Arthur Middleton on ‘Christ’s presence with his ministers’

The title is from a sermon by the seventeenth century bishop, William Beveridge, on the true nature of the Christian Church, the office of its ministers and the means of grace administered by them. The text is, ‘And lo! I am with you alway, even to the end of the world (Matt 28: 20).’ The thousand priests and four thousand laity present in the Albert Hall for the concelebrated Mass to celebrate a hundred and fifty years of priestly discipleship in the Society of the Holy Cross, could not fail to experience the reality of these words during that awesome worship. John Paul II’s funeral conveyed that same experience around the world.

For Beveridge these words are apt, not only during Ascensiontide, but always, for God having ‘raised him from the dead…made him head over all things to the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.’ So there is nothing he cannot do for his own Catholic Church that he has bought with his own blood. ‘He can assist it with his grace, sanctify it by his Spirit, protect it by his power; he can make all things in heaven and earth work together for its present peace and future glory – in spite of all the opposition that men or devils can make against it.’

Because all power in heaven and in earth has been given to him, Christ commands, empowers and commissions his apostles to enlarge and govern the Church, ‘I have founded; to administer the Sacraments that I have instituted; and to persuade mankind to administer My Doctrine, to submit to My Discipline, to obey My Laws, and to come up to the terms I have procured for them, and propounded to them, in order to their salvation.’

Make all nations ‘My disciples,’ then Jews and Gentiles may become one flock under the great Shepherd and Bishop of their souls, initiating them into ‘My Church’ by baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost ‘upon their consenting to the faith which I have published to the world…and not only by an outward profession of the faith but likewise by being obedient to all the commands that I have laid upon them.’ These Apostles, poor, weak, and illiterate men, must have questioned their ability to persuade the world to believe in a crucified Christ. Our Lord foresaw this and encouraged them in his words, ‘I am with you always, even to the end of the world.’

These words are important for the whole Church and especially to all who administer the Word and Sacraments because all that we achieve successfully depends upon the performance of this promise. The word ‘behold’ means that we are to take special notice of these words in the present tense, I am with you, which imply the continuance of the apostolic order to the end of the world and so a command and promise also for their successors, the bishops.

Having constituted this office he promises always to be present at the execution of it and as the Father has sent him, so he sends them. In this apostolicity lie the roots of our catholicity, the way of holiness in truth and unity, and in a deeper self-consciousness of this apostolicity the dawn of a renewed Catholic Anglicanism.