(LifeSiteNews) – A priest friend with whom I have exchanged correspondence for years and who has often said Masses for my family’s intentions, wrote to me recently to share three mystical experiences he has received in connection with reverence to be given to the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
He tells me that while reading my book The Holy Bread of Eternal Life, in particular the chapter on Communion in the hand, he recalled when he was a high school senior seminarian in 1977 at Crosier Seminary, Onamia, MN, and was shown how to receive Holy Communion in the hand by a teacher who cited St. Cyril of Alexandria as evidence that “this is how it was done in the early Church.” Nevertheless, the seminarian chose to continue receiving in the mouth and did so until he went to the Josephinum, where all students were forced to receive in the hand—a practice he always detested.
Now I shift to his own words:
When I was newly ordained 32 years ago, I was aware that priests traditionally closed the canonical fingers after the Consecration, but I had no desire to follow that rubric as virtually no priest I knew was still doing that and I did not think it was necessary. However, I found that I had a strong impulse to close these fingers after the Consecration. I ignored it for a while, but the impulse became so strong that it seemed my canonical fingers were closing against my will. It seemed to me this must be a grace from the Holy Spirit so I simply began to follow that old rubric and have continued ever since, even though it got me labeled as a strange “Trad.”
Here, Father is referring to the old rubric, which dates back to the Middle Ages and is found codified in the 1570 Missale Romanum of St. Pius V, that bids the priest hold together his thumb and forefinger from the moment of Consecration all through Communion until the ablutions (the cleansing of the fingers and vessels). The rationale was to minimize the possibility of losing particles from the hosts that the priest has handled, and to remind him that he is indeed handling the sacred mysteries, which are a heavenly food unlike any other. Younger clergy today have rediscovered this custom and reintroduced it even in the context of the Novus Ordo.
The priest continues:
I felt a strong desire to offer reparation for priests who are too casual in their regard for the Sacred Species, so I told the good Lord I would be willing to offer such reparation in any way I could. This resulted in another very specific impulse. I had always been very careful to purify my paten before I left to distribute Holy Communion, and the impulse was that I should ask the Holy Angels who surround the Altar at Mass to gather any fragments of the Sacred Species that may have fallen and put them on my paten so that I could purify my Paten a second time when I returned from distributing Holy Communion. After I made this request, it never failed to happen that when I returned from distribution, my paten had visible particles of the Sacred Host on it. I am not certain if these Particles always came from those in attendance at my Mass or were gathered from other Masses being offered at the same time somewhere else, but it did not matter to me. It proved to me how the Angels are protective of the Sacred Species. They are concerned and are able to assist. The evidence was clear and inspiring. I told other priests of my experience but the reaction was either sceptical or a polite “that’s nice…”
One of the gravest problems in the reformed liturgy is its lack of appropriately detailed rubrics for handling and distributing the Eucharist in such a way that particles will not be lost—particles that the Fathers of the Church compare to gold dust and pearls. St. Thomas Aquinas in his magnificent Sequence Lauda Sion notes that Christ is wholly present under even the appearance of the smallest bit of bread thanks to the miracle of transubstantiation. Anyone who has handled altar breads will know that while they mostly hold together, they will shed crumbs now and again. The traditional rubrics made a point of always have a corporal or a paten underneath a consecrated host, wherever it was, so that such crumbs could be collected and consumed.
Lastly, my priest friend was given a glimpse of what is true in any church:
My parish had a mission. Upon driving over for the early Mass, I unlocked the door. As soon as I did so, I could hear a group of men and women very devoutly praying the Rosary. They were praying in a way one does not normally hear in group recitations. My first reaction (I am ashamed to admit) was annoyance. I thought to myself, “Don’t they know it is too early to begin the Rosary!” I proceeded into the sacristy and continued to listen to such devout prayer. I decided then to open the sacristy door and look out into the church. As soon as I opened the sacristy door, the praying stopped. The church was empty. I then realized of course the church had to be empty. There were no cars in the parking lot, and since I always arrived quite early, no one from my parish had been in the church. I realized then that it must have been Purgatorial souls praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It is a well known that God in His mercy sometimes allows the poor souls to pray in church in front of the Blessed Sacrament if they were devoted to the Eucharistic Lord during their lifetimes or to do at least some of their Purgatorial cleansing in familiar places.
So powerful is the Holy Eucharist that it not only spans countries and continents to unite believers everywhere to Christ, but also reaches across the ages to unite us to the Apostles and Church Fathers and every generation, and across the boundaries of life and death as it joins the Church Triumphant in heaven, the Church Militant on earth, and the Church Suffering in Purgatory. It is truly the mysterium fidei, the great Mystery of Faith, for which we can never be too well-prepared or give too much thanks. Surely what Pope John Paul II called “Eucharistic amazement” is enkindled by these stories of a good and holy priest, which remind us of the fundamentals of our faith. We are very much in danger of overlooking these fundamentals or even of denying them in practice, which leads us to the “practical atheism” that the same pope diagnosed among those who claim to believe—a practical atheism that which has returned, in ever-stranger forms, in the world of COVID, as Eucharistic irreverence and sacrilege have found new expressions and excuses.
When I asked my friend if I could share his missive, he said:
Yes, you may certainly go ahead and share what I’ve written; perhaps it will inspire others as well. These experiences continue to impact me to this day and surely made me more aware of the great sacredness of the Holy Eucharist. I must also say they inspired me to personally purify the sacred linens before letting them be laundered by others—a practice long foregone by most priests.
God grants spiritual experiences like this as a powerful reminder, to their recipient and to those with whom he comes into contact, of the awesomeness of the invisible mysteries we profess and venerate.