By Cardinal Justin Rigali
Archbishop of Philadelphia
It is always good for all of us to review periodically what we do in our lives as Catholics. As we approach the celebration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, we have the opportunity to reflect on the reception of Jesus in Holy Communion.
“To adore and love always and again”
You know that Wednesdays are generally the day when the Holy Father conducts his General Audience for the faithful who come, in accord with the age-old custom “videre Petrum,” to see Peter. The Pope uses these occasions not only to have contact with the faithful and give them the opportunity to see the Successor of Peter, but also to catechize those who are present for these audiences.
Towards the end of last year, while continuing a catechesis on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, Pope Benedict said: “This great mystery, that the Lord is present in all of His reality in the Eucharistic species, is a mystery to adore and love always and again!” Indeed, we can never exhaust all that can be said about the fact that Jesus gives Himself to us, as we say: “Body and Blood, Soul and spaninity,” under the appearances of bread, in the Most Blessed Sacrament. This week, I would like to concentrate on the aspect of this mystery which concerns the reception of Jesus in Holy Communion.
First, it is necessary to affirm whom and what we receive when we receive Holy Communion. It is always disturbing to see the results of polls taken among those who refer to themselves as Catholics, responding to the question of what they believe the Holy Eucharist to be. Something is seriously wrong when significant numbers consider the Eucharist to be merely a “symbol” or a “reminder” of the Body of Jesus.
From the clear and challenging words of Jesus in His discourse on the Bread of Life in chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, to the words of institution pronounced by Jesus at the Last Supper recounted in the Gospels, to the affirmation of the belief of the very early Church in the Epistles of St. Paul, to the constant and unequivocal teaching of the Church for 2,000 years, we see over and over again the truth that this is the Body and Blood of Jesus, under the appearances of bread and wine.
During another period of history when faith in this great Sacrament was endangered, the Council of Trent affirmed: “Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.”
The very word “Communion,” which we use so frequently in connection with the reception of the Holy Eucharist, tells us about the reality of what we are doing. First, by the reception of the Body of Jesus, we enter into a deep communion with Him. There can be none deeper on this earth than to have Jesus dwell within us. Through our unity with the rest of the Church in professing the fullness of the Catholic faith, as revealed by Jesus Christ and guaranteed through the Church He founded, we also enter into communion with the rest of the faithful throughout the world. This is why this great Sacrament which unites those with a common belief is called the “Sacrament of unity.”
An Instruction of the Holy See, quoted in “The Catechism of the Catholic Church,” teaches: “The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the spanine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men and women offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit” (Eucharisticum Mysterium, 6)
In the world of computer science, a term has been coined and is frequently used: “Garbage in, garbage out.” It reflects the fact that, even with all its possibilities, the computer is only as good as the information that is fed into it. It can only attain its great possibilities for increased knowledge if the right information is fed into it from the beginning. Without being irreverent, but continuing this imagery, we can only imagine the possibilities for our Christian lives if, being conscious of who has come within us in Holy Communion, we then communicate Him to the world: “Jesus in, Jesus out.” This is only possible through that intimate communion we share with Him when we receive Him in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.
Penance and the Holy Eucharist
In the 1970s, a line from a very successful movie made its way into popular culture for a time: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Actually, nothing can be further from the truth! We all know that in a relationship which is truly both loving and living, it is sometimes necessary to say we are sorry. If a wound is inflicted upon a relationship that we cherish, our instinct tells us that the wound must first be healed if we are to move forward with that relationship. We cannot “act as if nothing happened.” If we don’t live our human relationships in this way, we will be restricted to relationships which are shallow and without substance.
So it is in our relationship with Jesus. Our own common sense should tell us that if we have offended Him by acting against His Gospel and the commands of His Church, we must first restore our relationship with Him if we are to receive Him into our hearts. A personal relationship deals with events in a personal way, not in a vague and general manner. This is the same with our relationship with Jesus. Sin is a personal offense we commit against Him. It is not some generic discomfort that we just want to go away so that we can act as if everything is fine. While it is certainly not necessary to go to Confession every time we wish to receive Holy Communion, it is necessary to be in what we call a state of grace, meaning a right relationship with Jesus, if we wish to receive Him in Holy Communion.
If that relationship has been wounded and we wish to receive Him, we can be healed so easily in the Sacrament of Penance. This, of course, requires two things: that we recognize our sins and humbly confess them and that we realize that this forgiveness is necessary because of the reality of who it is that we receive in Holy Communion. Yes, the Church tells us that those in a state of serious sin must go to Confession before they receive Holy Communion, but our common sense should know that already.
Body as well as soul
All around us, we see constant reminders of the significance of external actions: we shake hands, we kiss, we put an arm around someone for encouragement, we wave, we smile, we stand up in excitement and sit down in moments of fatigue or discouragement. All these actions remind us that we are creatures who are not only able to think and to love but who also have a need to express our sentiments externally. It is the same when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.
We speak very often of the famous phrase of the Second Vatican Council, which refers to the Eucharist as the “source and summit” of the life of the Church. However, it is not enough to say that, we must also manifest that faith in the manner in which we approach and receive Jesus, “the source and summit,” in Holy Communion. We can ask ourselves a very simple question: If someone who knows nothing of all we have just written saw you or another Catholic receiving Holy Communion, or a priest celebrating Mass, would that person be able to say: “I don’t know what they are doing, but it must be very serious and important, because look at the reverent way they are doing it”?
Let us all, archbishop, priests, religious and lay faithful, use the upcoming liturgical feast of Holy Thursday which celebrates the institution of this greatest of all sacraments, as a time to review what we believe with heart and mind about the Holy Eucharist and show that belief with the body God gave us.
18 March 2010