Wednesday, August 08, 2018

“Manifold and Marvellous Workings of Grace”: Anne Catherine Emmerich on the Blessed Sacrament

As I mentioned on Monday, Angelico Press has released a new series of volumes on Anne Catherine Emmerich (12 volumes, to be precise, available in paper and cloth) that contain by far the most complete and accurate translation into contemporary English of her visions. The volumes are conveniently divided into themes, so that, for example, one who wishes to read everything the mystic has to say about the Blessed Virgin Mary may find it all in volume 8.

And here, if I may, I should like to insert a note to readers. I was frankly astonished to see in the readers' comments the level of negativity that was directed toward Anne Catherine Emmerich in particular, and toward mystical visions in general. It is perfectly obvious, on the one hand, that some people can get carried away with such things and thereby fail to hold fast to the fundamentals of the Faith (as some other rare specimens might get carried away with liturgical finery or exquisite dogmatic distinctions); but it is also no less obvious that some have developed a disdainful attitude towards the rich Catholic history of mysticism, reminiscent in fact of the skeptical mindset of so-called "scientific reason" and the contempt for subjective devotion found in the first wave of the Liturgical Movement, by which it eventually vomited forth the rationalistic, linear-modular, didactic, symbol-bereft, unimaginative, and utterly unmystical modern liturgy, under the ill effects of which all Latin-rite Catholics are, to one degree or another, suffering.

Personally, I am not wedded to mystical visions as if they were Gospel truth or as if one "had to read" them in order to be saved, or any such nonsense. I simply find them (at their best) refreshing, intriguing, thought-provoking, insight-begetting. They help me to make connections that I hadn't made before; they lead me back to the sources of the Faith with renewed appreciation. Can one not approach such writings with theological open-mindedness, and with an innocent enjoyment of religious literature? Must we reject the use because of the abuse? Shall we dismiss a surprisingly large part of the medieval Catholic heritage because it disturbs our tidy conception of a catechetical, rubrical, juridical, and scholastic universe? One thinks naturally of the glorious visions of St. Gertrude the Great, one of the greatest saints of the Benedictine order. I am sure that Our Lord would not have honored her by placing seven rings on her hand — a golden circlet on each finger, and on the signet finger, three — if He had thought she did not deserve it; and it would seem that her larger monastic family willingly concurs with the Lord by honoring this saint with three sets of special antiphons for Vespers I, Lauds, and Vespers II, something unique, as far as I know, in the entire Antiphonale Monasticum.

Today I would like to share some striking passages from volume 11, Spiritual Works and Journeys: The Nuptial House, Vineyard, Sufferings for Others, the Church,  and the Neighbor, in which Anne Catherine speaks about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Most Blessed Sacrament. As will become evident, she was at once powerfully drawn into these mysteries with burning desire, as well as painfully aware of the irreverence, lukewarmness, and routine neglect that surrounded these great gifts of God in her own day. The parallels to our times will not be hard to see.

It is also beautiful to note, throughout these volumes, how much Anne Catherine's visions were linked to the liturgical calendar and the sanctoral cycle in particular. She seemed to have internalized the calendar to such an extent that its themes and rhythm became the guiding lines of her interior world. She intensely lived the very mysteries re-presented in the sacred liturgy, not only the mysteries of Our Lord, but also those of all of His saints, who are present to us in a special way on their feasts.

I once had a beautiful revelation on this point, in which I learned that seeing with the eyes is no sight, that there is another — an interior sight — that is clear and penetrating. But when deprived of daily communion a cloud obscures my clear inward sight. I pray less fervently, with less devotion. I forget important things, signs, and warnings, and I see the destructive influence of exterior things that are essentially false. I feel a devouring hunger for the blessed Sacrament, and when I look toward the Church I feel as if my heart were about to escape from my breast and fly to my Redeemer. (p. 9)
In the vineyard were many beautiful houses, all in the very best order inside, although on the outside the weeds grew up to the doors and almost as high as the windows. I saw in them ecclesiastics — dignitaries of the Church — reading and studying all sorts of useless books. But no one took the least care of the vineyard. In the middle of the latter stood a church with several farmhouses around it, but there was no way to get to it — all was covered with rank weeds, even the church was as it were tapestried with green. The blessed Sacrament was in the church, but no lamp hung before it. The bishop appeared to be away. Inside the church — even there — was no clear passage. All was overgrown with weeds. It made me sad. I was told to set to work, and I found a two-edged bone knife like a reaping-hook with which to prune the vine, a hoe, and a basket for manure. The work to be done was all explained to me. It was hard at first but afterward became easier. (pp. 30–31)
On the feasts of the holy peasant Isidore many things were shown me on the importance of celebrating and hearing Mass, and I saw how great a blessing it is that so many are said though even by ignorant and unworthy priests, as it averts all sorts of dangers, chastisements, and calamities from humankind. It is well that many priests do not realize what they do, for if they did they would be so terrified as not to be able to celebrate the holy sacrifice. I saw the marvelous blessings attached to hearing Mass. It facilitates labor, promotes good, and prevents loss. One member of a family returning from Mass carries home a blessing to the whole house and for the whole day. I saw how much greater is the advantage attached to hearing a Mass than to having one said without assisting at it. I saw all defects in the celebration of Mass supernaturally supplied. (pp. 95–96)
Her desire for the blessed Sacrament becomes more violent. She languishes, laments the privation of her daily bread, and cries out in ecstasy: “Why dost Thou leave me thus to languish for Thee? Without Thee I must die! Thou alone canst help me! If I must live, give me life!” — When she awoke, she exclaimed: “My Lord has told me that I now must see what I am without him. Things are changed—I must become his nourishment, my flesh must be consumed in ardent desires.” (p. 96)
On the feast of Pentecost (May 21st) the pilgrim, who had witnessed Anne Catherine’s anguish and tears on the preceding evening, found her this morning radiant as a spouse of Christ, breathing but joy and holiness: I have been in the cenacle with the apostles, and I have been fed in a way that I cannot express. Nourishment under the form of a wave of light flowed into my mouth. It was exceedingly sweet but I know not whence it came. (p. 96)
I felt as if I were wandering among the starry heavens. These vessels of God are of every variety of form and appearance, but all are filled with Jesus Christ. The same law governs all, the same substance pervades all though under a different form, and a straight line leads through each into the light of the Father through the cross of the Son. I saw a long line of royal females extending from the Mother of God, virgins with crowns and scepters, though not earthly queens, souls who had preceded or followed Mary in the order of time. They seemed to serve her as the twenty-four ancients serve the Most Holy Trinity. They were celebrating the feast by a marvelously solemn movement severally and all together. I can compare it only to beautiful music. The angels and saints advanced in one or many processions to the throne of the Most Holy Trinity like the stars in the sky revolving around the sun. And then I saw down on the earth innumerable processions corresponding to the celestial ones, also celebrating the feast — but how miserable! how dark! how full of breaks! To look upon it from above was like looking down into the mire — still there was much good here and there. (p. 102)
Again I felt those pains like fine rays falling upon me, piercing me in all directions like threads of silver. Besides, I had to carry, to drag so many people along that I am all bruised; so that not a bone in my body is not, as it were, dislocated. When I awoke, the middle fingers of both hands were stiff, bent, and paralyzed, and my wounds have pained intensely all night long. I saw in numerous pictures the coldness and irreverence shown the blessed Sacrament, by which I understood the guilt of those who receive it unworthily, negligently, and by routine; and I saw many going to confess in very bad dispositions. (p. 104)
I beheld the manifold and marvellous workings of grace by means of the blessed Sacrament as a light shining over all its adorers. Yes, even they who think not of it receive a blessing in its presence. (p. 104)
I beheld pictures referring to the defects in divine worship and how they are supernaturally repaired. It is hard for me to say how I saw it, how the different scenes blended and harmonized, one explaining another. One thing was especially remarkable — that the failings and omissions in divine worship on earth only increase the indebtedness of the guilty. God receives the honor due Him from a higher order. Among other things I saw that when priests have distractions during the sacred ceremonies, Mass, for instance, they are in reality wherever their thoughts are — and during the interval a saint takes their place at the altar. These visions show frightfully the guilt of carelessly celebrating the holy mysteries. Sometimes I see a priest leaving the sacristy vested for Mass; but he goes not to the altar. He leaves the church and goes to a tavern, a garden, a hunt, a maiden, a book, to some rendezvous, and I see him now here, now there, according to the bent of his thoughts, as if he were really and personally in those places. It is a most pitiful and shameful sight! But it is singularly affecting to behold at this time a holy priest going through the ceremonies of the altar in his stead. I often see the priest returning for a moment during the sacrifice and then suddenly running off again to some forbidden place. Such interruptions frequently last a long time. When the priest amends, I see it in his piety and recollectedness at the altar, etc. In many parish churches I saw the dust and dirt that had long defiled the sacred vessels cleared away, and all things put in order. (pp. 111–12)
I saw in all places priests surrounded by the graces of the Church, the treasure of Jesus Christ’s merits as well as those of the saints; but they were tepid, they were dead. They taught, they preached, and offered the holy sacrifice most slothfully. … Mass badly celebrated is an enormous evil. Ah! it is not a matter of indifference how it is said! I have had a great vision on the mystery of holy Mass and I have seen that whatever good has existed since Creation is owing to it. (pp. 116–17)

To purchase this volume, go to its page at Angelico Press.

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