"Strange Things Happen on the Night of Christmas"
Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
Father Segundo Llorente (1906-1989) was a Spanish Jesuit priest who was assigned to the missions in Alaska. For forty years he labored strenuously to bring the Holy Gospel to the natives of that place.
Father Llorente wrote a reflection entitled "Strange Things Happen on the Night of Christmas," that discussed the important of revering the Most Holy Eucharist. This insightful piece, which was published in the February 1998 newsletter of the Catholic Society of Evangelists, is relevant for our Third Christian Millennium.
A priest told me what happened to him once in his first parish. After the Midnight Mass on Christmas Day he personally locked the church. With the keys in his pocket he went to his room and had a good sleep. At 7:30 in the morning he got up and went back to the church intending to have one hour of prayer all to himself. He opened the side door leading to the sacristy, turned on a light, and then turned on the lights for the church. As he opened the sacristy door and walked into the church, he literally froze. Strange people clad in the poorest of clothes occupied most of the pews and all were in total silence. No one so much as wiggled and nobody cared to look at him. A small group was standing by the Nativity Scene contemplating the manger in total silence.
The priest recovered quickly and in a loud voice asked them how they got in. Nobody answered. He walked closer to them and asked again. "Who let you in?" A woman answered totally unconcerned: "Strange things happen on the night of Christmas." And back to total silence The priest went to check the main door and found it locked just as he had left it. He was now determined to get the facts and turned his face to the pews; but they were empty. The people had vanished.
He kept this puzzle to himself for some time. Unable to hold it in any longer, he told me just what I have told you. Could I help with any plausible explanation? Let me hurry to say that the priest in question is a model of sanity and is as well educated academically as most of the priests I know, if not better.
My explanation was and still is as follows. Those were dead people who were doing their purgatory, or part of it, in the church. It is safe to assume that we atone for our sins where we committed them. Those people were immersed in total silence. Why? Consider the irreverence committed before the Blessed Sacrament; how many people act out in church: chatting, giggling, and looking around. After Mass some people gather in small groups around the pews and turn the church into a market place with no regard for Christ's Real Presence in the tabernacle. Why did they vanish? They did not vanish. They simply became invisible; but they remained tied to their pews unable to utter one single word to atone for their disrespectful chatter while living.
The Blessed Sacrament is no laughing matter. There is a price tag to all we do or say. In the end it is God Who gets the last laugh--so to speak. Those people had to give the Blessed Sacrament the adoration and respect that Christ deserves. For how long? Only God can answer that. Why did the priest see them? So he could pray for them and for all other Poor Souls detained in other churches. Why other priests do not see these people? Well, perhaps they already know in theory that souls can be detained in churches as well as anywhere else, so they do not need a miracle.
Why were they clad in such poor clothes? To atone for their vanity while living. People often use clothes not so much to cover their nakedness but as a status symbol to impress others. But God is not impressed by, say, mink coats. Also people walk into church with hardly any clothes. In the summer months it is not unusual for people--mostly women--to go to receive Holy Communion in the most indecent clothing. The pastor may or may not put up with it; but God will have His day in court about this. Rags could be an appropriate punishment for these excesses.
Although the Church does not command that we need to believe the account as related by Father Llorente, it is, nonetheless, a salutary reminder of the reverence to be paid the Most Holy Eucharist.
We realize that we can never adore Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as we ought. But we must try! He deserves our humble efforts and will reward us for our attempts.
O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!"