Dictionary of Oblate Values  vol.: 1  let.: E

EUCHARIST

The Eucharist lies at the heart of the Oblate's life just like it lies at the heart of every Christian's life. As source and summit of the Church's life, it cannot be reduced to the status of a devotional practice. We must, then, grasp the meaning it has in the overall vision of the Oblate charism.

I. The Founder

1. EUGENE DE MAZENOD'S LITURGICAL SENSE SEEN IN THE CONTEXT OF HIS ERA

Eugene de Mazenod was favored with an experience and a view of the Eucharist which constituted the foundation of his teaching to the Oblates as well as to Christians to whom he ministered as missionary and then as bishop. Put back into the context of the particular era in which he lived, they showed themselves to be rather profound and original. [1]

Indeed, during the first half of the nineteenth century, Eucharistic devotion was heavily encumbered with hypothesis. In the history of this devotion, this period is generally considered as a period of decline. It is almost the case of being a parenthetic phase inserted between the simplicity and depth of Alphonsus de Liguori's popular devotion, which illuminated the second half of the eighteenth century, and the movement of fervor that one saw revive toward the end of the nineteenth century. From the doctrinal point of view, Jansenism had already been overcome. But in practice, in the everyday lives of the faithful, it continued to exercise considerable influence, culminating in the divorce between devotion and Eucharistic celebration, between the spiritual and the liturgical life.

Throughout his life, Eugene de Mazenod would go against this tendency. First as a missionary and then as bishop, he would exhort people to approach the Eucharist with confidence. In addition, he knew how to set Eucharistic devotion in a broader and richer perspective. [2] One cannot lose sight of the fact that the basic spiritual experience that changed his life - his encounter with Christ, the Crucified Savior - took place in the context of a liturgical event, the celebration of the Liturgy of the Cross on Good Friday. It would be in the liturgy, especially in relation to its main mystery, the Paschal mystery, that Bishop de Mazenod would gather the faithful of Marseilles. [3] His teaching, as found in his writings, was born of a personal experience which harked back to his seminary days and which matured with the passing of years. It would be especially during the celebration of the Eucharist that he would experience his most intense moments of Communion with Christ.

Even if adoration holds a place of great importance in his prayer life, it was never separated from the Eucharistic celebration itself, a celebration of which it was the natural continuation. He would teach those very same Marseilles faithful how the Eucharistic celebration was a prime occasion for identification with Christ. True devotion cannot be private or individualistic; on the contrary, it is communal and liturgical. It is, in fact, in this celebration that the common priesthood of the faithful is expressed: "The sacrifice at our altars is offered by the ministry of the priest on behalf of the Church. The people offer the sacrifice with the priest. It is through this lofty cooperation in the mystical immolation of the Man-God that the royal priesthood is exercised (1 Peter 2:9), a priesthood in which all Christian souls share through their union with Jesus Christ, the Sovereign Priest". [4]

2. HIS PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

An attentive reading of Eugene de Mazenod's life enables us to grasp the countless moments of encounter with Christ and to reconstruct the various stages of the spiritual journey that led him to the mystical heights of Communion with the Lord and to this identification with the One who is the end itself of the sacrament of the Eucharist. [5]

We find a first indication of this interior journey in his innate attraction for God, "a kind of instinct to love him", he would say himself, which, from childhood, would enable him to savor the Eucharistic presence. [6]

We have to go back to his seminary days to uncover his explicit relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist, even if this relationship existed already during the years he spent in Turin and Venice. [7] By reading these personal writings and his notes as a seminarian, we can see being born in him the intense desire to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Eucharist, whose depths he is beginning to discover. He diligently records the list of his Communions, which, according to the custom of the time, he was allowed to receive. He writes down the dispositions necessary to be worthy of receiving Communion. He studies the example of the saints with a view to being enkindled with their love of the Eucharist. He seeks to receive Communion at least one time more than it was generally done in the seminary. By doing this, he was preparing himself for the day when he would be able to celebrate the Eucharist every day. [8] His relationship with his "good Master" continues in adoration, and "what an effort" it cost him every time he had to tear himself away from his "tender friend". [9]

During this period, his frequent internal experiences in this area are reflected in his correspondence with his family. He constantly exhorts his mother, his sister and grandmother to receive Communion. While fighting Jansenist prejudices, he explains how, even in the context of the kind of social life led by his sister, one can and should live one's Christianity. It is precisely because she lives immersed in the world that she needs to "draw the Lord's graces more frequently from the inexhaustible source of these adorable sacraments". He teaches her that one need not wait to become perfect before approaching the Eucharist. On the contrary, it is receiving Holy Communion often that makes one perfect. "You will never learn to love Jesus Christ worthily except in the sacrament of his love". [10] "By frequenting the sacraments, it is then that you will become more perfect. This means is infallible". [11]

Eugene's union with Jesus in the Eucharist, a union which developed during his seminary days and which appears in correspondence with his family, culminated at the moment of his ordination to the priesthood. This is how he summarizes his feelings: "There is only love in my heart". [12]

The years which followed immediately after ordination show us Eugene living a real interior dilemma. The spiritual formation he received in the seminary set in stark contrast the demands of the apostolate as opposed to those of the life of perfection. [13] It is a period of darkness, even with regard to the Eucharist. He wrote in his retreat notes: "It is rarely now that I experience, during the Holy Sacrifice, certain spiritual consolations that constituted my happiness in a time when I was more recollected; instead, I have ceaselessly to combat distractions, worries, etc". [14] As a number of passages in his diary and the letters he wrote to Father Henry Tempier testify, his fidelity in time of trial led him to a new, more mature, relationship with the Eucharistic Jesus. One of these letters gives us a glimpse of this personal intimacy: "This morning, before Communion, I dared to speak to this good Master with the same freedom that I would have had if I had had the happiness to live when he walked on earth, and if I had found myself in the same predicament. [...] I exposed to him our needs, asked his light and his assistance, and then I surrendered myself entirely to him, wishing absolutely nothing else than his holy will. I took Communion in this disposition. As soon as I had taken the precious blood, it was impossible for me to withstand such an abundance of interior consolations that it was necessary... to utter sighs and shed such a quantity of tears that the corporal and the altar cloth were saturated. No painful thought provoked this explosion, on the contrary, I was well, I was happy and if I was not so miserable, I would believe I was loving, that I was grateful". [15]

When, in his diary, he speaks of "the great flashes of understanding and inspirations that God in his goodness deigned to grant me in the course of many years on the wonderful sacrament of our altars [...]", we are not dealing here with an exceptional event, even if he speaks of "extraordinary experiences the person of the divine Savior has often granted him". [16]

His Communion continued on beyond the Eucharistic celebration into silent and lengthy oraison on a daily basis. There the personal intimacy is such that he is able to request graces for himself and for all the people entrusted to his care; he can ask for forgiveness of sins, the gift of to always live and die in his grace... He continues: "And what all more does one not ask for when one is before the throne of mercy, that one adores, loves, sees Jesus our Master, our Father, the Savior of our souls, that one speaks to him and that he give answer to our hearts through the abundance of his consolations and his graces? Oh, how quickly that half-hour slips by, how delightfully is it spent!" [17] This already gives us some idea of what the typical oraison spoke of by the Constitutions and Rules should be for the Oblate.

3. PASTORAL PRAXIS AND TEACHING

Both Eugene de Mazenod's pastoral practice and his teaching as bishop are colored by his personal experience of the Eucharist.

From the catechetics he taught to the young people of the Christian Youth Association of Aix to the institution of perpetual adoration in the diocese of Marseilles, the Eucharist found a large place in his ministry and in that of the Oblates. [18] Eugene de Mazenod took it upon himself to prepare the youth for First Holy Communion, to carry Viaticum to the sick and to preside at Eucharistic devotions. Once he became bishop, he would continue to war against the deeply rooted prejudices stemming from Jansenism by giving Holy Communion to those condemned to death. He would invite his missionaries to act with the same openness in mission countries. He considered the Eucharist as the means par excellence to strengthen the faith of neophytes. When he learned that people had reservations about admitting Canadian Amerindians to Communion under the pretext that they were not sufficiently educated, he intervened, declaring: "Don't you know that it is the very means of forming, of Christianizing them? Advance cautiously, granted; but to exclude them in general is too extreme". [19]

This pastoral attitude took on a particular kind of expression in the teachings spread especially through his pastoral letters. [20] We see three major themes emerging:

- The Eucharist is at the center of the entire Christian mystery because it is Christ, himself. About this topic, he wrote: "In religion, everything culminates in the Eucharist as to the goal where God's glory is realized and souls achieve their salvation. All the sacraments of the Church, all the supernatural gifts of God, all works of genuine piety move toward this goal where Jesus Christ himself is, the origin and culmination of our sanctification, like the crowning of our glorification, at the same time as the perfection of the external glory of God among men". [21]

- To speak of the Eucharist is to speak of Christ at the culminating moment of his life, the moment he gives himself to us. He is, then, "in that state which is the highest expression of love"; [22] it is the synthesis of Redemption, "the Lamb of God immolated from the beginning of the world (Apocalypse 13:4) for the salvation of men. He is not only the victim, but the priest as well who offers himself and immolates himself constantly for us". [23]

- Presence of Christ. The Eucharist exercises an effective action on the Christian by carrying out in him the fruit of Redemption, by radically transforming him to identify him with Christ himself in a "union whose value is infinite". [24] "[Christ] willed to become our nourishment in this divine sacrament; he willed to become flesh among us to make his union with us more personal and in some way to identify ourselves with him". [25] "In this way, the union between Creator and his creatures is, in Communion, the most perfect that could be conceived. Never, on his own, would man have thought of something like this [...] it is the marvel and the masterpiece of divine love". [26]

- Finally, by allowing every Christian to become united with Christ, the Eucharist leads all the faithful to be united among themselves. In the breaking of the bread, the Lord is the "only and genuine bond of spirits and hearts". [27]

For Eugene de Mazenod, the unity brought about by the Eucharist is an experience which harks back to the time of his youth when, upon entering a church, he was seized by the feeling of "catholicity", by the idea of being "a member of that great family of which God himself is Head". [28] From that time on, the idea grew to maturity of finding all his friends, his relatives, the members of his Oblate family in "a common centre where we meet every day". [29] The Eucharist becomes for all Oblates the "living centre which serves as our means of communication". [30] From then on, for the Founder, this became a habit during oraison to call to mind his sons, person by person, [31] and in this way to pray for each one in particular. [32] Then, too, he invites all Oblates to be faithful to the meeting place of oraison before Jesus in the Eucharist in order to meet each other. [33] To his mother, he wrote: "Let us often look for one another in the heart of our adorable Master [...] it is the best way to bring us together, for, as we each of us find our common identity in Jesus Christ, we become but one thing with him, and through him and in him we become one thing with one another". [34]


[1] For a more in-depth study of the place the Eucharist holds in the life and teachings of Eugene de Mazenod, I refer you to my previous writings: "La relation personnelle avec Jésus Eucharistique selon le bienheureux de Mazenod", in Vie Oblate Life, 37 (1978), p. 237-250; "L'Eucharistie dans l'action pastorale du Bx de Mazenod, " in Vie Oblate Life, 38 (1979), p. 39-50; "L'Eucaristia nelle vita e nel pensiero di Eugenio de Mazenod", in Claretianum, 19 (1979), p. 259-289. Translated into English under the title: "The Eucharist in the Life and Thoughts of Eugene de Mazenod", in Vie Oblate Life, 38 (1979), p. 201-231.
[2] An adequate study of this topic is lacking while the rich and abundant documentation available promises a fruitful return for the research time invested. See "Le saint Fondateur des Oblats et la liturgie", in Semaine religieuse de Quebec, 57 (1945), p. 718-720. For the relationship with Dom Guéranger and the liturgical renewal, see MITRI, Angelo, Le bienheureux Eugène de Mazenod, Rome, 1975, p. 99-102.
[3] See LAMIRANDE, Emilien, "La mort et la résurrection du Christ et leur célébration liturgique. Textes de Mgr de Mazenod", in Etudes oblates, 19 (1960), p. 3-22.
[4] Pastoral letter of February 8, 1846.
[5] See "The Eucharist's Place in Blessed Eugene's Life", in "The Eucharist in the Life and Thoughts of Eugene de Mazenod", in Vie Oblate Life, 38 (1979), p. 207.
[6] "Retreat notes, Amiens, 1-21 December, 1811", in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 95, p. 215.
[7] For the relationship with the Eucharist in the period before his entry into the seminary, see MORABITO, Joseph, "Je serai prêtre", in Etudes oblates, 13 (1954), p. 9-60; PIELORZ, Joseph, La vie spirituelle de Mgr de Mazenod, 1782-1812, Ottawa, Oblate Studies Edition, p. 59-210.
[8] "Fast days, Communion days and 'of perpetual memorial'," in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 31, p. 71.
[9] Letter to Mrs. de Mazenod at Aix, February 13, 1809, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 45, p. 99.
[10] Letter to Mrs. Boisgelin at Aix, nee de Mazenod..., December 4, 1808, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 35, p. 79.
[11] Letter to Mrs. Boisgelin at Aix, nee de Mazenod..., August 12, 1811, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 90, p. 199.
[12] Feelings after priestly ordination. Letter to Mr. Duclaux, December 21, 1811, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 98, p. 229.
[13] See TACHÉ, Alexander, La vie spirituelle d'Eugène de Mazenod, 1812-1818, Rome, 1963, p. 31-56.
[14] Annual retreat made at Bonneveine, July-August 1816, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 15, no. 139, p. 133-134.
[15] Letter to Father Tempier, August 23, 1830, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 7, no. 359, p. 212.
[16] Diary, March 17, 1839.
[17] Ibidem, February 7, 1839.
[18] See "L'Eucharistie dans l'action pastorale", in Vie Oblate Life, 38 (1979); "L'Eucaristia nelle vita e nel pensiero di Eugenio de Mazenod", in Claretianum, 19 (1979), p. 278-283. Translated into English under the title: "The Eucharist in the Life and Thoughts of Eugene de Mazenod", in Vie Oblate Life, 38 (1979), p. 220-226.
[19] GRANDIN, Bishop Vital, Notes on the Church of the Northwest, quoted in Paul Emile Breton, "Le Fondateur des Oblats d'après les écrits de Monseigneur Grandin", in Etudes oblates, 18 (1959), p. 358.
[20] Especially those of February 8, 1846, February 20, 1859 and December 21, 1859. See L'Eucaristia, op. cit., p. 284-287.
[21] Pastoral letter of December 21, 1859, p. 9.
[22] Ibidem, p. 7.
[23] Ibidem, p. 6.
[24] Pastoral letter of February 22, 1859, p. 36.
[25] Pastoral letter of December 21, 1859, p. 7.
[26] Pastoral letter of February 22, 1859, p. 36.
[27] Ibidem.
[28] "Extract from a 'Miscellaneous' notebook, May 1804", in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 7, p. 10; see also no. 38, p. 86.
[29] Letter to Father Valentine Végréville, March 25, 1857, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 231, p. 142.
[30] Letter to Father Albert Lacombe, March 6, 1857, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 229, p. 140.
[31] Letter to Father Peter Aubert, April 9, 1859, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 264, p. 211.
[32] Letter to Father Valentine Végréville, March 25, 1857, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 2, no. 231, p. 142.
[33] Letter to Father Mark de l'Hermite, January 10, 1852, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 11, no. 1096, p. 71.
[34] Letter to Mrs. de Mazenod at Aix, December 25, 1808, in Oblate Writings I, vol. 14, no. 45, p. 85.

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