A Sermon from Fr Stephen
Occasionally its useful to look at things from a practical perspective, in the sense of the practical way we express what we believe. This Sunday being Corpus Christi, I want to look at the subject of the reception of Holy Communion which we believe to be the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, in other words, the Living Risen Jesus Himself hidden under the appearance of bread and wine.
Holy Communion is received on the Church’s terms, because Holy Communion comes from the Church and she is its guardian. Therefore, the rules she makes about the reception of Holy Communion are a consequence of her faith – that Holy Communion is truly Our Lord’s body and blood and merits the greatest reverence and worship, and a consequence of her desire that whoever receives Holy Communion does so in the way most likely to be spiritually fruitful. Holy Communion is the sacrament designed by Christ to transform us into Himself, and for this to happen, it is vital that we are properly prepared and receive worthily, otherwise it will do us no good at all.
What are the conditions under which a person may receive Holy Communion? First, you must be a Catholic, second you must truly believe that Holy Communion is Jesus Christ Himself and not a piece of blessed bread. Third you must wantto receive Him. Sounds obvious, but casual indifference, and an unthinking reception is a possibility and a danger. Fourthly, you must be a state of grace, that is you must be free from serious sin otherwise refrain from receiving until you have been to confession. You don’t have to be perfect – Holy Communion is a means towards perfection, but you do have to be free of serious sin. And fifthly, you must have kept the eucharistic fast; you must have refrained from food and drink (except water and medicine) for one hour before receiving. It is fitting that our body join in the preparation to receive Our Lord, and so we receive Him on an empty stomach. One hour is not difficult, probably too easy in fact, but nonetheless that is the law. The first meal of the day is called breakfast, stemming from the time when people would go to early morning Mass and receive Holy Communion having fasted all night. Afterwards they could then eat and break their fast.
As to the manner of receiving, this too is important because it has an effect on our faith. How we receive can reinforce our faith that we are receiving Jesus, or it can chip away at it and eventually destroy it. Our body and our soul are united, so what one does has an impact on the other. Body language is important and the body speaks to the soul and indeed is witnessed by others, who understand the meaning. As an example, if you shake someone’s hand but are busy watching TV or talking to someone else, the person whose hand you’re shaking would conclude, reasonably, that you weren’t really interested in them, because of their body language. So too in receiving Holy Communion, what the body does is important because it speaks to the soul and to others about what is happening.
The Church lays down the manner in which Holy Communion must be received – we are not completely free to decide for ourselves how we’d like to receive. The first option is to receive directly on the tongue. This option applies to every parish throughout the world by law. If you choose to receive this way, you say Amen, you open your mouth, bring your tongue forward till it covers your bottom lip and receive.
The second option is to receive in the hand where a country’s bishops have given permission, as most have. If you choose to receive this way, you hold up your hands clearly so the priest can see you intend to receive this way, you hold them flat so the priest can place the Sacred Host easily, with one hand beneath the other. You pick up the host immediately and place it in your mouth. Those are the “dos” as it were. Now here are the “don’ts”.
Do not receive with anything other than scrupulously clean hands – check before you come to church, parents may need to check their children’s hands.
Do not grab the Host – it is a gift, and gifts are not grabbed, they are received.
Do not walk off carrying the Host, it MUST be consumed immediately, then and there, otherwise you risk being embarrassed by the priest following you to make sure you have consumed it.
Do not receive with gloves on or with bandages.
Putting out one hand is not acceptable, as it is usually followed by an attempt to cast the Host into the mouth like a peanut, and that is not an appropriate way to receive Our Lord and God.
If you are carrying a baby, you must receive on the tongue, there is too much that can go badly wrong otherwise.
The law says that if the priest thinks there is a danger of irreverence, he must place the Host on the tongue.
There we have our practicalities, which are inseparably related to the spiritual mysteries they serve. It might sound a little stern, but the motivation is a fatherly desire to protect and nourish people’s faith and ensure the receiving of Our Lord Jesus Christ is as fruitful as possible. Everything about the way we worship should foster a sense of adoration of God. The way we receive Holy Communion should be especially conducive to awe and wonder since here, God not only comes to meet us, but invites us to union with Himself - a taste of Heaven upon earth.