The Catholic Church’s teaching on the Eucharist is one of its defining doctrines. It is its most precious treasure because it is Jesus among us. St. Maximillian Kolbe, who was martyred at Auschwitz, once said, “If angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion.”
A study in 2013 claims 63 percent of American Catholics believe in Transubstantiation (the bread and wine because Christ’s Body and Blood) and in the Real Presence (that Jesus remains present in the Eucharist). Unfortunately, most of those Catholics, around 50 percent, are unaware that the Church teaches this. Catechesis in America is in obvious need of improvement, if this study is accurate.
Scriptural Foundation for the Holy Eucharist
Catholic belief in the Holy Eucharist is founded on Scripture. It was prefigured in Melchizedek, who, as a priest of God Most High, offered bread and wine as a sacrifice when Abram returned from battle (Genesis 14:18). The Bread of the Presence, kept in the Tabernacle where God dwelt, was also a prefigurement of the Eucharist (Exodus 25:30).
The best Scriptural proof for the Holy Eucharist is in the Gospel of St. John, chapter six.
It begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand, taking a little bread and using it to nourish many. He will allude to this miracle in the same chapter when He refers to Himself as the Bread of Life. After feeding the many, He walks on water, demonstrating His control over the elements.
Bread of Life DiscourseDuring the Bread of Life discourse in chapter six, Jesus introduces the idea of the Holy Eucharist slowly. He talks about eternity, Moses, and the manna from Heaven. Eventually, He argues that eternal life is to be had but only by believing in Him and in eating the “living bread from Heaven”. That living bread is His flesh.
Immediately, Protestants would say that this is all symbolism. There are hints of the Passion in this chapter. However, He repeats Himself no fewer than five times, that those who want eternal life must eat His flesh and drink His blood. This is the most dramatic passage:
”For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (John 6:55-58 RSV CE)
At the very end of the chapter, Jesus is alone with His disciples. It’s a pattern in Scripture for Jesus to reveal the plain truth He hid in parables. However, when they confront Him about these “hard sayings”, Jesus only confirms what He said:
“Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:61-63
Divorced and Remarried
There is a quiet war in the Catholic Church over the Eucharist. It all began when Pope Francis published his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia. It’s led to a Dubia whose purpose is, simply, to make sure the Pope doesn’t mean to teach heresy. It’s also led to an informal correction published by a group of theologians and other laity.
The Church’s position has long been that anyone who has divorced and remarried without obtaining an annulment cannot receive Holy Communion. This is because the remarried lives in a state of sin because they are in an adulterous union. The only exception would be if the couple are living the celibate life but, for a serious reason, cannot leave each other.
In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis casts this aside and claims that “after a path of discernment”, the divorced and remarried can receive Communion without making any changes in lifestyle. Arguments over whether the Pope really meant this immediately broke out. Cardinal Muller, when he was still the Vatican’s doctrinal chief, insisted that Church teaching never changed and the Pope could not teach it.
This current battle exemplifies how sacred the place the Eucharist holds in the Church and in the daily life of the Christian. (Click here to read an interview on this subject.)
How to Receive Holy Communion WorthilyParagraph 1415 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance.”
A state of grace is defined as: “free from mortal sin and pleasing to God.” In other words, not only must you not be in mortal sin but you also have to have a relationship with God, allowing you to be full of His sanctifying grace.
Mortal sin, according to the Catechism, is a sin that is committed knowingly, of serious matter, and the person commits it willingly. Examples of mortal sins could be viewing pornographic material, practicing divination or magic, and committing murder.
The Church emphasizes this because the Eucharist is Jesus. When we receive Communion, we receive Jesus—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity—into ourselves. We can’t welcome Him into a space rife with sin. The Church uses only the best materials for chalices, patens, and tabernacles because these items with touch God Himself. If such care is taken for inanimate objects, how much more should we have care of ourselves in preparation of receiving the King of Kings?
A precept of the Church is to go to confession once a year. However, saints have longed advocated more frequent confession. In an era of the Church where it’s weird not to go up for Communion, frequent confession (once a week or month) can keep you from receiving unworthily.
Secondly, follow the precepts on fasting. Called the Eucharistic fast, those who wish to receive Communion must fast from food and drink an hour before receiving. Only water and medicine are allowed. Priests, people over 60, and caretakers of the elderly are exempted from this rule.
The purpose of this is, again, preparation. We are stating that we’re about to do something special. We are setting ourselves aside for a holy purpose. It’s also a way of helping us get into the proper mindset.
Finally, prepare by praying. There are beautiful prayers by St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure that you can pray prior to Mass. Focus on the Mass and place yourself in the Presence of God. You’re about to receive the greatest gift imaginable and your heart must be ready.
Once you’ve received, linger. Pray. Spend time with God. Remember, the first person to leave Mass early was Judas.
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