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Blessed Imelda and childlike devotion to the Eucharist

Affection for Blessed Imelda Lambertini, whose feast day is May 12, has spread all over the world since 1910. That’s when Pope Saint Pius X lowered the age of reception of First Holy Communion to the age of reason. But Imelda is not the only saintly young person who should inspire Catholics of all ages to deepen their devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

Saint Dominic Savio (1842-1857) was from a poor family in Italy and was educated at one of Saint John Bosco’s schools for boys. Dominic believed God was calling him to be a priest from the time he was small, and he was precociously devout and virtuous. (He would carefully explain to other boys why something they wanted to do was wrong.) He learned to serve Mass when he was five—not an easy task in the nineteenth century—and was known to lose track of time when he prayed for hours before the Blessed Sacrament. He died young due to a deteriorating health condition.

Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991-2006) was born in London, England, but he grew up in Italy. It was by watching little Carlo’s pure and childlike devotion that his parents began to take their own faith more seriously. Before Carlo died of leukemia, he created a website to publicize real-life stories about Eucharistic miracles.

But Italian children are not the only ones who have demonstrated remarkable Eucharistic devotion. Saint José Sanchez del Rio (1913-1928) was a teenager when he joined the Cristeros movement to protest attacks on the Church in Mexico. He had attended Mass and Holy Hours from a young age, even though it was dangerous. He was too young to fight, so his unit made him their flagbearer and nicknamed him Tarcisius after the early Roman martyr who died protecting the Eucharist. José himself was captured, tortured, and killed for helping another Cristero escape capture and for refusing to renounce Jesus Christ.

Another famous pair of Eucharistic devotees come from Portugal. Saints and siblings Francesco Marto (1908-1919) and Jacinta Marto (1910-1920) not only saw a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1917, but they had also seen an angel a year earlier. The angel encouraged them to pray and appears to have given them Holy Communion. After their visions ended, witnesses reported that the children continued to show great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and frequently stopped by their local church to pay a visit to our Lord, all on their own initiative.

But Blessed Imelda (1322-1333) is the patron saint of First Holy Communicants. She was born into a noble family in Bologna, Italy, and was a devout little girl. She was only nine years old when she convinced her parents to send her to be educated at a nearby community of Dominican nuns. Learning more about the Eucharist from the nuns only fueled her love for our Lord and her desire to receive Communion, even though she was considered too young to receive based on the sacramental practices of the time. On the feast of the Ascension, as eleven-year-old Imelda was devoutly praying in church, the nuns saw what appeared to be a sacred host hanging in the air over the girl’s head. The school chaplain, moved by the sight or by the encouragement of the nuns, gave Communion to Imelda. Her profound love for our Lord as she received the Eucharist for the first time was visible to those who were present. Immediately afterward, Imelda unexpectedly died, blissfully happy, and she has become a model of devotion for children as they prepare to receive the Eucharist.

Is there a recipe to make children—and adults—experience such a profound love of Jesus Christ at Mass? Parents, priests, and catechists certainly wish there was. But the mysteries of God’s grace and human free will are, obviously, mysteries beyond our control. However, the life story of Blessed Imelda points out three key ingredients that may dispose a person to receive our Lord in a deeper and more transformational way.

Read more at Catholic World Report 

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