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St. Peter Julian Eymard, priest founder of the Sacramentini

The Eucharist as key to spiritual awakening

"I have always sought remedies for the universal indifference that afflicts so many people, and I have found only one: the Eucharist, love for Jesus in the Eucharist. Loss of faith comes from a loss of love." It was the mid-19th century and French priest, Peter Julian Eymard, was animated by the desire for a spiritual awakening of Europe. He was convinced that only in the Eucharist can we find the key to renewing Christian life and to forming lay and consecrated people.

Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament

Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament had always accompanied his own spiritual growth. It was as a child, on the day of his First Holy Communion, that he decided to become a priest. Peter Julian was born in La Mure d'Isère, in the diocese of Grenoble, on February 4th, 1811. He was the last of ten children, eight of whom died in infancy. He too suffered from bad health and had to abandon his wish to be a missionary. His desire to become a priest was firmly opposed by his father and Peter Julian was twenty years old when he entered the seminary, being ordained in 1834. He served first as a diocesan priest and then, in 1839, became a member of the newly-born Congregation of Marist Fathers in Lyon. He had always been attracted to contemplating God's love in the Eucharist.

Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament

One of the highlights of his spiritual journey was a Eucharistic procession he attended in 1845. While he was carrying the Blessed Sacrament, he asked God to give him the apostolic zeal of St. Paul to spread the Gospel. There followed a trip to Paris in 1849 where, as Provincial of the Marists, he met some important members of the Nocturnal Adoration Movement, the Foundress of the Sisters of Adoration and Reparation, Marie-Thérèse Dubouche, and a diocesan priest, Fr Raymond De Cuers. Together with the latter, in May 1856, he founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in Paris, increasingly convinced of the centrality of Eucharistic worship. For Fr Eymard, Eucharistic adoration was more than just contemplation: it was the heart and soul of his charitable activity towards the poor of the Paris suburbs, or to aged priests and those in difficulty. It was this conviction that led him to found, together with Margherita Guillot, the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament. He then went on to create the Priests’ Eucharistic League and engaged in an apostolate of preaching, spiritual direction and preparing adults and young workers for their First Holy Communion.

The centrality of the Mass

Fr Peter Julian insisted that Eucharistic celebration should be at the center of every Christian’s life and the origin of every one of his or her actions. He was a tireless defender of the Roman rite and a vocal advocate of frequent attendance at Mass. For Peter Julian, being in the presence of God and contemplating Him in the consecrated Host, transcended every form of intimacy and projected the worshiper into active life. This social dimension of the Eucharist is explained in his book, “Le Trés Saint Sacrement”: "Solemn Exposition is necessary to awaken the dormant faith of so many honest people. (...) Society dies when it no longer has a center of truth and charity, when it no longer has family life. When everyone is isolated, focused on themselves, wanting to be self-sufficient, disintegration is imminent. But society will be reborn with vigor” – writes Fr Eymard – “when all of its members come together and are united around our Emmanuel." Remembered as "the priest or the Apostle of the Eucharist", Peter Julian died in his home country when he was only 57 years old, on August 1st, 1868. His health had been worn down by every kind of difficulty but he had never lost his apostolic zeal. He was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1925 and canonized by Pope John XXIII in 1962.