Ronald Knox and the Eucharist | The Foreword to A Month of Sundays with Monsignor Knox: Thirty-one Sermons on the Holy Eucharist (Downloadable Audio Book) | Rev. Milton Walsh | Ignatius Insight
Many years ago, in connection with research on the writings of Ronald Knox, I had occasion to visit the home at Mells, Somerset, where he spent the last ten years of his life. The Manor House, as it is called, dates back to the fifteenth century, and was originally the summer residence of the Abbot of Glastonbury. The house itself is rather grand, and is full of artistic and historical treasures. Across the lawn from its entrance stands a modest building, originally some kind of shed, which had been converted into a chapel. The rather rustic feeling of this room held a certain charm for me, and I remember that as I knelt in prayer the thought occurred to me, "That altar was Ronald Knox's work-bench." I thought of him standing there every morning to offer the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and of the hours he spent in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. As he grappled with the challenge of completing his translation of the Bible, preparing conferences for retreats, and composing sermons for occasions great and small, he must have found in this plain wooden chapel an oasis where he could be refreshed by communing with his Eucharistic Lord.
Father Philip Caraman, who edited three large volumes of Knox's sermons, wrote that "the Eucharist was the central, inexhaustible and unifying mystery of his life". I suspect that Msgr. Knox would readily agree, and say, "Of course. It is for every Catholic." If the Eucharist is not, it should be, and the sermons in this collection will do much to enrich our appreciation for the great gifts of the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament. While the theme of the Eucharist occurs often in his writings, we are privileged to have thirty-one sermons explicitly devoted to this topic. In part this is because, from 1926 onward, Knox delivered a sermon annually at Corpus Christi church, Maiden Lane on its patronal feast. One has to be a priest to appreciate how daunting such a task is: every year, the same readings and prayers; every year, many in the congregation who had been there the year before. And every year, Ronald Knox was able to speak on a different facet of the great mystery of the Eucharist. As we listen to his sermons, or read them in reflective mood, we will discover that they share certain characteristics.
First, they are profoundly biblical. From his evangelical upbringing Knox inherited a deep love for the word of God, and one of his greatest accomplishments as a Catholic was to produce, single-handed, a translation of the entire Bible. Some of his sermons draw on the texts used for the feast of Corpus Christi, which is only to be expected. But in others he brings before the congregation various parables and miracles of Jesus, and shows how these shed new light on our understanding of the Eucharist. Knox also mines the texts of the Old Testament, imaginatively linking the personalities and events recorded there with the sacrifice of the Mass and Holy Communion. The manna in the wilderness suggests itself to any preacher; but few would think to write a sermon on the Eucharist inspired by the Song of Songs, or the figure of Ruth gleaning in the field of Boaz. Such associations are original, but they are not contrived; rather, they reflect a mind able to see the Bible as a whole. Christ is the key to interpreting Scripture, and it is Christ himself who is present in the Blessed Sacrament. These scriptural explanations are complemented by Knox's liturgical catechesis, as he draws on the texts found in the Missal and explains the meaning of the ceremonies of the Church.
A second distinguishing feature of Knox's preaching is its theological depth. He does not only explain lucidly such Catholic doctrines as transubstantiation and the Mass as a sacrifice, he draws spiritual and moral lessons from these dogmas. Time and again he shows how the sacrifice of the Mass, holy communion, and the adoration of Christ in the tabernacle or monstrance is associated with the life of Christ himself, and the impact these realities should have on our lives, too, when we stop to consider what a great gift Christ has given us in the Blessed Sacrament.
A third mark of Knox's Eucharistic preaching is its social emphasis. This may not seem unusual to us today – if anything, the social aspect of the Eucharist in our time tends to be highlighted to the detriment of personal piety. Knox was addressing Catholics during the first half of the twentieth century, when the social dimension of the Eucharist was just coming to the fore. On the one hand, the Popes wrote encyclicals that addressed social issues, enunciated a more corporate understanding of the Church, and encouraged greater participation in the liturgical life of the Church. On the other hand, for many Catholics the reception of the Holy Communion and prayer before the Blessed Sacrament were seen primarily in subjective terms. Knox, of course, does not deny the importance of this personal dimension, and his writings breathe a sense of intimacy with the Eucharistic Lord; but he does underscore the idea that our union with Christ in the Eucharist must be reflected in our union with the other members of his Mystical Body, the Church. He also suggests that the events in the world around us can best be interpreted at the foot of the altar. Several of the sermons in this collection were preached during the Second World War and in the hard years of recovery that followed. We, thank God, are not living through such terrible times, but we do live in a world that is far from peaceful; and as we listen to sermons he preached during the economic depression of the 1930s, we certainly recognize a familiar landscape. These sad circumstances, and happier occasions such as the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, leave their mark in these talks. The famous Protestant theologian Karl Barth said that a preacher should prepare his sermon with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. As we listen to Knox's sermons on the Eucharist it is easy to picture him doing just that – but always in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
Finally, his preaching is profoundly human; Ronald Knox is a man who knows the human heart. As he notes in one these homilies, each of us has our own personal eucharistic history. There are those two unique moments, our first communion and our last, and between these stretches a lifetime of Masses, communions, and times of personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. There are occasional mountain-top experiences of fervor, valleys perhaps of indifference or coldness, and the daily pilgrimage of duty, with its nagging question, "Have I made any progress at all in the spiritual life?" Knox the pastor of souls treats these moments of doubt and frustration with compassion and understanding: in the end, he says, the solution is for me to turn my attention from myself to Jesus my friend, who has become literally my daily bread. He has made himself readily available in the Blessed Sacrament to be at hand whenever we want him. Does that very familiarity threaten to cheapen the gift? That is a risk Our Lord is happy to take because he loves each of us so intensely.
We have called this collection of sermons "a month of Sundays" since there are thirty-one of them. The idea is not simply whimsical, however: Sunday is a day of rest, and our time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament should be a true Sabbath to refresh us, whatever the day of the week. Each of these talks lasts about twenty minutes, and might be listened to as a prelude to such prayer, or during our time of Eucharistic adoration itself. They provide spiritual nourishment that is solidly theological and profoundly scriptural; a vision of the Eucharist that takes in the sweep of history and probes the most intimate feelings of the human heart.
Ronald Knox's niece described her uncle at a funeral in these words: "Those who saw him, not cut off from the human grief around him, but totally absorbed in communion with God, felt that they had seen prayer manifest." As we listen to these sermons, we feel that we are kneeling next to him.
A Month Of Sundays With Monsignor Knox (Downloadable Audio Book) | Read by Rev. Milton Walsh
Here is an excerpt from this audio book:
From 1926 on, Ronald Knox preached at the patronal feast of Corpus Christi church in London. And every year he was able to capture a different facet of what was the central, inexhaustible and unifying mystery of his life—the Most Holy Eucharist.
Monsignor Knox's sermons are profoundly biblical. The manna in the wilderness suggests itself to any preacher, but few would deliver a sermon on the Blessed Sacrament inspired by the Song of Songs or the story of Ruth--but Knox finds in these Old Testament stories, and in the parables and miracles of Jesus, inspiration to deepen our understanding of the great gift of the Eucharist.
Although they are solidly doctrinal, these talks are not lectures, but sermons intended to increase our love for the Eucharistic Lord. Knox speaks as a pastor, and his sermons are marked by an awareness of our human condition. Many of us who receive the Eucharist daily are troubled by the nagging question of whether we are making any progress in our spiritual life at all. Monsignor Knox knows that struggle first-hand, and his counsel is both comforting and challenging.
We have called this collection of sermons "a month of Sundays" because there are thirty-one of them. Sunday is a day of rest, and our time of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament should be a true Sabbath to refresh us. Each of these talks lasts about twenty minutes, and can be listened to in the car on the way to church for Mass or during a holy hour. They offer spiritual nourishment that is solidly theological and profoundly scriptural, a vision of the Eucharist that embraces the sweep of history and probes the most intimate feelings of the human heart.
Book Length (hours:minutes:seconds) 11:22:10
Related Ignatius Insight Links:
IgnatiusInsight.com Author Page for Monsignor Ronald Knox
The Church and Human Progress | Ronald A. Knox
The Modern Distaste for Religion | Ronald A. Knox
The Decline of Dogma and the Decline of Church Membership | Ronald A. Knox
The Four Marks of the Church | Ronald A. Knox
The Monsignor and the Don | An Interview with Fr. Milton Walsh
Monsignor Ronald Knox: Convert, Priest, Apologist | An Interview with Fr. Milton Walsh
Experience, Reason, and Authority in the Apologetics of Ronald Knox | Fr. Milton Walsh | From Ronald Knox As Apologist
Review of The Belief of Catholics | Carl E. Olson
Ronald Knox, Apologist | Carl E. Olson
Review of The Belief of Catholics | Carl E. Olson
A Lesson Learned From Monsignor Ronald A. Knox | Carl E. Olson
Fr. Milton Walsh is a priest of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. He wrote his dissertation on Ronald Knox and is a longtime reader and researcher of the works of Ronald Knox and C.S. Lewis. He is the author of Second Friends: C.S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in Conversation and Ronald Knox as Apologist: Wit, Laughter and the Popish Creed.
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