What Do you Expect From Holy Communion?

Some people put more faith in Tylenol than they do in Holy Communion. That’s because when they take Tylenol they expect something to happen. But many people don’t really expect anything to happen when they receive Holy Communion.

In fact this is a problem that is present for many in regard to all the Sacraments and to liturgy in general. Many seem these things as tedious rituals rather than transformative realities. How many people really reflect that, in the Sacred Liturgy, Jesus is ministering to them? It is a sad truth that for many the liturgies of the Church are rather mindlessly attended: Sit, stand, say Amen, recite the Creed but all rather absent-mindedly

But how many really expect to be changed by the Liturgy the attend? How many expect to hear a Word proclaimed and preached that will powerfully change the way they think and see the world? How many expect to actually encounter Jesus Christ and be changed forever by that encounter? How many expect to receive communion and to be marvelously helped by this reception in ways far beyond what Tylenol or any other medicine could ever do in the physical order?

Sadly, expectations are very low among the people of God. The blame can begin with the clergy who have not often taught the faithful to expect dramatic conversion of any kind let alone from receiving Holy Communion. But the blame does not end with the clergy. The fact is low expectations can sometimes be developed as a kind of strategy by many who fear change and see authentic conversion and true holiness as a fearful thing or as requiring just too much of what they would rather not surrender. And so expectations remain low, perhaps out of ignorance or perhaps out of fear and aversion.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, What do you expect from receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in Communion?

I can only say that I expect to become Christ. I will say it has not happened in an instant. But rather, incrementally, organically. But, as I have been faithful to Holy Communion, to prayer, scripture, Confession and the liturgy, I have experienced dramatic change. I have seen sins be put to death. I have more joy in the Lord, I am more confident and serene, less anxious and resentful. I love more, am more compassionate and have more  understanding. I do not fear most of the things that I used to fear. I am less greedy and more generous.

I do not boast here since it is not I who have done any of this. It’s just Jesus in me. I am not what I want to be but I am not what I used to be. I am becoming the One I receive in Holy Communion.  And I promise you the same. If you are faithful to the Sacraments, God will heal you. You will become holier each day. It may seem imperceptible on a day to day basis, but it is underway. It is true there are some setbacks along the way, but even these can bless us if we let them give us humility. Holiness will grow if we but take our medicine.

What do you expect from Holy Communion? I promise you, in the Lord Jesus Christ that if you are faithful to Confession, Communion, prayer, and the Liturgy, I promise you vigorous progress and ultimate perfection: ….being confident in this that God who has begun a good work in you bring it to perfection (Phil 1:6)

36 Replies to “What Do you Expect From Holy Communion?”

  1. For me, receiving communion doesn’t produce an immediate dramatic change (and Tylenol doesn’t work for me, nor can I take Ibuprofen anymore because of stomach bleeds related to my blood disorder, so I put my faith in more heavy duty pain pills when I can’t stand it anymore). Over time, yes, I have seen how going to Mass, and participating in the Sacraments has really helped me. At the very least it’s made me think twice about doing a sin I would have done in the past. A difference I have noted between pain pills and communion: when I am in a considerable amount of pain, the pill, no matter how strong, either takes a very long time to work, or doesn’t work at all. Taking communion eases my physical and emotional pain, if I come to Mass ready to share my pain, and triumphs with the Lord rather than be in a state of numbness. Another thing with pain pills – they have a ton of side effects. For example, while the ibuprofen may exacerbate my stomach pain and bleeding, the narcotics will make me feel nauseous and potentially cause more pain and suffering if I can’t fight the nausea. If I took an anti-nausea/anti-emetic such as Phenargan or Zofran, those also have unpleasant side effects. My point is your point – so many people put a lot of faith in pain pills and expect brilliant results right away but don’t put the same faith in communion. I mean, maybe they should take that faith that they put in those darned pills that don’t even work half the time and put that faith into communion, every time they receive. I’m trying to do that more in my own spiritual life. I’m trying to come to Mass less distracted and get in the mindset that Mass is my special time with God. I’ve had more peaceful days and weeks when I’ve done that. It’s hard, and I’m right there with everybody else who comes to Mass distracted, or numb, or just not all there. I believe that when I do come to Mass distracted, in a way I’m presenting my worries to God at Mass. Or who knows I don’t know if I’m making a whole lot of sense here, but just my thoughts and ramblings at this time of night. Good night everybody!

    1. Yes, that’s my point exactly. But the fact that people even expect some results from medicine is generally a step up from what they expect from Holy Communion, which is next to nothing. So I am hoping to generate some higher expectations 🙂

    2. I don’t necessarily expect anything to occur at that moment of taking the Host (I’m one of the guilty ones), but I have found that after every Mass, I feel so much lighter in spirit. It’s a natural high. It puts me in a great mood for the rest of my day. Just saying that makes me realize that I DO expect something to happen now. I do come to Mass distracted — 3 figdety kids do that to you. I do my best to stay focused on why I’m there, and I remind my kids why they are there. Some days are better than others, but I still come out feeling better than when I first arrived to Mass.

  2. If I went to a production of Hamlet, and the actors didn’t follow their blocking, made up the words as they went along, shouted and spoke softly at incomprehensible times, and generally didn’t follow the script written by Shakespeare, I think I would not only not try to suspend disbelief, I would even be unable to do so if I tried. I would find my theatergoing experience “tedious”, I would not “really expect anything to happen”.

    I would not believe that I was looking at the Prince of Denmark, but some guy gratifying himself.

    Unfortunately, the tired old retort that it’s just between me and God doesn’t work, because God himself told my ancient friends, “whenever two or more are gathered in my name” (Mt 18.20), not whenever one is gathered in my name…

    Thank you Monsignor for this exhortation!

  3. I had a close friend whose breast cancer spread to her liver and spine. Before she became sick, we had always been friendly. Since her struggle with cancer began, we truly became close friends. Of the many things we discovered we had in common, one of the most special was our deep commitment to the Catholic Church, and most importantly, to the Eucharist. It was exciting and gratifying for me to find a peer who went to daily Mass. As I talked my friend after her terminal diagnosis, she had many concerns – her daughters, their clothes, her funeral, and her final resting place, to name a few. One of her greatest concerns, however, was that she would soon be physically unable to attend Mass. I assured her that I would make arrangements to become an EMHC, and seek approval from our pastor to bring her the Eucharist at home.
    I was a bit nervous about this endeavor, but never had any doubt that I would proceed. I received my pyx, and waited after Mass today to receive a Host to bring to my friend. I was doing just fine until the priest handed me back the pyx that now contained the Eucharist, and then genuflected. I was trembling as I put the pyx into its bag, and clutched it tightly as I walked to my car. It’s one thing to think about God, or to receive Him during Mass. It’s another thing entirely to have Him ride in the front seat of your car.
    I have been lucky enough to truly feel the presence of Christ within, and in others, often on a daily basis. I have been privileged to read His Word during liturgies. My experience with my friend has brought me closer to God, and that day brought me closer still. I was humbled by the awesome responsibility of caring for the Eucharist until I placed It in her hand. As I drove toward my friend’s house, I thought, God really is my co-pilot – He is sitting right next to me.
    As I sat with her, I was overwhelmed by the whole experience. As the words “Lord, I am not worthy to receive You …” were spoken, I couldn’t help thinking, “Lord, I am not worthy to bring You.” I don’t think I will ever be able to say that phrase again during Mass and not have it truly mean something. As I was leaving, I wanted to thank my friend, thank someone, for the gift I had been given. Our Lord Jesus Christ gave His life as a gift to us. The best we can ever hope to do is to receive it.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. Bless you!

      You comment about God being your co-pilot makes me think that how hard it is to let go of the steering wheel and let God be the pilot of our lives.

  4. To defend us laity a bit, when the liturgy is so banal and feminized that it’s barely-recognizable as Catholic, it’s often difficult for the graces of the sacrament to penetrate.

  5. AMEN! In my 4 1/2 year formation journey for the permanent diaconate, I have seen a change in myself and you are right, it’s not me, it’s Jesus. I also have turned my focus away from myself and begin to see the holiness in others. Those that are faithful to Communion, to the Liturgy, the Sacraments and prayer seem to be the most joyful people I know. When I tell them how holy I think they are , they always say, “but you’re the one becoming the Deacon!” I always quip back, ” But….. you are becoming Christ to the world! Keep being my example.”

    But I also see how different some are when they come up and receive. They seem to take the Body for granted and with little reverence in receiving. Some snatch with two fingers, some lick it out of their hand and some actually walk off and exit right through the door without so much as a glance to the cross. In all these instances, I used to frown and pray that these people would get it, but now my prayer has changed. I now pray for humility in myself to not be judgmental and continue to give the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity freely and with a smile on my lips. Because Jesus gave of Himself freely to all on the cross, sinner and saint alike, and who am I to stand in His way.

    To be Jesus in this day is not an easy task, but it is our mission. You are right, to become Jesus, we must receive Him as often as we can. We are what we eat!

    1. Yes, actual reception is different from fruitful reception. You are also right in observing that Jesus kept company with some pretty surprising folks and continues to do so now, even with me!

  6. RE: What Do You Expect From Holy Communion?

    A recent figure I read said that roughly 95% of Catholics receive communion at Mass,while few go to confession.
    The answers in this article are so typical of todays Modern Catholic Church. So banal, so tepid.
    What a great teaching moment missed.! Dah! What about really shocking todays average Catholic and saying,” If you don’t receive in the state of grace you get Zero and in fact are committing a sacriledge.” Poor babies it’s all about ME.
    Or am I being too Insensitive? The year for the Priests is ending,what we need now is to send them to Marine
    Basic. Oh Lord do we need Priests with hair on their chest and a masculine love for God.

    1. Unkindness of the degree you have shown here Authur may indicate that you need confession before your next communion.

      For the record, I have a lot of hair on my chest (and back too!) 🙂

  7. Re: What do you expect from Holy Communion

    A recent figure I read said that 95% of Catholics receive communion at Mass,while few go to confession.

    Do you think anything can be expected when one is not in the state of grace? That indeed a sacriledge has been committed. That is assuming this is true? And if it is, wouldn’t it be in Christian charity to tell them?

    1. Yes, for the record my article did indicate the worthy reception of Holy Communion. I counsel frequent confession. I don’t find that presuming most people are in mortal sin all that helpful. The objective criteria of grave matter is to be balanced with sufficient reflection (often hindered today by years of poor catechesis and confused culture) and also, full consent of the will. Here too freedom is often time hindered by passions that may render the sin less grave though still sinful. To be sure, there IS mortal sin and I surely think it more common than most moderns think. Hence I counsel frequent confession, especially for those who struggle with habitual sins that are potentially grave. But the pastor of souls cannot simply see mortal sin in a mechanistic sense. He must gently but clearly lead people back to a sense of sin. I don’t think any member of my congregation would say that I soft-pedal sin.

  8. Your headache analogy is especially apt since I suffer from debilitating migraines. And sometimes there is nothing I can do but say “Lord, have mercy.” Even in one year, I feel transformed by Christ and I know I will always be a work-in-progress. It’s a slow process. Every time we say, “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the words and I shall be healed” I mean it for with my whole heart, not just for myself but all …

    For the first time I went late last night to spend an hour with Jesus. I was distracted at first just being in the little chapel, but after some time, it was lovely to be there with my Friend and Love, to rest in Him.

  9. Expect? Not the right word.

    I hope. I hope many things, that I am worthy and that my own misgivings about myself never keep me from Him.

    When I was in college there was a church I attended where a retarded man sat next to me. Such was his innocnence that I once caught myself praying I wouldn’t be struck by lighting for standing so near to innocence. If God were to compare the state of my soul, to his……?

    He had been going to Communion until somebody complained to his mother that , with his tongue protruding as it did, he was dropping Particles all that way back to his seat. After that, he would stand to let me pass. He’d weep through Communion, quietly mopping his tears.

    Then one day I read an article about how there was an operation to help reduce the tongue size and gave it to his mother. A few months later he was at Communion, ahead of me, and I understood what a halo could look like. He seemed to glow. After Mass , in the coffee room, he told me “Jesus found a way for me and fixed my tongue, so He can be with me again. ”

    God’s messengers come in many ways.

    1. Wow, what a wonderful story. I wonder too if a way could not have been found for him to have received even if his tongue could not have been fixed. Perhaps just a small particle of the host, or even a drop of the precious blood.

  10. Something that helps me, unworthy as I am, is that Jesus wants to come to me…even if I were the only one at that
    Mass ( and I never am)..that He hides himself in that little piece of bread so that He can enter in and be with me..
    I copied the following in front of my Bible sometime ago…and printed it out for my first grand-child who just made
    her First Holy Communion ( it was written by Louis de Monfort but I don’t know from where):
    ” …How many times while Jesus was here on earth could He be heard pleading ‘come to me..come to me..
    all of you. Do not be afraid…it is I. Why are you afraid…I am just like you..I love you. Are you afraid because you
    are a sinner? But they are the very ones I am looking for. I am the friend of sinners. If it is because you have strayed
    from the fold through your own fault then I am the Good Shepard, looking to bring you back. If it is because you feel
    weighed down by sin, covered with the filth and grime of this life and utterly dejected then that is why you should come
    to me for I will un-burden you, purify you and comfort you.’. Jesus wished to prove His love for man by dying in his
    place in order to save him. When it came time for HIm to die He could not bear the thought of leaving man so He
    devised a way of dying and living at the same time and of abiding with man until the end of time. In order to fully
    satisfy His love, He instituted the Holy Eucharist…to the extent of changing and over-turning nature itself. He does
    not conceal Himself under a sparkling diamond or some other pretentious stone because He does not want to abide
    with man in some ostentatious manner But He hides himself in a little piece of bread…man’s ordinary nourishment
    …so that when received He might enter the heart of man and there take His delight.”
    I have seldom read so beautiful a meditation on Jesus in the Eucharist. I read it often and it always gives me such
    humility to think that God so loved man He did all this just to be with Him.

  11. Everytime I watch television and see people fighting the policemen (like in Cops) or fighting for their lives (like in Deadliest Catch) I keep thinking the media wants me to look at these people like they are stupid, not smart enough to get a ‘good job’, or junk because drugs or alcohol has made them useless to society.
    Yet, my mind says no, ‘they are all God’s kids” maybe in the state of disarray, not perfect, but they are still one of His kids just like me. It puts a whole nother perspective on the words community, brothers and sisters in Christ, the communion of saints, the angelic choirs, it all comes together and I if I didn’t receive Holy Eucharist I dont’ think that conclusion would have ever arrived in my brain cells.
    What a wonderful gift we were given by our Lord Jesus Christ.

  12. when I recieve the Holy Eucharist I expect to feel a big, quiet rush of the Holy Trinity in my heart. I don’t get the big rush, but I almost always feel a whole lot better. And I’ve noticed that the peaceful feeling grows over time after each communion. I’ve also noticed that I’m much more aware of my thoughts and speech, and I want to pray more. All in all, a good thing. I couldn’t, nor would I want to live without the Eucharist. Thank you God, for our holy priests! without whom we could not recieve You.

  13. I’m sorry for those who don’t believe that Holy Communion is the true Body and Blood of Christ. It is an awesome thing that we are able to recieve Him. Over time, I believe the Holy Spirit becomes so prominent in our lives that if I have committed the smallest inequity I don’t feel worthy to recieve. I am so grateful to my parents for having raised me Catholic. My love for Christ has grown exponentially and I believe it is due to being able to recieve Him.

  14. Monsignor, you really hit me hard tonight. I’m sitting here crying as I watched the video. That’s because of the beautiful song. I have not heard this one ever in this country before and am reminiscing about my childhood in Germany and how as a first Communicant I sang this song with the other kids.
    This was a truly back and forth communication with you and the response writers. You are so good at this.
    Yes, Holy Communion brings you into His Presence that’s where you want to be.
    Thank you.

  15. Dominus vos biscum. I go unto the alter of the Lord. To God who gives joy to my youth.

  16. A few years ago, I developed high blood pressure over a 3-day weekend following our CEO reading a list of promotions over my employer’s office intercom. I was disappointed because my name was NOT read, whereas several others whom I considered my equals were promoted.
    When the Blood pressure showed up the following week, I realized that it was Envy that was causing the problem. I went to Reconciliation, and confessed envy. The priest asked if I wanted to look at some psychology books that he had. “No, Father, I want Jesus to take the envy out of my heart!”
    My healing was not instantaneous – the blood pressure had jumped over the 3day weekend, but got no worse – over the next few months, I returned to the confessional several times, including Envy; and after a few months my pressure returned to normal.
    High Blood Pressure can result from several causes; Mine was emotional or spiritual; and by taking the cause to Confession, I was healed.
    I suspect that most priests do not understand the power of the Sacraments. My experience, having the priest in the Confessional asking if I wanted some psychological counseling, may be more typical than not.

  17. Our parish priest made this very point in a homily a while back. He said if we understood the transforming & miraculous power of Christ in the Eucharist, we would come to Mass wearing life preservers & crash helmets.

    Wonderful post, Father.

  18. Happy Corpus Cristi monsignor. A very beautiful topic indeed, for me the Eucharist is the body of Jesus Christ and receiving Him in the Holy Communion is complete surrender to God and His Will. Every time I received the Holy Communion i always say “Lord i am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and my soul will be healed. Please make me worthy of your service.” After that I would feel that the host will break in my tongue in two..like what Jesus did in the last super..he broke the bread. Monsignor it was in the Blessed Sacrament while looking on the “host” that Jesus showed His face to me and a voice told me ..i am calling for a Divine government to be run under a parliamentary system.. this happened on Dec. of 2004 before Christmas day.

    It was also on the feast of the Corpus Cristi of November 2008 that i say a “host” on the floor when i woke up from my sleep while attending a lecture inside the church …am so sorry that in my fatigue for cleaning the parish comfort room i got to rest my eyes for a while and the Lord woke me up and showed his little “host” on the floor before our parish priest said his lecture on “Agape the love of the Lord. Those events in my life made me more holier and trying to stay holy with the help of the Holy Spirit, since I believe that we ..our heart.. is the temple of God’s Holy Spirit and our words and actions influence our brothers and sisters in Christ to become like us who belong to the Holy Catholic Church.

    God bless us all.

  19. Just before my confirmation and my first communion 4 years ago, I had seen the broken body of Christ in the host as Father Anthony was breaking the large host, I don’t know the proper name for it. I was looked upon by cradle Catholics in my Parish as a loony. So I never said anything to anyone about my experience that day at Mass. Since that time I have come to realize that when I am presented with the host and the wine chalise I am actually holding the body of my Lord and His precious blood. That feeling just doesn’t go away. It humbles me so much that at times, I am so mooved to tears that Jesus loved me that much. There is no greater joy that to experience this every week at Mass. And from a convert’s view it is something that the protestants are missing. And that is a sad prospect. To be so seperated from Jesus. something my prostant family just will never understand, and for that, I am truly sadden.

  20. How many people really reflect that, in the Sacred Liturgy, Jesus is ministering to them?

    I believe listening is the most obvious missing skill. I suspect there are many people who have no clue that the Lord is present from the very beginning in the Liturgy!

    “When the Scriptures are read in the Church, God himself is speaking to his people and Christ, present in his own word, is proclaiming the Gospel.” (GIRM, n.29) This knowledge made a big impact in my life!

    Understanding the basics of Salvation History also helped me raise up my expectations for Holy Communion, because when God reveals himself so consistently, through Sacred Scripture, and gives his Body to eat is with the intent of transforming daily lives, just as he transformed the lives of the people who followed him and listened to him with intent when He walked among us. Sometimes the only change that is required is very small: to prepare to receive the Holy Spirit’s aid. When I remember to prepare myself prayerfully before Mass with a sincere heart to listen and to receive his grace, I know that I am transformed – and this can be called to have a personal relationship with the Lord: You speak and I listen, we love, not lovinge? I repent, He forgives. The most amazing patience and gentleness is available!

    Here is a link on Hearing the Word of God.

  21. When my daughter was a pre-schooler her expectation of Communion is that she would get a blessing from Fr K. Fr. K’s blessing included making the sign of the Cross on her forehead.

    One Sunday there was a guest priest. My daughter walked quietly up for Communion with my husband. On the way back to the pew, I heard my daughter fuss fuss fuss. ALL the way back. In the pew she sat and glowered.

    Apparently the guest priest’s blessing did not meet her standards. Instead of a Cross on her forehead, the priest, an older gentleman, sort of waved a Cross in the air at her. Oh, that simply DIDN’T do.

    After Mass she gave the guest priest another chance, and asked for a blessing. She got another Cross waved in the air, not on her forehead.

    Fuss fuss fuss all the way home.

  22. Speaking of perceived change, I tell my 6th grade Sunday School kids this:

    When a baby is baptized does it look different?

    How about when you get Confirmed in a couple of years?

    Or when I got married….I didn’t feel or look any different.

    Or when you get a driver’s license?

    Or turn 21, and become a legal adult?

    No. All these are very important changes, but they won’t immediately change how you look or feel. Important changes such as these mark the start of a process that takes time.

    So if you don’t feel or look different after receiving Communion each Sunday, it doesn’t mean something real isn’t happening, but that it’s not obvious like losing a tooth.

  23. I wonder is it wrong to believe in transignification and not transubstantiation?

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