Monday, April 26, 2010

Some Thoughts on Communion

It is interesting the discussions that take place over time in the life of the parish. Some of the conversations are first hand, and others tend to come to me via a more remote process.

One such conversation that has been taking place in the parish relates to an experience of a parishioner who was traveling over Easter. They had attended the Vigil Mass in Florida. At communion time, the priest made it clear that only Catholics, an only those in good standing in the Church, could come up for communion. The parishioners were put out by the fact that the priest would make such an announcement.

At dinner last night, a similar conversation took place. We were talking about why a priest might make such an announcement. This is especially troublesome to some because other priests invite everyone to come forward. Is it any wonder that people are confused?

Also yesterday a couple of parishioners were talking about an experience the week before of confirmation and 1st communion. Our retired bishop was talking to one of the candidates and reminded him that he should not be eating potato chips right before Mass. His teacher asked what the problem was about. When the bishop explained about the hour fast before communion, she indicated that she did not know that fasting was a requirement.

I’d like to go back and discuss a little about the announcement by the priest in Florida. Why does the Catholic Church not have, what other churches call, “open communion”? Perhaps this reference to the Catechism of the Catholic Church will help us understand the answer to the question.

1384The Lord addresses an invitation to us, urging us to receive him in the sacrament of the Eucharist: "Truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."

1385To respond to this invitation we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience: "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 Cor 11:27-29) Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion.

1386 Before so great a sacrament, the faithful can only echo humbly and with ardent faith the words of the Centurion: "Domine, non sum dignus ut intres sub tectum meum, sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea" ("Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed."). And in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom the faithful pray in the same spirit:O Son of God, bring me into communion today with your mystical supper. I shall not tell your enemies the secret, nor kiss you with Judas' kiss. But like the good thief I cry, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

1387 To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should observe the fast required in their Church. [Code of Canon Law #919 §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine. §2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day can take something before the second or third celebration even if there is less than one hour between them. §3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.] Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.

1388 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. As the Second Vatican Council says: "That more perfect form of participation in the Mass whereby the faithful, after the priest's communion, receive the Lord's Body from the same sacrifice, is warmly recommended."

1389 The Church obliges the faithful to take part in the Divine Liturgy on Sundays and feast days and, prepared by the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season. But the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily. (1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church)

In his encyclical letter, Sacramentum caritatis, Pope Benedict XVI stated

The Synod Fathers rightly stated that a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation. Given the connection between these sacraments, an authentic catechesis on the meaning of the Eucharist must include the call to pursue the path of penance. We know that the faithful are surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily. The loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding of God's love. Bringing out the elements within the rite of Mass that express consciousness of personal sin and, at the same time, of God's mercy, can prove most helpful to the faithful. Furthermore, the relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation reminds us that sin is never a purely individual affair; it always damages the ecclesial communion that we have entered through Baptism. For this reason, Reconciliation, as the Fathers of the Church would say, is laboriosus quidam baptismus; they thus emphasized that the outcome of the process of conversion is also the restoration of full ecclesial communion, expressed in a return to the Eucharist. (Sacramentum caritatis EN 20)

It is clear from the above that one puts his soul in danger when he comes to communion unworthily. In the same token, the pastor who is responsible for the souls of his flock, is neglecting his duties if he does not advise those not in the state of grace about this danger. The pastor who refuses to call these situations to the mind of his flock not only jeopardizes their souls, but his own. This being the case, it is easy to understand why a priest would announce the need for the gathered congregation to truly examine their mortal state. On occasions such as Easter and Christmas, when many of those gathered are there for the first time in a long time, we can see the added need of making this known. Many of those who are gathered have not been practicing the faith and it is probably that many do not understand that they should not be coming forward for communion.

Of course, if a First Communion teacher does not realize the requirements for fasting before communion, it is probable that there are many other Catholics out there who do not understand the need for confession before communion if they are in the state of mortal sin. I often wonder what our kids are taught in many of our Religious Education programs. I’m guessing it is not a sense of the sacred that exists in the Blessed Sacrament.

It is clear that we need to pray for the Church and for all Catholics that they may understand the gift we receive in Holy Communion and the proper disposition one should have when coming forward.
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