The Great Eucharistic Grace of Anthony Mary Claret
and it’s Apostolic Significance
-- Dr. Noble Mannarath, CMF
2. The Great Eucharistic Grace
3. The Apostolic Significance of the Eucharistic Grace
(i). A Grace of Union with Christ his Head
(ii). An Intense Desire for Prayer
(iii). A Revitalized Apostolic Commitment
4. The Fusion of ‘Martha and Mary’ in Claret
5. Conclusion Abbreviations 1. Introduction
In the apostolic spirituality and in the mystical experiences of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Holy Eucharist played a paramount role. The Eucharistic devotion and the Eucharistic centred life of Claret was one that dominated all through his life. His faithful and regular fulfilment of the Sunday obligations of attending Mass, receiving communion and constant visit to the Blessed Sacrament from the early childhood well attests to this fact. It is important to note that ‘the conversion’ of young Anthony was actualized during the celebration of Holy Mass in Barcelona, where the Word of God went deeply ‘like an arrow in his heart.’ The various writings of Anthony Claret, both autobiographical and others, confirms how vital and affluent was the mystery of the Eucharist in the life of this Eucharistic Saint. The apex of all the Eucharistic centred life of this great Saint is certainly the extraordinary grace of conserving the Eucharistic Species in his heart from the reception of one Holy Communion to the next.
According to John Mary Lozano, what distinguishes our Saint from the other great Latin Saints is “the pre-eminent role of the Eucharist plays in his mystical experiences, both as a source of illumination and as a means of mystical transformation.” For him, the basic characteristics of his Eucharistic life were consisted of the three components of Holy Mass, the Holy Communion and the Eucharistic Adoration. All the more, Claret’s mystical life was eminently Eucharistic. Most of his mystical graces were related to the Eucharist and took place either during Mass or before the Blessed Sacrament; in such a way that the Eucharist was the Sacrament of the mystical union for our great Saint. For Saint Anthony Mary Claret Holy Eucharist was the privileged place to encounter Jesus Christ, firstly as the Real Presence, then as the Sacrifice and later as Communion. 2. The Great Eucharistic Grace
The summit of Anthony Mary’s Claret’s devotion to the Eucharistic Lord and the conformity with Christ the Redeemer was the Great Grace of preserving the Eucharistic species in his heart. Claret describes the account of this great grace in the Lights and Graces for the year 1861: On 26th August, 1861, at 7.00 in the evening while I was at prayer in the church of the Rosary at La Granja, the Lord granted me the great grace of conserving the sacramental species and the Blessed Sacrament present always in my breast, day and night. Therefore, I must always be very recollected and inwardly devout, and I must pray and confront all the evils of Spain, as the Lord has told me.
To this effect, He brought a number of things to my memory, such as how, without any merit, talent, or human efforts, He has lifted me up from the lower ranks of society to its loftiest point. Alongside the kings of earth; and now, alongside the King of Heaven. “Glorify and bear God in your body” (1 Cor 6: 20).
It might be considered as the culmination of all the mystical graces that were taken place in Anthony Claret. The Saint recorded almost literally the experience – except for a few small changes in punctuation and substitution of the words – in the Autobiography he was writing, nine months later, around the middle of May 1862. Though Claret had some doubt initially about whether or not he ought to mention this grace in the Autobiography, he was told by the Blessed Virgin Mary and later by Jesus Himself at Mass not to erase it and conforming “that He had indeed granted me this grace of remaining within me sacramentally.” The truth of this extraordinary grace may be beyond any doubt, even though there can be different interpretation on this august grace. It is confirmed by the reiteration of the Saint himself in his writings and in personal confidences he shared with his close friends. According to Augusto Andrés Ortega, based on the Saint’s balanced and strongly realistic temperament and the stages of his spiritual life in which the phenomenon has occurred – a stage where there was no place for illusions or deceptions of this sort – his statements should be trusted without reserve.
The Saint himself terms the extraordinary grace of preserving the Eucharistic species in his heart as “a great grace.” The only other instance, where Claret uses this similar expression of “great grace” was when writing of the grace of the infused love of enemies that he received a year before his death. The Saint himself understood well that it was the in-corruption of the Sacramental species within him and therefore he believed the constant miraculous presence of Christ in his life from August 26, 1861 until his death. Although such phenomenon are certainly a big question-mark to the law of nature and a transgression to the present day positivistic principles, we are forced to understand it as an exceptional favour of Christ’s ever loving presence bestowed on the soul of Claret by the omnipotent God. 3. The Apostolic Significance of the Eucharistic Grace
What precisely was the nature of this grace as well as its effect in Anthony Claret? Surely the Saint was naturally reserved in sharing of his life with others, and moreover speaking about the spiritual and mystical graces he received from God, unless he was bound to do so under obedience. Concerning this august grace as well, Claret was repugnant in writing down and revealing with others; but it was the affirmation along with intervention from Jesus Christ and Virgin Mary left for his posterity the reminiscence of this splendid grace. However these being the case, still the Saint left us enough indications about the divine intervention in his soul and the profound spiritual effect of it. Claret felt so conspicuously an inner impulse, both for an intense union with Jesus Christ as well to a greater drive of an apostolic vigour. He writes so: “I must always be very recollected and inwardly devout. Furthermore I must pray and confront all the evils of Spain, as the Lord has told me.” The consequence of this grace was then two-fold: an attitude personal with two correlative features and an apostolic commitment.
In the same breath, just after elaborating the ‘great grace,’ Claret continues writing its apostolic meaning for his life. It is quite remarkable to note that like St. Teresa of Avila, Claret did not formulate the conclusions for devoting the rest of his life for exclusively contemplating the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Sacrament hidden within his breast. Rather, in line with his deep vocational identity as the apostolic missionary and evangelizer of the Father, he draws quite distinct conclusions that, although spending a great deal more in prayer and recollection, he must above all commit himself with greater dedication to his apostolic tasks. Such was the intense sense of captivation in the apostolic identification as the prophet-evangelizer of the Father, in the very mould of Jesus Christ and the apostles. Everything, his talents and energy, his time and learning, his struggles and sufferings, his graces and lights, etc., were seen only through the microscope of the apostolate. (i). A Grace of Union with Christ his Head:
Anthony Claret accepted this mystical grace as a pure gratuitous gift of God. It was a grace of union with Christ his head, aimed to serve for his personal sanctification, and also for the benefit of the people of God. At a time when Claret was experiencing a true ‘dark night of the soul’ in the court, this grace could be termed as a consequence for his intense desire for the mystical configuration with Jesus Christ. For Claret, it was like a culmination for a fundamentally Eucharistic-centred life that has been commenced from his early childhood. From another viewpoint, we can also approach this Eucharistic grace as a special gift of Christ’s loving affirmation as well as protection granted to His beloved son Anthony Claret, a real consolation for his disturbed soul that was subjected under perennial calumnies and persecution in those years. And, it was also “a confirmation on the part of the Lord that He is really present in the ‘interior chapel’ of Claret’s heart where his soul like Mary is at the feet contemplating Him.”
In fact, Claret was conscious that “without any merit, talent, or personal recommendation,” the Lord has lifted him “from the lowest of the low to the highest post, at the side of the kings of this earth.” What he states thereafter is so significant: “And now He has put me at the side of the King of Heaven. ‘Glorify God and bear him about in your body’ (1 Cor. 6: 20).” For that reason Claret felt that it was his sacred obligation to live always in the presence of the Lord, being in intense communion with the Lord both in moments of prayer and apostolate. It was this profound sense of communion that led Claret into such a personal and loving conformity with Jesus Christ; ‘to be always very recollected and inwardly devout.’
According to Andrés Ortega, the extraordinary phenomenon of the miraculous conservation of the Eucharistic species belongs to the same class along with the cases of stigmatization, transverberation, etc.; and, it evidently belongs to a state of union, that union which the mystics call ‘transforming.’ For Claret, this ‘great grace’ means entering into the transforming union or the so called ‘mystical marriage with the Lord’. J. Puigdesens, following the norms of the mystical theology calls this phenomenon of Eucharistic grace as an episode of entering into the ‘spiritual or mystical marriage.’ Even though there are differences of opinion whether Claret entered the so-called state of mystical marriage with the very reception of this grace of conservation of the Eucharistic species or only in the later period, we shall nevertheless find an inherent correlation between this “great grace” and the transforming union in Claret.
Anthony Mary Claret’s all consuming love for the Blessed Sacrament, which is an important key to his apostolic spirituality, now transformed him into the suffering and sacrificial Christ, in a real and even mysteriously perceptible way; thus, sacramentalizing the very body of our Saint. All the same, there begun in the life of Anthony Claret, an intense stage of contemplation of the inner mysteries of Jesus Christ as well as an exceptionally passionate living of the apostolic life. Whatsoever the argument is in saying that transforming union has its degrees, this ‘great grace’ surpasses all other mystical phenomenon that occurred in the life of Saint; for in itself, it was certainly the sign and source of the unifying and configuring grace. The inner aspiration of Claret at this stage of 1862 would give us an enhanced understanding about his passionate yearning for the transforming or configuring union with the Eucharistic Lord. My Father, take this poor heart of mine and devour it as I do you, so that I may be changed totally into you. At the word of consecration the substance of bread and wine are changed into the substance of your body and blood. Almighty Lord, consecrate me; speak over me the words that will change me totally into you. (ii). An Intense Desire for Prayer:
The second consequence or effect of this grace could be identified as an intense desire for prayer, which may perhaps be understood as prayer of union and prayer of intercession, an aspect inseparable to the desire for recollection. We know from the beginning of his apostolic missionary life he gave great importance for prayer; both the prayer of thanksgiving and intercession. As he was immersed in hectic apostolic activities, he also was seeking the help of the people, lay and religious, for the success of his mission; also entrusted other people to assist him by prayer. Claret understood how important it was for an evangelizer and apostolic missionary to spend much time in prayer imitating the example of Jesus. It was this fervent prayer and the intense communion with the Eucharistic Lord that formed in him as the source of power for all his missionary work, especially in the midst of vicious sufferings and persecutions. (iii). A Revitalized Apostolic Commitment
: The final effect as well the most important effect of this grace for Claret was the ‘action-apostolate,’ a rejuvenated apostolic commitment. It is particularly noteworthy that the Lord himself gave a meaning to this phenomenon by assigning it a specific purpose: “to confront all the evils of Spain.” We may well recall the political, social, economic, cultural, religious and ecclesial transformation as well as deformation Europe and especially Spain at the time of Anthony Claret was undergoing. The liberal and secular revolutions along with materialism, atheism, rationalism, liberal laicism, religious indifferentism, irreligiousness, anti-church laws, suppression of religious orders, disappearance of the centres of evangelization, the rapid inroads of Protestantism and socialism in to the minds of the people, etc., were menacing the society beyond any description. All these challenges were vividly in his mind when he wrote that he has to confront all the evils of Spain as instructed by the Lord.
Among the abovementioned many ‘evils’ that were troubling Spain and the Church of that time, God illumined him with a new mystical experience as regards to what those evils that were threatening Spain and how to confront them as well. It happened on the very next day, on August 27 1861, after receiving the grace of preserving the Eucharistic species within him. Claret thus writes: On August 27, 1861 in the same church, during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament that I was conducting after Mass, the Lord let me know the three great evils that were menacing Spain: (l) Protestantism, or rather, the loss of the Catholic spirit; (2) the Republic; (3) communism. To combat these three evils, He showed me that three devotions should be practiced: the Trisagion, the Blessed Sacrament, and the Rosary.
These explanations from the Autobiography find a confirmation in his letter written to Fr. Jose Xifre, in which he gave the account of the evils that were threatening Spain and the antidote to counter them. It is noteworthy that both in the Autobiography and in his Lights and Graces, Claret simply offers a summing up of the evils he had been struggling against throughout his extensive apostolic career and the remedies to combat them. Nevertheless, we do not find the Saint indicating any new apostolic plans or detailed perspectives of how to proceed with.
It is to be particularly remarked that Claret clearly understood that Protestantism as ‘the loss of the Catholic spirit,’ or better termed it as ‘de-catholicization,’ something that many of his contemporaries failed to understand at that time. The Saint in his keen sensibility “identified Protestantism with the revolt of reason against the fundamental principles of Christian revelation, a revolt incarnated in those rationalist writers and thinkers who were denying the Divinity of Jesus Christ.” And communism – another great evil – was very much identified with secularism, atheism, irreligiousness, anti-church attitude and everything related to that; and we see him vigorously fighting against it all along his apostolic campaign. Only the notion of the Republic that emerged with clarity in the 1868 Revolution appears with a certain novelty here among the great evils of that time. But in fact, this was an idea as old as the French Revolution itself, and it was not something that original in itself for Claret, who was giving enough hinds predicting the downfall of the Spanish Monarchy through an insurgency.
Along with these three evils of Protestantism, the Republic and Communism, there were without doubt, the four arch-demons he had to confront with. It was on 23rd September 1859, in the second vision of the angel of the Apocalypse Claret was made to understand about the four arch-demons. Again on 24th September 1859 on the Feast of Our Lady of Mercy, the Lord has given him further understanding about the demons. The first arch-demon that would ‘promote the love of sensual pleasure’; the second, ‘the love of gain: the golden calf’; the third, ‘independence of reason’; and the fourth, ‘independence of will.’ Claret’s apostolic response to all these evils and snares would still be an all-inclusive evangelization of the people. It is also achieved with the great additional insight of the Academy of St. Michael and the Popular Parish Lending Libraries, which were destined to carry out an in-depth consecratio mundi (‘consecration of the world’) by multiplying evangelizers and reformers in every sphere, with lay people playing a significant role along with the priests and religious. It is in this perspective we have to comprehend all his efforts of forming various agents of evangelization through different organizations, conformities and apostolic initiatives in Spain.
Probably we can agree with Jesus Alvarez, who says that “Father Claret in numbers 694 and 695 of his Autobiography, was not summing up some possible dangers for the future of Spain, but was describing what had been happening in Spanish reality since the beginning of the century.” For that very reason, Claret did not intend to draw certain new apostolic program in combating the evils, but just concentrated in intensifying his evangelical activity with greater vigour and passion. Claret was feeling all the more strengthened and fortified for the fight, with the all conquering presence of the Lord within him in the Eucharistic species. He might have really experienced the force within him that is capable of transforming all those potentialities of evil into the situations of salvation, in placing all the things into the orbit of the Kingdom, into the very orbit of the salvific love of the Father. We can say that the presence of the Lord within Claret was effected not merely as something static but as something dynamic; it was an action, an intense apostolic action. Anthony Claret in line with ‘the Plan of restoring the beauty of the Church’ that he was adequately preoccupied with during his Madrid period, understood the challenge as an opportunity for ‘new evangelization’ and a ‘new mission’ in the Church with greater vision as well as apostolic fervour. This new Claretian evangelization and new mission gave rise to a need in concentrating all the more to the true fundamentals of the religious education and true piety; that is based on the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to Virgin Mary through Rosary, which were the two inseparable poles of the apostolic spirituality of Anthony Claret. He indeed considered that the Holy Eucharist as the food of our soul and a pledge of future resurrection, just as material food provides energy for the body, having at the background of his mind the fundamental anthropological perception of the human being as being made up of body and soul.
With the mystical grace of the Eucharist, Claret was felt well fortified as well as edified to confront the sins of the world in order to convert them into a new world, into a new humanity, in the image of Jesus Christ. This is all that signifies as the action in the Holy Eucharist. The presence of the Eucharistic species was the very symbol of fight: a fight against the evils of the society, against the sinful old man, against the ignominy of the humanity, against all kinds of forces of evil present in this material world. And without doubt, the Holy Eucharist in its very significance is aimed to become the force for victory of good over evil. Claret firmly believed that the Holy Eucharist not only unites us with the Lord, but it also augments in us the fire of charity and action; and he tells fervently that ‘the fire of divine love through the reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist makes fire within….’ The very life and apostolate of Claret bears a factual testimony to this statement. 4. The Fusion of ‘Martha and Mary’ in Claret
The last two years of Anthony Claret, unquestionably, was a complete fusion of ‘Martha and Mary’, of action and contemplation, the high point of intense spiritual life and mystical union. God made him a living ciborium, a human tabernacle, in which the Lord of the universe reposed day after day, enabling him to fight against the evils of the society and to renew the humanity into the image of the Creator. Even after receiving such an extraordinary grace, Anthony Claret all the more pursued with greatest dedication to persevere and advance in perfection; and that too, through the ‘frequent and well-made reception of the Sacraments, celebrating and hearing Mass well.’ Indeed, Claret was a great Eucharistic mystic and Saint, who adored the Lord of the Eucharist, both in the Blessed Sacrament and within himself. He was a giant of an apostolic missionary and the grace of the conservation of the Eucharistic species served in him as the true font and support for all his universal and ecclesial apostolate.
The Eucharistic grace enabled Claret to enter into a profound mystical and transforming union with the Lord; and at the same time, it turned to become an indescribable source of energy to confront all the more vigorously the evils affecting the Church as well as the society. It gave him a firm conviction that he was accompanied by ‘a divine force’ that can make all things new and to transform the structures of evil into structures of salvation. His amalgamation with Jesus Christ was translated into an all-conquering vigour and vitality for the apostolate of the prophet-servant of the Kingdom of God. For Claret, this great grace was nothing else, but the astounding surge of apostolic power drawing him to collaborate in the growth of the whole mystical Body of Christ, the Church. Strengthened by the Eucharistic Species and energy he re-launched his apostolic mission to confront all the evils of the society, to make all things new and to save all the people for the 'unfathomable love of God. He was a ‘mystic in action’ and at the same time, an ‘active humanist in pure contemplation’. It is really hard to find such a harmonious fusion of action and contemplation in the many saints and holy persons of the Church. 5. Conclusion
The Devotion to the Eucharist and the centrality of Jesus Christ, undoubtedly, was an essential characteristic of the spirituality of Anthony Claret’s life. If it was a passionate and loving devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Holy Eucharist that was manifested in Claret’s early life, it was the mystical and transforming union with Eucharistic Lord that was marked out in his later life. With such a tangible experience of the Eucharistic Lord, certainly Claret turned out to be a true servant and minister of the Holy Eucharist. In the history of the Church it is not that easy to find many Saints like Claret who dedicated so fully to the apostolic activities, and at the same time dedicating fully to the perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Holy Eucharist and the Eucharistic Lord was one dimension that totally engulfed the very apostolic life of Anthony Mary Claret. In short, Claret fully harmonized the Eucharistic dimension in to his apostolic missionary life; and they remained so much as inseparable facets of the one and the single mystical experience in our Saint, at the same time mutually substantiating each other.
Auto. : Autobiography of Saint Anthony Mary Claret
AW : Works of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Volume II: Autobiographical Writings
SSW : Works of Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Vol. III: Selected Spiritual Writings
RR : Retreat Resolutions of Saint Anthony Mary Claret
SN : Spiritual Notes of Saint Anthony Mary Claret
LG : Lights and Graces of Saint Anthony Mary Claret
EC : Epistolario de San Antonio María Claret
EE : San Antonio María Claret: Escritos Espirituales
Opúsculos, I: Colección de Opúsculos por el Excmo. é Ilmo. Sr. D. Antonio Maria Claret, Vol. I.
C. Fernández, El Beato, Vol. I : Cristóbal Fernández, R. P., El Beato Padre Antonio Maria Claret, Vol. I
J. Alvarez, Return To Origins : Jesús Alvarez Gómez, Claretian Missionaries: Return To Origins, Vol. I
J. Puigdesens, Espíritu del Venerable Claret : José Puigdesens, in Espíritu del Venerable P. Antonio Maria Claret.
A.A. Ortega, Espíritu y Misión : Augusto Andrés Ortega, Espíritu y Misión del Padre Claret
J. Clotet, Vida Edificante : Jaime Clotet, Vida Edificante del Padre Claret, Misionero y Fundador.
C. Njayarkulam, Work and Suffer : Cyriac Njayarkulam, Work and Suffer for Jesus Christ
J.M. Lozano, Mystic and Man : Juan Maria Lozano, Mystic and Man of Action