made musical instruments of sundry kinds; he published psalms, and appointed them to be sung with joy; he himself likewise often sang them, playing upon his harp, inspired with the grace of the Holy Ghost. He taught the people of Israel to praise God with their whole heart, and to join their voices in blessing and magnifying Him every day.

If such great devotion was then used, and such remembrance of the praise of God before the Ark of the Covenant, how great ought to be the reverence and devotion which I and all Christian people should have in the presence of this Sacrament, and in receiving the most excellent Body of Christ!

9. Many run to sundry places to visit the relics of the saints, and are astonished to hear their wonderful works; they behold the noble church buildings and kiss their sacred bones, wrapt up in silk and gold.

And behold I have You here present on the altar, my God, the Saint of saints, the Creator of men, and the Lord of angels.

Oftentimes in seeing these things men are moved with curiosity, and the novelty of the sight, and but little fruit of amendment is reaped thereby; especially when persons lightly run hither and thither, without true contrition for their sins.

But here, in the Sacrament of the Altar, You are wholly present, my God, the man Christ Jesus; where also the fruit of eternal salvation is plentifully reaped, as often as You are worthily and devoutly received.

And to this we are not drawn by any levity, curiosity, or sensuality; but by a firm faith, a devout hope, and a sincere charity.

10. O God, the invisible Maker of the world, how wonderfully do You deal with us! How sweetly and graciously do You order all things in favor of Your elect, to whom You offer Yourself to be received in this Sacrament!

For this exceeds all understanding of man; this in a particular manner engages the hearts of the devout, and enkindles their love.

For Your true faithful, who dispose their whole life to amendment, by this most worthy Sacrament, frequently receive a great grace of devotion and love of virtue.

11. Oh, the wonderful and hidden grace of this Sacrament, which only the faithful of Christ know; but unbelievers and such as are slaves to sin cannot experience.

In this Sacrament is conferred spiritual grace; lost virtue is repaired in the soul; and beauty disfigured by sin returns again.

And so great sometimes is this grace that from the abundance of the devotion that is bestowed, not only the mind, but the frail body also feels a great increase of strength.

12. Yet it is much to be lamented and pitied that we should be so lukewarm and negligent as not to be drawn with greater affection to the receiving of Christ, in whom consists all the hope and merit of those that shall be saved.

For He is our sanctification and our redemption; He is our comfort in our pilgrimage, and the eternal beatitude of the saints.

It is therefore much to be lamented that many esteem so lightly this saving mystery which rejoices Heaven and preserves the whole world.

Oh, the blindness and hardness of the heart of man that does not more highly prize so unspeakable a gift; and from daily use falls into a disregard of it.

13. For if this most holy Sacrament were only celebrated in one place, and consecrated by only one priest in the world, how great a desire would men have to go to that place, and to such a priest of God; that they might see the divine mysteries celebrated?

But now there are made many priests, and Christ is offered up in many places, that the grace and love of God to man may appear the greater, the more this sacred Communion is spread throughout the world.

Thanks be to You, O good Jesus, our eternal Shepherd, Who has vouchsafed to feed us poor exiles with Your precious Body and Blood, and to invite us to the receiving these mysteries with the very words of Your Own mouth, saying, “Come to me all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you.”

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