The celebration of the Mass is the center of the whole Christian life for the Church and all of its faithful. By virtue of our Baptism each of us is called to an active and conscious participation in the celebration of the Eucharist. We most often achieve this when we join together as the assembled people of God in praying the prayers of the Mass, raising our voices to God in song, and actively listening to the Word of God in the proclamation of the Sacred Scriptures.
While the heart of the celebration of the Eucharist is the Eucharistic prayer, the consummation of the Mass is found in Holy Communion. It is through the reception of Holy Communion that the people of God, purchased by Jesus for the Father through His paschal sacrifice, are joined together as members of the mystical body of Christ. In and through the Eucharist we share the “one life of the spirit” as we fulfill Our Lord’s command to eat and drink His Body and Blood and thereby share in his eternal life.
As Catholics, we most fully participate in the celebration of the Eucharist when we receive Holy Communion and we are warmly encouraged to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist frequently and devoutly. Through the reception of Holy Communion we are freed from our daily faults and preserved from future mortal sins. Just as human bodily nourishment restores our strength, the Eucharist strengthens within us the virtue of charity, which tends to be weakened by daily life, and this living charity received in the Eucharist wipes away our venial sins.
Being properly prepared to receive Jesus in the Eucharist is an essential element of our worship of God. The devout reception of Jesus in Holy Communion is fostered by listening attentively and actively participating in the Mass. The Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass helps prepare us to celebrate the sacred mysteries by calling to mind our faults, failings and sins and asking God for His mercy and forgiveness. While this does not take the place of sacramental confession and penance (which must be received prior to the reception of Holy Communion if you are conscious of grave or mortal sin), it affirms our intention to be reconciled with God prior to receiving His Son.
Before receiving the Sacrament, we should prepare our self spiritually by reciting an Act of Contrition, expressing our sorrow for offending God and asking Him again for his forgiveness. As we approach the minister to receive Holy Communion it is appropriate to show a sign of reverence before the reception of the sacrament. This sign of reverence is a slight bow to the Eucharist prior to receiving it.
In the Eucharist we receive the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, and as such it is never appropriate to “take” the Host from the minister of Holy Communion. Rather we should “receive” the gift of everlasting life given to us by Jesus in His sacrifice of the cross. We properly “receive” the host by holding one hand open (supported by the other) and allowing the minister to place the host in the palm of our opened hand.
An alternative to reception of Holy Communion in the hand is the reception on the tongue. Again, it is never appropriate to “take” the host by biting it as it is being presented by the minister of communion. Proper reception on the tongue requires the communicant to slightly incline his or her head and extend the tongue to allow the minister to place the host on it. As Jesus is presented with the acclamation “The Body of Christ” or “The Blood of Christ” the communicant properly responds “Amen’, thereby acknowledging his belief in the true presence of our Lord in the sacrament to be received.
Through the reception of Holy Communion we receive Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity of God. We recognize and participate in the Sacrifice he made on our behalf. Having passed from this world to the Father, Jesus give us in the Eucharist a pledge of sharing in his glory. Through our reception of Holy Communion we realize our share in that glory.
Next time I’ll discuss the honor and worship we give to God by and through our adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Eucharistic. Until then, God’s peace and blessing to all.