February 26 – First Sunday of Lent

Perhaps you remember some of my subtle comments from my last Sunday homily, as well as my last article where I quoted from St. Justin Martyr, writing in AD 151: “We call this food Eucharist, and no one else is permitted to partake of it, except one who believes our teaching to be true and who has been washed in the washing which is for the remission of sins and for regeneration and is thereby living as Christ enjoined.” At every funeral and wedding I make a similar announcement: “If you are Catholic and properly prepared to receive Communion this day—which means you’ve been to confession within the last year—we’ll form two lines…If you’re not Catholic, I invite you to receive a blessing by crossing your arms like so because receiving Communion in our faith tradition is an outward profession of the Catholic faith and an acceptance of everything the Church teaches as being true. Thank you for respecting our religion!” Why say such a thing? Isn’t it exclusive?

Well, yes, yes it is, but with good reason. First of all, I don’t want anyone who doesn’t actually believe Church teaching to unconsciously outwardly profess what they don’t actually believe! For many Protestants, communion is an expression of welcoming and loving one’s neighbor no matter who they are. For Catholics, Communion is just that: a consummation of communion with Jesus and His Body, His Bride, our Mother, the Church. Thus, if one isn’t actually in communion with Jesus or his Church—whether by deed or belief—”there’s a grave contradiction between one’s life and the meaning and content of the Sacrament.” (Feingold’s The Eucharist) St. Thomas refers to this as “lying to the sacrament.” The Church calls this “sacrilege”.

Those are strong words! Why?? Secondly, because Communion isn’t just a symbolic action: it is also Jesus Himself! It contains what it signifies. Thus St. Paul tells us: “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and only then eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” (1 Cor 11:27-29) St. Paul literally claims that people are getting sick and dying because they are receiving Communion when they shouldn’t! That’s a weird conclusion if Communion were just a symbol of God’s love for all people, but a perfectly understandable conclusion if Communion is our reception of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins.

Think of it this way: imagine a spouse who is discovered to be cheating on his wife, and then presumes to enter into the marital act with his wife without first apologizing. How insulting! You broke communion and seek bodily union without first owning your sin and seeking reconciliation?!  How much more disrespectful if we do that to our infinitely good God! That’s what we do if we presume to receive Communion if we’ve committed serious sins and not first gone to the sacrament of reconciliation. This is why the Church enjoins us as one of her five precepts: “You shall confess your sins at least once a year.” (CCC 2042) Jesus wants to forgive us our sins, and He gave us a sacrament for that too! Like a good parent, He wants us to humble ourselves, take responsibility for our sins, explicitly name them and ask for pardon, and only then presume to become one-flesh with Him. 

There are many reasons why someone wouldn’t receive Communion at Mass—maybe they accidentally broke the Eucharistic fast, don’t feel sufficiently recollected, arrived late, etc. Better that we care about offending God than worrying about what others might think of us if we don’t receive Communion every Mass! Remember my homily: Mass is more than just getting Communion. Taking Communion more seriously will seriously increase the amount of grace we receive when we do receive Him! May God bless you.

Father James