A) The Privilege of Receiving Holy Communion
One of the great privileges we have as Catholics is to receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. This encounter with the living Lord is the high point of our spiritual lives and the moment in which we experience the Lord´s presence and love in its fullest and deepest way. Being so richly blessed, we are invited by the Lord to carry his love into the whole of our lives. It is always, therefore, a very precious moment but also one which asks for our loving response to the Lord´s goodness.
The reception of Holy Communion is part of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist and comes once we have been fed by God´s Word in the Holy Scriptures and have joined in the offering of Christ´s sacrifice, made present for us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The reception of Christ´s Body and Blood is indeed the fruit of Christ´s offering of himself to the Father on our behalf, and once Christ´s command has been fulfilled through the words of the priest we are invited to come forward and partake of the Lord´s banquet. From the celebration of the Eucharist , or from the Blessed Sacrament reserved in the tabernacle, Holy Communion is also taken to the house-bound or to those who have taken ill, in a special way as “Viaticum” (food for the journey) for those nearing death. The reception of communion outside of Mass is primarily offered therefore to those no longer able to attend Mass.
Nowadays Holy Communion is sometimes distributed outside of the celebration of Mass at Eucharistic or Communion services. This may be done on Sundays when there is no priest available to celebrate Mass, or the nearest celebration is too distant for the faithful to travel to – this is the case in some of the smaller Island communities in this Diocese, but it is not something which I envisage being extended to our mainland or more populated island parishes. In some parishes Communion services are being offered also on weekdays when the priest is away. Although this is something appreciated by daily Mass-goers it is not actually encouraged by the Norms of the Church (Redemptionis Sacramentum, No.166), as it can suggest a disconnection between the celebration of Mass and the reception of Holy Communion. The parish priests and parishioners in places where this custom of having weekday Communion services has become normal should reflect on this and, I would ask you to consider alternative services to the distribution of communion outside of Mass. If the priest cannot be present on a particular weekday the faithful can still come together to listen to God´s Word and to pray – for example reciting Morning or Evening Prayer. I think there is something good and necessary in waiting for the next celebration of Mass, and the opportunity to be offered therein for receiving communion in its given place, rather than expecting to receive communion every day we go to church, even if Mass is not celebrated. What I say may mean change in some parishes, with alternatives being offered and explained to those who make the effort to come to daily Mass, but I suggest this Lent is the opportune time to do this.
B) Preparation for the Reception of Holy Communion
To receive the Lord worthily, and to be ready to benefit from the grace offered in Holy Communion, we need to be living in what has traditionally been called “a state of grace”, namely free from mortal sin, and fully disposed to resist all sin and to struggle against our bad habits and frequent failings. It is important, therefore, that we use the sacrament of confession. Of course, if we have consciously committed mortal or grave sins we are required to confess them before coming again to Holy Communion, but also if we are frequent communicants (daily or weekly) coming to confession should be an essential part of our spiritual lives. Many of us ignore this, and that is not good – we may be coming forward to receive the Lord in Holy Communion without giving sufficient attention to examining our lives, identifying our personal sins, and confessing them so that we are truly reconciled with Lord and with one another. When we are made ready by the Lord´s merciful forgiveness in sacramental confession we are more open to the grace he offers through our reception of his Body and Blood, with the fuller possibility of carrying his love into the whole of our lives. Going to the Sacrament of Confession should be priority for us all this Lent, and should not be forgotten either through the rest of the year.
C) Gesture of Reverence before Receiving Holy Communion
In the General Instruction of the Roman Missal the faithful are instructed that, as they come forward in procession to receive Holy Communion, they should make a gesture of reverence or respect, a bow of the head, before receiving communion. This is something we should all try to do, remembering that we participate in the Mass both by words and gestures, and sometimes our gestures can speak louder than words. The small sign of reverence we are asked to display, like the genuflection we make to the tabernacle when we come into church, shows that we are before somebody very special, Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and that we realize we are indeed about to receive his Body and Blood, our food for eternal life.
D) Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist
In all our parishes today we have Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to help with the distribution of Holy Communion. It is a special privilege for all who minister in this way, those ordained and the non-ordained, and those who do so should always be conscious of this. The same sense of privilege and blessing should be felt and communicated by those invited to read from the Sacred Scriptures at Mass and other liturgies. I recommend that in all parishes there should be renewed catechesis and instruction for those carrying out these ministries and that they should be done in accordance with the norms in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. Once again this is an appropriate task to be undertaken in our parishes this Lent.
E) Conclusion: the words below perhaps offer a wider context to the issues I have focused on above, and encourage renewed effort in all our liturgical endeavours.
“A mature attitude towards Liturgy and the Law is dependent on excellence in liturgical leadership, planning, and celebration of the Catholic rites…….. Efforts to initiate the members of the community into the meaning of the Church´s Liturgy must be given priority so that their participation will be enlightened and the mystery of Christ interiorized in the lives of the people. The most profound change has to be that of the heart, which takes place through the power of the Spirit who comes to us in the celebration of the Liturgy as well as in other ways.” (Fr R. Kevin Seasoltz, “Liturgy and Ecclesiastical Law; Some Canonical and Pastoral Challenges”)
+ Joseph Toal, 1st February 2012.