Peter Julian Eymard and the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar
God is there, present in His Divine Son, on the altar, captured beneath the tangible appearances of bread and wine. This is the Mystery of our Faith: Christ truly present, body and blood, soul and divinity on the Catholic altars of the world. This is the Corpus Christi celebrated in centuries-old liturgies and neighborhood processions. This reality of our Eucharistic Lord and God is the heart of Catholicism, the source of its divine fire, a source which is a stumbling block to an unbelieving world.
Unfortunately, many of the faithful fall prey to the world’s skepticism. That is when God chooses willing souls to reveal the divine fulfillment of man’s yearnings. Such a chosen soul was Francis of Assisi, whose life of poverty revitalized a materialistic world. Another was Margaret Mary who spread devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, battled the devil and touched souls in the confessional. Yet another was Peter Julian Eymard, the Saint of the Eucharist, who lived only for this Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Devoted to the Blessed Sacrament as a Little Boy
For Peter Julian Eymard, who was born in La Mure d’Isere, France, on Feb. 4, 1811, visits to the Blessed Sacrament were as much a daily necessity as food and drink. According to the book, St. Peter Julian Eymard, The Priest of the Eucharist by Rev. Albert Tesniere, SSS, (Eymard League, New York, l962), his mother had set aside frequent time with Christ in the tabernacle and Peter, first as infant, and soon as an active little boy, accompanied his mother without complaint.
Although there is no record of what the youngster thought about this, it is known that at age five, he was found praying while on a ladder behind the tabernacle at church. Why? “Because I can listen to Him better from here” (p.12). Soon he expressed the desire to be a priest and had written in his journal, “Holy Communion – the ambition of my eighth year – the goal of all my efforts” (p.15). He served Mass, read Saints’ lives, and visited the Blessed Sacrament while making deliveries for his father, who was an oil presser.
At age ten, Peter Julian thought nothing extraordinary of making a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Laus in another town for a retreat. There he poured out his heart to his heavenly Mother and she, in turn, directed him in ways of grace, as she would later on in his life.
The Trials Begin To Test His Destiny As A Priest
As Peter Julian came of age, his father wished to set him up in business and arrange for a marriage. Peter, who usually obeyed his father willingly in all things, refused. He already had been studying Latin in preparation for the priesthood. But Mr. Eymard was adamant, refusing permission and funding for his son to go to school.
This was the first example of the opposition to what Peter Julian discerned to be God’s will for him. Such trials honed his perseverance and trust in Providence to a fine point. Peter Julian attained his education by becoming a scholarship student and doing janitorial duties. To earn his tuition later on, he even worked as a secretary and servant to a chaplain at an insane asylum. After he finally entered the novitiate of the fledgling Oblates of Mary Immaculate, he was forced by illness to return home in six months: another setback to his priestly calling!
Powered by the Blessed Sacrament, Close to the Blessed Mother
It was only after Peter Julian’s father died the next year that he was able to enter the Major Seminary of Grenoble and resume his studies. It was like coming home at last and Peter Julian’s pursuit of holiness reached new levels. A fellow student wrote: “His love of God shone forth in all his actions; …visiting frequently the Blessed Sacrament caused his fervor to grow daily …His mere presence inspired us with love for virtue” (p. 26). He was considered “truly a model” (p. 27) by his counterparts, as they noted in their own writings.
Peter Julian saw himself in another light. He felt he did not pray enough. “I have not sufficiently shown my love for Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament” (p. 27), because of distractions during meditation. He strove for “greater interior silence in God’s presence” (p.27), greater humility.
On July 20, 1834, Peter Julian Eymard was ordained He offered his first Mass in a monastery dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, who had sustained him in his quest for the priesthood.
At the feet of the Tabernacled God
What happens to a parish with a saint-in-the-making for a pastor? In the five years Fr. Eymard served as diocesan priest in Chatte and Monteynard, the spirituality of his congregations deepened. The poor, the sick, the sinful, were inspired by this humble servant: his preaching on the love of the Eucharistic Lord and his hours of adoration before this Love of his life drew them to him and fired their lives with the same love of God.
For Fr. Eymard, his outward labors were a “Calvary of obedience, of self-denial, and of crucifixion.” He preferred to dwell “at the feet of (his) tabernacled God” (p.38).
In 1839, Fr. Eymard began his sojourn with the Society of Mary. Hardly had he learned of the Order’s existence than he knew it was the place for him. He sought and received – after prayer and much soul-searching – permission to leave the ranks of the diocesan priesthood and become a servant of his Blessed Lady as a Marist.
Like Father Ciszek, St. Peter Julian Eymard Found God’s Will in Obedience to Providence (Circumstance)
Peter Julian saw before him his life’s task: sanctity. He also saw that to accomplish this, he should be “in a state of perfect self-surrender and of abnegation” (p. 42), to let himself be guided to do the immediate good. Obeying the wishes of God as revealed by his religious superiors was one way to do this.
Thus Fr. Eymard humbly accepted the almost immediate appointment as spiritual director at the Order’s boarding school at Belley, where he became a source of inspiration. He breathed new life into the students’ Sodality of the Blessed Virgin there and at a nearby cathedral. His influence was to such a degree that a student said, “When Fr. Eymard comes, how happy we are; we feel all afire” (p.46). Fr. Eymard was afire as well, his dominant thought being His Lord and God in the Blessed Sacrament.
The Blessed Virgin has led me to Our Lord
It was while wearing the blue cape of Mary’s Society – soon as the Order’s Provincial, Assistant and Visitor Generals, Director of the soon revitalized Third Order of Mary, and later as superior at a boarding school – that Fr. Eymard made his total commitment to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He liked to say that “the Blessed Virgin has led me to Our Lord” (p.42). In fact, she provided a training ground for him as his thoughts became concentrated on spreading devotion to the Eucharistic Lord.
The pull of Christ on Fr. Eymard’s life was continuous and strong. Our Lord revealed to him that a congregation dedicated to adoring the Eucharistic Christ was going to be his life’s work (p.54) and then, in l853, while at prayer, Fr. Eymard was shown by Our Lord that the time had come for this work to begin, even if it meant leaving everything, including his home for 17 years, his beloved Marist Order.
From the Marists to the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament
The decision to leave the Society of Mary met with great opposition from his Superiors and only Fr. Eymard’s conviction that he was doing God’s will sustained him. Eventually he was released from his vows as a Marist and with his friend, Fr. deCuers, set about the work of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament. Property was leased from the Archbishop of Paris and on the Feast of Corpus Christi, June l, l856, the first house of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament opened on rue l’Enfer.
Just because a work of God is undertaken doesn’t mean things are destined to run smoothly. In fact, the opposite appears to occur. Vocations were slow in coming. Priests who came did not persevere. Money donations were few – a constant worry to Fr. deCuers – so that the purchase of even so small an item as altar candles was at times questionable. And hardly had enough vocations allowed Solemn Exposition to begin than notification came that the priests would have to move because the building would be needed by the new archbishop of Paris.
Trials Further Refine his Trust in Divine Providence
With characteristic trust in Divine Providence, Fr. Eymard depended on God to show him the place that would be suitable. And so it was. A scant few days before the eviction from rue l’Enfer, another home for the Congregation was found at rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques, destined to become, as Fr. Eymard called it, the “Chapel of Miracles” (p.99). From this location, the Order began to grow, the effects of their Eucharistic apostolate reaching deeply into the souls of all with whom they came into contact. No small part in this growth was played by Fr. Eymard himself who preached about his Eucharistic Lord at every chance.
The Purpose of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament
The Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament had a two-fold purpose in Fr. Eymard’s mind:
- First and foremost was perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
- The other mission of the Order was the promotion of Eucharistic devotion, not only through Eucharistic leagues for priests and laity but in bringing Christ to the unchurched.
Those youth who had not received their First Communion or had not even been instructed in their Faith were Fr. Eymard’s targets.
Catechizing these stray sheep was an important job for the new religious order. Through the youth, the adults were reached, marriages validated. Fr. Eymard sponsored retreats, performed marriages, conducted First Communion celebrations for the poor families he sought out.
The following years were busy for Fr. Eymard. Three houses had to be established before formal canonical approbation could be given for the Order from Rome. As the Congregation’s reputation grew, other cities wanted their presence. Marseilles, in 1859, saw the foundation of the second house of the Congregation, under the direction of Fr. deCuers. There, with Fr. Leroyer, the Congregation bore much fruit. Within two years, the People’s Eucharistic League — formed for lay adorers for the Blessed Sacrament – numbered 3000.
A third house came in 1862 in Angers. Fr. Eymard had spent a long time there trying to find a house. Everything seemed to work against him. Finally, he decided to stop at a Carmelite Monastery to beg for prayers. After telling the nuns what he needed, the Mother Superior said their church was available if the priests would be their chaplains.
With the third house established, the Order sought and received canonical approval, the letter arriving on the eve of Corpus Christi, June 3, 1863.
As the Congregation Grew, Eymard Establishes the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament
In addition to work with the men’s Order, Fr. Eymard established a religious order for women, the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. They were named for Our Blessed Lady who had likened herself to a Servant of God; their purpose was adoration and catechizing of young girls who had not been instructed in their Faith and/or who had not yet made their First Holy Communion.
Marguerite Guillot had come in contact with Fr. Eymard at one of the schools he had supervised. She placed herself under his spiritual direction and they kept up a correspondence for years. When the idea of a religious order for honoring the Blessed Sacrament was made known to Fr. Eymard, he knew it meant Orders for both men and women (p.172) and he had no doubts who would be the eventual superior of the women.
When Providence showed him that the time had come for official formation to begin, Fr. Eymard summoned Miss Guillot and on July l, 1858, the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament were officially established. As with the men’s Order, other houses followed, with canonical approval coming in 1885.
Amid all of this work, establishing religious houses preaching, travelling to Brussels, Jerusalem, and Rome, and the cares of running a religious order, Fr. Eymard continued his personal adoration of his Eucharistic Lord. His preaching drew crowds who saw him for the saint he was. Yet, it was not enough. About a retreat in Rome, Fr. Eymard wrote, “Our Lord has given me to understand that I have hitherto limited myself to exterior manifestations of my love…I have been carried on by the enthusiasm of feverish activity, with the sad result that my piety became emotional, my union with God momentary, and my fervor nothing more than a passing sentiment…” (p.191). His remedy? Immolation of personality. “Our Lord does not ask for my gift but myself” (p.191). He felt he was inconstant in mind, heart and will, not yet concentrating on God enough. He felt he needed greater personal self-denial.
Let us Bless the cross which God sends us…
With this attitude, Fr. Eymard wanted to become a mere member of his religious order. That way he could concentrate on remedying his own weakness. When he convoked the first formal General Chapter meeting, he instructed his brothers not to consider him for Superior General. His request was ignored and he saw in his election a Calvary. “Divine love, it is said, always enters one’s heart by a fresh wound. It takes pleasure in riddling the heart in order that its heavenly flame may penetrate it through and through. Let us bless the cross which God sends us…(p.209).
Further Trials Tempt Eymard’s Faith
The last years of Fr. Eymard’s life were heaped with sufferings. Rheumatism and neuralgia plagued him physically. Spiritually, he experienced great aridity; he described it in his journal: God “draws a veil over one’s mind and crushes one’s heart. He plunges one’s soul into darkness and into temptations against faith and confidence in His goodness; no peace is left to it” (p.225).
The Congregation suffered many setbacks which added deeply to Fr. Eymard’s grief. In l867, the houses on rue du Faubourg Saint-Jacques and in Angers had to be relocated. The unexpected necessity of razing the building found in Angers created a huge debt. The Sisters’ house in Nemours had to be closed as well. In addition, Fr. deCuers, trusted first companion of Fr. Eymard, had requested leave from the Order to start a new one. Fr. Eymard urged him to work at this from within the ranks of the Blessed Sacrament Fathers, but never lived to see Fr. deCuers give up his project and return his whole attention to their Order.
Eventually, Fr. Eymard’s physical ailments reigned over him. He was pain-wracked and subject to paralysis. He was growing weaker, yet he preached Christ in the Eucharist as long as he was able. One of his last admonitions to the faithful was to strive for faith in the Holy Eucharist. “You have the Eucharist! What more do you want?” (p.242).
The Incorrupt Body of St. Peter Julian Eymard
Peter Julian Eymard died Aug. 1, 1868 and was buried in the graveyard of his home parish in La Mure d’Isere. But even in death, he was a lesson to the faithful. In l877, the grave was opened to take the remains to Paris. There it was found that while the coffin was falling to pieces, the body was not.
“There he is! It is indeed he!” witnesses exclaimed. Fr. Eymard was incorrupt, with no odor or sign of decay except a darkening of the body (The Incorruptibles, Cruz, TAN, l977, p. 280).
The body has since decayed and only bones remain which are now encased for veneration in the Corpus Christi Chapel (Tesniere, p. 245). Canonization of the Saint of the Eucharist came in 1962 at the Second Vatican Council.
The essence of Fr. Peter Julian Eymard’s life was Christ present in the Holy Eucharist. In Him all acts were to begin and end. With Him all life could be transformed. But even so elemental a Catholic truth was not and is not universally accepted, even by priests.
Fr. Eymard wrote, “There is no longer question of defending some truth of our Faith, but of defending the God of truth who is attacked everywhere; …of serving Our Lord abandoned in the Blessed Sacrament. We must fight against the great evil of the day: religious indifference…” (p.122). Fr. Eymard burned to bring all to Christ. “Jesus is there! Everybody to Him!” he wrote (p. 127).
Is Adoration Still Possible Today?
Adoration. Not the trifling kind as tossed about in reference to music and movie idols, and even chocolate or perfume, but rather a true, humble bowing to something holy. Such a thing is foreign to our modern minds because of our immense human pride. To adore means to acknowledge One greater and worthy of this honor. Is this relevant in this day and age, when man has elevated himself to deity status?
Perhaps Eucharistic adoration is even more necessary now than in the centuries past. Love for God has grown more cold than ever before. Man is forever seeking purpose and place, a cause upon which to focus, but all of these are fleeting. What he desires can be fulfilled in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. There the spark of the divine is waiting to be fanned into a wildfire of love to truly renew the face of the earth. All that is needed is a humbly bent knee and willing, open hearts. Corpus Christi – the Body of Christ Himself – is there to do the rest.
(Editor’s note: Peter Julian Eymard was canonized during the Second Vatican Council. His feast day is August 2. The Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament has close to a thousand members in 30 countries of the world. The Servants of the Blessed Sacrament are contemplatives with houses in France, Canada, Brazil, Phillippines, Vietnam, and Congo. Here in the United States, they are located in Waterville, Maine, and in Pueblo, Colorado.)
This article, Peter Julian Eymard and the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.