In the olden days when I was a kid, adults who wanted to receive Communion had to fast from all food and drink from midnight until after they had received the Eucharist. This meant that Masses were held early in the morning and even then many people did not receive the Eucharist.
It is good that these regulations have been loosened. It is good that it is now the norm for people who are in the state of grace to receive the Eucharist at every Mass. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "The church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the Holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily" (no. 1389).
There are great graces attached to reception of the Eucharist. "The principal fruit . . . is an intimate union with Christ Jesus" (no. 1391). Receiving Communion strengthens our charity and this "living charity" wipes away our venial sins and helps us break disordered attachments. It also strengthens the unity of the Mystical Body and is a sign of the unity of all Christians.
The Catechism also says "The Eucharist commits us to the poor" (no. 1397). In the margin of my Catechism I scribbled, "Does this actually happen?" Better yet, one could ask, "Why should the Eucharist commit us to the poor? And why are we, who receive Communion so regularly, so unconnected with the poor of our world?" The Eucharist creates solidarity. But this solidarity is not always apparent in our daily lives.
Perhaps we need to pay greater attention to our interior disposition when we receive Communion. Father Jordan Aumann, a spiritual theologian, writes, "We cannot emphasize too strongly the importance of cultivating the proper dispositions for the fruitful reception of Communion. . . . Preparation for Communion is much more necessary and more important than thanksgiving after Communion" (Spiritual Theology, p. 220). In other words, you get out of Communion (multiplied many times over) what you bring to it.
If the frequency of our reception of Holy Communion has dulled our reverence for this great sacrament then we need to make a deliberate effort to improve our disposition. We need to consciously lay our specific needs and failings before the altar and ask for healing. We also need to foster our adoration of the God-Man present in the Eucharist and our thanksgiving for the gift of salvation which Christ offers us through this sacrament.
The Second Vatican Council's reform of the liturgy was meant to foster the "full, conscious and active participation" of all God's people in the Eucharist. We must be more conscious so that the graces of the Eucharist flow out of our church buildings and into our communities.
Jean Vanier tells of riding the Metro and encountering a beggar. When he gave money to the beggar, their eyes met and there was a moment of communion. "Other people in the Metro avoid looking at me, they even seem frightened if I look at them," Vanier wrote. "If I try to meet their eyes, they become suspicious that I am trying to make a pass at them, or that I want to steal something from them."
Vanier's conclusion: "Communion seems linked to weakness and to vulnerability. When people are enjoying success they look above all for admiration, but when they feel weak they seek communion" (Our Journey Home, pp. 47-48).
Our problem may be that we are too strong, too successful. Success can blur one's relationship with God. If I am too successful and feel self-sufficient, God can't get in. Being broken, helpless and in need can lead a person to seek communion with God and with others. Success is only in human terms. Before God, we are all broken.
Getting in touch with our own brokenness -- our own unworthiness and our needs which we cannot fulfil -- is a step towards God. It is a step towards adoration of the God who is as high above us as the sky is above the earth. And in our own brokenness, we need to trust that God will respond to our needs with love and mercy.
Maybe I can become aware that my "success" is but a gift of God, not something I deserve. It is my efforts or my moral superiority which separate me from the beggar in the street. When I get in touch with my own brokenness, I also come closer to solidarity with the beggar. I become aware of my utter dependence on someone other than myself. The only hope for either of us is communion -- communion with God and with other people.
So, if I approach the altar more often for Holy Communion than was once possible, let it be with the right disposition. And let my sharing in that sacred meal draw me closer to the sinners, the outcasts and the suffering people of today.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.