Jesus Christ is still present among His brothers and sisters two thousand years after His initial appearance. Article 7 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) from the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (1962-1965) declared:
. . . Christ is always present in His Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations. He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass, not only in the person of His minister, “the same now offering, through the ministry of priests, Who formerly offered Himself on the Cross”, but especially under the Eucharistic species. By His power He is present in the Sacraments, so that when a man baptizes it is really Christ Himself Who baptizes. He is present in His word, since it is He Himself Who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church. He is present, lastly, when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:20) .
Christmas affords us an excellent opportunity to reflect well on the Most Blessed Sacrament and to ask ourselves how we reverence the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
Jesuit Father Segundo Llorente (1906-1989) was an outstanding missionary to the faithful of Alaska. A brilliant and humble priest, Father Llorente spent himself in the service of the indigenous of Alaska for decades.
Years ago, in a meditation entitled “Strange Things Happen on the Night of Christmas,” this Spanish religious offered his thoughts on the adoration due the Most Blessed Sacrament. This powerful essay, which was published in the February 1998 newsletter of the Catholic Society of Evangelists, seems more pertinent now than when it first was penned.
A priest told me what happened to him once in his first parish. After the Midnight Mass on Christmas Day he personally locked the church. With the keys in his pocket he went to his room and had a good sleep. At 7:30 in the morning he got up and went back to the church intending to have one hour of prayer all to himself. He opened the side door leading to the sacristy, turned on a light and then turned on the lights for the church. As he opened the sacristy door and walked into the church, he literally froze. Strange people clad in the poorest of clothes occupied most of the pews and all were in total silence. No one so much as wiggled and nobody cared to look at him. A small group was standing by the Nativity Scene contemplating the manger in total silence.
The priest recovered quickly and in a loud voice asked them how they got in. Nobody answered. He walked closer to them and asked again. “Who let you in?” A woman answered totally unconcerned: “Strange things happen on the night of Christmas.” And back to total silence. The priest went to check the main door and found it locked just as he had left it. He was now determined to get the facts and turned his face to the pews; but they were empty. The people had vanished.
He kept this puzzle to himself for some time. Unable to hold it in any longer, he told me just what I have told you. Could I help with any plausible explanation? Let me hurry to say that the priest in question is a model of sanity and is as well educated academically as most of the priests I know, if not better.
My explanation was and still is as follows. Those were dead people who were doing their purgatory, or part of it, in the church. It is safe to assume that we atone for our sins where we committed them. Those people were immersed in total silence. Why? Consider the irreverences committed before the Blessed Sacrament; how many people act out in church: chatting, giggling, and looking around. After Mass some people gather in small groups around the pews and turn the church into a market place with no regard for Christ’s Real Presence in the tabernacle. Why did they vanish? They did not vanish. They simply became invisible; but they remained tied to their pews unable to utter one single word to atone for their disrespectful chatter while living.
The Blessed Sacrament is no laughing matter. There is a price tag to all we do or say. In the end it is God Who gets the last laugh—so to speak. Those people had to give the Blessed Sacrament the adoration and respect that Christ deserves. For how long? Only God can answer that. Why did the priest see them? So he could pray for them and for all other Poor Souls detained in other churches. Why other priests do not see these people? Well, perhaps they already know in theory that souls can be detained in churches as well as anywhere else, so they do not need a miracle.
Why were they clad in such poor clothes? To atone for their vanity while living. People often use clothes not so much to cover their nakedness but as a status symbol to impress others. But God is not impressed by, say, mink coats. Also people walk into church with hardly any clothes. In the summer months it is not unusual for people—mostly women—to go to receive Holy Communion in the most indecent clothing. The pastor may or may not put up with it; but God will have His day in court about this. Rags could be an appropriate punishment for these excesses.
Absent an official declaration from the Church that the above episode recounted by Father Llorente is true, one may dismiss it. But the deeper meaning cannot be summarily rejected, namely, that the Sacred Heart of Emmanuel, Who comes to us, is really, truly and substantially present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar and is to be “praised, adored and loved with grateful affection at every moment in all the tabernacles of the world, even until the end of time. Amen.”