(1540 – 1592)
What better saint to talk about than the simple, devout Spanish Franciscan, St. Paschal Baylon? Basically, the Christian name Paschal (Pascual in Spanish, Pasquale in Italian, Pascal in French) means “Easter man.” Paschal Baylon was furthermore a great devotee of the Holy Eucharist, appropriately called “this Easter sacrament.”
Paschal came of peasant stock. He spent the first 24 years of his life as a shepherd. Devout by nature, he took advantage of the silences of his task to teaching himself how to read and write so that he could recite the prayers of a popular prayer book. He had an early instinct for self-denial, and the Mass had for him a magnetic appeal. When he was able to attend weekday Mass, he did so. When he was unable to, he would turn in the pasture towards a church where Mass was being celebrated and join in spirit with the holy sacrifice. (A handy practice for busy people of our own day!)
Precise, but friendly, young Paschal early won the respect of his peasant associates. When he was about 19, he asked to be received into a convent of Franciscans of the strict observance. The friars put him off then, but when he applied again five years later, they accepted him.
He was admitted as a lay brother, since the superiors saw clearly that he did not have the intellectual gifts required for priestly studies. But they soon perceived that in acquiring Paschal they had acquired a jewel of a man. He found himself completely at home with their austere ideals. Indeed, he went them one better in living up to the rule and accepting the graces of the moment. His prayerfulness, his concern for the poor, his utter conscientiousness were admirable aspects of a well-rounded personality. As his companion and biographer later wrote of him: “In no single case do I remember to have noted the least fault in him though I lived with him in several of our houses and was his companion on two long journeys.” This was indeed high praise.
But the most striking characteristic of Fray Pascual was his unremitting devotion to the Holy Eucharist, both as sacrifice and as sacrament. He spent long hours kneeling without support before the Eucharistic tabernacle. Whenever he had a free moment, he sped to the chapel to do honor to the Blessed Sacrament. In those days before concelebration was restored, each priest in a monastery celebrated Mass separately. Paschal delighted to serve as many of theses Masses as he could. After early morning prayer, he would linger before the Eucharistic Christ as long as his other duties permitted. Once he almost died for this holy sacrament. While on a journey into France, Paschal was set upon by a group of radical Huguenots (French Calvinistic Protestants). These stoned the friar and demanded that he deny his belief in the Blessed Sacrament. He refused, of course. Luckily, he escaped with his life.
Brother Pascual passed away at the age of 52, just as the bell in the convent chapel was announcing the Consecration of the mass. He died with a reputation for miracle-working. This reputation hastened his beatification in 1608, only 16 years after his death. He was canonized a saint in 1690. In 1897 Pope Leo XIII named him patron saint of all Eucharistic societies and Eucharistic congresses.
We celebrate the great festal Mass of Easter, “calling to mind,” as the third Eucharistic prayer says, “the death Your Son endured for our salvation, his glorious resurrection and ascension into Heaven.” But don’t we call to mind the redemption every time we offer Mass? Yes, every Mass is a celebration of the “Paschal mystery” of our salvation.
St. Paschal Baylon, therefore, reminds us by his life-long devotion to the Eucharist, how easily we can commemorate Easter every moment of every day of the year.
–Father Robert F. McNamara