Editor’s note: Vivifica is a pen name for two Catholic university students studying theology. Established in the summer of 2017, Vivifica aims to revive and restore Catholic traditions through web videos, blogging, and parish missions.
Each Sunday, during holy days of obligation, and during the week when we can, we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The Church we attend is not very big, and we usually sit at the sides of the pews. During the administration of the Eucharist, we can see people, who have just received Christ, walk down the aisles to go back to their pews.
Although we should be focused on the Mass, sometimes our eyes drift to others taking the Body of Christ. Sadly, there are people who act as if they were eating a snack rather than receiving Jesus. We see people pop Him in their mouths as if He were a cough drop, suck for a while as on a mint, and even wait to take Him back to the pews to place Him in their mouths. We also see people, with slouched shoulders or a relaxed posture, approach the priest, looking bored out of their minds.
As we see people irreverently receive Communion, we both glance at each other with concerned and worried expressions. It makes us wonder: why would anyone treat Christ as if He were a gumdrop or mint? Do these people not realize that this is actually Jesus and not a pack of peanuts? Where is the reverence Our Lord deserves?
The Institution of the Eucharist
When Christ instituted the Eucharist, He took bread and broke it, saying to His apostles, “This is My Body” (Luke 22:19). Then He took a chalice of wine, blessed it, and said, “All of you drink of this; for this is My blood of the new covenant which is being shed for many unto the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 22:20).
The sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is a magnificent sacrifice where the Body and Blood of Christ, under the forms of bread and wine, are offered and given to us. Many people will claim that the bread and wine are just a symbol of His Body and Blood. However, Christ did not say that these substances are a representation of His Body and Blood; He actually said that the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood! The whole substance of bread was changed into His Body, and the whole substance of wine was changed into His Blood.
You can see that the Eucharist is truly Jesus! How can anyone deny it? Jesus said it Himself! Yet there is little to no reverence given to Our Lord by some of our Catholic brothers and sisters. They treat the Eucharist as if it were simply bread and not the Savior of the universe. Action must be taken to preserve the reverence for this Blessed Sacrament.
Reverence for the Mystery of the Eucharist
A good place to begin concerning reverence is to ask why the Eucharist is even important. We are not here to claim we know the full mystery of the Eucharist – for if we knew God entirely, He simply would not be God. We cannot possibly figure out the mystery of Christ’s infinite power contained in a white host. This mystery is the first and foremost cause for reverence.
Pope John Paul II in Mane Nobiscum Domine explains how we try to understand the mystery of the Eucharist:
We are constantly tempted to reduce the Eucharist to our own dimensions, while in reality it is we who must open ourselves up to the dimensions of the Mystery. The Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.
Take the example of the Magi, who upon discovering the infant savior “prostrated themselves” (Matthew 2:11). Although these men believed in the stars and astrology, they recognized that Jesus was the Messiah and thus deserved reverence.
After Christ was born, He was laid in a manger – a food trough for livestock. Christ becomes the Bread of Life for us, and He continues to be our source of refuge every time we celebrate the sacred Mass. If our King was humble enough to be born in a place suitable for farm animals to eat from, would we not want to humble ourselves as much as we can before we receive Him from a ciborium and chalice?
As Catholics, we know more about Christ than many of the people who lived during His time did. With this knowledge of Christ so easily accessible, we are equipped to truly humble ourselves for Him and recognize our finite nature.
So how do we humble ourselves before Christ when receiving Him? How do we receive the Eucharist worthily and reverently?
Preparing to Receive Our Lord
We can start preparing to receive the Eucharist before we step into Mass by dressing neatly and modestly. When we dress modestly, it demonstrates to our Lord that we desire to show reverence toward Him. The Mass is a banquet where Heaven meets Earth, with God present at all times. Why would you dress immodestly in front of our Lord at His banquet?
Before 1957, it was required by the Church that Catholics fast from midnight before receiving Holy Communion. Pope Pius XII changed the fasting laws to abstaining for three hours from food, but water was acceptable to drink. Paul VI, in 1964, declared that we needed to abstain for only one hour. Thus, before we receive Communion, we need to abstain from food for one hour at the very least. If we are able to abstain for three hours or even from midnight, we should attempt to do so. Of course, those who are ill or in danger of death are exempt from this fast.
Before we receive Christ, we must examine our conscience and ask ourselves if we are free of mortal sin. If we have mortal sin on our soul, then we cannot receive Communion, for it is a sin to receive Him in that state. We can receive Him only in the state of grace. Venial sin does not prevent us from receiving the Eucharist, but it does prevent us from receiving more of the graces that we receive from Communion.
St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:27-28 that we should not receive in an unworthy way:
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.
As St. Paul says, to receive the bread of our Lord in the state of mortal sin defiles the Eucharist. He says we must examine ourselves before we receive Christ, making sure our souls are clean, so we do not commit this offense. Thus, we must receive Holy Communion worthily by being in the state of grace.
How Should We Receive the Blessed Sacrament?
When we walk up to receive the Eucharist, remember Whom we are receiving. We are truly taking in the Body of Christ, the man who suffered and died for the sake of our sins! Meditate on the beauty of the Eucharist: Christ gave His Body and Blood to us, and now we get to receive Him! So how should we receive the Lord of Lords? Should we get down on our knees or stand? Take Him by tongue or by hand?
The controversial topic of receiving Communion in the hand versus receiving on the tongue has gained much attention since the Second Vatican Council. Many believe that receiving Communion in the hand is a means of making the Eucharist seem simple, yet others believe that it is acceptable as long as you are being reverent.
Think of it this way: if you were to see Jesus, how would you react? Surely, you would show Him the most respect you can possibly express. Would you fall to your knees in awe and wonder like the Magi and the disciples, or would you just shrug your shoulders and treat Him as if He were dust? Most likely, you would fall to your knees and worship Him. Thus, when we approach the priest or deacon to receive Jesus, we want to be as devout as possible, because Christ is present before us.
Receiving the Eucharist on our knees shows that we are physically offering our submission to God by humbling ourselves. When we kneel, we demonstrate that we are ready to unite ourselves to the suffering and death of Christ with the hope that we will be redeemed.
In an article published in the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Bishop Athanasius Schneider comments on why we should kneel for the Eucharist: “[kneeling] symbolizes the attitude of humility and the spirit of spiritual infancy, which Jesus himself requires from all who want to receive the kingdom of God.”
Although receiving in the hand is acceptable, it is not as reverent as receiving the Eucharist on the tongue. In fact, we should not be touching the Eucharist at all unless there are circumstances that make it absolutely permissible. The host is extremely sacred, for it is Christ’s Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Bishops, priests, and deacons are the only ones who should be allowed to touch this Blessed Sacrament. The bishop and priest, by virtue of the sacrament of holy orders, are acting “in persona Christi,” which means “in the person of Christ.” The deacon also represents Christ as a servant by ministering to the parish and assisting at Mass.
Saint Thomas Aquinas explains the sacredness of the Eucharist and how it must be properly handled:
[O]ut of reverence towards this Sacrament, nothing touches it, but what is consecrated; hence the corporal and the chalice are consecrated, and likewise the priest’s hands, for touching this Sacrament. Hence, it is not lawful for anyone else to touch it except from necessity, for instance, if it were to fall upon the ground, or else in some other case of urgency. (Summa Theologiae, III, 82, 3)
If we receive with our hands, we also face the possibility that particles of the Blessed Sacrament will remain on our hands, which may be washed away or even fall to the floor.
The Lord deserves to be united directly to us through the mouth, rather than in our hands first. In Memoriale Domini, Pope Paul VI (not Pius X –ed.) explains how the practice of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue must continue as the main form of reception in order to keep the proper reverence for our Lord:
This method of distributing holy communion must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of-tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist. The custom does not detract in any way from the personal dignity of those who approach this great sacrament: it is part of that preparation that is needed for the most fruitful reception of the Body of the Lord.
Going Forth with the Effects of the Eucharist
Once the sacred host is placed on our tongues, we should not let it dissolve in our mouths, nor swish it around as if it were a mint. As we kneel before Christ, we should spend time praying and meditate on Christ’s sacrifice and the beauty of the Eucharist. We can spend that time thanking the Lord, asking Him for blessings or help in being able to love and obey Him more, or simply adoring Him. There are multiple prayers after Communion that we can pray: the Anima Christi, the Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas after Communion, the Prayer of St. Bonaventure, the Offering and Prayer of St. Ignatius Loyola, etc.
After we take in the Body of Jesus, we carry the effects given to us by this sacrament. Ven. Fulton Sheen in his Sunday Missal explains the effects of the Eucharist:
When I rise from the communion rail I not only have the divine Life in my body, but I am also about to carry with me into the world something of his Death, dying to everything that would separate me from him, dying to my concupiscence, my pride, my lust and my anger in order that there might be nothing between the Lover and the loved.
As Ven. Fulton Sheen wrote in his Sunday Missal, we carry into the world Christ’s sacrifice for us. By receiving our Lord, we become in union with Christ by love – not physically, but spiritually. This union increases our sanctifying grace and assists us to grow in our love for God, as well as our neighbor. Holy Communion helps us persevere against mortal sins and venial sins, lessening our inclinations to sin and guiding us to perform good works.
Jesus said in John 6:54-58, regarding the need for the Eucharist:
Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.
Thus, the effects of the Eucharist will lead us to salvation if fervently taken. If we cannot take the Eucharist reverently, how will we be able to receive the effects or even achieve eternal life?
The Holy Eucharist deserves the highest reverence we can possibly give it, yet many have been taking it for granted. Many Catholics forget that we are actually being united to Christ’s Body and not just a piece of bread. Even we, the authors, forget sometimes that we are receiving Jesus. Therefore, we must remind ourselves that this is the Lamb of God, the Savior of the World, the God who became man and died for us! If we can remember that, we will be able to show greater respect to the King of Kings who instituted this beautiful sacrament.