Hymn of the Universe
by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Introduction, by N.M. Wildiers
This meditation suggested itself to Pere Teilhard when, in the course of a scientific expedition, he found himself one day out in the Ordos desert where it was impossible for him to offer Mass. This happened, it seems, on the feast of the Transfiguration,1 a feast for which he had an especial love. His thoughts therefore turned to the radiation of the eucharistic presence of Christ through the universe. He did not of course confuse that presence, the effect of transubstantiation in the strict sense, with the omnipresence of the divine Word. His faith in the mystery of the Eucharist was not only ardent: it was also as exact as it was firm. But his faith was sufficiently strong and realistic to show him its consequences (or, as he put it, the ‘prolongations’ and extensions). At a time when individualism was still, generally speaking, obscuring the fullness of traditional catholic teaching on this mystery, he wrote: ‘When Christ comes to one of his faithful it is not simply in order to commune with him as an individual; . . . when, through the mouth of the priest, he says Hoc est corpus meum, these words extend beyond the morsel of bread over which they are said: they give birth to the whole mystical body of Christ. The effect of the priestly act extends beyond the consecrated host to the cosmos itself. . .: the entire realm of matter is slowly but irresistibly affected by this great consecration.’2
Earlier, in 1917, Pere Teilhard had written, in Le Pretre:
‘When Christ, extending the process of his incarnation, descends into the bread in order to replace it, his action is not limited to the material morsel which his presence will, for a brief moment, volatilize: this transubstantiation is aureoled with a real though attenuated divinizing of the entire universe. From the particular cosmic element into which he has entered, the activity of the Word goes forth to subdue and to draw into himself all the rest.’
Such passages as these not only contain an exact affirmation of the essence of the eucharistic mystery, but also make an equally exact distinction between the essential mystery and the further effects in which its fecundity is manifested: the growth of Christ’s mystical body, the consecration of the cosmos. They also bear witness to a plenitude of faith in which Pere Teilhard’s thought is revealed as being authentically and profoundly in accord with the thought of St Paul. He ‘shows himself preoccupied above all with giving his daily Mass a cosmic function and planetary dimensions . . This, of course, he considered could be linked up with the most orthodox theology of the holy Eucharist.’3
A year after writing The Mass on the World, Pere Teilhard further defined his thought, in Mon Univers: ‘To interpret adequately the fundamental position of the Eucharist in the economy of the world . . . it is, I think, necessary that Christian thought and Christian prayer should give great importance to the real and physical extensions of the eucharistic Presence. . . As we properly use the term "our bodies" to signify the localized centre of our spiritual radiations . . ., so it must be said that in its initial and primary meaning the term "Body of Christ" is limited, in this context, to the consecrated species of Bread and Wine. But. . .the host is comparable to a blazing fire whose flames spread out like rays all round it.’
N. M. WILDIERS, S.T.D.
1. Pere Teilhard could not have written The Mass on the World on Easter Sunday 1923, as was reported by friends from Pekin, for he did not reach the desert till August of that year. There was doubtless a confusion between the two feasts of Christ’s glory. On a number of occasions Pere Teilhard expressed his special love for the feast of the Transfiguration. (Ed.’s note.)
2. This was written in the same year as The Mass on the World.
3. Nicolas Corte: The Life and Soul of Teilhard de Chardin (Eng. trans. Barrie & Rocklilf, 1960) p. 26.