1. The Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament

Some basic information about the Congregation SSS


The name

1. The Congregation of the Blessed - Sacrament fathers. The official Latin name is: Societas Sanctissimi Sacramenti (SSS).

In France, in the country where the congregation was founded, we are called: Pères du Saint Sacrement, but in several Roman countries (in Italy, and in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries) the name is: Sacramentini. Also in Holland we adopted recently this name: Sacramentijnen. In Germany however the name is: Eucharistiner.

The title

2. The congregation was founded in 1856. It belongs to the many of religious associations, which - according to the ecclesiastical law of the Latin Church - are indicated as CONGREGATIO. Only the old Monastic associations (Benedictines, Cistercians, Cartesians), the associations that follow the Rule of St. Augustine (Dominicans, Premonstranters), the Franciscans (3 branches), the Carmelites, and the Jesuit-fathers may use the name ORDO (order). After the Council of Trident newly founded associations were not allowed to call themselves "order".

The Mission (purpose)

3. The name of the congregation indicates its aim: to promote the cult of the Eucharist.

In the time when the Congregation was founded, this CULT was not gravitated towards the celebration of the Eucharist, but towards the veneration of the Consecrated Bread, exposed on the altar after the celebration. This form of veneration, called ADORATION, existed since the time of the Counter-Reformation (the Catholic antipode of the Protestant Reformation). It was inspired by two main ideas: a) to protest against the denial of the Lords real presence in the Eucharist, b) to put an act of reparation for the growing hostility, infidelity and indifference towards faith and church. As we will see later, after the Vatican Council II the vision of the mission was changed, and also the spirituality; but the original inspiration of the Founder was not changed.

The spirituality in its historical context

4. The idea of reparation got a new impulse after the French Revolution. The congregation was founded just in this period. The Revolution (1792-1815) resulted in the beheading of the king and the queen, just in Paris, on the Place de la Concorde, before the Garden of the Kings Palace (Louver). Many churches and abbeys were destroyed or confiscated, the priests should take the oath on a new, anti-religious constitution: who refused was also beheaded, and many priests flied to England or begun an underground life and ministry. This reign of terror came to an end when Napoleon restored peace and order.

Meanwhile many things were changed by the revolution. New forms of religious life arose. In those new forms we can distinguish three streams: one stream proceeded from the social needs (the industrial revolution was coming, schools for poor children, houses for orphaning, hospitals for sick people were organized by new congregations of brothers and sisters); a second stream was the immediate consequence of the colonial expansion of European countries at that time (missionaries were send to the new discovered or conquered countries in Asia, Africa and America); but a third stream was inspired by the need of a deeper foundation for a religious renewal.

The foundation of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament links up with this third stream but has also some features of the first and the second streams. The start and the approbation of the congregation by the archbishop of Paris were conditioned by the promise that the new congregation would promote the first communion among the poor children in the 'banlieues' of Paris. And the fact that the congregation, how small it was, had been spread all over the world, was due to the phenomenon of the international eucharistic congresses since the end of the 19th century, that were organized throughout the world, especially in the countries where the church was still young and grew.

The Founder

5. A French priest, Pierre Julien Eymard founded the Congregation. He was born in La Mure (French Alps, under Grenoble) at 4 February 1811, so in the last years of the empire of Napoleon I. The Congress of Vienna brought the restoration of the monarchy.

The most important periods and events of his life are:

- His youth with a strong desire to became a priest 1811-1829.

- A first trial, at the fathers Oblates of Mary in Marseille, failing by lack of health, 1829;

- The second trial, at the Diocesan Seminary of Grenoble, after his fatherís death; from 1831 till 1834, succeeded with his ordination in 1834;

- His life as diocesan priest: at first as chaplain in Chatte (1834-1837) and later as parish priest in Monteynard (1837-1839); still desiring to enter in a religious congregation;

- His life as member of the new founded congregation of the Marists in Lyon.

Important is that Lyon, the second city of France, was the center of a stark renewal of religious life, especially among lay-people. Already during his novitiate Eymard was appointed as assistant to the general. He fulfilled several functions (spiritual leader at the seminary, vice-provincial, director of the third order of Mary) and in time he got a strong devotion to the Eucharist.

His life as Marist has been the longest time of his priesthood (17 years), but only from 1851, the year in which he got a special religious experience in La Fourvière (a sanctuary near to Lyon); he was confronted with the plans of the foundation of a new

male congregation (for priests) devoted to the Eucharist, plans invented and imposed upon him by the others. He never completely agreed with the spirituality of those others. Concentration on the idea of reparation was too narrow and one-sided for him. But even the idea of a Eucharistic cult, as a royal service of adoration, has been, -as we shall see later - not his final personal spirituality. At last, in 1856, he was convinced that he should be the founder of a new congregation, and he started his work in Paris. At that moment he was 45 years old.

- The last 12 years of his life had been filled with many activities and difficulties.

One of the most important task, he had to fulfill, was to write the Rule of Life (Constitutions) for his Congregation. In 1864 they were ready and provisionally approved. Than he had to found at least two other communities (houses) in order to be recognized by Rome. Those houses were in Marseille and Angers. Later on he founded a house in Brussels. This house had been very important for the expansion of the congregation to Holland, at the beginning of the 20th century

Eymard himself even thought about a foundation in Jerusalem, where is the room of our Lords Last Supper. It was his dream to buy this place. This plan had become the occasion to the most important spiritual experience in his life and to the turning point in his spirituality. While the negotiations about the acquisition of a house in Jerusalem were blocked, he decided to go to Rome and to stay there until the question would be solved. Every time the gathering of the Cardinals was postponed (because of sickness of an important cardinal or because of other urgent questions); and so he decided on 18 January 1865, on the feast of St. Paulís Conversion, to begin a retreat for himself and to remain in retreat till the final decision. This retreat (2 months and a half) has become his 'conversion'. This conversion can be summarized in these words: The room of the Lords Supper, the Cenacle, is not important; the only important cenacle is the cenacle of my own heart, and the heart of every Christian faithful. In that heart Jesus should live and celebrate His Last supper, as often as possible. The only way to that is the Communion. Not only as a liturgical act, but also and before all as a spiritual act: a mutual love: the Lord gives Himself to us, we give ourselves to Him.

From that time on he became more and more convinced in the ill influence of the Jansenism, that put too strong conditions for the communion and considered the communion more as a reward for a good Christian life, in stead of a viaticum, a remedy for a better Christian life.

After this 'conversion' Eymard has made some trials for a revision of the constitutions according to this new insight. But he did not succeed. There were too many deceptions in his life and his health was getting worse. He died on 1 August 1868 in his native-town La Mure.

The development after the founder's death

6. The time between the death of our founder (1868) and the years around the new century (from 1898) is - in a certain sense - a time of silence:

- In his congregation a deep crises dominated the whole life, which made impossible any sound spreading.

- In the church of France the anticlerical laws of August Combes and Jules Ferry blocked the life and activities of religious congregations, thus many priests and religious immigrated to other countries. And so, 100 years ago, in 1902 a house of the congregation was opened in Holland, in the village Baarle-Nassau, on the frontier between Belgium and Holland. This year 2002 will be a first centenary jubilee for our congregation in Holland.

- Not only the church of France, but the whole western church tried to maintain her power and to overcome the crises by the convocation of the First Vatican Council in 1870 and the proclamation of the dogma of the infallibility of the Pope. Perhaps it has been more an act of desperation than of wisdom.

- After the Pope of the "Infallibility" (Pius IX) during the last decade of the 19th century a new Pope (Leo XIII) followed a new strategy: He developed the social doctrine of the church and showed the world that the church has a social message. This message pretended to be a proper Christian ideology between communism and liberalism.

- In the beginning of the 20th century a third Pope, (Pius X) put the accent the renewal of the church just there where our Founder had put it too. the return to a deeper spirituality. Therefore he followed two lines and combined two streams:

a) At first he issued two decrees: one about the first communion of children, that should be put in a younger age (from 12 years to 7 or 8); the other about the communion of the adults, that was promoted in that sense that people should participate at the communion frequently, even - if possible - every day.

b) Secondly, and in connection with the first initiative, the Pope stimulated the participation of people at the whole liturgy. He supported the liturgical movement that was grown up in France since the time of the "Reveil": popular missals were printed and edited from which lay-people could follow the texts of the liturgy, for the whole liturgical year; he promoted the restoration of the old plain chant (Gregorian) and later the participation at this chant by the whole community was furthered, and the excesses in the composition and performance of masses for choirs were forbidden.

- Later Popes continued the line of this liturgical and spiritual renewal:

a) Pius XII issued an encyclical about the Church, as the Mystic Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis); he issued also an encyclical about the Liturgy (Mediator Dei); and he restored the Liturgy of the Easter-vigil. (Not in the morning of White Saturday but in the Easter night itself)

b) John XXIII got convinced that the time was ripe for a total revision of the life of the church; that partial adaptations were not sufficient but that all the different new visions about the nature and mission of the church, about the nature and structure of the liturgy, and about the life and the mission of the religious institutes (especially the Congregations) should be combined in one ecumenical Council: Vatican II.

As for the Eucharist he got convinced that it was not sufficient to bring reparation TO the Eucharist (outside of the celebration), but to make reparation OF the celebration itself. This restoration included 2 things: a) return to the shape the Eucharist had in the early times of the church (and follow the inspiration of the eastern church), b) bring the liturgy nearer to the people of today (liturgy in vernacular language)

c) In the liturgical renewal one lack was left: the Eucharistic Cult besides the celebration of the Mass (The liturgy of the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament). In order to integrate this cult in the whole of the new liturgy, Pope Paul VI wrote his encyclical Mysterium Fidei. This encyclical has been very important for the form and the spirituality of our congregation. While:

- First of all it abolished the separation and the conflict between the cult of adoration and the celebration of the Eucharist

- Secondly it was the source for a new Eucharistic spirituality, in which the celebration was the start point and the center of our life of prayer

- Thirdly it gave a chance to integrate new visions about the Eucharist in our rule of life, especially the emphasis on the idea that we celebrate the Passover of our Lord, this is not only his suffering and death (like in the middle ages) but also his resurrection, and that the Lords presence is the presence of the RISEN Lord.

d) According to the decisions of the II Vatican Council our congregation had to rewrite our Constitutions. They would be called Rule of Life. In 1971 a general chapter made a project of a new Rule and decided that it would be a Rule AD EXPERIMENTUM for 10 years. In 1981 a new general chapter made a draft for the definitive text. The Holy See approves this text finally in 1984 (after many discussions and supplying changes). The mainlines were right, only the juridical details must be elaborated in a different way.

Since that year (1984) our congregation tries to bring in practice the consequences of the new Rule of Life: both in our own religious life and in our apostolic activities. We try to live according to the headlines of a new Eucharistic spirituality.

The congregation in Holland

7. As we saw above, the first community and house in Holland were founded in 1902, in the small village Baarle-Nassau. It was only a jumping board for another foundation on a better, more central place. In 1907 a patch of ground was offered to our fathers by a rich man, who was owner of a great Villa, called Brakkenstein (now "Chalet Brakkenstein"). Immediately the fathers began with building a monastery and in 1908 the community of Baarle-Nassau moved to this new house. In 1912, they started the construction of a great church, which was consecrated in 1914.

Meanwhile, immediately after the foundation in Baarle-Nassau, the fathers had started the edition of three reviews: one for faithful lay-people (God-met-ons), one for priests (SSma Eucharistia) and one for children. By those periodicals the congregation got a good name in catholic Holland and from everywhere in the country young men presented themselves to enter the small seminary of the congregation.

In 1924 a new construction was necessary in order to receive our young seminarists.

A new turning point in the history of the congregation was the year 1930. In that year

The general administration of the congregation decided to divide the congregation in provinces. And so every European country where the congregation had one or more houses and a sufficient number of religious became a province. Holland too.

The consequence was that this Dutch province should provide not only its own small seminary (for the candidates between 12 and 18 years) but also its own great seminary, where young men, after their time of novitiate (2 years) could make their study of philosophy (2 years) and theology (4 years).

For that aim the fathers in Holland bought a house in Baarlo in 1931.

While the space in Nijmegen again became to small for the growing number of seminarists, the fathers started the construction of a new seminary in Stevensbeek (40 km from here). It was almost ready when, in 1940, World War II broke out.

During the war two of those three houses were required and occupied by the German armies.

After the war the study of philosophy and theology were replaced in Nijmegen .

The quarter Brakkenstein grew bigger and bigger and the church of 1914 became too small. In 1965 the provincial council decided to enlarge the church and - at the same time - to adapt it to the consequences of the liturgical renewal of the Vatican Council II.

The secularization after that time did its work.

You see now the result:

The houses of Baarlo and Stevensbeek are lift up.

The house of Brakkenstein has still 19 fathers and brothers, most of them are old and some others are cared in Berchmanianum.It is an nursing home for aged and ill religious, directed by the Jesuit-fathers.

One young community exists in Amsterdam. And a group of 4 men started a new community in Kerkrade, near to Maastricht, this year.

Text - Fathers of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament.
Photos - Marina V. Vorobjova.
Nijmegen, 2001.