One does not simply receive the Eucharist
I hope you all had a blessed and Merry Christmas! My family and I were thankfully able to relax, kick back, and just enjoy some time together around the tree. A welcome respite after a year that just wouldn't quit (up to and including a windstorm on Christmas Day)! Now, we look towards 2021 and hope for better days ahead.
Today, I'd like to talk with you a bit about something I experienced very vividly in 2020. There's not a name for it that I'm aware of, so I'll call it "Eucharistic Anguish." That sounds super intense, but stick with me! I promise that this is a good thing, not a bad thing. Put very simply, Eucharistic Anguish is the knowledge that you're not prepared to receive the Eucharist.
Is that surprising to hear? That there are times when it is better for us NOT to receive the Eucharist? I know it surprised me the first time I heard it. It's uncomfortable! Not only because we don't want to miss out on the opportunity to receive Jesus in bodily form, but also because we feel we might stand out if we don't receive the Eucharist.
To understand this better, a bit of context is needed. First off, let's be absolutely clear on what the Eucharist is: The Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. It's not a symbol, a metaphor, or a substitute. The Eucharist IS Jesus, through and through. It is impossible to fully comprehend this, but thinking of it in these terms helps us realize just how respectful we are to be of this great gift.
This is definitely more of an issue in America than in other countries. Some priest friends of mine have spent time in South America, and they've mentioned multiple times how many people at Mass don't receive the Eucharist. But why is this? Are they unaware of what it is? Do they not appreciate it? Not at all. In fact, just the opposite.
These people realize that they are not prepared to receive the Eucharist. But what does that mean, "not prepared"? Did they just forget to stand up and walk down the aisle? Nope. Being prepared to receive the Eucharist is about more than just standing up at the right time and fasting for an hour before Mass.
Let's look to our frequent contributor, Saint Paul, for some guidance here. In 1 Corinthians 11:29, he tells us that "those who eat and drink without discerning the Body of Christ eat and drink judgement on themselves." Yikes! That's a bit disquieting. In this case, "discerning the Body of Christ" means ensuring we are prepared to receive Him.
But how do we ensure this preparedness? The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has us covered there. In their 1996 "Guidelines for the Reception of Holy Communion," they state that "a person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the Body and Blood of the Lord without prior sacramental confession except for a grave reason where there is no opportunity for confession."
Translated: we should not receive the Eucharist when we are consciously in a state of grave or mortal sin. In short, these are sins with grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. If you have a question about whether or not a sin is mortal, it's a good idea to discuss that with a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Again, I know this is an uncomfortable truth! But it's that very discomfort that's brought me a greater appreciation for the Eucharist this year. You see, that "Eucharistic Anguish" I referenced earlier is a force for positive change in our lives. Earlier this year, after a discussion with a priest, I made the decision to only receive the Eucharist when I felt I was truly prepared.
I, like you, am a sinner. There were absolutely times when I was not prepared, and I followed through with my decision not to receive. And you know something? It was the worst! Anguish is exactly the word for it.
As I walked down the aisle during Communion, arms crossed over my chest as a symbol that I sought a blessing, not the Eucharist (yes, this is what to do if you're at Mass and not receiving the Eucharist), I felt a spiritual pain.
In fact, I felt more of a yearning to receive Jesus into my heart then than ever before. Facing the priest, wishing more than anything that I could receive the Eucharist, I felt the greatest appreciation for Jesus' sacrifice that I ever had. It's kind of like going to the chiropractor: painful, but so beneficial.
The benefit to this was that I became much more mindful of my lifestyle and whether or not I was prepared to receive the Eucharist. I started going to Confession more often, making honest attempts to root out sins I consistently struggle with, and allowed myself to focus more and more on what taking Communion actually means.
Am I now perfect and sinless? Absolutely not. But I'd be lying if I said that this discomfort hasn't been a net positive in my spiritual and moral life. Now, don't hear what I'm not saying. I don't want less people to receive the Eucharist at Mass. That's not my goal! In fact, I'd love for everyone to receive Jesus as often as possible.
What I pray that we all embrace is a renewed knowledge of just what the Eucharist actually is. What it MEANS. Receiving the Body and Blood of Christ isn't a box to check off as part of our Sunday routine. It shouldn't be a given. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life," and THAT is what I pray for us all to take to heart.
Don't be ashamed to take this plunge. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it does bring discomfort. But, in the end, it will give you a greater appreciation for the Eucharist, and you'll most likely end up receiving Jesus even more than you did beforehand. I pray that the Lord will guide your judgement on this and all Eucharistic matters.
I continue to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! May God bless you,