A living body is a unity held together both by invisible and visible bonds. We see it acting externally and visibly as one body, while we know it is united internally by an invisible sharing of life and health. The Mystical Body of Christ also has this twofold unity of invisible and visible bonds. The invisible source of unity is, as we have seen so often, the sharing of supernatural life or Christ-life, which we call sanctifying grace. As well as this unity of life the members have a hidden intercommunion both with the Head, Christ, and with each other by prayer. This is the first great bond of union which we must consider. The end of prayer is to unite our minds and wills to God, but this may be done directly by prayer to God, or indirectly by prayer to God’s special friends, who, so to speak, link us to God by their intercession for us.
The Purpose Of Prayer
Prayer brings our will into union with God’s, hence the perfect prayer is the act of love as expressed in the Our Father: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Though petition is an important part of prayer, it is by no means the whole or even the most important. We must adore, praise, thank and trust God in our prayer. We must beg for mercy and forgiveness of our sins. Without prayer the soul would soon lose touch with God and the Body of Christ so that it would wilt and die in mortal sin.
Our Life Of Prayer
Though it is difficult to say exactly how much prayer there must be to avoid sin, the minimum Catholic practice is night and morning prayers, which need not necessarily be long but should be regular. We are urged to sanctify our whole day by a morning offering of it to God and by adding some little prayers and aspirations, many of which are richly indulgenced, during the day. There is clearly an obligation to call upon God for help in times of temptations and still more, if we have fallen into sin, to beg forgiveness. Prayer will be our great stand-by and refuge in all our troubles and it can sanctify all our occupations. Thus by our grace at meals we are kept mindful of our debt to God, not only for spiritual blessings but also for the needs of our body. In fact, if we sincerely wish to please God in all we do, we can offer everything that is not sin for His glory. In this way every single act, thought and word will become a true prayer. Our day should end with night prayers, which should include a short examination of conscience and act of contrition. Having made our peace with God we can sleep calmly and confidently, without fear or dread, even were it to become the sleep of death.
Distractions At Prayer
It would obviously be irreverent to make little or no attempt to pay attention when we are speaking to God in prayer, but it must be remembered that we cannot always control our thoughts perfectly and many distractions are not intentional. In this case distractions do not harm our prayer, as long as we try to turn our thoughts back to God as soon as we realize that our minds have wandered. In fact it may well be that prayer which seems to us poor and unsatisfying, on account of involuntary distractions, is actually more meritorious and pleasing to God because of the greater effort of our will required to [persevere with it. In such prayer there is no satisfaction for self but only the will to be with God.
Meditation And Religious Reading
While we are on earth in the Church Militant union with God and our brethren in heaven does not come easily to us. The world is full of distractions drawing us away from spiritual thoughts and desires. Hence we must counteract this drawing from God by feeding our minds with the things of God. We can do this in two principal ways: reading spiritual books and by thinking about what we have read in devout meditation. Much as it is to be desired that this could be done every day, most people will have to find such opportunities as occur, such as after Holy Communion or while attending Mass. If it is at all possible all should try to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion every day, or at least sometimes on weekdays when it is not of obligation.
The Lord’s Prayer And The Mass
Attendance at Mass provides an excellent opportunity for meditation as an occasional change from the prayers of the Liturgy. A simple way to meditate is to take a familiar prayer and ponder on each clause for a few moments. It would be very fitting to do this with the Lord’s prayer during the celebration of the Lord’s supper, and in actual fact the clauses of the Our Father do fit in very well with the parts of the Mass.
We start our Mass with the words, “In the name of the Father”. The very purpose for which we are gathered together is to call upon God, our Father in heaven. Our Mass is a public act of worship to God the Father of all Christians in which we pray, not only for the Church, but for all mankind. In this it differs from private prayer and is .thus constituted as one of the visible bonds of Christ’s Mystical Body, which we cannot limit just to ourselves. These thoughts will have occupied our minds for some moments, and the priest may have reached the Gloria. The next clause reflects the same act of adoration: “Glory to God in the highest” . . . “Hallowed by Thy Name”. The very purpose x)f our sacrifice is to give glory to God, all glory and worship, the infinite worship of Christ the Son of God to His Father in heaven.
It was for His Father’s glory that Christ came to preach and found His Kingdom: “Thy Kingdom come”. The Gospels proclaim Christ’s work and teaching for this Kingdom and we now stand at the Mass to read an extract from the Gospel and, on Sundays and great Feasts, to profess publicly together our faith in the Kingdom by the Creed.
The next clause, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is really an act of love, for true love of God means offering our will to Him. The true meaning of the next part of the Mass, the Offertory, is this interior offering of our wills to God, symbolized by the exterior offerings made at the altar. On earth few will reach the perfection of the angelic obedience to God’s will and so we do well to recall the angels’ prayer, as we think of God’s will being done in heaven: “Holy! Holy! Holy!” (Bell rings).
Very shortly after this the climax of the Mass is reached and we are warned of its approach by one bell. This climax is the transformation of bodily food into food for our souls; into that “daily bread” which Saint Augustine refers to as the Bread of Life. At the Consecration of the Mass the priest declares in Christ’s own words, “This is My Body,” and all hail the lifted host with the silent prayer of Saint Thomas, “My Lord and my God.” To which we may add, “Give us this day our daily bread”.
Before we can be worthy to receive this all-holy Bread of Life we must cleanse our souls of sin by true contrition. All are sinners and as the priest murmurs just audibly, “For us sinners also,” we turn our thoughts to the conditions of forgiveness laid down by Christ in His prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us”. But we must not be satisfied with forgiveness but rather dread lest we fall again. The Holy Eucharist is the greatest means provided by our Divine Lord for strength against all temptations. While the priest communicates, and we ourselves actually, or at least in desire, receive the Living Christ in Holy Communion, we may beg for this help: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” There can be no greater evil than sin but many other troubles and sorrows may afflict us, from which we pray deliverance.
Obligation Of Easter Duties
In our next leaflet we shall study in more detail the doctrine of the Real Presence and the Food of our soul. Our Divine Lord when giving us this great gift laid upon all the grave obligation of receiving it: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.” (John 6:54) He left it to His Church to decree exactly how often and when we must fulfil this command to avoid the grave sin of contemptuous and blasphemous indifference to the Gift of God. The law of the Church is that all, after reaching the use of reason, about seven years, are strictly bound to receive Holy Communion at least once a year and that at Easter or thereabouts. This, together with the other law of the Church of annual confession, is called our Easter Duties. Children usually make their first confession just before their first Holy Communion.
Frequent Holy Communion
This law of the Church, however, is the bare minimum and much more frequent confession and Holy Communion is necessary to keep our soul in strong spiritual health. It is as though the Church wishes to decree that less than once a year starves the soul to spiritual death. Clearly our body needs very much more food than the barest minimum essential to save it from dying of starvation, and the same is true of our soul. Daily Holy Communion appears to have been the universal custom of the early Church and is urged upon us now, not merely as something exceptional, but for all.
Christ’s True Presence In Our Churches
Holy Communion, as the word implies, is one of the essential external and visible bonds of the Church on earth. The Real Presence of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine is also the inspiration of great devotion and holiness among the faithful of all ages. Catholics have ever loved to surround their loving Lord with all human signs of honour and devotion, rich, costly and beautiful churches, vessels, vestments, etc. Many other ceremonies, such as processions and Benediction have grown up in honour of our Emmanuel (God-with-us). Every means of worship which has any religious appeal to the human heart is used to give Him greater glory, such as candles, flowers, incense. Nothing can be too good for the glory of His House and Tabernacle. Catholics salute the church as they pass as an act of faith and reverence for the Lord’s presence within. We should love to make frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament and attend services such as Benediction in Its honour. A burning, zealous faith in the Real Presence must ever be the inspiration and mark of a truly Catholic life.
The Holy Souls in purgatory and the Faithful on earth are bound together in one body as followers of Christ, the “Man of sorrow,” by accepting the hard with the smooth as equally God’s holy will. “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) The visible bond of this union will be found in the discipline of the Church. Christ has laid down the general principles of this discipline but has given His Church authority to make laws as to its details. Of the many laws made by the Church our Catechism gives only six of practical importance for everyone to know. The only one we need to consider here is the second: “To keep the days of fasting and abstinence appointed by the Church.”
The purpose of this discipline is threefold. First, to train us to bear patiently all the troubles of life for Christ’s sake. Secondly, to gain strength of will to control our passions and appetites. These natural inclinations are damaged by original sin so that they incline us to evil unless overcome. Thirdly, to make up for our own sins and the sins of the whole Mystical Body of Christ by gaining merits and making satisfaction in union with Christ’s Passion.
Fasting And Abstinence
As one of the strongest appetites in our body is for food the chief form of mortification commanded by the Church is limiting the amount of food by fasting, or the kind of food we may eat by abstinence. The latter binds all over the age of seven and forbids meat or soups made from meat, on all Fridays and certain other days, which are given in the Catechism for England, together with those of fasting. On fasting days only one full meal and a small amount of abstinence food in the morning and evening are allowed to adults between 21 and 60 unless they are dispensed for some just reason. At present, since 1949, only four days of fasting are imposed. Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the vigils of the Assumption (August 14) and of Christmas (December 24). These four and all Fridays are days of abstinence.
- Father Herbert C Fincham. “How We Are Saved”. , 1951. CatholicSaints.Info. 12 April 2016. Web. 19 February 2017. <>