How Should We Receive the Holy Communion?(2017-01-15)
The Holy Eucharist: 3/ Holy Communion
My dear brethren,
We have seen that, in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist our Lord Jesus Christ is truly and substantially present, as the Victim of the Sacrifice, and thus the Mass is the greatest treasure of the Church. Yet, there are still more marvels. Our Lord Jesus Christ chose bread and wine as the matter of the Holy Eucharist, to be transformed into His Body and Blood, not only in order to make His Sacrifice present on our altars, and to offer it to His Father at every Mass, but further in order that we may truly eat His Body and Blood, the most perfect fruit of His Sacrifice, and thereby attain union with Him as perfectly as possible here below. Thus, Holy Communion is the fruit of the Sacrifice, the fruit of the Tree of Life which is the Cross. Holy Communion, well prepared, is indubitably the best way to unite oneself with the Mass.
As Baptism is the Sacrament of the beginning of the spiritual life, of the life of Christ in us, and thus compared to a new birth, so is the Holy Eucharist the Sacrament of the end and final perfection of the spiritual life, which consists in a perfect union with our Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man. This does not mean that it is necessary to be perfect in order to receive Holy Communion, but rather that good Holy Communions will lead us to perfection: it is the greatest means given to us by which we might advance towards perfection.
We have the duty to tend towards perfection. Indeed, our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). And St Paul exhorts us: “For the rest, brethren, rejoice, be perfect, take exhortation, be of one mind, have peace; and the God of peace and of love shall be with you” (2 Cor. 13:11). The very first commandment, the greatest commandment of God is indeed a commandment of perfection: “thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength” (Mk. 12:30).
Now that perfect love consists in a perfect union of mind and will with God, as St John says: “God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16). And this is the very fruit of the Holy Eucharist: “He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him” (Jn. 6:57).
In order to benefit fully of Holy Communion, there is need of a good preparation. The very first condition is very important, and absolutely essential: one MUST be in the state of grace in order to receive Holy Communion. It is a “sacrament of the living”, i.e. requiring the state of grace: if one is not in the state of grace, he needs Baptism for the first time or the Sacrament of Penance if he fell back into mortal sin after Baptism. Not only one may not receive Holy Communion if one is in the state of sin, but one must not. It would be a very grievous sacrilege to do so; such sacrilege, by abusing of the greatest gift of God, would blind the mind to truth and to good, and thus lead to a hardening of the soul and of the heart and ultimately to damnation. On the contrary, if a sinner has enough faith and respect for our Lord and thus abstains from Holy Communion, that respect could help him to obtain the grace of true contrition and thus lead him to make a good confession and then – and only then – to be able to receive fruitfully Holy Communion.
In our days when one sees so many going to Communion at every Mass and almost never to Confession, there is a multiplication of bad Communion which is truly frightful. Some people who have not gone to confession for years have no fear to approach Holy Communion. St Paul is very explicit on the gravity of such sacrilege: “he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:29), he “shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:27). In that context, “judgement” means condemnation. Note that these verses of the Scriptures are no longer read in the New Mass – they have cut off the last three verses of this epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians, and stop their reading at verse 26, omitting the very three verses which are the clearest on the reality of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
The second condition is a “right intention”, not merely to do like everybody else, but in order to get closer to the Lord, to grow stronger in the spiritual life, to be more and more united with our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not necessary to make explicit such intention, though this is very useful; a “virtual” intention suffices. I say that so that you may avoid scruples in case you did not explicitly renew such intention: the habitual intention to love God more and more is sufficient. But it is important to avoid worldly motives, that can sometimes be mixed.
The third condition required is the Eucharistic fast: the antique custom of the Church is to fast since midnight before Holy Communion. Given the difficulties in modern times due to work schedules preventing some to go to an early morning Mass, Pope Pius XII has permitted evening Masses, and in order to foster Holy Communion even at these evening Masses permitted a “three hours Eucharistic fast” from any solid food and alcoholic beverage, with a one hour fast for any liquid other than water – water does not break the fast. True medicine does not break the fast; I say true medicine, because “dietary supplements” are rather food than medicine, and would break the Eucharistic fast even if they are in capsules that imitate medicine.
In his decree on frequent Communion St Pius X says that the above three conditions are sufficient: the state of grace, a right intention and Eucharistic fast. However, one needs to know that the better he prepares himself to Holy Communion, the more graces he will receive – and there is no limit in the amount of these graces, because in Holy Communion one receives the very Author of grace, our Lord Jesus Christ: “grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17). Immediate preparation to Holy Communion is thus very important: the whole rite of Mass leads the soul to proper preparation; one must enter truly into the mind of the Church with a great thirst for Jesus and will be carried by the prayers of the Church to an excellent preparation.
The essence of such immediate preparation consists in acts of Faith and Charity: contemplation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the blessed Sacrament and longing for Him: He is the food of the Angels, as the psalmist sang: “Man ate the bread of angels” (Ps. 77:25). The holy Angels see the very divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Truth and the Life: they are illuminated by this Divine Truth and live of this Life. And this Jesus, Who is the Eternal Word of God made flesh for our salvation, gives Himself to us to feed us with His very flesh together with His Blood, Soul and Divinity. The book of Wisdom sings this munificence of God: “thou didst feed thy people with the food of angels, and gavest them bread from heaven prepared without labour; having in it all that is delicious, and the sweetness of every taste” (Wis. 16:20). “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51-52).
Holy Communion is really the moment to bring to our Lord all our holy desires and needs: at that moment more than ever, “ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Mt. 7:7). He Who gives you His only-begotten Son will give you all graces with Him: “He that spared not even his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how hath he not also, with him, given us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). This is the time to ask not only for our own selves, but also for all those who are dear to us, for all those who are near to us, for all the needs of the Church, for the conversion of sinners, etc. Though it is permitted to ask for earthly things, one should not ask merely for earthly things, it would be wrong; one should ask first and foremost for spiritual goods, virtue, victory over temptations, devotion and all that truly bind us with God. Such petitions can be done both before and after Holy Communion.
The moment of Communion is the most important: St Augustine says: “Let no one eat of this flesh unless first he adored it… not only do we not sin by adoring, but we would sin if we do not adore it.” Thus, from the very antiquity of the Church, the faithful have adored our Lord at the moment of Holy Communion: this is traditionally done in the Roman Rite by Communion kneeling down and on the tongue. Communion in the hands is really a scandal for many souls; even if one makes an interior act of faith and adoration, he fails to make an exterior adoration which is due to Christ as St Augustine taught, and the whole Church with him. The traditional manner to receive Communion is thus very important to open the soul to grace, to our Lord, as St James says: “God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble” (Jam. 4:6). On the contrary, the lack of respect manifested so many times in the modern way of communion in the hands closes the soul to grace, it puts what theologians call an “obex”, an obstacle to grace.
As immediate preparation is very important, so is a good thanksgiving after Communion. After having received Jesus in Holy Communion, one ought to be very recollected, and in intense prayer. These are the most important moments of the whole day, of the whole week, of our whole life indeed. Do not rush out of the Church just after communion, even before the end of Mass: this is deeply wrong. Do spend the time in thanksgiving that is proper and worthy of our Lord. It is usually said that there should be a good 15min thanksgiving.
That thanksgiving should continue even after, as the atmosphere of our whole day: we have received our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God! How could we live as pagans who know not God? Impossible! From henceforth even more we ought to be truly worthy of our Lord. As St Paul, we should be able to say: “I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me. And that I live now in the flesh: I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “For to me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
The best model of Holy Communion is the Blessed Virgin Mary: indeed, it is the same Body of Christ that we receive and that dwelt in her most pure womb for nine month. When “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt” (Jn. 1:14) in her, she truly received the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in her: she had become the first living tabernacle. With what faith, with what devotion, with what humility, with what intense love did our Lady receive Jesus and keep Jesus in her womb! What were her thoughts? What was her affection for Him? The more we contemplate her, the more we learn what we ought to be. Let us ask our Blessed Mother for all these virtues; let us ask her to be our supplement and offer to Jesus all the acts of faith and adoration which our Lady offered Him!
St Pius X restored the antique custom of receiving frequently Holy Communion. It was indeed the antique custom, especially in the West, of attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion every day. Our Lord is truly our “daily supersubstantial bread” which we ask in the Our Father, as per St Mathew: “Give us this day our supersubstantial bread” (Mt. 6:11). It is not the earthly bread, but rather “the bread that came down from heaven” (Jn. 6:59), i.e. the very Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet traditionally the faithful should receive Holy Communion only once a day. The modern custom of allowing more than one Communion per day comes from the modernist notion that the Mass is just a meal, and one does not participate truly in a meal unless he eats: hence they push everyone to receive Communion at every Mass. But the Mass is essentially a Sacrifice, the Sacrifice of the New Testament. Now in the Old Testament it is clear that in some sacrifices one would eat the victim, but in others one would not, yet one would fully benefit of that Sacrifice by the devotion with which one would attend it.
Holy Communion is very important especially at the end of life, to prepare for the eternal communion. That Communion which is given to the dying is called “holy viaticum”, and one should ask for it and pray for the grace of receiving it. When one is sick and cannot come to church, one should ask the priest to come and bring him our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Holy Communion is a very great comfort in sickness, especially helping to unite one’s sufferings with our Lord’s and thus transforming these sufferings into a great source of graces.
Holy Communion may be given to children, as soon as they are capable to receive our Lord. St Pius X requires of them to know the difference between the Holy Eucharist and normal food. They need to know the basic catechism. If they are well instructed without delay, children should be able to receive Jesus even at the tender age of 7, sometimes even earlier. It is a sign of great decline of catechetical instruction today to see that in many cases, the First Communion is delayed when children are nine or even ten. Good parents should take at heart the early instruction of their children in catechism, so that they would not delay the great benefit of holy Communion to them. Children need the help of this great sacrament in order to pass through the trials of adolescence with victory and without falling. Often an early love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament will bring with it the grace of a vocation. Negligence in preparing the children for first Holy Communion is not without sin.
The Saints have loved Holy Communion; it was for them the greatest moment of their day, for which they longed and from which they lived. Their recollection after Communion was sometimes really astonishing. One recalls St Dominic Savio – if my memory is right – who was still doing his thanksgiving even after everyone else had left the Church, so attached to our Lord that he was completely oblivious of everything else. At St Imelda, who died of love after Holy Communion!
May the Blessed Virgin Mary and all these Saints help all of us to prepare ourselves for such great Sacrament and fully lived of it, so that we may reach eternal Communion face to face in Heaven! Amen.
Father François Laisney