November 23, 2006
More than any other gospel, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ meals. He eats with his disciples, the crowds, the tax-collectors, and sinners. Each table fellowship deepens the bond of friendship. At these meals, Jesus breaks down the social barriers that separate the righteous from the sinner. He embraces all in the love of God.
At the Last Supper, when he sits at table with his apostles, he dismantles the barrier between God and us. Instituted in the context of the Passover, the Eucharist brings to completion the great redemptive act of God drawing us to himself. Jesus says, “This is my body given for you” (Luke 22:19) and “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). The Eucharist is the Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection made present in our midst.
The Eucharist is “given” for us! Someone who loves is ready to give to the person he loves all that is most precious. That is why, at the Last Supper, Jesus does not give the Church something. He gives himself. Therefore, each time we receive the Eucharist, we enter into a deeper personal communion with the Lord. He abides in us and we in him.
The Eucharist is our bread in the wilderness. It is the food of the pilgrims who make their weary way to their true home. In fact, Jesus has made the table of the Eucharist already the proleptic experience of the heavenly banquet of the Lamb.
From the time even before the gospels were written, the Church has sought to help her children understand the great mystery of the Eucharist. She has desired that the faithful respect and reverence the Presence of Jesus in this gift. That is why St. Paul says, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself… ” (1 Cor 11:27-29).
Communion should not be received without personal reflection. We have the obligation already laid down in Scripture to discern where we stand in relationship to the Lord before approaching Holy Communion. Worthy reception of Holy Communion requires sincere preparation.
To help Catholics appreciate more fully the great gift of Holy Communion as the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, the bishops of the United States have issued a document entitled “
Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily In The Eucharist.” This document responds to a need in the Church today. The document is theological and pastoral. In clear language and in practical terms, it helps Catholics to understand and value, to receive and reverence in love the gift of the Eucharist.
Invited to the Lord’s Supper, we need to realize the great gift given us. The Eucharist expresses who we are as a Church. The Eucharist makes the Church. Already in the second century, Justin Martyr wrote, “no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration [baptism] and is thereby living as Christ enjoined” (
First Apology 66:1-20). Thus, to receive Holy Communion, someone must be baptized and living in the state of sanctifying grace. The new document spells this out.
The Eucharist expresses our communion with the Lord. Mortal sin, however, breaks that communion. It destroys the bond of life between us and the Risen Lord. The document reminds us of those actions which are so serious that, if we do them
willfully and knowingly, we commit mortal sin. In such cases, we need to repent and avail ourselves of the gift of forgiveness and reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance before approaching the Lord in Holy Communion.
Furthermore, receiving Holy Communion expresses our communion with other members of the Church. This communion, or unity with others in the Church, means that, like the first Christians, we who share in the breaking of the bread, also hold on to the teaching of the apostles (cf. Acts 2:42). The document helps us understand the theological importance of adhering to the teaching of the apostles in our day. Being one in mind and heart with the truth of the gospel, as handed down in the teaching of the Church, is a condition for a worthy reception of Communion.
Therefore, if someone
obstinately and knowingly rejects a defined dogma of the Church, such as the divinity of Christ or the Real Presence, or if someone
obstinately and knowingly rejects a definitive moral teaching of the Church, such as the sanctity of all human life and the grave evil of abortion, that individual seriously diminishes his or her communion with the believing community. In such a case, receiving Holy Communion would be a lie. It would not express unity and a common faith. That is why such a person should have the honesty not to approach Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is not simply a personal act. It is always an ecclesial act. However, those who have difficulty in accepting Church teaching and sincerely seek to resolve their doubts should not refrain on this account from receiving Holy Communion. They are challenged to seek guidance from authentic sources that teach the Catholic faith.
Today there is a great need for clear and practical guidelines on assisting at Mass. We show our reverence for the Eucharist by our positive example given to others, especially children. Simple things such as inappropriate attire, chewing gum, inattention, and distracting others in Church, take away from everyone’s full participation in this profound Mystery of the Eucharist. We need to take stock and show with our outward behavior the great faith we have for the Real Presence. This new document helps us recover a reverence for God’s House and for the Eucharist. All the instructions in the document, even those that are framed in the negative, are extremely positive in intention. They are meant to awaken us to the sacred gift of the Eucharist.
Happy Are Those Who Are Called To His Supper: On Preparing to Receive Christ Worthily In The Eucharist” is a welcomed teaching for Catholics of good will. It is a guideline not about who should not go to Communion. Rather, it is all about how we can better prepare to go to Holy Communion more worthily.