15 Days of Prayer The Eucharist

Day Six | The Eucharist: “Real Presence”

15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton | by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.

After her husband’s death, while Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton waited for the ship that would take her back to America, she stayed with his friends and business partners, the Filicchis. With them, she visited the churches and shrines of Italy, attended her first Catholic Mass, and began to learn about the Eucharist.

15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann SetonThe Filicchis explained the Church’s teaching on transubstantiation and the Real Presence to her, and Elizabeth, much to her surprise, found herself more attracted than repelled. “[H]ow happy we would be if we believed what these dear souls believe,” she wrote to her sister-in-law, “that they possess God in the sacrament and that he remains in their churches and is carried to them when they are sick.”

She knew she should reject the idea out of hand. Her Episcopalian faith taught that the Eucharist was a sacrilege. Yet, somehow, it didn’t feel like a sacrilege. It felt true. And so, one day, while Elizabeth was out walking, a Eucharistic procession passed her by. She later recalled, “I fell on my knees without thinking … and cried in an agony to God to bless me if he was there, that my whole soul desired only him.”

When Elizabeth finally returned home, she was determined to become Catholic. If God was there, to be received, she wanted to receive him.

Her family, however, did everything they could to stop her. For a time, Elizabeth was thrown into a black hole of doubt. But then, one day, during an Episcopalian communion service, her mind was changed. It was, she decided, nothing more than a pantomime of the Mass. And what was the point of that? “If I left the house a Protestant,” she wrote, “I returned to it a Catholick.”

Her mind would never change back.

The night before her First Communion, Elizabeth lay awake, “burning” to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The next day, she raced to church, writing that her feet seemed to not touch the ground “every step of the two miles.” Finally, the moment came. “At last GOD IS MINE and I AM HIS,” she wrote in her journal that night

For the rest of her life, Elizabeth’s profound faith and zeal for service were nourished by the Eucharist. The Eucharist led Elizabeth toward ministry and sustained her during periods of depression and dryness. “This Heavenly bread of angels removes my pains, my cares—warms, cheers, soothes, contents, and renews my whole being,” she wrote. It also, she recognized, drew her into “Divine Communion, which neither absence nor Death…can destroy the bond of Faith and Charity uniting all.”

When we receive the Eucharist, we are drawn into that same communion, with Jesus Christ, with the Father and Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the angels and saints, including Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton. The same graces that nourished her soul are waiting for us in the Body and Blood of Christ. Faith, hope, love, peace, joy, strength, comfort, consolation, healing—all are to be found in the Eucharist. Like Elizabeth, therefore, we should run to Holy Communion with confidence and joyful expectation, knowing that there, when we receive God reverently and worthily, “God is mine, and I am his.”

In the Words of Mother Seton

“How happy is that moment O divine JESUS! How pure is that Light! How ineffable is that Communion of your Blessings! (…) Ah! If one were faithful, if one never departed from You, if one knew how to preserve the Grace received, how happy would one be! Yet this is but a drop of the infinite Ocean of Blessings which You are one day to Communicate to men and women…. O! Soul of my Soul, what is my Soul and what Good can it have without possessing You! Life of my Life! What is my life when I do not live in You? Is it possible that my Heart is capable of possessing You? Of enjoying You all alone? (…) Can a creature be so elevated to repose in You, and after that depart from You! Lord, I do not know what I ought to say to You, but hear the Voice of my Love, and of my Misery. Live always in me, and let me live perpetually in You, and for You, as I live only by You.”
– Elizabeth Ann Seton to Cecilia Seton, July 8, 1807

Reflection Questions

  • Do I believe that the Eucharist is really and truly the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ?
  • How do I prepare to receive the Eucharist?
  • How do I thank God after receiving Holy Communion?
  • What does the Eucharist teach us about God’s love for us and how we are to love others?