In June 1892, St. Louis Martin, who had returned to Lisieux on May 10 after three years in the Bon Sauveur mental hospital, was living with his two daughters, Leonie and Celine, at 19 rue Paul Banaston, in the home of his brother-in-law, Isidore Guerin,
In 1892 the liturgical feast of Corpus Christi, known in France as "la Fete-Dieu," was celebrated on Thursday, June 16. The solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the town took place on the following Sunday, June 19.*
By Alexandre P. (carte postale ancienne) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This procession was quite elaborate. At certain places in the town and at the homes of devout families, provisional Altars of Repose ("reposoirs") were constructed, flanked by greenery and flowers. The procession wound throughout the town, pausing at the altars for Benediction and other special prayers.
Celine recounts what happened at the Guerin house on June 19, 1892:
In June, on the second Sunday of Corpus Christi, the Guerin family made an Altar of Repose for the procession of the Blessed Sacrament. It was arranged in front of the house, and the altar was beside the open door of my uncle’s office. All of us used to gather together there, and this year our dearest father was in the center, surrounded by his family circle as with a crown.
When the Archpriest of the Cathedral, Canon Rohee, had given Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament to the crowd, he entered the room and placed the monstrance on the venerable head of our dearest father . . . Oh! what an acceptable Thabor** it was for our Lord, while tears filled the eyes of the dear invalid . . . +
We can appreciate the full significance of this Eucharistic blessing only in the context of Louis Martin's deep Eucharistic spirituality. He attended Mass daily and received the Eucharist as often as his confessor allowed (at Lisieux, four or five times a week, highly unusual at that time). Every afternoon he made a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, taking Therese with him unless she was in school. He was a leader in the society for the Nocturnal Adoration of the Eucharist at Alencon, and, when he came to Lisieux, he persuaded Isidore Guerin, who was a member of the pastoral council, to introduce it at St. Pierre's.
The blessing Pope Leo XIII gave Louis may be seen as a foreshadowing of the 1892 blessing. In 1895 Therese recounts how Louis was presented to the Pope during their pilgrimage to Rome (November 20, 1887):
Papa had come to the Holy Father’s feet before us with the men. Father Révérony had been very charming to him, introducing him as the father of two Carmelites. The Sovereign Pontiff, with a sign of particular good will, placed his hand on my dear King’s venerable head, seeming to mark it with a mysterious seal in the name of Him whose venerable Vicar he is. Ah! now that he is in heaven, this father of four Carmelites, it’s no longer the Pontiff’s hand that rests on his forehead, prophesying martyrdom. It’s the hand of the Spouse of Virgins, the King of Glory, rendering His faithful servant’s head resplendent. Forever this adorable hand will rest on this head which He has glorified!***
Then, in May 1888, Louis visited Alencon, where he received deep consolation. Pauline inserted into Therese's memoir lines describing what he said to his daughters afterward:
"O Mother, do you remember the day and the visit when he said to us "Children, I returned from Alencon where I received in Notre-Dame Church such great graces, such consolations that I made this prayer: My God, it is too much! yes, I am too happy. it isn't possible to go to heaven this way! I want to suffer something for you! I offer myself . . . . the word 'victim' died on his lips; he didn't dare pronounce it before us, but we had understood."****
On June 15, 1888, when Louis was so delighted with one of Celine's works of art that he wanted to take her to Paris for lessons, she confided that, after his death, she planned to become a Carmelite. He said "Come, let's go together to the Blessed Sacrament to thank Him for honor He does me in choosing His spouses in my home. If I possessed anything better, I would hasten to offer it to him."
The following month he disappeared suddenly; four days later he was found at Le Havre. In October of the same year, a retreat of Nocturnal Adoration was preached at St. Pierre's Cathedral from September 30, 1888 through October 8, 1888. Leonie, Celine, and Louis became members of the Association of the Blessed Sacrament.
In December, Canon Rohee, arch-priest of St. Pierre's, announced at Mass that he was beginning a drive to raise 10,000 francs for a new main altar. Louis at once pledged the whole sum.
Very soon afterward, on February 12, 1889, Louis's mental state deteriorated so much that Isidore Guerin thought it safest for him to be interned at the Bon Sauveur mental hospital in Caen, where he remained for more than three years. Therese wrote: "Papa had just made a donation to God of an altar, and it was he who was chosen as a victim to be offered with the Lamb without spot." (Story of a Soul). She added that the "better thing" Louis had to offer was himself.
Less than a month after his discharge from the mental hospital in 1892, then, Canon Rohee, the very priest who had received Louis's gift of the altar, brought the Eucharist to the old man who could no longer approach the altar rail, bringing Louis's offering full circle. What a perfect symbol of God's acceptance of Louis's offering of himself with Christ.
This Eucharistic blessing becomes more poignant when we realize that, a short time after Louis returned to Lisieux, it was decided no longer to allow him to receive communion because he had grown so emotional that a deeply moving experience such as receiving the Eucharist increased the likelihood of heart trouble.****** Further, although on the evening before his death at Chateau La Musse near Evreux, Fr. Chillard, the pastor of the nearby Church of St. Sebastien, gave him the last sacraments, he could not administer communion because Louis could not swallow. Louis's being deprived of the Eucharist for the last years of his life foreshadows the reported words of Therese:
"If you find me dead one morning, don't be troubled; it's because Papa le bon Dieu will have come to get me. Without doubt, it's a great grace to receive the sacraments, but, when God doesn't allow it' it's good all the same; everything is grace."
* Documentation from the archives of the diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux.
**The reference is to Mount Tabor, where the disciples saw Jesus transfigured with Moses and Elijah.
+The Father of the Little Flower, by Celine Martin (Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face). Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., p. 106.
****Letters of Saint Therese of Lisieux, Volume I (1877-1890), tr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1982, p. 435 (LT 53, footnote 3).
*****Louis et Zelie Martin, une saintete pour tous les temps, by Jean Clapier. Paris: Presses de la Renaissance, 2009, p. 320.
******Louis et Zelie Martin, by Thierry Henault-Morel. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2015, p. 254.