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A General Communion (1921)
Alice Meynell
I saw the throng, so deeply separate,
⁠Fed at one only board—
The devout people, moved, intent, elate,
⁠And the devoted Lord.
Oh struck apart! not side from human side,
⁠But soul from human soul,
As each asunder absorbed the multiplied,
⁠The ever unparted whole.
I saw this people as a field of flowers,
⁠Each grown at such a price
The sum of unimaginable powers
⁠Did no more than suffice.
A thousand single central daisies they,
⁠A thousand of the one;
For each, the entire monopoly of day;
⁠For each, the whole of the devoted sun.
This week, we’re reading Alice Meynell’s “A General Communion.”

Alice Christiana Gertrude Thompson was born in 1847 in London, and spent much of her childhood here and there in Europe. Her family was well-connected—her father was a good friend of Charles Dickens. At the age of 21, while recovering from an illness, she converted to Catholicism. Eventually, her whole family followed her into the Church.
Alice married Wilfrid Meynell, another Catholic convert, in 1877, and together they edited Merry England, a widely-read Catholic magazine, and had eight children. Alice Meynell published several collections of poetry, and advocated for various social causes, including improving slum conditions, preventing cruelty to animals, and, most notably, advancing the cause of women’s suffrage. When a priest in Liverpool preached against votes for women, arguing that it could bring “a revolution of the first magnitude,” Meynell responded: “I say, most gravely, the vaster the magnitude of the revolution, the better.”
Alice Meynell was considered for the post of Poet Laureate, but like every other woman poet up until 2009, she was passed over. She died in 1922 at the age of 75.
In the poem Scott read, Meynell writes about “A General Communion.” A “general communion” is simply when the entire congregation comes forward to receive Holy Communion. It’s what we witness every Sunday, but at the time Meynell was writing, a “general communion” would have been a relatively rare and striking sight. Most of the time, just some of the congregation would go forward to receive communion—most often after Mass had concluded. A general communion was usually associated with a special feast day or a parish mission.
As the poet watches the people move to the altar to receive communion, she calls them a “throng,” a “crowd”—collective nouns—but she emphasizes their distinctness: they are “deeply separate,” “struck apart,” “each asunder.” And yet, in receiving communion, they receive “the ever unparted whole”—Christ’s real presence in the sacrament.  
In the last two stanzas, Meynell imagines the people like a great field of flowers—each of them precious, “grown at such a price.” Upon each of these “thousand… daisies” the sun shines:  “For each, the entire monopoly of day; / ⁠For each, the whole of the devoted sun.”
Meynell’s poem accurately reflects Catholic teaching about the Eucharist. When the bread is broken and shared, each of us receives just a fragment of the bread; but we do not receive a fragment of Christ. Rather, we receive the whole Christ in Holy Communion: body, blood, soul and divinity. And Christ is as present in one small fragment of a host as he is in the whole loaf: as the Catechism reminds us, “the breaking of the bread does not divide Christ” (CCC, 1377). No matter how many receive communion, all receive the same. To use Meynell’s comparison, it is as though each flower received “the whole of the devoted sun.”
Meynell’s poem stops there. But as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi this weekend, I think it’s good to be reminded that something more happens when we receive Holy Communion. “Deeply separate” as we are, we are made one in the Eucharist: one with Jesus, truly present in the sacrament, and one with each other as well. When we celebrate the Eucharist together, the “throng,” the “crowd” that Meynell speaks of becomes something more than a crowd—more even than a family. We become “one body, one spirit in Christ” (Roman Missal). As Pope Benedict XVI has written: “Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also towards unity with all Christians. We become ‘one body’, completely joined in a single existence…. ‘Worship’ itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn.” (Deus Caritas Est, 14)



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