On the Worthy Reception of Holy Communion (part one)

credit: J. Lippelmann, Catholic Standard

Last week in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours, we read this from St. Justin Martyr:

No one may share the Eucharist with us unless he believes what we teach is true; Unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ (Apologia Cap 66: 6, 427-431).

St. Justin may have had in mind this text from the Letter to the Hebrews, which links proper doctrine to the reception of Holy Communion:

Brethren, Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace and not by their ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those devoted to them. For we have an altar from which those who serve at the [old] tabernacle have no right to eat (Heb 13:9-10).

Thus, communion points to doctrine not hospitality. The Eucharist comes from a basic communion of belief and serves to strengthen that belief. It is no mere ceremony; it is a family communion rooted in our communion with who the Lord is and what He teaches. This common belief makes us brothers and sisters in the Lord.

In the modern debate about who can and should receive Holy Communion, some presume that everyone has the right to approach the Eucharistic sacrifice and partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord. In this view, limiting or discouraging indiscriminate reception is dismissed, not only as unjust, but as contrary to the practice of Jesus Christ, who “welcomed everyone,” even the worst of sinners.

In this sort of climate, it is necessary to explain the Church’s historical practice of what some call “closed communion.” Not everyone who uses this terminology means it pejoratively; to some extent it is a fair description.  For the Catholic Church, Holy Communion is not a “come one, come all” event. It is reserved for those who, by grace, preserve union with the Church through adherence to all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God. Our response of “Amen” at Holy Communion signifies our communion with these realities along with our faith in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Many today have reduced Holy Communion to a mere sign of hospitality, such that if the Church does not extend it to all, we are being unkind. This misconception is often based on a mistaken understanding of the nature of the Last Supper (and the Eucharist that proceeds from it). Many years ago, Pope Benedict XVI, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, articulated the misunderstanding well. Following are some excerpts from his Collected Works, Vol 11, Ignatius Press pp 273-274:

Nowadays [some] New Testament scholars … say that the Eucharist … is the continuation of the meals with sinners that Jesus had held … a notion with far-reaching consequences. It would mean that the Eucharist is the sinners’ banquet, where Jesus sits at the table; [that] the Eucharist is the public gesture by which we invite everyone without exception. The logic of this is expressed in a far-reaching criticism of the Church’s Eucharist, since it implies that the Eucharist cannot be conditional on anything, not depending on denomination or even on baptism. It is necessarily an open table to which all may come to encounter the universal God …

However, tempting the idea may be, it contradicts what we find in the Bible. Jesus’ Last Supper was not one of those meals he held with “publicans and sinners.” He made it subject to the basic form of the Passover, which implies that the meal was held in a family setting. Thus, he kept it with his new family, with the Twelve; with those whose feet he washed, whom he had prepared by his Word and by this cleansing of absolution (John 13:10) to receive a blood relationship with him, to become one body with him.

The Eucharist is not itself the sacrament of reconciliation, but in fact it presupposes that sacrament. It is the sacrament of the reconciled, to which the Lord invites all those who have become one with him; who certainly still remain weak sinners, but yet have given their hand to him and have become part of his family.

That is why, from the beginning, the Eucharist has been preceded by a discernment … (I Corinthians 11:27ff). The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles [the Didache] is one of the oldest writings outside the New Testament, from the beginning of the Second Century, it takes up this apostolic tradition and has the priest, just before distributing the sacrament saying: “Whoever is holy, let him approach, whoever is not, let him do penance” (Didache 10).

This makes clear the root of the problem: the failure to see the Eucharist for what it truly is: a sacred banquet wherein those who enjoy communion with the Lord (by His grace) partake of the sign and sacrament of that communion. Holy Communion serves to celebrate and deepen the communion already operative through the other sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Confession.

You may label this communion “closed,” but at its heart it is more positively called a sacrum convivium, a sacred meal of those who share a life together (con (with or together) + vivium (life)). This is not a “come one, come all” meal; it is a Holy banquet for those who wear the wedding garment. The garment is righteousness and those who refuse to wear it are cast out (cf: Matt 22:11-12 & Rev 19:8).

Many moderns surely would prefer a “no questions asked” invitation to all who wish to come. It fits in well with the popular notion of inclusiveness and unity. To a large degree, though, it is a contrived unity, one that overlooks truth (the opposite of which is falsehood, not just a different viewpoint). Yes, it overlooks the truth necessary for honest, real, substantive unity. Such a notion of communion is shallow at best and a lie at worst. How can people approach the Eucharist, the sacrament of Holy Communion and unity, and say “Amen” when they differ with the Church over essentials such as that Baptism is necessary; that there are seven Sacraments; that the Pope is the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth; that homosexual acts, fornication, and adultery are gravely sinful; that women cannot be admitted to Holy Orders; that there is in fact a priesthood; that Scripture must be read in the light of the Magisterium; and on and on? Saying that there is communion in such a case is either a contrivance or a lie, but in either case it does not suffice for the “Amen” that is required at the moment of reception of Holy Communion.

Such divisions do not make for a family meal or a sacrum convivium. Hence, to share Holy Communion with Protestants, dissenters, and others who do not live in communion with the Church is incoherent. To paraphrase Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict), the Eucharist is not a table fellowship with publicans and other “sinners”; it is a family meal that presupposes grace and shared faith.

Tomorrow we will discuss the need to receive Holy Communion in a state free from grave or serious sin.

Reflections On Teaching the Worthy Reception of Communion

In the last two days on the blog comments I have noticed consternation by some that more stress is not placed on receiving communion worthily. I understand the concern they express but also feel the need to approach this issue carefully. This is because two important goods are at sake that must be kept in balance:

  1. Frequent reception of Holy Communion which is a great and necessary food for us as Jesus insists in John 6:50-55,
  2. Worthy reception which the Holy Spirit through Paul warns is also necessary in 1 Cor 11:27ff. Let’s look at these texts briefly.

SCRIPTURE:  Jesus was very clear to teach that the Holy Eucharist is a necessary food for us:

This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”…..Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (John 6:50-53)

Hence it seems clear that it is essential to receive Holy Communion frequently, if not every week. The Church’s practice of celebrating Mass every day (or every week as in the Eastern Rites) and offering Holy Communion at each Mass confirms this interpretation of the Lord’s words that the Eucharist is a necessary food for the Faithful to receive with high frequency, preferably every week. This practice also distinguishes us from Protestant notions wherein the frequent reception of Holy Communion (even if they had it) was largely set aside.  The “Unless” in this text is a rather strong word that cannot easily be ignored. Jesus in effect teaches that Holy Communion is a sine qua non (“a without which, not”, an essential)  for having life. In other words it is an essential food without which we are dying spiritually. So here is one value the Church must advance, frequent reception of our necessary food.

But the Scriptures also teach the necessity of receiving worthily, that is, without knowledge of grave sin in oneself. And here too the wording is quite clear and strong:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying. If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment; but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world  (1 Cor 11:27-31)

So, Scripture considers unworthy or unmindful reception of Holy Communion to be a very serious matter since it is a sin directly against the Body of the Lord. St. Paul links it to some rather severe punishment from God: sickness, even death. All who sin such bring judgment upon themselves that at the very least requires discipline from the Lord and perhaps condemnation. This text along with Tradition has meant that the Church warns any of the faithful conscious of mortal sin to refrain from Holy Communion until such time as they are reconciled through Confession. In such wise the Church is not “mean” or “restrictive” as some say. Rather she is faithful to Scripture and also charitable in warning the faithful against things that many bring them under the judgement of condemnation.

The Church has struggled over the centuries to keep the faithful balanced in regard to these two values. Frankly for many centuries people stayed away from receiving Holy Communion, receiving only very rarely. I remember my Grandmother (who was born in 1896) once telling me that when she was a child almost no one went to communion. In a Church filled with hundreds of people often no one would go to the rail. Even despite confession, many felt unworthy. This infrequent reception had led the Church in the Middle Ages to insist on the “Easter Duty” which required the faithful by way of precept to receive Holy Communion at least once a year in the Easter Season after Sacramental Confession where necessary. During the Middle Ages even monks and nuns received only a few times per year! More recently, at the turn of the last Century, Pope Pius X had also encouraged more frequent reception of Holy Communion by among other things moving the age of First Communion much earlier. You can read more on this topic here: Frequency of Holy Communion.

Rare Reception was one extreme. Lately we seem to have the other extreme wherein almost everyone attending Mass receives Communion but only a very small percentage of them have recently been to confession. To  receive Communion worthily means to be free from mortal sin. Today, very few of the faithful have any notion of  the requirement of receiving communion worthily. This is due to poor catechesis as well as a muted sense of sin in general and of mortal sin specifically. Many in fact are not all that clear on what constitutes mortal sin. I was surprised to learn early in my priesthood that many younger people had the no idea what the expression “mortal sin” meant.  Some figured it meant that you had killed someone. I tried referring to it as serious sin, but also discovered that many people don’t take a lot of things very seriously.

Most pastors are aware that a great deal is needed to rectify this situation. Simply saying “go to confession more”  doesn’t often work since many, although admitting the presence of sin in their lives do not see their own condition as serious. “After all no body’s perfect Father” is about as deep a sense of sin as some have. Again, poor catechesis and bad preaching  is partly to blame.

How Did we get here?  I want to  propose that we are also experiencing a reaction (actually an over-reaction) to the understanding of sin in the 1950s. I was born in 1961 and,  not having been alive in the 1950s, let alone a priest, I must rely for  my information on that period in the Church from older clergy, older people in general and also on aspects of that time that still echo in the confessions and thinking of older people today. From these sources it is my assessment that in the 1950s and before a very objective notion of sin was emphasized that took little account of circumstances and/or  personal factors.

A couple of examples may illustrate. An older priest told me of a confession he once had wherein a woman insisted she must hear her confession since she had committed a mortal sin on the way to Church. It seems the sin involved breaking her fast. What happened was that a bug had flown into her mouth and she had swallowed it by accident. Although the priest tried to reassure her that she was not to blame she insisted that the bug constituted “nourishment” and that she must be absolved in order to receive Communion. Other older priests tell me similar, though less exotic, stories. This was apparently part of the training of the faithful in the old days. I have had personal confirmation of this sort of thinking over my 21 years a priest as well. For example, twice this past winter we had snowfalls here in Washington approaching 30 inches. Despite this I did not have an insignificant number of older people confess that they had missed mass on those weekends. When I reminded them that it was quite impossible to get out in 30 inches of snow they seemed unfazed. “But it was a sin to miss Mass Father.” I have learned to accept that this was their training. They were taught sin only as  a very objective thing. Circumstances were quite beside the point.

Now while this thinking may have been accepted by many in an older generation it is clear that such mechanistic thinking was rejected by many when the 1960s hit. And frankly the extreme objectification of sin with no reference to circumstances needed correction. Proper moral theology does account for circumstances and personal factors in assessing blameworthiness. For mortal sin to be committed requires not just grave matter, but also sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. It sometimes happens that reflection and/or freedom are hindered and such factors need to be taken into account. Such factors cannot make a bad act good but they can affect culpability (blameworthiness). Modern pastoral practice in taking these things into consideration is set forth in the Catechism. Take for example the pastoral note to confessors  included in the catechism regarding masturbation which, though considered objectively a serious sin,  may admit of certain personal factors:

To form an equitable judgment about the subjects’ moral responsibility and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety or other psychological or social factors that lessen, if not even reduce to a minimum, moral culpability. (CCC # 2352)

But older pastoral practice, it seems, took little account of circumstances or of factors such as full consent of the will etc. Official Church teaching DID teach these things but the pastoral practice of the time presented sin in a much more mechanistic sort of a way and other aspects of Church teaching were poorly communicated in the 1950s and perhaps before.

Over-Reaction Sets in –  To some extent this may have led to the over-reaction we experienced in late 1960s through the 1980s. Rather than refine and clarify their understanding of true Catholic teaching, many simply cast overboard a caricature of Catholic teaching which now seemed unreasonable. And the caricature WAS unreasonable. Sadly too, many Catholic priests and catechists of the time,  rather than clarifying the teaching,  also over-compensated. They highly de-emphasized any objective notion of sin and hyper-emphasized matters such as feelings, circumstances, false notions of conscience and so forth. Now  it seemed that ONLY circumstances mattered, along with personal reflection and feeling and a diminished notion of any personal responsibility

So here we are today with long lines for Communion (good) but with no lines for confession (bad). It falls to us,  to the clergy who preach and catechists who teach to re-establish the connection between frequent confession and weekly communion. But, as I have tried to demonstrate, simply saying people should go does not mean they will go. A proper and balanced foundation also needs to be re-established that restores a healthy sense of sin. The 1950s version, at least as I have described it, was not healthy. But neither is our current version that sees nothing as objectively wrong, nothing as serious, that reduces moral reflection to “how I feel about it” and sets aside any notion of final judgment with platitudes like “God will understand.”

Part of the re catechizing necessary is to reintroduce a more holistic and less mechanistic sense of sin. Sin includes not just specific acts but also very deep drives and attitudes that can become very significant. We can be very resentful, ungrateful, unchaste, unkind, unmerciful, harsh, greedy, worldly and materialistic. Sin is more than, “I yelled at my kids three times, used curse words several times and was distracted in prayer many times, and engaged in one act of solitary self abuse.” Sin includes those things but it is  also that we are egotistical, thin-skinned, unloving, unforgiving  and sometimes,  just plain mean. We are in deep need of God’s healing mercy and some of these attitudes are much more serious than we like to think. They can cause great harm. At some point, staying away from confession for long periods is to entertain  a prideful delusion that itself becomes a serious sin. Who says he has no sin makes God a liar (1 John 1:10). In trying to insist that people must get to confession before communion if they are aware of any mortal sins, we have to be willing to first expand the notion of what serious or mortal sin is.

The Church will surely need to continue to give guidance by identifying particularly grievous sins, but in the end, the Church can never develop an exhaustive list since circumstances often affect gravity. There are some sins that are always, objectively mortal (ex toto genere suo); sins such as the murder of the innocent. But there are many other things such as gossip that while not always or even usually mortal,  that may become so if reputations are ruined and the intention was  to do so. Since the legalism of the past has largely been rejected it may be better for us to preach a more comprehensive, wholehearted and inclusive sense of sin that accounts for the deep drives of sins and assesses sin in the whole person rather than focus merely on this or that act. If I notice a growth on my arm I may not be sure if it is serious or not. The best thing is to get it checked out. So too with sin, is it mortal or not? Best to get it checked out. Regular confession should be preached.

We have a lot of work to do to restore the balance of the two Scripture texts above. Frequent though worthy reception of  Communion has historically been a difficult balance to maintain. Many factors need to be in play for this balance to be found. Simply telling people to get to confession before communion if they are aware of mortal sin may presume a lot of  knowledge that many do not have and premises people no longer share, sometimes through no fault of their own. We have more work to do than simply to tell people what to do. We have to teach and reestablish a healthy sense of sin and a deeper awareness of what is sacred and proper for the worthy reception of Holy Communion.

As always, I request your input to both balance and complete this article. This video was my attempt today to exhort the faithful to worthy reception of communion through frequent confession.

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)

If Angels Could be Jealous….

If Angels could be jealous of men, they would be so for one reason: Holy Communion– St. Maximilian Kolbe

Costly Meal – As we prepare for the Feast of Corpus Christi it is proper for us to meditate on the great dignity we have in being fed by Christ with his very own Body and Blood. Every other meal that is provided us is given by someone who must prepare something outside themselves. They may expend money and time (precious gifts indeed) but Jesus expended his very own life. We receive his Body that was handed over and his blood that was shed. It is a costly meal indeed.  

Consoling Reparation – How sad it is that so many consider it of so little significance that only 27% of Catholics bother attending Mass each Sunday in these nonspiritual and distracted times. You might consider making reparation for this neglect by becoming especially devoted as you receive Holy Communion. When Jesus was rejected for teaching on the Eucharist and many would no longer follow him on account of it, he sadly turned to the Apostles and said, “Will you also leave me?” (Jn 6:67) As you receive Communion worthily and with devotion consider that your Amen is consoling to Christ and to His Bride, the Church, and is an affirmation of what Peter said that sad day: “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal Life.” (John 6:68). Let our especially fervent “Amens” cancel out the indifference or ignorance of others.

Constitutive Meal– There is an old saying that “You are what you eat.” Somehow what we eat through the miraculous process of digestion becomes the very stuff of which we are made. It is the same with receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. If we are faithful and receive him fruitfully we gradually become the one we receive. If you have been faithful to Holy Communion for years then you know this is true. I can say that I have seen sins put to death in me, virtues come alive, and am gradually experiencing that Jesus’ life is replacing my own. Jesus is more and more the very one I am becoming.

Call to Evangelize – Do you have a similar witness? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how your faithful reception of Communion has been changing your life. And then start to tell your children and grandchildren. Jesus warns, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53). Warn your relatives who are away and tell them what Jesus says of those who do not receive Holy Communion, that they have no life and are starving themselves to death spiritually. But don’t just warn them. Be prepared to tell them how you have greater life on account of the Eucharist. Tell your story, your experience.  

Some one did a very beautiful videography job here recording Highlights of the First Holy Communion Mass at Sacred Heart in Medford, Oregon on May 16, 2009. Enjoy this brief video entitled: I angels could be Jealous….

Set Your House in Order! (in four easy steps)

There’s  a Gospel song written back in the 1950’s called “Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb!” It is a warning to be prepared for death. Here are a few of the lyrics:

Every body’s worried ’bout that Atom Bomb. No one seems worried about the Day my Lord shall come! Better set your house in order, He may be coming soon, and He’ll hit like an Atom Bomb when He comes!

Playful yet clear. But what does it mean to set your house in order? If we’re not careful we might come up with a long list of things to which we should attend. A long list might  tend to overwhelm and be difficult to remember. Perhaps this why Scripture gives a clear four-point plan that seems to well describe the Christian life. It is found in Acts 2. Peter has just preached a sermon where he warns his listeners to repent and believe the Good News. He said to them: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:40-41). Now they are baptized and in the Church of the Living of God. (Notice too, that the verse does not say they said the “sinners prayer” to be saved, it says they were baptized). And unlike some of our Protestant brethren who hold a kind of “once saved, always saved” mentality, the text does not stop there.   These new disciples now have a life to lead that will help them be ready to meet God, that will help them to set their house in order. And so in the very next verse we read:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

So here is our “four-point plan” for setting our house in order once we have come to faith. There  are four components listed below, four pillars if you will. Please note that the text says that they devoted themselves to these four pillars of the Christian life. They did not merely do them occasionally, or when they felt like it, or when the time seemed right. They were consistent, they were devoted to this four-fold rule of life. Lets look at each pillar in turn as we consider how to set our house in order:

  1. The Apostles Teaching– This first pillar of the Christian life is fascinating not only for what  it says but also what it does not say. When we think of the “Apostles’ Teaching” we first think of the four Gospels and the the New Testament Epistles. And these would surely be true components of the Apostles’ teaching for a modern Christian. But notice that the text does not say that they devoted themselves to Scripture, but rather to the Apostles’  Teaching. For a Catholic,  the Apostolic Teaching consists not only in the New Testament Scriptures but also the Sacred Tradition which comes to us from the Apostles and which has been understood and articulated by the living Magisterium of the Church. The Protestants would largely interpret this first pillar as an exhortation to  read our Bible every day and base our lives on it. This is a true understanding but only partial .  The early Christians as you recall did not have the New Testament in final form from day one and could not have lived this text in such as way. The Bible as we now have it was not yet completed edited or canonized.  Yet they had received the Apostolic teaching through having it preached to them by the Apostles and their deputed representatives, the bishops, priests and deacons. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter  (2 Thess 2:15). Therefore the Catholic application of this first pillar is truer and fuller wherein we are devoted to the Apostles teaching not in Scripture alone but also in Sacred Tradition as passed down and interpreted by the living magisterium of the Church. To live this first pillar with devotion means to set our house in order by carefully and diligently studying what the apostles handed on to us. We do this by the daily and devoted reading of Scripture and/or the diligent study of the faith through the Catechism or other approved manuals. We should make it a daily habit that we are reading scripture and studying the faith, attempting to grow in our knowledge of what God has revealed through his prophets and apostles and then basing our life on what we learn and repenting of what is not in line with the revealed truth.  Pillar number 1 is being devoted to the Apostles teaching.
  2. The  Fellowship – the word fellowship may be a little weak here as a translation of the Greek: τῇ κοινωνίᾳ (te koinonia). The more theological or sacred way of translating this word is probably ” a communion.” It would seem that members of a bowling league could have fellowship but the sacred gathering of the faithful in the reality called the “ekklesia” or “Church”  is better termed a “communion.” or in Latin “communio.” It is  a gathering into one of the members of Christ’s Body the Church, a communion also of Christ with his Bride the Church. The early Christians, according to this text devoted themselves to this communal gathering. Hence the second pillar of the Christian life whereby we are helped to get our house in order is “fellowship,”  or better, “communio.”   The Commandment is clear: Keep holy the Sabbath.  It doesn’t make sense to think that we can disregard one of the Ten Commandments and then claim our house is  in order. Some argue that this commandment does not say explicitly that we should be in Church on Sunday. But Leviticus 23:3 says regarding this Commandment, “You shall do no work and you shall keep sacred assembly, it is the Sabbath of the Lord.” Sacred assembly means “Church” it is the fellowship, the koinonia, the communio. No way around it. God expects us to be in his house on our Sabbath which is Sunday. The Book of Hebrews also says, “And let us not neglect to meet together regularly and to encourage one another, all the more since the Day draws near.”  See here how the Last “Day” and being prepared for it is linked to “meeting together regularly.”  So the second pillar of the Christian life is to get our house in order by getting to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day. In the Mass we both encourage others and are encouraged by them. We also receive instruction in the Word of God by the anointed and deputed ministers of that Word, the bishops, priests and deacons. We also fulfill the third pillar to which we now turn our attention
  3. The Breaking of the Bread – The phrase “the breaking of the bread” in the New Testament usually meant the reception of Holy Communion, or the Eucharist. The worthy receptionof Holy communion is directly connected to having our House in Order for there ae wonderful promises made to those who are faithful in this regard. Jesus makes a promise in John 6:40  that Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I will raise him up on the last day. That’s quite a promise in terms of being ready! Jesus is saying that frequent reception of the Eucharist is essential preparation for the Last Day. Jesus also warns us not to stay away from “the breaking of the bread” or Holy communion: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in you (Jn 6:53). Without Holy Communion we’re not going to make it. Gotta receive regularly to be ready! We cannot claim that our house is in order i we willfully stay away from Holy Communion. By extension we must allow this reference to one sacrament (Holy Communion) to be a reference to all the Sacraments.  Clearly a Catholic approach to this third pillar of preparation would include bein baptized and confirmed. It would include weekly reception of Holy Communion, regular confession, anointing of the sick when necessary, and, where possible, the reception of Holy Matrimony or Holy Orders. The Sacraments are our spiritual medicine. We have a bad condition called concupiscence (a string inclination to sin). It is like spiritual high blood pressure or diabetes. Hence we have to take our medicine and be properly nourished. The sacraments, as our medicine help us to avoid dying from our sinful condition. So the Third pillar of the Christian life is to get our house in order by receiving Holy Communion worthily every Sunday and the other Sacraments at proper times.
  4. Prayer– This final pillar requires more of us than just saying our prayers in some sort of ritual sense. The Greek word here is προσευχαῖς (Proseuchais) and is best translated just as we have it here: “Prayers”  However the Greek root  proseuche is from pros = toward or immediately before + euchomai= to pray or vow.  But the prefix pros would convey the sense of being immediately before Him and hence the ideas of adoration, devotion, and worship are included. So prayer is understood more than just verbally uttering or saying one’s prayers. What is called for is worshipful, attentive and adoring prayer. Prayer is experiencing God’s presence. Jesus says of prayer that it is necessary for us lest we fall: Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation  (Matt 26:41). Hence the fourth pillar is prayer whereby we putt our house in order through regular, worshipful, attentive and adoring prayer of God which serves as a kind of medicine lest we fall deeply into temptation.

So here are four basic pillars of preparation for the day of Judgment. Follow them and even if Jesus “hits like an atom bomb” you’ll look up and be ready and know that your redemption is at hand.

Enjoy this video. Observe in it all the readiness preparations for the nuclear bombs that some of us who are older may remember. In a way all the preparations you see in the video are a little silly since diving under a desk wouldn’t  help much if an atom bomb really hit! But the preparations I have mentioned above ARE helpful since God gives them to us. If the people in this video we’re getting ready with measures that probably wouldn’t help much, how much more so for us who DO stand a chance since God himself instructs us!  Set your house in order!

The Final Wish of a Dying Friend

Consider the following scenario. You are crossing the street with a friend and suddenly as if out of nowhere a large truck is bearing down on you both. Your friend sees it coming and pushes you out of the way but takes the full force of the hit himself. Coming to your senses you run to your friend who lies dying in the road. In grief you lament his imminent death and thank him for saving your life. You say, “What can I ever do to thank you for what you have done?!”  And he says, with his dying breath, “Please go to Church and remember me at the altar every Sunday.”  ….Would you do it? …..Of course you would! This is the final wish of a dying friend who saved your life.

Well, isn’t this what Jesus did? Just before he died for us he left us a last request: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Do what? you might say. Here is Jesus request in context:  The setting is the Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples on the last evening before he died. As he sat at table with them he said,  “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover  with you before I suffer…” Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.  So here is what we are to do in memory of Him: celebrate the Holy Mass, receive Holy Communion! It seems so little and yet so many have drifted away from this last request. It must have been important to Jesus since it was his final request.

So here is a powerful to get to Mass each Sunday: to fulfill the final wish of a dying friend, a dying Savior and Lord who saved your life, who died in your place: “Do this in memory of me.”  The Book of Psalms also says it so well: “What return (what thanks) can I ever give the Lord for all the good he has done for me?! The cup of salvation I will take up, and I will call on the name of the Lord.” (Ps 116:13) What a beautiful line to remember as you see the priest lift up the Chalice at every mass and remember the final wish of a dying friend.

Consider sharing this sort of reflection with those who have drifted away from attending Mass. If attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion is understood as the final wish of a dying friend then to fail to do so is seen as a much more personal neglect of a a very profound and meaningful request. Missing Mass isn’t just the infraction of some abstract law, it is a personal matter. It is to refuse the final wish of a dying friend.

Even Demons Believe and Tremble – A Eucharistic Story

St Marys Trid Mass smaller
Msgr Pope At St Mary’s

It was almost 15 years ago. I was At Old St. Mary’s here in D.C. celebrating Mass in the Latin (Extraordinary Form). It was a solemn high Mass. I don’t suppose I thought it any different than most Sunday’s but something quite amazing was about to happen.

As you may know the ancient Latin Mass is celebrated  “ad orientem” (towards the Liturgical East). Priest and people all face one direction. What this means practically for the celebrant is that the people are behind him. It was time for the consecration. The priest is directed to bow low, his forearms on the altar table the host between his fingers. As directed I said the venerable words of Consecration in a low but distinct voice, Hoc est enim Corpus meum (For this is my Body). The bells rang as I genuflected, but behind me a disturbance of some sort, a shaking or rustling in the front pews behind me to my right. And then a moaning or grumbling. What was that? It did not really sound human, more like the grumbling of a large animal such as a boar or a bear, along with a plaintive moan that did not seem human. I elevated the host and wondered, “What was that?”  Then silence. I could not turn to look easily for that is awkward for the celebrant in the ancient Latin Mass. But still I thought,  What was that?

But it was time for the consecration of the Chalice. Again, bowing low and pronouncing clearly and distinctly but in a low voice:  Hic est enim calix sanguinis mei, novi et æterni testamenti; mysterium fidei; qui pro vobis et pro multis effundetur in remissionem pecatorum. Haec quotiescumque feceritis in mei memoriam facietis (for this is the cup of my Blood, of the new and eternal covenant; the mystery of faith; which will for the many be shed unto the remission of sins. When so ever you do this, you do it in my memory). But then, I heard another sound this time an undeniable moan and then a shriek as some one cried out: “Leave me alone Jesus! Why do you torture me!” Suddenly a scuffling as some one ran out with the groaning sound of having been injured. The back doors swung open, then closed. Then silence.

I could not turn to look for I was raising the Chalice high over my head. But I knew in an instant that some poor demon-tormented soul had encountered Christ in the Eucharistic and could not endure his real presence displayed for all to see. And the words of Scripture occurred to me: Even Demons believe and tremble (James 2:19).

But just as James used those words to rebuke the weak faith of his flock I too had to repent. Way was a demon-troubled man more aware of the true presence and astonished by it than me? He was moved in the negative sense to run. Why was I not more moved in a positive and comparable way? What of the other believers in the pews? I don’t doubt that any of us believed intellectually in the true presence. But there is something very different and far more wonderful in being moved to the depth of your soul! It is so easy for us to be sleepy in the presence of the Divine, forgetful of the miraculous and awesome Presence available to us.

But let the record show that one day, almost 15 years ago, it was made quite plain to me that I held in my hands the Lord of Glory, the King of heaven and earth, the just Judge and Ruler of the kings of the earth. Is the Lord truly present in the Eucharist? You’d better beleive it, even demons believe that!