Uncovering the Eucharist
When talking about Eucharistic Revival, it would be spiritually rewarding to read the inspiring personal testimonies seen in Mathew Kelly’s latest book, “Beautiful Eucharist.” The central message in Beautiful Eucharist is the summons to rediscover the beauty of the Eucharist as contained in the Sacred Scripture, preached by Church Fathers, articulated by great theologians, and witnessed by many saints from one generation to another. The beauty of the Holy Eucharist has been put into songs, referenced in the rich intellectual tradition of the Church, and revered by people of different races, languages, and cultures. It has been celebrated in different Basilicas, honored in various Cathedrals, worshipped in different churches, and adored in many chapels all over the world. The beauty of the Eucharist has also been displayed in many Eucharistic processions, showcased in different paintings and iconographic masterpieces, and highlighted through the faith of many men and women, including children from Lourdes to Fatima, from Kisebo to Medugorje, and from the villages of Africa to las fincas de El Salvador en Centro-America.
In “Beautiful Eucharist,” Kelly inspiringly observes, “…the world is full of beautiful Catholic churches. Have you ever wondered why we build such beautiful churches? I can tell you this: It’s not about the art or the architecture. It’s because we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist. Stand in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Notre Dame or Sacre Coeur in Paris, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, Duomo Cathedral in Milan, Las Lajas Sanctuary in Columbia, St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC, or any of a thousand other incredible Catholic churches around the world and you will feel awe and a sense of the sacred.” These beautiful churches are considered resplendent because of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Real Presence of our Divine Lord in our tabernacles has always been something immensely revered by the saints and by the entire Catholic Church. The altars and the tabernacles are regarded as His “dwelling place” (Mark 11:17). At the altar and in the sanctuary, everything must express decorum, everything must inspire devotion and adoration. Nothing would ever be too much when it concerns loving and honoring the “King of Glory” (Psalm 23:10).
The beauty of the Eucharist is maximized as the Blessed Lord chose to institute the Sacrament of His love in a respectable, beautiful, and well-kept place, namely, the Cenacle, which was a large dining hall with furniture and carpeting (Luke 22:12). In the early Church, the place for the breaking of the bread was always adorned with flowers and beautiful ornaments. The saints showed deep love, wholehearted zeal, and resourcefulness in promoting beauty and tidiness of the house of God. For example, during his apostolic travels, St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226) used to carry a broom to sweep the churches he found dirty. After preaching to the people, he used to address the clergy of the town and fervently urge them to be zealous for the worthy appearance of the Lord’s house. He had St. Clare of Assisi (1194-1253) and the poor Clare Sisters prepare sacred linens for altars. In spite of his poverty, he used to obtain and send ciboria, chalices and altar cloths to poor, neglected churches. St. John Baptist de la Salle (1651-1719) was known for his passion for the Eucharistic Lord. He always wanted to see the chapel clean and duly furnished, with the altar in perfect order and the sanctuary lamp always burning. Torn vestments and tarnished vessels were to him heartbreaking eyesores. He did not consider any expense too much when it came to providing for due worship of the Lord.
St. Wenceslaus (907-935), the holy king of Bohemia, loved the Eucharist so much that he not only promoted its beauty by building a lovely chapel in his palace but also decided to make the altar bread by himself. With his own hands, he tilled the soil, sowed the wheat, harvested it, ground it, and sifted it. Then, with the purest flour, he made hosts for the Holy Sacrifice. Also, after she had become a humble religious, St. Radegundis (520-587), Queen of France, was happy to grind with her hands the wheat chosen for making hosts for the celebration of Holy Mass. St. Francis de Geronimo (1642-1716) gave himself the task of growing flowers for the Blessed Sacrament altar. Sometimes he made them grow miraculously so that Jesus would not be left without flowers. He would say to everyone, “A flower for Jesus.” This was a beautiful custom. They may be a small weekly expense, but Jesus will repay it a hundredfold. Our flowers on the altar do express by their beauty and fragrance, our presence of love beside Jesus.
In their love for God and neighbor, many saints promoted devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. They did not only make the Eucharist the source and summit of their life and ministry but also helped others to do the same. For example, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne (1769-1852), in his ardent love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, would remain at prayer for entire nights giving thanks for the Real Presence of Jesus. She would also offer prayers of reparation for the sins committed against the Holy Eucharist. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is revered in the Church as an angelic doctor for his great intellectual prowess, which was a fruit of his love for the Holy Eucharist. He composed an Office and Mass for the celebration of Corpus Christi. His beautiful Eucharistic hymns, simple and profound, are still sung in the Church today. They include Pange Lingua, O Salutaris Hostia, and Adoro Te Devote. Thomas Aquinas’s last words and prayer testified to his Eucharistic faith and piety: “I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, true God and true man, Son of God, and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this Sacrament. I receive you, the price of my redemption. For love of you have I studied and kept vigil, toiled, preached, and taught…Never have I said a word against thee.” (Magnificat, June 2023 Vol. 25, No. 4).
St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) spent hours in prayer, silence, and study, which empowered him to embark on a mission to re-evangelize the people of Rome. His devotion to the Blessed Sacrament helped him to diligently inspire in his followers the spirit of reparation. He promoted the Forty Hours’ Devotion, a solemn period of Eucharistic adoration said to signify the time that our Lord lay in the tomb. The young and robust Philip had a wonderful sense of humor. A famous story tells how Philip once observed a man leave the Church directly after receiving Holy Communion. He sent two altar boys with lighted candles to follow him through the streets until the man returned. Then he explained, “We have to pay proper respect to our Lord, whom you are carrying away with you. Since you neglect to adore him, I sent two acolytes to take your place.”
As a little child St. Gemma Galgani (1878-1903), acquired a great devotion to the Mass from her mother and a devotion to the Passion from the nuns who educated her after her mother’s death. When she made her First Communion, she prayed fervently for the grace “to know perfectly the Life and Passion of Jesus.” The Eucharist and the Passion were one in her heart. In one of her spiritual musings, she said, “If I am with Jesus Crucified, I suffer; if I am with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, I love” (Benedict Williamson, Blessed Gemma Galgani, B. Herder Books Co; 1933). In her eager and devout love, St. Gemma Galgani suffered each day as she waited to receive Communion. And yet, aware of her unworthiness, she would at times become red-faced with embarrassment before the Lord. She would pray, “Jesus gives me all of himself, though I give him nothing worthy in return. I always ask him for so many things, and to tell the truth, I am afraid of wearying him, but he says no and not to worry. Blessed be Jesus.”
Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991-2006) was drawn to a deeper Eucharistic devotion from a very young age. His parents were not as devout as their son Carlo. Carlo Acutis received his First Holy Communion at the age of seven and thereafter tried diligently to receive Communion daily. He traveled to many sites of Eucharistic miracles. He wished to foster belief in the Real Presence and draw others to the Catholic faith, so he built a website documenting these miracles. His famous saying is, “If we get in front of the sun, we get sun tans, but when we get in front of Jesus in the Eucharist, we become saints.” The young Carlo died at the age fifteen from a devastating case of leukemia. Before his death, he joyfully uttered, “I am happy to die…because I have lived my life without wasting a minute on those things that do not please God” (Maginificat, June 2023 Vol.23, No.4). Here in our diocese, the Relics of Blessed Carlo Acutis were present for public veneration on June 24, 2023, the day of the Diocesan Eucharist Congress at Aquinas High School, San Bernardino.
To our younger folks and all God’s people, it is important to know and appreciate the truth that “Devotion to the Eucharist is the most noble, because it has God as its object; it is the most profitable for salvation, because it gives us the Author of Grace; it is the sweetest, because the Lord is sweetness himself” (St. Pope Pius X).
May the Heart of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament Be Praised, Adored, and Loved, with grateful affection at every moment in all the Tabernacles of the world even till the end of time, Amen
Father Benedict Nwachukwu-Udaku, VF, is Pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Rancho Cucamonga and the Vicar Forane of the Diocese’s West End Vicariate.