Body of Christ, Save Us

In time for the May 25 feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, a visit to the historic Basilica of the Most Holy Sacrament in Buenos Aires, Argentina. By Joseph Albino.

During a recent stay in downtown Buenos Aires, I inquired as to the location of the nearest Catholic church so that I could attend daily Mass. The Lord was with me, for it turned out that one of the most magnificent churches in all Argentina was just across the street from the back door of my hotel.

I quickly discerned that the quiet atmosphere of its interior and the melodious sound of its famous organ make Bas?ica del Sant?imo Sacramento (Basilica of the Most Holy Sacrament) the perfect place to worship the Lord in his Eucharistic presence.

I will recall my prayers there with special fondness on May 25, feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

As I stood facing the fa?de, I was impressed by the five towers before me. They recall the Gothic architecture of some of the great cathedrals of old Europe. Three stand in front of the cruciform-shaped edifice; two are toward the rear. Each is topped by a cross. The overall effect is to draw the eye upward, beyond the basilica and toward the celestial heavens.

Later I asked the manager of my hotel if I could view the fa?de from the hotel roof. He obliged. I was thrilled to snap off one photo after another from up there. No sight excited me more than the white marble statue of St. Peter Julian Eymard mounted about halfway up the central, and tallest, front bell tower.

Known as the Apostle of the Eucharist, St. Peter Julian Eymard grew up in the anti-Catholic aftermath of the French Revolution. After ordination he went on to found the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in 1856 and its lay branch, the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, two years later. He wrote: ?The Holy Eucharist is the perfect expression of the love of Jesus Christ for man, since it is the quintessence of all the mysteries of his life.?

The statue shows him raising high the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance, inviting the entire city to behold Christ with us ?always, until the end of the age? (Matthew 28:20). On either side a white-marble angel, wings folded, adores Jesus.

Forever Adorers

As I entered the basilica, my attention was drawn to the main altar. I learned that it was brought from Italy, where it was made of white marble with a vein of gray. It stretches three tiers high, the first tier holding the tabernacle front and center.

About the tabernacle are six little columns made of emerald-green Siberian Malachite. On the bronzed door of the tabernacle is an image of the Blessed Mother receiving holy Communion from the hands of St. John the Evangelist.

This main altar, dedicated to Our Lord, is appropriately decorated with various scenes portraying the sacrifice of the cross and of the Last Supper. At the top of the altar is a delicately carved Byzantine cross.

Above the tabernacle, on the third tier, is a miniature baldachin. This was inspired by P?e Tesni?e, a priest whom St. Eymard instructed. Inscribed here are the words Adoremus in Aeternum (Let us adore you forever).

Within this baldachin is a great monstrance presenting the Blessed Sacrament. The two figures at the base of the monstrance are the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. They stand in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

To the left of the main altar is an altar dedicated to Mary, Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Mary?s face expresses serene joy at contemplating Jesus, whom she holds in her arms and who is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament on the altar.

To the right of the main altar is an altar dedicated to St. Joseph. Identical in size and shape to Mary?s altar, this one contains many evocative mosaics.

Holy Hand

I was amazed to learn that the basilica possesses a unique reliquary: one containing the right hand of St. Peter Julian Eymard.

The reliquary is gold-colored copper with open sides and decorated with symbols of the Eucharist. Angels with trumpets call the world to the glorification of the Eucharist.

In fact, come to think of it, the Blessed Sacrament is amplified in myriad ways throughout the beautiful interior.

That doesn?t mean the other sacraments get short shrift. The basilica?s confessionals, for example, are wooden works of art in their own right. A highlight: Wood statues on two of the doors show Sts. Peter and Paul bearing symbols of penance and mercy.

The wood pulpit contains words from Christ?s own mouth: Go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The Twelve Apostles are pictured walking to carry out this Great Commission ? an image surely meant as a reminder that Jesus calls every Catholic to do his or her part in the evangelization of the world.

Joseph Albino writes from Syracuse, New York.

Basilica of the Most Holy Sacrament

San Mart? 1039

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Planning Your Visit

The Blessed Sacrament has been exposed for adoration since April, 2003. It is removed from the monstrance for Mass.