By Means of That Flesh We Draw Milk

(Note: The following post was made previous to my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy.)

The feast day of St. Catherine of Siena is April 29th.

St. Catherine of Siena, rose

From one of my very favorite books, Caroline Walker Bynum’s Holy Feast and Holy Fast:

“The various accounts of Catherine’s life all stress her Eucharistic devotion. Like other fasting women, Catherine substituted frequent Communion for ordinary eating, although she encountered criticism for this from confessors, family, and her fellow tertiaries. Like Margaret of Cortona, she detected an unconsecrated host, yet also like Margaret she revered priests passionately for their ability to celebrate Mass.”

St. Catherine of Siena, orange profile

“(Biographer) Raymond (of Capua) recounts her ecstasies, trances, frenzies, bleedings, and tears at the Eucharist, and he associates her cravings for Christ’s blood, like her drinking of (a patient’s) pus, with a nursing Christ.”

St. Catherine of Siena, red stripe

“When we compare Raymond’s account with…Catherine’s own letters, we find that Raymond has not misled us. The image of the nursing Christ is one of her favorite metaphors and is closely associated with the Eucharist. But in Catherine’s words there is a different emphasis, one reminiscent of Angela of Foligno’s…Catherine stresses service, the drinking of pain as well as comfort, and the active seeking of the breast (Christ) by the infant (soul). She writes to a Florentine abbess:

St. Catherine of Siena, 45 degree

“We cannot nourish others unless we nourish ourselves at the breasts of divine charity…Yes, mother, we must do as a little child does who wants milk…We must attach ourselves to the breast of Christ crucified, which is the source of charity, and by means of that flesh we draw milk. The means is Christ’s humanity which suffered pain, and we cannot without pain get that milk that comes from charity.”

St. Catherine of Siena, yellow arch

“Again and again in (her writings) Catherine describes the holy soul climbing up Christ’s body, seeking the breast, and drinking bitterness as well as comfort, like me medicine a sick child sometimes takes in with its mother’s milk…She urges a number of her correspondents to frequent Communion (and) speaks of smelling the stench of sin, of tasting the fragrance of the Sacrament; she says that the taste of blood was “wonderfully present to [her] mouth and bodily taste for several days” after receiving.”  

St. Catherine of Siena, yellow stripe

St. Catherine of Siena, after the monument by Francesco Messina.
All images from the 2016 series.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992. Print.
Citing this page:
Solomon, Alana. “By Means of That Flesh We Draw Milk.” Ortolana Studio & Press. Ortolana Studio & Press, 29 Apr. 2017.

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