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Eucharist: In Order to Live a Full Christian Life

Over the years, I have had some interesting experiences during the Communion Rite at Mass when people have come forward to receive communion. I suspect it is a comment that just about any priest, or for that matter, any one who distributes the Eucharist could make. There have been a few instances that have bordered on the bizarre. All things being equal, I have usually dealt quite well with the more bizarre incidents. What actually troubles me more are individuals who simply come forward for communion who think little about what they are doing or what it signifies to receive the Eucharist.

From October 2 through October 23 of this year, bishop-delegates from around the world will be meeting in Rome for the XI Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. It will conclude the Year of the Eucharist that had been announced by Pope John Paul II last October. The theme for the synod will be The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church. 

In preparation for the synod a preparatory document was drafted following comments on the Eucharist by bishops from around the world. Following the synod, at which the bishop-delegates will offer their insights and reflections on the Eucharist, the Holy Father will likely issue an Apostolic Letter on the topic for the Church around the world.

Eucharist is absolutely central for living a full Christian life and the reason why the Church insists that we regularly attend Mass. As the above title notes, it is the summit of everything that we as Christians are about and the source from which we as Christians are sent out on mission. The reception of the Eucharist during the Communion Rite at Mass is a

practice that every Christian should both desire and make a regular reality in their lives. But they should consciously know that receiving Communion expresses full profession and belief in the teachings of the Church as well as behavior that reflects that belief.

It is my experience that too many people approach to receive Communion with an all too casual and unreflective attitude. Coming to Communion should signify and express life in Christ. And it does signify this for many! However, there are also those who simply move into the Communion line thinking little about what is occurring. The time before Communion ought to generate great reverence and respect as we prepare to receive the Lord. There should be a sense of excitement and joy over the fact that we are about to receive the Lord of life. There should also be a bit of fear and trepidation as we humble ourselves before God.

The Eucharist is central to the spiritual life of the Christian. However, as central as Eucharist is for the spiritual life, not every person may be properly disposed to receive the Eucharist, especially if they are not really in full communion with the Church. This is not a new teaching and reasons for this vary. For instance, it may be the case that a person who is Jewish or Bahai happens to be at a Funeral Mass. While they would obviously be persons of faith, their faith is not Christian. They do not believe in Jesus as the Christ or in the sacrament(s).

It may also be the case that another person at the same funeral, while baptized as Christian, may not believe in the Eucharist as Catholics believe in Eucharist or other core Catholic beliefs. They may view communion only as a fellowship ritual. Finally, it may be the case that another person who is Catholic has chosen to deny certain Catholic teachings, both in the area of the moral life but also in the area of doctrine. For instance, if they deny belief in the divinity of Christ or openly support abortion, it would simply be a contradiction for them to receive Communion.

In a related fashion, it is also sometimes the case that a person of faith may not be morally disposed at a point of time in their lives to receive the Eucharist. There may be need to address a serious sin in their lives. Such sin may be atypical and can be resolved easily by an act of contrition and confessing the sin in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It may also be the case, however, that the sin is habitual and a pattern in a person’s life. A person would have to be reconciled before they could rightly receive the Eucharist.

To receive Communion is to enter into the dying and rising of Christ. It presupposes that its recipient is a person of faith striving to live as a disciple of the Lord in all that he or she says and does. While it does not expect perfection, reception of the Eucharist does demand that the person who receives be striving to lead a holy life according to the mind of the Church.

By Most Reverend Michael W. Warfel, Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau, Alaska.  Originally printed in The Inside Passage, 23 September 2005.  Reprinted here with permission.

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