30 May 2024

Corpus Christi

From The Golden Legend of Blessed Jacobus Voragine (ca. 1260) translated by William Caxton in 1483.

Here followeth the Feast of the Holy Sacrament

The great largesse and benefits that God hath distributed to Christian people, give to the said people great dignity, for there is no people, ne never was so great a nation that their gods had approached so nigh them as our Lord God is unto us. The blessed Son of God would make us partners unto his divinity and godhead, and therefore took our nature to the end that making himself man, he would make men as gods. And all that he took of us, he gave all again to us for our salvation. He gave his proper body an offering unto God the Father on the altar of the cross, for our reconciliation, and shed his blood in price and washing our sins, to the end that we might be redeemed from the miserable servitude wherein we were, and that we should be also clean and cleansed of our sins. And also to the end that this excellent benefice abide to us in perpetual memory, he hath unto devout hearts and faithful given his own body in meat, and his precious blood in drink, in likeness of bread and wine. O precious feast and convive and verily full of great wonder, the feast healthful and replenished of all sweetness. What thing may be more precious than the noble convive or feast in which not only the flesh of calves ne of oxen like as was given in the old law for to taste, but the proper body of Jesu which is very God, is presented for to receive and assavour devoutly. What thing might be more full of great admiration than is this Holy Sacrament in which the bread and wine be commixed substantially into the proper body of Jesu. And therefore Jesu Christ there is contained under the species and likeness of bread and wine. He is eaten and received of the good and true christian men but for that he is not departed in pieces ne asundered in his members, but abideth all whole and entire in every each of his parts. For if this holy sacrament were divided or departed in a thousand parts, in every part should remain the proper body of our Lord whole and entire. None other sacrament is not of so much merit, nor so full of health as this sacrament is. For by this be purged the sins, the virtues be increased, and the thoughts be engrassed and fulfilled with the abundance of all good virtues. He is in holy church offered for the living and them that be dead, to the end that he may profit to all that which is for their salvation, of all them that be ordained and instituted to consecrate it. The sweetness of this holy sacrament may none express. By the which sweetness is spiritually tasted and remembered the excellent charity that God showed in his glorious passion, and to the end that it might be the more fervently impressed in the hearts of devout and faithful people, of the great largesse of his charity when he should depart out of this world and go to God his Father and would eat his paschal lamb with his disciples, then he instituted this holy sacrament like a memory perdurable of his passion, as the accomplishment of ancient figures, and of the miracles that were done by him, and also to the end that they that were sorrowful and heavy for his absence, should thereby have some solace singular. This is a thing then right convenient and convenable unto the devotion of devout hearts; to remember solemnly the institution of so healthful and marvellous a sacrament, to the end that the ineffable manner of the ordinance and thought divine visibly be honoured and worshipped; and that the might and puissance of God be loved and thanked, which in this sacrament worketh so marvellously; and also, of so healthful and of so sweet and gracious benefice be given and rendered to God due thankings and graces. And how well that on the day of the cene or supper in which this noble sacrament was instituted is special memory made of this sacrament, how be it the surplus of the service of the same day appertaineth to the passion of our Lord, in the which passion our mother, holy church, is occupied all that day devoutly. And because this institution of so noble sacrament may be hallowed more solemnly, the Pope Urban iv., by great affection that he had to this holy sacrament, moved of great devotion, he ordained the feast and remembrance of this holy sacrament the first Thursday after the octaves of Pentecost, for to be hallowed of all good christian people, to the end that we who use throughout all the year this holy sacrament to our salvation, may do our devoir to this holy institution specially in the time when the Holy Ghost enseigned and teached the hearts of the disciples to know the mystery of this holy sacrament. For in that time then, the true faithful disciples began to frequent it, it is read in the Acts of the Apostles that they were perseverant in the doctrine of the apostles and in communication of the breaking of the bread in devout orisons after the sending of the Holy Ghost. And to the end that the holy institution of this amorous sacrament should be the more honorably hallowed on the said day, and by the utas or octaves following, in stead of distribution material, that been distributed in cathedral churches, the foresaid Pope Urban hath given of his power and largess apostolic, wages spiritual and pardons special unto all them that shall be personally in clean life at the hours diurnal and nocturnal of this holy solemnity, to the end that every good catholic person should have the more desire to come to one so great a solemnity overall where it shall be hallowed. That is to wit at matins, an hundred days of pardon, at the mass as much, at the first evensong as much, and at the second evensong on the day also an hundred days; at the hours of prime, of tierce, of sixt, of none, and of compline, at every each of these hours forty days. On the other days during the octaves for every day to them that shall be at matins and at mass, at tierce, at sixt, none, evensong and compline, an hundred days of pardon. And all these pardons of the treasure of the church by the misericord divine, he hath given them and instituted to endure perpetually. This sacrament figured our Lord when he sent manna from heaven unto the old fathers in desert, where they were fed with meat celestial, and it is said that the men had eaten bread of angels, but alway, all they that had eaten thereof, they died in desert, but this meat that ye now receive is the living bread which descended from heaven; that administered the substance of the life eternal; and therefore whosoever receive this bread here, worthily he shall never die eternally, for this is the proper body of Jesu Christ.

Now consider here then which is most excellent and most profitable, the bread of the angels or the proper body of Jesu Christ, which is life perdurable. The manna aforesaid came from heaven, this precious flesh is above the heaven; this manna is celestial; this flesh here is God the creator of heavens. The manna was kept unto the morn and was corrupt; this bread may feel no corruption. To them in desert, abovesaid, sprang water out of a stone, to us is sprung the blood of the amorous Jesu Christ. The water refresheth them for an hour, but the precious blood of Jesu Christ washeth us perpetually. The Jews drank and alway were athirst, but thou christian man, when thou hast drunk of this beverage here, thou mayst never after have thirst. That other was given to them in a shadow and umber but this was given in truth. Now ye shall understand this that was in the shadow, they drank of the water that issued out of the stone, this stone was Jesu Christ and yet they pleased not alway in their works to God, and therefore died they in desert. All those things there were done in figure, for to give knowledge of things more great and more notable. It is much greater thing of the light than of the shadow; semblably of verity than it is of figure; and also much greater of the body of our creator and maker, than it is of the manna that came from heaven. Thou shalt demand peradventure: how thou affirmest and assurest me that I receive the body of Jesu Christ when I see another thing. We have many examples by the which we may well prove that it which thou receivest is not that thing that nature hath formed, but it is well that that the benediction hath consecrated. The benediction hath greater might than nature, for by benediction ofttimes nature hath been changed. Moses that held a rod in his hand, when he cast it to the earth it became a serpent; anon he took it up and it turned into the nature of a rod. Thou seest then how by the grace of the prophet the nature hath been changed twice, of the serpent and of the rod. The rivers of Egypt ran some time their course natural, but suddenly by the veins of the fountains blood began to issue, and ran so long that the people wist not for to drink. After, at the prayer of the prophet the river of blood ceased, and came again to his nature of water as it was before. The people of the Hebrews was on a time all environed and enclosed of the Egyptians, between the sea and them Moses lift up his rod, and then the water departed, and assembled unto the likeness of a wall, and there appeared to them a way for to go on foot, and the flood of Jordan, in his proper place, against his nature returned against the hill. The old fathers that were in desert, also on a time had great thirst; Moses took his rod and smote a stone, out of the which issued a great abundance of water. Is not the grace of benediction great which hath wrought above nature, when the stone giveth water which he may not by nature? Marah, which was a river right bitter, in such wise that the people that had great thirst might not drink it; Moses put a staff in the water, and suddenly by the grace of benediction which there wrought, it lost his bitterness and became sweet. Semblably in the time of Elisha the prophet, one of the sons of the prophets let fall the iron of his axe in the water, the which iron, after his nature, sank down to the bottom of the water. Then he came to Elisha praying him for his axe. Elisha put his bourdon in the water, and anon the iron began to swim about the water, which is a thing above nature, for the weight of the iron is heavier than the liquor of the water. By all these things, and by the blessing of prophets, we see clearly how grace or benediction hath thus wrought above nature, and then, sith that benediction human, diverse times hath thus converted things against nature, what shall we say of the consecration divine where the words of God work? For this holy sacrament here that thou receivest is consecrate of the words of Jesu Christ. Then if the word of Elijah was of so great effect that it made fire to descend from heaven, of much more value and effect is the word of Jesu Christ for to turn the likeness of elements. Ye have read of the work of the world; as God said and commanded so was it made; he commanded and it was made. And the word that made all things of nought, may not the same change the things that have been made into other species and likeness? It is not less to him to create things than to change things. We show also the mystery of the incarnation of our maker Jesu Christ. Was not that above nature that Jesu Christ was born of the Virgin Mary? If thou demand of the ordinance of nature, thou knowest that the woman hath a custom to conceive by the seed of man; but the Virgin Mary engendered and conceived above the ordinance of nature, and alway remained a virgin. And this holy sacrament that we now consecrate, is the proper body of Jesu Christ that was born of the Virgin. Wherefore then seekest thou of the ordinance of the precious nature of Jesu Christ, when he is above all nature? He that was born of the Virgin is the proper flesh of Jesu Christ, the which was crucified and buried. And verily this proper flesh is in this sacrament. Our Saviour Jesu Christ saith: Lo! this is my proper body. Before the benediction of the celestial words it is another species, but after the consecration it is the proper body of our Lord. For as soon as the consecration is preferred and said, the substance of the bread is converted into the blessed body of Jesu Christ, and in like wise of the wine and water in the chalice; after the words of consecration said, is the very body of our Lord also whole in flesh and blood. All the remnant that is said in the mass be praisings and laudings to our Lord, and also prayers for the church, for the kings, and for the people. But when this holy sacrament is consecrate the priest useth not his own words, but he speaketh the proper words of Jesu Christ and so consecrateth the sacrament. The which word of Jesu Christ is it by which all thing was made, the heaven, the earth, and the sea; then mayst thou see what a worker is the word of Jesu Christ.

And sith that so much might and power is in the word of Jesu Christ, that it which never had been began to be, then by much more reason may he make that that is, to be converted into other substance. And thus that which was bread before the consecration, is the proper body of Jesu Christ after the consecration. And thus hath our blessed Lord left to us his blessed body for to be honoured and worshipped here in earth. And by reason, methinketh, he might do no less, considering our unstableness, and how prone the people have been to worship false gods and idols; and how oft his own chosen people the Jews departed from his laws and took to them false gods, notwithstanding the great miracles and marvellous that he did and showed for them, than to leave his own proper body here among us daily, to be remembered in eschewing of all idolatry for the salvation of our souls, whom we beseech that we may receive unto our perpetual salvation. Amen.

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