“The madwoman of the Sacrament”

Teresa Enriquez de Alvarado became known as “the madwoman of the Sacrament” for her love of the Eucharist and her example of fervour.

Newsroom (February 2, 2022, 4:30 PM, Gaudium Press) Throughout history, God has raised up souls especially fond of the Eucharist, who enrich the Church with their witness. Yes, they enrich it, because the Church is not like a museum that preserves only the excellence in which it was constituted by its divine Founder, it is a living society that constantly grows to produce new fruits.

Of course, this growth does not dispense with difficulties and stumbles. Nowadays, a serious crisis is eating away at Catholic circles, with inevitable repercussions, such as a lack of love for the Holy Eucharist. But let us not deceive ourselves; in the disaffection to the Eucharistic cult, the faithful are usually more victims than culprits, victims of a pagan society. Victims also of the scarcity of examples and guides. If we speak of a “crisis of vocations”, we should more properly say a “crisis of responses”, because God never stops calling.

In any case, the courageous people who respond to the call always shine in the firmament of the Church. It is a matter of seeking them out, getting to know them, admiring them and imitating them.

A little more than five hundred years ago, one of these souls shone out, not precisely within a convent or in the exercise of an ecclesiastical ministry. From the ranks of the laity, and without the heavy temporal burdens hindering her dedication to the Church, a lady of the Castilian nobility stood out: Teresa Enriquez de Alvarado (1450-1529). Who was this personage?

Cousin sister of King Ferdinand the Catholic and close friend of Queen Isabella of Castile; aunt of St. Francis of Borja, Duke of Gandía, who was the third General of the Society of Jesus, and closely related to the notables of her time, Doña Teresa honoured her duties of state with excellence. She was the wife of the Chief Accountant of the Kingdom and Mayor of Toledo, Don Gurierre de Cárdenas, from whom she had descendants. With her money, she ordered the construction of temples, hospitals and cloisters, as well as many other charitable works, helping the poor and sick prodigiously.

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But it was the Real Presence of the Lord that most captivated his heart. She received Communion regularly, at a time when it was not customary to do so, and she found time, in the midst of her court or charitable duties, to spend long hours before the tabernacle. She herself ground the wheat and kneaded the flour to make the hosts that would later be consecrated at the altar.

In Torrijos, a city in the province of Toledo where she settled, she founded, as a widow, some Sacramental Confraternities that spread to many places, promoting Eucharistic adoration in particular. By Papal Bull, Julius II approved and promoted the institution of the “Archconfraternities of the Most Holy Body of Christ”, both in Rome and in Spain. Later, this work spread to other countries in Europe and America.

The purpose of the Confraternities was to promote the greatest splendour in the worship of the Blessed Sacrament: care of the tabernacles, custodies and sacred vessels, of the priestly vestments, of what concerns the furnishing of the altar, and the organization of the processional transfer of Viaticum to the sick (minister, canopy, candles, bell, etc.). The confraternities had people who checked and informed the competent authority how the Eucharist was being venerated in the different places, to later correct the deficiencies. Because decorum and dignity in attitudes and gestures are no trifles when it comes to honouring the Bread of Heaven.

Abrased in her love for the Eucharist, she gave everyone an example of fervour. She was so passionate about this commitment that Pope Julius II called her “the madwoman of the Sacrament”; this is how she is still popularly known in Spain.

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With her confraternities – which today we would say of “pontifical right” -, by the role given to the laity to organize and participate in them, and by the pomp with which they sought to approach the Blessed Lord even in profane areas such as the public highway, Teresa contributed so that Eucharistic worship was not only a privilege of sacred spaces but also had influence in civil and daily life. It was a new trend that was gaining strength under the breath of the counter-reformation. Thus, while there were those who dedicated themselves to justifying the Eucharistic dogma by doctrinally refuting errors, it affirmed it in the field of trends, putting a note of splendour, beauty, and good taste on everything related to the Blessed Sacrament.

As could not be otherwise, our lady was a great devotee of the Virgin Mary. In her will she wrote: “(…) the Most Glorious Virgin Holy Mary, her mother, whom I hold as Mistress and Advocate in all my actions, and now, with a devout heart, I offer myself as her slave and servant. He ordered that the funeral acts of her burial be simple, forbade anyone to speak about her, and that the sermon be in honour of the Blessed Sacrament.

Recently, his diocesan process of beatification was concluded in the Archdiocese of Toledo, in whose territory Torrijos is located, where he lived the last years of his life. Her body is kept incorrupt and rests in the monastery of the Conceptionist Nuns of that city.

Used to the solemnity and pomp that surrounded the great ones of her time, Teresa wanted her to be the Great One among the great ones, the humble Prisoner who hides Himself under the species of bread and wine.

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Some people might think: “It is very easy to do great things when one has social prestige, good relationships and considerable wealth. This consideration is not accurate. What establishes a valid work is the intention and the brio of the enterprise, not the environment or the means available; these contribute, and how much, but they are not decisive. In the things of God, divine grace is what counts most, human factors are secondary.

Nowadays, there are many people with power, influence and money… and how little of all this capital is applied for the glory of God and the good of the neighbour! On the contrary, from the highest social, political and economic levels, evil is usually favoured, and worst of all, with impunity.

Teresa Enriquez was great because she was humble. And the nobility of her soul far surpassed the blood that ran through her veins.

Mairiporã, São Paulo, February 2022

By Father Rafael Ibarguren EP – Ecclesiastical Assistant of the Eucharistic Works of the Church.

Translated by Emílio Portugal Coutinho.

Compiled by Zephania Gangl

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