Reception of Holy Communion

After the Eucharistic Prayer comes the most highly anticipated part of the Mass: Holy Communion. It is the time during Mass when we not only approach our Lord, but receive Him into our very bodies!

Saint John Paul II wrote about it this way:

"The saving efficacy of the sacrifice is fully realized when the Lord's body and blood are received in communion. The Eucharistic Sacrifice is intrinsically directed to the inward union of the faithful with Christ through communion; we receive the very One who offered himself for us, we receive his body which he gave up for us on the Cross and his blood which he 'poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins' (Mt 26:28). We are reminded of his words: 'As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me' (Jn 6:57). Jesus himself reassures us that this union, which he compares to that of the life of the Trinity, is truly realized. The Eucharist is a true banquet, in which Christ offers himself as our nourishment. When for the first time Jesus spoke of this food, his listeners were astonished and bewildered, which forced the Master to emphasize the objective truth of his words: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you' (Jn 6:53). This is no metaphorical food: 'My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed' (Jn 6:55)."

When we receive Holy Communion, we do not receive a "symbol" of Christ, but Christ Himself, His body, blood, soul and divinity! That is why we take such extra care of the Eucharist being distributed and that is why we only approach the Communion line when we are properly disposed.

Here are the guidelines for receiving Communion, reminding us of the importance to prepare ourselves properly:

"As Catholics, we fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion. We are encouraged to receive Communion devoutly 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. 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."
To make these guidelines more clear, here is a rundown:

  1. Fast at least one hour before reception of Communion
  2. Cannot be conscious of grave sin
  3. If conscious of grave sin, must have gone to Confession prior to Mass
If we have not fulfilled these basic guidelines, we are asked to either refrain from receiving Communion. This does not mean we shouldn't go to Mass in the first place. It simply means we remain in the pew while everyone else goes up, or an alternative is to approach the priest for a blessing with arms crossed over our bodies. These guidelines help us to respect the body of Our Lord and not bring greater sin upon us.

Remember, we do not receive mere bread and wine at Mass, but the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. It's kind of a big deal.

This part of the Mass is meant to be the most intimate and promote "union" with God. If we are not in union with Him through our grave sins, we must seek to restore that union through the Sacrament of Confession before approaching the Lord's table.

Think of it this way. If I get in a fight with my neighbor and throw a rock through his window, I can't show up at his house the next day and invite myself over for dinner. I must first seek to reconcile myself to him and do my part to repair the window. Only then will my friendship with my neighbor be restored so that going to eat at his house is acceptable.

So too with God.

We must reconcile with God first and then we are able to receive Him at the Eucharistic banquet.

Receiving Communion is not meant to be a light affair, but one that is done with preparation and respect for God. He is inviting us to a deeper communion with Him and so we must do our part to prepare for that wonderful invitation.

God wants to give us many gifts and love in the Eucharist, but we must be open to that in order for those gifts to bear fruit that will endure.
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