church fathers

‘Marvelous Things, Charged with Terror’


Books, Bed & Nature = Holy Trinity of Retreat

I’ve retreated for a night (or two) to one of my favorite sanctuaries, the St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN. What better reading at a monastery than St. John Chrysostom’s classic treatise on the sacred vocation of the priesthood written around 374 AD.

My jaw dropped to the floor as I read his description of the holy mystery and grace of the Eucharist, and the awesome responsibility of those who preside over the sacrament. The next time you receive or serve holy communion, consider Chrysostom’s words below.

Oh! what a marvel! what love of God to man! He who sitteth on high with the Father is at that hour [of partaking of the Eucharist] held in the hands of us all, and gives Himself to those who are willing to embrace and grasp Him. And this through the eyes of faith!

Would you also learn from another miracle the exceeding sanctity of this [pastoral] office? Picture Elijah and the vast multitude standing around him, 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.


John Chrysostom (349-407)

Now then pass from this scene to the rites which are celebrated in the present day; they are not only marvelous 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 so great.

-From Book III, Chapter 4


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