Rev. Gaspard Mermillod, he died in 1892, was a cardinal in the Catholic church and early in his career he served in a parish in Geneva. He was an extremely devout man and was known for his preaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
It was his practice, at the end of each day, to lock the doors of the church then go to the altar where the reserved sacrament was held and tend the sanctuary lamp. Following this, “When he had carefully looked after everything, he knelt on the altar steps for a short time, after which he made a reverent genuflection, kissed the floor as a sign of profound reverence before the Most Holy Sacrament and then returned home.” This was his daily practice. However, one evening, he was interrupted.
Following the prayers, genuflection, and kiss, even though the doors were locked and he believed he was alone, he heard a noise behind him. Turning, he saw a distinguished young woman coming out of the confessional. “What are you doing here at this hour, Lady?” asked Mermillod.
“I am a Protestant, as you know,” she answered. “I have been present at the sermons you have given during Lent on the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. Your arguments have convinced me of the truth of this doctrine. Only one doubt remained, and that was – pardon me for saying it – does he himself believe what he says? I wished to see if, when alone or in secret, you would conduct yourself before the Holy Eucharist as one who believes in It, and I had firmly resolved to be converted if your conduct corresponded to your words. I came, I have seen, I believe.”
“This lady became one of the most zealous Catholics of Geneva.”
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
The Confession of St. Peter, which we celebrate today, is speaking of those words of Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus responds in part by telling Peter that this was revealed to him, not by some teaching or use of his intellect, but by Our Father in Heaven. The knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God was a grace given to Peter and to all who believe.
It is this same grace which extends to us the knowledge of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Following the words of institution spoken by the priest, even though the bread and wine maintain their appearance, they truly become the Body and Blood of Jesus. How this takes place is a divine mystery, but like Peter’s confession, through grace, we can confess that the consecrated bread and wine are in fact the body and blood of the Messiah, the Son of the living God. So we, like Cardinal Mermillod, learn to approach the presence of Christ in this sacred duty of our’s with reverence, awe, and love, knowing that God waits for us there.
St. Paul wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” We answer, “Yes.” It is the Body, it is the Blood, therefore, when receiving communion, approach with reverence and say with St. Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and believe that God is truly present.