Chapter 21: How to Receive Holy Communion
Let us, then, with full confidence, partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. For in the appearance of bread His Body is given to you, and in the appearance of wine His Blood is given to you, so that partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, you might become united in body and blood with Him. For thus do we become Christ-bearers, His Body and Blood being distributed through our members. And thus it is that we become, according to blessed Peter, sharers of the divine nature.
—Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a.d. 350
Behold the Lamb of God
The priest raises the Blessed Sacrament and, presenting Him to us, uses words from the Scriptures. He declares that this is the "Lamb of God" and how blessed (happy) are we who are invited to partake in His supper.
Where Is It In Scripture?
The first part of what he says are the words of Saint John the Baptist, who said to his disciples when he spotted Jesus:
"Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
The second part of what the priest says is from the Book of Revelation:
"And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’" —Revelation 19:9
We respond to this invitation by declaring that we are unworthy. We use words directly from the Scriptures. They recall the words of the Roman centurion who sent his servants to summon Jesus to heal his slave. Before Jesus can arrive at the centurion’s house, the man again sends his servants to deliver a message protesting that he is not worthy to have Jesus enter his house, but has faith that Jesus can command from afar and whatever Jesus commands will be done.
It is a remarkable testimony of faith, and we should be mindful of it as we say the words, slightly modified, ourselves. If we don’t possess the faith of the centurion, we should ask the Lord to give it to us!
Where Is It In Scripture?
"Lord, I am not worthy to receive you," is taken from the Gospel of Luke:
"When he [Jesus] was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, "Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed."
Preparation to Receive the Eucharist
Remember that receiving the Eucharist at Mass is a gift of Christ. The Church wishes for all who attend Mass to receive Communion, but it is necessary that we examine our conscience to make sure we are truly prepared to receive Jesus.
What are the "required dispositions" of which the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks? They include:
- That we are in a "state of grace," not conscious of any unconfessed grave sin. (If you are conscious of grave sin, you should arrange to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation as soon as possible. If it is a serious situation such as not being married in the Church, you should make an appointment with the pastor of your church and discuss this with him.)
- That we have observed the one-hour fast from food and drink (except for water and medicine) before receiving Holy Communion. Those who are advanced in age or are infirm as well as those who care for them are exempt from this fast.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
"It is in keeping with the very meaning of the Eucharist that the faithful, if they have the required dispositions, receive communion when they participate in the Mass " —CCC, No. 1388
Processing to the Altar
We have witnessed two processions to the altar so far in the Mass: the first when the priests and ministers entered the church at the beginning of Mass, and the second when some members of the congregation presented the gifts of our financial offerings, the bread, and the wine to the priest. Now we leave our place and process toward the altar ourselves (if we are not in the state of mortal sin) to receive our Lord.
This procession should be dignified and reserved. In the same manner as the priest and ministers who solemnly processed at the beginning of Mass, we, too, should walk with our hands folded, contemplating the great moment that is about to take place. A message often posted on the wall of the sacristy (the place where the priest prepares for Mass) is "Celebrate this Mass as though it were your first." A similar message should be in our minds: Receive Jesus in this Communion with the same devotion and seriousness that accompanied your First Holy Communion.
It is important to remember as we approach the altar that we receive Jesus. We do not grab or take Communion. It is offered to us by the priest or Eucharistic minister.
Before you receive Communion, you should bow as a sign of reverence toward the Eucharistic Lord before receiving Him.
Where Is It In Scripture?
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, urged them:
"Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself." —1 Corinthians 11:27-29
Receiving the Eucharist
There are two ways in which we may receive the Blessed Sacrament: on the tongue, or in the hand where this is permitted. (This is allowed in the United States, but not in all countries of the world.)
The priest or Eucharistic minister will slightly raise the Blessed Sacrament as we approach, and say "The Body of Christ."
We reply with "Amen." This is our assent to the following:
- We believe that Jesus Christ is fully present under the appearance of this bread that we receive.
- We believe that all His Body, the Church, teaches is true.
- We declare that we are a member of His Body, the Church.
We should receive the Lord reverently in whichever manner we choose. If on the tongue, open your mouth and extend your tongue in a reverential way allowing the Sacrament to be placed there before closing your mouth.
If we receive the Lord in our hand we should hold our hand open, making a throne for the Sacrament to be placed in. Again, we meaningfully take the Sacrament from our hand and place it in our mouth.
If we receive from the cup, we should allow the minister of the cup to present the cup to us. One should never grab the cup from the minister’s hands.
Everything should be done reverently. A sign of the cross should be made after receiving our Lord, and we should walk back to our place in the congregation in the same reverential manner that we approached the altar.
The Faith Of The Early Church
In approaching, therefore, do not come up with your wrists apart or with your fingers spread, but make of your left hand a throne for the right, since you are about to receive into it a King. And having hallowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it the amen. Then, after cautiously sanctifying your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake, being careful lest you lose anything of it. For whatever you might lose is clearly a loss to you from one of your own members. Tell me: if someone gave you some grains of gold, would you not hold them with all carefulness, lest you might lose something of them and thereby suffer a loss? Will you not, therefore, be much more careful in keeping watch over what is more precious than gold and gems, so that not a particle of it may escape you? —Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, a.d. 350
Contemplating the Fruits of Holy Communion
We should join in the singing, if there is any, to show again our unity as a Church. But we should also spend time contemplating this great gift that we have received. The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the "fruits" of Holy Communion.
- Holy Communion unites us to the Lord. (See No. 1391)
- Holy Communion nourishes our spiritual life and gives us what we need to grow spiritually. (See No. 1392)
- Holy Communion cleanses us from past sins. (See No. 1393)
- Holy Communion strengthens the bonds of Christian love within us. (See No. 1394)
- Holy Communion makes it harder to fall into mortal sin in the future. (See No. 1395)
- Holy Communion creates the Church; through it our Lord unites us into one Body. (See No. 1396)
- Holy Communion compels us to recognize the same Lord in the poor. (See No. 1397)
- Holy Communion makes us painfully aware of the divisions that exist in the Body of Christ and bids us to pray "that all may be one." (See No. 1398)
We should use this time of intimate communion with our Lord to reflect upon the fruits of this Communion and to give thanks to the Lord for having joined Himself to us. If there is a hymn of thanksgiving sung in our church, we should raise our voices joyfully!
"When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?’ " — Luke 24: 30-32
"And their eyes were opened "
When our Lord gave the disciples on the road to Emmaus the bread that He had blessed and broken, "he vanished out of their sight" (Luke 24:31). It was then that they recognized Him. We receive the Lord as they did in receiving the Eucharist. Now, at the moment that He is within us, we too should reflect, as they did, on the Scriptures that He has opened to us during this Mass, especially on what has made our "hearts burn."
In our consumer-minded society, we can miss the treasure that we receive if we treat it like one more thing to "get" and then go on to the next thing. Our Lord is not a "thing." He is God, who has deigned to come intimately into our lives. We should reflect on His Presence within us and ask what He would have us do.
We should commune with our Lord and meditate on His Presence within us. We should thank Him for the great gift He has given us. We should pour our hearts out to Him and ask Him to fill us with the graces necessary to fulfill God’s will for us in this life.
The same Jesus who was born in Bethlehem, preached and healed throughout Israel, who suffered and died on the cross, then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, now is within us. We will never exhaust the multitude of wonder that should fill our hearts at this moment!
Opportunity For Spiritual Growth
Continue to sing the Communion song and give great praise and thanks to God for the gift of His Son in this Eucharist. In the moment of silence that follows, pour out your heart to Jesus. Thank Him, praise Him, tell Him you love Him.
Excerpt from The How-To Book of the Mass by Michael Dubruiel, Copyright © 2002 by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. All rights reserved.