“If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.” - St. Maximilian Kolbe
Over the weekend a photograph popped up on my Facebook feed. The photo was of a young boy who was crying because his older brother had just made his First Holy Communion and he was upset that he, too, could not receive Holy Communion. The fatherly, consoling embrace the little boy received was from none other than our very own Archbishop Emeritus, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke.
The photo prompted me to consider how many adults would react the same way if they were denied the opportunity to receive Holy Communion and, alas, how many people receive Holy Communion not fully understanding what it is they’re doing.
“He remains among us until the end of the world. He dwells on so many altars, though so often offended and profaned.”
- St. Maximilian Kolbe
My parish, the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, is the mother church of the archdiocese. It is also one of the largest collections of mosaics in the world, an absolutely breathtaking structure and is, therefore, also the “tourist parish” of our archdiocese. As such, there are often people who have popped in to take a look and who stay for Mass—Catholics and non-Catholics alike. My apologies to these tourists but they always get the blame when I see someone who, after receiving the Host, is stopped by an acolyte and asked to return the Host if they aren’t Catholic and aren’t going to consume it, or coming back from Communion slipping the Host into a pocket or purse, or still holding it in their hands as they walk back to their seat. I just always assume these people are non-Catholic tourists who don’t know any better. I have, on occasion, stopped people to request that they either consume the Eucharist if they are Catholic or give it to me so that I could consume it after I have seen them put the Host in a pocket or purse after receiving it. It isn’t that I’ve named myself “Host Police” and am on a mission to interrupt the reception of the Blessed Sacrament; it’s that, as a Catholic, I know what they are so casually stuffing into a pocket isn’t simply a bit of pressed gluten. It isn’t a “symbolic representation” of something. It IS the Body of Christ and even if their intentions aren’t menacing and their actions are based on ignorance, it is my responsibility to prevent a grave error from being committed. Again, I assume these people aren’t Catholic and that they simply don’t understand the gravity of what they’ve done.
“Recognize in this bread what hung on the cross, and in this chalice what flowed from His side…”
- from the writings of St. Augustine, Sermon 3, 2; circa A.D. 410
The General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) states, “As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly [emphasis mine] and frequently. In order to be properly disposed to receive Communion, participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour [emphasis mine]. A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession. In this case, the person is to be mindful of the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition, including the intention of confessing as soon as possible (canon 916). A frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance is encouraged for all.”1
The Church, in Her instruction of how to prepare for Holy Communion conveys the importance of what we are preparing for.
As Catholics, we believe that, through transubstantiation, the bread and wine that appears on the altar becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
What you are receiving each and every time you receive Holy Communion isn’t simply bread. It isn’t simply wine. It is the Divine. It is God. It is, in the truest sense of the word—awesome.
(*Side note: I am not going to get in to the discussion of “hand vs. tongue” because the Church allows for reception of Holy Communion in the hand, but states in the GIRM that, “When receiving in the hand, the communicant should be guided by the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem: ‘When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost’.”2
I prefer to receive Holy Communion on my tongue. I would like to say that this habit began as an act of reverence; however, in full disclosure, I will admit to the fact that it began several years ago during cold and flu season. The woman in front of me was obviously very, very sick with a cold and after shaking her hand at the sign of peace, I really didn’t want to then have my hand in my mouth. It has, however, grown into a habit that I love. There are many reasons I prefer it; however, the greatest is the way it reminds me that I am not simply grabbing something that is owed me; when I receive Communion on my tongue I am, in a way, vulnerable and opening myself up to something that is a total and utter gift from God. Marc Barnes at Patheos.com touched on this when he wrote in defense of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue, “As a baby bird lifts its head for food, or as an infant seeks its mother’s milk, so we open our mouths. There is no action between the administration of the Eucharist by the priest and my reception of the very same. In this posture of helpless receptivity we conform our bodies to the authority of God, and to the reality that we are dependent on his action — manifested in the Church — for our salvation.”)
“…you are approaching to become witnesses of the intimate union of your souls with Jesus Christ. Look at the angels of the altar, dear little girls. Look at them, they envy you. All heaven is present.” – Words of Msgr. Jara to Blessed Teresa of the Andes First Communion Class
At the end of my last blog, I threw in a brief post script regarding the fact that when you approach for Communion, it shouldn’t be something casual or taken for granted. You shouldn’t act as though you’re simply sauntering up to be handed a piece of bubble gum you can simply pop in your mouth and chomp as you meander back to your pew or—God forbid, gentle reader—out to your car.
This isn’t how you should see Holy Communion:
Because this is what it actually is:
So, before you go up to receive Holy Communion the next time, think of the little boy from the photo at the beginning of this blog, crying because he couldn’t receive the Body of Christ. Think about Matthew 18:3, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Think about those two things, if nothing else, and then approach to receive your Lord, your God.