Holy Communion

by Fr. William G. Most

In the ancient sacrifices, both Jewish and pagan, those who took part were given part of the meat of the sacrificed animal, in the hope of a sort of communion with the divinity. In the Mass, after the sacrifice itself is completed, we have the unspeakable privilege of receiving the flesh and blood of the Divine Victim, who is not dead, but living, and comes to give life in abundance to our souls.

This Holy Communion, if we are rightly disposed, produces an increase in sanctifying grace - the ability to take in the vision of God in the life to come - plus a special claim to actual graces as needed, forgiveness of venial sin for which one is repentant, help to keep from mortal sin, and an increase in the virtue of love.

But dispositions are needed, for even though the Eucharist contains the very Author of all grace, it does not operate like magic: we must do what we can.

We must of course have the state of grace. Without it it would be sacrilege, and an added mortal sin to receive. Right intention is also needed, i.e., to please God, to be more closely united with Him, to gain a remedy for our weaknesses.

It is not required to be free from all venial sin. The reception itself may forgive venial sins for which one is sorry. But the fruits of receiving are reduced. It is especially needed that one be free from all deliberate venial sin - in contrast to sins of weakness, sins when one is taken off guard.

For fullest benefits, we should be free from all attachment to anything sinful. Some have as it were a gap in their purpose of amendment, as if they said, for example: "I do not intend to commit mortal sins, nor all venial sins. But there are some reservations: if it is hard to stick to the truth, I will not do so, or if it is hard to keep a conversation going without a bit of detraction, that is all right too. These dispositions, sometimes called "affection to venial sin" impose as it were a clamp on one's heart, for he/she has decided to go so far and no farther. So they effectively prevent spiritual growth beyond a certain point. How sad that many who could grow much, block growth by this means.

But mere carelessness, lack of preparation, or lack of thanksgiving can be harmful. Pope John Paul II, in his very first Encyclical, Redemptor hominis #20, said that if one does not constantly try to grow spiritually, receiving the Eucharist would "lack its full redeeming effectiveness" and there could even be a spiritual loss. To receive out of mere routine, with no special care, no thanksgiving, is more apt to cause spiritual loss than gain.

To prepare, one should think in advance about what he/she is going to do, especially during the Mass. After receiving, it is valuable to try for recollection, in humility to adore the Lord present we adore the Lord present within us, to give thanks, to express sorrow for deficiencies, to ask for helps to do better. It is very good to stay a few minutes after the end of the Mass to continue this thanksgiving.

Of course one should be decently dressed to receive. Some give scandal and lead others into sin in the very act of coming.

The Eucharistic fast has now been reduced to one hour - abstaining from food and drink (except water). The time is computed up to the actual time of reception. The sick, even if not confined to bed, and those actually engaged in caring for them at the time, need not observe any period of fasting. The same applies to the elderly, according to the new Code of Canon Law # 919. 3.

Children should begin to receive when they have reached the use of reason, but not before they have made their first confession. Once one has begun to receive, there is the obligation of receiving at least once a year, at Easter time, unless there is a reasonable cause for using a different time.

Pastors should see to it that the sick can receive at times. Those who are in danger of death are obliged to receive the Sacred Host as Viaticum, which means provision for the journey -into the next life.

The present law allows quite a few occasions when the Holy Eucharist may be received under both species. However, Christ is received whole and entire under one form only, for He dies no more: body and blood are never separated. (Cf. First Corinthians 11. 26-27, noting that in v. 26, the word and shows that both species are needed to express the death of the Lord, but for Holy Communion, only one species is needed. Hence the word or is used in v. 27).

When actual reception is not possible, one may profitably make a spiritual communion, by a fervent desire to receive sacramentally. This keeps the soul united with Jesus during the day, and prepares better for the actual reception.

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Taken from A Basic Catholic Catechism (c) 1990 by Fr. William G. Most, Part 12.
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Electronic text (c) Copyright EWTN 1996. All rights reserved.

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