Monday, May 18, 2020

The Mystery of Incomprehensible Love: A Remarkable New Book from Angelico

The Mystery of Incomprehensible Love. The Eucharistic Message of Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament. Foreword by Dom Mark Kirby, OSB. Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2020. 184 pp. 978-1-62138-521-9 (paper), $16.95; 978-1-62138-522-6 (cloth), $25. Available from Amazon and its affiliates.

CATHERINE DE BAR (1614–1698), later taking in religion the name Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament, was one of the great teachers of the interior life in 17th-century France, in regular contact with all of the prominent figures of that very rich age of saints and mystics. She began in the order of the Annunciades but, due to the upheavals of the time, ended up staying for a long period at a Benedictine monastery, eventually becoming a Benedictine nun. In 1653, with the support of Queen Anne of Austria, she founded the Benedictine Nuns of Perpetual Adoration, an order represented today by houses in France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Mexico, Poland, Germany, Uganda, Italy, and Haiti. The first house of Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration, Silverstream Priory, is located in Ireland.

Angelico Press has done yet another great service by bringing out the first book in English by and about Mother Mectilde, who is better known in the French and Italian spheres, where many publications have been dedicated to her eventful life and copious writings. The book consists of several parts. From Mother Mectilde herself we have excerpts taken from her many writings—conferences, chapter talks, letters, treatises—where she speaks about the greatest mystery of love entrusted to the Church. From other authors, we have a Foreword by Dom Mark Kirby, OSB (pp. 1–6); a probing commentary on one of Mectilde’s most famous pieces, “The Solemnity of Thursday” (pp. 11–14); a detailed biography by Canon G.A. Simon (pp. 113–51); and an essay by Dom Jean Leclercq, OSB, on Mectilde’s place in the history of Benedictine spirituality (pp. 153–70). All in all, I find it a splendid introduction to a spiritual giant who deserves to be better known: as Dom Mark writes, “Catherine Mectilde de Bar is, I believe, a woman of the stature of a Gertrude the Great, a Teresa of Avila, and a Marie of the Incarnation” (3).

I had the good fortune of being able to read this manuscript carefully and found myself continually astonished by the author’s insights into the Holy Eucharist, her writing style’s unusual combination of lyricism and bluntness, and the spirit of refined courtesy and audacious zeal that shines forth from the pages. It is a book to spark wonder, feed prayer, and enliven adoration. I cannot recommend it too highly. (The blurbs from Fr. Jacques Philippe, Fr. John Saward, Msgr. Arthur B. Calkins, Mother Immaculata Franken, Sr. Julia Mary Darrenkamp, and Anthony Lilles speak for themselves.)

My article on May 8, “Contempt for Communion and the Mechanization of Mass,” closed with a quotation drawn from this new book:
Can there be anything greater? Has Our Lord not extended His love even to excess? Ah! If we had the faith to believe it, and if we would think about how we receive a God of infinite majesty as He truly is, would we not be overwhelmed with reverence?
I cannot help being struck by how relevant her words are to the current situation. As Dom Mark points out, she “lived in a time marked by superstition, sorcery, dalliance with the powers of darkness, blasphemy, and sacrilege. Distressing events in churches on every continent have demonstrated that global society today has more in common with war-torn 17th-century France than one might think” (5). The Huguenots of her day threw hosts to the floor and trampled on them. Today, more horribly because they should know better, there are Catholic clergy who, by means of communion in the hand, let the particles of the Eucharist be scattered hither and yon, to be trampled under foot, or who have arrived at the limit of impious techniques for “delivering sacramental goods.”

Here are several more passages that continue the same theme:
A God — greatness, power, richness itself — reduces Himself to nothing for us in the Host, and we think no more of it than one would of something commonplace and ordinary. O stupidity! Oh, the ingratitude of men! One does not think of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and, yet, is this not, of all mysteries, the most divine, of all marvels the most prodigious, the most inconceivable? What has anyone said of this divine mystery up until the present that in any way approaches the reality of it? (55)
All must remain in the silence of admiration. A God makes Himself our food! O astonishing prodigy! What are all the miracles worked by Jesus Christ during the course of His earthly life in comparison to this one? What a spectacle! What bounty! What charity! A God who gives Himself to us! O love! He who with three fingers sustains the universe is held by the priest. He who commands all of nature obeys a being who is nothing. He who is all-powerful makes Himself so dependent that He is in the power of His creatures; they carry Him, they bring Him wherever they choose. This is too much. Your charity, my Saviour, goes even to excess! O incomprehensible miracle! Mystery forever inconceivable! No, the thought of man would not know how to attain it. (53)
We must be very surprised to see with what boldness people enter churches and we ourselves enter choir, which is a place sanctified by the Real Presence of God. Oh! If we could see the posture of the angels and the saints before the adorable Eucharist, we would not be so bold as to enter without fear, without respect, and without amazement. It is here that we lack faith. (126)
The Mass is an ineffable mystery in which the eternal Father receives infinite homage: in it He is adored, loved, and praised as much as He deserves; and that is why we are advised to receive Communion frequently, in order to render to God, through Jesus, all the duties we owe Him. This is impossible without Jesus Christ who comes into us in order to accomplish [in us] the same sacrifice as that of the Holy Mass. (31)
There is so much treasure in these pages — I could quote and quote until your eyes wearied of scrolling. There’s a better solution: get the book and read it. Mother Mectilde’s teaching shone brightly in the gloom of her age and it continues to shine in ours, radiating fervor, joy, devotion, inspiring a charity that runs happily to excess.

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