Eucharistic testimony

By Michael E. DeSanctis, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts and Theology, Gannon University

My strong attachment to the Eucharist goes back to a beautiful Saturday morning in 1964, when, as a 7-year-old, I celebrated my first holy Communion at Blessed Sacrament Church in my hometown of Utica, New York. I was a pretty pious kid and remember being greatly moved by the words our pastor used to explain to the 30 or 40 of us first communicants dressed entirely in white for the occasion and seated in the forward pews of our church.

childhood photo“Today, your souls are as bright as the sun,” he said. “It’ll be your job to keep them that way throughout your lives by remaining close to Christ in this beautiful sacrament.”

My Eucharistic piety was reinforced by both of my parents, but especially by my dad. He was a lifelong member of the Nocturnal Adoration Society, an international association of Catholic men who rose from their beds once a month to pray before the Blessed Sacrament throughout the course of an evening. The two of us would often attend “communion breakfasts” together when I became a teen and, at the conclusion of Mass every Holy Thursday, always seemed to spend an hour or so adoring the Eucharistic species tented within a side chapel at our church, as continues to be Catholic custom.

A distinct memory of mine, in fact, involves the time a priest-friend of my father’s and fellow society-member visited our home for the purpose of showing him the new monstrance the group had purchased for their purposes. Perched atop the boxy TV console that stood at one end of our living room, the gleaming sunburst-of-an-object looked almost as it would if elevated by a proper altar. Because this was the era when the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was encouraging lay Catholics to embrace more fully the liturgical dimension of the Eucharist, my parents — at the encouragement of our parish priests — regularly hosted “house liturgies” in that same living room.

To my young mind, there was nothing more beguiling than to have the Church’s “sacrament of unity” play out among Catholic friends and neighbors we invited to worship with us in the very place where our family strove to fulfill its own vocation to unity.

In college, my love of the Eucharist was deepened by involvement in the Catholic Newman Center that served not only students at the public institution I attended in the northernmost reaches of New York state but the budding engineers enrolled in the private technical college just down the road. While completing an MFA in the visual arts at Ohio University not long afterward, I composed a full-blown musical setting in Latin of the Ordinary of the Mass, which was first performed for a liturgical celebration at the Newman chapel of that institution. This project became the bridge to my completing in 1985 a dissertation on the effects of Vatican II on Catholic worship, music and architecture.

Immediately upon completing my doctoral work, I took a job teaching in the fine arts area and eventually in theology at Gannon University, to whose Catholic mission I was attracted. During the nearly 35 years I was at Gannon, I continued to share my love of the Eucharist as a liturgical writer, catechist, designer and consultant committed to helping the members of Catholic parish communities better appreciate how the interiors of their own souls might be kept “as bright as the sun” by feasting regularly on this heavenly bread we call the Eucharist.