Communion is the highest and solemn moment in a Mass, when bread turns into Christ’s Body. Here are a few mistakes we should avoid when approaching Eucharist.
Eucharist. The most Holy Sacrament. Communion.
Any way we wish to call it, this is surely the highest and most solemn moment of a Mass, when devotees are called to come close to the ultimate Mystery, to that bread that becomes Christ’s Body, renewing a promise of love and salvation more than two thousand years old each time. The altar, the chalice, the pyx, the paten, all become instruments of an ancient ritual, yet always new, which is consumed in front of the devotees’ eyes, but mostly in their hearts and souls yearning to be a part of it. Jesus’ sacrifice is consumed in front of His children, in a solemn and emotional atmosphere. For those who really believe, for those who feel that the white bread is not just water and flour anymore, but the Holy Spirit invested it with something deeper and more powerful, it is hard to keep emotions inside. That’s how it is, the moment of the communion is always special, even after years that it is repeated at every celebration. Or, at least, it should be so.
Receive the Communion in a respectful way
There are different ways to get closer to the Holy Sacrament, different ways to welcome Christ’s Body: taking it into our hands, letting the priest gently put it on our tongue, storing it until we get back to our seat. It all comes down to two options: receive the communion in a respectful or in a disrespectful way.
No one judges personal choices, the little pet-peeves we carry throughout our lives, and that most of the times are harmless. This is not the point then. Since ancient times, in the first Christian communities, people who approached Eucharist were recommended to do so with great respect and devotion. Hands should be clean and placed to resemble a cross, women’s hands should be wrapped in a veil, and in general, it was fundamental to avoid any act that could desecrate Christ’s Body in that solemn moment. In order to reduce that possibility to the minimum, in the Medieval age it was mandatory to kneel down and receive the communion directly in one’s mouth, to express all of the devotion and respect that such an occasion required.
Later, the Vatican II granted the dioceses the freedom to decide whether to allow the devotees to receive the Host in their hands or directly in their mouth.
But, as we mentioned, receiving the Host in our hands or in our mouth is just one of the aspects concerning the right or wrong way to get close to the Holy Sacrament. Besides how we choose to receive the Host, the attitude we have when we do that is more important. What we are about to receive is Christ’s Body, in each single part, in each crumb. To do that we must be careful, give faith and respect with every act, show adoration and decency.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem wrote this already in the IV century a.C.:“When you get closer, don’t go forward with the palms of your hands stretched out, nor with your fingers apart; instead, with your left hand make a throne for your right hand, because this hand must receive the King and, in the cavity of your hand, receive Christ’s Body saying Amen. Sanctify your eyes carefully then, through the contact with the Holy Body, then take it and be careful not to miss any of it. If you were given specks of gold, wouldn’t you be taking them with the utmost care, paying attention not to lose anything and not damaging them? Won’t you be paying much more attention to something more precious than gold and hard stones, so that you will not miss even a crumb of it? After having connected to Christ’s Body, […] while waiting for the sermon, give your thanks to God, who considered you worthy of such great mysteries.”
That because each consecrated Host is Christ’s Body and Blood, His Soul and His Divinity. Jesus is entirely present in it, as the Council of Trent stated:“ If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; let him be anathema”. (D. 883)
The Council also says that Christ is present in any single fragment, any crumb of the Host. Also in this case, denying this statement is worthy of an excommunication. Transubstantiation makes sure that Christ’s Body replaces bread substance itself, and as bread substance stays the same even in its single crumbs, so all Christ is contained in each part, as small as it can be, of the Host, broken into pieces and crushed.
In addition, Hosts fragments fallen during the distribution must not be stepped onto nor swept away, because that would be a serious profanation.
So what should we do or not do when receiving the communion, in order not to lack respect that would ruin not only the act itself, but Christ’s Body, which we are about to receive?
- Let’s begin from the ‘before’ the Communion. If you can, avoid eating too much; on the contrary, it would be good practice to fast until after the mass. Why? Because what we are approaching is a huge banquet for our soul, and it would make no sense to stuff ourselves in advance! The tradition of ‘Eucharist fasting’ is ancient, and was passed through time with more or less strict rules. Today it is enough to fast at least one hour before the communion.
- Decide ahead if you want to receive the Host in your hands or on your tongue, if you want to stand or kneel down, in order to avoid sudden and useless movements. The officer should be able to understand your intentions immediately, and act consequently.
- If you choose to receive the Host in your hands, do not flail around, do not stretch your arms out too much. You have to let Christ’s Body into your hands, not catch it! If you want to receive the Host in your mouth, the best option is to keep your hands together and steady in your lap.
- Do not wear gloves when you receive the communion in your hands. What you are about to receive is the most precious, pure and immaculate thing in the world. Keep that in mind at all times.
- If you chose to receive the Communion on your tongue, your mouth must be empty. It seems obvious and trivial, but it happens often that distracted devotees approach the Holy Sacrament while chewing gums or candies. Needless to say, that is definitely inappropriate.
- Stay concentrated while waiting. While in line to receive the Host, try to keep your mind focused on what is about to happen, on the immense gift you will be given shortly. You will think later about the commitments, worries, deadlines, job you have planned after Mass. In that moment your whole being should only be reaching out towards the grace you are about to receive.
- Do not hold yourself back. Let emotions take over. As we wrote at the beginning, receiving Christ’s Body is an extraordinary miracle, which renews itself each time. It is perfectly normal to be overwhelmed, to be touched, and there is nothing bad to just give in to the feeling coming over in these moments, whether it is joy, gratitude or grief.
- Once the Host is in your mouth, it makes no sense to keep it there for long. A further wait will not give Christ’s Body more reality, nor make the Communion any more solemn. On the contrary, to some extent, keeping the Host in your mouth for a long time will make you lose sight on the rituality of the moment you are experiencing. It must be consumed straight away; there will be plenty of time to pray afterwards.
- No distractions after Eucharist. Once again, while we receive the Host, while it is in our mouth, we must be aware of what is happening and of the immense gift we were given. No distractions, no mind-wandering, nor inappropriate thoughts.
- Lastly, and this can seem trivial, try not to be ungrateful. Being able to receiving Christ’s Body is a gift, but not one taken for granted. We must consider ourselves lucky to be living in a country and an era where we can freely approach the Holy Sacrament, with no fear of being persecuted or even killed for our choice of faith, our creed. Better keep that in mind.