By Father Andrew Young.
“Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let Heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest.” These words from St. Francis of Assisi should give us pause as we reflect upon the reality of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a sublime gift from God that enables us to enter into a union with Jesus Christ unlike any other. When we receive holy Communion, we are not simply receiving bread and wine. We are really, truly and substantially receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. The awesome nature of this gift is something that should fill us with intense joy and we should be awe-struck every time we are in the presence of the Eucharist — because the very same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, worked amazing miracles, suffered, died and rose from the dead is right there in front of us. All too often, however, we can lose sight of this great reality and we can find ourselves approaching the Eucharist in a routine, nonchalant, way that makes it seem like receiving holy Communion is no different from anything else happening in our day. If we find ourselves falling into this category, a look at how the Church says we should approach the Sacrament can be a helpful reminder of the glory in front of us.
Since the Eucharist is the bedrock of our faith, the Church sets certain requirements for one to be able to receive holy Communion. Baptized (or fully received) Catholics who have reached the age of reason (7 years old) and who are not aware of mortal sin and who have observed the Communion fast may receive holy Communion. One who knowingly receives holy Communion while guilty of mortal sin that has not been absolved in confession, receives unworthily and thereby commits the mortal sin of sacrilege. Venial sins do not and should not prevent us from receiving Communion. The grace received in holy Communion forgives our venial sins and fortifies us against temptation to mortal sin. The Communion fast is absolutely necessary as well. All are obliged to not eat or drink for one hour prior to receiving Communion. Water and medicine are always permitted and do not break the fast. Deliberately not observing the Communion fast and still receiving is a mortal sin. Those who are seriously ill, however, and those who care for such persons are not bound by the fast.
Beyond these basic requirements to receive the Eucharist in a fitting manner, we also must make sure our hearts are properly disposed. When it comes to our prayer lives our disposition is of pivotal importance. God hears all of our prayers and answers all of our prayers but how we prepare ourselves for these encounters with God and how we approach God makes a huge difference in how we are able to experience God’s grace in our lives. Think about the last time you received holy Communion. Did you line up, look around the church, wave to a friend, then mechanically stick out your tongue or hand, quickly make the sign of the cross and go back to your pew? Or did you step into the line, try your best to block out any distractions, bow as the sacred Host was elevated in front of you, and then humbly receive the Lord of the Universe into your very person?
In both cases the same things occurred. In both cases you received holy Communion. One case, however, clearly had a better realization of the true gift that was being received and certainly had a greater impact on the one receiving the gift. Our preparation for receiving our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament should begin even before Mass begins; hence the need to fast for a while and to confess any grave sins we are aware of having committed. Once we enter the church, we should spend time in silent prayer so that our hearts are ready to fully enter into the Mass. Throughout Mass, we should try to avoid distraction and continually unite our own prayers and petitions to the prayers being offered by the priest. We should especially offer our own petitions at the moment of the Offertory and in that most sacred moment of consecration, we should be so plugged-in to the action of the Mass that we can truly recognize our Lord and God as he is elevated before us in the sacred Host and precious chalice. All of this should lead up to the moment when we step out of our pews and prayerfully approach the throne of God, disguised as a golden ciborium.
St. Therese of Lisieux once reminded us, “Our Lord does not come down from Heaven every day to lie in a golden ciborium. He comes to find another heaven which is infinitely dearer to him — the heaven of our souls.”
When we receive the Eucharist with the proper disposition and having prepared our hearts for the amazing gift that it is, the Lord’s grace is able to flood our souls and provide us with the strength we need to continue our mission of being true disciples of the Lord in the world. May each of us never lose sight of this precious gift. May we always make every effort to receive the Eucharist in the best possible manner and may we always approach the Eucharist, as St. Francis of Assisi said, with holy fear, trembling and exaltation!
Father Andrew Young is pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Maysville, Ky.