Holy Communion, after the Incarnation, is the greatest gift that Jesus bestowed upon the faithful and His Mystical Body, the Church. If unity with the Beloved is the fullness and perfection of divine love, then humbly receiving Our Lord in Communion with piety and reverence is the ordinary way to the “ineffable union (that) He contracts with the soul.” (Saint Peter Julian Eymard in “How to Get More Out of Holy Communion”). This sacrament of sanctification is unsurpassable because “in (this divine action of) Holy Communion (we have) the grace, the model, and the practice of all the virtues…” One Holy Communion, perfect of Itself, would consecrate a saint any communicant who is properly and fully disposed. The sublime truth is that we receive Jesus Himself, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who deigns to veil “Himself (under the species of bread and wine) in order not to frighten” us and bids us to come to Him. In the great Eucharistic hymn of praise, “Adoro Te Devote, latens Deitas” Saint Thomas Aquinas expresses that not only His divinity is hidden in the Host but also His humanity! He lowers Himself out of His immense love and remains present to us in every sanctuary and tabernacle until the end of time. Jesus’s great desire is that we communicate with Him, even daily, to receive and to share His perfect love, a love boundless, eternal and for us wretched sinners, redemptive:
Thou, O my Jesus, Thou didst me
Upon the cross embrace;
For me didst bear the nails and spear
And manifold disgrace;
And griefs and torments numberless,
And sweat of agony;
E’en death itself—and all for me
Who was Thine enemy.
(Saint Francis Xavier’s Hymn of Love)
The Eucharist opens to us, Saint Peter Julian Eymard explains, “the riches of the treasures of grace… (that are) stored up in (It).” Holy Communion is the vital fountain that “give(s) to His sacramental love the overflowing life it desires” and provides “His majesty the glory of bestowing His gifts.” This over-abundant bestowal of infinite love should impel in us the desire to receive Holy Communion and if not for ourselves then for Christ as long as we are “not morally certain or positively conscious of any mortal sin.”
Why does the saint urge us to go to Holy Communion for Christ? By our reception of the sacrament, Eymard writes, we “console” Christ from those who have abandoned Him. Also, we “confirm” His wisdom in providing us this “(s)acrament of spiritual sustenance.” In Holy Communion Christ greatly desires and wills that we become one with Him. Through this sacramental union, this heavenly medicine and bread of angels heals our woundedness and nourishes our spirit. Therefore with every reverential reception of Holy Communion “the glorious purpose of the Holy Eucharist (is fulfilled), for if there were no communicants, this fountain would flow in vain, this furnace of love would inflame no hearts, and this King would reign without subjects.”
Jesus Christ models for us the perfection of all virtues, especially by His humility and meekness, and indicates the proper disposition we must have for receiving Him in Holy Communion. As we approach the Eucharist, we should humbly acknowledge our sins, repent of them and resolve firmly to amend our lives and in doing so recognize our complete dependence on God. Growth in the spiritual life begins with the grace of self-knowledge, becoming aware of our lowly and fallen state. The medicine of sacramental grace then flows from the Eucharist as a comforting balm and remedy for repentant souls. In this way the Eucharist is the “bread of sinners and not a reward of saints.” However, one might state with equal justice that the Eucharist is truly an enrichening reward for those “living” saints who daily die to themselves, allowing the gifts and virtues of Christ’s Spirit to increase in them His love, making their hearts like unto His.
Our spiritual pilgrimage is a love story between Christ, the Beloved and the soul. Saint Bernard’s great insights into the movements of this profoundly intimate relationship are from his “Commentary on the Songs of Songs”. Here he explains a framework upon which the path leads the soul to where it is properly inclined to receive this incomparable Eucharistic gift. Before we dare to approach our Beloved to be united with Him and to receive His kiss, we must first go to Him with great humility, kneel at His sacred feet and kiss those the wounds. This humble act of contrition and of filial love is the necessary start. The ever-generous Bridegroom Who constantly responds to our imperfect love, then reaches out to us by extending His nail-pierced hands, lifts us up that we might kiss those sacred wounds. This second part of the journey is Christ the great High Priest absolving our guilt. At last, the bride, the soul filled with great desire, increasingly purified, is prepared to love and to be loved by the Holy One of God, to be unified with Him and sealed by His kiss. The sojourning soul, the spouse and bride of Christ communicates with her Beloved Bridegroom with every worthy reception of Holy Communion.
Understanding the Eucharist as the Church has always taught and as these saints expound, there should be no dilemma nor substantive controversy over who has the right and the privilege to receive Holy Communion. The ‘telos’ or goal of reception is holiness itself through unity with Christ, the “fount of all holiness” The word “communion” evokes the notion of unity of persons; another similar word, “unanimity”, recalls the notion of being of one mind and of one spirit, in this case with Christ. The Catechism calls the Eucharist the source and summit of the Christian life and “the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God…” (1324) (Author’s italics).
Where is this found, this “communion” of the divine life with Christ and the people of God, of which the Eucharist is the sign and the cause? Surely it is in two greatest commandments given us by Jesus – that we are to love God with our whole heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus Christ, the Divine Law Giver, through His Church, summed up the moral law in these two commandments for our benefit and sanctification. Here is where we discover communion or unity with God and His people. Those who claim to be Catholic but whose repeated public assaults on the moral law by their rejection of the sanctity of all human life and the sacramental nature of marriage destroy the unity of the people of God from each another and from God. Those who persistently repudiate these commandments, the pinnacle of the divine law which forms the foundation of Church’s moral doctrine, abandon Christ, His Church and the unity that He desires. Where there is no unity there is no longer the opportunity of “communion” in the etymological sense of this word, nor is there any possibility or justification for sacramental Holy Communion. The Church and especially her bishops have a duty to protect and defend Christ especially in His hidden divinity and humanity of the Blessed Sacrament. Where He is exposed to sacrilegious ill-treatment and misuse whether through ignorance, willful or from poor catechesis, or through the desire for human praise or even worse through iniquity, the bishops and priests, if they are to be faithful stewards, must act to end this.
It is for the faithful, sinners who struggle to amend their lives, the Divine Person condescends and desires unity. Christ, the Bridegroom, the Lover of souls welcomes them, His spouse, into His embrace on the Cross. It is noteworthy that the human ABO blood type AB is found in the coagulated blood of the Eucharistic miracles. This type is known as known the “universal receiver.” Truly, Christ is the Universal Receiver Who sheds His Precious Blood to accept all who humble themselves and follow His precepts. He heals our wounds, purifies our souls, illuminates our hearts, and fills us with His love. But we must empty ourselves and leave behind our sins, our evil inclinations, and our weaknesses. We are called to sacrifice our ego and even, for some, our very lives for love of Him. This is what souls must work to accomplish in order to approach the altar rail, the very edge of heaven, to receive Christ in the Sacrament of Love, He Who is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. Indeed, this is the very summit of our faith which “anticipate(s) eternal life when God will be all in all” (CCC 1326) and we shall be unified by charity, the greatest of the theological virtues with God and the saints in one accord. In, with and through Jesus Christ, Holy Trinity, hear the prayer of your people:
“Behold, I stand before Thee, poor and naked, begging Thy grace, and imploring Thy mercy. Feed Thy hungry suppliant; inflame my coldness with the fire of Thy love: enlighten my blindness with the brightness of Thy presence.”
(Devotions for Communion, p. 87, the Roman Missal 1962, Baronius Press.)
Dr. Ralph Capone (MD, FACP) is a life long Roman Catholic, and a board-certified physician in Internal Medicine and Hospice & Palliative Care. He is also certified by the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and taught Catholic Bioethics at St. Vincent College, and medical subjects in the Physician Assistant Program at Seton Hill. He is now retired, and he and his wife live in Pittsburgh, PA, where he spends his time writing. His writing has appeared in Ethika Politika, “Ethics & Medics” (a publication of the National Catholic Bioethics Center) and also their Bioethics Journals.