Blog Post

Saint Francis of Assisi: Champion of the Eucharist

The Last Communion of St. Francis by Peter Paul Rubens

by Theresa Cavicchio, OFS

The feast of Saint Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226 A.D.) is celebrated each year on October 4th, often with commemorations of his renowned devotion to all of God’s creation. Some of the faithful take beloved pets to receive a special blessing in his name. Others recall his care for the environment, a particularly timely topic dear to the heart of Pope Francis. Still others renew their attraction to his life of simplicity and poverty.

Two critically important aspects of Francis’ spirituality, however, rise head and shoulders above these more earth-bound concerns. We can view these as two sides of the same coin, so to speak, so intrinsically are they bound together – the Incarnation, and the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The Mystery of the Incarnation

Francis’ undying wonder at the reality of the Incarnation – the very Son of God deigning to take on a human nature – was reflected throughout his ministry, with fellow human beings and indeed all of creation.

In his Foreword to Franciscan Christmas, by Kathleen M. Carroll, the late Father Jack Wintz, O.F.M., wrote: “Somehow [Francis] realized that when the Word entered the world of creation and became flesh, everything was profoundly changed. If God became a part of the created world in the birth of Jesus Christ, then the dignity of all creatures was raised dramatically to a new height … Not only was the human nature made holy by the Incarnation; the whole fabric of creation was also charged with the divine presence” (vi, vii).

Francis’ captivation with the Incarnation became famously evident at Christmas of 1223 A.D. As Kathleen M. Carroll explains: “History credits Francis of Assisi with beginning the tradition of the Christmas creche … when [he] invited the townspeople of Greccio, Italy, to come to a cave outside town and reenact the first Christmas” (vii). Accounts of the event attest to Francis’ highly emotional reaction to the humble setting so reminiscent of that at Bethlehem, and to the re-presentation of the miraculous event that occurred there.

In his Apostolic Letter Admirable Signum (On the Meaning and Importance of the Nativity Scene), Pope Francis states: “All those present [at Greccio] experienced a new and indescribable joy in the presence of the Christmas scene. The priest then solemnly celebrated the Eucharist over the manger, showing the bond between the Incarnation of the Son of God and the Eucharist … The creche allows us to see and touch this unique and unparalleled event that changed the course of history, so that time would thereafter be reckoned either before or after the birth of Christ” (2, 8).

Our medieval saint, and the present-day Holy Father sharing his name, teach us to approach Jesus’ assuming a human nature with wonder and thanksgiving.

The Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Eucharist

Francis’ belief in what Father Wintz termed “the divine presence” was evidenced in his unwavering certainty that Jesus Himself is fully present in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Francis of Assisi: Volume 1, The Saint is a comprehensive collection of resources on the humble man who continues to influence so many souls nearly eight hundred years after his passing. Included in the volume are many of Francis’ writings, much food for contemplation.

The following quotes from one of Francis’ Admonitions summarize his wonder at the Eucharistic Presence, and reverence for our Blessed Mother and the holy priesthood. “Behold, each day He humbles Himself as when He came from the royal throne into the Virgin’s womb; each day He Himself comes to us, appearing humbly; each day He comes down from the bosom of the Father upon the altar in the hands of a priest.”

“ … Let us, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, see and firmly believe that they are His most holy Body and Blood living and true. And in this way the Lord is always with His faithful, as He Himself says: Behold, I am with you until the end of the age” (see Mt 28:20).

From Francis’ A Letter to the Entire Order comes his exhortation to priests: “See your dignity, [my] priest brothers, and be holy because He is holy. As the Lord God has honored you above all others because of this ministry, for your part love, revere and honor Him above all others. It is a great misery and a miserable weakness that when you have Him present in this way, you are concerned with anything else in the whole world!”

Immediately following, some of Francis’ most passionate, soaring language challenges us to strive toward greater depths of belief in the Real Presence, and to a total giving and receiving . “Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exult when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest! O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread! Brothers, look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!”

Many aspects of Franciscan spirituality still resonate today with countless individuals worldwide, Christian and non-Christian, eight centuries after the little poor man of Assisi walked the earth, perhaps most significant the two upon which this reflection is based.

The current National Eucharistic Revival affords the ideal opportunity to celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi by emulating his profound belief in and reverence for the Incarnation and Real Presence of our Eucharistic Lord, and putting these into action in our daily lives as he did.

© All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®