Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Precepts of the Church 5: Reception of the Eucharist

On Receiving Holy Communion | liturgy guy    The next precept of the Church may come as a bit of shock to most practicing Catholics:  “All of the faithful, after they have initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, are bound by the obligation of receiving Communion at least once a year.  This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter Season unless it is fulfilled for a just cause at some other time of the year.” (Canon 920)  Does not the Church already have a precept that al faithful Catholics must attend Mass on all Sundays and Holy Days?  It does.  Whereas in the USA, we equivocate Mass with the reception of Communion, the Church does not.  In fact, the frequent reception of Communion is a fairly recent (from Catholic Church standards). 

    To give a little history, frequent reception of the Eucharist seemed to be the rule; whether that reception was once a week on Sunday, or every day.  For strange reasons, the reception of Communion fell off to the point where the Church has to mandate at the 4th Lateran Council (1213) that Communion had to be received at least once a year.  Daily communion fell of until the latter 19th Century, when Popes Bl. Pius IX, Leo XIII, and finally St. Pius X all pushed for the idea of receiving Communion whenever one went to Mass.  This was contingent, of course, on a person being in a state of grace (free of mortal sin).  While frequent Communion is recommended, the teaching of Lateran IV still stands in that a Catholic in good standing must receive Communion once a year, ordinarily in the Easter Season. 

    The reason for this precept is quite simple:  Referring again to John 6, where Jesus says, “Unless you eat my Flesh and drink my Blood, you have no life within you”, it is clear that regular consumption of the Blessed Sacrament is necessary for life in Christ.  The Church has always seen Jesus’ words in John 6, “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink, “ (John 6:55) as instructive to the necessity of the reception of Communion as necessary to growth in the life of Christ.  Only when one was physically unable or in a state of mortal sin, it was seen as odd to exempt oneself from the reception of the Eucharist.  For those who were in a state of mortal sin, that could be easily remedied through Confession.

    That the Church states one should receive the Eucharist at least once a year (keeping in mind that one still has to go Mass on Sundays and Holy Days), is stating a minimum, not a maximum.  St Pius X encouraged the frequent reception of Communion.  In Sacra Tridentina, written in 1905, he says,

“1. Frequent and daily Communion, as a practice most earnestly desired by Christ our Lord and by the Catholic Church, should be open to all the faithful, of whatever rank and condition of life; so that no one who is in the state of grace, and who approaches the Holy Table with a right and devout intention (recta piaque mente) can be prohibited therefrom.

2. A right intention consists in this: that he who approaches the Holy Table should do so, not out of routine, or vain glory, or human respect, but that he wish to please God, to be more closely united with Him by charity, and to have recourse to this divine remedy for his weakness and defects.

He reiterates a belief from the beginning: namely, that the reception of Eucharist, for a person in a state if grace (not in a state of mortal sin) is spiritual nourishment and preventative medicine for those seeking to grow in a life of holiness.  The Eucharist, though, is not magic.  It is not a good luck charm or talisman meant to replace the confession of sin.  In fact, reception of the Blessed Sacrament, even once a year, requires both belief and freedom from sinfulness.  This is why a person in a state of mortal sin and/or disbelief should NOT receive Communion.  For one to do so is to invite the wrath of God for sacrilege of the Body and Blood of His only Son (see I Corinthians 11: 27-29).  The reception of the Eucharist must always be done in a state of grace and belief even if that Eucharist is received only once a year!  St Paul goes even further in I Corinthians 11:30 in stating that the ill health in soul they feel is a direct result of their unworthy reception of the Blessed Sacrament.  The very same medicine given to help us live a life a holiness can be our undoing if received unworthily.

    It is rare that people withhold from the reception of the Blessed Sacrament,  Normally, if they do, it is because they have issues with marriage and divorce.  A person in a invalid marriage cannot receive Communion until such a situation has been rectified.  Pride should not get in the way of seeking to rectify this situation.  Pride is the root of all sin.  It ostracizes us from God.  If an unwillingness to resolve marriage issues is what keeps you from the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, you are spiritually starving yourself.  While not all issues can be resolved (a valid marriage is a valid marriage), one should try to resolve them.  Do not let pride rob you of the medicine Christ gives us to not only make us holy, but that is necessary for the divine life we need for the Kingdom of Heaven.  While I will cover the precept of the Church on Marriage in two weeks; if you find yourself in an sacramentally invalid marriage, let’s work on that.  Call me.  Set up an appointment.  Don’t wait.  Don’t let pride get in the way.

    Finally, as you read this, ask yourself whether I am receiving the Eucharist in such a way that it can bring life and healing?  Am I free of mortal sin?  Do I believe?  These things are necessary for the proper reception of the Blessed Sacrament.   It is worth noting, that whether a person believes the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ has no effect on the fact that it does indeed become the Body and Blood of Christ.  Jesus gives us this so we might have life.  He gives us it as much as we need.  Let’s be honest, we need the Eucharist.  We need the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  We do.  To navigate this world, all its temptations, all its fallacies, all its agonies, we need the Blessed Sacrament.  To build up the Body of Christ, we need to consume the Body of Christ!  Let us do what is necessary to ensure that the frequent reception of the Body and Blood of Christ is life giving and the preventative medicine we need to avoid sin and cling to the good and holy.

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