Jun 24, 2019
Ever since I was a seminarian my personal spirituality has been focused on the Eucharist and Eucharistic adoration, or, as Bishop Fulton Sheen referred to it, the “daily holy hour.” As a member of the vocations' team in our diocese, I am very happy to note that spending time with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is something most of our seminarians and recently ordained priests also practice. In stating that, of course, I know that Eucharistic adoration is common among our priests as a whole, and it is increasing in popularity among the laity as well, as evidenced in the growing number of adoration chapels throughout the country, not to mention the opportunities afforded the faithful in many of our parishes.
In the month of June, we have a feast day set aside to focus on Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament. The second Sunday following Pentecost is the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or simply Corpus Christi. The feast day was established at least in part as a result of a Eucharistic miracle that happened in Bolsena, Italy, in 1263.
The story, which is infused with legend, has it that a priest who was on his way to Rome on a pilgrimage stopped to rest and say Mass at a church in the small town of Bolsena. Having for years struggled with faith in Christ’s true presence in the Eucharist, during his Mass at the consecration the host he held started to bleed.
After Urban V, the pope at the time, was notified of the miracle, he established the feast day inspired in part by the miracle. Today you can travel to Orvieto, Italy, where the bloody corporal (small altar cloth) that was used during the Mass of the miracle is housed in a beautiful reliquary in the town’s cathedral.
The real, true presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, something that we often take either too lightly or for granted, happens to be referred to by the Second Vatican Council as the source and summit of our faith. How often are we in the line to receive Communion without giving it much thought? When we go to Communion, we are doing the most important thing of our entire week: receiving the fullness of God’s divinity into our very selves!
Most saints in our history have had a deep and burning devotion to Christ in the Eucharist, and some of them in their devotion have left us some beautiful words on which to ponder and meditate.
My favorite quote about the Eucharist and the Mass comes from the great 20th-century mystic, Saint Padre Pio, who said, “It would be easier for the Earth to exist without the sun than without the sacrifice of the Mass.” Read that a couple times to have it sink in. If only we all had that faith in the Mass!
St. Ignatius of Antioch was likely an infant when Jesus was crucified, so we consider him one of the earliest church fathers. As a near contemporary with Jesus, what he says about the Eucharist gives us a good indication of the Christian faith in the first generations of the church. Ignatius said, “The Eucharist is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against dying.”
St. Alphonsus de Liguori writes extensively about the Eucharist. A couple of thoughts he brings up are not dogmatic but good to think about in how we prepare to receive Communion and how we pray after having received it. He said that if we did not receive our first Communion until our 100th birthday, we would not have sufficient time to properly prepare ourselves. That is something to ponder if we are repeatedly late to Mass. We should arrive in the church early enough to try and properly dispose ourselves to the important thing we are about to take part in. And for those who tend to leave Mass after going through the Communion line, Liguori said that after we receive the Eucharist, twelve angels surround us, worshiping what we just received. Needles to say the parking lot is not the appropriate place to give thanks to God for the great gift he has just given us. Leaving Mass early is a bad idea.
St. Jean Vianney, the patron saint of all priests, also speaks eloquently about the Eucharist and the priesthood when he writes: “How great is the priest! The priest will only be understood in heaven. Were he understood on earth people would die, not of fear but of love.” He also said, “There is nothing as great as the Eucharist. . . . If God had something more precious he would have given it to us.” Vianney also said, “All the good works in the world are not equal to the holy sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men, but the Mass is the work of God.”
And although not a saint, there is a tabernacle in a church in La Crosse, Wisconsin that sums up the Eucharist. Etched right onto the doors of the tabernacle are the words: “What the world could not contain, love imprisons here.”