Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stark Mad and Senseless: Fire and the Holy Spirit

Picking up from my post from last week, On Sacrifice and Holy Fire, I want to point out that the parallel between that blessed Fire of God that descended upon and consumed Elijah's sacrifice and the Holy Spirit that descends upon the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar at Mass was quite apparent to others.  St. John Chrysostom (4th century) writes in Book III of On The Priesthood:
Picture Elijah and the vast multitude standing around him (Kings 18:36-39), and the sacrifice laid upon the altar of stones, and all the rest of the people hushed into a deep silence while the prophet alone offers up prayer: then the sudden rush of fire from Heaven upon the sacrifice:— these are marvelous things, charged with terror. Now then pass from this scene to the rites which are celebrated in the present day; they are not only marvellous to behold, but transcendent in terror. There stands the priest, not bringing down fire from Heaven, but the Holy Spirit: and he makes prolonged supplication, not that some flame sent down from on high may consume the offerings, but that grace descending on the sacrifice may thereby enlighten the souls of all, and render them more refulgent than silver purified by fire. Who can despise this most awful mystery, unless he is stark mad and senseless? Or do you not know that no human soul could have endured that fire in the sacrifice, but all would have been utterly consumed, had not the assistance of God's grace been great.
Chrysostom is here writing about the awesome calling of priesthood, but what he writes here is striking.  By grace, we are purified as by fire and made partakers in God's own divine life.  He writes it better than I can: Who can despise this most awesome mystery, unless he is stark mad and senseless?

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