I’d like to begin this article with a personal note to you all.
The Holy Eucharist is the very heart of our holy and ancient Faith. Christianity makes absolutely no sense without this most precious of the divinely instituted sacraments. Indeed, it is beyond the imagination of this writer, who is a convert from agnosticism, what attraction exists in non-Catholic Christianity for those who don’t accept the fulness of Christ’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist. It is the singular truth of the Most Holy Eucharist that has made this convert (and countless others) fall helplessly, hopelessly, passionately in love with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. My most sincere prayer is that the Holy Spirit will reach into the depths of your heart with these and other previously stated Eucharistic truths, and that you will respond with a life-long embrace of the One who gives you perfect love through this most adorable sacrament. J.S.
There are numerous fruits of Holy Communion. The chief fruit, of course, is an intimate, interior union with Christ. Just as Matrimony is the sacrament that weds a man and woman for life, the Eucharist is the sacrament that weds us to Christ.
I can only speak as a man, obviously, but I suspect what I’m about to write applies equally to women. If you have ever been in love you have probably felt an attachment so strongly that you have wanted to become physically one with the person you love; to crawl inside the other person, as it were. Jesus understands this emotion. After all, He not only created us and our human nature, He took on that same human nature for Himself. That being true, in His human nature He feels the same emotions we feel, but He has made it so He can fulfill that emotional desire for physical oneness.
When a married man and woman are in love, they express that love in a physical way. God made us that way. He did this so that we can fulfill the need to become one with the person we love, within the bonds of Matrimony. The need isn’t perfectly fulfilled, but met nonetheless. The fruit of that union is often a child—a child given to the couple to nurture for God’s greater glory, and as a living expression of the love they have for one another.
Holy Communion is very similar. The marital act meets the need of two married people in love trying to become one, but imperfectly. Communion allows Jesus and us to meet that same need, but perfectly. He completely abides in us, and we in Him. The fruit of this union is always the growth of our soul for God’s greater glory. Further more, Holy Communion produces a filial unity between Christ and all the members of His Mystical Body.
Holy Communion produces other fruits as well. It produces an increase of sanctifying grace, and increases the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. It also remits venial sin. Holy Communion weakens our concupiscence, the propensity to sin that comes from our fallen human nature. Holy Communion adds strength to the force of our will, preserve us from falling into mortal sin, and helps us to joyfully accept the duties and sacrifices that our Catholic life demand.
Jesus pledged to us in John 6:54 that by receiving Holy Communion worthily we can be assured of the resurrection and heavenly bliss. Communion of the Most Holy Eucharist is the single greatest love affair in the history of man, and that love affair is between God and us.
Two conditions are necessary to receive Holy Communion worthily: to be in a state of grace, and to have the right intention. Being in a state of grace means being in a state of friendship with God; that is, to be free of all mortal sin. Anyone who knowingly receives Jesus in Communion in a state of mortal sin—drunkenness, contraception, adultery, etc.—commits the additional mortal sin of sacrilege, and risks eternity in hell. To rectify this, the communicant must make a good confession of all mortal sins since the last good confession, including the sin of sacrilege.
If a person forgets to confess a mortal sin (and this has happened to me) and remembers after receiving Communion the communicant should not feel guilty, as there has been no sin of sacrilege. However, the communicant has a grave obligation to go to confession as soon as possible.
Having the right intention means receiving Communion to show God we love Him. We must avoid other intentions, such as fear of what others may think if we don’t go to Communion, or to make ourselves appear devout. By the mere fact that we are all sinners, none of us is worthy to receive Jesus in Communion. However, Jesus deems us all worthy if we are free of mortal sin, so we should receive Him with only the intention of showing God our love for Him.
We should also be free, as far as possible, of fully deliberate venial sins, and make acts of faith, hope, charity, sorrow for our sins, and an act of desire to receive Him.
The Church requires a fast of one hour before receiving Holy Communion. We may not eat or drink anything, except water and prescription medication. The elderly, those with serious illnesses, and those who care for them are exempt from this Eucharistic fast.
After Communion we should always make an act of thanksgiving. This means adoring Christ present in us, thank Him for coming, express our love and the desire to do His will, and ask for His blessings. Because the graces we receive from Communion are in direct proportion to the dispositions we maintain, the greatest spiritual benefits are derived from a good preparation and thanksgiving.
The Church commands that we must receive Holy Communion at least once a year, during the Easter time. This is defined as being from the first Sunday of Lent (after Ash Wednesday) until Trinity Sunday. This is called our Easter Duty. For some grave—repeat, grave—reason this duty may be fulfilled at another time during the year. Since this period is over three months, I frankly can’t think of a reason to fail to fulfill the Easter Duty…unless you’re in a coma or stranded on an island somewhere. Failure to fulfill our Easter Duty is a mortal sin.
In our next installment we will begin to look at how we show respect for the Holy Eucharist and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Many of you will be surprised at some of the things you will learn. Of course, this column exists to you can know What We Believe…Why We Believe It.