Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – an excursus

Since today, Lord, I, your Priest have neither bread nor wine nor altar, I will extend my hands over the whole of the universe and I will grasp this immensity as the matter of my sacrifice. Is not the infinite circle of things one final Host that it is your will to transmute? The seething cauldron in which the activities of every living and cosmic substance are bubbling, is it not the painful chalice that you wish to sanctify?

Teilhard de Chardin in Prayer of the Universe

In a recent discussion about one of my heroes, Charles de Foucauld, in the comments to a post, I was musing about how this hermit missionary in the Sahara, Charles, who was profoundly devoted to the Eucharist, was not permitted to say Mass because he could not do so alone. In that conversation, I suddenly remembered Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – another hero of mine (I have been friends with both of these for half a century since teenage years) – and his inability to say Mass. I pulled The Prayer of the Universe from my shelf, reading how, serving as a a stretcher-bearer in World War I he, as a priest, could not say Mass, and his reflection on that (begun above) in his Writings in the Time of War.

Teilhard, for me as a teenager, was instrumental in helping me to integrate evolution to my Christian faith. As an aside: in this series I have highlighted my regular distress at the lack of church engagement online (prior to Covid-19) and also my distress about thin liturgical and theological agility; the lack of serious engagement by many Christians with evolution is another of my obsessions, as regulars here will know. End of aside.

Later in his life, Teilhard was again unable to celebrate the Eucharist and wrote:

Since once again, Lord — though this time not in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia — I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.

Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.

My paten and my chalice are the depths of a soul laid widely open to all the forces which in a moment will rise up from every corner of the earth and converge upon the Spirit. Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day. One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life.

One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one — more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively — I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.

This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous wave-flows trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this deep that I thus desire all the fibres of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.

Once upon a time men took into your temple the first fruits of their harvests, the flower of their flocks. But the offering you really want, the offering you mysteriously need every day to appease your hunger, to slake your thirst is nothing less than the growth of the world borne ever onwards in the stream of universal becoming.

Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day. This bread, our toil, is of itself, I know, but an immense fragmentation; this wine, our pain, is no more, I know, than a draught that dissolves. Yet in the very depths of this formless mass you have implanted — and this I am sure of, for I sense it — a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out, believer and unbeliever alike:

‘Lord, make us one.’

Because, my God, though I lack the soul-zeal and the sublime integrity of your saints, I yet have received from you an overwhelming sympathy for all that stirs within the dark mass of matter; because I know myself to be irremediably less a child of heaven than a son of earth; therefore I will this morning climb up in spirit to the high places, bearing with me the hopes and the miseries of my mother; and there — empowered by that priesthood which you alone (as I firmly believe) have bestowed on me — upon all that in the world of human flesh is now about to be born or to die beneath the rising sun I will call down the Fire.

Teilhard de Chardin The Mass On The World

In these days of Covid-19, isolation, and the inability of many to celebrate and receive Eucharist, there may be some things in these reflections that help us – or even inspire some to produce their own reflections.

You may also like to read:
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 1 (3 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 2 (5 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 3 (4 minutes reading time)
Lockdown Liturgy Lessons 4 (4 minutes reading time)

image source – fair use

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