Christ in the Catacombs
Born and baptized in 1786, it was under the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution that Bl. Rosalie Rendu’s earliest faith life was born and fed. Little Jeanne-Marie, called Marie by her family, learned from her parents a simple and generous approach to life. From the youngest age, following their example, she was known to be especially generous and kind to those in poverty, and to the sick.
Priests and bishops who refused to take the “Civil Oath of the Clergy” were sentenced to execution. Many of them fled France, and on their way through Confort, a farming village in the foothills of the Alps, the Rendu family sheltered them.
This was a very serious risk to take, for the death sentence extended beyond the clergy to anybody who might shelter them. It was in this world of great danger, and with the example of her mother’s fearlessness in practicing her faith, that Rosalie prepared for and received her First Holy Communion. Her friend and biographer, Armand de Melun, would later describe the Sacrament:
“For her, this great day was hidden in darkness; no splendor, no festivity marked its solemnity; they scarcely dared to light a candle or utter a prayer even in a low voice; but in the depths of this cave, in the bosom of this poor and silent obscurity, there was before the altar a priest who was prepared for martyrdom, and a virgin who promised God, Whom she received for the first time, to love Him and to serve Him all her life, by serving the poor and the lowly. These were the mysteries, the dangers, but also the virtues, of the Catacombs.”1
As Vincentians, our journey towards holiness includes a special “devotion to the Eucharist”2 which we share together, especially on our feast days.3 Perhaps when we partake of Holy Communion, we might call to mind Bl. Rosalie Rendu.
Bl. Rosalie’s example of holiness and courage may have become known during her long service as a Daughter of Charity, but it began when little Jeanne-Marie first accepted the Body and Blood of Christ in a candle-lit cave in a war-torn land.
Does my devotion to the Eucharist give me comfort even in times of great troubles and trials?
1 Viscount de Melun, “The Life of Sr. Rosalie”, Translated Fallon, Joseph, 1915, p. 6
2 Rule of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Part I, 2.2
3 Ibid, Part III, Statute 9