Cities of the Immaculate (Niepokalanóws) consecrated totally to the Immaculate and to her cause, above all honor the Eucharist, live by the Eucharist, find in the Eucharist the principal source for their apostolate, and hope to unite the whole world as one family about the standard of the Eucharist and Mary. This ideal is pursued by the entire Militia of the Immaculate (MI). Every knight knows that in this way he imitates his founder, Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, that great devotee of the Eucharist. In him—by reason of his total consecration to the Mother of Jesus—”the love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament touched his pious heart at its very roots.” (1)
The Eucharist—God with Us
Contemplating the mystery of the Eucharist, Father Kolbe was convinced—and this conviction inspired the MI—that the most Blessed Sacrament is the richest of divine treasures on earth, the source for the sanctification of souls and for the conversion of the world, and thus the most efficacious means for attaining the goals of the MI.
Saint Maximilian based his faith in the Eucharist on the Gospel and on the teaching of the Church. In an article entitled Corpus Domini (Body of the Lord) published in 1924 in Rycerz Niepokalanej and occasioned by a blasphemy perpetrated at Grodno by a group of drunken non-Catholics on the feast of Corpus Christi, he assembled the gospel proofs for the dogma of the Blessed Sacrament.
In the Gospel of St. John, an eyewitness, is found the promise made by Our Lord to the people at Capharnaum after the multiplication of the loaves to give us as food His own flesh and His own blood. “Amen, amen, I say to you: if you do not eat of the flesh of the Son of man and do not drink of His blood, you shall not have life in you.” Life here means life to the full, “life everlasting.” “For my flesh is food indeed and my blood drink indeed. Who eats of my flesh and drinks of my blood, remains in me and I in him”; so too he “shall live because of me” (Jn. 6:51-60).
A year later, at Jerusalem in the Upper Room, during the last supper with the Apostles, Jesus fulfilled this promise. “While they were at supper,” recounts St. Matthew who was present, “Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to His disciples: ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’ And taking a cup, he gave thanks and gave it to them, saying: ‘All of you drink of this; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins'” (Mt. 26: 26-28). And He added, as St. Luke (22:19) and St. Paul (I Cor. 11: 24-25) attest: “Do this in memory of me.”
“And from that moment,” concludes Father Kolbe, recalling the bi-millenary practice of the Church, “the sacrifice of the Holy Mass made its appearance on the earth. Ever more often, ever more widespread. At first underground in the catacombs, later in an ever-growing number of churches.” Every “priest, a successor of the Apostles,” obedient to the command of the God-man, repeats at Mass “in His memory the moving scene of the last supper”: the bread becomes “the living Body of Christ” and the wine “His most precious Blood.” Christ remains really present under the consecrated species, also after the Mass. He dwells in tabernacles, and on the solemnity of Corpus Christi during the Eucharistic procession, “He, the Creator of heaven and of earth and the Redeemer of souls” goes out “upon the streets and roads of His children, carried in the hands of the priest.” (2)
Saint Maximilian desired to write a book on the teaching of the Church with a chapter entitled, “Dogma: the most Blessed Sacrament,” (3) perhaps eventually to be published as a booklet. He wished to write of the dogma “in a popular, lively style, illustrating the doctrine with miracles attested by competent witnesses (for example, bearing on the Eucharist).” (4) The constant demands of the apostolate did not permit him to write such a work. But in the material for a book on the Immaculate, we find the description of the apparition of our Lady to Alphonse Ratisbonne in the Church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte, Rome, together with an account of a moral miracle bearing on the Eucharist.
In an instant, this unbelieving Jew, without hearing so much as a word from the all-holy Virgin, understood the entire Catholic Faith, including the truth about the Eucharist.
“The Catholic faith” recounts Mr. de Bussieres, a friend of Ratisbonne and witness of his conversion, “welled up from his heart, as a rare perfume from its container, unable to be kept sealed within. He spoke of the Real Presence (of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament), as a man who believes in it with all the strength of his soul, nay rather as a man who has experienced it.” Shortly thereafter, between the Basilicas of St. Mary Major and St. Peter, he was filled by an indescribable, ecstatic rapture.
“Oh” he said to me, grasping my hands, “now I understand the love of Catholics for their churches and the devotion which impels them to decorate and embellish them!… This is no longer earth, but almost paradise.” Before the altar of the Blessed Sacrament the Real Presence of the divinity overwhelmed him to such a point that he visited less often, and would often leave at once, so awesome it seemed to him to remain in the presence of the living God with the stain of original sin! (He was not yet baptized.) And he would flee to a chapel of the all-holy Virgin. (5)
Saint Maximilian was deeply touched by the Real Presence of Jesus, the God-man, under the Eucharistic species. Before the Blessed Sacrament altar he acted as though he saw the Savior. “God dwells in our midst,” he exclaimed, “in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.” (6) “He remains among us until the end of the world. He dwells on so many altars, though so often offended and profaned.” (7) But even more, the founder of the MI was fascinated by the fact that Jesus in the Sacrament gives Himself to us as food. Once he went so far as to say: “The culmination of the Mass is not the consecration, but communion.” (8) With his heart full of gratitude, he said to Jesus:
“You come to me and unite yourself intimately to me under the form of nourishment. Your blood now runs in mine, your soul, Incarnate God, compenetrates mine, giving it courage and support. What miracles! Who would ever have imagined such!” (9) “If angels could be jealous of men,” Father Kolbe was in the habit of saying, “they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” (10)
What grace is given to man and what dignity his to be able to attend Holy Mass and receive Holy Communion! “It is accessible to all, without exception,” said Saint Maximilian to his confreres. “The time during which Jesus abides in us under the sacramental species is the most precious of the entire day.” Not only the body but “the soul then becomes a living tabernacle, indeed something even more. At that time the soul of Jesus unites itself with our soul and becomes the soul of our soul. We cannot understand all this, but can only perceive the effects.” (11) How many the graces one can receive, “if the very Giver of graces arrives.” (12)
What good fortune for religious to be able to dwell with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament under the same roof, or very near, and attend Holy Mass every day, to go whenever they wish to their “elder Brother and Spouse of their souls present in the Eucharist.” (13) “At times we meet persons,” Father Kolbe told his confreres in Niepokalanów, “who cannot imagine what religious life might be; they think it is a prison. They neither know nor experience the joy which the Sacraments give,” above all daily Communion, the happiness “of living in union with God, the font of happiness. Should someone propose to exchange this for a great quantity of gold, the religious soul would be shocked and astounded.” (14)
Superabundant Font of Grace
The Second Vatican Council stressed that “in the Blessed Eucharist is contained the entire spiritual treasure of the Church, Christ himself, our Pasch and the living Bread, who through His flesh, quickened and quickening in the Holy Spirit, gives life to men. In such wise these are invited and drawn to offer in union with Him their own work and all creation. Thus, the Eucharist is recognized as the source and summit of all evangelization.” (15)
Saint Maximilian understood this well. According to him, the Eucharist brings extraordinary blessings for our sanctification and for our apostolate. In general he considered prayer as the most efficacious means for realizing the goal of the MI. “God wills,” he assures us, “that humble souls, who love him and hence pray to him, govern the world with divine goodness and power, save and sanctify souls and inaugurate in them the reign of divine love.” (16) Our influence on the world “in the natural order depends on our position, work, abilities, circumstances, etc.,” but “in the supernatural order we can influence without measure,” precisely through prayer, so that the future of the world depends on hands raised in prayer. (17) And the summit of prayer is precisely the Mass and within the Mass—Holy Communion (18) wherein we receive the Giver of graces. “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me,” Saint Maximilian was accustomed to say, citing St. Paul (Phil. 4:13), and he often added “through the Immaculate.” (19) “One Holy Communion alone,” observed the Saint during the retreat of 1917, “is sufficient to make me a Saint.” (20) From this period as well comes the saying: “Divine Office and the Mass, celebrated well, can renew an entire diocese.” (21) He was impressed with St. Pius X who wished “to renew all in Christ,” above all via a renewed Eucharistic devotion.
The founder of the MI believed that in the Mass, at Communion, one could ask anything, both for one’s own sanctification and for the salvation of one’s neighbor. “The Giver of graces Himself comes—we can pray to Him for many things through the Immaculate.” (22) He is “the font of every truth, of every good and of all happiness.” (23) How long are the lists for the memento of the living and for that of the dead whom our Saint recommended to God in every Mass, praying above all for their spiritual welfare. With that faith he asked of others a memento at Mass, or that they receive Communion according to his missionary intentions and thanked them for such help. To the clerics of Krakow he wrote from Japan: “Offer Holy Communion, and so doing you will help us much.” (24) He thanked the brothers of Niepokalanów in 1930 for the communions received in his behalf on the occasion of his namesday: “May the Immaculate repay all for the Holy Communions, for in the missions such help is absolutely necessary.” (25) To render Eucharistic prayer more efficacious he encouraged himself and others “to offer to the Immaculate Holy Communion, as Her property, for purposes pleasing to Her.” (26) And he thanked God for the graces received, for he realized that gratitude increases the graces and in such wise one also respects the character of the Eucharist in view of its etymology (giving thanks).
Consistent with his faith in the universal mediation of Mary, he gave particular thanks for the graces granted the Immaculate and encouraged such practice. “It is good to thank the Most Blessed Trinity for the graces given Her. Let us show this gratitude during Communion.” (27)
Indeed, one Communion alone can make us saints, can effect the conversion of many sinners, but “all depends (also) on our interior dispositions, our preparation.” (28) The Eucharist is food to be consumed with a pure heart, purified by frequent confession. Father Kolbe exhorted the members of the MI that “they should approach the table of the Lord with a pure heart… Only a pure soul, in fact, is disposed to receive grace.” (29) Of great importance for the fruitfulness of the Eucharist is the immediate preparation for Mass and thanksgiving afterwards, which may and should be anticipated and prolonged through the diligent fulfillment of one’s duties, with the desire of bringing joy to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To receive an abundance of graces at Mass it is necessary to pray much, above all after Holy Communion. (30) All this under the maternal guidance of the Immaculate. “Strive as much as you are able to please Jesus as a form of preparation and thanksgiving.” (31) Saint Maximilian especially recommended adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. When one believes in the Real Presence of the God-man in the tabernacle, when one professes with Father Kolbe: “He is our all,” (32) one cannot remain indifferent, above all when one dwells near the house of God. Love impels one to visit the Divine Prisoner of love. Another motive is that of reparation for one’s own sins and for those of the entire world, particularly on the first Friday of the month, as Jesus himself requested through St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1674. On November 4, 1938 (a first Friday), Father Kolbe told his friars in Niepokalanów: “When a friendship meets indifference as a response, such causes pain. If men of the world, rejected by those whom they loved, take their lives, because unable to bear the sorrow they experience, so too the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus feels great sorrow when His love is rejected.” Hence, souls who love Him “strive to make recompense for those others who repay the unlimited love of the Divine Heart with ingratitude” so that “at least in part, recompense is made for a rejected love. The soul experiences these graces, and for this even more ardently repays divine love with love.” (33)
By means of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament one can receive many graces for the conversion and sanctification of souls. The MI values this as one of the most important means for achieving its own goals. It made Father Kolbe’s heart glad to see many friars often about the altar in adoration, because, as he remarked, “religious formation depends on drawing close to the Lord Jesus, on visiting Him.” (34) “When I arrived at Niepokalanów,” recounts Father Isidore Kozbial, recalling his entrance into the minor seminary in 1929 “Father Maximilian led me, together with my pastor, to the chapel and observed: ‘All religious life depends on this’—and pointed to the Most Blessed Sacrament.” (35) So too the fruitfulness of the apostolate depends on adoration.
For many years Saint Maximilian dreamed of the day when “in the chapel at Niepokalanów Jesus would be exposed day and night in the monstrance and there would be enough friars to adore Him uninterruptedly in turns of two or more,” (36) or “at least throughout the entire day” (37) even if without exposition. Recalling in 1938 his design for the church in Niepokalanów he added with emphasis:
If half the brothers worked and the other half prayed, this would not be too much. (38) (At that time there were in Niepokalanów about 570 brothers, not counting fathers and candidates for the priesthood.)
In such wise the apostolate on behalf of souls in Poland, in the missions and everywhere, would also be enriched by ever more abundant graces. (39)
How many blessings the adorers would gain for each copy of the Rycerz (in whatever language published)… And further, how many the graces indispensable for the growth of every work, for every soul consecrated to the Immaculate or who should belong to Her, whether in Niepokalanów or in the MI I have before my eyes the blessing of the sick with the Blessed Sacrament in the Grotto of the Immaculate at Lourdes. But this is a dream! (40)
This dream, already conceived in 1931, but difficult to realize before the war because of the massive work load, was inaugurated, at least partially (adoration during the day and without exposition in the monstrance) in 1939, immediately after his return from his first imprisonment by the Germans. “Initially in turns of two,” wrote the Saint joyfully, “then of four, and now six brothers every half-hour take turns throughout the day; and thus uninterruptedly throughout the entire day there flows a torrent of prayer, the greatest power in the world, capable of transforming us and changing the face of the world.” (41) He added: “At the present moment this is the most important activity.” (42)
Saint Maximilian encouraged others, especially members of the MI, to adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament often, in this way to help the work being conducted under the banner of the Immaculate. He wrote in 1931:
We have unending woes in both Niepokalanóws and will have still more. Does it not seem, therefore, the right moment to establish prayer circles and associations of the suffering for the intentions of the MI? How much we would have gained, for example, if sisters, particularly contemplatives, had offered something for the MI: a small part of their sufferings and of their adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. (43)
The practice of perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament throughout the entire day, ordinarily without solemn exposition, except on first Fridays of the month, has continued in Niepokalanów to the present day. Marytown in America, however, some years ago introduced perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance day and night, and in which not only religious but laity participate.
Eucharistic adoration at Marytown, among other things, is an excellent means for the formation of young members of the MI, known as YMI (Youth Mission for the Immaculate), during their annual month-long retreat. Marytown also promotes perpetual adoration in parishes and has succeeded in introducing the practice in about 100 of these, to the great spiritual profit of the faithful. The practice originated with Father Cyril Kita, a co-founder of Marytown, who, as a fellow student of Saint Maximilian in Rome, remained deeply impressed by his Eucharistic adoration.
The Love of Love Through the Immaculate
When we deepen our understanding of the reason for the institution of the Eucharist, we perceive that it “is the fruit of the love of Jesus.” (44) It seemed that the love which Jesus showed on earth from His Incarnation to His sacrifice on Calvary was the last word of His heart.
“You, however,” father Kolbe said to Jesus, “did not stop with this, but foreseeing all that would happen across 19 centuries from the moment of these outpourings of your love to my appearance on earth (Jan. 8, 1894), you desired to make provision even for this! Your heart was not satisfied that I should be nourished only with a memory of your infinite love. You remained in this vale of tears in the most holy and singularly miraculous Sacrament of the Altar, and gave yourself to me “‘in possession.'” (45)
The soul pondering all these marks of love should desire to return love for love. (46) In fact, “the King of love can be honored only with love.” (47) To His infinite love we must reply with a love without limits. “Does not God who remains in the world under the species of bread, who empties Himself to such a degree, merit a limitless love in return? God gives us Himself; we instead have received what we give” and what we can give. (48) The sacraments, above all the Eucharist, were granted us precisely “in order to gain the strength to overcome all the obstacles blocking our pilgrimage to God, with a love ever more burning, by being conformed to God, in being united with God himself.” (49) “We are reborn in holy Baptism, because it washes away our sins. We are renewed again and again in the sacrament of Penance. We must, so to speak, divinize ourselves and for this we have the most Blessed Sacrament. We receive not only grace, but the Giver of grace Himself, who accomplishes this divinization in the measure He finds our souls disposed for this.” (50) But we know from experience how weak our preparation is, and how imperfect our disposition, even during communion, and not simply because of our psychosomatic constitution, source of so many distractions and of spiritual dryness, hence not always culpable. At times, our faith is weak; otherwise, with what devotion we would receive Holy Communion. (51) There remains in the soul self-love in the form, for example, of attachments; this is the betrayal of Love and the greatest obstacle to sanctification. (52)
Knowing our human weakness, Jesus “in the love of his divine Heart gives us as mother His own Mother so that we might love Him with Her heart: no longer with our miserable heart, but with Her Immaculate Heart. The love of the Immaculate is the most perfect love with which the creature can love his God.” (53) “No man or angel loved or loves Jesus as ardently as the Mother of God.” Hence, we in the MI “place no limits on love. We want to love the Lord Jesus with Her heart, or rather that She love Him with our heart. We wish precisely that our love for God be that of the Immaculate. So that such in fact occur, we must become Her property and be Hers totally, under every aspect.” (54) By consecrating ourselves totally to the Immaculate as her instrument, we can take advantage to the maximum of her grace and of her example.
In our Eucharistic devotion as well we must love Love with the heart of the Immaculate, if we wish our love to be as worthy and pleasing as possible to Jesus. So too during Eucharistic devotion “we wish to love the Lord Jesus with the heart of the Immaculate, receiving Him and thanking Him with Her acts; thus, even if we should neither feel nor understand it, in fact we will honor the Lord Jesus with Her heart, with Her acts; or to speak more exactly, it will be She who through us loves and praises Jesus. We are but Her instruments.” (55)
“How must we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion so as to be well disposed and to obtain therein as many graces as possible?” reflected Saint Maximilian at Easter of 1937. He concluded: “Let us give ourselves to the Immaculate. Let us permit Her to prepare us to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. This is the most perfect way and the one most pleasing to our Lord, yielding the greatest fruit.” (56) So also in reference to the Eucharist the founder of the MI returns to this leitmotiv of total consecration to the Immaculate, the consecration making one an instrument in her hands. And here he has a very particular reason. With the Incarnation in mind, he asks: “Who, in the first instance, offered Holy Mass? and who received the first Communion? and who was His first tabernacle?” And he replies: “the all-holy Mother!” (57) All this Mary did in the most perfect manner possible; hence, Jesus gave her to us as Mother and gave us to her as sons, so that we might find an effective supporter.
To understand this reasoning better, it is necessary to view the entire economy of salvation, as the founder of the MI presents it, in the light of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. “In Her occurs the miracle of the union of God with creation.”
From the moment of the Incarnation “the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit infuses no supernatural life into the soul, except through the Mediatrix of all grace, the Immaculate.” (58) Thus, divine life, the life of love of the most Blessed Trinity “flows from the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary into our poor hearts.” (59) “And similarly the love of creatures reaches Jesus through Her, and through Jesus, the Father.” Our acts of love “in the Immaculate acquire an immaculate purity, whereas in Jesus they acquire infinite value” so as to honor the most Blessed Trinity worthily. “Creatures are not always aware of this; nonetheless, this is how it always occurs,” (60) by the gracious disposition of God.
In practice, we accept this entire economy of God by consecrating ourselves totally to the Immaculate, as Her property, for our entire life and eternity. And, at times, we renew this consecration in special circumstances, offering her our individual works, our acts of devotion, including the Eucharistic.
Anyone consecrated to the Immaculate totally and without restriction, whenever he makes a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, quite apart from his awareness of belonging to Her (to which he may not always advert), will offer the entire visit expressly to the Immaculate, even if only with the invocation “Mary,” because he knows this will bring the maximum joy possible to Jesus and because he realizes also that in this instance it is She who accomplishes that visit in him and through him and he in Her and through Her. So, too, there is no better preparation for Holy Communion than to offer it all to the Immaculate (naturally doing on our part all that we can). She will prepare our heart in the best way possible and we can be certain to bring Jesus the greatest joy possible and to show Him the greatest love. (61)
Fr. Jerzy Domanski is former international director of the Knights of the Immaculata and one of the world’s foremost authorities on the life and writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe. This article was excerpted from For the Life of the World: St. Maximilian and the Eucharist, Academy of the Immaculate, 1993.
(1) Father Joseph Pal, Beatificationis et canonizationis Servi Dei Maximiliani M. Kolbe…Positio super virtutibus (Deposition on the Virtues…for the Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God Maximilian M. Kolbe) Rome, 1966, p. 820. Hereafter listed as Pos.
(2) Gli Scritti di Massimiliano Kolbe eroe di Oswiecim e beato della Chiesa (The Writings of Maximilian Kolbe. Hero of Oswiecim and Blessed of the Church), Florence, Città di Vita, 1975-78, vol. III, art. 1059, pp. 133-135. Hereafter listed as SK.
(3) SK III, 1270, p. 648.
(4) Alphonse Kolbe, OFMConv. Notatki (Notes), vol. 5 (1928-1929), manuscript, p. 41.
(5) SK III, 1315, p. 733.
(6) SK III, 1088, p. 195.
(7) Konferencja ascetyczne. Notatki sguchaczy przemówien Ojca Maksymiliana Kolbego (Ascetical Conferences of Father Maximilian Kolbe from the Notes of Those Who Heard Him), Niepokalanow, 1976, conference April 14, 1938. Hereafter listed as CK.
(8) CK, March 10, 1940.
(9) SK III, 1145, p. 326.
(10) CK, December 18, 1938.
(11) CK, March 10, 1940.
(12) CK, March 16, 1938.
(13) SK III, 1239, p. 553.
(14) CK, December 18, 1938.
(15) Presb. Ord., n. 5.
(16) SK III, 1302, p. 707.
(17) CK, March 10, 1940.
(18) CK, ibid.
(19) SK II, 968, p. 645, and passim.
(20) SK II, 968, p. 647.
(21) SK, II, 968, p. 647.
(22) CK, February 16, 1938.
(23) SK, III, 1079, p. 168.
(24) SK I,301, p. 463.
(25) SK I, 286, p. 430.
(26) SK I, 463, p. 858.
(27) CK, November 26, 1938.
(28) SK II, 968, p. 647.
(29) SK III, 1079, p. 167.
(30) CK, January 24, 1933.
(31) SK II, 987 E, p. 698.
(32) SK II, 987 B, p. 686,
(33) CK, November 4, 1938.
(34) CK, September 3, 1937.
(35) Pos., p. 164.
(36) SK I, 354, p. 584.
(37) SK I, 454, p. 838.
(38) CK, March 5, 1938.
(39) SK I, 454, p. 838.
(40) SK I, 354, p. 584.
(41) SK II, 895, p. 528.
(42) SK II, 892, p. 513; II, 954, p. 599 ff.
(43) SK I, 363, p. 611.
(44) CK, June 28, 1936.
(45) SK III, 1145, p. 326
(46) CK, June 28, 1936.
(47) CK, October 27, 1940.
(48) CK, June 16, 1939.
(49) SK III, 1332, p. 792.
(50) CK, March 28, 1937.
(51) CK, June 5, 1938.
(52) CK, June 16, 1939; April 24, 1938.