Article 108 – Catechism of the Catholic Church Series
Paragraphs 1382-1390 A wonderful way to begin the New Year 2019 is to make a pledge to fall in love, more and more, with Jesus — present in the Eucharist!
Like many, my recognition of Jesus being fully present in the Eucharist was a kind of spiritual awakening that happened to me in high school. It was the moment when I realized, not only intellectually, but emotionally and spiritually, that Jesus is indeed fully, substantially, and in every way, truly present in the Holy Eucharist. As I knelt in a pew with hundreds of other people around me, I was suddenly captured by the intense realization that the tabernacle in the sanctuary several feet beyond my reach contained, not a symbol or a sign or a likeness of Jesus, but Jesus Christ himself who died for our sins; the same Jesus who walked the earth 2,000 years ago; the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep; the eternal Word of God who always was and always will be; the Word made flesh who came into the world and made his dwelling among us.
I recall asking myself, “Why was it so difficult for me to comprehend this truth before now?” If I truly believe that Jesus left heaven, walked the earth in what is now present day Israel, performed countless miracles, died and rose from the dead and is now seated at the right hand of the God our Father in heaven, then why is it so difficult to believe that he also fulfilled his word that his body would be real food and his blood real drink?
The celebration of this truth brings us to the opening paragraph in this section of the Catechism which states: “The Mass is at the same time the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood” (ccc 1382). The celebration of the “Eucharistic sacrifice” is “directed toward the intimate union of the faithful with Christ through communion” (ccc 1382). Of course, “to receive communion is to receive Christ himself” (ccc 1382).
In all our churches, the altar is the center of focus which “represents the two aspects of the same mystery: the altar of the sacrifice and the table of the Lord” (ccc 1382). The altar is “the symbol of Christ himself … as the victim offered for our reconciliation and as food from heaven” (ccc 1382). Fourth century Doctor of the Church, Saint Ambrose, in his writings on the Sacraments, says it this way: “The altar represents the body [of Christ] and the Body of Christ is on the altar.”
The entire 6th chapter of Saint John’s Gospel provides us with a treasury of teaching on the Eucharist. We hear Jesus speak to us: “Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). This is in the invitation from Jesus to each of us, as we hear in the Eucharistic Prayer: “Take this all of you and eat of it, for this is my body which will be given up for you.”
As we respond to this invitation, Saint Paul urges us to examine our conscience: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” ( 1 Corinthians 11:27-29) (ccc 1385). “Anyone conscious of a grave sin”, the Catechism states, “must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion” (ccc 1385).
Within the Mass, we are familiar with another opportunity to reflect on our worthiness to receive the body and blood of Jesus. The Catechism reminds us: “Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion…‘Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed’” (ccc 1386).
The Catechism goes further in helping us prepare ourselves to receive Jesus in Holy Communion. First, it quotes from canon law, which states: “To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church” (canon 919). The fast required for those who are not sick in the Latin Rite of the Church is to refrain from food and drink (aside from water) for at least 1 hour before receiving Jesus in Holy Communion”…“Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) also ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest” (ccc 1387).
The reason the Catechism provides so much detail regarding the proper disposition for receiving Holy Communion is because we believe that “more perfect form of participation in the Mass” includes receiving Holy Communion. In fact, the Church states that receiving Christ in Holy Communion at Mass “is warmly recommended” (ccc 1388).
Regarding reception of Holy Communion, the Church “strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily” if possible (ccc 1388). At a minimum, we are asked to receive Holy Communion “at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season” (ccc 1389).
The Catechism further explains that the fullness of Christ is present in each of the sacramental species. In other words, those who receive the host alone really do receive the total Christ; the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ and “all the fruit of Eucharistic grace” (ccc 1390). This is the traditional way of receiving the Holy Communion in the Latin Church (or in the West). In recent years, however, it has become commonplace to have Holy Communion under both the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood. The new General Instruction on the Roman Missal, quoted in this Catechism paragraph, states that “the sign of communion is more complete when given under both kinds” (ccc 1390). This is the most common way of receiving in the Eastern Rite Churches, as well.
The next time you go to your parish church for Mass, consider what a privilege it is that Christ gives himself to us FULLY in this humble, yet remarkable and mysterious way as “the bread of life” ( John 6:35)!