“Lord you have invited us to be guests at your table. You have welcomed us into your Presence. You have fed us with your body. You have refreshed us with your blood. You have given us of your own self. Help us to give ourselves to you, in joy and thanksgiving, in love and dedication. As you give us freely, let us give freely to you.”
The Open Gate by David Adam
We know very little about Catherine’s own first Communion. She made her confirmation and first communion in Arran Quay Chapel according to Clare Moore and faithfully adhered to the pious practices she had become acquainted with.
In the First Constitutions of the Sisters of Mercy we find the following:
Of Holy Communion
98 “As the most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist was instituted by Jesus Christ for the nourishment of our souls, and as in it he gives us the most precious pledge of His love, the Sisters shall cherish in their hearts the most tender and affectionate devotion towards this adorable Sacrament. They shall assist daily at the holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the greatest possible devotion, and shall receive the Holy Communion with lively faith, profound humility and the utmost purity.”
“Frequent reception of the Blessed Sacrament is the most effectual means to obtain this union. It is called Holy Communion because it unites many into one. Union and charity are the proper effects of this sacrament; if these fruits are not produced in the soul of a religious who so often communicates, she has real cause to be uneasy, for, no matter what virtue may seem to have been produced, without these, Communion has not worked its proper effect in the soul. Before approaching this Holy Sacrament she should therefore renounce all coldness or aversion towards anyone, particularly her sisters.”
(In this instruction Catherine is following the Gospel message: “If you are presenting your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother/sister has something against you, go and be reconciled with your brother/sister first and then come back and present your offering”. - Here Catherine shows that forgiveness is so important in our lives. Often all we are able to say is: ‘I want to want to forgive. Forgiveness is a grace that is God given).
“Having done all in her power, she will still lack something, for the weakness of her nature prevents her from being perfect, but in the Holy Eucharist Jesus Christ comes to assist her to greater success. If these holy mysteries were not only instituted and if we wanted to know who belonged to the new society, we would certainly seek those who had the marks of union and charity and not those who spent the most time in visiting the sick or saying long prayers.” (Note that Catherine McAuley was talking about the ‘new society’ long before David Cameron started talking about the ‘big society’).
Catherine goes on to say that prayer and visiting the sick ‘are very good when accompanied by the virtue that is the proper effect of Communion and when they can be practiced without prejudice to our rules and duties. A religious should mortify all her passions and humours so that Jesus Christ may produce in her soul the effects belonging to this Holy Sacrament. Beg the proper dispositions to obtain all the graces annexed to it. He says, “He that eateth My Flesh and drinketh My Blood abideth in Me and I in him.” If He saw any better means of effecting this union, undoubtedly he would have used them. Mortify your self love and communicate often with the intention of growing in charity. Grace to overcome all impediments to your perfection will be given you in every Communion if you receive with faith and have the ardent desire of advancing in perfection.”
“The religious who perseveres in this constant and unvaried practice of charity, notwithstanding all the coldness she may receive for her services, may be truly said to be preparing others for Communion and may expect to partake of all the sweetness contained in this Holy Sacrament”.
Our works of Mercy are not done for any acclaim we might receive. We all know that what people say to us and say about us is not always the same!
It’s a good time to be looking at Eucharist as we recently had the Eucharistic Congress in Ireland. The theme of the Congress was to be in Communion with Christ and with one another. Over the altar were the words: “Become what you receive” In his message to the Congress Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that in receiving the Eucharist we need to have a deep personal friendship with Jesus Christ. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin told the Congress about two Bishops that he worked with in Rome. One a Polish Bishop had been in a concentration camp for many years. The other from Vietnam had spent many years in prison. Both said that it was the Eucharist that sustained them during this difficult time in their lives.
The symbol of the 50th Eucharistic Congress was a bell. For Christians, the image of the BELL is still used to convey joy, celebration and the announcement of good news. At noon on 30th April the Bell was brought to the Chapel of the Mercy International Centre in Dublin.
In 1985 I attended the Eucharistic Conference in Nairobi. I remember pieces of bread being broken and shared among a huge crowd of people. Some years ago when I was in Lourdes in the city of the poor I saw a picture of the last supper which had the caption: “the bread cannot be shared unless it is broken.”
Catherine’s own experiences of pain helped her to understand this self giving: death of her father, later the death of her mother, being dependant on relatives and friends for a home, death of so many young sisters. On hearing of the death of a young Sister in Limerick Catherine wrote to Elizabeth Moore: “I did not think any event in this world could make me feel so much. I have cried heartily-and implored God to comfort you-I know He will.”
Two poems help us to apply Catherine’s view of the Eucharist to our own lives. The Eucharist is about self giving, self bestowal.
The first is on Catherine’s all embracing love by Sr. Catherine Quane, Wanstead
Her apologia never penned
Yet written in our hearts.
Her deeds live on in us who strive
God's mercy to impart.
The warmth of love is ever felt
In the letters that she wrote-
Affectionately Yours-Her favourite quote
These words we often quote.
Love felt deep in vein and sinew
In the marrow of her bones,
As she walked humbly with her God
Through streets to many homes.
Her love was all embracing
For poor, sick, old and sinner,
For young and old, unlettered and wise;
Her affection always tender.
For those who gave her opposition-
Oft unjustly rendered,
With courage she would point the way
To justice-their deeds hindered.
So what lessons here for us to learn
As we traverse the unmarked road?
An all embracing love to show
As we share each other's load.
Sr. Catherine Quane, Wanstead
He was old, tired and sweaty, pushing his home-made cart down the alley,
Stopping now and then to poke in somebody’s garbage.
I wanted to tell him about Eucharist;
But the look in his eye, the despair on his face,
The hopelessness of somebody else’s life in his cart
Told me to forget it.
So I smiled and said “Hello”,
And gave him
She lived alone,
Her husband dead, her family gone,
And she talked at you, not to you;
Words, endless words, spewed out;
So I listened and gave her
Downtown is good,
Lights change from red to green, and back again.
I gulped them in,
Said, “Thank you Father”,
And made them
I laughed at myself, and told myself,
“You with all your sin and all your selfishness
I forgive you,
I love you,
I accept you.”
And oh, so necessary, too,
To give yourself
Tired, weary, disgusted, lonely,
Go to your friends,
Open your door, say, “look at me”
And receive their Eucharist.
My God, when will we learn you cannot talk about Eucharist,
You cannot philosophize about it,
You DO it?
You don’t dramatise Eucharist,
Sometimes you laugh at it,
Sometimes you cry it; Often you sign it.
Sometimes it is wild peace, then crying hurt, often humiliating,
You see Eucharist in another’s eyes, find it in another’s hands held tight,
Squeeze it with an embrace.
You pause Eucharist in the middle of a busy day,
Like Eucharist with a million things to do, and a person who wants to talk,
For Eucharist is as simple as being on time
And as profound as sympathy.
I give you my supper, I give you my sustenance,
I give you my life, I give you ME,
I give you EUCHARIST.
by R. Voght
That gives us a much broader view of Eucharist than we might be familiar with. Eucharist is self-giving. Jesus gave Himself to us in the Eucharist and he asks us to give ourselves to others. If we are able to do that we will truly be Eucharistic people. Catherine asks in what greater way did Jesus bestow himself to us than in the Eucharist.
Being Eucharist to each other by carrying out the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy.
Eucharist in Greek means giving Thanks. We are sent from Mass to answer our Baptismal call to be Christ for one another. The mission of being sent will never end. Make Christ present in the world. Catherine knew that the Eucharist was a way of life. There is the abundant life Christ bestows on his eucharistic disciples. There are several dimensions drawn from the eucharist
itself – gathering, listening to scripture, confessing a common faith, praying for the Church and the world, confessing sin. Receiving forgiveness, sharing the peace of Christ, offering, giving thanks, remembering Jesus, living by the spirit, receiving communion and embarking on the Eucharistic mission to the world.
Jesus said to them: “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus gave the gift of himself in the Eucharist, Catherine gave the gift of herself – very little she hid from except the tax man at the door in Baggot Street when she had no money.
Catherine encouraged her sisters to make mutual love their favourite virtue. They should study to maintain and cherish it so perfectly amongst themselves that it may be truly said there is in them but one heart and one soul in God. This love for one another should be such as to emulate the union of the blessed in heaven.