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Blessed Elena Guerra and the Eucharist

Elena Guerra: A Life of Eucharistic Adoration and Apostolate in the Holy Spirit

In these days that the Church dedicates to the Eucharist, with the rites that tradition has linked to the solemnity of Corpus Christi, let us draw some more suggestions from Blessed Elena Guerra.

Before founding the Oblates of the Holy Spirit, she gave birth to the “Perpetual Adorers,” with the purpose of adoring Jesus present in the Eucharist. They began meeting on the feast of St. Zita, April 27, 1871.

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For a monastery they set “the Holy Ciborium” and as their cell “the Sacred Heart of Jesus” to which they promised to consecrate themselves. “We must,” she wrote, “always, always dwell with Jesus in the Eucharistic tabernacle. Helen translated into this abiding in the tabernacle the attitude of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who, setting herself to listen to the Master, chose the “better part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10:3842).

Needless to say, in the family, the clergy and her brother Don Almerico himself, young Helen found no understanding and no encouragement. However, blessing and praise came to him from much higher up, from Pope Pius IX.

The centrality of Christ

Abbot Domenico Battolla of La Spezia, whom Elena had met during a course of preaching in the City, during a private audience on July 6, 1872, delivered to the Pontiff a letter from the young Lucchese in which the project was illustrated.

At the foot of the same missive, the Pope wrote, “Benedicat Deus omnes Mulieres et illuminet sensus et dirigat corda in forma Ecclesiae.”

This is the first official approval, to the mission and apostolate, that Elena Guerra would be called to carry out in the Church.

The Blessed is best known for promoting the worship of the Holy Spirit and developing a true theology and spirituality that was strongly Christocentric and Eucharistic. Christ was for her and, should be for everyone: “the one Center of every mind and heart.”

The hermeneutic through which she participates, explains, contemplates and lives the mystery of Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharistic Bread is the Holy Spirit. Eucharist and Pentecost are two wonders of God’s Love.

Obsequies and Prayers to the Holy Spirit

Helena in the work “Obsequies and Prayers to the Holy Spirit,” explains that the two devotions are beautifully conjoined. Emphasizing the theologia locis, she wrote, “God willed them to be united also relatively to the place, where they took place, which was the same room: the Cenacle.”

Hence he concluded, “Whoever therefore goes to the Upper Room to enjoy the Eucharistic gifts, let him see to it that he is also enriched with the gifts of the Paraclete.”

Holy Spirit

It is only in the sanctifying and all-powerful power of the Holy Spirit that the deeper reality that constitutes the substance of the bread and wine is converted into the reality of the Body and Blood of Jesus, in the fullness of his human and divine reality, making possible “not to the senses, but to faith,” what scholastic theology defined by transubstantiation, a term drawn from philosophy.

Today, there is debate among theologians as to what is the most appropriate term to describe this mystery, in an attempt to make it more understandable and closer to our existential mindset. Some speak of “transignification,” others of “transfinalization,” that is, a substantial moment in the existential signification of the thing.

The contribution of the Pontiffs

In the face of these attempts to redefine Eucharistic doctrine, Paul VI with his encyclical “Mysterium fidei,” Sept. 3, 1965, reaffirmed the theological conception of transubstantiation, already defined by the Council of Trent (13th session, 1551, ch. 4).

The Pope in affirming the real presence of Jesus wrote: “It is said to be real not by exclusion, as if the others were not real, but by antonomasia because it is substantial, and by virtue of it Christ, Man-God, the whole is made present.”

John Paul II in “Ecclesia de Eucharistia,” Benedict XVI in the post-synodal exhortation “Sacramentum caritatis” and Pope Francis confirm this teaching.

Blessed Elena Guerra, certainly, outside of these issues and while not using the theological terms of scholasticism, made a clear synthesis of the mystery of faith, using simple and essential language, proper to mystics, capable of reaching the heart: “Through the work of the Holy Spirit the bread becomes the Body and the wine becomes the Blood of Jesus Christ.”

Benedict XVI, in his post-synodal exhortation states, “It is by virtue of the action of the Spirit that Christ himself remains present and active in his Church, beginning from its vital center which is the Eucharist. In this horizon we understand the decisive role of the Holy Spirit in the Eucharistic Celebration and in particular in reference to transubstantiation.”

Holy Spirit and the Eucharist

For Helen, the subject acting in the conversion of the Eucharistic species is the Holy Spirit, the same one who worked with wonder and omnipotence in the mystery of the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection. “The consecration,” he writes, “of the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist is the work of the Holy Spirit, as in the Incarnation, as in the immolation of the Savior on the Cross, as in the Resurrection, since, by the work of the Holy Spirit Jesus is born, and again he immolates himself in the Eucharistic Sacrifice.

The Eucharist is in continuity with the mystery of the Incarnation, indeed Helen will say, “Jesus became incarnate in Mary in order to become incarnate in her faithful through Eucharistic communion.” The Eucharist is also given to men as an anticipation of glory. Blessed Helen will speak of communion as an anticipation of “Heaven on earth.” This is why she exclaims, “The hour of Mass is the richest and happiest hour of life!”

The Holy Spirit is the Love that unites the Father to the Son and unites the creature to the Creator. Always the Holy Spirit as He works for the transformation of the gifts of the earth so that they become the Body and Blood of Christ, so He acts so that on this earth people may become one with God and with each other and thus contribute to the transformation of the world. For Elena Guerra, Eucharistic communion is not a moment of intimate escape, or alienation from reality, nor is it a mystical basking or an individualistic act, but thanks to the Holy Spirit that is given in the Eucharist, the heart expands to a universal dimension, to a glimpse of the world sensing all the love with which the Father has “so loved the world as to give the only-begotten Son” (Jn. 3:16) and the need to unite with Christ’s oblation in order to achieve a total renewal of man.

Living the Eucharist

The Eucharistic mystique lived by Helen does not end in a contemplative act but feeling fully involved in Christ’s oblation, the Eucharist is the genesis of her mission as an Apostle, it is the “Sun” that with its rays generates love.

“Love of God and love of neighbor must be one and the same love, and compare the first to the sun, the other to the rays; and since the rays cannot exist without the sun since they are emanations of the same, so there can be no true and fruitful love of neighbor where the love of God is lacking.”

Benedict XVI in the post-synodal exhortation, at no. 89, citing the encyclical “Deus caritas est” (no. 14) points to the social implications of the Eucharistic Mystery: “The union with Christ,” he writes, “that is realized in the Sacrament also empowers us to a newness of social relations: ‘the ‘mysticism’ of the Sacrament has a social character.’ Indeed, “union with Christ is at the same time union with all others to whom He gives Himself. I cannot have Christ for myself alone; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become or will become his.”

All this responds to the logic and dynamic of the “Broken Bread” that Blessed Elena Guerra fully understood and lived.




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