Today, 15 November, the Church pays tribute to a great Dominican Saint, a bishop and Doctor of the Church, St. Albert the Great (1206-1280), also known as St. Albertus Magnus.
St. Albert may be best known today as being a professor to another great Dominican Saint and Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. That alone gives a hint of his brilliance! Known for his vast knowledge of a wide range of subjects, St. Albert was given the title, Doctor Universalis, the Universal Doctor. His great learning also earned him the honorific “the Great” during his lifetime–a rare achievement!
St. Albert is the Patron Saint of the natural sciences, among other things. St. Albert could be considered the forefather and special patron of all the many great priest-scientists who have filled the history of the Church down to our day, and will certainly continue to do so. Just off the top of my head, I think of Nicolas Copernicus, Gregor Mendel, Georges Lemaître, and Michal Heller. To be sure, one can’t know the history of science or the history the Church and maintain the all-too-common myth that the two are at odds and mutually exclusive.
My local Dominican family and I are proud to have St. Albert the Great as the patron of our priory. In fact, I just recently returned from our monthly meeting there. Our spiritual director taught us about St. Albert’s life and thought. He read to us from a commentary St. Albert wrote on the Gospel of St. Luke and on the Eucharist:
Do this in remembrance of Me. Two things should be noted here. The first is the command that we should use this Sacrament, which is indicated when He says: Do this. The second is that this Sacrament commemorates the Lord’s going to death for our sake.
So He says, Do this. Certainly He would demand nothing more profitable, nothing more pleasant, nothing more beneficial, nothing more desirable, nothing more similar to eternal life. We will look at each of these qualities separately.
This Sacrament is profitable because it grants remission of sins; it is most useful because it bestows the fullness of grace on us in this life. The Father of Spirits instructs us in what is useful for us to receive His sanctification. And his sanctification is in Christ’s sacrifice, that is, when He offers Himself in this Sacrament to the Father for our redemption, to us for our use. I consecrate myself for their sakes. Christ, who through the Holy Spirit offered Himself up without blemish to God, will cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.
Nor can we do anything more pleasant. For what is better than God manifesting His whole sweetness to us? You gave them bread from heaven, not the fruit of human labour, but a bread endowed with all delight and pleasant to every sense of taste. For this substance of Yours revealed Your kindness toward Your children, and serving the desire of each recipient, it changed to suit each one’s taste.
He could not have commanded anything more beneficial, for this Sacrament is the fruit of the tree of life. Anyone who receives this Sacrament with the devotion of sincere faith will never taste death. It is a tree of life for those who grasp it, and blessed is he who holds it fast. The man who feeds on Me shall live on account of Me.
Nor could He have commanded anything more lovable, for this sacrament produces love and union. It is characteristic of the greatest love to give itself as food. Had not the men of my tent exclaimed: Who will feed us with his flesh to satisfy our hunger? as if to say: I have loved them and they have loved Me so much that I desire to be within them, and they wish to receive Me so that they may become My members. There is no more intimate or more natural means for them to be united to Me, and I to them.
Nor could He have commanded anything which is more like eternal life. Eternal life flows from this Sacrament because God with all sweetness pours Himself out upon the blessed.
So beautiful and deep! I shall like to meditate upon this writing… I feel it could help me to deepen my understanding and love for the Blessed Sacrament and Holy Communion.
Spiritual writings such as these also remind me that no matter how smart, clever, intelligent, and learned I may become, it all comes back to God. Without God and the faith and loving our fellow man, any studying and intellectual endeavors will be lifeless, meaningless, and fruitless. St. Albert and St. Thomas both make that very clear. They were stellar intellectuals… but they were Catholics first, and being Catholic directed and oriented everything they did.
An important lesson for Dominicans, and for all practicing Catholics!
Happy feast day, Father Albert! Please help all of us in our pursuit of Truth–especially our bishops!