There is one thing in particular that we Catholics are known for,
that confuses people, or causes offense.
We get embarrassed about this and we don’t know how to explain it.
Sometimes this causes arguments.
I’m talking about who can receive Holy Communion, and who cannot.
There are two types of people who get confused.
First, there are people who are Christian but not Catholic.
Many times they will feel free
to receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass.
They have no idea that this offends Catholics.
Indeed, many Catholics don’t realize that non-Catholics
aren’t supposed to receive communion at Mass, let alone why.
The second group that gets confused are Catholics
who seem to think that receiving communion is more or less automatic.
The syllogism goes something like this:
“I’m Catholic; all Catholics go to communion when at Mass;
I’m at Mass; therefore, I will go to communion.”
The result, I believe, is that many – maybe most – Catholics
receive Holy Communion almost automatically, without reflection.
And this explains many Catholics who are mostly inactive
will still go to communion, again without realizing this is wrong; or why.
So what’s the mistake here? What are people missing?
Jesus said, “the Bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Doesn’t he want everyone to eat his Flesh, and drink his Blood?
The answer is, Yes he does, but in the right way.
I’m going to explain this, but you have to bear with me.
Jesus shows us what the full reality of the Eucharist is,
when he says, over and over, that he the Bridegroom.
He is a Spouse; a Husband.
Who is the partner in that marriage? The Church: we are.
This runs through the whole Bible, right up to the last book,
where heaven is the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.
And I want to be clear what I’m saying:
Human marriage is the sign, the foreshadowing;
Union with God – beginning in this world and ultimately in heaven –
is the complete reality.
So if the Christian life is a marriage – as Jesus says –
then how does specifically receiving the Eucharist fit into this?
You may find shocking but:
the best analogy for receiving the Eucharist is the marital embrace.
And I want to be crystal-clear without being too explicit.
I mean that special, physical, private moment of love
between a husband and wife that can result in new life.
So if you ask, why is it wrong for someone
just to walk in and receive the Eucharist?
For the same reason that it is wrong to be casual
about the special act of love I’m referring to.
And isn’t it curious that even as our society treats the sexual act
as if it is nothing important, and we can do as we like with it,
that Christians and Catholics, in this same social milieu,
likewise treat the Holy Mass, and the Eucharist, so casually?
Look, I’m not married, so I may be off-base here, but:
Shouldn’t spouses enter into the marital embrace
as something deserving preparation and supreme attention?
If it’s all about me, me, give to me, rather than about you,
my being here for you, then isn’t that moment of embrace
going to be a failure? Life-draining, not life-giving?
I know people will say, “In real life it doesn’t work out that way.”
Oh, I know that: and guess what?
In real life, a whole lot of people are pretty unhappy in their marriages.
And they don’t stay married.
All the more reason to get it right with the Eucharist!
As with the food Elijah received, the Eucharist is meant to give us life,
Strength for the journey, day by day, all the way to heaven.
The grave danger is that we approach the Eucharist the wrong way,
not seeking to be converted, not actually realizing the seriousness,
this brings not life, but death!
Yes, that is what St. Paul himself said elsewhere in Scripture.
Our conscience becomes deadened and darkened.
To answer the question I started with:
This is why a casually-practicing Catholic should first go to confession –
to the sacrament of reconciliation – before returning to communion:
For precisely the same reason that couples who are distant,
or not giving each other much attention,
likewise need reconciliation, first, in preparation for the marital act
to be a true act of love, rather than something else.
So we have Catholics who show up at Mass one or two times a year,
And they expect to go right back to communion:
If you’re married, and you stay away for months at a time,
Is that how it works?
And even if it does, is that a good idea – for that marriage, I mean?
OK, but what about non-Catholics who are Christians.
Aren’t they also “married” to Christ? Yes, indeed they are.
But the problem is, with rare exception, other Christian denominations
believe that the Eucharist is not actually Jesus.
They believe Holy Communion is a symbol of Jesus,
or a “reminder” of Jesus.
Yes, they use a lot of similar language to ours,
but these other churches believe something fundamentally different.
To go back to the analogy:
For these good people, receiving communion
is like being given a picture of their spouse.
That is obviously totally different
from meeting your Spouse in the flesh.
A moment ago, I said, “with rare exception.”
Because there are some Churches that actually do believe
that the priesthood is real, and the Mass is truly a Sacrifice,
and that the Eucharist truly is Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
And these Christians – generally speaking, Orthodox Christians –
are in fact allowed to receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass.
So, if you know anyone in this situation, come talk to me.
But beyond that, for those who are not Catholic,
and maybe you are here:
Yes, we do ask you wait, and not receive the Eucharist,
Until you understand the reality of Jesus, not only in this Sacrament,
but in his whole Church, in all he teaches and asks of us.
Then you can respond with your whole self.
And to my fellow Catholics, I give a very serious caution:
Recognize the awesome reality of the Mass and the Eucharist!
Please don’t let Mass and receiving Holy Communion
be a ritual you go through on auto-pilot.
Jesus wants to give you Life, from the Source! His very self!
But you can miss it; and become dead to it, if you don’t wake up.
This isn’t about you, and what you get;
It’s about what you give: all of yourself;
even as Jesus gives all of himself to you.