Unworthy to receive Communion?

Q. Just before we receive the Eucharist at Mass, we say, "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." I thought if we went to Confession and received absolution we were worthy to receive Communion. Saying these words suggests that we are not worthy. Please explain.

-- A.F., Warrentown, Mo.

A. Here’s a reply from Msgr. M. Francis Mannion:

In a certain sense, you are correct. If one has been to confession and is in a state of grace, then one is worthy to receive Communion. By the same token, to approach the Eucharist in a state of serious sin is to receive unworthily.

However, there is a sense in which we are never completely worthy to receive Communion -- or any of the sacraments. This side of heaven, we will never be perfect and never fully conformed to Christ. There is always some distance between us and the holiness which the sacraments symbolize.

The reminder before Communion that we are not worthy to receive Christ prevents us from approaching the sacrament with arrogance or with a sense that we are doing God a favor. We do well to bring to our worship a perpetual sense of unworthiness.