(Died 1250 A.D.)
The life of St. Aleydis (Alice) is so simple and charming that it might have come from the pen of a devout writer of fiction. Nonetheless, hers is a real story, recorded probably by her spiritual director.
Born in Schaerbeck, a suburb of Brussels, Belgium, Aleydis was a frail child but had a winning personality. When she was seven (at her own request, it seems) she was sent to be boarded and raised by the Cistercian nuns of a vicinity convent named “Camera Sanctae Marie” (“Chamber of St. Mary”). Although the monastery is long since gone, its name is still preserved in the lovely park southeast of Brussels called “Bois de la Chambre” (“Chamber Woods”).
From the day she went there, the convent became her permanent home. The sisters educated her not only intellectually, but spiritually, and she proved a good student in both aspects. In due time, she asked to be admitted to the Cistercians. The quiet seclusion of the monastery was well suited to her naturally shy, retiring disposition. Yet her very humility motivated her to serve the needs of her sisters in every way possible. They, in turn, admired her piety, and treasured the memory of the small miracles attributed to her. One of these was the re-lighting of a candle. Once a lighted candle fell to the ground and went out. Through her prayerful intervention, it is said, the candle spontaneously relit itself.
Leprosy was fairly widespread in medieval Europe. Unfortunately, Sister Aleydis contracted this hideous disease while still young. To the grief of the rest of the nuns she had to be isolated from the community. Medieval science had not yet discovered that leprosy was caused by the communicable germ mycobacillus leprae: but experience had long since proved it to be contagious, and prescribed quarantine to prevent its spread.
Aleydis, herself, even welcomed segregation in that it enabled her to plunge with still less interruption into her favorite subject of contemplation, the sufferings of Jesus. Where it hurt most, however, was that hygiene forbade her to receive from the chalice (still a general practice, in that time) when she went to Holy Communion.
Our Lord himself, we are told, consoled her by stating that one who communicated in the consecrated bread alone still received the blood as well as the body of Jesus, for “Where there is part, there also is the whole.”
On June 11, 1249, Sister Alice became very ill indeed, and was anointed. It was soon revealed to her that she had 12 months more on earth.
Her sufferings increased during those last months. She became blind, perhaps as a result of the ravages of leprosy. But she lost no opportunity to offer her additional sufferings for the souls in purgatory. Despite her pains, she was comforted by still more ecstasies and revelations. On June 10, 1250, she was again anointed, and in the dawn of St. Bamabas’ Day, as predicted, she went to her reward.
Today, Holy Communion under both forms is again available, but Jesus’ answer to St. Aleydis is still valid: when we receive the Host alone we receive sacramentally the whole Christ, body and blood. Today, also, the offering of prayers and sacrifices for the poor souls seems to have declined. St. Alice’s prayers and sacrifices for them were nevertheless perfectly in keeping with the doctrine of sharing that the Church has always taught, between the faithful on earth, in heaven and in purgatory, that “waiting room” of heaven. Vatican II spoke once again of this “living communion that exists between us and our brothers who are in the glory of heaven or who are yet being purified after their death. (“Lumen Gentium.” 51).
We call this bond the Communion of Saints.
–Father Robert F. McNamara