Communion - Dispositions to Receive


The prerequisites for the reception of Holy Communion are 1) being in the state of grace, 2) having fasted for one hour (for the sick 15 minutes if possible, no fast if fasting is not possible), and 3) devotion and attention.

1. State of Grace. As St. Paul notes in his letter to Corinth, reception after examining oneself is a prerequisite for worthy reception, otherwise Communion has the opposite from the desired effect of union with our Lord. This is why, out of respect for Christ and our own good, the Church obliges us to be in the state of grace when we receive. It should be noted, however, that some Catholics have the mistaken notion that they cannot go to Communion unless they go to Confession first. This is incorrect. Both the theology of the Church and her law oblige Confession ONLY when there is mortal sin. Confessions of devotion, however, are highly recommended. Thus, two errors are to be avoided, liberalism and rigorism.

1 Cor. 11:27-29
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Can. 916  A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or to receive the Body of the Lord without prior sacramental confession unless a grave reason is present and there is no opportunity of confessing; 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. [This is a truly exceptional permission that needs to be properly understood. It requires moral or physical impossibility to go to Confession and the necessity to receive Communion - such as a priest who MUST celebrate Mass.]

Can. 988
1. A member of the Christian faithful is obliged to confess in kind and in number all serious sins committed after baptism and not yet directly remitted through the keys of the Church nor acknowledged in individual confession, of which one is conscious after diligent examination of conscience.
2. It is to be recommended to the Christian faithful that venial sins also be confessed.

2. Fasting for One Hour. By ancient tradition Christians abstain from profane food prior to receiving the sacred food of the Eucharist. Until the pontificate of Pope Pius XII the Eucharistic fast was from midnight. Pope Pius reduced it to three hours, and after Vatican II, Pope Paul VI reduced it to one hour. The current Code of Canon Law states,

Canon 919
1. One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion.
2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day may take something before the second or third celebration even if the period of one hour does not intervene.
3. Those who are advanced in age or who suffer from any infirmity, as well as those who take care of them, can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have taken something during the previous hour.

The Eucharistic fast is before Holy Communion, not the  Mass. It is a fast from food and drink, water is alright, as is medicine. The moral theology tradition teaches that to be food it must be a) edible, b) taken by mouth, and  c) swallowed. In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, candies, breath mints, lozanges and anything that is put into the mouth to be dissolved or chewed meets these conditions once the dissolved contents are swallowed. Chewing gum does not break the fast, but it is disrespectful of the Sacred Liturgy and once the juice is swallowed the fast is broken. The tradition also teaches that the fast is strict - one hour, that is, 60 minutes. Given that until recently the fast was from midnight, this seems very little to ask of Catholics.

3. Devotion and Attention. Given the infinite value of the Lord, it should be evident that we should receive Him with great devotion, attending to our reception of Him and not to other matters. St. Paul states,

1 Corinthians 11:28-29  28 Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

While this certainly applies first and foremost to belief in the Real Presence, it also applies to the practical application of that belief, how we receive Holy Communion. If we had the opportunity to have an intimate meeting with the President or the Pope we would not have our minds, hearts and attention wandering all over the place. How much less ought they to be when receiving Holy Communion.  If it is disrespectful to the President or the Pope to ignore them while they are talking to us, how much more serious is it to ignore God when He is giving Himself to us!

Our interior disposition cannot be separated from our exterior disposition. If we go to Communion chatting with our neighbor, or with our hands in our pockets, we are unlikely to have sufficient devotion to receive. A casual posture and behavior bespeaks a casual interior attitude toward something that is holy and deserves our full attention, body and soul. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us,

1387  To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.

If we do not satisfy the first two conditions (the state of grace and the fast) we may not go to Communion. If we do not satisfy this third one, we ought not go to Communion, unless we correct it by stirring up our fervor. We would receive Our Lord vainly, if we lacked devotion and attention to Him. We could even receive Him sacrilegiously, if we acted as if Holy Communion were NOT Him (1 Cor. 11:29). So, as a matter of morality Catholics must pay attention to their interior and exterior disposition when going to Communion.


Answered by Colin B. Donovan, STL

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