On his way to Rome, Eugene hoped to arrive in Civitavecchia in time to celebrate Mass on the Feast of the Assumption. At that time one had to fast from midnight in order to receive Communion the next day. Eugene had in fact fasted for over 24 hours in the hope of celebrating Mass on this feast, but never got the opportunity.

On the question of Eucharistic practices that have changed today, I find Eugene’s description of something he saw on this journey on how Communion was brought to the dying:

 … At Livorno. I was witness to a religious spectacle that] rubbed salt in my wounds. You know how I suffer at the unworthy manner holy viaticum is brought to the sick at Marseilles and you were often as vexed as I was. Well, listen now to how it ought to be done and how it is done at Livorno. When there is no urgency, one waits until nightfall. Then the Blessed Sacrament, borne by a priest in cope and large humeral veil, issues majestically from the church beneath a large canopy of four if not six poles. It is preceded by forty or so at least members of the confraternity, torches in hand, followed by a priest carrying the small canopy that is needed in the stairway. Accompanied by an immense throng all reciting aloud the Miserere. At the toll of the bell all windows in a thrice are lit up from the first to the fourth floor. There are lamps, candles large and small and candelabras and, as the sick person’s house is neared, eight to ten relatives or friends come forward, torches in hand, in front of the Blessed Sacrament and join the procession. While the sacrament is administered to the sick person, those assisting remain at the door and recite aloud Our Lady’s litanies and other prayers. The journey back is done in like fashion save that as the church is neared the Te Deum is sung. Admit that this is wonderful and that one cannot help waxing indignant when making comparisons with the way we do it.

Letter to Henri Tempier, 15 August 1833, EO VIII n 453.

Times and customs have certainly changed over the centuries, but the need for a respectful Eucharistic devotion shown in contemporary expressions continues.

This entry was posted in WRITINGS. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Eleanor Rabnett says:

    There are precious few canopies in our time. The priest does not always wear a black cassock and some of our churches are poorer than others. The Eucharistic vessels are not always made of silver and gold; some have been carved, shaped and molded by a parishioner who has given the gift of himself in creating them for all of us to receive from.

    I think of Jesus riding into Jerusalem – on a donkey – no grand caravan, no canopies – people waving palms and singing, walking along side and around, with the dust being kicked up. I imagine that the people wore what they had –for the majority of them would not have had big wardrobes.
    In our Church there are many who come from different parts of the world, different cultures and different practices – as they say “all are welcome” and it is a joy to see how each of them in their own way express their respect and reverence, their longing and their joy.

    The early Christians, gathered together – holding out their hands to receive a piece of bread, holding a cup to their lips. There may have been a chant or some singing – perhaps it was in the silence born out of awe and gratitude – the awe and joy of those present.

    Often during the Consecration at Mass as the priest, the presider utters the words – this is my Body… and proceeds to hold up the Bread, the Body of Christ, many bow their heads – in reverence, in respect. And there are others who like myself look directly at the Bread, at the Body of Christ – there is awe and wonder, respect and deep longing. I will bow with the priest but my entire being is focussed on my Beloved.

    Indeed times and some practices have changed- but only the externals. The Body of Christ, the Eucharist is still the same. We still come together to celebrate and to receive the most precious gift of life. And even though it is communal it is deeply personal. We gather in longing and love and we share and receive with immense joy and gratitude. Our reverence and respect is to be found in both our demeanor and our beings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *