Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Maria Teaches Me About the Eucharist

by Patrick Murphy-Racey


I always look forward to Sunday hospital visits. Yesterday, I knocked first and entered a room up on the fifth floor of what I still call, "St. Mary's North." I always introduce myself and explain exactly why I'm there.

"Are you Maria? Would you like to receive Holy Communion today?" The answer was a very emphatic "YES!" So I entered the room, closed the door behind me and walked toward a friendly and smiling 74-year-old Maria.

As I approached her bed, she expanded on her answer. "I'd love to receive communion but I can't." Immediately, I'm thinking she is in an "irregular marriage," or has some other impediment that would keep her from the Lord's table.

I then hesitantly asked, "Can I ask you why you can't receive?"

"I have no saliva," was Maria's response.

Maria then explained to me that seven years ago her doctor discovered cancer in her mouth and a very invasive surgery took almost all of her upper palate and left her with just three of her original upper teeth.

I'm saddened, as this lady really wants to receive, so I counter with another idea.

"I'm headed to 11 a.m. Mass after I leave here and I could bring you back some of the precious blood."

"No," Maria says with a frown, "the alcohol will burn the inside of my mouth if I took it that way. Without the saliva, it's impossible."

Now I'm bummed as Maria has started to tear up. I came to offer hope, but it seems I only cause her to cry. I can see how badly she wants to receive communion, but there is just no way for that to happen. She begins to tell me about her longing for the Lord, and how difficult it has been for the last seven long years of not being able to receive.

Now, I'm determined to somehow help her... but how?

Then I got an idea.

I asked Maria to hold out her hand and she placed her open palm in my left hand. I opened the pyx and took out a host and placed it in her outstretched palm. Then I closed her fingers over the host and hold her hand with both of mine.

"Maria," I say, "you are holding Jesus Christ in your hand now. Do you feel how close He is to you now?" She cannot answer as tears now stream down her face and sobs come from deep down in her chest. Her husband stands at her side on the other side of her hospital bed, his head bowed down in respect.

We prayed the "Our Father" together. After a few more minutes of her thanking me profusely, I opened her hand, took the host and said quietly, "May almighty God bring us to everlasting life." Then I consumed the host.

These last few weeks, the gospels have all been about the "Bread of Life." I found new meaning Sunday in Deacon Bob's excellent homily about that bread, but also from a holy woman of God who suffers from her longing for that which she cannot have.

Later on at Mass, I could not stop thinking about Maria. Then I realized the Psalm response was, "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord...." I was sad, thinking about my encounter earlier that day. Maria has had no sense of taste or smell for the last seven years!

Before leaving the hospital room, I explained to Maria the difference between Anointing of the Sick and Viaticum. I described a possible solution of one day being buried with the Eucharist on her tongue. When I explained this possibility, she was overwhelmed with joy and told me and her husband that that's what she wanted to do.

St. Augustine once prayed a simple and short prayer about Holy Communion that was no less deep and thought provoking. "May we become that which we receive." Seven perfect words. May we receive the body of Christ and become Him.

The deep yearning that Maria shows challenged me on Sunday. Do I take for granted that which is intended to change and transform me into Christ for others? It's a tough question.

In my own life as a deacon, I hold in tension my own veneration of the Eucharist with being sometimes tired, letting my mind wander, or worse, not intentional about opening my heart fully up to listen to the rites of Mass.

It's essential that we not waste for ourselves what Maria cannot have. We need to guard against daydreaming in front of a miracle each week. We need to cherish the Lord Jesus as he enters our body. Maria certainly received Holy Communion Sunday, but it was by desire. How fortunate are most of us that can receive the real presence of Christ right into our very bodies!

I know Maria's longstanding yearning for the Eucharist will continue to minister to me for years to come. She is a holy woman of God and loves the Mass out at St. Thomas the Apostle. Though we only spent 20 minutes together last Sunday, she made a deep and abiding impression upon me. I will not soon forget her suffering or the love she obviously has for Jesus Christ, or her constant desire to "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.