Friday, April 30, 2021
How St. Paul of the Cross Celebrated Holy Mass

A wonderful reflection on the care for the Most Blessed Eucharist and how St. Paul of the Cross celebrated the Sacrifice of the Mass. His feastday was a few days ago and his devotion can surely inspire us all even nowadays.

He often perceived from a great distance whether the Blessed Eucharist was in any particular place, and these celestial favours excited him to still more ardent affections of devotion. This fervour never showed itself in a more lively manner than when he was celebrating mass. At those times the venerable Father appeared all tenderness and ardour, transformed into a seraphim of love. After a long and fervent preparation he ascended the altar, and then his face was often seen to change colour and become inflamed, while his eyes overflowed with tears of interior sweetness. 

For many years he could never say mass without weeping. Afterwards, being placed by our Lord in the crucible of aridities and desolations, his tears were not so continual, but he was often observed to shed them from the consecration to the communion. When he sang high mass, he generally fell into so deep a contemplation, that he was obliged to do violence to himself before he could proceed ; in chanting the Preface and Pater-Noster, he was constantly interrupted by his sobs, which gave edification to all who heard him. 

He was particularly exact in the observance of the rubrics, and of the prescribed holy ceremonies. After mass he retired to some quiet spot, where he could give vent to the burning affections of his heart, and enjoy the possession of his only love. He was most careful that everything belonging to the altar should be suitable for so high a service, and he was not content with bare decency, but he desired to see the most extreme cleanliness and purity. He sometimes sent away one corporal after another, until he got one that was perfectly clean. The smallest thing he said that is employed in the holy sacrifice, ought to be spotless. Our Lord was pleased to show by prodigies, how grateful in His sight was the faith and devotion of His servant in that sacred function.

Upon one occasion, when he was celebrating in the monastery of St. Lucia, at Corneto, the assistant, who was Signor Domenico Costantini, observed, to his great surprise, that when the venerable Father drew near to the consecration, there arose from the steps of the altar a kind of smoke like that of incense, which after the elevation gave forth a marvellous fragrance, quite indescribable and unlike any common odour. A still greater wonder was seen at the same time, which was that the servant of God was raised in the air, two palms above the altar steps, both before and after the consecration. 

Each time that he offered up the holy sacrifice, Father Paul imagined it to be the last mass that he should say, and he told one of his religious, "Whenever I celebrate I receive the holy communion as a viaticum.'' He recommended others to perform not only this sacred function, but every action of the day, as if it were the last of their lives.

As it is natural to one who loves, enjoys, and possesses an immense good, to desire to communicate his happiness to those especially who are capable of appreciating it, so Father Paul's ardent wish was that all priests, and particularly that the fathers of our congregation, should know how to enrich themselves with the priceless treasures of the adorable sacrifice, and that for this end they should prepare their hearts with the utmost care for the presence of Jesus Christ. " Endeavour," he said, “to be always ready to celebrate with the deepest devotion, watch day and night before the interior tabernacle, which is in the hearts of all priests. Guard with anxious care this living temple, keep always burning there the lamps of faith and charity, and let it be decorated as for a perpetual festival, with all Christian virtues. Jesus celebrated the divine mysteries in a furnished room, “ Cenaculum stratum.'" He inculcated to his religious that they should not only prepare themselves for mass by serious meditations upon the mysteries of faith, but that even while celebrating they should follow Jesus in spirit through the different stages of His passion, performing His obsequies with the mournful tenderness of Mary, St. John, Joseph of Arimathea, and Nicodemus, and then depositing Him in the sepulchre of their hearts, " in quo nondum quisquam positus fuerat." 

He said that the mass was the most appropriate time for negotiating with the Eternal Father, while we offer to Him His only Son Incarnate for our salvation. "Before you celebrate,'' he wrote to a priest, "clothe yourself with the sufferings of Christ, by a sacred colloquy, placidly made in the midst of aridities. Carry to the altar the necessities of the whole world." With the same earnestness he sought to impress upon all the priests of the congregation, the utmost exactness in the observance of the rubrics. He particularly insisted that those who were newly ordained, should be well instructed and exercised in the ceremonies, and he often took upon himself the charitable duty of assisting them. He could not bear to see the least disorder or mistake in the sacred functions, and if he noticed any who failed in the correct performance of them, he took an opportunity of reproving them, saying, " The rubrics ought to have been studied beforehand." 

He could not tolerate the idea of a priest abandoning Jesus almost immediately after mass, without making the proper thanksgiving. He declaimed eagerly , and upon every opportunity, against this abuse, and he employed all the power of his ministry in engaging priests to render thanks to their loving Lord for so inexpressible a benefit. As far as he could, he endeavoured to prevent from approaching the altar, all those who testified little reverence for the tremendous mysteries, or who were not attired in the clerical garb.

An ecclesiastic of distinction came to say mass at one of our retreats, dressed in a coloured coat, and without the dignity required by the sacer- dotal character ; the good Father immediately reproved him, and would not permit him to celebrate, saying, “This is not the dress for a priest to wear at the altar." Full of these zealous sentiments, he wrote thus to a devout soul, •' You must fly in spirit to the heart of Jesus, in the adorable sacrament, and there weep with grief for the insults He receives from worldlings, from wicked priests, and from tepid religious, who return ingratitude and sacrileges for His infinite love. In reparation for all these outrages, let your soul offer herself upas a holocaust, all burning with love and praise, and thank Him in place of those who ill-treat Him. Above all, go to visit Him at those times when He is most neglected and forgotten," The love which consumed Father Paul while he offered the holy sacrifice, manifested itself in no less striking a manner when he administered holy communion. " When he uttered the words, "Ecce Agnus Dei," he spoke with so much energy, fervour, and reverence, that it might well have been imagined that he beheld his Divine Redeemer with his own eyes. And so also it was observed in carrying the Blessed Sacrament on the feast of Corpus Domini, his face was bathed in a torrent of tears. This festival was to him a day of peculiar solemnity, and he kept it with a marvelous spirit of faith. If he was at one of the retreats, he himself sang high mass, and carried the Sacred Host in procession round the enclosure; but if some urgent business separated him from his brethren, as was the case one year when he was at Ronciglione, he disposed himself with equal devotion to do homage to the Blessed Sacrament. Beholding the procession, he melted into tears, exclaiming, “0, what wondrous love! O, what a day this is O Charity, O love !" Alluding to this feast, he spoke thus in a letter to a devout person, "As the moth flies round and round a light until it is burnt in the flame, so does the soul turn about and within Divine Love, until it is utterly consumed in this great and blessed octave of the adorable sacrament.  “ O my daughter, eat, drink, and inebriate yourself, fly, sing, exult, and feast with the Divine Spouse."

Taken from The Life of the B. Paul of the Cross by Venerable Monsignor Strambi

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