June 23, 2017

Editorial

Receiving Christ’s Body in Communion

Last weekend, the Church celebrated the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the feast we know as Corpus Christi (Body of Christ). Each time it is celebrated, we should use that feast for an examination of conscience. Do we fully understand and appreciate the fact that we are privileged to receive the body and blood of Christ in Communion?

How times have changed when it comes to Catholics’ devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. At the beginning of the 20th century, Catholics were not in the practice of receiving Communion whenever they went to Mass. They didn’t consider themselves worthy of doing so.

It wasn’t that they didn’t understand that the Blessed Sacrament was the body and blood of Christ. They most assuredly did. For centuries, Catholics participated in processions with the Blessed Sacrament. They also adored the host at the elevation during Mass, with bells alerting them that the Body and Blood of Christ was being elevated. They adored the host in Benediction. They just didn’t receive Communion very often.

That’s why the third commandment (or precept) of the Church was thought necessary: “You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least once during the Easter season.”

Pope St. Pius X believed that more had to be done. In 1905, he issued a decree encouraging Catholics to receive Communion frequently, because, he wrote, “Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven.”

He followed that up, in 1910, with another decree that lowered the age at which children could receive their first Communion, from 12 to 7. It’s because of those decrees that he is known as the “Pope of the Holy Eucharist.”

St. Pius X also emphasized the need for frequent recourse to the sacrament of penance so that Holy Communion would be received worthily.

Of course, after St. Pius X issued those decrees, Catholics didn’t immediately start receiving Communion whenever they attended Mass. Habits are hard to break. However, here in the then-Diocese of Indianapolis, Bishop Francis S. Chatard and his successor, Bishop Joseph Chartrand, encouraged frequent Communion, and the practice eventually caught on.

Fast forward to 2017. Now, it appears that everyone thinks he or she is worthy of receiving Communion. It’s part of the ritual. As ushers herd the congregation, pew by pew, toward the ministers of holy Communion, they all receive, and many of them not too reverently. This assuredly is not what St. Pius X had in mind.

The Church wants everybody to receive Communion, but only if they are in the state of grace. If they are conscious of having committed a mortal sin that has not been absolved in the sacrament of penance, they should not receive Communion.

That has always been the teaching of the Church. The plain fact is, though, that many Catholics today do not know that. They go to Communion because it’s part of the Mass, because everybody else is doing it.

Many of those people during previous centuries, who did not receive Communion often, might have been better catechized than many modern Catholics. Polls indicate that high percentages of Catholics don’t realize that the Church teaches that the host they receive in Communion is the body and blood, soul and divinity, of Christ.

How can that be? Perhaps because they have never been taught it. Today, 42 percent of millennial Catholics (born in 1982 or later) have never been enrolled in a Catholic school, parish-based religious education classes, or a youth ministry program. In some cases, their parents don’t know what the Church teaches either.

Those of us who do know, though, can reflect on what happens when we receive Communion. The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults says, “When we receive Communion, we need to remember that we are not changing Christ into ourselves. Jesus is transforming us into himself. This requires a proper understanding of the Real Presence of Jesus under the appearance of bread and wine. It is not simply a symbol that merely points to Jesus. Nor is Christ’s presence just a projection on our part in the sense that we make him present when we receive him. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own Flesh and Blood” (p. 227).

—John F. Fink

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