Lift Up My Soul: 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton
After her husband’s death, while St. 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.
The Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” (Lumen gentium 11)
The 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.
Nourished by the Eucharist
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.”
“What is my life when I do not live in God?” St. Elizabeth Ann Seton
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 St. 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.”
The Eucharist in Your Life
As Catholics, we know that Jesus is present body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Eucharist. When the priest repeats the words of Christ, “This is my body . . . this is my blood,” heaven kisses earth, and Jesus is physically there. Far from being a mere symbol, Jesus offers us His body and His blood. But do you really believe it?
St. Elizabeth practically ran to receive him. But to us has it become routine? The Eucharist feeds and sustains us. Without it, we spiritually starve.
Make preparing for and receiving the Eucharist a priority:
- Learn more about the Eucharist, in the Bible (e.g., John 6, Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:27-29, Luke 22:19-20), the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or other spiritual works.
- Take time to prepare to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. The Church asks that we fast for at least an hour before receiving the Eucharist. You can also:
- Go to confession
- Ask God to give you a desire for the Eucharist
- Pray for a deeper belief in the Eucharist
- Arrive at Mass early so you can pray and quiet your soul
- Meditate on Scripture passages
- Reverence Jesus in the Eucharist (dress well, genuflect before entering the pew, bow or genuflect before receiving him, make the sign of the Cross after receiving him)
- Thank God for coming to us in the Eucharist by whispering or speaking these words in the quiet of your heart:
- When the priest says “This is my body” and elevates the host, you can say, “My Lord and my God”
- When the priest says “This is my blood” and elevates the chalice, you can say, “Lord Jesus, mercy”
- Receive the Eucharist more frequently by attending a daily Mass during the week in addition to Sunday Mass
- Spend time with Jesus in the Eucharist by attending adoration. It doesn’t have to be an entire holy hour. Even if you can spend just five minutes with Jesus in adoration, He will bless you.
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
Question for Reflection
Do I believe that the Eucharist is really and truly the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ? Why or why not?
These reflections are based on 15 Days of Prayer with Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton by Betty Ann McNeil, D.C.