SIGNIFICANCE OF THE EUCHARIST IN THE LIFE OF RELIGIOUS
A Claretian Spirituality Perspective
Fr Paulson Varkey Veliyannoor, CMF
“If we but paused for a moment to consider attentively what takes place in this Sacrament (of Eucharist), I am sure that the thought of Christ’s love for us would transform the coldness of our hearts into a fire of love and gratitude.” (St Angela of Foligno)
It was in May 1998, the year of my ordination, that I happened to run into one of my Philosophy Professors, whom, during our studentship we had admired as a model, holy man and worthy religious. He was a good philosopher too. I was meeting him after almost ten years, and was naturally excited. We walked along the road flanked by series of religious houses on either side, and the sight of the same inspired in him several reflections on religious living. And he made a stinging remark: “Believe me, religious life is already dead. We are merely prolonging the funeral.”
Do you believe this? Did I believe it then? Do I believe it now? My answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
No, because, he was a man who was considered by his students and confreres as a holy, spiritual, religious man, who, I am sure, was happy in his religious life. By all means, he did not find his religious life to be bereft of meaning. Neither did I find my religious life dead and stinking, nor do I think so now. However, when I take an honest look into my life and other religious lives around, I am struck by the gap between the ideal and the actual. I believe and am sure that my professor was definitely calling my attention to the dangers religious life was courting by forgetting the essentials and embracing the accidentals.
“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1.1) and continues to raise his prophets according to the needs of the time. I am sure our late Pope John Paul II was one such prophet and his clarion call to ‘put out into the deep’ – ‘Duc in altum’[i] is an invitation for us to dig deep and reconnect to the essentials which alone can bring the fire back into religious life and give it a resuscitation and resurrection.
Did I say, ‘fire’? The Quote from St Angela of Foligno at the beginning of this paper reminds us that the best means to transform the coldness of our hearts into a fire of love and gratitude is by losing ourselves in the mysterium tremendum of the Eucharist. The very definition of a ‘Claretian’ tells us that a Son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a man meant to be on fire with God’s love, spreading it everywhere.[ii] It refers to a passion, a ‘passion for Christ and passion for humanity’[iii] which is the very heart of religious life. As we are celebrating the memory of our founder Claret, and these being the concluding days of the ‘Year of the Eucharist’, it is in the fitness of things that we examine the significance of the Eucharist in our lives as religious, for Eucharist alone is the source and summit of our Christian living, specially so for our religious living as Claretians.
In the first and second sections the paper attempts a brief reflection on the role of Eucharist in the life and teachings of St Claret and the Chapter Documents, with the mention of a few samples. In the third and the fourth parts, drawing upon the Church’s teachings on the Eucharist, Claret’s reflections, directives of the Constitutions, the Directory and the Chapter Documents, we examine the significance of the Eucharist in the life of a religious, with special reference to Claretian spirituality.
- 1.EUCHARIST IN THE LIFE OF ST ANTHONY MARY CLARET
St Anthony Mary Claret is a man for all seasons and every religious can learn one’s spiritual lessons from his life. He can indeed, be called a “Man of the Eucharist”, literally and figuratively. When we think of the Eucharistic Spirituality of Claret, I am sure what comes to a Claretian mind immediately is the special grace he was bestowed with in his life. He was granted the grace of preservation of the Blessed Sacrament in him day and night. In other words, to be a living tabernacle of the Eucharist. Let us listen to his own words:
“On August 26, 1861, at 7.00 in the evening while I was at prayer in the Church of Rosary at La Granja, the Lord granted me the great grace of keeping the sacramental species intact within me and of having the Blessed Sacrament always present, day and night, in my breast. Because of this I must always be very recollected and inwardly devout. Furthermore I must pray and confront all the evils of Spain, as the Lord has told me…. On the morning of May 16, 1862, at 4.15 while I was at prayer, I thought of what I had written down the day before concerning my experience of the Blessed Sacrament the previous August 26. I had been thinking of erasing it and was still thinking of it today, but the Blessed Virgin told me not to erase it. Afterward, while I was saying Mass, Jesus Christ told me that He had indeed granted me this grace of remaining within me
Now, this is not something that was granted all of a sudden to an unprepared heart. Indeed, the same Grace had prepared him over the years, ever since his childhood, for this beatific adoration of the Eucharist within his heart. In Claret’s own words:
“Ever since I was a small boy I have been attracted to piety and religion. I used to attend Mass on all feasts and holy days and other days too, when I possibly I could…. I cannot remember ever playing, looking around, or talking in Church…. In addition to attending these morning and afternoon services, I used to enter the Church at nightfall, when hardly anyone was there, and talk alone with our Lord. With great faith, trust, and love, I would speak to God, my good Father.”[v]
This attachment to the Holy Eucharist became an integral part of his life and hence it was impossible for him to be away from the Eucharistic presence. He wrote about this ‘inability to be otherwise’ in the autobiography: “When I am before the Blessed Sacrament, I feel such a lively faith that I can’t describe it. Christ in the Eucharist is almost tangible to me; I kiss his wounds continually and embrace Him. When it’s time for me to leave, I have to tear myself away from his sacred presence.”[vi]
However, it was not that Claret did not experience a cooling of his fervor and was not distracted. In his youthful days when he was obsessed with his textile work, his mind was full of business projects and plans during the Eucharist. In his own words, “there seemed to be more machines in my head than saints on the altar.” However, the saving grace was that he remained eternally open to the guidance of God and allowed himself to be vulnerable and wounded by the Spirit. And the Word of God in the Eucharist hit him hard. In his own words:
In the midst of this whirling of ideas, while I was at Mass one day, I remembered reading as a small boy those words of the Gospel: “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?” This phrase impressed me deeply and went like an arrow to my heart.[vii]
He allowed himself to be touched and converted by the Eucharist. His exhortations through his writings and sermons carried this imprint of his conviction of the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of a Christian, and very specially so in the life of the consecrated. In his ‘Ascetical Letter’, Claret exhorts us to go up on the wings of faith through meditation and presents the mystery of the Holy Eucharist as the fountain-head of divine life and as the guarantee for eternal life:
“ A soul that does not mount up God-wards on the wings of faith through meditation until it reaches the creator of these things, who is fairer than all of them put together…a soul that has never found in prayer (because it never prays) the anticipated enjoyment of heaven’s infinite delights, is defenceless against the lure of earthly beauties. Passing from idol to idol, in the end it adores everything except God…. What has Jesus Christ left undone to free our souls both from lying tongues that kill and from carnal delights that drag us down to the lives of brutes? Against the dark inventions of the genius error, He has counterpoised the sun of Catholic faith, the Blessed Sacrament, which is called the mystery of faith, in which Jesus Christ is really and truly present as the true light which enlightens every man of good will to rise above the vain thoughts of this world and to advance in the knowledge and love of the supreme Good. Over against the degrading drunkenness of flesh and blood, he has set up the delicious banquet of His flesh and blood in the Blessed Sacrament, which lifts us up to the fountain-head of divine life.”[viii]
In an address to the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Madrid in 1858, Claret spoke of the Holy Eucharist as the convoy bearing all the spiritual graces, and warned as to what would happen if one would not receive Holy Communion:
“They grow so weak and emancipated in charity that they barely have strength enough to do anything good, but rather tend to fall at every step…From this it can readily be seen how much it gained by the enemy of the human race, who is interested in seeing to it that Christians become alienated from the Holy Eucharist, so that they become weak and lose their souls, hence he is always roaring and searching for men as to devour them… For this reason, he uses the same strategy with Christians, as an army uses with a place under siege. The first thing the army does is to cut off the food supply, and in this way it so weakens the garrison of the opposing force that it is obliged to surrender of hunger. Thus you, too, who are besieged by the snares of the devil, must strive to be alert and moreover to receive the Holy Eucharist frequently, for it is the convoy bearing all the spiritual graces you need to strengthen your soul, so that it will have no need to fear either Satan’s relentless siege or his many snares and assaults…Realise that the Holy Eucharist is the tree of life, like the one that God planted in the midst of Paradise. He who eats of this tree will enjoy life, indeed, eternal life. The Eucharist is also the manna of the soul.” [ix]
Definitely, Claret was a man of the Eucharist. The source of and strength for his missionary and apostolic passion directly emerged from treasuring the Eucharistic Lord within his heart. Surely, he would want his spiritual sons to be devoted to the Eucharist as the epicenter of their spiritual and missionary life.
- 2.EUCHARIST IN THE GENERAL CHAPTER DOCUMENTS:
Though we do find lengthy and exhaustive discussion of the role of the Eucharist in several General Chapter Documents, I limit myself to the last five Chapter Documents. This section is taken from “The Eucharist and Claretian Missionary Life”, by Charles I Amadi, CMF, Formation Booklet-17, General Prefecture of Formation.
Eucharist in the XIX Claretian General Chapter (MCT)
Father Claret describes his vocation as the result of a complex experiential process that can be traced through his infancy. This process includes, among other elements, an early sense of friendship with Christ (above all, in the sacrament of the Eucharist), in whose deep sense of Sonship Claret gradually came to discover God the Father, who sent Jesus because he loves the world (MCT. 53)
… It comes as no surprise that the Eucharist was his (Claret’s) favorite place for encounter with Christ, first in His Real Presence and then as sacrifice and communion. This encounter with Christ in the Eucharist was, for Claret, a source of his apostolic energy (MCT. 60).
Eucharist in the XX Claretian General Chapter (CPR)
The living of the mystery of the Eucharist throughout the day, as our Father Founder did, will nourish our identification with Christ and with his Spirit, and will empower us to confront the presence of Evil in our history (CPR. 55).
Eucharist in the XXI Claretian General Chapter (SW)
Our missionary service of the Word achieves its aim whenever it raises up or consolidates the kind of faith-communities in which the Eucharist is celebrated and in which each believer feels like a person, lives in solidarity and acts as an evangelizer (cf. CC. 47) (SW. 11).
Let us fraternally share in listening to, living, celebrating and announcing the Word, above all, in the Eucharist (CC 34-35) (SW. 15.1).
Eucharist in the XXII Claretian General Chapter (IPM)
The prophetic character of our missionary service of the Word should drink from “the springs of a solicit and profound spirituality” (VC 93). We want our Congregation to be ever more and more a school of authentic missionary spirituality inspired in Claret and our tradition. Hence:
In the coming years we will highlight much more the Eucharistic dimension of our spirituality as a source of life and apostolic fortitude (IPM 23.1).
… In almost 150 years of life, our Congregation, born in a room of the diocesan seminary of Vic, has been led by the Spirit to many countries of the earth to announce the Gospel. Though our deficiencies may have been many, nevertheless, in our missionaries, the Word has become gesture, service, sermon, class, music, painting, sculpture, book, poem, liturgy, outcry and silence (IPM 40).
Eucharist in the XXIII Claretian General Chapter (TTMHL)
The last General chapter deserves special attention. The very theme of the Chapter focused on the culture of death precipitated by the loss of life’s meaning and the disregard for the person in today’s world, and our special calling to be communicators of life, so that the world may have life in its fullness. The Chapter reiterated that communion with the crucified and risen Lord is the impelling factor for us to defend life, and whoever gives up his life for the salvation of the world a la Jesus in the Eucharist will become possessor and provider of eternal life (TTMHL 9). As missionaries, we are authentic ‘servants of life’ that is nourished in the Word and by the Bread and Wine in the Eucharist…. Our Martyrs of Barbastro were also transformed into a Eucharistic community, capable of surrendering its life and of giving life. (TTMHL 16). The Chapter also proposed hat the congregation should intensify its Eucharistic Dimension of its charism to sustain this life-giving dynamism of religious call. (TTMHL 70.2).
- 3.EUCHARIST: THE HEART OF CONSECRATED LIFE
Let us now focus our attention on what is immediately and eternally relevant for our very lives and for developing Eucharistic Spirituality for our religious living. For this, I draw from the Magisterium, a few theological reflections, Claret’s own views, Constitutions and Directory, chapter Documents, and my own personal reflections. While our context is Claretian Spirituality, I believe whatever we discuss here are applicable to all the religious and I invite each and everyone of you to reflect together with me, filtering and adapting the thoughts through the spirituality that is proper to each and every one of you.
a. The Eucharist provides the essential/existential Myth for Religious Living:
In the mystery of Creation, human being occupies a very central and unique position. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it beautifully:
Of all visible creatures only man is “able to know and love his creator”. He is “the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake”, and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God’s own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity.[x]
However, the very gift of consciousness and free will brought with it the painful awareness of one’s duality – the material and the spiritual; the profane and the sacred – and man is often caught up in the tensions between the two.[xi] It is only by acknowledging his creatureliness and the need for the wholly Other – in other words, losing oneself in a leap into the darkness of faith in order to discover oneself in God, the really real - that our lives find its ultimate meaning and realization. For this, we need to constantly connect ourselves to our divine origins and true springs of life. Every religion facilitates these through sacred rituals and myths, to which the people constantly and regularly ‘return’ to draw strength, nourishment and sense of direction. Now, by ‘Myth’ I do not intend the most popular meaning that we associate with it, ie, ‘fiction’ or ‘illusion’, but the scholarly meaning which is, ‘sacred tradition, primordial revelation, exemplary model’.[xii]
For Christians, the Eucharist provides the best Mythical source for growing into the personhood of Christ, by drawing nourishment from his life, death and resurrection. Religious (Consecrated) Life, with its passion for God, is meant to be a passionate and exclusive imitation of the life of Christ. In order to draw strength to break ourselves to be shared for the world, a religious needs to constantly connect oneself to the Eucharist which is essentially the act of Christ breaking himself for the world. Without this regular, constant and passionate return to the Eucharist, or better, the constant carrying of the Eucharistic myth within every fiber of our life, religious life would indeed be dead, stinking and rotting. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical ‘Ecclesia de Eucharistia’ has referred to this mythical dimension of the Eucharist:
The Church was born of the paschal mystery. For this very reason the Eucharist… stands at the center of the Church’s life…. Two thousand years later, we continue to relive that primordial image of the church. At every celebration of the Eucharist, we are spiritually brought back to the paschal Triduum: to the events of the evening of Holy Thursday, to the Last Supper and to what followed it…. Every priest who celebrates Holy Mass, together with the Christian community which takes part in it, is led back in spirit to that place and that hour.[xiii]
Hence, if we detach ourselves from the centrality of Eucharist in our lives, we, as Christians, lose our very ‘source and summit of Christian life’[xiv] , and as religious of the Lord, the very heart of our existence. And for us Claretians, imitation of Jesus has been knit into our very definition as an existential necessity. For this imitation to be perfect and fruitful, we need to constantly return to the Eucharistic Lord.
b. The Eucharist helps the Religious be a People of Spirit and Memory:
Christians, especially the religious, are called to be a people of Spirit and Memory. We carry in our lives Spirit, the very signature of Christ, and seeing us, people see Christ, for “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2.20). It is interesting to read the poem by Robert Browning ‘A Death in the Desert’, in which the poet presents apostle John, on his final moments, reflecting on the fact that he, the last of the persons who had seen, touched and felt Christ in person, was about to leave the world. John wonders “how will it be when none more saith, ‘I saw’?”[xv] John didn’t need to worry: for in the Eucharist, we hear, see, touch, taste and love the same Lord. In the Eucharist, Jesus provides us afresh with his words and deeds, thus refreshing our memory, and breathes into us his Spirit. This should enable us to be vehicles of his Memory and Spirit into the lives of others. Our very Constitution demands this of us:
By sharing in the death and life of Christ, the Missionaries should awaken in others the remembrance of the Lord’s presence as they are conformed to Christ especially in the celebration of the Eucharist.(CC 83- emphasis added).
c. The Eucharist, the Center and Anchor of Religious Spiritual Heritage
Spirituality is a way of being in the world, reflecting the Divine within us. The modern world demands of us, religious, a spirituality that is comprehensive, authentic and responsive to the present day realities. The Claretian Spirituality Congress stated that our spirituality has to have six principal characteristics. They are:
- biblical: sustained by the continuous reading of the Word of God;
- liturgical: nourished by the liturgy of the Church;
- christocentric: its objective is “union with Jesus” in his love relationship with the Father, in his anointing by the Holy Spirit and in his salvific and redeeming love for humankind;
- ecclesial-communitarian: it develops when it is lived in deep communion with all the members of the Church, open to other believers and to the whole human race;
- missionary: sent to give witness and to exercise the service of love wherever human beings live, work, suffer and rejoice, dream and are discouraged.
- incarnated in peoples and cultures and inserted among the poor: authentic spirituality is rooted in the soul of the people which is their culture; Christian life keeps on being configured to the life of the poor—not the bourgeoisie—and in solidarity with the poor of the earth, committed to justice, peace and the wholeness of creation, because it discovers in communion the privileged space in which to experience the Christian God.[xvi]
All the above six dimensions/characteristics have their source and summit in the Eucharistic Spirituality. Our missionary spirituality today passes through the sacrifice of the altar. The celebration of the Eucharist and the worship of the Presence of the Lord is the axis on which our spirituality revolves and is the source of our strength for the journey.[xvii] In his apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, Pope John Paul II writes:
By its very nature the Eucharist is at the center of the consecrated life, both for individuals and for communities. It is the daily viaticum and source of the spiritual life for the individuals and for the Institute. By means of the Eucharist all consecrated persons are called to live Christ’s Paschal Mystery, uniting themselves to him by offering their own lives to the Father through the Holy Spirit.[xviii]
That the Eucharist occupies primacy and centrality in the spiritual heritage is exemplified in the injunctions of our Directory. Our Directory states that our prayer has to express the characteristics of our Claretian spiritual heritage of which the first three elements are Christo-centrism, Eucharistic Piety, Love for the Word of God. (Dir 84)[xix]
The Constitutions exhort us to celebrate the Eucharist everyday, and wholeheartedly. I believe it cannot be otherwise for any religious, for we cannot ‘be’ without the celebration of the Eucharist in our lives:
“In the first place, every day we should whole-heartedly celebrate the mystery of Eucharist, keeping close to Christ our Lord as he proclaims the words of life, offers himself for his brothers and sisters, honors his father and builds up the unity of the Church.”(CC 35).
d. The Eucharist provides us strength for the Four-fold Functions of Religious Life:
Let us dwell on CC 35 longer, for it beautifully captures four essential functions of religious life:
The number states that four doings of Jesus in the Eucharist are of great importance to us: he proclaims the words of life, offers himself for his brothers and sisters, honors his father, and builds up the unity of the Church. The Eucharist is memorial, sacrifice and meal. In the Eucharist, we gratefully remember the doings of God and give thanks (the very word ‘Eucharistia’ means ‘thanksgiving’), we remember and re-enact the sacrifice of Christ and join with it our life sacrifice, and we receive his body and blood for our sustenance in holiness.
These doings of Christ are beautifully captured in the Emmaus-Journey Event in the Gospel (Lk 24.13-35). In fact the whole Apostolic Letter Mane Nobiscum Domine which is a reflection on the Eucharist is set on the analogy of the Emmaus Journey.[xx] The disciples are on a journey, and Jesus joins them and proclaims the words of life. Their hearts which were half-dead due to loss of meaning and understanding, begin to burn and glow as the Word of God was poured into them. Jesus then offers himself in the breaking of the bread, which opens the eyes of the disciples to his true nature. And in this process, by opening the minds and hearts of the disciples to the very meaning and purpose of the salvation plan of God, Jesus glorifies the Father. The flock of disciples which was being shattered and scattered, are united back by the fire of the Eucharist – the two disciples who traveled away from Jerusalem, get up and wasting no time, travel back to Jerusalem to be united with other disciples and for a faith sharing. And in the very presence of the unity of the Church, Jesus presents himself again, and celebrates the Eucharist once again, repeating the four-fold actions (Lk 24.36-53).
As religious and Claretians, are not these our functions too: to proclaim life-giving word to the world – we have no other Gospel than the Gospel of Christ - and in our every thought, feeling, word and deed. Jesus does it in the Eucharist for us. After having listened, we are invited to break ourselves for the nurturance of humanity, like Jesus does in the Eucharist. And in this process, we grow the Church in unity and quality, and honor our Father in Heaven.
e. The Eucharist sustains the Holiness and Prayer life of Consecrated Life:
Pope John Paul II emphatically affirmed in Novo Millennio Ineunte that all pastoral initiatives must be set in relation to holiness, and what better sacrament than the Eucharist can capture the supreme Holiness and allow us to partake in it! It is the Eucharist which enlighten and gives dynamism to our journey towards sanctity. [xxi]
Cristo Rey, a theologian of religious life, states that for the religious, Eucharist is and should become the prayer par excellence. It is the mystery of prayer, of presence and of spousal union between Christ and the Church. Just like the body of the husband belong to the wife, the body of Jesus rightfully and totally belongs to those who have consecrated themselves to him and taken him as their spouse.[xxii] Hence, the highest form of prayer for a religious, is the Eucharist, which leads to a spiritual union with Christ and makes us holy and perfect.
It is heartening to note that our Claretian Spirituality has imbibed this dimension of the Eucharist and has demanded regular visits to the Blessed Sacrament (CC35), whenever possible one hour of mental prayer (CC37), and the need for Eucharistic Celebration to be central to the monthly recollections (Dir 91).
The Spirituality Congress of the Congregation has this comment to make:
The Eucharistic celebration shows us that we pray “through Christ, with Him and in Him”. The Church is not the author of her own prayer, but receives the prayer of Jesus and of the Spirit, which she offers back to Him. The Jesus who called the Twelve “to be with Him” (Mk. 3:14) wants to be with us “forever” in a perfect communion of life and prayer. The Jesus who gives his Body and Blood to us as his Bride, the Church, also gives us his prayer, his intercession, his praise and adoration.[xxiii]
f. The Eucharist symbolizes and perfects community living
Fraternal Life is best symbolized and brought to perfection in the Eucharist, which is the sign of unity and the bond of love. (CC 12)
The religious are called to witness to the life in the Kingdom by the quality of their community living. In response to a higher call, we transcend our natural family bonds and pledge our kinship to a family which is constituted on the basis of affinity to the Word of God, and we prove to the world that all human beings can live as brothers and sisters, accepting the common fatherhood of God. Jesus made it very clear. When someone in the crowd called his attention to his mother and relatives waiting for him, he declared: “Who are my mother and my brothers?…Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." (Mk 3.33-35).
For us Claretians, fraternal life in the community becomes the first act of mission. General Chapter Document “In Prophetic Mission” has made it amply clear that our personal and community life is our first prophetic act of mission.[xxiv]
This community life in fraternity is best symbolized and perfected by the Eucharist. The Apostolic letter Mane Nobiscum Domine calls the Eucharist “the source and manifestation of Communion.”[xxv]What characterizes Community life is the love, listening, sharing, asking pardon and forgiving, dining together, supporting one another and working together. Isn’t the same that we find in the Eucharist, to the perfect degree? We sit around the table of the Lord, confess our sins, give and take mutual forgiveness, listen to the Word of God and its demands, share in the body and blood of Jesus and break the bread of our very lives, thereby pledging our service to one another. Thus Eucharist symbolizes our fraternal life. And it perfects it too, for our community living has its wounds, shortcomings, failures and sins. Our constant resort to the Eucharist gives us the grace that we need to keep perfecting our fraternal life.
Is it not interesting to note that Jesus, with all his status as the Son of God, breaks down during the Eucharist and shares the grief of his heart, fears and pains with his disciples? St John puts it very poignantly, that during the last supper, Jesus was troubled and moved in spirit and confessed to his friends about the upcoming betrayal which was too heavy for him to bear (Jn 13.21). In the privacy of the upper room, in the context of the sharing of his body and blood, Jesus chose to share his inner suffering and pain with his friends. I believe our participation in the daily Eucharist along with our brethren in our community should also make us brave to share our fears, pains and struggles with our members. But how we shudder at such a thought! We easily share our successes, joys and achievements with our community members, and we choose to hide our temptations, sins, failures and fears secretly to ourselves and how we walk about in masks! The Eucharist should give us the courage to open the underside of our lives, share our brokenness, and feel the healing love and support of the community too. How wonderful and healing would be that day when we get this courage! Truly, that would be the day our community life would become definitively closer to perfection. Jesus has shown us the example in the Eucharist, and it is ours to make it our own.
g. The Eucharist empowers us to live the Prophetic Role with Apostolic Fortitude:
The Religious are called to be prophets to the world. We Claretians have it as an essential element of our Charism: we share in the prophetic charism of St Claret. This prophetism demands that we stand up and critique the society: “to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant." (Jer 1.10). This is no easy task, but calls for tremendous courage. And this courage comes directly from the power of the Eucharist. The 20th General Chapter of the Congregation (1985) in its document The Claretian in the Process of Congregational Renewal speaks of the devotion to the Eucharist as a means to confront the present day evils of the world, in the style of St Claret: “The living of the mystery of the Eucharist throughout the day as our Founder did, will nourish our identification with Christ and with his Spirit, and will empower us to confront the presence of evil in our history.”[xxvi]
The 22nd General Chapter held in the year 1997 reiterates the need for the eucharistic spirituality in sustaining apostolic fortitude, in the following words: “In the coming years we will highlight much more the eucharistic dimension of our spirituality as a source of unity of life and apostolic fortitude.”[xxvii]
This fortitude derived from the Eucharist also sustains us in our sufferings and daily martyrdom. For us, the Eucharist is sacrifice and sacrament. It provides us the strength to live through the little sacrifices and deaths that come our way, in our living the Gospel. This was very evident in the way the Martyrs of Barbastro lived a Eucharistic life during their final days. The former Superior General, Rev Fr Aquilino Bocos Merino referred to this event in his reflections on the missionary testimony of the Martyrs:
They formed a praying community. The joining of suffering and prayer made the gift of final perseverance blossom among them. They found ingenious ways so that each of them could keep reciting the Office of the Martyrs and the Little Office of the Virgin Mary and, above all, so that they could receive Communion, thus making the Eucharistic Bread the center of that imprisoned community and the source of their intensely sturdy spirituality. The Lord, the Eucharistic Bread, became hiddenly present among them, unknown to their jailers. With surprising rapidity they too learn to became bread broken and wine poured out for the life of the world. Those Communions prepared them for the last definitive offering of their body and for withstanding the evils of the world. The sacramental presence and welcoming of the Lord into their midst account for all that we admire in our brother Martyrs.[xxviii]
h. From Worship to Service: Dining at the Eucharist enables us to Wash the Feet:
The celebration of the Eucharist should lead us to commitment to service to our needy brethren. It is easy to take refuge in the cosy and pleasant Chapel and spend time talking to the Lord, but we must remember that John the Apostle places Jesus’ washing of the feet in the very context of the Last Supper where Eucharist was instituted. Without service to fellow human beings, our Eucharistic celebration is not complete.
However, the converse is also true: without Eucharistic celebration, our service to humanity too is incomplete. A couple of years before, I happen to meet a religious nun who was a practicing lawyer. She shared with me that she no longer wore the religious habit, nor used the prefix ‘Sr’ to her name. Her rationale was that it helps her identify with the people a lot better and easier and ‘after all, what I do is service and it has nothing to do with my being sister.’ I felt sorry for her, for I thought we must primarily identify with Christ and our identification with the people comes because of, and not instead of, our primacy to the person of Christ. It is the passion for Christ that leads us to the passion for humanity. We need to drink deep at the well of Christ like the Samaritan woman, before we don the mantle of the good Samaritan who helps the wounded and the vulnerable. In fact, our commitment to service comes directly from our celebration of the Eucharist. Both are two sides of the same coin and we can only reduce either of it by denying the importance of the other. Consecrated life has a passion for Christ at the center, which we nourish at the altar, and from that energy, we live our passion for humanity. And at every possible moment, we return to the well of the altar to drink deep and replenish our energies.
i. The Eucharist sows in us an attitude of gratitude:
Anyone who reflects deeply about human life with its paradoxes and subtleties can only be thankful –profusely thankful – to God primarily and to one’s fellow human beings and to the very nature. For what? For everything. We are what we are by the sheer grace of God and the generosity of others including the very universe. Gratitude is the grammar of the Eucharist. Eucharistia means thanksgiving. “On the night he was betrayed, he took bread in his hands and he gave thanks.” Look at it: what moment to give thanks for – sheer night. Darkness around. Within and without. And a night in which he was betrayed by one, disowned by another, deserted by all. A moment when one would go to pieces and curse the day of one’s birth, like Jeremiah. But what does Jesus do? He does not go broken. Even if he broke down, he gathers the pieces of his life into his own cupped hands, and simply thanks the Father for “everything”. Even the betrayal, denial, desertion. He sweats blood, alright, but he continues to thank. This is amazing courage. And amazing gratitude. Only the one with the signature of God in his heart can do this.
Our lives too, with all the wonderful and glorious moments, have their share of betrayals, denials, desertions. Life is not very just always. Job would vouch for that. Thankfully, we too can find the strength to be thankful. For all the beauty, goodness and joy in our lives. For all the wonderful heavenly moments. But also for those wretched moments of inner darkness, personal failures, professional betrayals and injustice. In the Eucharist, like Jesus and like the priest who stands by him, we too take the bread of our life in our hands and give thanks to God. Once we are capable of it, we will be at peace. No more fighting with God, fellow beings and ourselves. Just the peace of God that surpasses all understanding. The Eucharist does it to us.
j. The Religious need to ‘cling wholeheartedly’ to the Eucharistic Lord:
The Constitutions n 61 states beautifully: “The novices should ‘cling wholeheartedly’ to Christ our Lord, especially in the mystery of the Eucharist.” Now, this is applicable not only to the Novices, but to every religious. The word ‘clinging’ is interesting. When do we cling to somebody or something? When we are scared, we want to be taken care of, when we realize we cannot do without the other and when we love another deeply so much so that we just don’t want to let the other go… I think in our relationship with the Lord, we definitely need to cling to God, for all these reasons mentioned above. Remember Jacob fighting with the angel of the Lord, and the latter touching his hip and unseating the hipbone, and then Jacob, ‘clinging’ to the Lord? He clings to the Lord, for he realized he cannot stand alone by himself – he needed the shoulders of God, and also he clung to God till God blessed him profusely. In our religious living, I think we will only mess up our life if we just rely on ourselves. We will sooner than later run out of steam. We better acknowledge our inadequacies, failures, sins and temptations, and ‘cling’ to God, and just not let him go till he makes our life a blessing unto ourselves and to the whole world.
k. Adoration and Visitation to the Blessed Sacrament to be daily routine for the Religious:
The Eucharist being the lifeline of religious life, it is not enough that we limit our interaction with the Lord in the Holy Mass. The preservation of the Holy Eucharist and regular visitation to the Blessed Sacrament and its adoration are essential for us to live our religious life faithfully and fruitfully. “A priest is worth what his Eucharistic life is worth”[xxix] For the Claretians, the Constitutions and the Directory demand it: We should cherish conversation with Christ our Lord by visiting and worshipping him in the Holy Eucharist (CC 35). Community visit to the Blessed Sacrament and individual visits should be fostered (Dir 85).
l. The Eucharist sustains the Religious even after death:
What is more comforting for a departing soul to know that the religious community would still connect to him in and through the celebration of the Eucharist and the very Eucharistic celebration would continue to bring him forgiveness of sins, cleansing of his debts and grow in him holiness and worthiness to enter the Kingdom of God! Our very pledge to community living binds us to the responsibility to continue to pray for our departed community brothers, for their remission of sins and admittance to God’s presence. Charity demands it, the essentials of religious living demands it. And what better way to pray for the departed soul than celebrate the Eucharist for him/her!
It delights me to know that the Claretian Spirituality has have enshrined this responsibility as an imperative in the Constitutions (CC 19) and Directory (Dir 54). The following suffrages for the departed souls are demanded by the Directory:
§ 60 Masses for each deceased member of the respective community
§ 01 Mass on the first anniversary of each deceased member of the respective community
§ 04 yearly Masses in every community for the deceased members of the congregation.
§ 01 Annual Mass in each community for the deceased parents of its members.
§ 03 Masses for the father/mother of a member in his respective community on the former’s death.
§ 01 Annual Mass in each community for the deceased benefactors.
m. Eucharistic Spirituality in the School of Mary:
If you have watched the movie ‘Jesus’ by Roger Young, the character of Mary would forever be etched in your memory. Mary is presented as a powerful yet tender woman who guides Jesus through his vocation, and plays the spiritual director for many a soul to know the person of Jesus. Who can forget the presentation of the conversion of Mary Magdelene facilitated by the person of Mary! I believe, it might have been so in reality. Mary, indeed, is the school where we learn our spiritual lessons and do the internship. John Paul II calls her “the Woman of the Eucharist”. She lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by offering her virginal womb for the incarnation of God’s Word – the first tabernacle in history. She made her own the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist. Jesus said at the Eucharistic table: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22.19). And Mary stands by us and whispers into our ears: “Do as he tells you.” (Jn 2. 5). The ‘Magnificat’ of Mary is a perfect thanksgiving (Eucharistia) and is a proof of her ‘Eucharistic attitude’. Mary’s ‘fiat’ is equivalent to the ‘amen’ we pronounce in the Eucharist. [xxx]
Every consecrated religious is schooled in the Heart of Mary. Mary is the sublime example of perfect consecration and hence, our model.[xxxi] For us Claretians, it is all the more significant by the conviction and mandate of our Founder, Claret. We are called the Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and we are formed in the forge of Mary. “Mary, Mother of Jesus, Mother of our Congregation, is for us a memory and an abiding presence…. Our missionary spirituality has an irreplaceable Cordi-Marian imprint”, so says the Document of the Claretian Spirituality Congress.[xxxii] It is imperative for us Claretians and every consecrated person to spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament together with the motherly presence of Mary who would help us discern His Will and intercede for us to “do whatever he tells” us. And in the celebration of the daily Eucharist, let us be intimately conscious of the loving presence of Mary who stands by the altar and help us prepare the offering of our very lives along with the bread and wine. Yes, she alone can help us to grow the ‘Eucharistic attitude’ in our lives.
4. TOWARDS A EUCHARISTIC ATTITUDE & EUCHARISTIC SPIRITUALITY: A FEW PROPOSALS
Based on the above reflections, let me share with you some of the ideas that came to my mind as to the concrete steps that should evolve out of this meditation on the Eucharistic Spirituality. Our celebration of the Claretian Week and the related theological reflections have no meaning if we do not translate them into action. Here are a few suggestions, and I invite your consideration of the same in your personal and community living:
1. Mass as Map of the Passion: Suggestions from the Spiritual Practices for Missionaries:
Father José Xifré, Superior General asked Father Vallier to prepare a Document on Spiritual Practices for the use of Claretian Missionaries. In the book, daily acts are well spread out. Of the 33 chapters in it, there are three chapters which dwell on the Eucharist and how to live a Eucharistic life. Chapter 6 talks of “the manner to bear Mass”; chapter 14 treats of “Visit to the Blessed Sacrament” and chapter 25 on “Communion”.[xxxiii]
Manner of hearing Mass — Mass has to serve us as a map of the Passion of the Lord. We have to go to Mass and we have be at it as if we were going to Mount Calvary and we were in it having been elevated to Christ, hearing Him speaking, seeing Him breathing, seeing Him the side open seeing Him brought down from the Cross, dies in the hands of his Virgin Mother and seeing Him buried. The most fruitful means to hear Mass is to make memory of the sacred passion. The Missionaries are advised to have good preparation for Mass, asking for pardon for sins committed, to have spiritual communion, thanksgiving, pray and ask for the different needs and promise to do things rightly throughout the whole day.
2. Meaningful Celebration of the Eucharist, with preparation before and thanksgiving after:
We do celebrate the Eucharist every day. And there is always a danger of familiarity bringing in boredom. A conscious effort at constant reminding of the significance and centrality of the Eucharist should help us celebrate it meaningfully, every day, every time. One of the ways it can be done is by conscious preparation before and period of thanksgiving after the celebration. I have found the traditional prayers of preparation and thanksgiving that are given at the end of the Roman Missal to be very useful in approaching the Eucharist with a recollected attitude and frame of mind. Those prayers given in the Missal are in fact, the prayers of select fathers of the Church and praying them helps us feel connected to the whole Church beyond a time and space. I found them to be so beautiful that I printed them on to a paper, got them laminated and I use it for my Mass. And ever since I did that, I have used such laminated prayer sheet as the Ordination gifts to the new priests. I would strongly suggest that you print out the prayers and use them personally or together in the community.
3. Intentions for the Eucharistic Celebration:
The priests, indeed, set intentions for every Mass they celebrate. But why don’t we start practicing the same in our seminary days too? One of the best means is to offer the Mass that you participate in, for one member of the community in which you live, for each and every member of your family, for the benefactors, friends, relatives, enemies, and those who have asked for your prayers. Consecrate one Mass per person and his/her intentions. You can do it silently, in the depth of your hearts, at the beginning of the Mass, at the offertory, at the Consecration and post-communion. We have just reflected that the Eucharist builds up our fraternal life. What better way to grow in fraternal love, forgiveness and communion by remembering your community members and offering the Mass for each and every one of them! Surely, most of our interpersonal problems should vanish as an aftermath of the practice.
4. Mindful Wanderings at the Eucharist:
I hope I am not being too radical. But often we do violence to ourselves and the people of God by our insistence on total concentration on the Mass. Sometimes total concentration can be too empty, and too narrow. It can deaden the spirit. We refuse to go beyond. We refuse the free wanderings of the spirit, with the Spirit. Of course, we focus on the Mass. But let us listen to the guidings of the Spirit. There may be moments the Spirit makes us focus on the penitential rite, and then leads you to unexpected areas, perhaps to your own life, areas where you need to forgive, ask forgiveness, the events that happened in the past, yesterday, might happen today, and then you think, oh, God, it is offertory time and you were distracted. And the spirit is suppressed. May be it would be good for the soul to remain with the Spirit in the wanderings. It can channel the Eucharist to many gray areas in your life. I am not recommending distractions, but I am only saying that sometimes every distraction is not bad, it could be the Spirit calling you for the ‘wind blows wherever it wishes’ and allow yourselves to be led by the Spirit.
5. The ‘Eucharistic Hour’ of the Community:
An hour of Adoration is a practice that is very, very old and traditional indeed. Countless Christians have knelt in countless churches and shared countless secrets to their Eucharistic Lord. Some time back in Claretian Seminary, Bangalore, we started the practice of ‘Eucharistic Hour’ in the evenings. The Blessed Sacrament would be kept exposed for one hour before the evening prayers, from 06.00 – 07.00 pm, and the members were free to make their personal prayer during that time, demanded by the Constitutions. However, it was not compulsory, and freedom was given to the members to choose to pray then or any other time, but surely, at least one person should be there in adoration. Only that there should be an atmosphere of recollected silence within the house. I thought it was a wonderful practice. We do make our personal prayers and it is good to do it with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, and even those who are not engaged in prayer at that time would surely keep the feeling and awareness of the presence of the Lord and Master in the house, and that definitely brings in a Eucharistic air to the community. “Every inhalation of the human is the exhalation of the divine. God is not a distant reality but as near and intimate as breath.”[xxxiv] It would be a great practice to start off in the community and I am sure that would help us love and heal one another better and become a better faith community. And it is another wonderful time to let your mind take Spirit-led wanderings into the unknown territories of your life. Frightening it could be, but healing, for sure.
6. Periodic Community and Personal Visits to the Blessed Sacrament during the day:
This is a practice in our minor seminaries and novitiate, but I am not sure whether the practice continues to the major seminaries. It is a practice that should become more frequent as we approach our perpetual profession and ordination. This is demanded by the Constitutions and surely to be encouraged in the communities.
7. Personal Eucharistic Practices:
It is good to develop some personal Eucharistic practices. They may appear to be idiosyncratic, but God who loves the intentions of the heart would enjoy it to the hilt, never mind what the world thinks. During my seminary days, I used to enjoy walking up to some churches in the city during daytime, and sit there for an hour or so. Our seminary chapels are usually small, and we do not often feel our littleness and creatureliness within it, as they are not very imposing. It is very different in a parish church. They are mostly huge, vacant and imposing, during non-liturgical hours. Sometimes I just observe the magnificence of the Church and the supernatural it evokes. The Church always represents the cave of our heart where we meet our God. It is fun to just be inside, feel our littleness, and just be in the presence of the One who is the Real. Sometimes I used to watch other people who walk in, spend some time in prayer, or in secret tears – it is so touching to see people just sit there lost in prayer. You can easily do this practice during your lunch out days or whenever you have a free day.
Another personal practice could be keeping a Eucharistic Diary, wherein you jot down several faith-related ideas that pass through your mind during the Mass/personal prayer time, etc. I would recommend that everyday, during the celebration of the Eucharist, you focus and mediate on certain specific parts of the Mass and its relevance in our lives. Such meditation can inspire within us amazing thoughts and ideas which should be recorded in this Diary. These reflections can be a great source of spiritual nourishment, and would be a great support in times of various crises our lives may go through. For priests, it would definitely be a rich mine for homily aids.
I am sure some of you must be already practicing several such innovative acts of faith, and all of you can come up with many more of such Eucharistic practices. I encourage you to share such noble ideas and practices with one another. It would help us build ourselves into a Eucharistic Community.
Yes, indeed, every consecrated person who has vowed to follow Jesus intimately in one’s thoughts, feelings, words and deeds, need to grow into Christ’s personhood. “Have the mind of Christ” is what St Paul lovingly exhorts us (Phil.2.5). Religious people are to make Jesus present to the world around through their becoming like Him. Passion for Christ, and Passion for Humanity is the sum and substance of the consecrated life, and this passion can be nourished and kept alive only through feeding on Christ. We become what we eat. We eat and drink Christ in the Eucharist, the sacrament par excellence, in which Jesus shares himself totally and absolutely. Someone said so wisely, that when we eat physical food, it becomes us; but when we eat spiritual food, we become it. How true! One of the most beautiful poems that I have ever come across about the Eucharist is a four-line poem whose author is unknown to me. The poet is describing a lady who, after receiving communion, is walking back to the pew. The poet captures the moment poignantly:
She turns from the priest
Potent and humble
Between her teeth,
God breaks and crumbles
God eats her slowly
God breaks and crumbles between her teeth – apparently, but in the process, it is God eating her.
Didn’t Khalil Gibran say, “when you are in love, do not say, ‘God is in my heart’, but say ‘I am in the heart of God’” ? Something very similar here. Jesus is not in her heart, but she is sucked into her heart, where she lives, moves and has her being. She becomes ‘it’: She becomes “Christ”.
Let us passionately drink deep at the Eucharist, the well of everlasting Life, so that by letting Christ grow in us, we too, like the Samaritan Woman, can passionately evangelize the humanity for and in Christ. It will fill us with unlimited compassion, love and commitment which will help us serve the wounded humanity like the Samaritan Man.
And for us Claretians, it is an existential imperative and we should experience an ‘existential inability to be otherwise’. In formation communities, participation in the Eucharist is “the basic community act.”[xxxv] We cannot move, have or live our being without the Eucharist. The Claretian Spirituality Congress sums it up beautifully:
Thus for us the Eucharist is not merely a devotion, but the generative center of our missionary and community life, where the Body of Christ, which is the Church, is created and recreated, where the Revelation of the Word occurs most intensely and efficaciously. The Word we listen to and proclaim really is, for others, and us a summons to the table of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist the Word takes on its full sacramental force in relationship to the Body of Christ, while at the same time revealing the deeper meaning of the internal Church community, in which the members share in the breaking of the bread, the sacrificial attitude and the solidarity with which they will then go out as servants of the Word to encounter their brothers and sisters.[xxxvi]
[ix] Anthony Claret, ‘Address to the St. Vincent de Paul Society’, on Dec. 8, 1858, in Works of Saint Anthony Mary Claret,(WSAMC III), J. Bermejo (Prep.), Claretian Publications, Quezon City 1991, Vol. III, pp. 575 – 576.
[xix] The other elements enumerated by the Directory are (in order): Claret’s way of living Cordimarian sonship in close affinity with Missionary vocation, his devotion to the Apostles and his devotion to the saints who had great apostolic zeal.