There are thousands of ways to honor God… That means that, as usually happens, every saint becomes noted for exemplifying one way in particular.
For St. Peter Julian Eyrnard, the way was deep devotion to the Holy Eucharist.
Peter was a Frenchman, born at LaMure, a village near Grenoble. Until age 18 he worked at his father’s trade, knife-making. But his dream was to become a priest. After finishing his studies, he was ordained to the diocesan priesthood in 1834. He soon won a name for his zeal in diocesan service. But he had a second dream too: to join a religious order. In 1839 the Marist Fathers accepted him. By 1845 his talents were so appreciated by the Order that he was appointed superior of his Marist province.
From the outset, Father Peter’s devotion had focused on the Eucharist. Without that devotion, he testified, “I should have been lost.” He recounted an experience that he had had one Corpus Christi. While carrying the Blessed Sacrament in the two-hour-long procession, he received a unique grace. “My eyes were filled with tears,” he later wrote. “My soul was flooded with faith and love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Those two hours seemed but a moment. I laid at the feet of Our Lord the Church in France and throughout the world, everybody, myself.”
The next step in his devotion followed in 1851 when he made a pilgrimage to the famous French shrine of Our Lady of Fourvieres. Here the inspiration came to him very strongly to found a religious order dedicated principally to honoring the Blessed Sacrament. Having obtained a release from the Marist Fathers, he established, in 1856, the Congregation of Priests of the Most Blessed Sacrament. It received initial approval from Pope Pius IX in 1859. The members performed the usual priestly tasks, especially preparing adults to make their first communion; but the center and key of all their activities was perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Lay brothers assisted the Fathers in their work. In 1858 Eyrnard also founded a parallel community of nuns, the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. For priests in general he set up the Priest’s Eucharistic League (still flourishing), and for the laity the Archconfratemity of the Blessed Sacrament, a society with parish branches.
A tender-hearted, loving person, St. Peter Eyrnard possessed to a rare degree the virtue called in Latin pietas. Our word “piety” comes from this, but in English it has usually come to mean something rather different. Basically, piety means a loyal devotion to the person, places and things that are closest to us and entitled to our special affection. Thus, it was typical of St. Peter that, when he visited his hometown (for which he had an enduring fondness), he would always pray at the font where he was baptized, the altar of which he received his first communion, and the graves of his parents.
Peter’s lifelong devotion to the Holy Eucharist was the supreme phase of this native piety. It reminds us forcibly of the treasure we all have in the Real Presence. It prompts us to ask ourselves how strong is our own piety towards the Blessed Sacrament. Do I enter church modestly clothed? Do I behave reverently in the church where Jesus is enshrined? Do I genuflect before the tabernacle? Do I receive communion only with a clean soul and proper dignity of body? Do I make a point of coming to church to pay a visit to Christ in the Eucharist even outside of Mass time? These acts of piety, you will recognize, are traditional signs of Catholic reverence. They are part of the etiquette of our faith.
How do we score in Eucharistic etiquette? St. Peter Eyrnard would like to know.
–Father Robert F. McNamara